Rethinking La Familia in Richard T. Rodríguez’s Next of Kin

Next of Kin

The 38th Annual of the National Association for Chicana & Chicano Studies (NACCS) was held on March 30-April 2, 2011 in Pasadena, CA. This year’s theme: Sites of Education for Social Justice focused on the issues that impact Chicana/o education by examining the various methods through which educators, academic and activists, engage in educative acts that promote social justice. The four-day event included exhibitor showcases, plenary discussions, the premiere of Chicana/o films, a political tardeada to save ethnic studies, and a book award.

In particular, the NACCS Book Award for 2011 honored Richard T. Rodríguez for Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics (2009). Next of Kin explores the concept of La Familia within the political and cultural discourse of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing upon both a traditional Chicana Feminist and an emerging Chicana/o Cultural Studies critique, Rodríguez argues that notions of kinship and family within a Chicana/o cultural narrative is fundamentally heteropatriarchal as expressed through the aesthetics of Chicana/o literature, film, music, and art.

In perhaps the first systematic review of la familia within the framework of the archived documents that emerged during the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Rodríguez critically scrutinizes the symbolic cultural production of la familia de la raza. In particular, a closer inspection of the guiding political manifesto of the Chicano Movement, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, within the context of a Chicana Feminist and Queer Theory reveals Chicano Nationalism as “institutionalized heterosexism” (Rodríguez, 8).

In early 1969, at the National Chicano Youth Conference, sponsored by the Crusade for Justice, several Chicanas attempted to articulate a gendered position of empowerment by focusing on the question of the “traditional role of the Chicana in the Movement and how it limited her capabilities and her development” (Sonia A. López, 1977). By voicing this important and neglected issue, Chicanas recognized the impending ideological dichotomies embedded in the Chicano Movement. At the conclusion of the conference, however, the Chicana representative reporting to the conference group declared the following statement: “it was the consensus of the group that the Chicana woman does not want to be liberated” (Rodríguez, 25).

Such referendums of gender exclusion created perceptions of a Chicano kinship and family network that needed to be wrestled away from the ideals of Western academic studies (Rodríguez, 24). In other words, Chicanos were intent on reformulating the family on one based on the concept of resistance that would in time create the catalyst for social and cultural change. The romanticized view of the Chicano family, nonetheless, was essentially seen through a masculine lens of at the expense of the nuances of the larger portrait of what really constituted la familia. A closer look at the principles of kinship and family as articulated by Chicano Movement rhetoric and symbolism exposed the limitations of “political familism” (Rodríguez, 24).

While much is articulated about the concept of Aztlán within studies of the Chicano Movement, la familia was previously observed as an idealized representation of Chicana/o cultural survival. By critically assessing the portrait of the Chicana/o family within the landscape of literary, artistic, and social mediums, Rodríguez extends the narrative of cultural critique and by extension the narrative of cultural inclusion of the “Other” within the framework of Chicana/o Studies vis-à-vis the Chicano Movement. The portrait of the Chicano family has been primarily defined within the ethos of Chicana/o Nationalism as referenced through the work principally of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales of the Crusade for Justice.

In the chapter, The Verse of the Godfather, Rodríguez addresses the “politics of masculinity” within a contemporary popular cultural motif (Rodríguez, 96). In exploring the so-called “mainstream” Chicano hip-hop, Rodríguez contends that the music internalizes negative notions of masculinity and family. Rodríguez, furthermore, elucidates the “gendered factionalism” that hip-hop is implicitly supporting especially in the music of Kid Frost, among others (Rodríguez, 122). Thus, the Chicana/o voice and image presently seen and heard in mainstream media is antithetical to the framework of the Chicano Movement. As such, negative masculine representations continue to exclude and silence concepts of gender and sexuality.

In The Last Generation: Prose and Poetry, Cherríe Moraga links the nationalism of the Chicano Movement with her conceptual framework of a Queer Aztlán. As an extension of Chicana/o Nationalism’s social thought process, Moraga acknowledges that a divided house will not stand. As such, Moraga reminds us that the freedom of men, be they gay or straight, is intricately connected to the freedom of women. Chicano Nationalism is the principle tool that binds us a together as a people, as a family. Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and Cherríe Moraga are central to understanding that as nationalism evolves so does family. However, the lens of the Chicana/o family must be situated within the Chicana/o framework of resistance; for people will never be free if any of its members remain in submission. It is in this context, then, that Rodríguez exposes the limitations of the symbolism and language attached to the Chicano Movement.

While most Chicana/o Studies scholars would argue that in the larger context the Chicano Movement reflected an anti-hegemonic attempt to dismantle institutionalized racist structures in U.S. society, Rodríguez would argue that it did so within the ethos of a masculine dimension. Thus, while there was an urgent and necessary call to “arms” among Chicanos to change existing structural dynamics, the Chicano struggle of the 1960s and 1970s excluded from its political narrative the question of gender and sexuality from its strategies of self-determination.

As the recipient of the 2011 NACCS Book Award, Next of Kin deservingly stands out as one of the best recent contributions to the field of Chicana/o Studies. Next of Kin is an excellent addition to any Chicana/o Studies book collection.

About the Author: David is a third generation Chicano currently completing his Master’s degree in Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. Main areas of study: Chicana/o Movement, Chicana Feminist Thought, Chicana/o Studies History, Social Movement Theory, Chicana/o Oral History, Chicana/o History, and Chicana/o Intellectual History.


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Filed under Chicano, Cutural Studies, Gender Studies, Queer Studies

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