History from the Margins: Chicana/o History in the 1990's


Richard Griswold del Castillo

Document Id: OC-28

Chicano historians have crossed disciplinary, political, cultural, ideological, and psychological borders to develop a new kind of history outside the boundaries of traditional narratives in American history. Latino and Chicano sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists write and teach Chicano history. Chicano Studies is a multi-disciplinary field, and this has encouraged all of us to go beyond narrow academic specializations in our conceptualization of historical topics and approaches. If one defining characteristic of postmodernism is the tendency to transcend boundaries and categories, then Chicano history has become increasingly post modern in the nineties. In 1978, when I wrote my first book, The Los Angeles Barrio, and tried to get it published, I was told that it was a "crack" book. The publishers meant that it did not quite fit into the categories of publications established by the university press. It employed sociological methodologies to analyze historical data, but it was not clearly a sociology text. It was not Western history. It was not Mexican history. What was it? It fell between the cracks of these categories. The implication was that it would be hard to evaluate, market, and sell. In the parlance of the 1990's, it was a book that had crossed the boundaries not only between recognized subcategories of American history, but also between methodological approaches. In the last fifteen years many more works on Chicano history have fallen through the cracks and, as it were, filled up the void. As a result, where once there was no category, we have invented one: multidisciplinary Chicana/o history. In crossing boundaries we have created new borders. Since 1990, there have been a number of historical works that have blurred the older traditional, intellectual, and disciplinary boundaries. Carlos Velez-Ibanez's newest book, Border Visions: Mexican Cultures of the Southwest and the United States, is one example. Velez is an anthropologist who writes history, sociology, art criticism, biography, and economics. The book is an example of border crossing scholarship that demonstrates how, in his words, "The borders of the mind, of cultural boundaries, of marginal identities are often disassembled and reconstructed in creative epistolaries . . . " During the last thirty years Chicano historians have created a new history, one that has never been told before, one that challenges the accepted approaches and themes in American historiography. Since 1990, more than forty monographs have appeared contributing to the development of Chicana/o history (see bibliography). Surveying some of the best examples, we can discern the creative, multi-disciplinary directions that Chicana/o history has taken.

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