“The focus of this chapter is on analyzing the ways Proyecto represents and names itself and the communities it serves in the public arena, and how these practices of self-representation circumvent some of the pitfalls and limitations of identity politics. I argue that Proyecto is involved in forging a new type of identity project based on ideas, affiliation, and alignment rather than on static categories of race, gender, culture or sexuality” (Rodríguez, 48).
I selected this section in the book because it caused the most dissonance for me. I am particularly drawing attention to the parts that Rodriguez states that culture is static. I recognize that she is referencing “strategic essentialism” that identity politics falls into and the erasure of queer people that this kind of activism and politics fall into; however, I think an intervention is necessary.
Rodriguez writes a compelling and engaging book that highlights the ways in which identity practices operate in varying discursive spaces. The majority of her book moves away from the notion of collective identity and into the realm of individual identity. She states that identity is a process; never static, and we are all subjects-in-process. Unfortunately, she also states, “Proyecto’s Spanglish poem-manifesto-mission statement reflects a disinvestment in static concepts of language, culture, and gender and mirrors the agency’s irreverent style of community organizing and education” (54). Her suggestions that language, culture, and gender are static concepts seem to be contradictory to her first chapter.
Stuart Hall writes that there are two ways ‘cultural identity’ is understood: “the first position define ‘cultural identity’ in terms of one, shared culture, a sort of collective ‘one true self’, hiding inside the many other, more superficial or artificially imposed ‘selves’, which people with a shared history and ancestry hold in common” (Hall 223). This definition is the one that Rodriguez seems to be writing about when she states that culture is ‘static’; however, it is the second understanding of cultural identity that Rodriguez does not seem to revisit. The second understanding of cultural identity that Hall articulates, is similar to the way in which Rodriguez articulates identity as a process and never static. Hall states that cultural identity in the second way of understanding it is a process, a “mater of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being. It belongs to the future as much as to the past. It is not something which already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories” (Hall 324). In short, it is always in process and never static. Simply put, if identity is dynamic, why isn’t culture?
I do not intend to suggest that Rodríguez is wrong but rather, that saying culture is static is limiting and somewhat contradictory to the claims that are being made about identity practices in the remainder of the book. Cultural identities are positioned and influenced within the histories and cultures from which they are expressed. Everything is identity politics. Even though Rodríguez states that identity politics erases queer identities, which is a valid claim with which I agree, but what then is queerness? Is it not an identity? By disassociating it from identity politics, is there some kind of essentialism taking place? What do we make of colonialism and its influence on native people’s cultures if claims are made that culture is static?
Rodríguez does a magnificent job in this book in queering lantinidad, by challenging the preconceived notions of what constitutes Latin@s. To suggest that the aforementioned categories are static, does not reflect the complexities inherent in them. But it also seems that the author understands the complexities of the aforementioned categories throughout her book because she continuously signals to the site of contradictions that constitute identity practices and discursive spaces; they are continuously being produced and reproduced.
As both Rodríguez and Hall point out, identity is messy and complex. There are continuous attempts to define the indefinable because identity is always in process, never fixed and never already decided. Cultural identity, and by extension, culture and history, must be central in any discussion if we are to ever understand the way identity is imagined and reimagined. As Hall states, “As recent theories of enunciation suggest that, though we speak, so to say ‘in our own name’, of ourselves and from our own experience, nevertheless who speaks, and the subject who is spoken of, are never identical, never exactly in the same place…we all write and speak from a particular place and time, from a history and culture which is specific” (Hall 222). Both Hall and Rodríguez understand the complex nature of identity and mostly have similar understandings of identity.
Queer Latinidad is fantastically written and an insightful piece of scholarship. I am simply providing a different lens from which to analyze the language and framework that seem to limit and contradict Rodríguez’s overarching arguments. This blog post is not a critique but a conversation with the ideas and words in Queer Latinidad.
Stuart Hall. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora”. Framework: No. 36