Ahh what a long way we’ve come from the tedious pink book, which actually turned out to be the least tedious because it provoked the most heated debate. The best aspect of this class was that the books had so much to offer discussion-wise, from the deeper-than-a-parlor-drama Who Would Have Thought It, to the enraptured prose of Marti, to the fragmented and pretzel-like y no se lo trago la tierra, to the visceral, multi-layered and gutsy Cisneros, and the poignant, nuanced tales of Alvarez and Rodriguez. The class had some interesting thoughts to offer on these books, and it was good that we were able to air our thoughts on complex and sometimes sensitive subjects – including immigrant experiences, thoughts on gender relations and sexuality, and personal relations to and interpretations of the texts.
The majority of these books I probably would’ve never read, having heard of none of the authors before except for Marti, but I’m glad I have. The books definitely fleshed out for me what it is to be Chicano, as well as gave me insight into the lives of Latin American immigrants, whether privileged ones that hop back and forth between countries like Alvarez’s characters or those who have been exiled and engage with their home country only through memory like Rodriquez’s characters. Many of the same themes have emerged in these texts, like the importance of language and voice to the self, the importance of carving out a space that belongs to one’s self or one’s people, the fragmentation of identity as a person attempts to assimilate two cultures into one self.
It’s interesting that such a diverse group of writers (in terms of time period, social class, place of origin and gender) were all drawn towards the same themes, I suppose that’s how eternal and pervasive they are. Quite different from our complaints about the character Yolanda, perhaps self-reflexive to a fault, whose experience of dislocation is dramatically expressed as a “violation” that lies “at the center of my art”, Rodriguez talked of her experience of physical and emotional dislocation as almost commonplace. With this in mind, Latin American literature “north of the Rio Grande” is relevant far beyond its own demographic, but for the majority of the world’s population that immigrates, bifurcates, speaks in two tongues, crosses borders, falls in love with the “other,” seeks a better life elsewhere, raises children far from home, doesn’t know where “home” is.