Academic journal article Social Justice

Social Movements, Globalization, and the Reconfiguration of Mexican/Chicano Nationalism

Academic journal article Social Justice

Social Movements, Globalization, and the Reconfiguration of Mexican/Chicano Nationalism

Article excerpt

IN HIS ESSAY INTRODUCING THE BRILLIANT WORK OF MEXICAN PHOTOGRAPHER Graciela Iturbide, Roberto Tejada (1996: 12-13) suggests the extent to which Mexican national identity and nationalism are being transformed by various interrelated phenomena:

Graciela Iturbide' s images are powerful because they underline time and again the rift between belonging and citizenship, rendered often against a backdrop of Mexican icons or heroes -- be it the frail displacement of a rural campesino in Puebla, or the triumph of locals in East Los Angeles. These images speak of outsider culture within larger constricting divisions, images seen now as having anticipated the present-day crisis with regard to the exhausted rhetoric that once sustained Mexico's long-presumed cultural cohesion -- a monolithic identity now under revision thanks largely to legitimate standpoints that are defined and defended by borderland identity, by Mexico's increasingly organized and outspoken indigenous communities, and by seasonal migration and its inevitable acculturations.

A powerfully binding sense of national identity and pride emerged out of the political and cultural struggles of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath. That same nationalism inspired the discourse and strategy of the Chicano Movement in the United States. Yet nationalist identity and ideology often did as much harm as good, masking the persistent conflicts of class, race, and gender among the very people who embraced nationalism as their salvation.

In recent years, the official discourse of Mexican nationalism has been challenged by new social movements and activist artists, as well as by the long crisis of the Mexican regime, the increasing porousness of its borders, and the multidimensional process of U.S.-Mexico integration. Today, progressive Mexican and Chicano movements, activists, and intellectuals look backwards and forwards at the same time in their efforts to articulate new projects for social change. Indigenous communities, for example, are reclaiming pre-colonial/prenational concepts and practices as foundational elements of a future society. Many do so not as isolated or parochial local movements but in collaboration with national and international forces. The Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos simultaneously asserts the ethnic identity of the movement, vows to protect the Mexican flag, and claims a position among all oppressed peoples of the world. Meanwhile, many Mexicanas and Chicanas no longer fear charges of treason or heresy for e mbracing feminism, that most un-Mexican of ideologies. Instead, they reinvent the Virgin of Guadalupe and carve out a space within the culture of progressive movements for feminine and feminist sensibilities. Following a discussion of the historical contradictions of Mexican nationalism, this article describes various current efforts on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border to reconfigure collective identities and programs for social change that challenge the limits of the old nationalist project.

Nationalism: The Ties That Bind and Gag

Nationalism has been described by Tom Nairn (1981: 310) as "by far the most important and influential mass cultural by-product of 19th-century Europe." Its influence was felt worldwide, of course, and resided partially in the "common sense" connection between nationalism and Enlightenment notions of development and progress (Ibid.: 334). That discursive connection between nationhood and development helped to make nationalist ideology such a persistent feature of anticolonial and national liberation struggles. The true secret of nationalism's mobilizational power, Nairn argues, is that it offered the masses something that Enlightenment rationalism and Marxism's often abstract, intellectualized "class consciousness" could not: "a culture which however deplorable was larger, more accessible, and more relevant to mass realities" (Ibid.: 354).

Still, nationalism has always been a highly ambivalent ideology, subject to manipulation by class, ethnic, and gendered forces representing quite different political projects. …

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