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Consciousness and Resistance in Chicano Barrio Narratives



Consciousness and Resistance in Chicano Barrio Narratives


Ana Arellano Nez

Chicano barrios in the U.S. are commonly represented by mainstream media as sites of cultural difference, poverty and delinquency. Prior to the Chicano Movement, barrio communities were relatively invisible in dominant American society. The limited academic literature on barrio communities tended to focus on the social problem of delinquent youth and the barriers to successful cultural assimilation. Similarly, prior to the late 1960s there were very few published literary works that offered authentic self-representations of barrio communities. Nevertheless, when Chicanos seized the tools of representation and established presses that were committed to publishing literature about the Chicano experience written by Chicanos, a wave of literature emerged, including narratives that focused on life in the barrio.

In comparison to mainstream representations of the barrio, Chicano barrio narratives offer a deeper understanding of the various forms of political, social and economic displacement that produce poverty and delinquency in barrio communities. In addition to complicating negative stereotypes about the barrio, these narratives demonstrate how Chicano communities resist cultural subordination and challenge social injustice. The recreation and affirmation of a mestizo cultural identity, despite its perceived inferiority by the dominant class and at times at the risk of social and legal repercussions, is one form of internal resistance. Other forms include the development of ideologies such as Chicanismo and Indigenismo, and the use of indigenous spirituality as organic Chicano epistemology.

The strategies of resistance represented in barrio narratives are informed by a consciousness that is grounded in a Chicano, or mestizo, worldview. Chicano consciousness, in its various manifestations from creative cultural production and social activism to academic and theoretical investigations, is inherently oppositional. Accordingly, alongside a well established Chicano literary tradition, there exists a tradition of Chicano scholarly research that stands in opposition to ideologies that support a dominant hierarchical social order that subordinates people of color. Together, they represent a counter-discourse that parallels, and often converges with, other contemporary de-colonial and indigenous movements that are taking place on a global platform. In this study, historical, political, and theoretical studies produced by Chicano scholars are engaged in a discussion on the underlying consciousness and strategies of resistance that are represented in barrio narratives. It is my contention that the relative isolation of barrio communities speaks to its social marginalization at the same time that it allows for greater cultural autonomy. After providing a historical context for the emergence of Chicano barrio narratives in the first chapter, three key features in the barrio narratives written by Mario Suárez during the Pre-Chicano period are identified and analyzed in the second chapter. The third and fourth chapters show how nationalist ideologies fueled collective resistance in a selection of barrio poems, plays and essays of the Chicano Movement. Finally, in the fifth chapter, I examine spatial perceptions and oppositional consciousness in relation to the figurative boundary that isolates barrio communities in two coming-of-age barrio novels.

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