Review of Reclaiming Poch@ Pop: Examining the Rhetoric of Cultural Deficiency by Cruz Medina 2015; Palgrave Pivot Press (Latino Pop Culture Series)
by Edward Santos Garza, Texas State University
(Published: June 2, 2016)
While no one has said so to my face, I’m a pochx. I’m a second-generation Mexican American, meaning I’ll never be Mexican in the same way as Cantinflas nor American in the same way as Taylor Swift. I’m literate in Spanish, and can pronounce palabras “properly,” but my accent has an inescapable Americanness. My Pandora app includes Romeo Santos, Drake, and the Deftones, a trio that, as much as anything else in this review, reveals my pochx-ness. Oh, and I’ve taught first-year writing at a public university in a state that used to be part of México.
So, in some ways I’m an ideal reviewer for Reclaiming Poch@ Pop: Examining the Rhetoric of Cultural Deficiency, the debut book of Cruz Medina. What has it meant to be a pochx—historically a reference to a Latinx cultural traitor, a “coconut,” but increasingly a term of cultural complexity, of eclecticism—and how has the twenty-first century changed the pochx’s situation? How and to what extent might “pochx” be reclaimed, even celebrated, by those it refers to? What in pochx history would be worth celebrating most, and why? These questions guide Medina in this forward-thinking text. Analyzing pochxismo in film, music, and literature, he, more than maybe any scholar thus far, devises fresh ways of understanding pochx rhetoric. For an American academy seeing larger numbers of Latinx students, many of whom fit Medina’s idea of a pochx, this text’s project is much-needed, one that should serve rhetoricians and compositionists alike.
When it comes to the “pop” part of Reclaiming Poch@ Pop, Medina touches on several sites of analysis, including the films La Bamba and Selena. Both feature Latinx, English-speaking protagonists who at times “play up” or legitimize their Latinx-ness by performing in Spanish. Medina celebrates an early scene in La Bamba, for example, wherein Richie Valens confronts the Spanish litmus test:
I return to the career-altering moment when Valens met his [white] manager. ...‘My name is Bob Keene. I’m president of Del-Fi Records. ¿Podemos hablar?’ Valens responds, “I don’t speak Spanish.” For Anglo viewers, this response by Valens on one level challenged the assumption that ‘all Hispanics eh-spic Spanish.’ For poch@s who grew up in the U.S. speaking primarily English and experiencing rejection for not speaking Spanish, this admission by Valens symbolized a positive representation of a poch@ with Mexican heritage, who does not speak Spanish. In a single utterance, Valdez’s cinematic construction of Valens confronts the implication that non-Spanish speaking poch@s have turned their backs on their culture. (35)
There’s no doubt that Valens’s lack of Spanish cast him as culturally deficient among Latinxs in his time, even among white Americans, but what this scene does is suggest Valens’s success grew in part because of his pochxness, not in spite of it. His liminality, as Medina might agree with me, afforded him a larger audience than he would’ve had otherwise.
Likewise, Medina sees in Selena, both the film and the woman herself, another quintessentially pochx story. Born and raised in Texas, the English-speaking singer is best remembered for her Spanish-language hits. As Medina details, her journey to success typifies the pochx’s overarching dilemma, distilled by Edward James Olmos in the film: “We got to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans” (qtd. in Medina 39, emphasis his). Rather than measuring Selena’s Mexican-ness and American-ness on opposing scales, Medina instead celebrates her as a figure who reflects the complexity of our times, a forerunner to today’s pochx estrellas.
While, from a narrative standpoint, the stories of Richie Valens and Selena are ultimately dramas, Medina argues that the pochx’s liminality also affords a profound comedic freedom. If the pochx is part Mexican and part American, then he or she can take jabs at both groups. Medina’s poster-child for this freedom is Al Madrigal, a stand-up comic who recently made waves as the first Latinx correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Medina views him as a sharp departure from the cultural flamboyance of stand-ups such as George Lopez and Carlos Mencia. Rather than envisioning himself as an “ethnic” comedian, Madrigal embraces his liminality, his dual otherness.
Of course, Medina has other concerns, too. There’s his skill at using traditional rhetorical analysis and thinkers (Kenneth Burke and the concept of kairos both make appearances) to better understand nontraditional sites of analysis. One might consider as well Medina’s use of details from his own pochx life, similar to what Morris Young does with regard to his Asian-American heritage in Minor Re/Visions: Asian American Literacy Narratives as a Rhetoric of Citizenship.
But Medina’s main achievement here, as Juan Velasco puts it in his back-cover blurb, is helping take “Latino/a studies to the twenty-first century.” Pochxs are becoming more visible in mainstream American pop culture, not to mention on college campuses, and the immigration of millions of Latinxs over the past few decades is contributing to this rich phenomenon. In this brave new pochx world, texts such as Medina’s should prove useful not for only those in the business of studying culture, but also for those who’ll teach this rising generation in schools. This pochx will have his hardcover handy.