Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chicano Literature

I have recently had an argument with some colleagues about whether the field of Chicano Literature* is still relevant. I think I might have shocked my colleagues a bit by declaring that this field is dead and is becoming more and more so by the second. For a while, positions in Chicano Literature were cropping up at many departments that wanted to see themselves as cool, hip, and in touch. Lately, however, the academic interest in this field has started to wane. Today, opening a position in Chicano Studies defines a department as backwards and obsolete.

In my opinion, the very emergence of such positions is one of the instances of political correctness going in a very wrong direction. On the one hand, opening a position or two in Chicano Literature seems to say that the literary production of Mexican-Americans is important and is worthy of being studied. On the other hand, this approach highlights the otherness of Mexican-American writers. If they write in English, why can't we accept these writers as an important part of English-speaking literature? If they write in Spanish, why can't we teach them as part of Spanish-language literary production?

Another important question to ask here is whether we should create separate areas of knowledge for every immigrant group irrespective of the language they use to write. How is it a productive thing to create these small identity groups breaking up literature into collectives based on nothing other than the author's ethnic origins?

Some academics love looking for some really tiny niches that they can claim as their own very special field of expertise. They forget, however, that this serves to marginalize a certain group and turn it into a perennial Other. I cannot wait for every single department to abandon the concentration on Chicano Studies and turn to Spanish or English literature instead, including everybody who writes in this language without any racial and ethnic reservations.

*For those who are unfamiliar with the term, here is a Wikipedia article on Chicano Literature.

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