Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Deforming and Transforming: Towards a Theory of "Viral Mestizaje" in Chicano Literature

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Deforming and Transforming: Towards a Theory of "Viral Mestizaje" in Chicano Literature

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 1992, at the height of the North American HIV/AIDS crisis, Chicano author and scholar Alejandro Morales published the little-known novel, The Rag Doll Plagues. Divided into three books, the narrative opens in Mexico City in the last decades of colonial rule. Dr Gregorio de Revueltas, medical envoy to the King of Spain, arrives to investigate a mysterious malady-la Mona, "the ragdoll"-that is decimating the populous. As he battles to bring order and sanitation to a squalid, disease-ridden metropolis overrun with "immoral racial mixtures of humanity" (Morales 11), the plague steals away, creeping towards the United States-Mexico border. Book Two catapults forward to the late-twentieth century, where a Chicano doctor in Los Angeles (an oblique doppelganger of the first, a distant ancestor with the same surname, although sporting the more Anglicised "Gregory") witnesses the devastation and confusion of the burgeoning HIV/AIDS pandemic. Over the course of the narrative Revueltas's beautiful, accomplished Jewish girlfriend, Sandra Spear, is warped and dehumanised by the effects of haemophilia, AIDS, and unbridled stigma, "transmuted into a decomposing creature, bursting with foul-smelling miasma, spilling fluids and dropping maggots in its wake" (109).1 Playing with and against this layered narrative of unstable blood, Spear's anxiety-provoking relationship with the brown-skinned protagonist hints at another way her blood has flowed beyond the sanctioned (and sacrosanct) boundaries of her (tacitly white) body and community. In both historical moments, blood-mixing is met with fear and suspicion, maligned as a product of interracial desire and as a facilitator of disease.

The final book depicts a future society in which Mexico, the US, and Canada have been amalgamated into a Triple Alliance, the borders imposed by European conquest and subsequent expansion rendered null-and-void as the bloated population of the Americas teeters on the abyss of ecological ruin. A third Dr Revueltas is introduced as a third epidemic rages. But this time the doctor stumbles across a surprising cure: Mexican blood. By injecting genetically diverse, immunologically rich Mexican blood into afflicted bodies, the inhabitants north of the LAMEX corridor (the passage suturing Los Angeles to Mexico City) are delivered from the effects of the plague. This act of incorporation marks the re-territorialisation of Mexicans in North America through the mass transfusion of blood: "In a matter of time Mexican blood would run in all the population of the LAMEX corridor. Mexican blood would gain control of the land it lost almost 250 years ago" (195). Yet this utopian enterprise, a society united through altruistic, artificial miscegenation (borders between bodies and nations simultaneously ruptured), is short lived. First Mexican blood is donated as a gift; later it is bartered in economies of supply and demand. In a garish gesture, white bodies acquire health through their capacity to purchase a constant supply of restorative brown blood, Mexican populations forced into indentured (if gilded) service to Anglo-American families.

The Rag Doll Plagues, more than any other single piece of late-twentieth-century Chicano/a literature, scrutinises and re-imagines the connections that are engendered by and through the (figural and literal) mixing of blood. From the diseased cesspool of colonial Mexico, to the blistering prejudice of early responses to HIV/AIDS and blood donation in the US, to the injection of mutated Mexican blood into ailing white bodies, Morales levies blood-mixing as a sanguineous touchstone for the multifaceted interplay (and conflation) of disease and mestizaje (the Spanish term for racial and cultural miscegenation), liberating affiliations forged by the mixing of blood from the realms of heteronormalized patterns of kinship and nation-building rhetoric alone. Infection and disfigurement (Morales's narrative is certainly bursting with squeamishly visceral depictions of bodies in abject decline) are positioned in a critical tableau with interracial desire and unfettered miscegenation; in each evolving scenario bodies incubate and neutralise otherness, are made vulnerable to otherness, are marked as "other," and are ultimately redeemed or marginalized through the giving and receiving of blood. …

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