As America's Latino diaspora evolves, so does the field
Founded some 30 years ago and at one time believed to be on the verge of extinction, the field of Chicano studies is constantly expanding. As Puerto Rican and Cuban communities grew in the United States in the 1960s and '70s, so did the demand for fields of study particular to those populations. Now, add to that: Dominican and Central American studies. Peruvian and Colombian studies.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are approximately 35 million Latinos in the country, including the island of Puerto Rico. While approximately 60 percent of all Latinos now living within U.S. borders are of Mexican descent, the immense growth of other Latinos in the country has created large populations of Central Americans -- including Dominicans, Colombians and Peruvians -- so that this group is now the second-largest Latino population in the country.
But do these different ethnic groups constitute one larger national group -- Latinos -- or should they continue to be classified as individual regional groups? Should the study of all these groups be housed under Latino or Chicano studies? Or should each group foster its own field of study?
As long as the new fields do not subsume the older disciplines and it is not an either/or situation, this expansion is welcome, say many scholars.
However, others worry more about the ability of Latino scholars -- and the scholarship they engage in -- to make a real connection with the communities they were created to study, let alone the ability to generate more social action. And as many of the charter members of the Chicano studies field begin to retire, the younger scholars are expanding the definition of Latino studies, not distilling it, which could exacerbate the problem.
The growth and unprecedented expansion of Chicano studies has not silenced critics who accuse many of the new disciplines not only of ethnic cheerleading, but of arousing ethnic and racial hatred and self-segregation.
In a recent Los Angeles Times article, critic Gregory Rodriguez accused Chicano/Latino scholars of being stuck in a 30-year time warp in which everything White is bad and everything of color is good. Rodriguez, who is a Fellow with the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute, asserts that most scholars are left-leaning activists and that the communities they come from are basically conservative and non-activist.
He concludes his review by stating: "A healthier, less ideologically driven and less defensive vision of the Latino past, present and future is desperately needed. But it won't happen until a new generation of writers and scholars has the courage to tear down what has become a worn-out intellectual framework, born of a movement that has long since lost its relevance."
Dr. Reynaldo F. Macias, director of the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Interdisciplinary Instruction in Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, says that Rodriguez' criticism "would have been fine 20 years ago. He ignores changes in the 1980s and 1990s. He makes no mention of the development of Chicana studies in the 1980s or Latino critical studies of the 1990s."
Macias adds that the notion of Chicano/Chicana studies having only one point of view is "ludicrous. There has never been a single paradigm," he says.
The one point Macias does cede to Rodriguez is Chicano studies' lack of commitment to social action. That, however, is not unlike many other disciplines that are committed to applied research, he says.
One of the many things that Chicano studies successfully achieved in its infancy was to correct the distorted views -- the myths about the Chicano community -- perpetrated by mainstream scholars, Macias says. The trend today is to internationalize the discipline's focus. Under that rubric is a study of a globalization, immigration, border issues, indigenous issues and "mestizaje," or ethnic mix. …