Term Paper: Down These Mean Streets Believe

Pages: 22 (6074 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature - Latin-American  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Their generation questioned Anglo American hegemony over historical interpretation and their domination of the historical research agenda (Sanchez Korrol 2000). Not satisfied with merely creating "knowledge for the sake of knowledge," their goals ranged from charting innovative courses and methods that served to "set the record straight," to reconstructing social histories important in and of themselves (Sanchez Korrol 15).

The academic generation of the seventies and eighties sought to reconstruct nineteenth- and twentieth-century diaspora communities in all of their ethno-racial, class, and gendered complexities. Incorporating popular culture and written and oral traditions, these academics redefined the parameters of the new social history and, in the process, empowered Latino communities. The result was a historical interpretation that conferred agency on U.S. Latinos, bringing them out of the shadows and on to center stage where their reality contrasted and contested the dominant Anglo experience and where they interacted within and across class lines and ethno-racial barriers, with counterparts across state lines, oceans, and/or national boundaries (Sanchez Korrol 2000). The outcome was both U.S. And Latin America drawing strengths from components of both. This harvest of knowledge has proceeded at an impressive pace, yet the corpus of this literature remains peripheral to the core of U.S. history.

Much of the groundbreaking scholarship emanates from academic niches in American, Latin American, cultural, or Hispanic-oriented ethnic studies, or from the earliest departments and programs in Mexican-American, Chicano, or Puerto Rican Studies. One need only peruse the bibliographic publications on Latinos/Hispanos -- Albert Camarillo's Latinos in the United States is a case in point -- to appreciate the scope of the new knowledge (Sanchez Korrol 2000).

A ics range from exploration and settlement of northern New Spain to the work of women in industry, commercial agriculture, as union organizers and as transmitters of culture; from employment and labor history to the politics of language; and from the migration / immigration experience to the forging of diverse communities incorporating grass-roots leadership and institutional structures.

Examples abound of the seminal work produced by this generation, including the frontier studies of David Weber; the intergenerational focus of Mario T. Garcia's study on Mexican-American leadership; Ram n Gutierrez's interdisciplinary analysis of power and sexuality in New Mexico; the family and community studies of Richard Griswold del Castillo and Albert Camarillo; Chicana culture, consciousness, and interrelationship with the non-Hispanic societies by Vicki Ruiz and Sarah Deutsch; studies on race, ethnicity, and identity by Clara E. Rodr'guez and Juan Flores; nineteenth-century Cuban community studies of Gerald E. Poyo; the Puerto Rican community by Virginia Sanchez Korrol; the migration / immigration studies of Alejandro Portes and of the Centro de Estudios Puertorriquenos; and bilingualism and public education studies of Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr. (Sanchez Korrol 2000).

Until now, however, historical production has tended to promote primarily the very necessary foundational reconstruction of Latino experiences, viewed predominantly from a North American perspective. In searching for elements of latinidad, scholars have tended to explore contemporary U.S. communities excluding the broader Latin American / Caribbean context and neglecting to address Hispanic diversity. Like stepping-stones to the past, the collective body of literature encompasses the groundwork for a comprehensive narrative.

Current research trends on Latino historiography and literature in the 1990s mark a move toward the premise that Spanish American history legitimately belongs to the Americas -- that the concept of borderlands transcends imaginary geo-political or academic boundaries. It argues that the history of Latinos forms an indivisible chapter subject to its own universality and specificity, and integral to our understanding of both U.S. And Latin American history (Sanchez Korrol 2000).

To speak then in terms of a collective Latino/Hispanic history that posits an integrated consciousness within the broader framework of United States history invites students and scholars alike to conceptualize an area of study in formation. It incorporates multilingual, multicultural, and interdisciplinary perspectives, ethno-racial realities, and analytical categories based on migration experience, labor, social class, gender, and identity (Sanchez Korrol 2000). As it seeks to reproduce the past in terms of a Hispanic ethnic and national diversity, it urgently challenges us to search for common ground among groups whose historical entry into what is presently the United States occurred at different times and was conditioned by different circumstances.

Admittedly, the nomenclatures we ascribe to this body of knowledge are paradoxical, imprecise, and politically laden. The terms Latino, Latina, Hispanic, Hispanic-American, Spanish American, or Ibero-Americano seek to embrace the totality of the U.S. experience regardless of class, color, regional variations, national antecedents, gender, or generational differences.

Scholar Edna Acosta Belen believes the "shorthand label (Hispanic) is turning into a symbol of cultural affirmation and identity in an alienating society that traditionally has been hostile and prejudicial to cultural and racial differences, and unresponsive to the socioeconomic and educational needs of a large segment of the Hispanic population" (Sanchez Korrol 19).

Others, however, argue overwhelmingly on the side of difference, citing centuries of regional disconnection and discontinuity among U.S. Latinos, and point to the absence of a common history as a case in point. Still others probe intra-group and generational dimensions challenging static notions of cultural adaptation, contextual dualities, and hence the formation of identity. Referring specifically to cultural evolution among Mexican-Americans, who comprise well over a half of the total Latino population, historian George J. Sanchez cautions that a bipolaric model stressing, "either cultural continuity or gradual acculturation has short-circuited a full exploration of the complex process of cultural adaptation" (Sanchez Korrol 20).

Such arguments cannot be ignored, yet in spite of the contradictions, the tide appears to turn increasingly toward endorsement of an overarching Latino/Hispanic ideal. Each group rightfully stakes a nonnegotiable claim to its own past, linguistic variations, creative expression, and overall uniqueness within the broader ethno-racial contours of this nation, but each also proudly appropriates a common historical legacy, shared language, and cultural elements, customs, attitudes, and traditions.

How historians frame the conversation on Latino history is vital. If the danger of assuming affinity within and across this enormously complex population lies in over-generalization, a blurring of distinctions and total homogenization of the groups, the challenge to historians becomes how best to incorporate and balance the nuances and variegated experiences of all Latinos, particularly of those who figured centrally in the historical enterprise in any given period, without misappropriation, distortion, or omission.

According to historian Gerald E. Poyo, grounds indeed exist for collective identity, which he describes as an "evolving phenomenon that by definition thrives on the commonalities within the diverse Latin American background groups" (Sanchez Korrol 21). If identity is understood as a continuum of shared experience, then a comprehensive narrative is surely possible. What has been lacking until now is the development of popular consciousness about an integrated past.

Overcoming Racism in Education Through Literature

In an autobiographical sketch written in 1986, the respected Chicano American novelist Rudolfo Anaya observed that "if I am to be a writer, it is the ancestral voices of...[my]... people who will form a part of my quest, my search" (qtd. In Suarez 1999).

Ancestral voices are very much a part of Hispanic-American literature today, a tradition harking back more than three centuries that has witnessed a dramatic renascence in the past generation. As the Hispanic experience in the United States continues to confront issues of identity, assimilation, cultural heritage and artistic expression, the works of Hispanic-American writers are read with a great deal of interest and passion.

In a sense, the literature functions as a mirror, a reflection of the way Hispanic-Americans are viewed by the mainstream culture - but not always the majority (Suarez 1999). Readers and critics alike tend to celebrate this literature. It is rich, diverse, constantly growing, blending the history that infuses it with an impassioned feeling of contemporaneity.

In essence, the boom in the literature today is being forged in English, by people who live and work in the United States - not in Spanish, as was the case with writers of generations and centuries past (Suarez 1999). This is a key difference, and a point of departure.

True, there are still some very real issues and problems facing Hispanic-American writers in terms of finding outlets and venues for their work, as there are for other multicultural artists and, to be sure, writers in general. Although major publishing houses are issuing more work each year, most of the interesting and engaging literature comes from small, independent presses that rely upon U.S. Government, private and university grants for stability (Suarez 1999).

Literary journals and reviews always have been an outlet for Hispanic-American voices, and some of the best work is coming from such sources. Increasingly, though, with the recognition associated with the nation's most prestigious literary awards - the Before Columbus Foundation Award, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize - Hispanic-American authors are… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Down These Mean Streets Believe.  (2003, December 15).  Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/down-mean-streets-believe/4077267

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"Down These Mean Streets Believe."  Essaytown.com.  December 15, 2003.  Accessed June 26, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/down-mean-streets-believe/4077267.