Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Chicano - Edward Simmen

The best way to pave a way in America's academic life is to come up with a definition for a term that has remained loosely defined. How many academics have achieved tenure for providing a definition for words like "globalization", "governance", "development", or "Renaissance", just to mention a few examples?

Ed Simmen became a worldwide reference for Chicano affairs with his book The Chicano: From Caricature to Self-Portrait. After publishing The Chicano, Simmen became a reference on Hispanic affairs, and he moved to Mexico, where he became a reference on American immigrants affairs... Simmen's cast a long shadow, as this text on Chicano affairs from the late 1980's shows. 

The reason why The Chicano was fundamental for both Simmen's career and Hispanic studies in general is that Simmen provided the first operational definition of chicano in this book. According to Simmen, a chicano can be defined as "a dissatisfied American of Mexican descent whose ideas regarding his position in the social and economic order are, in general, considered to be liberal or radical and whose statements and actions are often extreme and sometimes violent (p. xiii)." Simmen crafted this definition in 1971. It is worth noting that, a couple of years later, Reagan would famously declare that "Hispanics [the word 'chicano' is no longer used as it is considered derogatory] are conservative, they just don't know it."

Remarkably, The Chicano is not an academic book, but a collection of short stories. The fact that a linguist collecting short stories was able to set the terms of the debate on what chicanos are is a testimony of the lack of interest that this group arose among mainstream academia in the United States. Similar to North of the Rio Grande, which collects a series of short stories about Mexicans in the United States, The Chicano presents a number of short-stories on Mexican-Americans. The quality of the texts is heterogeneous: big names in American literature such as Jack London ("The Mexican"), John Steinbeck ("The Flight"), and Ray Bradbury ("The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit") join semi-anonymous and sometimes amateurish writers in a single book. I particularly found most of the stories naive and full of stereotypes. Sadly, the first stories, written the late 1860's and 1930 show Mexican-Americans as brave and gallant men ready to run away with their beloved as soon as possible, while the latest stories, written between the end of World War II and the late 1960's are full of stereotypes: Mexicans (and Mexican-Americans) are lazy, ugly, dirty, and all they do is drink tequila and listen mariachis...

After moving to Mexico, Simmen published a third book called Gringos in Mexico, which is (you guessed right!), a collection of short stories written by Americans living in Mexico. Simmen didn't have enough time to issue a fourth book collecting short stories written by Mexicans about Americans in Mexico. Life is sometimes too short...

No comments:

Post a Comment