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Sounding Aztlan: Music, Literature, and the Chicana/o Sonic Imaginary

  • Author(s): Alarcon, Wanda
  • Advisor(s): Perez, Laura E.
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation explores the question: What does Aztlán sound like? Informed by decolonial

feminist theory and sound studies concepts, I consider listening as a new praxis with which to

remember complex narratives of belonging and citizenship against the assimilating force of

national forms and political limits. This interdisciplinary research engages the idea of Aztlán, the

mythical homeland of the Nahuas, and the imagined solidarity it mobilized in 1960s activism as

a Chicana feminist concept with a history of generative interventions that challenge its

nationalist logic. Taking up the contested notion of Aztlán as historically marginalizing to

women and la joteria, I use a method of listening to “tune in” to multiple, heterogeneous, and

alternate histories of Chicana/o belonging in the musical and literary soundscapes of Greater

Mexico. This work explores the diverse audible markers of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship

and migration that circulate in the Chicana/o musical, literary, performance and new media

objects I examine. I argue that through the soundscape, Aztlán becomes a plural concept.

“Sounding Aztlán” is organized as four linked discussions that test the portability of sound as a

new interpretive method and epistemology for Chicana/o Studies, sound studies, and decolonial

feminism: Ch. 1, “Tuning In to Coalition: Listening to This Bridge Called My Back,” revisits

the foundational feminist text, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of

Color. I think of Bridge as an artifact of coalition, a multiplicity of radical voices embodied in

its very form. Just as the act of writing for women of color is connected to life, the stakes of

being heard are high. I claim that there is an aural dimension to Bridge beyond the textual that

has to do with perceptions of the sound and noise women of color make. Practicing a decolonial

feminist "listening," this chapter engages Bridge anew as a soundscape of coalition. Ch. 2,

“Decolonial Feminist Soundscapes in Post 1980s Chicana Literature,” and Ch. 3, “Soundtracks,

Chicana Butches, and East L.A.: Verónica Reyes’s Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered

Lives and Raquel Gutiérrez’s The Barber of East L.A.” posit that literature is noisy and therefore

calls for the reader to listen as a new mode of interpretation. The soundscapes in Chicana/o

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narratives have not been fully engaged in prior readings of the poetry, fiction, and drama by

Sandra Cisneros, Luis Alfaro, Estella Gonzalez, Raquel Gutiérrez, and Verónica Reyes. I argue

that literature becomes a site for hearing creative sonics of subjectivity, coalition, and queerness.

Against the dominant imaginary of Aztlán, feminist solidarities, decolonial feminist poetics,

butch/femme histories, alternative music scenes, and East Los Angeles become audible in these

post 80s literary Chicana representations. Ch. 4, “Performing América On The National Stage,”

examines a repertoire of three Chicana/o performances of “The Star Spangled Banner” by

contemporary pop/rock, mariachi, and banda musicians. I take Jimi Hendrix’s iconic 1969

performance at Woodstock as a jumping off point to explore how dissonant moments between

the visual and aural performance of nation captured on social media provide openings for

multiple interpretations of citizenship. When the national anthem becomes part of the Chicana/o

repertoire, what map of the Americas is sounded through these Chicano performances of the

national anthem? These performances highlight meaningful disruptions, tensions, resistances,

and variations on the theme of América.

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