Carlos Ulises Decena
The term Afro Latina/os references people in Latin America and in the Latino United States who claim African ancestry. Although the use of the prefix Afrocan be traced back to the work of intellectuals in Cuba, Mexico, and Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century, usages were connected with anti-racist and African Diaspora struggles, organizing, and advocacy in the second half of the 20th century. More recently, the appellation Afro Latina/o has become mobilized in US Latina/o communities as a critique of the processes through which racial diversity and black populations in these communities have been rendered invisible. Because it conjures various meanings and foci, several authors engaged in the study of afrolatinidades suggest that hemispheric, transnational, and comparative approaches are necessary to appreciate the nuances of use, categorization, and experience as Afro Latina/os navigate complex histories and politics of race, ethnicity, and belonging in the United States and the Americas. The author argues that the term appellation does not resolve the complexities of racial subordination, racism, and self-making among Latin Americans and US Latina/os. He further suggests that sites of unintelligibility, confusion, and perplexity are valuable in thinking of “Afro-Latina/o” as a term that points to a cluster of urgent intellectual and political problems stemming from the irreducibility of individual experience to any term or concept. The increase in claims of Afro-Latina/o as a marker of identity must be calibrated by a consideration of how institutional sites and think tanks collaborate in the making and sedimentation of existing and emerging grids of legibility. At the same time, claiming Afro-Latina/o needs to be understood as a project related to yet distinct from one’s racial identification and relationship with blackness, and the experience of US Latina/os and other ethnic/racial minorities suggests that the work continues to be not only to understand how individuals and groups categorize themselves and others, but also to better grasp what it is that terms such as Afro-Latino/a do.
Emerging in Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a queer Chicano performance artist, playwright, and writer, Luis Alfaro quickly established himself as an influential contributor to wider cultural debates about the intersections between gender, sexual, ethno-racial, class, religious, and national affiliations in the United States. In his early career Alfaro was a key player in the solo performance movement, in which performance artists used their own bodies and lives as self performance: that is, as primary physical and lived matter for interrogating their identities within a broader political questioning of US multicultural discourses. That questioning coincided with the prominence of Chicana feminist, queer, and AIDS activisms in California, all of which framed Alfaro’s early performances. Much of Alfaro’s work from the 1990s thus survives as historically significant chronicles of Chicana/o queer lives on the US West Coast. Alfaro consolidated his reputation in that decade with such classic solo performances as Downtown and Cuerpo Politizado, in which his body functioned as the prop onto and over which he articulated his queer memory work in relation to the Chicana/o neighborhoods of Central and East Los Angeles in which he grew up. Those neighborhoods anchor Alfaro’s career-long engagements with the US national imaginary as a Chicano queer cultural producer committed to community engagement and service and to telling the stories of Los Angeles’ heterogeneous Chicana/o communities. Since the 1990s Alfaro has refined his creative and critical praxis in solo performance work and plays that raise broader questions about national identity and belonging in the United States. Many of these plays have written back to and adapted works from Western theatrical and literary traditions—for example, Greek tragedies, Aesop, Spanish Golden Age theater, and Strindberg. The process of adaptation allows Alfaro to celebrate Chicanas/os and Latinas/os, and non-Latina/o immigrant communities, as cultural and ethno-racial epicenters of US national identity in the 21st century. Alfaro’s post-2000 interventions into Western theatrical and literary traditions recast those traditions so that they register meaningfully, in audience terms, for Chicana/o and other communities of color grappling inevitably with historical discourses that demean immigrant and minority populations.
José Alvarez de Toledo y Dubois (1779–1858) was either a freedom-fighter turned traitor to the cause of Mexican independence or a spy for the Spanish empire at a time of intense competition among European powers and the early American Republic for dominance over northern New Spain and what would become Texas. In the course of his assimilation or appropriation of liberal discourse and his inciting rebellions, he became a pioneer in the use of the printing press to generate propaganda to recruit troops and financing in advance of military action. His various proclamations and pamphlets exhorted New Spain and other Spanish colonies in America to separate from the motherland and establish republics; a more lasting contribution, however, may have been his being partially responsible for the introduction of the first printing press and publication of the first newspaper in Texas during the early 19th century,
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.
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, intellectuals and politicians have focused on three main groups as foundational to national and cultural identities: indigenous, African, and European. Mestizaje or racial mixing as a political project has worked to silence the presence and contributions of people of African and Asian descent, while favoring intermixing among European and indigenous. Researchers in the fields of history, anthropology, and sociology have long debated the role of Asians in the transition from slavery to wage labor and produced studies on the transnational and diasporic dimensions of Asian migration and settlement in the region. However, literature and cultural production captures aspects of the Asian presence in the Caribbean Latina/o world that remain absent or underplayed in most empirical studies. Prominent Latina/o writers and artists from the Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic) incorporate Asian characters and themes into their work on history, migration, and diaspora. They explore the Asian dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o racial, ethnic, gendered, and class identities and pose a challenge to foundational discourses of national and cultural identities based on mestizaje and syncretism that serve to subsume and erase the Asian presence. Secondary migrations of Asians from Latin America and the Caribbean to North America has produced a small but significant demographic of Asian Latina/os, some of whom reflect on their experiences through essays, memoirs, fiction, poetry, and art. The cultural production of Asian Latinas/os resists hegemonic concepts of race, nation, citizenship, and identity.
In the U.S.–Mexico context, the concepts of the border, borderlands, and la frontera represent their ongoing complex geopolitical, cultural, and historical relations. With the signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, the Mexican and U.S. governments established the southern border of the United States. The border is the international boundary line between the two countries, and the borderlands are the zones neighboring both sides of that boundary. It is a place where the First and Third Worlds collide daily, creating borderlands that amount to collective spaces of transcultural/transnational encounters. The concept of la frontera represents a counter-narrative of the term “frontier,” which became synonymous with American expansionism, or the westward expansion of the United States as proclaimed by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1883. The Spanish term “frontera,” as used in this framework, presupposes a knowledge production ranging from the implications of land annexation to the geopolitical and cultural processes of borderland sites. While the borders mark the place where adjacent jurisdictions, communities, and nation-states meet, it has also been a hotly contested subject—literally and figuratively speaking—inciting extreme emotional reactions that fuel negative stereotypes about immigrants, ethnic discrimination, and xenophobia. Immigration has become one of the most salient sociopolitical issues discussed on the national level. Unfortunately, it is debated mainly outside of the historical context because the histories embedded in its borderlands can contribute enormously to inform current political debates about immigration in the United States. Border crossers coming from south of the border are often portrayed by U.S. politicians as the most unwelcome and undesirable (yet necessary) immigrants. As the national discussion on immigration reform continues and the alleged ills of the U.S.–Mexico border dominate the political discourse and the media, expressive art and print culture must continue to form novel epistemologies of borders and counter unsubstantiated alternative facts propagated by anti-immigrant groups. To that end, it is important to consider the border's literature and imagine the borderlands as the fruitful heterogeneous site of an imagined and creative homeland: Aztlán.
Several 19th-century Californio testimonios are the product of interviews of Californio men and women made by H. H. Bancroft’s agents, looking for historical information that would be incorporated in what became, in time, Bancroft’s History of California. In their narratives, Californio informants discuss the 19th-century political and economic periods, with particular interest in the periods of Spanish, Mexican, and US colonization, which brought the dispossession and exploitation of indigenous people in California. These testimonios offer information on the treatment of the Indians within the mission, and their demise after close contact with missionaries and settlers. The role of missionaries in the colonization is also examined—the secularization of mission lands, the pastoral economy dominant in Alta California, and the subsequent dispossession of the Californios after 1848 by the Land Act of 1851, incoming US settlers and squatters, and land speculators. The testimonios offer a first-person account of numerous events, problems, and conflicts in Alta California during the 19th century.
Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue
Daniel Cano is a Mexican American author of three novels, Pepe Rios (1991), Shifting Loyalties (1995), and Death and the American Dream (2009). Among literary critics, Cano is recognized mainly for his second novel. This work loosely reproduces his experiences as a Mexican American who comes from a proud military family, becomes a soldier who comes of political age while fighting in the Vietnam War and must deal with the trauma of his combat experiences afterward. Thematically and politically aligned with other Chicana/o narratives about the conflict, Shifting Loyalties articulates a staunch anti-war political ethos. It does so, in part, by assessing historical and social grievances of minorities in the United States and then linking those complaints to the historical condition of the Vietnamese against whom they must fight. It further articulates its political protests by narrating the protracted trauma of the war for ethnic Americans and working-class soldiers and their families, including the ordeals these communities faced in fighting for democratic rights abroad while lacking full rights at home. In this way, Shifting Loyalties imagines political protests according to the cross-racial contradictions of class difference across the nation and across the Pacific.
Cano’s first novel, Pepe Rios, similarly engages the author’s personal history. It draws largely from his uncles’ oral stories about his grandfather Maximiano Cano’s life in Mexico during the national revolution (1910–1920) and his subsequent migration to the United States. As such, Pepe Rios narrates the experiences of the Cano patriarch, refigured in the image of the novel’s eponymous hero, during his search for justice when the Mexican nation became a battlefield of conflicted and corrupted national ideologies. Yet his figurative identity as a soldier-turned-immigrant also narrates a potential shared point of origin for much of the Los Angeles community. Indeed, the novel locates in the violent and complex politics of the Mexican Revolution a starting point for conceptualizing and imaging modern Mexican American life, including the transnational and politically messy genealogies that generated a large-scale exodus of Mexican immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century.
The sequel to Pepe Rios, Death and the American Dream, follows its protagonist’s integration into lower-middle-class life in the United States after his escape from Mexico, including his involvement in early labor movements in California. The narrative begins with Pepe’s arrival in Los Angeles and his investigative work regarding exploitation of Mexican and Mexican American labor in the region. In the course of this narrative action, the novel articulates corporate, state, and union fraud and misconduct on an international scale in the 1920s. Collectively, this criminality and corruption ensured a steady flow of cheap workers from the south to satiate starving US labor markets in the north. As such, the novel provides a rare historical account of the West Side of Los Angeles in relation to labor history in the hemisphere. The novel relates how this area in particular experienced a construction boom in the 1920s, during an era of immigration restrictions for Asian workers, and how the history of Mexican labor immigration and Mexican American labor exploitation made this economic explosion possible.
John Wharton Lowe
Transnationalism and Global Studies have exploded old notions of artificial cultural boundaries, opening to view the myriad cross currents between the U.S. South and the Caribbean. Thus, the literature produced by the wider region of the circumCaribbean can be considered to reflect this interplay and as an alternative history to chronicles bounded by nationalism. While the age of contact and contest, the Haitian Revolution, and the U.S.–Mexican War were early focal points for interchange, the mutual influences of cultures have been dynamic, ongoing, and intricately connected to immigration, diaspora, racial conflict and mixing, and the creation of new forms of cultural expression. Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in the literature of the circumCaribbean, especially in the new forms it has taken over the past fifty years.
Lourdes Casal (1936–1981), award-winning poet, fiction writer, editor, social psychologist, and activist, contributed to the articulation of multiple interdisciplinary fields including Cuban studies, Latina/o, Latin American, black, and women’s studies, yet her work has not received the attention it deserves because she published different kinds of writing in two languages, each directed to disparate, sometimes conflicting or overlapping, audiences. Alternatively, it could be said that her writing addresses an emergent readership more visible today decades after her death, who see—as she did—the need for dialogue across disciplinary, linguistic, and political divisions. Although Casal has remained in print primarily in Latina/o literary anthologies, Casal made her living as a social scientist and a psychology professor, and she remained engaged with Cuba through editorial work and what scholars call today “publicly engaged scholarship.” Casal’s work exemplifies a transnational attention to both homeland (Cuba) and residence (New York) that has become a distinguishing quality of Latina/o literature.
In 1978, Lourdes Casal defined herself in “Memories of a Black Cuban Childhood” as learning to assert herself as an “Hispanic Black” (p. 62). In an interview with Margaret Randall that prefaces translations of her poetry into English, she defines herself as a “Latina,” and she asserts her claim to speak as a Cuban, despite living outside the island. During the Cold War, this combination of identifiers constituted a paradox, which Casal asserted both against the mainstream of the Cuban exile community and against heteronormative cultural nationalisms. Casal’s bilingualism and skillful diplomacy provided her with the salvoconducto to weave across multiple borders, despite the walls that became almost impossible to scale after the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and Cuba began relocating people to the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) camps in the mid-1960s. A queer feminist of African, Chinese, and European descent, Casal’s writings and editorial projects map the participation of a diverse group of Cuban exiles in the articulation of latinidad; yet even as she becomes legible in certain ways, she remains largely illegible, precisely because she ventured into uncharted, sometimes life-threatening, border spaces, in step with an unexpected ideological itinerary.
Maritza E. Cárdenas
The use of the term “Central American” as an identity category is neither new nor restricted to the US diaspora. However, it is within the last forty years and in the geopolitical setting of the United States that a thriving identity politics has developed. It is during this time period that the use of the term Central American has emerged to denote a tactical American pan-ethnic social identity. This act of consciously employing the term “Central American” as a unification strategy for peoples from the isthmus in the United States echoes other US-based ethnoracial identity politics. Such movements often utilize a pan-ethnic term not only to advocate on the behalf of a racialized minoritarian community but also seeking to provide them a space of belonging by focusing on sociopolitical, cultural, and ethnic commonalities. As other identity markers in the United States such as “Asian American” and “African American” illustrate, Central Americans are not the first population to utilize a region as a strategic unifying term of self-identification. Yet, unlike these other US ethnoracial categories, for those who identify as “Central American” the term “Central America” often connotes not simply a geographic space but also a historical formation that advances the notion that individuals from the isthmus comprise a distinct but common culture. Another key difference from other US ethnoracial identities is that use of the term “Central American” in US cultural politics emerged during a historical era where the broader collective terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” were already in place. The creation and deployment of “Central American” is therefore an alternative to this other supra-ethnic identity category, as subjects view this isthmian-based term as being able to simultaneously create a broader collective while still invoking a type of geographic and cultural specificity that is usually associated with national identities.
Yajaira M. Padilla
Central American-American feminisms have come into existence within the recent span of the late 20th to early 21st century as communities of Central Americans have become more established within the United States and multiple generations of US Central American women have come of age. Central American-American feminisms are conceived of in a collective fashion and share some general characteristics. However, they are also characterized by their heterogeneity, reflecting the diversity of US Central American women and their emergent feminist politics. Among the key influences that have helped shaped Central American-American feminisms are women of color or Third World women feminisms. The theory making and feminist praxis that form the basis of Central American-American feminisms register many of the central tenets of the latter, including an emphasis on intersectionality and the notion of shared struggles against broader systems of dominations among women and peoples of color. Within the scope of these broader women of color feminist influences, Chicana feminisms have been particularly important, partly due to the cohabitation of US Central American and Mexican American/Chicano communities in areas such at the US Southwest. In as much as US Central American women identify with Chicana feminist paradigms and experiences of oppression, they also disidentify with them, responding with their own sense of US Central American feminist politics and paradigms that draw on their Central American roots and diasporic experiences.
In keeping with their transnational or transisthmian nature and sensibilities, Central American-American feminisms also bear the imprint of the histories of oppression and resistance and of migration of Central American women. Indeed, such histories, and the ongoing struggles tied to them, are understood within US Central American feminist politics as ones that remain inherently linked to those of women in the Central American diaspora. This helps to explain why diasporic experiences and issues related to the legacies and traumas of war, transnational migration and family separation, intergenerational relationships between mothers and daughters, and notions of identity and belonging are prominent within Central American-American feminisms. Such issues and experiences are integral aspects of the everyday lives of US Central American women, immigrants and subsequent generations alike, and, as such, are foundational to US Central American feminist politics.
The literature and cultural production, as well as scholarship, of US Central American women, both feminist and not, has been instrumental to the cultivation and emergence of Central American-American feminisms. Looking to such texts provides a useful means of helping to define what Central American-American feminisms are and to make discernible their general characteristics and limitations, the US and Central American-based influences that have shaped them, and the issues that drive them. Many of these works also push back against the multiple mechanisms and structures that have silenced multiple generations of Central American women in and outside of the isthmus. In this sense, such works do more than just offer fertile ground for exploring many key dimensions of Central American-American feminisms. They also constitute an example of US Central American feminist praxis.
Francisco A. Lomelí
Eusebio Chacón was a Mexican American (sometimes referred to as Chicano) figure who straddled the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is someone who was forgotten and overlooked for about eighty years within the annals of Southwestern literature. He resurfaced in the mid-1970s as a key missing link in what is now called Chicano literature, at a time when its literary lineage was blurry and unknown. He was, therefore, instrumental in allowing critics to look back into the dusty shelves of libraries to identify writers who embodied the Mexican American experience within specific moments in history. Both his person and his writings provide an important window into subjects that interfaced with identity, literary formation and aesthetics, and social conditions, as well as how such early writers negotiated a new sense of Americanism while retaining some of their cultural background. Eusebio Chacón stands out as an outstanding example of turn-of-the-century intelligence, sensibility, versatility, and historical conscience in his attempts to educate people of Mexican descent about their rightful place in the United States as writers, social activists, and cultural beings. He fills a significant void that had remained up to the mid-1970s, which reveals how writings by such Mexican American writers were considered marginal.
The Chicana/o gang story begins with the literary appearance of the pachuco/a figure in newspapers, rumors, gossip, and the vernacular and folkloric imaginations of Mexicans, Chicanas/os and Anglos from El Paso, Tejas, to East Los Angeles and even Fowler, California, in such works as Beatrice Griffith’s American Me (1948) and José Montoya’s “El Louie” (1972). It evolves to include tell-all stories by former Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia members, who detail their disenchantments with these pinto organizations and the very real dangers they represent. Complementing these literary representations of the pachuco and the cholo figure is Hollywood’s cinematic rendering of them in early Chicana/o gang stories, such as Kurt Neuman’s The Ring (1952), and in later films, such as Taylor Hackford’s Blood In, Blood Out (1993). Despite the different narrative forms, all these gang stories, with few exceptions, operate as cautionary tales of lives wasted away in gang membership. Some stories moralize; others simply seek to render a realist representation of gang life without judgment; still others seek to contextualize gang membership in complex ways to subtextually call for addressing the root causes of these “social problems.”
Most of these narratives fall into one of two primary ideological camps. The first is the dominant camp; it seeks to represent gang life as deviant and destructive and functions to socialize Chicanos/as through these cautionary tales. The second is the insurgent camp, in which gang members represent themselves as products of the socioeconomic conditions of the barrio; it therefore relies heavily on understanding gang life as part of a barriocentric vernacular capitalism that renders those stories inherently valuable.
The result of the first camp’s lens is that Chicana/o gang fiction (that which is represented by outsiders and non-gang members) and other fictionalized gang narratives often rely on oversimplified snippets or sketches of life in the barrio. They thus create inauthentic, one-dimensional, or stereotypical representations of Chicana/o gang members and the barrio itself. This leads to the continued barrioization (Villa) of Chicana/o life and Chicanas/os themselves. Most mainstream Hollywood Chicana/o gang films reproduce these logics. In fact, the majority of Hollywood Chicano gang films are set in East Los Angeles or the “greater Eastside”—an area that includes Northeast Los Angeles, Echo Park, Boyle Heights, and the unincorporated area of Los Angeles east of the Los Angeles River. What this means is that East Los Angeles remains Hollywood’s localized “heart of darkness.”
By contrast, the second ideological camp relies on lived experience or what I term a “barrio-biographics” that privileges the barrio as the site of and cultural foundation for the gang member’s narrative and her or his epistemological and ontological formation, creating a “barriological” framework (Villa). These barrio-biographics are the core literary forces that drive authentic Chicana/o gang stories. It should also be noted, however, that pinta/o narratives differ from Chicana/o street gang narratives in that pinta/o narratives foreground the experience of imprisonment and the author’s or main character’s interactions with the carceral state as an added layer of their own epistemological and ontological formations in the barrio.
Chicana/o gang narratives, broadly defined to include pinta/o stories and gang films, operate as cautionary tales but also as tales of coming into a “complete literacy,” as Luis J. Rodríguez would describe it. This complete literacy, in turn, allows Chicana/o gang members to articulate their own lives and choices, and complicates any impulse to moralize or render Chicana/o gang figures simply as “deviants.” Thus these Chicana/o gang figures and their narratives remain part of a history of real, realist, and fictive representations of themselves in the American imagination that provides them the space to contest their own cultural significations. Overall, some narratives celebrate and glamorize the Chicana/o gang figure as a revolutionary in the fight against white supremacy, while others that see this figure as regressive, violent, and, arguably, equally oppressive.
Asians in the West Indies are primarily migrants and their descendants from either South Asia or China. The representation of the Chinese in West Indian fiction is integrally connected to the specific development of the region. Indeed, to consider the role that the Chinese play in West Indian fiction is to engage, more generally, in the act of imaginatively locating the West Indies. Despite the fact that numerically, they have always held a marginal status in the region, the Chinese are very much present in West Indian literary landscapes. The recurring representations of the Chinese and Chineseness in such fiction are intimately tied to locating the metaphorical and discursive contours of the West Indies and of West Indians. In this context, depictions of the Chinese in West Indian literary texts tend to follow three lines of representation: (1) defining the region as an exotic “other place”; (2) negotiating the boundaries of West Indian belonging; and (3) complicating settled narratives of West Indian identity.
José F. Buscaglia-Salgado
Mulataje is a neologism, reclaimed in 2003 in Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean by José F. Buscaglia-Salgado. Prior to this reclamation, the term was used sparingly and in a very limited way to refer to “racial mixing” in societies that were predominantly composed of Afro- and Euro-descendants in the Caribbean and Brazil. As such it was simply an adaptation and a synonym of mestizaje, used in the context of the Afro-diasporic populations of the Atlantic World.
Conceptually reformulated, in its current acceptation, mulataje identifies a counterhegemonic culture that, since the earliest times in modernity, has moved against all colonialist calculations aimed at the possibility of moving beyond and leaving behind all things racial. As a most fundamental practice of being and of knowing informing individual self-conception and social action in the modern colonial world, mulataje speaks to the movements, great and small, individual and collective, that have attempted to outmaneuver all racial codes and racialist conventions as they have informed the distribution of labor and the allocation of natural resources and political rights past and present. Ultimately, the movement of mulataje points to the possibility of dethroning race as a valid and privileged category of knowledge.
Theresa Delgadillo and Leila Vieira
Latinx literature in the Midwest encompasses work created by authors from a variety of backgrounds, with authors of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban descent predominating in literature that takes locations throughout the region as its settings. Although much work focuses on Chicago, the multiple Latinidades of the region appear in fiction and poetry from across the region. Regarding genre, most of this literature falls into the categories of novel, short story, and poetry; however, works such as prose poems, novels in verse, heavily footnoted fiction, or metaliterary texts challenge genre boundaries and reveal Latinx literary innovation. This literature emerges from the history and experience of Latinx migration to the region, which dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, and, not surprisingly, that history often figures in the literature. Spanish-language Latinx literature about the Midwest also exists, and like its English-language counterpart, often addresses transnational experiences. Major publishers have made the work of Latinx authors in the Midwest well-known, yet there are also vibrant cultures of small press, community, and collective publishing, and self-publishing, through which Latinx authors have shared their talents with wider audiences in and beyond the region.
Some of the themes addressed by Latinx literature in the Midwest are migration, with characters coming both from other regions of the United States and directly from Latin America; labor, mostly industrial and agricultural work, but also involving characters in the service sector and professionals; belonging and the question of what and where home is and how to create this space in the Midwest; environment and gentrification; transnationalism, often evoking different ethnic backgrounds from the present; family relationships; gender and sexuality, focusing on what it means to be Latinx and part of the LGBTQ community and situations of discrimination with families and workplaces; race, including Afro-Latinx characters; and religion and spirituality, looking not only to Catholicism, but also to Judaism and African diaspora–inspired systems of Orisha worship.
Writer Gil Cuadros (1962–1996) composed an influential collection of short stories and poems, City of God (1994), that recounts the experiences of gay Chicano life in the age of AIDS. Learning he was HIV-positive after the death of his lover due to AIDS, he wrote to grapple with the enormity of his loss. Cuadros developed an aesthetic vocabulary for relating the richly complex experience of a seropositive queer Latinidad. Seeking to represent the unrepresentable, his work ranges from unflinchingly stark and minimalist to amorphously dark and surreal, exposing and exploring the cross-currents of race, violence, love, and sex ever haunted by an awareness of mortality. Concerned with making visible a queer literary chicanidad, Cuadros crafted poems and stories that are grounded in physicality and developed a vocabulary of sensation and sensuality. The stories reveal the body as a source of knowledge. While not the subject of extensive critical work, Cuadros’s writing is drawing more extensive attention. Earlier criticism focuses on the tension that Cuadros’s writing generates as it explores the racial and social ambivalence of queer Latinx desire. These analyses privilege the formation of queer mestizo subjectivity and read the body as a contested text. Following developments in queer theory, more recent critics foreground aesthetic and thematic ambiguity as part of a complicated dynamic between legibility and disciplinary social repression. Cuadros’s darkly ambivalent aesthetics perform what it means to be gay, Chicano, and living with AIDS, foregrounding new relations as aesthetics, politics, form, and content bleed into each other.
Ricardo L. Ortiz
Cuba’s historical relationship with the United States predates both countries’ emergence into full political sovereignty and consists of forms of political, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange that have intimately bound the two societies since well before the 19th century. The United States spent the 1800s emerging as an independent nation and increasingly as a regional power in the western hemisphere. Populations from smaller neighboring societies were emerging from colonial rule and often sought protection in the United States from colonial oppression, even as they saw the United States’ own imperial ambitions as a looming threat. Cuban-American literature therefore can trace its roots to a collection of key figures who sought refuge in the United States in the 19th century, but it did not flourish until well into the 20th when geopolitical conditions following World War II and extending into the Cold War era made the United States a natural destination for a significant population of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. Most arrived first as refugees, then as exiles, and finally as immigrants settling into homes and making families and lives in their new country. This population has also produced a robust literary culture all its own with deep ties and important contributions to the greater US literary tradition. Cuban-American literary production has proliferated into the 21st century, exploring complex themes beyond national and cultural identity, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and ideology.
Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant
Dominican American literature comprises the body of creative writing in various genres by US-based authors of Dominican ancestry. Here, “Dominican” refers to people who trace their origins by birth or descent to the Dominican Republic, not to the island of Dominica in the Anglophone West Indies. “Dominican American,” in turn, applies to writers born, raised, and/or socialized in the United States, who received their schooling in general and, in particular, their literary education in this country irrespective of the extent of their involvement in the life of their ancestral homeland. Writing by Dominicans in the United States has a long history. Its existence reaches back at least to the first half of the 19th century, shining forth meaningfully in the 1990s, and showing little sign of abatement in the early decades of the 21st century.
While this article concerns itself primarily with Dominican American writing, it seeks to answer predictable questions regarding the rapport of this corpus with the literary production of Dominican Republic-based writers and Dominican authors who have settled in the United States largely as immigrants, using Spanish as their literary language. The article distinguishes Dominican American literature from the writings of people who, beginning in the 19th century, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic as travelers, adventurers, and individual settlers, having left home for political or economic reasons. They could be exiles escaping danger or immigrants seduced by the possibility of enhancing their lives in the proverbial “land of milk and honey.” They tended to regard their time in the United States as temporary and yearned for the change of fortune—political or economic—that would bring them back home. However, having had their return either thwarted or delayed, they would often build families or raise any offspring that came with them to the receiving society. Their children, US-born or brought to the land while young enough to be socialized as US citizens, became Dominican American by default.
US-born children of foreign parents who have pursued writing as a vocation have been able to vie for recognition in the American literary mainstream. English speakers by virtue of their US upbringing, they would have their ears attuned to the rhythms of US literature writ large. Dominican American writers in the 21st century have shown their mettle, making themselves heard in the ethnically partitioned map of the country’s letters. As with other Caribbean-descended American writers, they typically inhabit their US citizenship with an awareness of the contested nature of their civic belonging. Family legacies, personal memories, and their own process of self-discovery keep them reminded of the effects of US foreign policy on the land of their forbears. As a result, their texts tend to reflect not only an ethnic American voice, but also a diasporic perspective.