This essay examines the Chicano Movement’s close, if albeit complicated, relationship to the postwar American university, exploring the latter’s impact on the formation of a widely influential “counterculture” among Chicana/o students, intellectuals, and artists. By the first half of the 1970s, a significant number of prominent Chicana/o writers and poets held an academic position, and universities became the locus for the production, distribution, and consumption of Chicana/o identity and culture via aesthetic texts. Rather than an obstacle, Chicano cultural nationalism actually supplied the lingua franca ultimately shared by the Movement and the university. Rather than an obstacle, el Movimiento’s emphasis on cultural identity and cultural traditions, on the recovery of an Indigenous humanist value-system and spirituality, and on the production and promotion of suppressed histories, knowledges, and cosmologies—what I term its countercultural ethos—supplied a means by which to operate within the institutional matrix of the university, but at the same time, maintain an oppositional stance toward its dominant forms. The university proved pivotal to the recasting of organic forms of Chicana/o radicalism as a countercultural politics invested in the notions of tradition, identity, and community so central to the historical and cultural mission of the university itself. At the end of the day, the postwar university represented one constellation of forces—a particularly important one—that helped to shape the issues, premises, subject matter, and approaches we encounter, formulate, and adopt in the writing and teaching of Chicana/o culture.
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