Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage - Vol. 2

By Erlinda Gonzales-Berry; Chuck Tatum | Go to book overview

Textual and Land Reclamations: The Critical
Reception of Early Chicana/o Literature1

Manuel M. Martín Rodríguez

The recent debate centered around the issue of communal essence vs. individual or group difference, has added a new dimension to the field of Chicana/o studies. A previous stage in which cultural nationalism sought to unite all Chicanos/as in a large "family" (la Raza) is now being questioned systematically by historians, sociologists, literary critics, artists and, in particular, by feminist and homosexual members of each of those disciplines.2 As a consequence, the powerful nationalistic symbol of Aztlán—the mythical land from which the ancestors of the Aztecs started south to found Tenochtitlán—is also being revised by scholars and writers. For instance, Daniel C. Alarcón warns us in a recent essay that "Aztlán has been used to obscure and elide important issues surrounding Chicano identity, in particular the significance of intracultural differences" (36), and he goes on to point out how—in spite of its being used by Chicana/o activists as a symbol of freedom and equality—the myth of Aztlán could be seen as a mere "construct of the Aztec elite, created to ensure its members' power over other social classes and to legitimate their privileged status" (58).3 This is not to say that the myth's influence in all aspects of Chicana/o intellectual life has come to an end. As proved by the recent publication of a volume of essays devoted entirely to the topic,4 as well as by the constant reference to the same in numerous articles, journals, etc., Aztlán and its connotations continue to be a necessary point of reference for questions regarding Chicana/o culture.

Thus, I begin this essay by discussing what Aztlán did and does represent for contemporary Chicanos/as, even if the literature that I will analyze predates the most recent popularization of the term. By invoking the presence of their indigenous ancestors in Aztlán (thought to be somewhere in the present day Southwest U.S.), cultural nationalists of the 1960s and 1970s aspired to claim a moral and even legal right to the lands inhabited and worked by them. After all—they reasoned—their presence in the area preceded that of Anglo-

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