Elevate Difference

Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics

Anyone can tell you that family is important to Mexican and Chicano culture, and we can all venture guesses as to why. However, where exactly this family unit seems to be headed and how it has evolved in U.S. popular culture over the past 25-30 years is what Richard Rodríguez chooses to scrutinize in his study—and he does so with unexpected wit.

Rodríguez's Next of Kin is structured into four chapters framed by an introduction and an afterword. His first chapter, "Reappraising the Family Archive," examines the predominance of the family in Chicano cultural production since the establishment of the explicitly Chicano movements in the early '70s. Here, Rodríguez displays evident skill in his pictorial analysis, a talent that is augmented by the inclusion of various reproductions of the materials that he is analyzing.

In the aptly named second chapter, "Shooting the Patriarch," Rodríguez's analysis traces the same phenomenon as it appears in the medium of film and television. Although he looks at many films and programs produced by Chicanos, he primarily focuses on the film Mi Familia. Remarkably, Rodríguez manages to avoid using the word "stereotype" in this chapter, at least for the first part of his breakdown of the film.

In the third chapter, "The Verse of the Godfather," Rodríguez very thoroughly traces the origins of Chicano rap music and hip-hop culture. However, we can only lament that he did not extend his discussion to specific lyrics, since he is especially skilled at textual analysis. We finally find this skill put to use in the too brief final chapter, entitled "Carnal Knowledge," where carnal refers to the Mexican Spanish "brotherly" aspect of kinship. Rodríguez investigates the construction of gay Chicano Culture, but once again, the chapter seems underdeveloped and this begs the question of insufficient material, since Rodríguez dates the outing of gay masculine Chicano culture as far back as 1981. Seeing as the book is otherwise well written and informative, we can but lament that almost one third of the book (some 80 pages out of 257) are devoted to notes and bibliography.

Much of Rodríguez's analysis in Next of Kin revolves around the construction of the Chicano identity as different from (and similar to) the construction of other gendered identities, such as African American identity. This comparative aspect is one of the conclusions that Rodríguez's book implies, but does not mention explicitly in its afterword. As American culture becomes more and more heterogeneous, it is undeniable that the (supposed) melting pot society will constantly construct new permutations of the Chicano identity and, as Rodríguez concludes in his afterword about the family, "community is made, and remade, ideally over and against normative familia romances whose hopeful passing will call forth its next of kin."

Written by: Sophie M. Lavoie, November 23rd 2009

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Perhaps a reviewer who understands the stakes of this book should be reviewing it. The criticism here is useless (complaining about the number of footnote pages...um, this is an academic book?!).