Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

"Beauty, Borders and the American Dream in Richard Dokey's 'Sanchez'"

Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

"Beauty, Borders and the American Dream in Richard Dokey's 'Sanchez'"

Article excerpt

Critics have pointed out discrepancies between what is commonly understood as the American Dream in the mainstream culture at large and the fictive representation of Chicanos or Mexican-Americans who attempt to appropriate the dream as their own. For example, Luther S. Luedtke explores the Chicano novel Pocho only to conclude that this novel confirms its protagonist as a "universal man" who "suffers an existential insecurity against which no community can protect him" (14). The existential plight demonstrated in the novel is heightened because of the distance between the historical and mythical origins of the Chicanos and the white mainstream culture which posits the American Dream in confusing and alien terms.

Luedtke relies on sociological studies by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck to illustrate the discrepancy:

Problem Mexican-American Response American Response

Man's relation to nature Subjugation-to-nature Mastery-over-nature

Essence of human nature Mutable Good-and-Evil Evil-but-Perfectible

Man's relation to man Lineality (group, family) Individualism

Preferable activities Being Doing

Time orientation Present-Time Future-Time

The contrasting categories suggest an important epistemological orientation that continues to inform fiction and socio-political values. Luedtke infers: "the progressive orientation and success ethos of American core culture contradict the traditional world view of the Mexican-Americans, with its emphasis on continuity, community and the obligation of one's assigned role" (8). Though this study is some forty years old and the cultural dynamics have changed to some degree, it is still helpful to illustrate the original world view that informs much of the Mexican-American presence in North America, especially as fictive representatives encounter representatives of the core culture.

More recent cultural critics have developed the idea of borders, nationality and imagery both metaphorically and geographically, with similar conclusions(1): "Latina/os are inherent outsiders to the realm of national belonging'' (Moya, 193). Aspirations to achieve the American Dream often remain frustrated due to the history of conflict involved. Moya, for example, examines three critical works on the subject by Monika Kaup, Mary Pat Brady and Monica Brown. Both Kaup and Brady tend to view the struggle of Latina/os in terms of binary oppositions: "resistance or accommodation" for Kaup and "(subordinated) Chicanos and (hegemonic) Anglos for Brady (Moya, 186 & 188). Kaup, for instance, claims that whereas Texas Chicano writers tend to be resistant to the mainstream culture imposed upon them, Chicano writers from California employing "the immigrant plot" are "oriented toward the future, not the past, and their attitude toward the process of Americanization is one of desire rather than resistance" (185). In such writing, the border is a line of "demarcation -- a point in space to be passed over and left behind -- along the journey toward a new, American future" (185). Despite certain vantages from this type of oppositional thinking, Moya finally argues, however, that such distinctions eventually fail to recognize the necessary "nuanced and accurate understanding" of society (194).

Richard Dokey's California story "Sanchez" offers a nuanced, complex protagonist that Moya could appreciate, a character who arguably fits the older Luedtke model while risking those values of his origin, bravely attempting to gain a foothold in a new land. Dokey's Juan Sanchez attempts to raise himself in accord with the notions implied in the American Dream as valued by the core culture, but in the end, realizes the futility of his upward mobility. His desire for preservation and self-determination are immersed with his understanding of beauty and his subjugation to nature. …

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