A Week in the Life of Gustavo

"Seems to think that if he fails to write, la migra will find him."--OC Weekly More merriment available at ronmaydon@yahoo.com

ter├ža-feira, janeiro 07, 2003

Some comments posted on LatinoLA.com regarding myarticle on Mexican and Chicano cinema. My responses follow...

Does every Chicano film have to be about 'the radical 60's,' the angst of not being accepted? I have taught for 25 years in 'low-income/minority schools' and I have found that the young people of today don't care to know about what went on. I have incorporated a brief 'Chicano history' lesson into my AP Spanish lit class to whet the appetite of the more driven students. Alas, they can't or don't want to relate. Many of my students only relate to being mexicano, hondureno, guatemalteco, etc. They don't see themselves as necessarily disenfranchised. On the contrary, they see many opportunities. Many of my students have moved on to schools of the caliber of Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, etc. with no sense that they don't belong. As for those of us in the middle-class, many of us have moved on and are actively participating in the many facets of main-stream American life. We are in government, education, law, medicine and in the business world. Must we forever wear our 'Chicanismo' on our sleeves? Why must everything we do be radical? As a Chicana, raised in So. Calif. I can't believe that we can't move on. We, those of us raised in the 50's, 60's, 70's did not have it easy, but those being raised today, those with goals and dreams are being successful. They are being accepted into the mainstream. Our dreams for them are coming true. After all isn't that what the movement was all about? Getting our Chicano students into schools? Yes, there are many who aren't. We can't save them all! Trust me. I know. We, as educators, must fight the media, the old traditional ways that are being reinforced by the continuing immigration of people who don't view life as we do. Who are we to decide what is important? The immigrants of today, unlike those of my grandmother's generation (la revolucion mexicana), have no intention of trying to assimilate. Most of my students feel no allegiance to this country, but rather to the country of their parents and grandparents. The irony is that we worked hard to be part of the mainstream, opened doors for others and those others aren't interested. So, in order to be successful, must we promote stereotypical caricatures of the past or can we move forward and be a part of this great mosaic that is the United States. No, I am not a pollyanna. Trust me, I know prejudice first hand. It has followed me all my life. But, the worst treatment has usually been at the hands of my own. It is one thing to deal with the 'majority.' It is quite another to deal with Chicanos, Mexicanos, Latinos, Hispanos who feel you aren't 'enough' of what you should be. I don't believe I have to dress like Frida to be a Chicana. I don't have to see Chicanos in stereotypical roles to applaud. I want us, all of us, to be able to portray all aspects of being a Latino in the United States.

I agree with some of her points (namely, the struggles that a member of an ethnic class has to be "real" to her "race") but she misses my point completely. For one, I'm talking specifically about CHICANO films, not Latino cinema. And, aside from that, I used my labels consciously. To me, considering yourself to be "Latino" means you're part of the mainstream; to be Chicano is to be on the outside. And although past activists did fight to escape their subaltern status, I feel there's much to be said about having an outsider perspective. It's the freaks that create the beauty of the world, not the status quo. Here's the next letter...

So what is your point? I don't see any reason to divulge on issues, that depicts a class of people of foreign origin as second class citizens. First of all, the word Chicano is a derogatory term. It depicts an uneducated, shiftless, drunken individual without a glue. Secondly, most people of non-Hispanic origin, cannot distinguish between the different Hispanic cultures ( Mexican, Caribbean Islands, Central American, South American ). In their views, they're all Chicanos. Therefore, the cinema's portrayal of a "Chicano" is a misconception of the entire Hispanic community. Moreover, it is important to remove the identify of " Chicanismo " as you put it, "Chicano filmmakers mask the difficulties of their community, presenting Chicanismo as a middle-class wonderland." into it's true prospective. Hispanics are middle-class people with one of the largest, fastest growing business enterprises and political forces spreading, throughout the United States. The difficulties encounter by the Hispanic community here, are rooted from their former countries, that robbed, plunder and destroy all posterity and foundations of stability in their country, by a ruthless; greedy political system. If the "Chicano" film industry wants to grow as a vital entertainment instrument , it would serve best to show the true reasons of the Hispanic Plague in this country, as a product of disenfranchised people by their former government and not with the problems of the Catholic Church, Urban poor or issues of Race & Class.

Ah, a perfect Hispanic. "Chicano" is not a dirty word, for starters. I admire those who use it to describe themselves. Sure, some Chicanos are morons, but at least they're morons who believe in something. "Hispanics" believe in trying to become Americans.

A quick aside: to me, being American is about the worst thing you can do. I'm not critiquing the country or its opportunities, but I fear the complacity (sp?) that comes with being a member of the middle or upper class. This is what I fear for any immigrant group as they assimilate into the country: the spark that made them so great and visionary in the first place. While I agree with the letter writer when they say many of the problems Latinos face originate from their home countries, I feel he also disregards the very pertinent racial construction of this country and how it has affected non-"white" immigrant groups. But he does inadvertantly address this by positioning Hispanic as "white" and Chicano as "non-white." It's all part of our country's racial scale to acceptance.

Final letter...

While I appreciate Arellano's critique, that Chicano cinema has been watered down in the 1990s and 2000s, I disagree with his relegation of Real Women Have Curves to the 'middle class angst of self discovery.' During the Chicano Movement, Chicana feminists were often viewed as engaging in self-indulgent processes of grasping the meaning of their oppression not only as Chicanos but also as women. Arellano's description resonates with the antifeminist commentaries, especially given the film's rather groundbreaking focus on a Chicana protagonist who actually does claim her own space and comes to understand various forms of oppression -- class, race, body, sexuality (unlike, it appears, Selena, as represented in Nava's film). Besides, the film is not about 'self discovery' but about the issues that face young Chicanas seeking an education. Real Women is not perfect, and, at times, offers a troubling portrait of Chicana mothers while presenting a saintly father figure. We might be critical of its representation of an individualist narrative of success. But then again, that is often the experience of young Chicanas, whether supported by familias or not, who find themselves as 'pioneers' in college space. Real Women also speaks in complicated ways to issues of exploited women's labor (even while showing the complications when the owner of the sweat shop is your own sister), gender roles, and class (im)mobility. To write it off as 'self discovery' glosses over its attempt to place a Chicana at the center of the story."

I might have been perhaps too harsh on Real Women. I have praised it in other places, I still have received criticism that my gender clouds my critique of Real Women's power. I guess. However, I will not take back my criticism of Tortilla Soup or Luminarias. The latter blew, the first was pleasant. But when I see films, I want to be challenged, not pleased. This isn't the militant in me, this is the intelligent film-lover.

I like to read. But nothing of note will be examined in the coming weeks. Just more academia to regurgitate at the urging of my peers or superiors. Bring it on.