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Chicano/Latino Homoerotic Identities

Foster, David William, Ed. New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1999. 384 p., $75.00. ISBN 0815332289.

This collection evolved from a research symposium on queer issues in "Hispanic" culture held at Arizona State University in November of 1997. Although the title boasts of focusing in on Chicano/Latino queer issues many of the essays are by Chicanas and/or about specifically Latina lesbian concerns. As editor David William Foster states, "Certainly, Latina lesbian work has proceeded with considerable enthusiasm and brilliant results, although not always within the bosom of academic programs" (ix). Chicana/Latina lesbians, and many lesbians of color for that matter, have been able to poly-vocally raise new consciousness. Many gay or queer men of color have not been so successful for a multitude of interconnected reasons, especially men's self-imposed shackles of patriarchy, not to mention an overriding Anglo patriarchal discourse that infects much of the world through its technologies of trade politics, "third world" exploitations, and ubiquitous popular culture.

At issue in Chicano/Latino Homoerotic Identities is "how queer studies have begun to and can continue to enrich academic research on Chicano/Latino culture" (x). I have to wonder though, why not refract this vision? Why does queer theory(ies) have to inform Chicano/Latino studies? Considering the noted and debated dearth of race, ethnicity, and class issues dealt with under the rhetorical umbrella of queer studies/theory, should not white/Anglo queer students/theorists be going to them for insights? Why is it always expected that the "others/ed" must learn from us? Personally, I have gained far more insight form Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Laura Esparza, and Monica Palacios than I have from the inorganic strategies of many the Anglo queer theorists. Although I cannot downplay the usefulness and brilliance of Foucault or Butler, their texts are intensely dry and nearly impenetrable. I discovered multitudinous crystalline depths in Anzaldua that I have only found paralleled in Hegel. For this book review I will examine a few to the articles in order to give an overall representation of the entire collection. I understand the difficulty and dangers of doing this yet am restricted by length, considering the amount of thought that should be given to each essay, which is reflected in the ones I have chosen to speak about here.

Chicana lesbian identity politics as self-representation, creative or critical, is a fairly recent phenomenon. Susana Chavez-Silverman's "Chicanas in Love: Sandra Cisneros Talking Back and Alicia Gaspar de Alba 'Giving Back the Wor(l)d'" examines how these women poets represent themselves in love and female/gender agency. According to Chavez-Silverman Cisneros' poetry embraces and embodies stereotypes, it "self-tropicalizes". There appears to be an issue with what Chavez-Silverman believes Cisneros' imaginary and symbolic metaphorical border crossings should be and how the poet embodies the hybrid, limitless, and othered position(s) and performances of la frontera identities. She acknowledges the important contributions Cisneros has made to the poly-vocal project of helping Chicana(s) sexuality come to fuller consciousness, yet she finds this voice problematic. It is an obstructed argument that seems to be steeped in personal opinion or taste rather than significant crux.

The following essay really clawed its way under my skin. Although Rosales frames her arguments in contestation of the voracity of white queer theory, she often essentializes the subjects of her inquiry; she performs a schizophrenic dance of theories. Celilia Rosales' "Chueco Sexualities: Kaleidoscope I's and Shattered Mirrors" is ultimately an anti-utopian commentary. Rosales opens with an important critique of queer theory, that it is "blinded by its own borders" (25). From that point things seem to go wrong. She claims that "We cannot simple establish and propose analytical and theoretical models for cultural production that are alien to the culture in which queer theory first emerged" (25). Is queer theory really alien to the culture that produced it? Is it the repressed, unspoken, and seductive other of dominant cultural discourse? If we peel back the thin, yet formidable and protected, skin of "the" dominant culture's discourses we will discover the same symbolic chaos and dialectically determined becoming that we are so fond of proclaiming only exists in the queer. In conclusion Rosales' major project in the essay is powerful and necessary. She contests not only the lack of attention paid to the essential issues of race, ethnicity, and class in the brief history of queer studies, but the fact that currently queer theory is ill prepared to deal with these issues and how they impact and help construct the sexual identities of nonwhite middle-class queers. As Rosales puts it, "any attempt to theorize and define nonwhite homoerotic identities outside the United States' culture from a quite central theoretical standpoint, as is in this case queer theory, will inevitably result in a flawed pastiche, and, needless to say, an additional imposition of patriarchal domination in the inextricable monologue of power that emerges in trying to form a new discourse for/of the other derived from the discourse of domination: Too much 'fathering,' too much 'othering'" (26).

Unlike the previous negatively tinged articles, Tino Sandoval's contribution to the collection, "Lesbians of Aztlan: Reclamation, Resistance, and Liberation", is positive, forward looking, and reaffirming. It locates Chicana lesbian and feminists issues without finger pointing or losing site of the bigger picture. Although she criticizes the white feminist movement for its failure to incorporate women of color, she does not do so blindly, acknowledging that white women were/are not the direct objects of racism and therefore were ignorant and blind to it. Focusing on how women of color are confronted with three or more overlapping sites of oppression, race, gender/sexuality, and class, Sandoval traces Chicana, Chicana lesbian, and third world feminists' movements of consciousness and across borders of language, identity, and sexuality. She goes to great efforts to show the connections and strengths between queer theory and Chicana lesbianism, while documenting the disparities among Anglo queer theories and Chicana/o sexual liberation movements.

Though not unnoteworthy many of the remaining essays explore the borders of queer Chicana/o / Latina/o literature or texts and its role in consciousness raising and identity politics, including: Catriona Rueda Esquibel's "Memories of Girlhood: Chicana Lesbian Fictions", Daniel Enrique Perez's "The Quest for Freedom: The Process of Female Sexual Liberation in Alma Luz Villanueva's Naked Ladies", Guillermo Reyes' "A Scene from Deporting the Divas; A Play", Beatriz Cortez's "Hybrid Identities and the Emergence of Dislocated Consciousness: Deporting the Divas by Guillermo Reyes", Francisco X. Alarcon's "The Poet as the Other", David William Foster's "The Poetry of Francisco X. Alarcon: The Queer Project of Poetry", and Carmen de Urioste's "Ana Maria Fagundo's Poetry Revisited: Language and the Body".

In addition to the aforementioned compositions, the collection is rounded out by Juana Suarez's "Feminine Desire and Homoerotic Representation in Two Latin American Films: Danzon and La bella del Alhambra", Antonio Prieto's "Incorporated Identities: The Subversion of Stigma in the Performance Art of Luis Alfaro", Sandra Quinn's "The Last of the Boricuas: The Conventions of Porn: A Classical Experience", Kanishka Sen's "Queering the Mexican Stage: Theatrical Strategies in Xavier Villaurrutia", Jose B. Alvarez IV's "The Dialectics of Homoeroticism in Cuban Narrative", and Manual de Jesus Hernandez-G.'s impressive "Building a Research Agenda on U.S. Latino Lesbigay Literature and Cultural Production: Texts, Writers, Performance Artists, and Critics".

Jeremiah Smith