European interest in Chicanos/Latinos

I have recently returned from Ireland and Spain where I attended conferences on Chicano literature. There is growing interest in both countries and, in fact, throughout Europe about the Chicano/Latino experience and, in general, about the minority experience in the United States.

As more Third World migrants enter Europe and European countries struggle to cope with the changing demographics, scholars are looking to see how the United States has managed its own population diversification, where since 1970 the large majority of immigrants have come from non-European sources and primarily from Mexico, Central America and Asia. About 50 percent of all immigrants to the United States are from Latin America.

But the European interest in Chicanos/Latinos goes beyond demographics and social policies and extends to the realm of culture, especially literature. In both Ireland and Spain, scholars and graduate students are very interested in Chicano/Latino writers who shed light on the their ethnic experiences.

In Ireland, I was part of a delegation from the United States that presented papers on different Chicano/Latino writers. Although I was the only historian in the group of literary scholars, I did a paper on the autobiography of Mary Helen Ponce who in her book Hoyt Street recounts her coming of age story set in Pacoima, Calif., in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles in the 1940s. I did a historical reading of her story based on the theme of transculturation, an anthropological perspective first proposed by the great Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ort'z. He proposed that in the case of the history of Cuba with so many ethnic and cultural influences including the native Indian populations as well as those from Spain, Africa, and Asia, among other sources, that Cuba underwent not a process of acculturation that he notes involves losing one culture and absorbing another, but rather transculturation that he interpreted to be a mixing of cultures to produce a composite or syncretic culture.

(This is somewhat akin to the focus on the theme of inculturation that came out of the Second Vatican Council, which called on the church to recognize the validity of Third World Catholicism and to integrate it into the universal Church.)

In my paper, I suggested drawing from Ponce’s experiences that she as a Mexican American also did not undergo acculturation but rather transculturation where in various ways her Mexican parental culture became syncretized with Anglo-American culture to produce a distinct Mexican American or Chicano culture and that her process has been similar to many other Mexican Americans. Many scholars today accept the notion that the current wave of immigrants represent this type of acculturation or transculturation where you can combine an ethnic identity with an overall American one and that both are not exclusive of each other.

The conference in Spain was held in León and was actually the 7th bi-annual conference on Chicano literature held in Spain. Besides scholars from Spain and the United States, there were also some from Ireland, France and Greece. All of this interest should not be surprising since Chicanos/Latinos now represent the largest minority group in the United States with over 45 million people and constituting 16 percent of the overall American population and growing. I’m looking forward to the next Chicano literature conference in Spain to be held in 2012 in Toledo.

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