By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Raul Homero Villa‘s Barrio-Logos tracks the last century and a half’s affronts to California‘s Latinos (focusing for the most part on L.A. and entirely on Mexican-Americans) and the Chicano responses to those assaults, through literature and the arts as well as through political activism. Villa examines the dialectical relationship between “barrioization -- understood as a complex of dominating social processes originating outside of the barrios” from onslaughts by Anglo mobs to freeway construction -- and “barriology,” a term, borrowed from the 1960s East L.A. magazine and art collective Con Safos, that Villa uses to evoke “a whole range of knowledge and practices that form the historical, geographical and social being-in-consciousness of urban Chicano experience.”
Villa does better when recounting the assaults of barrioization -- which he does in a fairly straightforward historical manner -- than when laboriously deconstructing barriological works, be they 19th-century Spanish-language newspaper editorials, the lyrics of Eastside rock bands or the poetry of Luis Alfaro. His analyses of such works display an opacity of prose that frequently approaches self-parody:
Drawing strength from both discursive (af)filiations, Los Illegals’ lyrics are urgent counterexpressions to the positivist platitudes of the metropolitan growth machinery, as they identify the nexus of repressive apparatuses and effects that produce a social cordon around the barrios and the low limits of possibility for many of their residents.
Despite such excesses, Villa commendably fits a great deal of Chicano literature and artwork into a social and historical context. The broadness of his concept of barriology, which includes the struggle of San Diego‘s Logan Heights community to build a park under a freeway exchange as well as novels and song, forces a complex view of the relation between politics and art, history and culture. In so doing it places a seemingly disparate collection of individual works and movements into a single tradition of resistance and pride.
The flip side of barrioization has always been the desire of Anglos to purify their ranks, also known as white supremacy. In Company Men: White-Collar Life and Corporate Cultures in Los Angeles, 1892--1941, Clarke Davis briefly touches on the white-supremacist leanings of L.A.’s onetime oligarchs:
In an atmosphere of self-congratulation, southern California‘s corporate elites talked openly of their desire to create a populace of primarily native-born whites, with people of Mexican descent available as a surplus labor force.
For the most part, though, in attempting to show how execs and employees “negotiated nothing less than the nature, demands and rewards of white-collar life, the meaning of corporate employment and, ultimately, the tenets of a new middle-class culture,” Davis focuses on factors internal to the corporate world. If the career ideal for generations of American men had been professional independence, business leaders had to figure out how to make being a cog in a wheel look good. To that end, large companies fostered company magazines and softball teams to encourage employees to assume their firm’s identity as part of their own, created the notion of an ever-climbable corporate ladder, and experimented with profit-sharing and pension plans to keep employees onboard.
All of this goes a long way toward explaining some of the more mundane aspects of modern corporate culture (like the pension plan) and reassuringly confirms that human beings are not naturally attracted to corporate work. It does very little, however, to put corporate culture in the context of the society it grew out of or the society it helped to spawn. To do that, Davis would have had to explicitly acknowledge, as he only peripherally does, that the rise of white-collar work in the early decades of the century took place in an atmosphere of labor unrest that approached class warfare. This context is not mere background: The rising professional middle class grew up seeing itself in opposition to the (disproportionately nonwhite) blue-collar workers whose physical labor it directed and supervised from behind administrative desks. Though you would never know it from Davis‘ account, the resulting fissures still scar America today.
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