Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

THE BRIDGES OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Marketing Language in the Chicano Cinema of Gregory Nava

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

THE BRIDGES OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Marketing Language in the Chicano Cinema of Gregory Nava

Article excerpt

Résumé: Se basant sur la notion de « discours limitrophe » suggéré par James Gee et sur les travaux de Shohat et Stam qui lient le cinéma à la langue, cet article examine El Norte, MyFamily/Mi familia et Selena de Gregory Nava sous un angle sociolinguistique. MyFamily/Mi familia et Selena surtout adressent un public anglophone. Observant la présence grandissante de l'anglais chez Nava, l'auteur évalue le rôle de l'espagnol comme signe de puissance en relation avec l'équilibre que le cinéaste tentent d'établir entre marginalité et demandes commerciales. La perte de langue devient ainsi une forme d'avantage politique.

Gregory Nava's My Family/Mi familia (USA, 1995) opens with a series of shots of the bridges linking East Los Angeles with Los Angeles proper as the voice of Edward James Olmos describes how such images evoke memories of his family. The bridges represent a link between communities, between language groups, between Chicano culture and the U.S. mainstream. As the film progresses, we follow the story of Mexican-Americans who must cross the bridges on a daily basis as they traverse the slip zone between these two worlds. On a meta-filmic level, the bridges suggest the reality of Chicano film practice as it negotiates its way between community and the broader Hollywood mainstream. Although not all of Nava's Chicano-themed films are set in Los Angeles, the metaphor of the bridges of Los Angeles evokes the border crossings of the director's work which not only reaches out to a broader audience (defined by Hollywood), but moreover, addresses transformations within the Chicano community, be it Californian or Tejano. Such a phenomenon recalls James Gee's notion of "borderland discourse, a cultural discourse practiced by individuals who share a common cultural bond, yet who must function within the confines of broader societal codes and expectations."1 Participants in borderland discourse partake in a collective awareness of the relationship between their own community and the cultural elite and must learn to negotiate between the two realms. What is special about borderland discourse is that all participants share both worlds and are a part of two (or more!) divergent and often contradictory cultural contexts.

Gee's theory in turn converges with Gloria Anzaldúa's discussions of the mestiza subject who, having gained a tolerance for ambiguity, has discovered the futility of rigid boundaries. As Anzaldúa argues, a mestiza must constantly shift from "convergent thinking" and analytical reasoning to "divergent thinking" that moves away from set patterns and goals and becomes inclusive rather than exclusive. "She [la mestiza] learns to be an Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view. She learns to juggle cultures. She has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode...."2 Such perspectives can be extended to a study of the works of Nava, himself a Chicano. Along with My Family/Mi familia, his most celebrated films are ElNorte (USA, 1984) and Selena (USA, 1997), all of which posit the complex, multidimensional, and fluid nature of the Chicano subject. In the latter film, young Tejana superstar Selena Quintanilla is warned by her father, "as a Mexican-American, you must be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans," an assertion which reveals how Nava's characters must struggle for acceptance and identification in both cultural spheres. And nowhere is this fluid subject more felt than in the sociolinguistic realm. Ostensibly reflecting the bilingualism of the diegetic context depicted, Nava's deployment of Spanish and English addresses bilingual/bicultural spectators, who themselves negotiate polarities of language maintenance and shift.3 Likewise, what superficially appears to be a cinematic representation of linguistic code switching 4 among diegetic characters is in fact a much more complex mode of address to a hybrid spectatorship of speakers of mainstream and minority languages. …

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