Derision and desire: the ambivalence of Mexican identity in American literature and film
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Concentrating on twentieth-century literature and film, the dissertation reads representations of Mexican identity in terms of the ambivalent points of repulsion and attraction which they reveal, rather than as simply “negative” or “positive” stereotypes. Drawing upon Homi Bhabha’s analysis of stereotypical discourse, I interrogate the stereotype’s limits in the Mexican subject’s multiple representational postures. The stereotype’s anxious repetitions demonstrate the impossibility of a fixed or original identity and expose the stereotype as part of a representational apparatus. Acknowledging the necessity of Chicano/a critiques of stereotypical discourse begun in the sixties, I depart from the insistence that stereotypes only negatively determine subjectivity and propose that seemingly negative depictions express desire as well as derision. The study places literature and film in conversation because, from its inception, the cinema has relied upon literature for its narrative and stereotypical tropes. Furthermore, by placing literature and film in comparative tension, I demonstrate the contradictions produced by “negative” stereotypes. I focus on the “greaser,” bandido, and “bandit revolutionary,” characters who appear in 1800s conquest fiction and endure in contemporary novels and films. In chapter one, the Mexican is a subject of admiration in Stephen Crane’s short stories, and a subject of derision and desire in D. W. Griffith’s early Westerns. Chapter two links the United States’ response to the Mexican Revolution and the consolidation of the Western film genre as determinant events in the hardening of stereotypical discourse from 1910 to 1920. This hardening, nonetheless, is belied by an ambivalent relation to the Mexican subject, as the Western cowboy mimics the Mexican vaquero. Chapter three submits that the “bandit revolutionary” in 1930s to 1950s film signals repulsion and attraction, depending on the U.S. imaginary’s psychic and ideological projections. From the perspective of Mexican American literature, Américo Paredes’s The Shadow (1955), responds to the cinema’s facile categorizations of Mexican identity. Chapter four positions Sergei Eisenstein’s film, Qué Viva México! (1932), and Katherine Anne Porter’s short story, “Hacienda” (1935), within an alternative poetics of Mexican identity representation. The concluding chapter, which examines Jim Mendiola’s film, Come and Take it Day (2002), proposes contingency and hybridity as the defining elements of Chicano/a identity. Together, the texts I analyze exemplify the importance of seeing beyond negativity in racial representation.