Born in the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (1942–2004) was a prolific writer, scholar, and activist. Her corpus of work includes essays, books, edited volumes, children’s literature, and fiction/autohistorias. Anzaldúa’s life and writing are at the forefront of critical theory as it interacts with feminism, Latinx literature, spirituality, spiritual activism, queer theory, and expansive ideas of queerness and articulations of alternative, non-Western epistemologies and ontologies. The geographical proximity to the US–Mexican border figures prominently throughout in her work, as does her theorization of metaphorical borderlands and liminal spaces. Her oft-cited text Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is included in many university courses’ reading lists for its contributions to discourses of hybridity, linguistics, intersectionality, and women of color feminism, among others. Anzaldúa began work on her more well-known theories prior to the publication of Borderlands/La Frontera and continued to develop these theories in her post-Borderlands/La Frontera writing, both published and unpublished. After her sudden death due to complications of diabetes in 2004, Anzaldúa’s literary estate was housed in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas, Austin in 2005.
The presence of coloniality is critical for the explication, and reflection, on racialized and subalternized relations of dominance/subordination. The Spanish invasion in 1492 was the first marker and constitutive element of modernity. In 1992 Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano introduced the category of coloniality of power, further developed by Walter Mignolo. This epistemic change not only constituted a pattern of continual production of racialized identities and an unequal hierarchy whereby European identities and knowledge were considered superior to all others in what amounted to a caste system but also generated mechanisms of social domination that preserved this social classification into the present. Coloniality is not limited to the colonial period, which ended for most of Latin America in the first quarter of the 19th century. Despite political independence from Spain or Portugal, the pattern elaborated by Quijano continues to our day, structuring processes of racialization, subalternization, and knowledge production. This is the reason Mignolo labels it a “matrix of power.”
Central American–American literature represents the nature of colonialized violence suffered by U.S. Central Americans and constitutes racialized and subalternized migrants as a form of interpellating agency deployed in the name of the excluded subjects. Novelist Mario Bencastro’s Odyssey to the North, Sandra Benítez’s Bitter Grounds, Francisco Goldman’s The Divine Husband, and the EpiCentro poets mobilize in different fashions and directions the inner contradictions of identitary and decolonial issues in reaction to colonialized perceptions of textual subjectivities—or their traces—manifested in their respective discursive practices. These phenomena cannot be understood outside of the historical flux generated by the coloniality of power.
Frederick Luis Aldama
Discussions and debates in and around the formation of Mexican American letters, including its periodization and formulations of its unique ontology, are reviewed, and discussions and analysis of key literary phenomena that have shaped in time (history) and space (region) Mexican American and Chicana/o letters are presented. Foundational scholars such as María Herrera-Sobek, Luis Leal, José Limón, and Juan Bruce-Novoa are considered along with scholar-creators such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. A wide variety of Mexican American and Chicana/o authors of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are reviewed, including Alurista, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Marío Suárez, Arturo Islas, Richard Rodriguez, and Ana Castillo, among many others.
Ellie D. Hernández
The work of writer, historian, and theorist Emma Pérez encompasses a broad intersectional approach to the study of Chicanas. Her life’s work crosses disciplinary boundaries by working with history and literary fiction. Noted for her dedicated study of gender and sexuality, Pérez also demonstrates a commitment to feminist studies, Chicana studies, and especially Latinx LGBTQ communities. Her complex interlaced approach brings together a powerful critique of the problems within the historical discipline and redirects her concerns for the erasures of Chicana lesbians from the historical record and cultural archive by writing novels that revise the past. Furthermore, in her theoretical work, particularly her groundbreaking book, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas Back into History (1999), Pérez revises the representation of Chicanas by revisiting the history of colonialism and devising a theoretical approach that aims to recast Chicana subjectivity. In her theory of the “decolonial imaginary,” she identifies a set of conditions that presumptively casts Chicanas in a subservient or sexualized role that cannot be easily undone without changing the representations of these conditions, specifically the representations of conquest and colonialism. Likewise, Pérez’s effort to rework the colonial past is performed by her inclusion of Chicanas and Chicana lesbians in her literary works. Her first book of fiction, the novel Gulf Dreams (1996), is unique for its portrayal of sexual violence, racial ambivalences, and romantic love. In her second book, the historical novel Forgetting the Alamo, or Blood Memory (2009), she explores deep same-sex love, complex political histories revolving around differential regard for the lives of women and people of color, and gritty depictions of hardship, loss, historical memory, and the complexities of forgiveness. In the larger scope of Chicana/o literature, Pérez bears no claim to idealizing Chicana/o culture; rather she harmonizes the good with the bad and lets the reader decide what is real. Trained as a historian, Emma Pérez understands that changing the historical past requires reassessing reality, and her work accomplishes this goal.