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Bodies at War

Belinda Rincon sheds light on the history of Chicana resistance

“When someone calls themselves Chicana, it implies that they have a politicized identity—that they know the history of racism and oppression against their community.”

For Dr. Belinda Rincon, an associate professor of English and Latin American Studies at John Jay, unpacking this history of racism and oppression has been one target of her scholarly work, which often focuses on Chicana and Latina feminism, and on how literature, film and other cultural productions can shed light on these topics.

Rincon’s new book, Bodies at War: Genealogies of Militarism in Chicana Literature and Culture, offers new perspectives on the effects of U.S. militarism on the Chicana experience; she does this by examining the works of Chicana authors, artists and activists. But while the work itself is academic, the roots of this particular project are actually more personal.

“My own father fought in Vietnam,” said Rincon, “so I was always interested in how that experience impacted him.”

Rincon dedicates her first chapter to the war in Vietnam, a topic that has been written about and portrayed extensively in film and television. But a Chicana perspective has largely been absent from these portrayals.

One such perspective involves a view at the time that Chicanos were being unfairly drafted to fight on the front lines. A contemporary study asserted that Chicanos were being drafted disproportionately compared with their population size; others claimed that draft boards had racist motives and were sending more Chicanos into combat, while white and middle-class men were able to obtain deferments more easily. In response to this and numerous other grievances, Rincon details the enormous protests organized by the Chicana and Chicano community, which took place independently of the many other anti-war protests happening at the time.

Rincon emphasizes the term “Bodies” in Bodies at War, exploring how Chicanas used their bodies in different ways to respond to varying forms of U.S. militarism. In another chapter, Rincon delves into the work of Chicana author Elena Rodriguez and her novel Peacetime, which portrays a young Chicana woman who joins the army. Rincon uses this story to examine the role of Chicano women in military service, and the types of racial and gender-based discrimination they have faced in the armed forces.

A completely different picture of women in combat can be found in another chapter on the Zapatista movement, in which indigenous communities from Chiapas, Mexico, including women, were armed and underwent a form of basic training not unlike that of the Chicano soldiers who fought in Vietnam. But in this context, the Zapatistas were resisting the effects of NAFTA and economic globalization, which they viewed as another form of neo-liberal militarism.

Throughout the work, Rincon challenges the notion that women being able to serve in combat is a form of gender equality, instead offering a pacifist take on Chicana feminism. But she complicates this view by examining the positivity and pride with which some Chicanas view armed service, conceding that not all Chicanas are anti-militarist.

The result is a poignant and thoughtful look at some of the ways in which the Chicana community has dealt with the effects of neoliberal militarism, and people are taking notice. Bodies at War is a finalist for the International Latino Book Awards.

— Sam Anderson

MORE INFORMATION. Belinda Rincon is a lead organizer of the 2019 U.S. Latina/o Literary Theory and Criticism Conference at John Jay College, in its eighth year of bringing together Latinx voices from around the hemisphere.

Rincon’s new book, Bodies at War: Genealogies of Militarism in Chicana Literature and Culture, offers new perspectives on the effects of U.S. militarism on the Chicana experience.

Photo: Pap Studio