A Poverty of Relations

On Not “Making Familia from Scratch,” but Scratching Familia
  • Ralph Rodríguez
Part of the New Directions in Latino American Cultures book series (NDLAC)


After reading Rag and Bone (2001), the most recent installment in Michael Nava’s Henry Rios series, the following question confronted me: Must we have yet another invocation of familia as the political, social, artistic, and economic staple of Mexican American culture? For too long we have retreated to family as the bastion of Mexican American culture, a refuge from which the encroachment of the “dominant” culture and its multiple oppressions might be escaped. It is less the reductive simplicity of the binary opposition between “dominant” and “subordinate” that provoked me than the notion that familia is a safe haven, an outside to society’s structuring power relations. Understood in this manner, familia has been the operative trope for forming Chicana/o social movements, once again missing the multiple ways in which family can itself be oppressive and generating a nostalgia for a family structure that might save us from the wicked world. More than a decade ago, Norma Alarcón instructed us to be wary of the family structure and the “crisis of meaning” its “engendering process” generated for the “female-speaking subject that would want to speak from a different position than that of a mother, or a future wife/mother.”1 Drawing on Kristeva’s critique of the symbolic contract, Alarcón offered a new course for the “dissident (female) speaking subject”: “The speaking subject today,” she writes, “has to position herself at the margins of the ‘symbolic contract’ and refuse to accept definitions of ‘woman’ and ‘man’ in order to transform the contract.”2


Personal Connection Relational World Mass Readership Homosexual Relation Detective Fiction 
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  1. 1.
    Norma Alarcón, “Making ‘Familia’ from Scratch: Split Subjectivities in the Work of Helena Maria Viramontes and Cherrie Moraga,” in Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature ed. Maria Hererra-Sobek and Helena Maria Viramontes (Houston: Arte Público, 1988), 148.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Foucault maintains, “We live in a relational world that institutions have considerably impoverished. Society and institutions which frame it have limited the possibility of relationships because a rich relational world would be very complex to manage. We should fight against the impoverishment of the relational fabric. We should secure recognition for relations of provisional coexistence, adoption…” (Michel Foucault, “The Social Triumph of the Sexual Will,” in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth Volume 1: The Essential Works of Foucault ed. Paul Rabinow and trans. Robert Hurley and others [New York: The New Press, 1997], 158; ellipsis in original).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Michael Warner, introduction to Fear of a Queer Planet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), xvi.Google Scholar
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    Jon Breen, “Gay Mysteries: Introduction,” in The Fine Art of Murder ed. Ed Gorman et al. (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1993), 163. The Brandstetter series began in 1970 with Fadeout.Google Scholar
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    Tomas Almaguer, “Chicano Men: A Cartography of Homosexual Identity and Behavior,” in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader ed. Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin (New York: Routledge, 1993), 255–273.Google Scholar
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    José Muñoz’s Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999) stands out as a signal study of Latino sexuality. Nevertheless, the field still lacks the critical scholarship equivalent to the work being carried out on Chicana lesbianism. There is still, for instance, a need for a study that would be the gay Chicano counterpart to Carla Trujillo’s edited volume, Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mother Warned Us About (Berkeley: Third Woman, 1991), not to mention the lack of critical studies on bisexual and transgendered Chicana/os.Google Scholar
  7. 20.
    There is a wealth of feminist scholarship on domestic space including Dolores Hayden’s Grand Domestic Revolution (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981)Google Scholar
  8. Daphne Spain’s Gendered Spaces (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992)Google Scholar
  9. Jane Juffer’s At Home with Pornography (New York: New York University Press, 1998)Google Scholar
  10. Alvina Quintana’s Home Girls (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), to cite only a few titles. This scholarship runs slightly tangential to my argument, so I do not engage it directly, though it certainly has influenced my thinking about practices of home.Google Scholar
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    Michael Nava, Rag and Rone (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001).Google Scholar
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    Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, “Sexuality and Chicana/o Studies: Toward a Theoretical Paradigm from the Twenty-First Century,” Cultural Studies 13.2 (April 1999): 336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Alicia Gaspar de Alba 2003

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  • Ralph Rodríguez

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