As both an idea and an institution, the family has been at the heart of Chicano/a cultural politics since the Mexican American civil rights movement emerged in the late 1960s. In "Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics" (Duke University Press, 2009), Richard T. Rodríguez, a professor of English and of Latina/Latino Studies at Illinois, explores the competing notions of la familia found in movement-inspired literature, film, video, music, painting and other forms of cultural expression created by Chicano men.
"I wrote the book to address the importance of the family as both a social institution and an organizing principle for Mexican-American communities in the United States," Rodríguez said. "While writing the book I learned that the deployment of the family as a means of collective empowerment is not exclusive to Latinos but rather common in diverse cultural and political situations.
"Ultimately the book argues for the value of the family for collective empowerment but only as an institution flexible with respect to membership and insistent upon egalitarian principles," he said.
Drawing on cultural studies and feminist and queer theory, Rodríguez examines representations of the family that reflect and support a patriarchal, heteronormative nationalism as well as those that reconfigure kinship to encompass alternative forms of belonging.
Describing how la familia came to be adopted as an organizing strategy for communitarian politics, Rodríguez looks at foundational texts, including Rodolfo Gonzales' well-known poem "I Am Joaquín," the Chicano Liberation Youth Conference's manifesto "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán" and José Armas' "La Familia de La Raza." Rodríguez analyzes representations of the family in the films "I Am Joaquín," "Yo Soy Chicano" and "Chicana"; the Los Angeles public affairs television series "¡Ahora!"; the experimental videos of the artist-activist Harry Gamboa Jr.; and the work of hip-hop artists such as Kid Frost and Chicano Brotherhood. He reflects on homophobia in Chicano nationalist thought, and examines how Chicano gay men have responded to it in art works, including Al Lujan's video "S&M in the Hood," the paintings of Eugene Rodríguez, and a poem by the late activist Rodrigo Reyes.
"Next of Kin" is both a wide-ranging assessment of la familia's symbolic power and a hopeful call for a more inclusive cultural politics.
"I am pleased with the range of sources the book engages to make its arguments, ... from grassroots print culture to Hollywood film, rap music to poetry." Rodríguez said that the book would appeal to anyone interested in U.S. Latino/a culture and history, gender and sexual politics, and changing understandings of the family in light of gender and sexual politics.