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February 23, 2010
By Elaine Casey
In December 2009, Daniel Enrique Pérez, assistant professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Nevada, Reno, successfully published his book Rethinking Chicana/o and Latina/o Popular Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan). The book is part of a series associated with a larger project, the Future Minority Studies (FMS) research project, which Pérez described as “a mobile think tank that addresses issues of minority identity and social transformation.”
A member of FMS since 2006, Pérez said the group is now comprised of “scholars from all over the U.S. and abroad who are interested in different issues concerning the intersections of identity.” He believes that intersectionality “is truly the future of minority studies.”
The Future Minority Studies book series examines a variety of issues related to several marginalized groups. Pérez’s work in particular looks at aspects of gender, race, ethnicity, beauty and sexuality in regards to identity, specifically in the spectrum of Latina/o and Chicana/o cultural production.
“My book speaks to the intersection of some of those identities,” Pérez said. “It’s probably more concerned about dismantling categories of identity.”
According to Pérez, there are a number of fixed categories that people tend to hold on to and try to keep separate from one another. People have a tendency to abide by binaries and try to fit others into one of two places. Through his research, Pérez does something rather new.
“A lot of these identities are proposed as being in diametrical opposition,” he said. “I think what may be unique about my book is that I’m looking at all of the spaces in between. I like to examine where those identities are more ambiguous in order to interrogate some of those fixed categories of identity.”
Similarly, Pérez looks at the way different aspects of identity intersect. Besides breaking down binaries, he illustrates the sites where ethnic identities intersect with gender- and sexuality-based identities.
“You can’t just separate fixed categories of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality. That’s not the way identities truly function,” he said. “Individuals always participate in and outside of various categories of identity, and there are also all of these grey areas in between.”
Through Pérez’s view, categories of identity often do not take into account the way that lived experiences shape identity. According to him, no two people can possibly have the exact same identity because no two people have exactly the same experience.
“I believe our identities are as unique as our fingerprints. Every person has a unique identity because identity shapes experience the way that experience shapes identity,” he said.
A lot of research went into this publication. Pérez used a variety of different theories, such as theory related to gender studies, queer studies, Chicana/o and Latina/o studies, and cultural studies, and applied them to texts, films, and other forms of cultural production created by Latinas/os.
“Throughout my book I’m drawing on theorists from all of those different areas and disciplines,” he said. “I’m examining how various representations of Chicanas/os and Latinas/os challenge all of those norms with respect to beauty, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. We are much more interesting and complex than the mainstream media allows us to be.”