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Composing a Chican@ Rhetorical Tradition: Pleito Rhetorics and the Decolonial Uses of Technologies for Self-Determination


This dissertation uses archival research, Chicana/o Studies scholarship and a rhetorical framework to map a genealogy of Mexican American writing/rhetoric from the post-Mexican-American war era into the present, paying special attention to how rhetors define community, their interaction with technology, sociotechnical conditions, and the epistemic dimensions of this rhetorical activity, particularly the production of Chicana/o Studies departments in the late 1960’s. Steven Mailloux’s work on rhetorical histories and academic tradition broadly inform how I look at how Chican@s/Mexicans addressed audiences and defined community, such as social bandit Tiburcio Vasquez’ utilization of the photograph in the 1870’s, the journalism of exiled Mexican revolutionaries’ in Los Angeles during the 1910’s, and the use of plans and poetry by students during the Chicano movement. James Crosswhite’s work helps me understand the “deeper rhetoric” of these moments – a rhetoric concerned with shaping principals, ideologies and community direction – and contributes a rhetorical dimension to Chican@ historiography. Through the rhetoric of the image, the newspaper, poetry, manifestoes and eventually the internet, the Chican@ rhetorical tradition has always involved a repurposing of technology for a community’s own collective agenda and desires, as sociotechnical conditions always shape how Chican@s use communication technologies to persuade and inform. Building on ethnic rhetoric scholarship of Damian Baca and Vorris Nunley, I elaborate on the multi-lingual, poetic style of parrhesia (dangerous speech) employed by Chicanos, which I call pleito rhetoric. The post-Mexican-American war rebellions and the militant bi-lingual polemic of the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM) help me trace a militant rhetorical tradition that resurfaces in students’ calls for Chicana/o Studies in the 1960’s. Pleito rhetoric operated alongside an actual militancy, and took place within the kairos (“the opportune moment”) of civil rights movements nationally and third world liberation movements globally. In this period, Chican@ Studies argued itself into existence by rhetorically developing a dialectical critique of U.S. history, colonization and institutionalized racism (particularly in schools), and initiated a unique epistemic historiography of the Chican@ experience. My last chapters delineate epistemic tenets of the discipline while examining current challenges and dangers such as the criminalization of Ethnic Studies in Arizona.

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