European Perspectives on Hispanic Literature of the United States

By Genvieve Fabre | Go to book overview

Cultural Ambivalence in Early
Chicana Literature

Gloria Velfisquez Treviño University of Colorado

A recurring tendency in critical analysis which has distorted Chicana Literary expression, has been to adopt a monolithic approach to Chicano prose fiction written in English before the Chicano Movement of the 1960's. Critics such as Raymund Paredes and Juan Rodriguez reflect this inadequate assessment of early Chicana authors by classifying their work as nostalgic and assimilationist in nature. This attitude is present in Juan Rodríguez' assessment of early Chicana writers of the 1930's: "All of them actually represented a step backward in the development of Chicano prose, for they returned to the quaint representation of the Mexican and the Mexican way of life, a view very similar to and yet much simpler than that presented by María Cristina Mena some twenty years before." 1 This essay is an attempt to demonstrate that while early Chicana prose fiction often reflects an assimilationist perspective, it similarly reflects an attitude of resistance to cultural domination. An important element in my discussion of this attitude of resistance expressed by the early Chicana author is her awareness of the specific concerns particular to the minority woman's experience in the United States.

The paradigm of cultural ambivalence provides me with a critical framework for the interpretive assessment of early Chicana prose fiction authors. Because the concept of cultural ambivalence encompasses the complexity of the Chicano experience, it allows the literary critic to examine early narrative writers in a dynamic and dialectical manner that is historically based. It takes into consideration the contradictions of the writer's social conditions and how she resolves them. Cultural ambivalence can be defined as an attitude that expresses the diverse nature of the Chicano experience in American Society. It expresses the central dilemma of the Chicano who is conscious of being a product of both Mexican and American cultures. Cultural ambivalence characterizes the dual consciousness of Chicanos as they mediate between the values of the dominant culture and those of the minority group. It is important to understand that Chicanos have not chosen to be ambivalent but that cultural ambivalence has primarily been a result of their socio-historical position in a

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