Thursday, March 7, 2013

Towards New Chicanismos

KPBS published a new article revealing a lowering trend in students pursuing Chicano Studies as their focus of study at San Diego State University (read it here). The article also noticed the strange coincidence that this year also happens to be el año de "record numbers" of Latin@s on the SDSU campus. After conducting interviews with many Chicano scholars, the article suggests that the reason why many Latino students may not be persuaded to pursue a degree in Chicano Studies is because the term "Chicano" itself has become outdated and lost grasp of how new "Chicana/os" identify. According to Chicano Studies professor, Isidro Ortiz, for example, "At San Diego State University, the department flourished well into the 1990s, and even the last decade. But in recent years [...] the declining enrollment became apparent [... and] forced a conversation within the department about how relevant the term Chicano — with its political, even radical, connotations — is to young Mexican-Americans today." UC San Diego professor Jorge Mariscal adds, "maybe that term [Chicano] is not what’s appropriate for unifying a mobilization of young people in 2013.” 

Of course, this news comes on the heels of having had many courses throughout the years on how "Chicano" means this and how "Chicano" means that. Even the critics that suggest that "Chicano" be understood in uncountable ways have faced the limits of their essentialisms. Juan Bruce-Novoa and Antonio Viego, for example, both maintain that Chicanicity or Latinidad lies in the biopower of inheritance. For Bruce-Novoa, Chicanicity is an experience that every American of Mexican descent undergoes just by nature of being of Mexican descent regardless of the distance to the myth of the origin. Likewise, Viego accounts for Latina/o subjects who might "not want to be" Latina/o but still identifiably Latina/o because of their rejection of a body of history that clearly identifies their ancestors.  

But I am getting sidetracked here. And that is the point.

Although I agree that it is complicated to have slightly "outdated" terminology attempting to "define" culture today, I don't believe this is the reason why enrollment is falling. I would like to think this is due, rather, to the fact that some teachers are still teaching a curriculum that is often redundant and not that exciting. 

To paraphrase Viego and the late Bruce-Novoa again, we need to move away from the canon and into the new and let our descendants choose who they want to be.

I think new and more seasoned Chicana/o educators are grasping this, however, and are doing great jobs so far by moving away from the (Chicano) canon and by trying to engage students with new "Chicana/o" literature and cultural production that is as crisp as any new theory on subjectivity out there.

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