We believe our racial and class backgrounds have a huge effect in determining how we perceive ourselves sexually.
Amber Hollibaugh and Cherríe Moraga ("What We're Rolling' Around in Bed With")
Indeed, some dimensions of sexuality might be tied, not to gender, but instead to differences or similarities of race or class.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (Epistemology of the Closet)
The growing dissatisfaction over the past twenty-five years with monological and monocausal approaches to subjectivity and power has motivated some of the most powerful experiential creative writings by women of color, such as those included in the edited collection This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color (1981), and, in turn, has generated some of the most enabling and robust scholarship in a range of interdisciplinary locations, including postcolonial studies, gender studies, African American Studies, and queer theory. As the epigraphs above suggest, if the identification of gender as the primary variable for investigating sexual identity forecloses a consideration of the equally meaningful place of racial formation and class relations in our "sexual" lives, then the acceptance of race and ethnicity as the defining characteristics of people of color prevents an adequate examination of the significant roles that sexual desires and sexual prohibitions play in racialization. We can now say with certainty that race and sexuality are not self-contained, discrete categories. Reading Chican@ Like a Queer stays with that certainty, even, or especially, when the analysis leads me to unpredictable terrain and de-masterful uncertainty. If racialized sexuality is one of my key terms, that is, I mean for it to do much more than stand in as a de rigueur flashpoint.
This brings me to the queer work that I mean for the term "de-mastery" to perform in my subtitle. As tiny as my mere two-letter prefix may seem, I cannot begin to do justice to what its expansiveness has meant for me as a reader, a thinker, a writer, and a teacher. And I actually do not want to do justice to it, when to "do justice" to de-mastery—to master de-mastery—would be to discipline, to tame, to reduce, to render intelligible a structure of feeling whose force is precisely in its unintelligibility, what Raymond Williams eloquently describes as "something not yet come," something still "at the very edge of semantic availability" (Marxism and Literature, 130, 134). In embracing de-mastery over certainty, I want to resist what the Lacanian theorist Antonio Viego describes as a "reductive and ego amplifying narrative of Latino and Chicano subjectivity," our desire for which
shows us to be problematically in thrall with the unspoken conditions of our subjugation and shows us to have become overinvested in and insufficiently critical of ego- and social psychological explanations of human subjectivity that continue to obsess over notions of subjective unity, wholeness, adaptation, adjustment to reality, "mental health," and that definitively place in parenthesis all of the poststructuralist lessons we have learned about language and the effects of language as structure on the speaking subject. (Dead Subjects, 141)
My investment in "de-mastery" extends to the ethnic/racial signifier that I use in the book's title and, where appropriate, within the book itself. My queer performative "Chican@" signals a conscientious departure from certainty, mastery, and wholeness, while still announcing a politicized collectivity. Certainly when people handwrite or keystroke the symbol for "at" as the final character in Chican@, they are expressing a certain fatigue with the clunky post-1980s gender inclusive formulations: "Chicana or Chicano," "Chicana and Chicano," or "Chicana/o." But I want my "Chican@" to be more capacious than shorthand. I mean for it to catch our attention with its blend of letters from the alphabet on the one hand and a curly symbol on the other hand, a rasquachismo that at first sight looks perhaps like a typo and seems unpronounceable. While some people pronounce "Chican@" as "Chicana, Chicano" or "Chicana/o," I prefer the diphthong ao.
The ethnic signifiers "Chicana," "Chicano," and "Chicana/o" when they are used as nouns and not adjectives announce a politicized identity embraced by a man or a woman of Mexican decent who lives in the United States and who wants to forge a connection to a collective identity politics. I like the way the nonalphabetic symbol for "at" disrupts our desire for intelligibility, our desire for a quick and certain visual register of a gendered body the split second we see or hear the term. "Chican@" flies under or over the radar of what Monique Wittig calls "the mark of gender" (The Straight Mind). Or better yet, it does something less sneaky but more impactful: it stays within purview but refuses the norms of legibility and the burdens of visibility, thereby effecting what Angie Chabram-Dernersesian would describe as la ruptura ("'Chicana! Rican? No, Chicana Riqueña!'" 280) or what José Esteban Muñoz might call a "disidentification" (Disidentifications).
Although this study is woven from a queer, poststructuralist-oriented suspicion of mastery, it does not indiscriminately embrace "hybridity" and "intersectionality." When Audre Lorde wrote her groundbreaking piece "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" in 1979, she could still say as she did that feminists "have been taught to either ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change" (99). I would now update that assessment in order to account for the multicultural display of difference, on the one hand, and the postmodern celebration of difference, on the other. Referring to the latter as "the difference revolution," Rey Chow insightfully captures its insidiousness:
What is significant in this modulation is that culture itself has taken on an emancipatory function as opposed to various forms of oppression. In terms of topography, then, what is given (that is, what is oppressive) tends to be imagined in terms of the stagnant, immobile, firmly-in-place, and unchanging, whereas the opposite tends to be viewed (by hybridity theorists) as inherently liberating. (The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 131)
The standpoint epistemology within Chow's topography depends on assuming a one-to-one correspondence between, for instance, quotidian life in the borderlands and transgressive subjectivity. It is often flagged by terms marking impure complexity: heterogeneity, fluidity, hybridity, contradiction, mobility, ambiguity, and especially intersectionality. And if the bodies of racialized subjects are often referenced through these terms, the minds of racialized subjects often feature as uniquely primed for revolutionary subjectivity, a new form of standpoint epistemology. What the key terms used to mark racialized difference as inherently transgressive have in common is their indelible dependence on what can only be a fantasy of a normative center inhabited by homogenous, static, racially pure, stagnant, uninteresting, and simple sovereign subjects. The celebration of hybridity not only helps reify the fantasy of a sovereign subject but also threatens to transmute marginality itself into a form of authenticity, only here rendered by the notion of "pure impurities," to borrow a term from the independent scholar Dana Maya.
It seems to me that one way to negotiate the challenges I have outlined thus far is to use the best of the tools that queer theory has to offer. My qualification in that sentence ("the best of the tools") is meant to acknowledge that queer theory itself presents its own set of challenges. For queer theory has been slow to learn from the important work of scholars like José Quiroga, Juana María Rodríguez, José Esteban Muñoz, and Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano—to name a few of the people who have staged imaginative interventions over the past dozen or so years against the heteronormativity of Latin@ studies and the racialized blind spots of queer theory. Too often queer theory continues to render race, ethnicity, and nation as niches within a broader, and unremarked, white erotics. In Chapter 1 I call this rendering the "see-for-instance" endnote. Queer theorists' engagement with queers of color, or with racial formation more broadly, is still too often contained in the tiny-font endnotes at the backs of books. These usually refer back to acknowledgments of "intersectionality" that often go something like this: "thanks to women of color we now know that we have to address the intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation."
Reading Like a Queer
In her noted introduction to Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick traces the historical twists and turns that have led to what she calls an endemic crisis of homo/heterosexual definition in modern Western culture. The late-nineteenth-century crystallization of a homo/heterosexual binary, she argues, generated an ontological "world-mapping" of sexual identity through which
every given person, just as he or she was necessarily assignable to a male or a female gender, was now considered necessarily assignable as well to a homo- or a hetero-sexuality, a binarized identity that was full of implications, however confusing, for even the ostensibly least sexual aspects of personal existence. It was this new development that left no space in the culture exempt from the potent incoherences [sic] of homo/heterosexual definition. (2)
As a master term—no less determining and contradictory than the master terms of sex, class, and race—the homo/heterosexual definition has "primary importance for all modern Western identity and social organization (and not merely for homosexual identity and culture)" and is "so situated as to enable most inextricably and at the same time most differentially the filaments of other important definitional nexuses" (11).
The force of Sedgwick's framework lies in its expansive critical reach that at once underlines the wide-ranging importance of antihomophobic sexuality studies and cogently suggests that—to quote the singular declaration that perhaps has been cited more than any of Sedgwick's—"an understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition" (1; emphasis added). This insistence on the indelible working of the homo/heterosexual definition within seemingly remote structures of meaning, such as the binary oppositions of knowledge/ignorance or domestic/foreign, has become a cornerstone of queer theory, supporting a wide body of deconstructive work that queers nominally un(homo)sexual concepts from resolutely antinormative positions (Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 11). That work reveals the insidious pervasiveness—but also the exploitable fragility and illogic—of heteronormativity and the overdetermined elaboration of sexual discourse.
As Elizabeth Freeman eloquently describes it, "To 'queer' something is at once to make its most pleasurable aspects gorgeously excessive, even [or, we might press, especially] to the point of causing its institutional work to fail, and to operate it against its most oppressive political results" (The Wedding Complex, xv). Here we might think of not only the spectacle of American wedding nuptials brilliantly queered by Freeman but the arias of Maria Callas (Wayne Koestenbaum), the novels of Henry James as well as the textures of physical objects (Sedgwick), and the legacy of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Alicia Gaspar de Alba), to name a few.
The certainty with which Sedgwick attributes the power of world-making to homo/heterosexual definition, however, such that "it becomes truer and truer that the language of sexuality not only intersects with but transforms the other languages and relations by which we know," belies the sheer difficulty of grasping the consequences and implications of the discursive impact and epistemological porosity of sexuality (Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 3). As Sedgwick herself notes, we cannot know in advance how the contradictions inherent in this definition might play themselves out in any individual moment or in any individual literary or social text, or even whether they can best be understood through a universalizing view or a minoritizing view. Moreover, Sedgwick's framework can be easily misinterpreted as one more injunction to approach categories such as sexuality, race, and class through a lens of intersectionality, which can end up stabilizing (not to mention rendering equivalent) the discursive and material concepts brought into a single view, making it difficult not only to question their apparentness in the first place but to apprehend the dynamic transformations of power relations and epistemologies of which Sedgwick speaks.
I want to think at once harder and more flexibly about Chican@ subjectivity than is possible when we use the shorthand "intersectionality" approach. As I discuss in Chapter 1, "intersectionality" is perhaps too spatially rigid and exacting a metaphor to employ when considering the ever dynamic and unending processes of subject formation. It seems to me that race, sexuality, and gender are much too complex, unsettled, porous (and I do mean to be wordy here), mutually constitutive, unpredictable, incommensurable, and dynamic, certainly too spatially and temporally contingent, ever (even if only for an instant) to travel independently of one another. But they would have to do so in order to be conceived of as intersecting, as eventually meeting one another here and there, crossing, colliding, passing, yielding, or merging. I do not want to offer a better metaphor as an answer to this problem. What I want to suggest is that we be wordy and contingent, that we not look for a shorthand for naming or understanding or footnoting the confounding manifold ways that our bodies, our work, our desires are relentlessly interpellated by unequivalent social processes.
How/why/where does racialized sexuality lend itself to narratives of social relations in the United States; methods of reading, writing, and seeing; modes of being, belonging, and excluding; representations of desiring, loving, and fucking; and forms of contestation and resistance? The particular overdetermined colonial relations that continue to inscribe contemporary Chican@ subjectivity and the geopolitics of the U.S. borderlands make racialized sexuality an especially important category of analysis for us to consider. One of the first scholars to ask for an analysis attuned to the erotics of this history was the Chicana feminist historian and critical theorist Emma M. Pérez. For Pérez, what has been missing from Chicano Studies—Chicano historicism especially—is a historically grounded, psychoanalytic reading of racialized desire (akin to Frantz Fanon's), through which we can come to a better understanding of the choices and consequences involved with contemporary cross-racial desire.
In her 1991 essay "Sexuality and Discourse: Notes from a Chicana Survivor," Pérez emplots onto a "conquest triangle" the white Oedipal/colonizer father, la india (the Indian woman), and the castrated mestizo/Chicano son. Arguing that this triangulation "dictates the sexual politics of miscegenation in the twentieth century" (168-169), Pérez claims that the Chicano male's "anxiety is not reduced to the fear of losing it, but also the fear that his will never match the supreme power of the white man's" (168). For Pérez, miscegenation brings a measure of racial privilege to both Chicanos and Chicanas (as well as their children, of course), though not in the same way:
Chicanos . . . practice male prerogative and marry white women to defy, and collaborate with, the white father, and in having half-white children move their sons a step closer to the relations of power—the white-colonizer father. For the Chicana who marries the white male, she embraces the white Oedipal-colonizer ambivalently, because now she has access to power theoretically, but practically she is perceived as la india once again. . . . The daughter of a white male and a Chicana has the father's white name to carry her through racist institutions, placing her closer to power relations in society. (169)
As Antonio Viego notes in his study on Lacanian psychoanalysis and Latino Studies, Pérez must be credited for being one of the only Chican@ Studies scholars of subjectivity to employ psychoanalytic theory. Her work also represents a helpful alternative to Octavio Paz's infamous essay-chapter of The Labyrinth of Solitude entitled "Sons of La Malinche," itself offering a psycho-social cartography of colonial desires. While Paz would no doubt agree with Pérez's arrangement of the dramatis personae on her colonial triangle, his model has been widely critiqued (including, of course, by Pérez herself) for its particular rendering of Hernán Cortés's "mistress," La Malinche, as la chingada (the fucked one). As I discuss in Chapter 3, the particular way that Paz describes La Malinche's transgressions in the national romance can easily transmogrify into the stereotype of indigenous women as simultaneously passive and treacherous. While both Paz and Pérez suggest that neither desire nor love could ever stand outside of national and racial frameworks, her approach alleviates the burden of sexual transgression and broken loyalties that Chicanas have shouldered for 500 years.
At about the same time as Pérez's "Sexuality and Discourse," the postcolonial theorist and African American Studies scholar Abdul R. JanMohamed offered up his groundbreaking 1992 essay on racialized sexuality. "Sexuality on/of the Racial Border: Foucault, Wright, and the Articulation of 'Racialized Sexuality'" analyzes racialized sexuality through an interdisciplinary archive that bears witness to the specific history of violent miscegenation between African Americans and Anglo-Americans. JanMohamed places the term "racialized sexuality" in quotation marks, which suggests that this was still a fairly new concept in 1992, if not one that he was then coining. He describes "racialized sexuality" as a "field" that "can be defined at the point where the deployment of sexuality intersects with the deployment of race" (94). And "[w]ithin the confines of United States slave and Jim Crow societies, racialized sexuality exists at the point where the virtual powerlessness of certain subjects intersects with the massive prohibitive power of various states and civil apparatuses, power that, it must be emphasized, is always underwritten by the actual or potential use of massive coercive violence" (97).
JanMohamed's conceptualization of "racialized sexuality" is on the one hand quite literal in that he means to use it to track the (violent) crossing of a racial border between blacks and whites, particularly as that border was consolidated and enforced within slave and Jim Crow apparatuses. Racialized sexuality in this sense—as in the Pérez passage above—is literally miscegenation and results in racial hybridity (which is why the Susie Guillory Phipps case is so important in his essay). On the other hand, JanMohamed understands racialized sexuality as a discursive field of power, but one that is just outside Michel Foucault's purview in The History of Sexuality. In fact, "Sexuality on/of the Racial Border" is largely an argument with Foucault, an effort to consider racialized sexuality through what Foucault calls the juridico-discursive. Where Foucault emphasizes that power is not contained and/or does not originate in the juridico-discursive, JanMohamed wants to argue that for racialized sexuality (in contradistinction to what he calls white bourgeois sexuality) the juridico-discursive (and its prohibitions) is precisely the location to consider: "in my view, the draconian nature of the slave code and Jim Crow laws and their systematic enforcement through violence justify the use of 'juridico-discursive' prohibitions as the ground for the construction of racialized sexuality. . . . Power is used in this context to institute a radical demarcation and denial of kinship between two groups while one of them intimately and brutally exploits the other" (100; my emphasis).
The primary difference between bourgeois sexuality and the kind of racialized sexuality that JanMohamed tracks has to do with speech and silence, in that racialized sexuality deploys a "strategic rather than merely tactical" silence (103). In other words, "those who could speak did not want to and those who did want to speak were prevented from doing so" (105); "one is characterized by a will to knowledge and hence by an analytic discursivity, the other by a will to conceal and hence by an allegorical discursivity" (113-114). According to JanMohamed's arguments, then, Foucault's critiques of the speaker's benefit and the repressive hypothesis (which I discuss in Chapter 1) are largely inapplicable to racialized sexuality in the United States. While JanMohamed's framework offers a useful history of the meaningfully dense silence surrounding miscegenation and a compelling critical engagement with Foucault's repressive hypothesis, I do not approach racialized sexuality through a dominant-subaltern model, even if I necessarily engage the histories of Spanish and U.S. imperialism.
Where JanMohamed's work makes clear that the study of racialized sexuality has wide-ranging implications for how we understand African American subjectivity, representation, power, and resistance, we in Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies have been much less expansive in our reach when it comes to racialized sexuality. We tend to take note of racialized sexuality primarily when it is explicitly pronounced, if not announced, in representations by Chicana feminist writers and cultural workers, especially those who proudly violate sexual norms, such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. For instance, the scholar most invested and prolific in developing a vocabulary with which to explore Chicana racialized sexuality, Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, centers her discussions on texts that explicitly foreground an antiheteronormative ethos, particularly those by Moraga. Such acknowledgment of Chicana sex-positive representations of culturally specific and historically laden gender and sexual frameworks has been invaluable. Reading Chican@ Like a Queer builds on that important work in order to theorize racialized sexuality as a pervasive category in Chican@ cultural production more broadly. I want to examine not just the complexity of contemporary Chicana feminist discourse but the subtle ways in which a range of Chican@ thinkers have been invested in asking complex questions about the relationship between collective circumstances and individual desire, between material realities and interiority, and particularly about why we love the way we do.
That is, rather than approach the insights of Chicana feminists as contemporary anomalies, this book takes those insights from a "minoritarian" to a "majoritarian" position, integrating them fully and demonstrating their relevance to a broader history of Chican@ cultural production. As such, my approach to racialized sexuality foregoes a priori assumptions based on the putative politics and identities of the individual authors, the focus of their work, or the category of racialized sexuality itself. Although my own feminist and queer political passions underwrite my readings and emphasize those representations that are most enabling of what Michael Warner calls "a queer world" ("Introduction," xvi), my archive of primary literature necessarily includes texts that are not authored by feminists, as well as some that do not even explicitly engage sexuality. In the tradition of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, my queries take me to unlikely territory: Américo Paredes, considered the "founding father" of Chicana/o narrative for his revisionist ethnographies and fictional accounts of tejano–Anglo-Texan social relations and armed conflict in the first half of the twentieth century; and, at the other extreme, Richard Rodriguez, considered "the Mexican American that Chicanos love to hate" for his adamant criticisms of bilingual education and affirmative action.
Likewise, this project also leads me to authors who might seem obvious: Cherríe Moraga and Ana Castillo. Their work makes it clear that contemporary Chicana subjectivity continues to be circumscribed by the heteronormative virgen/chingada (virgin/whore) sexual framework set in motion by the hegemonic deployment of miscegenation and religious conversion during the conquest of Mexico in the sixteenth century. The cogent insistence on racialized sexuality by Moraga and Castillo—as well as by the many Chicana feminist creative writers that I take up alongside them, such as Gloria Anzaldúa—was instrumental to the preliminary convictions that led to this study. However, the abundant engagement with and endorsement of Chicana feminist thought and its insights about sexuality from a number of influential literary and cultural studies scholars—especially Norma Alarcón, Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, Sonia Saldívar-Hull, Angie Chabram-Dernersesian, and Ramón Saldívar, whose important work I draw from throughout the book—have made it possible at last to deepen our critical engagement with that literature. Reading Chican@ Like a Queer dislodges Chicana feminist literature from its role as incipient evidence of "intersectionality" and from its register of transparent experience in order to perform a queer discursive analysis of racialized sexuality as an aperture (not an endpoint) onto the sometimes queer, at other times normative (most often, both) representations of race, desire, and intercultural and intracultural social relations.
I want to emphasize as political intervention the majoritarian aspects of this project, particularly in light of a virulent sexist and homophobic backlash against Chicana feminism that has taken a new form over the past dozen years. I am thinking especially about two reactionary strains: the Nation of Aztlán (an organization based in Southern California), which issues calls for boycotts of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies annual meetings because of the "sick" lesbian presence found there; and the more troublesome because more sanctioned rearguard polemic by the Chicano historian Ignacio M. García. In his 1996 essay "Juncture in the Road: Chicano Studies since 'El Plan de Santa Bárbara,'" García vehemently argues that Chicano Studies has strayed too far from its original activist blueprints largely because of Chicana feminist (particularly lesbian) theorists' undue influence. As has been well documented, Chican@ activists agitated for the institutionalization of Chicano Studies in the late 1960s as a means of bridging the gap between the university and the "community," making higher education meaningful for Chican@s, and holding the university accountable for supporting research on the socioeconomic factors involved in the continuing disenfranchisement of Mexican American communities.
According to García, a confluence of factors has co-opted Chicano Studies: professional self-interest among Chicano scholars, for whom tenure takes higher priority than radical pedagogy; the debilitating rollbacks of the Reagan-Bush era; the wane in Chicano student activism; and the emergence of a new generation of scholars who have neither direct experience with el movimiento chicano nor adequate training in Chicano historiography. But the major threat to Chicano Studies, he argues, is Chicana feminism, particularly those scholars who take a "lesbian-feminist" approach in their scholarship. In García's estimation, such scholarship may be stylish in the academy but completely removed from the problems facing the Chicano community and is certainly not the kind of work that was imagined by those activists who laid the groundwork for Chicano Studies: "unlike the politics of the Chicano Movement," the work of "adversarial" feminists is "not based on what the predominantly working-class community thinks" (190). He positions lesbian feminist scholars—a group of nameless women he dubs "gender nationalists"—as an external threat to the integrity of Chicano Studies at a time when the field is particularly vulnerable: they compete with "committed" Chicano scholars for already-limited resources; they "find the lurking 'macho' in every Chicano scholarly work" (190); they "have even gone as far as promoting the idea that homosexuality is an integral part of Chicano culture" (190).
While García's bald expression of antipathy toward feminist thought might make his polemic seem extreme, I actually do not see it as an isolated case. And as the neoliberal corporatization of higher education continues to shrink the already slim resources allocated to ethnic studies units, it becomes more imperative that progressive thinkers challenge charges of feminist and queer divisiveness leveraged by those who purport to care most about social change. At the same time, while the sentiments expressed in García's essay participate in a long history of scapegoating lesbians and feminists for the limitations of Chicano identitarian politics, I would argue that his ideas represent a newer, more insidious, blame narrative. What is remarkable about García's polemic is his positioning of Chicana feminists as outside threats to the field, his positioning of their scholarship as completely irrelevant to the needs of Chicanos. For García, as for the Nation of Aztlán, racialized sexuality is not only a minoritarian affair but a completely misguided one. Of course, what authorizes his insider/outsider framework is his sense that Chicana feminist thought is radically irreconcilable with an earlier, narrowly oppositional Chicano scholarship designed to "empower Chicanos and Chicanas in their struggle to liberate their community from poverty, political powerlessness, and a collective identity crisis" (201).
García's understanding of Chicano politics is shaped by the same sense of oppositionality that gave rise to the criteria that have long been utilized to measure the worth and authenticity of Chican@ literature. As Juan Bruce-Novoa has argued, these preset criteria include a marked Chicano/Anglo binary; a strong sense of familia with machismo at the helm; a fierce antiassimilationist politics; a pronounced working-class ethos; and a rural setting ("Canonical and Non-Canonical Literature"). The persistence of these criteria compels a trajectory in which Chicana feminist and lesbian literature—with all of its explicit attention to sexuality—would seem to represent, at best, a new and discrete approach to subjectivity and, at worst, abject deviance. One way in which I resist that narrative is by presenting the writers discussed in this study in nonchronological order. Margins are centered, endings foregrounded. That is, rather than beginning the study with my analysis of Paredes's work, I begin immediately with a queer consideration of what Moraga can teach us about how racialized sexuality affects and is affected by social etiquette, embodiment, shame, confession, and identity politics. Rather than point to Moraga's work as mere evidence of queer marginality, I want to understand why/how/where the contradictions and even self-loathing that pepper her texts confound the analytic boundaries between race and sexuality.
Chapter 2, "Fixing Up the House of Race with Richard Rodriguez," offers a fresh consideration of Rodriguez's infamously biting critiques of racial minority status. My analysis reaches beyond the explicit reasoning deployed in his argument that claims to a minority status are both opportunistic, because they afford a number of false privileges (most notably, affirmative action), and destructive, because they self-fulfill victimization (most notably, by "protecting" racial subjects from the necessary pain requisite to becoming public citizens). A number of scholars have already illuminated the fallacies lacing that reasoning; this chapter shows that Rodriguez's reasoning depends on his equally vexed conception of sexuality. His portrayal of sexuality as profoundly private and individuated is the very narrative, I contend, undergirding (and thus rendering problematic) his critique of racial identity as a public and collective affair. This argument is foregrounded in the chapter in order to serve as a fulcrum for several additional lines of inquiry into Rodriguez's stark division of public and private worlds.
Chapter 3, "Queering the Conquest with Ana Castillo," considers the tightly bound connection between Castillo's elaboration of Chicana/mestiza sexual agency and her exploration of transcultural forms of belonging and desire. Because Castillo's novels are set not in the Texas or California cities that are a mainstay of Chican@ literature but in the racially and nationally diverse metropoles of Chicago and New York, they at once bypass altogether the brown/white color line of explicit concern to the authors discussed in the previous chapters and unsettle the traditional conception of Aztlán (the Chican@ homeland, which although mythical is located so decidedly in the Southwest). They also bring transnationalism home, so to speak, by staging atypical border crossings that are not dependent on international travel. Importantly, however, the transnational milieus that Castillo constructs for her working-class characters are far from multicultural utopias in which travel is unconstrained and love is borderless. Rather, the cross-cultural romantic and sexual relationships—the focus of her novels—are inscribed by a double narrative of urban malaise and cultural displacement. Against her bleak portrait of failed intimacies and urban social problems, she maintains the prospect of conversion by turning to two non-Western cultural systems: mestizaje and "Gypsy" culture.
Chapter 4, "Américo Paredes and the De-Mastery of Desire," performs the first queer reading of Paredes's works. While this reading shares with Chican@ literary and cultural studies scholars a keen investment in understanding the tejano versus Anglo-Texan conflict that drove Paredes's lifework, it interrupts the tautological loop of redeploying its oppositional terms to read its oppositional terms. I unglue the conflation of Paredes and his work with oppositional thinking, hypermasculinity, and heroism through a reconsideration of the book that anchored those very traits as the field's foundation and secured his foundational place in the field, "With His Pistol in His Hand": A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958). The magnitude of that work and the masculine heroism it depicts have eclipsed, I argue, Paredes's own fiction and its subtle critiques of normative masculinity. This chapter's analyses of Paredes's novel George Washington Gómez: A Mexicotexan Novel (published in 1990, but written in the 1930s) and short story "Over the Waves Is Out" (1953) suggest that he was challenging, if not queering, tejano patriarchal and heteronormative systems ingrained in post-1915 South Texas life some fifty years before the publication of Moraga's Loving in the War Years. Why does Paredes render racialized sexual desire such a compelling measure of both loyalty and assimilation, so that it is the mechanism through which he tells us who the protagonists are becoming? How are sexual desires constrained by race and shaped by shame and humiliation?
Taking racialized sexuality from a minoritarian to a majoritarian position by arguing for its relevance to all Chican@ representations facilitates one of my central aims: rendering sexuality and, along with it, Chicana feminist insights about sexuality unexceptional. That is, I want to refuse the field's traditional periodization, which marks the appearance of explicitly sexual work in the early 1980s as a distinctly new chapter in Chican@ literary history—whether that shift is celebrated (Ramón Saldívar), denigrated (Ignacio García), or simply taken to signify the end of Chicano Studies (Randy A. Rodríguez). While this counterintuitive move (coming, as it does, from a feminist scholar) might seem to diminish the innovation of Chicana feminism, especially where I illustrate that Paredes's 1930s writings actually stage a prescient sex-positive and feminist ethos, it is a move that actively works against the containment of feminist insights. Indeed, this analysis expands the very definition of Chican@ cultural production as primarily a set of representations underwritten by oppositional consciousness and cultural maintenance amid the ongoing race- and class-based disenfranchisement of peoples of Mexican descent.