|Title:||Forgetting Identity, Recovering Politics: Rethinking Chicana/o Nationalism, Identity Politics, and Resistance to Racism in Alejandro Morales's Death of an Anglo|
|Publication info:||Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
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Forgetting Identity, Recovering Politics: Rethinking Chicana/o Nationalism, Identity Politics, and Resistance to Racism in Alejandro Morales's Death of an Anglo
vol. 1, no. 1, Fall 1997
Forgetting Identity, Recovering Politics: Rethinking Chicana/o Nationalism, Identity Politics, and Resistance to Racism in Alejandro Morales's Death of an Anglo
In her 1993 manifesto "Queer Aztlan: the Re-formation of Chicano Tribe" in which she rethinks the politics of Chicana/o nationalism and the conceptualization of Chicana/o identity that informed that politics, Cherrie Moraga abolishes any notion of a pristine relationship between identity and politics altogether, writing, "Over and over again we are reminded that sex and race do not define a person's politics. Margaret Thatcher is a woman and enforces the policies of the imperial whiteman and Clarence Thomas is black and follows suit" (149). Moraga's insight, which while for all its perhaps apparent obviousness seems often neglected in the discourse of identity politics, provides a useful context in which to explore Diana Fuss's query, "Is politics based on identity, or is identity based on politics?" (Fuss 100). Moraga's observation militates against, while also implicitly endorsing, the assumption that the analytic categories that classify identity, such as race and sex, ought to play some, even a significant, role in shaping one's political perspective and behavior.
The extent to which Moraga's statement registers surprise, albeit resigned surprise, reveals the underlying political theory which conditioned her expectations otherwise: a theory of objective interests. Indeed, the theoretical underpinnings of Moraga's reconceptualization of identity politics in "Queer Aztlan" bear a striking resemblance to Georg Lukacs's typology of class consciousness developed in his much-maligned work History and Class Consciousness. In this work Lukacs asserts that by "relating consciousness to the whole of society it becomes possible to infer the thoughts and feelings which men would have in a particular situation if they were able to assess both it and the interests arising from it in their impact on the immediate action and the whole structure of society. That is to say, it would be possible to infer the thoughts and feelings appropriate to their objective situation" (51). Moraga similarly believes that certainly if Thatcher and Thomas were able to assess their objective situation and interests they would most definitely not align themselves with the politics of the imperial whiteman; that is, they would not let their politics define their identity but rather let their historically produced objective identity determine their politics. Moraga recognizes, however, as does Lukacs, that this consciousness of one's position within the concrete social totality is not automatically inscribed in one's identity. Thus, identity does not automatically authorize politics. In conceptualizing the relation between identity and politics, then, we might state the case as such that one's "identity," defined here as a function of one's historical and objective position within the racial patriarchal capitalist system, can potentially provide one with a more or less privileged comprehension of the social totality—and thus by extension with a politics responsive to one's objective interests—but that one's identity (as male or female, worker or capitalist, African-American, Euro-American, Asian-American, etc.) and experience do not necessarily or automatically register those interests or guarantee a political consciousness of those interests.
The discourse of Chicana/o politics has, within the range of nationalist and racial identity politics, provided the most nuanced approach to the controversial relationship between identity and politics, moving us well beyond the essentialist threat. Within Chicana/o discourse, the name "Chicana/o" has always signified not—or not simply—a racial identity but a political affiliation. "Chicana/o," for example, is not synonymous with Mexican American but rather identifies those select Mexican Americans who have adopted the nationalist, anti-imperialist, anti-assimilationist, working-class politics of the movement. "Chicana/o" is a political signifier, not a racial identity. But defining "Chicana/o" identity as a political signifier and not a racial identity and bringing us beyond the discourse of essentialism also raises questions that are rarely asked; namely, can this political signifier, in the parlance of post-structuralism, float? If a floating signifier, who can claim it? Can putative members of the dominant culture subscribe to a Chicano/a politics and presume the identity? Unlike other political identities or signifiers that claim a racialized identity as referent, Chicano/a political discourse opens itself up to this interrogation which can provide useful insights into questions of identity and politics more generally. These questions have been explored most rigorously in the fiction of Alejandro Morales, which this paper will take as its center of discussion for interrogating the nexus of identity and politics from an anti-essentialist Marxist position.
In his study of Chicana/o narrative, Ramon Saldivar explores the dialectical tensions inherent in any conceptualization of identity, arguing, "Identity is a contradiction; it is, in Adorno's terms, 'non-identity under the aspect of identity'" (174). Following Adorno, Saldivar insists upon a recognition of "the otherness within the self and the incessant presence of the self in the other" as he demonstrates how the dialectical nature of Chicana/o fiction "works to undo not only the presumptive permanence and sovereignty of abstract binary oppositions, but of decidedly material bodily forms as well" (174-5). The fiction of Alejandro Morales fits perfectly within this Chicana/o literary tradition Saldivar identifies in its dialectical treatment and problematizing of the concept of a fixed and pristinely unified identity. While working within this tradition, Morales also creatively extends and redirects this dialectics of identity and difference in his fiction. In this paper, I will discuss his novel Death of an Anglo which, I believe unprecedentedly in the history of Chicana/o fiction, interrogates what is perhaps one of the most profound and tenacious binary oppositions informing Chicana/o political discourse, that between the categories of Chicana/o and Anglo.
The question of identity dominates Morales's novelistic meditations on Chicana/o history, politics, and life. Asked in an interview if he, like one of his characters in his novel Reto en el Paraiso, denies his "Chicanidad," Alejandro Morales addressed the question of identity more generally, responding,
Morales's response here opens up several crucial issues regarding identity and politics which he treats with complexity in his literary works. In The Brick People (1992), for example, while the novel provides a fictional rendering of the history of Mexican labor and (im)migration in California thus tracing the historical forces underwriting the development of Chicano identity, it also diagnoses the dangers of constructing that identity too narrowly such that it might become politically entrapping and immobilizing. In an early scene in the novel, for instance, Morales depicts a massacre of Chinese immigrant workers in which Mexican workers participated with Anglos. This historical scene cautions against a restrictive and inflexible sense of racial and national identity which would discourage alignment with other racially oppressed and exploited peoples who might share common interests and which would thus work counterproductively to those very political interests which an historically based identity formation is meant to anchor, clarify, and direct. Indeed, one of the predominant thematics of The Brick People is the need for a broader Third World working-class coalition to challenge racial oppression and class exploitation on a global basis, as indicated in an early passage in which Joseph Simons worries about the possibility of labor unrest in his brickyard given the emergence of social movements across the globe: "In different parts of the world," Morales writes, "social movements threatened to destroy established world powers. Brown men nibbled at portions of the British and Spanish colonies. In the United States, a unionism became stronger and urged labor to fight for fair pay and improved working conditions. Unions and radical socialists compared the situation of exploited workers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia to laborers in the United States and urged the people to guard against unjust treatment" (16-17). This passage, as well as the novel as a whole, can be read as a gesture against the contemporary splintering of racial identity groups which were once politically united as a Third World liberation front during the intense moments of political, cultural, and social ferment in the 1960s.
Related to though not identical with the thematics of identity developed in The Brick People is the issue of Anglo-American identity raised in his provocative response in the interview excerpted above. While typically issues of identity, particularly within the discourse of identity politics, center on oppressed peoples, seldom do we see the identity of the oppressor treated as an issue. Morales brings the theme of the dominant culture's question of identity and its political relays into clear view in his novel Death of an Anglo. In this novel it is the Anglo doctor Michael Logan, not the "Chicano" characters, who becomes the effective voice and agent of a Chicano politics and action based in the movement's originary agenda of Third World, anti-imperialist, working-class struggle. By this rather unique centering and interrogation of "Anglo" identity through his character Michael Logan, Morales' novel explores the relation, non-correspondence, and incompatibility of the various and contradictory ways in which identity is discussed and theorized as racial identity, political identity, or cultural identity.
In particular, the novel highlights the non-identity or nonalignment of "racial" identity, in historical and social terms, and political identity, dramatizing the ways in which one's affiliation with a racialized group does not automatically translate into a privileged and politicized consciousness of one's objective political interests. This means also that an Anglo living in the U.S. might not buy into U.S. patriotic jingoism and be politically aligned with the racial oppression and imperialist domination that marks the history and informs the contemporary maintenance of the U.S. nation-state. Indeed, in her theoretical interrogation of identity politics, in relation to Fuss's query, "Is politics based on identity, or is identity based on politics?" (100), we might say that for Morales, in Death of an Anglo, political commitment and action take precedence over the question of identity, echoing his concern above that "we can spend the rest of our lives trying to define and answer the question Who are we? and go nowhere." The novel offers an historical materialist analysis of the dialectical relays between racial identity and political (racial, class, etc.) consciousness that carries through in its representation of plot and character the analytical mission articulated by Paul Gilroy in his study of the cultural politics of race and nation, There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: "The primary problem for analysis of racial antagonism which occurs within the broad framework of historical materialism must be the manner in which racial meanings, solidarity, and identities provide the basis for action" (27). The importance of and crucial stakes involved in the notion of the social construction of race and racial identity for both Morales and Gilroy are the modes or courses of action and resistance implied in or entailed by those constructions such that, as Gilroy writes, racial meanings should not be "examined as an autonomous branch of ideology, but as salient features in a general process whereby culture mediates the world of agents and structures which are created by their social practice" (24). This formulation is quite important, I believe, in bringing us beyond the oversimplistic debate framed in rigid terms of the either/or of essentialism versus social constructionism. We see in Gilroy's statement a sense that not only does race not have an essentialist basis that would yield naturally a worldview, politics, and cultural personality but, perhaps even more to the point and more importantly, that the experience of race is hardly uniform and, whether uniform or not, certainly would not necessarily translate immediately or evenly into a uniform or homogeneous racial-political consciousness.
The importance of this point lies in the fact that most frequently it is experience and not essence that is invoked as the sacred grounding of political authority. The experience of oppression is usually claimed as providing one with a privileged consciousness of the entire complex of socio-historical forces that produce the oppressive conditions, which may be global in nature, and thus of a clearer insight into how to resist those conditions through political action. Careful distinctions, however, need to be made between knowledge and experience, distinctions which problematize the valorization of experience as the source or precondition of heightened political understanding and consciousness. We need to recognize, as Fredric Jameson has noted, that in the world under global capitalism we have witnessed "a growing contradiction between lived experience and structure" such that the truth of any experience "no longer coincides with the place in which it takes place. The truth of that limited daily experience of London lies, rather, in India or Jamaica or Hong Kong; it is bound up with the whole colonial system of the British empire that determines the very quality of the individual's subjective life. Yet those structural coordinates are no longer accessible to immediate lived experience and are often not even conceptualizable for most people" (349). Thus, one's experience of race in the U.S. might not provide one with an objective understanding of the mechanisms of racial oppression which would seem necessary for developing a cogent strategy of resistance against the objective conditions of racial capitalism. Indeed, viewing race as a political category, as the critic Gilroy and the writer Morales do, we see that, in Gilroy's words, "its meanings are unfixed and subject to the outcomes of struggle. There can be no guarantee that conflicts over the meaning of 'race' will always be resolved in a politically radical or progressive direction" (24). Herein lies the importance of the separation of political consciousness from racial identity constituted by the distinction between the terms "Chicana/o" and "Mexican American." We can then theorize radicalization and political action as not simply or only conditioned by the experience of oppression or as the exclusive domain of the oppressed. Rather, we can theorize political consciousness and action in much broader and complex ways, as rooted in historically determined objective interests that exceed a limited correspondence with a narrowly construed identity of oppression and as most efficaciously rooted, methodologically, in the category of totality as the carrier of revolutionary principle, following Lukacs insistence in History and Class Consciousness. It is thus we can understand Marx's theory of how "a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole" (Marx, "Manifesto" 481); or Morales's novelistic narrative of how an "Anglo" "goes over" to a Chicano nationalist and internationalist politics.
Written in 1979, Death of an Anglo can be read as an effort to rethink the centrality and meaning of identity in Chicano politics and to reformulate the relations between race, agency, action, and political commitment with a view toward rebuilding a Third Worldist political culture of coalition. In particular, the novel can be read as a corrective to the historical trend of what Barbara Christian has termed "uncoalitioning," a process whereby identities, particularly those of people of color, are defined or constructed fragmentedly—though of course with the illusion of wholeness—by being removed from the global contexts of colonialism that objectively unite people of color on a global scale under the imperialising processes of the capitalist world system. Christian reminds us of the extent to which the cultural nationalist movements of the 1960s were influenced by the liberation movements in the Third World. Indeed, these '60s movements within the U.S. even identified themselves as Third World movements in order to accentuate the links between their experience of racial oppression in the U.S., which came to be characterized by the term internal colonialism, with the experience of colonization people of color abroad were experiencing at the hands of First World nations. Ironically, while in our contemporary moment the term "globalization" and putative promotions of a world community have become de rigueur, the Third World models of comprehending racial experience and identity on global scale from an historical materialist perspective have fallen out of currency despite its internationalist thrust, such that now discussions of race take place in the narrow packagings of fragmentedly construed versions of racial identity. As Christian describes the process:
I have briefly touched already on the workings of this theme in Morales's later novel The Brick People. In this paper my discussion of these themes will focus on his employment of these themes in his earlier Death of an Anglo in which he reflects not only on the unity of people of color under the capitalist world system but on the possibilities for interpellating and including "Anglos" in a Third World international racial/class consciousness and for narrating them as political agents cognizant that their long-term historical objective interests correspond with, are articulated by, this Third World nationalist/internationalist vision.
In the spirit of what I take to be Morales's cultural orientation toward a broad Third World internationalist political perspective, I want to begin my exegesis of Death of an Anglo with a brief comparison of the Morales novel with Richard Wright's Native Son, an African-American novel that shares common cultural and political concerns with Death of an Anglo with regard to the politics of nationalism and the role of the Anglo intellectual and activist. At one moment during his flight from police and vigilantes in Richard Wright's Native Son, Bigger Thomas reflects on the possibility for both escape from and understanding of his situation as an exploited and oppressed racial minority in the U.S. racial capitalist system, engaging in a brief utopian wonder:
Of course, this passage is a key index of Wright's own literary method and of the function Bigger's character is to serve in the politics of the novel. Bigger is to be the very martyr he himself yearned for who will live, suffer, and die, going before other African Americans to show them the road to a sure and quiet knowledge. He becomes Wright's avatar of a political theory based in the dual imperatives of Marxism and Black nationalism, outlined in his famous essay "Blueprint for Negro Writing." What spurs Bigger's development of political consciousness in the novel, though, is the Jewish Communist lawyer Boris Max.
I begin with this scene from Native Son because it serves as both an apt comparison and contrast to Alejandro Morales's Death of an Anglo in which the theme of political martyrdom, or of martyrdom as the sign and meaning of political commitment, is also central both thematically and methodologically; and also because in each novel it is a white character who is key in inciting the development of this national and class consciousness. In Death of an Anglo, it is the "Anglo" doctor Michael Logan, who commits himself professionally and politically to serving the Chicano community in Mathis, Texas, who dies the martyr's death for his political commitment to the Chicano community and its struggles for justice. The theme emerges early in the novel when the young intern Logan accuses Leroy Hales, who had previously serviced Mathis but left under pressure and violence from the Anglo community there, of fleeing out of fear for himself. Hales responds, "Of course I was. I don't want to be a martyr and die for nothing. Once I'm dead, what can I do? The martyrs are the idiots of the world, they shed their blood so that others come out ahead, to make the sacrifices easier" (87). Just as Bigger's death is a sacrifice intended to make other African Americans come out ahead and to realize the national dimensions of their existence as an internally colonized people in the U.S., so is Logan's death in Morales's novel. Interestingly, for Wright, Max is seen as insufficiently comprehending Bigger's position and nationalist consciousness at the end of the novel for which Bigger is martyred. He turns his back on Bigger in the concluding scene after Bigger has realized, "'What I killed for must've been good!'" (358). While Max has just defended, theorized, and justified Bigger's violence, he is unable fully to accept Bigger's embracing of his violence as an act of self-determination. Max can theorize Black political agency but cannot condone its realization. Yet for Morales it is the "Anglo" who is not only the highest form of consciousness in the novel but also the martyr. But what does it mean in terms of and for the politics of self-determination informing the originary politics of the Chicano movement that Morales's martyr is an "Anglo"? Given that, as Carlos Munoz argues, "to a large degree, the movement was a quest for identity, an effort to recapture what had been lost through the socialization process imposed by U.S. schools, churches, and other institutions" (61), what is Morales's novel, written in 1979, suggesting about the politics of identity that in part defined the Chicano Movement? And, as a revolutionary novel, how was it trying to and how can it redirect Chicano politics and a Third World socialist internationalist politics of liberation more broadly for the contemporary moment? Morales reasserts and rethinks the Chicano movement's originary politics of resistance to the racial and class oppression of internal colonization with particular respect to what in contemporary parlance is referred to as identity politics.
Originally published in 1979 in Spanish as La Verdad Sin Voz, Morales's novel critiques and even indicts the emergence of a middle-class politics of individual upward mobility within a broadly conceived "Chicano" identity that departs from the original principles of the movement which stressed the working-class identity and politics of Chicano nationalism. Morales's novel serves as a meaningful cultural intervention into the contemporary politics of anti-racist struggle that can provide useful models and correctives in mapping strategies to challenge racist policies. Death of an Anglo is rooted in, yet offers a critique of, the Chicano movement and rethinks cultural and political consciousness and identity. In the novel, Morales accomplishes a radical retheorizing of identity and identity politics through a novelistic reconceptualization of the relations between identity and otherness in terms of race, class, and gender, experience and totality, and nationalism and internationalism. Morales's novelistic recasting of identity and political agency represents a significant intervention into the Chicano literary genre which has for the most part been thematized and cast as the cultural search for identity underwriting the Chicano movement of the 1960s, which was itself "a quest for a new identity and for political power" (Munoz 15). Indeed, as Juan Bruce-Novoa wrote in 1982, "Chicano literature, as most people use the term, is that which is associated with a new consciousness of political, social, and cultural identity linked to the Chicano movement" (Chicano 3). Morales, however, redirects these political concerns away from an emphasis on cultural identity and toward a reinvigoration of political commitment to the revolutionary transformation of racial patriarchal capitalism, to the politics of national and class struggle based in a theorized resistance to capitalist imperialism both internally and internationally.
It needs to be stressed here, however, that in Death of an Anglo Morales refunctions the Third World or Chicana/o national political subject of resistance as one that is available for interpellation not just by Chicanas/os or other racialized subjects. Nationalism for Morales is a precursor, if not a mode itself, of a socialist internationalist politics and class consciousness. In this sense, finally, Morales's novel presents a vision of nationalism, or the politics of national liberation, that differs quite starkly from conventional views of the politics of nationalism, such as that projected by Benedict Anderson in his influential work, particularly among postcolonial theorists, Imagined Communities. In this work, Anderson asserts, "The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind" (7). Against Anderson, Morales in Death of Anglo imagines the nationalism of the oppressed with its attendant cultural and political visions as the necessary foundation of a genuine internationalism that challenges the logic of capitalism and imperialism. Indeed, the category of nation must be the starting point of imagining a political subjectivity to resist and pose an alternative to the capitalist world system. Anderson, for example, argues that "a strong case can be made for the primacy of capitalism" (37) in bringing about the modern conception of the nation and giving rise through the vernacularizing thrust of print to national consciousness. Yet as Anderson defines the development of national identities in many ways as involved with the incorporation of those nation-states and national cultures into the universalizing or internationalizing logic of capital, it seems logical to imagine that challenging the developmental logic of global or international capitalism or imperialism would require speaking or acting from a site of local contradiction, and it is the site of the independent or dissenting nation from which the putative peace and harmony of the "new world order" can be most fruitfully problematized. The "delinking" (Samir Amin's term) nation, attempting to extricate itself from the global capitalist economy becomes the site of contradiction of and within the existing international system. Indeed, Anderson speaks of the ways in which empires attempted to disguise their imperialising ventures, their subjugation of other nations, by figuring themselves as nations and not empires: "It was only that a certain legerdemain," he writes, "was required to permit the empire to appear attractive in national drag" (87). Anderson's analysis here aptly describes the U.S. nation/empire as it contains within its borders the internally colonized nations of African Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans, and so on, disguising its colonizing practices behind the monologic discourse of nationhood.
This monologic discourse of nationhood, we see, is really not a nationalism but a disguised imperialist international order. To challenge or resist this logic from within means not just to seek a national separation but rather to seek to remake or pose an alternative international vision by creating a new culture or socioeconomic logic to counter that of capital. Nationalism becomes the political means for this total social transformation in Morales's representation. His vision of the political subjectivity of the nation can be fruitfully understood in the terms of Frantz Fanon, who writes:
Interestingly, in the novel, it is the "Anglo" Logan who is building up his nation. But what nation exactly is he building up finally? The Chicano nation? The U.S.? Here we see, really following Fanon, the dialectical both/and that characterizes Morales's figuration of the relationship between nationalism and internationalism. It is precisely for Logan by interpellating himself as effectively a Chicano national subject, or by adopting the Third World political perspective and activist orientation of Chicana/o nationalism, that he is able to attempt to transform the U.S. multinational society. Again, national politics must be the source of an alternative international culture and vision. Logan is the lynchpin for Morales of Fanon's "two-fold emerging" as it is through national politics that Logan reimagines or attempts to create what Fanon calls a new humanity. Fanon writes in a passage that ably glosses Morales's novelistic conception:
For Fanon, it is not so much that the nation is reinvented or reimagined but rather, as he says, that "this new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others" (246). Thus, the historical and cultural processes Fanon imagines are not so much constitutive of the act of imagining or inventing a nation or community as much as transcending nationhood as experienced as national oppression in a colonial context, as the negation not just of a colonizing power's imagination of one's nationhood in oppressive terms but of the colonizing power's oppression and exploitation of a people in objective material terms. For Fanon, as we will see for Morales, the nation can finally be coterminous with humankind.
It is because of the historical processes of capitalist imperialist development which bring peoples together as nations through the objective fact of colonization that makes it difficult to embrace fully Anderson's notion of nations as imagined or invented communities or Werner Sollors's conception of ethnicity as an invention that peoples can voluntarily control, as suggested by his query, "Do not new ethnic groups continually emerge? Even where they exist over long time spans, do not ethnic groups constantly change and redefine themselves?" (Sollors xiv). While Sollors does concede that ethnicity needs to be understood in terms of "more widely shared historical conditions and cultural features" and that "looking at ethnicity as modern does not imply that ethnic conflicts thereby appear less 'real' simply because they may be based on an 'invention,' a cultural construction" (xv), nonetheless he does not really acknowledge the historical conditions and processes that define and bring into being nations in objective terms. While he rightly insists that "texts are not mere reflections of existing differences but also, among many other things, productive forces in nation-building enterprises" (xv), he does not consider the role texts might play in developing and raising national consciousness, that is consciousness of the objective national dimensions of one's life—the project Richard Wright articulated for African American writers in his 1937 "Blueprint for Negro Writing." Anderson similarly downplays if not ignores the objective basis of nations, or the objective basis of national oppression through colonization that would motivate one to resist and mobilize in the political form of nationalism. He states, "But it is doubtful whether either social change or transformed consciousness, in themselves, do much to explain the attachment that peoples feel for the inventions of their imaginations—or, to revive a question raised at the beginning of this text—why people are ready to die for these inventions" (141). Anderson foregoes making a crucial distinction between a nationalism of the oppressors and a nationalism of the oppressed, a crucial distinction proposed by Marxism. Instead, he tends to reduce nationalism to a psychological function divorced from historical conditions. He is unable to imagine that the people of a colonized nation might not be dying or fighting for a mere invention but rather for their material livelihoods and freedom. In Death of an Anglo, Morales represents political and cultural identity as in some ways subject to invention but also demonstrates that any cultural program or political identity will be effective in achieving an effective social transformation only if it responds to and comprehends the material conditions and objective forces of history. History and culture, or history and racial/class consciousness, must be sutured.
One of the central plots of the novel involves the criss-crossing trajectories of the "Anglo" doctor, Logan, who foregoes the certain wealth promised by his profession and instead commits himself to serving an impoverished Chicano community in Texas, and of the "Chicano" doctor, Pato Martinez, who chooses to join a lucrative private practice and turns his back on the needs of the Chicano community. This plot structure highlights the novel's foremost preoccupation with the role and fate of the intellectual and professional in anticapitalist and antiracist movements, particularly with the Chicano intellectual and professional when she/he is no longer motivated by the necessity of poverty, a question raised through the characters of Pato Martinez and the university professor Eutemio Morenito. Will the intellectual be tempted by the security and comfort of bourgeois life and wealth? And will, hence, the intellectual's commitment to radical political action and social change wane when he/she recognizes that economic success and prestige in one's profession require, as Morales represents it, foregoing one's revolutionary political values and adopting the useless and insidious values of the dominant culture? Unlike those suffering from the poverty and violence which racism, as a function of capitalism and imperialism, generates—that is, those whose choice is either to suffer or fight back—the central characters in this novel—Logan, Eutemio Morenito, and Pato Martinez—have the choice to escape to a life of relative wealth and privilege and not look back. This set of alternatives is articulated in the novel most clearly by Logan, who questions the purity of his own motives as well as the sanity of them when he could be leading the easy life practicing his trade as a physician in a safe and comfortable environment. After just purchasing a motorcycle, he is driving around Corpus Christi, where his wife and children live when he is in Mathis where it is too dangerous for them. Morales writes:
Logan here in examining his own motives does in fact actually discover that it is not pure egotism compelling him, but he does also discern that it is his choice to aid, in fact to become a part of, the Chicano community in Mathis. He cannot rationalize setting up a clinic in Corpus Christi as anything but an abdication of his political responsibility in Mathis. His choice represents the choice that all intellectuals and professionals must make—the choice to politically commit themselves to revolutionary social transformation.
This claiming of responsibility stands in stark contrast to Dr. Martinez who rationalizes his professional choices and recasts the meaning of revolutionary action to fit his bourgeois life narrative. When Logan asks Martinez why he doesn't go to Mathis, he answers:
But what he views as his contribution to the struggle, we learn later, is his being a role model of the American success story to other Chicanos. As he later tells another doctor heading to Mathis to help Logan, who challenges Martinez's commitment,
Yet what he exemplifies is purely the mythical success of upward mobility, that anyone can make it, regardless of obstacles, ignoring the fact that moving up a class is not the end of racism because the social processes that translate race into privilege or poverty are still in place, especially for everyone else. Martinez's Chicano politics become those of the bourgeois ethos of individualism and self-reliance. Martinez believes that his identity, even his existence itself is a political statement and as such he represents Morales's critique of identity politics, an example of which we find paradigmatically stated by the Black feminist critic Barbara Smith who writes: "As Black women we have an identity and therefore a politics that requires faith in the humanness of Blackness and femaleness. We are flying in the face of white male conceptions of what humanness is and proving that it is not them, but us" (qtd. in Fuss 99). This statement clarifies the precise nature of the relation between identity and politics: "we have an identity and therefore a politics." The link between identity and politics is causally and teleologically defined; for practitioners of identity politics, identity necessarily determines a kind of politics. What Morales represents through the character of Martinez, however, is that this is not so; actions and ideology, not identity or skin color, determine one's politics.
What Morales reasserts through this plot structure is that the name "Chicano" does not signify a racial identity or status necessarily (Mexican-American, Latino, Hispanic, etc.) but rather a political choice and commitment informed by "both the affirmation of working-class and indigenous origins, and the rejection of assimilation, acculturation, and the myth of the American melting pot" (Chabram and Fregoso 205). Racial background, for Morales, is no guarantee of "authenticity" when speaking of a Chicano political identity. Morales critiques a narrowly conceived identity politics which authorizes a politics on the basis of one's racial identity rather than on an assessment of the politics itself, demonstrating that an "Anglo" may be more "Chicano" than a self-proclaimed Chicano who chooses the road of assimilation and individual upward mobility as opposed to a collective political solution to the oppression of racial capitalism and internal colonialism. Identity does not automatically authorize politics. As the people of Mathis say of Logan, "He was more of a Chicano than some who are born Chicanos" (186). This sentiment recalls major literary debates around the construction of a canon within Chicano literature, debates centering on the meaning or ideology of Chicano ethnicity and identity itself. Is John Rechy's work "Chicano" even though the politics and themes of his writing might not be considered typically or traditionally "Chicano" in terms of the politics and concerns defined by the movement? If the criterion is one of political content, what then is to be made of the works of John Nichols, for whom Bruce-Novoa sarcastically suggests the invention of the new category of "casi-casi" or "almost-almost," "for those authors who cannot pass the blood test but whose writing is culturally and ethnically Chicano" (Bruce-Novoa, "Canonical" 206). Morales's novel practically circumvents the issue, has no patience for it, valorizing political commitment over blood-tests as the final measure of authenticity. The novel constantly privileges action as the condition of truth and suggests that race cannot be reduced to a matter of identity. Rather, the experience of racism has to be expanded into a critique of U.S. society and connected to imperialism. If these connections are overlooked in a desire to simply claim identity and by extension political authority, the novel suggests, then we hover perilously close to the trap of defining race as a biological essence rather than as a social construct. There is no Chicano "essence," no genetic quality that makes one inherently distinct from individuals of other races. The badges of "Anglo" and "Chicano" in the novel become not racial indicators but cultural associations linked with and defined by an anti-imperialist working-class nationalist politics, as I will discuss. And the title "Death of an Anglo" refers not only to the eventual death and martyrdom Logan suffers when he is murdered because of his continued political involvement but also metaphorically to the death of his "Anglo" identity as he effectively adopts a Chicano political identity. Note even that his name "Logan" is an anagram of "Anglo," a jumbled version of it, suggesting that very non-identity between his politics and his "Anglo" heritage and all that it might imply.
In conceptualizing the relation between identity and politics raised by Morales' novel, we might state the case as such that one's "identity," defined here as a function of one's position in the racial patriarchal capitalist system, can potentially provide one with a more or less privileged comprehension of the social totality—and thus by extension with a politics responsive to one's objective interests—but that one's identity and experience do not necessarily or automatically register those objective interests or guarantee a political consciousness of those interests. Moreover, the novel stands as a critique of the assumption of identity politics that a particular movement must include only those who face a specific form of oppression. To one degree or another, the assumption goes, all other people in society are part of the problem—in some way they benefit from oppression and have an interest in maintaining it. In Death of an Anglo, Morales suggests it is not necessary to face a particular oppression in order to fight against that oppression, any more than it is necessary to be destitute in order to fight against poverty, that many people who do not experience a particular form of oppression can learn to identify with those who do and can be enlisted as allies in a common struggle. By going into the community of Mathis, for example, Logan witnesses the realities of racial oppression he thought had vanished with the civil rights movement, as Martinez becomes the posterboy for American individualism, the idea that anyone can make it through thrift and hard work regardless of race, gender, etc.
Against the conceptualization of political consciousness offered by identity politics, Death of an Anglo asserts a more Marxist version or theory of political interests which suggests that while certainly in the short-term, narrowly defined self-interest say, of the Anglo population, it might be worthwhile to exploit and oppress others, in the long-term of history it is not. The view is one expressed by the character Don Costa, who "liked the long view of things that started with the past and flowed through the present and ended with his grandchildren's future" (72). Furthermore, in continuing his meditation on what will compel the professional intellectual, no longer compelled by individual material necessity, to ally himself with, or indeed, in the case of Logan, to initiate, a revolutionary movement against capitalist imperialism, Morales offers a Marxist conceptualization of work as the source of radicalization and political consciousness. The intellectual, unlike the exploited laborer, is in more of a position to produce freely, to realize herself or himself in terms of what Marx refers to as species being. "Man is a species being," Marx writes,
That is, that men and women, as species beings, recognize themselves as part of a social collective and produce for and toward the good of the whole, recognizing one's self as part of that larger communal self and one's self-interest as bound up with the interests of the larger social collective. When one is alienated from one's labor, however, Marx argues, "it turns for him the life of the species into a means of individual life." One's life activity becomes a mere means to a wage to support oneself, as with the other physicians in the novel who forego political responsibility and the humanism and morality the oaths of their profession entail in favor of accumulating wealth.
It is the choice the professional intellectual makes in conceptualizing the purpose of work that is central to Morales's meditation on political commitment. Dr. Redacky, for example, speaks to Logan about the rigors and dehumanization of the medical educational program: "The program is overwhelming," he says,
It is Martinez, we see, whose work becomes an arena to assert his medical expertise to satisfy his own ego and to make himself wealthy, not to serve the social collective. As Redacky describes, Martinez is one of those who justifies his success on the basis of his hard work, believing that he deserves it over others instead of recognizing that he is privileged to have it and that others work equally hard if not harder, say, picking grapes, for much less reward.
Morales represents the university in the same way: full of individuals beaten down by the system, foregoing ideals, adopting a scientific and inhumane approach to literature because of the pressures to publish in a high theoretical and masturbatory language instead of studying literature from a humanist perspective geared toward helping us solve the concrete problems of our everyday life in revolutionary ways. Morales's character and perhaps alter-ego Eutemio Morenito, professor of literature and author of Death of an Anglo in the novel, must decide his fate in the university, and is finally inspired by Logan to live and work according to his ideals. Indeed, for Logan, it is through living up to the ideals of the medical profession, through trying to restore health to the community of Mathis that he becomes a key player and leader in the international anti-imperialist movement. In order to restore health, he must end hunger which means challenging the global colonial capitalist system which creates inequality and distributes resources unjustly and inhumanely, leaving some to starve. As Morales writes:
Through practicing his trade with intellectual ideals, he revolutionizes the profession and becomes himself politicized, developing a class consciousness, such that we learn he begins supplying ammunitions to and aiding peasant revolutions in Mexico.
Logan's linkage of the peasant revolutions in Mexico and the Chicano movement in the U.S. signifies Morales's reassertion of the internal colonial model which links Third World struggles at home with Third World struggles abroad, seeing racial minorities in the U.S. as constitutive of oppressed nations, as Third World pockets within the First World nation. Through Logan and also Eutemio Morenito, inspired by Logan, Morales suggests that we the intellectuals must engage in the production of knowledge geared toward understanding and liberating people from the conditions of global capitalism and imperialism, theorizing Chicano nationalism in a Marxist internationalist framework singularly characterized by an emphasis on the dialectic totality. From the dialectical standpoint of totality, Morales seems to suggest, any local or national situation cannot be grasped in theory and transformed in practice, if one ignores its articulation with the whole, with world, economic, social, and political movement.
Morales makes a direct assault on the university in the novel, indicting the intellectual who reneges on his or her political commitment and urging intellectuals to fulfill their responsibilities of producing socially useful and liberatory knowledge to resist capitalist and colonial exploitation. As in his later novel The Brick People, which features an early and almost unreadable scene, discussed earlier, of the massacre of Chinese immigrant workers while Mexicano workers participate or stand by, in Death of an Anglo Morales urges against a narrow identity politics in favor of a broader Third World working class internationalist movement formulated from the dialectical standpoint of totality mentioned above. The novel really anticipates a move Todd Gitlin has since identified in academia. Gitlin writes:
Morales moves us out of the library, revives the internal colonial model, and redirects scholarship toward a politically committed approach. In an essay of his entitled "Dynamic Identities in Heterotopia," Morales, taking off from Anzaldua, discusses the role of borders, both literal and figurative, in ordering our lives and dangerously disabling us in political activity by alienating us from our communal ties and interests. He writes, "A border maps limits; it keeps people in and out of an area; it marks the ending of a safe zone and the beginning of an unsafe zone. To confront a border and, more so, to cross a border presumes great risk. In general, people fear and are afraid to cross borders. People will not leave their safe zone, will not venture into what they consider an unsafe zone. People cling to the dream of utopia and fail to recognize that they create and live in heterotopia" (Morales, "Dynnamic" 23). In Death of an Anglo, Morales has effectively written a handbook for crossing borders—those borders between the intellectual and the community, between the library and the street, between races, between countries, and between classes, as his humanly flawed protagonist redefines his identity in terms of his (and his world's) long-term political and human interests.
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