Latino/a theory covers a massive range of disciplinary pursuits and explorations. Given that we are and have been active shapers of all facets of our North American reality, such scholarly impulses seek to make visible the culture, history, and presence of Latino/as in the US. This essay will map the territory that makes up contemporary or “postclassical” theories of Latino/a cultural production that build on and extend classical Latino/a studies theory.
Briefly, I consider Latino/a pioneers of the arts and scholarship to be those working in and around the time of the late 1960s and early 1970s to make up the classical Latino/a theory. Corky Gonzalez's raza epic poem, “I am Joaquín” (1967), Abelardo Delgado's Chicano Manifesto (1970), and Chicano poet Alurista's Floricanto en Aztlán (published with the first Chicano press Quinton Sol in 1971) embody the early spirit of this epoch: to build a bridge between aesthetic acts, scholarship, and political activism. In the Southwest, for instance, such first-wave cultural activism sought to reclaim territorial rights and thus establish in the Southwest a Chicano nation informed by mestizo/a (Amerindian Aztec/Mayan and Spanish) culture.
In many ways, it was the appearance in 1981 of the lesbian feminist-charged, woman-of-color-voiced poems, short stories, and essays collected in This Bridge Called My Back (Anzaldúa & Moraga 1983) that opened the door to the postclassical Latino/a theory that we see today. Lesbian Latina artists and scholars such as Cherrié Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, among many others, looked less romantically at the Chicano/a community and responded more complexly to earlier raza-identified binaries such as white versus brown, male versus female, and queer versus straight. All forms of experience and identity were to be embraced. As Anzaldúa would write later in her poetic essay “El día de la chicana,” “To rage and look upon you with contempt is to rage and be contemptuous of ourselves. We can no longer blame you, nor disown the white parts, the male parts, the pathological parts, the queer parts, the vulnerable parts. Here we are weaponless with open arms, with only our magic. Let's try it our way, the mestiza way, the Chicana way, the woman way” (1993: 82-3).