US racial diversity under the spotlight at conference on chicano literature

I have not written a blog lately because of a recent trip to Spain to attend and participate in the 8th International Conference on Chicano Literature in Toledo. It was a great trip and conference. Many scholars in Spain and in other European countries are very interested in the Chicano/Latino experience because of the countries' increasing ethnic diversity, caused by immigration from Third World countries, especially the Middle East and Africa.

They are interested and curious as to how the U.S. has reacted and managed its own ethnic and racial diversity. My own paper is titled, "Beyond Chicanismo: Gendered Transitions and Central American Female Autobiographies." This is an examination of two autobiographical texts based on the migration stories of two Central American women.

The first text is an oral history by Dianne Walta Hart, Undocumented in L.A.: An Immigrant's Story. The other is a self-published text by Evelyn Cortez-Davis, December Sky: Beyond My Undocumented Life. In my analysis of these stories, I utilize the concept of gendered transitions as developed by Professor Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo in her 1994 book Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration, in which she stresses how immigration strategies are gendered.

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Gender relationships within families significantly determine who immigrates, when, and what the impact of such gendered decisions are on both sides of the border. My paper utilized this perspective to examine these two Central American experiences, one from Nicaragua and the other from El Salvador. In both cases, women played the decisive role in the decision to go to the United States and led the way in the resettlement process.

What these stories emphasize that is often missed in our discussion (or what passes as discussion) about current Latino immigration to the U.S. is that despite macro-global economic forces that influence this migration, still the decision to migrate, with or without documents, is a very personal and family decision. In turn, this focus on the personal and family factors brings into perspective that the "illegal" aliens that some Americans scorn are in fact human beings with human wants and desires. This human factor, as I have argued before, has to be part of our "debate" over immigration.

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