Chica Lit

Authored by: Tace Hedrick

The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature

Print publication date:  August  2012
Online publication date:  October  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415666060
eBook ISBN: 9780203097199
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221613


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Chica lit novels, written by United States Latina and Mexican-American authors and featuring a young, upwardly mobile US Latina or Mexican-American protagonist (or a group of Latina girlfriends) are part of a fast-growing subgenre, itself a niche market of what is now best known as “chick lit.” Since the 2003 publication of Alisa Valdés-Rodríguez’s The Dirty Girls Social Club, as Jessica DiVisconte has shown, publisher’s imprints such as St Martin’s Griffin, HarperCollins’ series Avon Trade, Penguin’s Berkley Books, and others have put out a growing number of chica lit titles (DiVisconte 2009: 5). Part of chica lit’s success, as with its related romance and “chick lit” genres, is that its use of narrative formulas soothes the reader’s anxieties; she knows, for example, that each novel will end with a successful heterosexual romance. Yet a primary difference from chick lit is chica lit’s introduction of an ethnic identity crisis into the romance mix. This crisis is often connected with the expectations of the protagonist’s ethnic family, and with the inadequacies of her initial romantic relationship. The crisis, however, is ultimately resolved in two connected ways. The first resolution comes via the attainment of material success and “Americanization”; the second, more important, means of resolution is the protagonist’s discovery of the “right” ethnic man. As we will see, ethnic and feminist critics agree that genre constraints and marketing forces shape these central narrative requirements of chica lit: the heteronormative orientation of these characters both frames and enables their material and consumer success, which is made possible by rejecting a resistant ethnicity now identified with a “culture of poverty”: this would be what the Cuban-American narrator of Dirty Girls Social Club calls “all that dated, 1970s Chicano [Mexican-American] movement, ‘brown and proud,’ West Coast Qué viva la raza jive” (Valdés-Rodríguez 2003: 10). Indeed, in chica lit, material and consumer success are what make the ethnic protagonist American, while romantic success lessens the threat that a career will undermine her heterosexual orientation. Deborah Philips notes the narrative tension this creates where the narrator “will often deliberately distance the heroine from any suggestion of feminism, while simultaneously endorsing her successful career” (2000: 249). In this sense, the protagonists of chica lit instruct as well as act as mirrors for their readers: women who accept that a successful, ethnic gender role is achieved through assimilation to patriarchal and classed notions of what it means to be “American.”

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