Irresponsible "Scholarship" by robert_borneman []
skip to content

Migrant imaginaries : Latino cultural politics in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands

by Alicia R Schmidt Camacho

  Print book

Irresponsible "Scholarship"   (2009-03-24)


User profile avatar
by robert_borneman

Migrant Imaginaries: Latino Cultural Politics in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands 
By Alicia Schmidt Camacho 

"Aunque el mono se viste en seda, mono se queda." 

Alicia Schmidt Camacho's Migrant Imaginaries postures as a form of academic scholarship. The gorgeous cover (from Alma Lopez' brilliant 1848 series), along with the title, promises insightful analysis of cultural politics. Schmidt makes copious use of footnotes to position her work as scholarly. Sadly, you can't judge a book by its title or its cover. A rant is still just a rant, no matter how many footnotes are attached. This (ambiguous referent) is no exception. 

Schmidt's work is dense: layers of unexplored presupposition and conscious interpretive manipulation underlie the series of essays presented in her work. Rather than focus on her work as a whole, I shall limit my critique to a few subjects with which I have substantial familiarity: her Chapter 5 entitled "Tracking the New Migrants - Richard Rodriguez and Liberal Retrenchment" (pages 193 - 234). 

At her (infrequent) best, Schmidt elucidates Rodriguez' work. She notes his anti-nationalist agenda (217), his use of irony and paradox, and his relationship to migrants. Typically, however, Schmidt plays the high-priestlessly role of interpreting Rodriguez' work for us, establishing her own orthodoxy, rather than exploring the possibilities of the text. She first essentializes Rodriguez as a "middle-class, disaffected intellectual" who is more interested in "refus[ing] ethnic identification" than acting as an intermediary to an English-speaking world of a Mexican immigrant(`s child's) experience (194). She associates him with both neoconservatism (197) and neoliberalism (198). She cites him as "the representative voice of Hispanic life in U.S. schoolrooms and college seminars" (216), thus grafting him to the (white/racist) dominant culture through her sheer will of attribution. In a back-handed move, Schmidt (who refers to Rodriguez as a "Chicano" - see p. 194) `praises' (ie. dismisses) Rodriguez' literary awards (by an obviously white and racist society - the terms may function synonymously for Schmidt) as having been given based on (white/racist) essentializations of his "incisive power of observation and his disarmingly frank, confessional prose." (195) In fact she proclaims Rodriguez to be "the `voice of "Hispanic" America'" on further occasions (206, 229) but ultimately seeks to replace his voice with the works of those more politically palatable to her (such as Francisco X. Alarcón, Cherríe Moraga, or Gloria Anzaldúa). 

What is not frank and disarmingly confessional is Schmidt's hatchet job on Rodriguez' work. Actually the phrase `hatchet-job' is highly inappropriate. Schmidt has performed a very carefully crafted and deliberate involuntary political-sex-change operation on Rodriguez' work. The first step she takes to complete this procedure is performed through footnote-reassignment surgery. Some of these reassignments are obvious: on page 197 she cites and dates his 1992 Days of Obligation, and then proceeds to quote his 2002 Brown. In a more clever sleight of hand, Schmidt quotes Rodriguez' 1995 essay in "New Perspectives Quarterly", then associates it with his 1982 Hunger of Memory and concludes with the empirical observation that "fully half of the newer migrant population was female, a trend Rodriguez elides by conflating immigration with masculine rebellion." (219) The joke here is that Schmidt seems to be referring to the "new" post-NAFTA immigration (initiated after 1994) yet cites Rodriguez' works which were written at either the beginning of the "new" immigration or a decade before it began. 

Continuing the trend of quotation-reassignment surgery, at certain points, Schmidt places things in quotes (such as a description of the Chicana/o community as a "univocal, unthinking mass" p. 220) and then gives no citation at all, allowing us to assume that these are Rodriguez' words. Sometimes Schmidt is more honest, putting words in Rodriguez' voice but letting her readership know who the actual authors are, as she does on page 225 when she claims that Rodriguez seeks to become a "blank slate" by citing the words of Renato Rosaldo, and not Rodriguez at all. Equally disingenuous is her use of the phrase "studies suggest...." without providing any citations as to what studies she refers to. (203) 

More frequently she simply put words into his pen as in her analysis of his use of a "female representative of `Mother' Mexico" (222). Despite the fact that his original work uses no feminine-gendered references whatsoever, Schmidt makes a specifically gendered point of his use of feminine imagery as being, for Rodriguez, "predatory feminine sexuality". (She is thus able to play into homophobic stereotypes of women-hating gay men as a means of critiquing Rodriguez' intellectual stances.) 

Nicely, Schmidt imposes her own racist fantasies on Rodriguez' words, overwriting his own description of the characters in his drama. After quoting page 101 of Rodriguez' Days of Obligation (at least her footnote is correct), in a brilliant moment of exposing Rodruguez' "erotic script" and "transgressive desire" Schmidt notes the following: 

"Night duty at the border becomes a Western romance as the cowboys make their roundup of border crossers. The author takes an interest in the undocumented for what they reveal about the border guard whose racialized, masculine authority fascinates him. (He does not comment on the Chicana/o agents who make up a sizeable percentage of the Border Patrol.) The routine arrests provide an erotic script for this theater of social dominance, Calling the immigration agents `cowboys,' Rodriguez calls up the history of border lynchings by Anglo `posses' only to displace the hint of violence onto the terrain of sexual fantasy." (223) 

Schmidt assumes that the "cowboy" Border Patrol is Anglo (a contentious enough term to impose on Euro-Americans). Ignoring the history of "cowboys" in the U.S. (many of who were of Mexican ancestry), she plays on her already established theme of Rodriguez denying his Mexicanness (and thus seeking state-sanctioned "whitness" in her interpretation). What makes this all the more ironic is that she fails to cite the preceding page, after taking Rodriguez to task for `ignoring' the issue of race among members of the border patrol: 

"I get introduced to a patrolman who will be my guide to the night. He is about my age and of about my accent, about my color , about my build." (Rodriguez, Days of Obligation 100) 

Schmidt states that "he alternately seduces and is seduced by white border guards" (224, note the plural), thus racializing the patrolman, contrary to Rodriguez' own descriptions. In fairness to Schmidt, the officer (unlike the patrolman) in Rodriguez' passage is not explicitly racialized by him, thus allowing her to inscribe her own racial prejudices upon the ambiguous subject. 

Unlike the botched sex/politics-reassignment surgery Schmidt attempts to force upon Rodriguez, her treatment of bilingual education and Proposition 187 are ham-fisted and represent much more of a `hatchet-job'. While she takes time to note that "59 percent of California voters approved Proposition 187"(211) she fails to note that any of these voters were `Hispanic'. She explicitly negates the role of economics as she defines "the virulent revival of a racial discourse" (201) against immigrants in late 20th century America to which Rodriguez (in her view) contributes. She claims on the one hand that "Rodriguez absented himself from struggles for civil rights" (206) and then throws him a concessionary bone later when she claims, "Rodriguez opposed the legislative initiatives that would have curtailed the civil rights of immigrants" (215). 

Schmidt is not the only one to be blamed for this poor scholarship: where were her editors? where were her reviewers? if this was a reworked dissertation, where was her advisor? When there are so many well-crafted works of Chicano studies (and related studies), it is a shame that Schmidt's voluminous compendium on such a worthy topic (cultural politics) could not have been more honest, and less like a tricked-up monkey.

Was this review helpful to you?     

Flag as Inappropriate; Flag as Inappropriate
Close Window

Please sign in to WorldCat 

Don't have an account? You can easily create a free account.