Chicano-Chicana Americana: Pop Culture Pluralism Starring Anthony Quinn, Katy Jurado, Robert Beltran, and Lupe Ontiveros by Anthony Macías is a cultural history of Mexican Americans in film, television, and theater. Through biographical sketches of performers, this work asserts Mexican Americans’ proper place in the national narratives of our collective imaginary. Conveying a multicentered, polycultural America, this book shows us intriguing performers in bit parts who steal the scene and redefine what it means to be American.
Each biographical chapter analyzes an underappreciated actor, revealing their artistic contributions to U.S. common culture. Their long-shot careers tell a tale of players taking action with agency and fighting for screen time and equal opportunity despite disadvantages and differential treatment in Hollywood. These dynamic and complex individuals altered cinematic representations—and audience expectations—by surpassing stereotypes.
The book explores American national character by showing how ethnic Mexicans attained social and cultural status through fair, open competition without a radical realignment of political or economic structures. Their creative achievements demanded dignity and earned respect. Macías argues that these performances demonstrated a pop culture pluralism that subtly changed mainstream America, transforming it from the mythological past of the Wild West to the speculative future of science fiction. Below read an excerpt from the book.
To further contextualize the book’s career retrospectives and explain its theoretical framework, allow me to unpack its title and subtitle.
Not all of the people analyzed in this study necessarily self-identify as Chicano or Chicana. Nevertheless, whereas the label Mexican American evokes the 1940s and 1950s, Chicano-Chicana (and, alternately, Chicana-Chicano) is a more flexible term that connotes bilingualism, Mexican cultural connections, a mestizo (mixed-race with Indian ancestry) difference, and a broad range of cultural production and expressive cultural evidence, including art. I see the hyphen in Chicano-Chicana as representing a gender spectrum, thus I also use its combined form, Chican@. For me, the elegant unbroken line of @ symbolizes a wholeness between the Spanish-language o, gendered, and the a, gendered, merged together, encircled as one. This embrace signifies a twenty-first-century vision of unity and parity, holistically connecting, establishing rapport, and cultivating relationships, much like the terms Chicanx and Latinx.
Before the 1960s, some Mexican Americans used the word Chicano as a disparaging term for a poor, recently arrived mestizo migrant worker from Mexico. A new generation of activists, inspired by the civil rights movement and fluent in dual idioms, politicized the word Chicano in order to reject assimilation, identify with their Indigenous heritage, teach Mexican and Mexican American history, promote Spanish-language usage and bilingualism, and convey dissatisfaction with their socioeconomic conditions and political position in postwar America. They began calling each other Chicano and Chicana, as well as carnal and carnala (brother and sister). Through mass mobilization and direct-action protest, militant Chicanos and Chicanas fought for collective community empowerment and political self-determination, resisted institutional neglect and hostility, and exposed the hypocrisy of American liberalism and tokenism. Everyday people took to the streets demanding equal educational opportunities and decrying police brutality and differential treatment in the criminal justice system.
As a political identification, Chicano or Chicana still expresses a socially conscious brown pride, but without the male privilege, sexism, and homophobia of old-school Chicano nationalism. Victor Viesca argues that the 1990s post–Chicano Movement generation’s “Chicana/o sensibility” is “neither assimilationist nor separatist,” and that it welcomes women’s perspectives and leadership while respecting “different sexual orientations.” As Richard Dyer observed, “Having a word for oneself and one’s group, making a politics out of what that word should be, draws attention to and also reproduces one’s marginality, confirms one’s place outside of power and thus outside of the mechanisms of change. Having a word also contains and fixes identity.” Yet “culture is politics, politics is culture,” Dyer also declared. So, “what we are called and what we call ourselves matter, have material and emotional consequences.”
The terms Chicana and Chicano illuminate the nonstigmatized status of acculturated-yet-conscious Mexican Americans who attempt to transcend stereotypes by defining themselves. For example, Richard “Cheech” Marin, an actor and comedian who has long articulated a Chicano point of view, stated, “I’m not Mexican—I’ve never even been to Mexico . . . but I knew I wasn’t white . . . so when I first heard Chicano . . . that’s it, that’s the can-do spirit . . . the rasquache raised to an art form . . . I’m a Chicano . . . this other thing is really good, and I can fit into any culture.” “Rasquache” refers to rasquachismo, which Tomás Ybarra-Frausto theorized as a working-class “Chicano sensibility,” an “attitude” based on an “outsider viewpoint . . . irreverent and impertinent.” It is a resilient “underdog perspective . . . rooted in resourcefulness and adaptability . . . survival and inventiveness.” To be rasquache is to make moves, or “movidas . . . the coping strategies you use to gain time, to make options, to retain hope.” In short, rasquachismo helps “to create a Chicano self-vision of wholeness,” it is “a way of being in the world.”