Consuming Aztecs, producing workers: Economies of indigeneity and ambivalence in the Chicana/o and Latina/o imagination

Abstract

This essay considers the role of Chicana/o and Latina/o “premodern” indigeneity under free-market capitalism in Sesshu Foster’s novel Atomik Aztex, Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s The Couple in the Cage and the film Fast Food Nation. These texts reveal the economic utility of the premodern indigenous figure, challenging its precapitalist and precolonial symbolics. I argue that the allusions and images of “premodernity” and indigeneity in these texts elucidate regimes of consumption and labor exploitation that render an imagination for alternatives to capitalism exhausted. In particular, premodern indigeneity becomes a figure for both identity markets and labor markets, demonstrating a free-market logic and producing states of ambiguity and ambivalence for Chicana/o and Latina/o cultural politics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    There is some debate on the temporal setting of “this world” in the novel, with the first temporal reference telling us it is sometime after 1961 (Foster 2005, 13). Esposito (2006) claims that it is circa 2005, while Sascha Pöhlmann sees it as a part of the “epistemological problem of the historical narrative” (2010, 231): it is always unreliable.

  2. 2.

    While Sheila Contreras (2008) unravels how indigenism historically operates against nationalist projects, particularly in Mexico, Philip J. Deloria argues that “Indianness offers a deep, authentic, aboriginal Americanness” whether it was “proto-American or anti-American,” where we must understand Americanness as a “found identity” (1998, 183). Chicano cultural nationalism taps into this meaning of indigeneity, producing what Contreras describes as “positive imagery that could oppose the generally negative stereotypes of Mexicans circulating in mainstream U.S. culture” (2008, 75).

  3. 3.

    Many critics distinguish the mestizo from indigenous subjectivities because of the history of mestizos subordinating and devaluing indigenous peoples in Mexico and Latin American (see Aldama 2001; Contreras 2008). Saldaña-Portillo contests Anzaldúa’s provocative challenge to traditional Mexican usages of mestizaje, arguing that it reproduces the historical usage since it ignores contemporary Native Americans currently residing in the borderlands (2003, 280–281). What we can take from Anzaldúa, however, is the understanding that the indigenous and colonial are both necessary albeit contradictory parts of Chicana/o and Latina/o identity. Critically, these ambivalent contradictions produce subjectivity (Anzaldúa 1987, 26, 69, 101; Aldama 2001, 83; Contreras 2008, 33). Some have theorized that this contradiction provokes Chicana/Latina feminists to create a third space (see Yarbro-Bejarano 1994; Pérez 1999), but I find this theory of an “alternative” space to gloss over the ambivalence within this subjectivity.

  4. 4.

    In this sense, I’m employing Foucault’s definition of neoliberalism as enterprise and market economies governing our social and political landscapes, where the market economy now organizes and “deciphers non-market relationships and phenomenon which are not strictly or specifically economic” (2008, 84, 116, 240). Also see Chomsky (1998), Dávila (2004), Harvey (2005) and Brown (2006).

  5. 5.

    By spectacle, I refer to Guy Debord’s idea: spectacle embodies how the market mechanism creates and needs social divisions and represents a commodity structure that rules “over all lived experience” (1995, 18, 26). Debord asserts that the commodity – and thus the spectacle itself – is “now all that we see; the world we see is the world of the commodity” (29). By doing this, he shows us the way the spectacle illuminates – and consolidates – a market logic of consumerism and class organization.

  6. 6.

    This idea of nativism broadens the common take that nativism comes only from an oppressive regime, such as the US nation-state. Arturo J. Aldama identifies nativism as a particular imaginary of the US nation-state and argues that this sentimentality is the very apparatus that others, dehumanizes, and makes savage Chicano, Mexican and Latin American subjects in the United States (2001, 40, 86, 104).

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Ulibarri, K. Consuming Aztecs, producing workers: Economies of indigeneity and ambivalence in the Chicana/o and Latina/o imagination. Lat Stud 14, 214–233 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/lst.2016.5

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Keywords

  • indigeneity
  • Chicana/o literature
  • Latina/o cultural studies
  • Sesshu Foster
  • Coco Fusco
  • Guillermo Gómez-Peña