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Literature as witness: Testimonial aspects of Chicano self identity narratives

Ramon J Guerra, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of providing testimony through literature is to provide an “eye-witness” encounter of an experience. In the case of contemporary Chicana and Chicano testimonial narratives, the writing acts as a witness, giving the voice to those who have seen or experienced the actuality of a momentous period rather than those who simply seek to report it. In my dissertation I am analyzing history’s construction and the role of testimonial narratives within that construction. I ask: How are the structure and style of traditional testimonial writing translated to other genres of contemporary Chicano personal narrative such as memoir, autobiography, and semi autobiographical fiction? Furthermore, what are the ways that these smaller voices of history complement, contradict or attempt to expand an ongoing historiography? These types of personal writings allow different opportunities for the oppressed or Gramsci’s subaltern to raise a voice against a larger, continuous voice attempting to define existence. The concepts of bearing witness and providing a testimony within Chicano and Chicana literature reveal the incorporation of the Other into history through the solidifying aspects of writing one’s own story, recognizing that story as a part of a larger story, and moving beyond fixed constructions of a historiography. ^ There is a connection between “writing Chicanos or Chicanas into history” and the power/knowledge relationship that this invokes. The basic components of testimonios in straightforward, first-person essays are also distinguishable in other forms of writing—because of their common purpose to not simply report the world as they see it (knowledge) but to be able to change or affect that world (power). The power of literature is transferred into a “witness account” (knowledge) by adding an often underrepresented voice to the historiography of our American society. In this way, the literature takes on traits of a political recovery and bombards prevailing versions of histories with small and consistent “pieces” of absent or banished history as Ramón Saldívar maintains is the most crucial act of resistance that Chicano narratives perform. ^

Subject Area

American Studies|Literature, American|Hispanic American Studies

Recommended Citation

Guerra, Ramon J, "Literature as witness: Testimonial aspects of Chicano self identity narratives" (2008). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3309212.