New Faculty Profile: Jose David Saldivar

by Fernando Quintero

In the editors' introduction to "Criticism in the Borderlands," a 1991 anthology of Chicano literary studies co-edited by ethnic studies professor Jose David Saldivar, attention is drawn to the exclusion of Chicanos as well as Asian-Americans and Native Americans from the American "literary canon."

"Although many men and women have entered the academy, our literature and scholarship have yet to receive full institutional support or national attention," the editors note.

But with the recent recruitment of notable scholars like Saldivar, combined with the existing presence of such luminary faculty as Ron Takaki in Asian-American Studies and Gerald Vizenor in Native American Studies (see article, page 3), the "canon" has widened.

At the same time, the campus solidifies its leading role in the study of ethnic groups, a field that is gaining increased recognition in light of the social, economic, and political changes of a diversifying nation.

Margarita Melville, acting chair of ethnic studies, said Saldivar and the two other additions to her department--Jorge Klor de Alva, professor of anthropology and comparative ethnic studies; and Laura Perez, assistant professor of Chicano studies/Spanish and Portuguese--helpbring the recognition of ethnic studies to an important level.

Saldivar hails from UC Santa Cruz, where he taught literature and cultural studies for eight years.

He is nearing completion on his latest book, "Border Matters," which examines everyday life and social construction along the 2,000-mile zone that both separates and unites the cultures of the United States and Mexico.

Saldivar has taken a special interest in the music of the border. He begins his new book with an excerpt from "Jaula de Oro" (The Gilded Cage), a song that gives a shattering portrait of an undocumented Mexican father by the San Jose-based norteño band, Los Tigres del Norte:

"What good is money if I am like a prisoner in this great nation? When I think about it, I cry. Even if the cage is made of gold, it doesn't make it less a prison.

"My children don't speak to me. They have learned another language and forgotten Spanish. They think like Americans. They deny that they are Mexican even though they have my skin color.

"From my job to my home, I don't know what is happening to me. I almost never go out to the street. I'm afraid I'll be found and deported."

This song "stands as a corrective to the xenophobic, nationalistic, and racist 'backlash' in the US against the estimated four million undocumented workers in the United States," Saldivar writes.

Saldivar's research, like the song, "Jaula de Oro," proposes a different historical and cultural vision of the border-crossing rites of passage.

"American literature has always been American race literature. We need to look at all cultural formations that contribute to American literature. We need to look at a variety of cultural formations that make up a national tradition. The questions they pose," said Saldivar.

"We're trying to democratize the study of culture," he added. "That's another reason I came to this university. It was clear that Berkeley had a forward-looking department that is providing a paradigm for future ways of understanding multiculturalism."


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