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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Mi Raza es Tu Raza BY CARRIE FOUNTAIN Living in Spanglish: The Search for Latino Identity in America By Ed Morales St. Martin’s Press 310 pages, $25.95. Ed Morales wants us to get a few things straight: It’s the 21st century, Latinos are the fastest growing minority in America, traditional race and identity politics are passe, and Spanglish is the word. But what exactly does the word mean? In Living in Spanglish: The Search for Latino Identity in America, the poet, fiction writer, and Village Voice contributor dares his readers to find out. In a feisty pastiche of rhetoric, history, speculation, and good old-fashioned chisme, \(all this and nary cuddles up to his subject with deep affection and a keen interest, calling forth the spirit of turn of the century Mexican intellectual Jose Vasconcelos, using his 1925 essay, “La Raza Cosmica,” as a point of departure. Vasconcelos argued that all the world’s races would eventually vanish into one final, “fifth” race by way of a prodigious race-mixing. But he made a terrible mistake, Morales reminds us, by assuming that “indigenous cultures gained by mixing with Europeans while offering little in the transaction save for an exotic skin tone, some mysticism, and sensuality” Morales takes another stab at Vasconcelos’ vision of “miscegenation” and goes on to celebrate the multitude of contradictions that follow. Critical of the black/white dichotomy at work in most American race and identity politics, he locates no comfortable spot on the continuum where Latinos may be accurately represented. The “brown” thing doesn’t cut it either, as many of us actually are some combination of black and whiteand indigenous and Asian, and so on and so on. Labels such as “Latino” and “Hispanic” \(a word invented by the Nixon Morales, as both refer to one’s origins rather than one’s lifestyle, the past rather than the present. Instead he argues for a term that describes, “what we are doing, rather than where we came from.” And rather than fuss over the same old lingo, he bravely chooses to opt out, staking his claim instead on the quirky, postmodern meta-term Spanglisha term as refreshing as his argumentto serve as a battle cry for his mission to dissolve labels and put an end to the idea of race all together. Honing in on the complicated roots of Spanglish, Morales chronicles with admirable agility the vast and subtle movement North of the three major players: Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Chicanos. He identifies La Malinche, the Mayan translator who supposedly led Cortez into the heart of the Aztec empire, as the archetypical foremother of the Spanglish nation. Rather than accuse her of”selling out”as so many have done for hundreds of yearshe describes her as making the choice that ultimately kick-started the history of Chicanos in America. “La Malinche,” Morales claims, “set off a chain reaction of race-mixing that gave birth to the encroaching Spanglish reality of the twenty-first century, and it’s most fit ting that she accomplished this at the intersection of two languages, two cultures. In order to survive, she took on both, became both.” Having introduced the concept of “Spanglish” and the woman who kickstarted the history of the Chicanos, Morales follows up with sharp commentary on subjects that are as varied and vivid as his prose. From the revolutionary writing of Jose Marti, to the last grape atop the head of Carmen Miranda, Morales points out with remarkable detail the complicated history of Latinos in the American mainstream. His project certainly is ambitious, his eye often darting from history to pop culture and back again, from the reality of violence against Latinos during the zoot-suit riots of the ’40s, to the threat posed by the fictional Puerto Ricans in the movie West Side Story. As he moves from Puerto Rican to Cuban to Chicano history, Morales weaves together a cohesive and interesting story. Along the way he shows us how to speak this new language of multiplicity that he calls Spanglish. Latinos have always existed within a space, “where multiple levels of identification are possible,” he argues. “If the postmodern era is characterized by unprecedented heterogeneity and randomness,” he writes, “then Latinos are well prepared to take advantage of it. We have spent the last several centuries preparing for our role as the first wholly postmodern culture.” With his bold and articulate introduction and brilliant beginning chapters, Morales fairly convinces his readers to put Spanglish in their pipes and smoke it. Adding to the 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9/27/02