Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tex[t] Mex and the Latino Body

(left: from Anthony Nericcio's Tex[t] Mex [University of Texas Press, 2007] and site)

Every once in a while a book or cultural artifact comes along that renders its contents and futures differently, and from that moment on it becomes a point of reference for what is to come. William Anthony Nericcio's Tex[t] Mex (University of Texas Press, 2007) is just such an artifact. The Mexican and Chicana/o bodies that populate it are imagined beyond their use value, or the pleasures taken from them, in order to lay bare how vision and the state's culture industries work hand in hand with the politics of national discrimination in the subtlest, and thereby most insidious ways. From a children's cartoon like speedy González, I mean, Gonzales, to scopophilic desires in the shape of Lupe Velez, or the Rita Hayworth we think we know, this is a special book.

We need books like these in order to understand broader cultural phenomena like, say, artist John Sonsini's appropriation of the Latino body, as his recent fascination with Mexican and Central American (im)migrants makes clear. Sonsini cruises and picks up day laborers on the street corners East L.A. Through hand gestures, movements, and the flashing of green some of them eventually "sit" for him in his studio, he paints their image, and the art world then celebrates these bait and tackle switches for the "honest" representation of "the common man." But I wonder in amazement about the Latino body, endlessly recycled, but never quite at home in this piece of earth whose borders render it "illegal" when convenient, "art" when profitable. We need more books like Nericcio's.