Weber StudiesHome , Archives , Reading Room , Search , Editorial Info , Books , Subscribe ,  West Links
Spring 1994, Volume 11.2

Book Reviews


Family of Mirrors, Reviewed by Fred Marchant
In My Own Sweet Time: An Autobiography, Reviewed by Stacy Burton
Minorities at Risk: A Global View of Ethnopolitical Conflicts Reviewed by Nancy N. Haanstad
Unveiling by Rita Kiefer, Reviewed by Robert M. Hogge
Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation 1965-1985, Reviewed by Angelika Pagel



Family of Mirrors by G.S. Sharat Chandra. Kansas City, MO: BkMk Press, 1993, 83 pp., $12.00 (cloth).

Reviewed by Fred Marchant, Department of Humanities and Modern Languages, Suffolk University, Boston, MA.

Multiculturalism is too important a concept to be left to journalists and social-scientists, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. The psychological distances and separations of our world grow smaller and smaller each day, and the resulting shifts in human consciousness already have been profoundly real. At the same time only a few poets come to mind when we try to think of those whose art has registered these seismic shifts. Derek Walcott's work, for instance, is perhaps the most stunning example of poetry made out of and addressed to many cultures. In Walcott's poetry, the tensions, dialectics, and occasional sweet harmonies among African, European, and American cultural assumptions form the basis of its broad human significance.

This situation is similar in G.S. Sharat Chandra's Family of Mirrors. Chandra's culture of birth is India. He is the author of five books of poetry and numerous pieces of fiction. He is, and has been for many years, a university English teacher in the United States. He is also a graduate of the University of Mysore and of the University of Iowa, with law degrees from universities in India and Canada. In other words, Chandra's life has clearly been conducted across national and cultural boundaries. As a result, the poetry in this collection is in many ways the story of such crossings. Chandra's poems tell the tales of flight and exile, longing and loss. They also tell the tale of the settling in, the troubled setting down of roots in the stubbly topsoil of the heart of the American landscape. Remarkable for their genial wit, these poems dramatize tolerant good will toward those who seem unable to grasp the difficulties which beset the poet who knows how unstable our identities finally are. In this way these poems are deeply instructive and enormously valuable parables of living within a multicultural frame of mind.

Family of Mirrors begins with a handful of poems based on childhood memories.

The opening poem is about a "runaway sister," one who declared she would flee the family village for Bombay, dreaming of becoming a movie star. She is in her fifties now, the poet tells us, having married her neighbor, the insurance salesman. Chandra focuses on her desire to flee and his sense that one never finally can escape one's origins. Such a "Bombay" in the imagination inevitably proves to be the projection of wishes and, as such, can never be what we hope or need it to be.

The poet, in contrast to his sister, seems to have journeyed farther from the childhood home, but the same rule of reality applies to him as well: the farther he goes, the more closely connected he is to his origins. One of the last, and quite climactic, poems in this book is "Anniversary of a Drowning." By this time the poet has established a life in the United States, and he seems to be dreaming of his father's death by drowning which occurred when the poet was a boy. The speaker in the poem has joined the drowned father under the waters:

When I pause,
he senses my presence
nosing the ripples
blind as a just born mouse,
my toes gripping
the thin membrane of faith,
his held breath
between words,
and my need to let go.

This poem declares that some moments in consciousness admit no boundaries, no absences, no separations, and yet at the same time those moments are filled with the sense that one must let go, cannot help but give in to the final separation. Chandra's poems are filled with this double-consciousness of holding on and letting go, of similarity and difference.

This is not to say that Chandra's poems evade the difficulties of differences. Just the opposite. Some of the most moving poems in this collection zero in on the most painful moments of negotiating many kinds of difference. "Islands" tells a tale of age and gender, highlighting some of the chasms in that landscape. It concerns the island where the gas-pumps are, along with the brightly-lit attendant who collects the money. In Chandra's poem, the attendant is in her twenties, and the older speaker is aroused by her, moved to fantasize an affair. Then another day he pulls in for gas, and she calls him "sir," sensing the "codger" in him. Behind her a boyfriend is grinning. The older speaker feels a little foolish and chastened. As the glass door closes, there are, he says, "no goodbyes, no kiss of eye," and somewhere within him, even the syntactical structures of language are so shaken as to yield this culminating line: "Seize the day fill up let go." The reader is left with the feeling that all men and women are sometimes islands, no matter what they do.

The expressive, artful, grammatical tangle (reminiscent of Berryman's Henry at the end of "Islands") is all the more touching when, in "Still Kicking in America," one reads the following:

Now that I'm older
the old ones ask
the same questions
the young ones asked
when I was younger.
You speak such good English?
How long have you been here?

Never mind the typically American ignorance of history implied, and never mind even the insulting, probably racist assumptions motivating such a question. Chandra looks at his own legs and remarks:

…these never kicked anyone
except their owner
in dreams or desperation,
hoping for words
to come out right in English.

The poet is indeed still kicking, alive and well in America. His poems in Family of Mirrors are more than "right in English." They are attempts to untie the tongue about our essential loneliness and our occasional moments of connection. The poems are themselves glances made from within "a family of mirrors," where what is reflected is simultaneously the same and not the same, just as a reflection is always a reverse of what is being reflected. They speak with gentle ironies about our tremendous differences, and at the same time assert that we are ourselves images in the mirrors of one another. The name of this family of mirrors is human.


Back to Top



In My Own Sweet Time: An Autobiography by Blanche Cooney. Athens, OH: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1993, 246 pp., $24.95 (cloth).

Reviewed by Stacy Burton, Department of English, University of Nevada, Reno

Tales of youthful idealism or fervent love seldom surprise us; we know them all too well. In My Own Sweet Time, however, is a strikingly honest autobiography that is graceful, direct, and new. In Blanche Cooney's story, "boundless hope" persists through the uncomfortable recognition that life offers "limited choices" to those who envision "limitless possibilities" (224). And the impassioned connection between two strong souls endures daily obligations and fierce antagonisms—for, somehow, "The main thing is always us" (208).

Blanche Rosenthal, born in New York City in 1917, grew up in a Jewish immigrant family riven by conflict between her mother's world of art and propriety and her father's preoccupation with money and power. At fifteen, Blanche began creating her own future, reading Marx, attending lectures at the New School, venturing into the avant-garde of Greenwich Village. There she met Jimmy Cooney, the moody son of Irish Catholics, a writer expelled from the Communist Party "for insubordination" (40). Jimmy embodied the world she desired: passionate, direct, intellectual, committed. A year after they met, Blanche, eighteen, and Jimmy, twenty-eight, married. Her parents were outraged at "my shame, my betrayal, my ingratitude for the privileged life they provided" (63). His lover, certain the marriage wouldn't last, didn't disappear; Jimmy's connection with her lingered.

From the beginning, dreams shaped Blanche and Jimmy's life together: a vision of a pacifist agrarian community inspired by D. H. Lawrence; and a plan for The Phoenix, a literary quarterly to link kindred spirits across the globe. They lived

on loving friendships, and rousing fights and fervid correspondence: intensities…. Having no money for the superfluous, owning no encumbering possessions were badges of integrity, not hardship. A tank of gas for necessary errands in the old car, meals of basic sustenance punctuated by impromptu feasts: dry crusts and champagne. (102)

Together, they pursued elusive ideals in the artists' colony at Woodstock, through fruitless stays in New Mexico and Georgia, and on a Massachusetts farm. After visiting Frieda Lawrence and corresponding with Henry Miller, they launched The Phoenix in 1938, setting type by hand in an unimproved Woodstock cabin. They published Miller, Kay Boyle, Anaïs Nin, Jean Giono; despite Miller's amused nihilism, the journal was earnest and militantly pacifist in a world at war. Jimmy's politics and aesthetics were uncompromising: his "evangelical eloquence embarrassed me, and persuaded me; he was always ready to interrupt small talk, parochial gossip, and demand that burning questions be faced" (79).

In 1940, war and financial strain forced the suspension of The Phoenix. A few years later the Cooneys settled on a two-hundred-acre hilltop farm in western Massachusetts, bought with her father's help. Morning Star Farm operated on an ideal of community: Jimmy grew tobacco, Blanche took in expatriates and artists as paying guests; together they read and wrote, raised four children, listened to Mozart. Though their hope of a permanent radical community was never fully realized, it was never abandoned either. When necessary, Jimmy took outside work—"any job, as long as it was not respectable" (202); eventually, Blanche joined the Smith College library staff. Yet for both, life centered on the kitchen table where intellectual ferment, family intimacy, personal conflict, and political debate played out in full intensity. In the 1960s they protested Vietnam, and in 1970 they revived The Phoenix.

In My Own Sweet Time merits appreciation on several counts: as an account of American radical culture, a memoir of idealism weathering fifty years, a finely-crafted text, an intimate chronicle of a spirited couple. Blanche Cooney's story comes closest to the bone, however, in the moments when her life and autobiography escape the overwhelming shadow of the man she loved. At sixteen, Blanche found New York city intoxicating; at seventeen she and a friend concocted a story that enabled them to escape home and hitchhike to California. Six years later, however, in a cold winter with two babies and a gloomy husband, Blanche "began to shape myself for a life without money, anchored in domesticity" (116). Their deliberate life was costly: at twenty-eight Blanche found herself "immobilized, dependent," a woman in need of re-creating her own life, of subverting a trap she'd collaborated in making (195). In her mid-thirties she learned to drive a car: "It was bliss; it was heady" (207). Later, she began working at Smith College: "The money was nothing…. It was the freedom; it was the choice… it was a way for me to live in another country without giving up my own" (210-211).

In painful anecdotes, Blanche traces the figure on the edge of her mind: her mother, who silently extinguished herself through total, unappreciated devotion to her husband. Blanche's greatest act of will is to love Jimmy deeply yet refuse his desire to obtain all her history and consume all her private thoughts. Her memoir closes with his death in 1985, a few years after a stroke left the impetuous man virtually speechless. It is ironically fitting that in the end Blanche narrates both their stories.

Midway through In My Own Sweet Time, Blanche Cooney reflects on her love of storytelling: "It relieved my isolation if I could surprise a link between a stranger in my present with a person or place from the past" (151). Her memoir, at once frank and captivating, does just this: it surprises.


Back to Top



Minorities at Risk: A Global View of Ethnopolitical Conflicts by Ted Robert Gurr. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1993, 484 pp., $32.00 (cloth), $19.95 (paper).

Reviewed by Nancy N. Haanstad, Department of Political Science and Philosophy, Weber State University

Numerous scholars have identified two primary but contradictory trends shaping contemporary international politics: compression and fragmentation. The pull of a robust, market-based international economy towards a globalist center is juxtaposed with the pattern of breakage into smaller, ethnic-based political units. While "political economy" has become a major subfield within international politics, scholarship on the dynamics and consequences of ethnicity has been less systematic. Ted Robert Gurr's Minorities at Risk: A Global View of Ethnopolitical Conflicts is a seminal work in this vital but underexamined area.

Politically salient communal groups have emerged as historical by-products of military conquest, nation-building, economic modernization, and migration. Minorities at Risk studies 233 politicized minorities, comprising one-sixth of the world's population (915 million people), for a dual purpose. In examining the treatment and strategies of these groups, this book contributes both to the literature and theory of political science, as well as indicating the "conflict resolution" prospects of various approaches to minority demands. The importance of conflict resolution is confirmed by the project's grant support and publication by the United States Institute of Peace.

The first few chapters set out a complex classification scheme of politicized minorities that have experienced (in the period from 1945 to 1990) either economic or political discrimination, and/or political mobilization on behalf of collective goals. Only states of over 1 million population, along with communal groups involving 100,000 people (or 1% of the total population), were included.

Five communal groups are identified according to their historical experiences and political goals within two broad types: (1) "National" peoples, once autonomous, are described as either Ethnonationalists (historically autonomous, seeking separatism), such as Tibetans in China, or Indigenous Peoples (traditional societies, seeking control over land and resources), such as the Miskitos in Nicaragua. And (2) "Minority" peoples, characterized by inferior socio-economical and/or political status, are identified as Ethnoclasses (mostly descendants of slaves or immigrants, seeking economic betterment), such as Koreans in Japan; Militant Sects (religious adherents, seeking religious freedom), such as Malay Muslims in Thailand; or Communal Contenders (political competitors, seeking governmental powers). The last category includes both disadvantaged groups, such as the Masai in Kenya, and the highly charged situation of advantaged and even dominant minorities, such as the Chinese in Taiwan. These five divisions are not exclusive, and many minorities find themselves in more than one classification.

Fascinating trends and patterns emerge from the study. The industrialized democracies tend to have Ethnoclasses (e.g., African-Americans in the U.S.) despite formal political equality. Because of the open political system and the accommodationist strategy employed by constitutional democracies (e.g., Canada's concessions to the Inuit), these communal groups rarely resort to violence.

Conversely, while the former socialist bloc achieved rough material equality among minorities, Ethnonationalist desires for independence (e.g., the Baltics in the former USSR) were repressed. Despite the bloodless demise of the USSR (half of whose population was non-Russian), its successor states still are roughly 25% minorities, and the likelihood of group demands remains high.

In Subsaharan Africa, politicized minorities make up 42% of the population (against a global average of 17%), largely stemming from borders drawn by European imperialists who disregard Africa's rich ethnicity. As a result, communal groups compete for economic rewards and political power through shifting multi-ethnic alliances, which all too often degenerate into deadly civil wars (e.g., in Sudan).

Latin America has few communal groups (mostly Indigenous Peoples and Ethnoclasses), but they suffer the most severe degree of economic deprivation. The most intense communal conflicts have arisen in the Middle East and North Africa (namely, the Kurds and the Palestinians).

Moreover, South Asia is predicted to experience the most dramatic rise in ethnic tensions in the coming decade.

In this superb book, there are some minor shortcomings. Inclusive categories are sometimes employed at the author's discretion (e.g., all Native Americans are homogenetically identified). Nearly 40 pages worth of invaluable tables in the Appendix citing the types of disadvantages suffered and the degree of resistance offered by minorities are unnumbered, despite Index references. Individual chapters (some by other authors) examine minorities in the major regions of the world, inexplicably excluding Latin America and Asia.

But, Minorities at Risk is a major achievement and belongs in every university and community library. It will serve as a crucial source of information for scholars and human rights activists, providing a helpful guide for efforts at conflict resolution. I also highly recommend it for the average, interested reader. Although its numerous tables and charts make for slow reading, they are packed with information, and the text amply conveys the fascinating histories and aspirations of minorities.

Gurr asserts that communal protests have mostly run their course in the industrialized democracies, but their prevalence and volatility nearly everywhere else will fill tomorrow's headlines. His excellent book will help us better understand minorities' grievances, so we can better cope with their challenges to the status quo.


Back to Top



Unveiling by Rita Kiefer. Goshen, CT: Chicory Blue Press, 1993, 44 pp., $7.95 (paper).

Reviewed by Robert M. Hogge, Department of English, Weber State University

I'm intrigued by Rita Kiefer's Unveiling, a thin volume of poems that appeared almost mystically on my desk a few weeks ago. As I first read and then studied this collection, I began to understand why it had such a hold on me. This tapestry of poems is written by a poet with a clear and compelling voice, one who, like Louise Glück, uses self-scrutiny as a way of re-inventing macrocosmic issues of perception and value. Though Rita Kiefer's technique appears to be merely personal-confessional, the highly allusive Sister Mailee Sequence, the centerpiece of the collection, goes beyond the personal, positing a re-vision of the Western world.

The speaker of these brutally sensitive poems closely resembles the poet herself. At times her speaker reminds me of Anne Sexton's, in "With Mercy for the Greedy," who exclaims, "I was born / doing reference work in sin, and born / confessing it." The sin Rita Kiefer's speaker confesses is the sin of the fathers, her father in particular, but insensitive patriarchy in general.

Unveiling is a poetic re-creation of Rita Kiefer's painful rejection in childhood by an Irish Catholic father, her mystical yearning for acceptance as a "bride" of Christ in a convent as a nun for eighteen years, and her search for artistic identity and personal fulfillment that brought her back to the secular world. What Randall Jarrell writes of Elizabeth Bishop can certainly be said of Rita Kiefer: "all her poems have written underneath, I have seen it."

Of primal importance to Kiefer's speaker is her own father who "dreamed a son… but / woke to another daughter" (5), a daughter he then nicknames Pete in memory of her dead infant brother, a daughter he both figuratively neuters and emotionally negates. As the young daughter, she desperately but ineffectually seeks his love by writing "Dear Daddy / notes that begged in unsteady print / signing the dead son's name" (6). The speaker's world is one in which women are silenced. A madman, for example, in "Last Song" and "Disbelief," cuts out a ten-year-old girl's tongue and shreds her lips. Also females are savaged, such as the woman in "Shelter" who tries to escape her husband's physical abuse. And they are desexed as the Rita in "Shelter" who writes about her father's myopia in a letter to Lucille: "Girls are not good enough, he'd / say" (28).

But Kiefer's vision is more than a personal cri de coeur. As Sylvia Plath's speaker, in "Daddy," moves beyond the personal to the historical, so too does Rita Kiefer's. Throughout the collection, but specifically in the Sister Mailee Sequence, the names of women, personal acquaintances and historical figures, become preeminent.

Within the convent, the speaker gains an identity from five key women: Quinnie "who dangled late-afternoon lines of Shakespeare / and quoted Peguy: my last nickel for white hyacinths, not bread" (25); Sister Marcina "who reminded me I could still feel under all that black" (26); Sister Inez "who made her students see Aquinas and / Kierkegaard walking the Flats in downtown Cleveland" (26); Sister Borgias "who fled her twisted body for the Far East / every Tuesday that last semester . . . / and took us with her" (26); and Pearl Roderick, a woman who lived in a poor housing project with her six-year-old girl who said of her: "my mama deaf but she a reader" (26).

From these influential women and her "Mother / who comes back wearing silk / in rain and lilacs to keep appointments / after death" (26), the speaker looks at the world with new eyes searching for her own mother, a mother who has effectively been silenced by her husband and society. But she finds her, as Carolyn Kizer would say in "Pro Femina," in "the private lives of one-half humanity." The speaker peppers her poetry with allusions, finding "woman" in Clara Peeters (1594-c.1657), the inventor of the banquet piece in still life painting; in St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), an outspoken "bride" of Christ who confronted fearlessly the wickedness and hypocrisy of religious and secular patriarchy; in St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), an impressive reformer of the Carmelites who also "founded" two monasteries of men who would return to the "primitive rule"; and in St. Thérèse de Lisieux (1873-1897), a spiritual woman who articulated her "Little Way," an attitude toward approaching God that, according to the Pope, "contained the secret sanctity for the entire world." 

In this important volume of poetry, Rita Kiefer invites us to see the Western world anew through the eyes of "Sister Mailee, a female Jesuit" (15). It's a world invigorated and enriched by the female genius that inhabits it, a genius that speaks from the past and in the present, in spite of the patriarchyand, even, because of it. What we see is a powerfully cohesive collection of personal-confessional poems that explore the psyche of a speaker torn, yet molded, by her past. But the collection is much more than that. It is also an invitation outward to galleries and ecclesiastical histories, one that will result in epiphanies for us as we discover the voices of women too important to be further silenced. Unveiling is Rita Kiefer's Cantos, her Portrait of the Artist, a contemporary literary achievement of great importance.


Back to Top



Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation 1965-1985 edited by Richard Griswold del Castillo, Teresa McKenna and Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano. (Published in conjunction with the exhibition organized by the UCLA Wight Gallery and the CARA National Advisory Committee). Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1993, 373 pp., $50.00 (cloth), $35.00 (paper).

Reviewed by Angelika Pagel, Department of Visual Arts, Weber State University

Self-representation has become the primary issue for artists of color, eroding the traditional Eurocentric model of art history. The center can no longer hold as the so-called margins are collapsing the model by naming themselves, telling their own stories, and self-defining their ethnic identities. Political correctness has forced the established model to acknowledge its ethnocentric guilt. The 'new' art history is now attempting to rectify its oversights. Increasingly, however, artists of color consider this effort to be insincere, to be indeed a postmodern variation of both the cultural imperialism and the socio-economic colonialism associated with modernism.

Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation 1965-1985 superbly documents this trend and, in so doing, also becomes an impressive manifesto of empowerment. In an effort to "question the traditional museological processes that separate the group's knowledge of its own culture from the institutional means of displaying that culture" (CARA 29), the traveling exhibition, on which the book is based, was curated by a committee consisting of a diverse group from the Chicano community. (The exhibition debuted at UCLA in 1990 and closed at the San Antonio Museum of Art in 1993.) Virtually all the interpretive essays were written by Chicanos. On the cover the word CARA— which is the exhibition's acronym, but also means "face" in Spanish—is superimposed on a pair of piercing eyes, gazing both outward and inward. The cover design thus appropriately reflects the book's contents, in which Western hegemony is relegated into the margins, while the face of Chicano identity emerges.

Affirmation is apparent throughout the book in the reiteration of major themes, such as the social and political nature of Chicano art, its community orientation, and its role in defining cultural identity. It is also apparent in CARA's twice-repeated founding statement. CARA's manifesto functions as the overture to both the art and reflexive Chicano scholarship:

Chicano art is the modern, ongoing expression of the long-term cultural, economic, and political struggle of the Mexican people within the United States. It is an affirmation of the complex identity and vitality of the Chicano People. Chicano art arises from and is shaped by our experiences in the Americas. (CARA 27, 81)

Since Chicano art was essentially created "by Chicanos for other Chicanos" (CARA 31), the editors of the book (and organizers of the exhibition) made contextual interpretation their goal to circumvent the decontextualization that takes place when politically-charged, community-oriented, and public art is represented in the museums of the dominant culture. In nine engrossing essays, several hundred illustrations, and numerous synoptic self-definitions, "the Other" patiently tells "Us" the complex story of the Chicano art movement. In the process of learning and looking, "We" become "the Other," and "the Other" assertively affirms its cultural identity convincingly, graciously, objectively, and with an enlightening wealth of visual and verbal information. Chicano Art exposes the oppressive model which, in this case, kept the legitimate art of others "south of the cultural center." The book thus functions as an inspiring example of the decentering taking place in art/history.

The essays are separated from both the selective color plates at the beginning of the book and the comprehensive black-and-white catalog of the exhibition at its end by division papers displaying the meshed fence of the border/barrio. In their opening essay, Goldman and Ybarra-Frausto provide the socio-political background for Chicano art. The authors identify two broad phases of the Chicano art movement: the politicized period from 1968 to 1975 and a second period from 1975 onward, marked especially by growing commercialization. In cogent segments, the authors then delineate various influences that shaped the Chicano art movement, such as the Cuban Revolution or the student movements which cultivated the concept of chicanismo.

The role of art is adeptly and consistently woven into the political and social episodes outlined by Goldman and Ybarra-Frausto. Thus we learn that the newspaper of Chavez' United Farm Workers (UFW) published political caricatures and reproduced examples of Mexican protest art in the tradition of the graphic arts workshop Taller de Gráfica Popular, founded in Mexico in 1937. Principal icons of Chicano art, such as the Guadalupe Virgin and the Aztec thunderbird, were established during the UFW struggle. The Chicano-Indian alliance, with its focus on indigenism, generated a repertoire of pre-Columbian motifs. The feminist movement encouraged all Chicanas to address gender issues/changes and the Chicana artist to seek her own unique modes of expression. Active women represented by Chicana artists now confronted the passive Aztec princesses preferred by Chicano artists. Frida Kahlo became a role model, and the female practice of erecting home altars was transformed into installation art. Even in the context of inordinate Chicano incarceration during the 1960s and 1970s, art played a role when prisoners reinterpreted the tradition of mural painting on prison walls. Crucial to any definition of Chicano art is its symbiotic relationship with el movimiento, the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s, which informed and, in turn, was informed by Chicano art. Appropriately, the 1969 painting Viva la Raza by Salvador Roberto Torres inaugurates the section of color plates.

CARA's goal is to "reflect a Chicano sensibility" (CARA 29), and this it does through the successful combination of essays, images, glossaries, and chronologies. The emphasis is on "reflect" and "sensibility" (versus "define" and "ideology"). Only through self-representation, resistant and affirmative, can an ethnic sensibility be achieved:

Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself…. What, then is a Chicano? Chicanos say that if you have to ask you'll never understand, much less become a Chicano. (CARA 23)

Chicano Art functions as communicator of a Chicano sensibility and provides a true sense [my emphasis] of Chicano identity. The book is far more beneficial to intercultural understanding than any definitive, academic categorization. Contributors Sanchez-Tranquilino and Tagg initiate us into the complex strategies of the pachuco and Zoot Suit cultures, predecessors of Chicano sensibility. In a tour de force of evasive dialectics, the authors locate the impossibility of locating pachuco culture. By resisting categorization into "an essential ethnicity," a "social ecology of delinquency," the "spectacle of multiculturalism," or a "commodified diversity" (CARA 102), pachuco culture has demonstrated its ability to remain neither invisible nor assimilated. In a subsequent chapter, Ybarra-Frausto resumes the meditations on Chicano sensibility. His essay Rasquachismo also insists on an exploratory rather than a conclusive approach. The result is an intentionally indiscriminate construction of attitudes, perspectives, tastes, and fashions all contributing to an understanding of what it means to be rasquache.

The reader's sensibilities concerning a Chicano identity are heightened by the special efforts of each author. In his essay on Mexico in Aztlán and Aztlán in Mexico, David Maciel outlines the history of the political relations between Mexico and the United States, and then proceeds to integrate the mutual, at times strained, liaison between Mexican and Chicano art into this historic-political context. Aztlán is another recurring theme throughout the book and signifies both "the Southwest, from which, presumably, the Aztecs came" and "a new Chicano nation" (CARA 84, 185). Harry Gamboa, Jr., member artist and chronicler of the group ASCO, combines witty, sometimes surrealist, narrative passages with information in his unique documentation of the group's performance art pieces. Artist Amalia Mesa-Bains resumes the subject of women's art. In her elegant and lucid style, she outlines sites of female practices in Chicana culture, then exemplifies her themes with specific artworks from the catalog. The three final essays complete our education towards a Chicano sensibility. The first of these explores the semiotics of murals and the "close link between eloquent word and articulate image" (CARA 145) within movimiento rhetoric. The next essay seeks the causes for the marginal status of Chicano art, finds it in modernism, and suggests improvements in curatorial attitudes towards this art. The closing essay summarizes, with a postmodernist perspective, major stratagems of resistance in Chicano art over the last thirty-some years.

Clearly, in Chicano Art the outsider has seized the discourse and reversed the polarities. CARA is an eloquent testimony to continued resistance against the neocolonialist practice of benevolent absorption into the melting pot of multiculturalism. This politically correct practice is poignantly signified by the sentences: "Welcome to the New Art History. There is room for everyone and a place for none" (CARA 97). The insistence on difference and the affirmation of cultural identity taking place in the pages of CARA counter this pessimistic assessment of new as it may be—mainstream scholarship. In Chicano Art, the rewriting/righting of art history is done by "the Other," as it should be, and "We" are dis/placed into the position of the listener, as it should be.


Back to Top