Revelation in Aztlán

Scriptures, Utopias, and the Chicano Movement

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Jacqueline M. Hidalgo
The Bible and Cultural Studies
  • London, England: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , September
     2016.
     314 pages.
     $145.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781137592132.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Nearly fifty years after the height of the Chicanx Movement, Jacqueline Hidalgo’s Revelation in Aztlán explores the apocalyptic imaginations that animated its activists. Countless variations on Aztlán, the utopian Chicanx homeland, emerged as Mexican Americans struggled to articulate their deepest values and aspirations while living under Anglo domination. Was Aztlán a physical location, national identity, and/or spiritual myth? Where was it located in place and time, and what politics did it inspire? Hidalgo describes utopia as a good place or no place whose power derives from its ability to be nowhere and everywhere at once (18-19). It is a sacred space “entretiempo” that transcends the past, present, and future (53-55). Throughout history, utopian imaginations function as politically pliable visions for diasporic communities seeking to “reconquer” the world (6). They embody a marginalized community’s resistance to oppression and hope for future self-determination.

Hidalgo traces Aztlán’s origins to el movimiento texts and contexts that produced them. Visions of a homeland where Chicanxs belong took shape through the production of central, though often disputed, texts such as the Plan de Santa Bárbara, a manifesto for higher education, and El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, a text staking out Chicanx nationalist identity and political aims. Hidalgo argues that Chicanx communities adapted and applied these texts to their circumstances through a process called scripturalization: “the practices, politics, and discursive regimes that surround the taking and reinvention of particular scriptures” (5). Scripturalization never takes place within a social, historical, or religious vacuum; rather, it functions by reimagining familiar stories and applying them to contemporary contexts. In the Chicanx movement, activists reconfigured themes from canonical Christian and American narratives as inspiration for their cause.

Hidalgo develops our understanding of scripturalization by drawing parallels to the book of Revelation’s origins and reception in early Christian communities. Both early Christian and Chicanx texts sought to create “a new cosmo-mythohistorical narrative of the world” that challenged the status quo (14). In both contexts, multi-layered traditions and histories transcending a single interpretation created the social and religious imaginaries needed to resist empire and challenge the violence of colonization. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Chicanx movement breathed new life into biblical tropes with power to transform individuals and society.

Hidalgo relies on a variety of methods to fill out her argument. First, she employs creative and thorough textual interpretations in dialogue with contemporary critical discourses. Extensive archival research is interspersed with a wide range of Chicanx and biblical scholarship. Especially noteworthy and laudable is her focus on feminist and queer interpretations of the Chicanx movement and its texts. Her analysis of Cherríe Moraga’s poetry in the final chapter, for example, provides a masterful interpretation of the poet’s work in light of the book’s ongoing themes. That Hidalgo incorporates Moraga’s work, among many others, complicates histories of the Chicanx Movement that obscure female and queer participation. Hidalgo’s scholarship successfully surfaces the stories of those marginalized within the already marginal movement by explaining the nuances and controversies that were a key, if often forgotten, part of the Chicanx movement. In doing so, Hidalgo also reflects on how communities of the excluded often reinscribe their exclusion onto others. In addition to textual analysis, Hidalgo buttresses her case with extensive oral histories, a great gift to the scholarly community. The book is well researched and, above all, grounded in the lived realities of Chicanx activists from a wide range of identities and experiences.

Revelation in Aztlán is a must-read for anyone interested in the Chicanx movement and contemporary biblical scholarship. It is a bold and eloquent work written by a scholar for an audience of scholars. Published in 2016, the book may not have anticipated the rise of Trumpism, but our current political moment raises critical questions for Hidalgo’s work, just as her work raises critical questions for our age. Hidalgo suggests that the process of scripturalization is ongoing as texts are interpreted and reinterpreted throughout history. Yet it is difficult to think of any central texts that define contemporary social movements. Where are our utopias today, and what are their defining values? In a world where social and religious imaginaries are both more contested and more interconnected than ever before, one questions how texts and utopias take shape in relationship to the past. Can it be that the utopian imaginations that birthed Aztlán belong to a Christian imagination now fading from our society? Were manifestos such asEl Plan Espiritual de Aztlán more effectualdecades ago, when the printed word was more easily regulated and movements more centralized? Hidalgo’s work provides a template for understanding an oppressed community from a tumultuous era in the last century, but it also opens new opportunities to reflect on and respond to our crisis today.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jason Steidl is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Fordham University.

Date of Review: 
September 17, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jacqueline M. Hidalgo is Assistant Professor of Latina/o Studies and Religion at Williams College in Massachusetts.

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