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Asian Dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o Identity and Cultural Production  

Kathleen López

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.

Article

Asian-Latin American Literature  

Ignacio López-Calvo

Asian-Latin American literature is a heterogeneous body of writing by Latin American authors of Asian ancestry who identify themselves as Asian immigrants or as descendants of Asian immigrants. There are no formal differences between Asian-Latin American literature and other literature from Latin America. The main differences reside instead in content, such as the representation of Asianness, as Asian-Latin American authors tend to avoid or challenge Orientalist or other stereotypes, offering instead more authentic renderings of the Asian-Latin American experience. A second characteristic is their tendency to express filial piety in their writings more recurrently than other authors. Third, Asian-Latin American literature often leans toward autoethnography, offering cultural translations for readers who are unfamiliar with Asian or Asian-Latin American cultures. Fourth, while some authors of no Asian descent also denounce the abuses committed against Asian communities in the past, such denunciations s areeven more common among Asian-Latin American authors. But what is truly unique to Asian-Latin American literature in this regard is the fact that at times it also denounces the racism of Asian immigrants against the local population, which at times is considered inferior, as well as intra-ethnic discrimination, such as that of Naichijin (mainland Japanese) against Okinawans or that of Asian immigrants against the descendants of Asian immigrants, particularly if they are of mixed race or unfamiliar with the customs and language of their ancestral land. The fifth commonality is the seemingly contradictory propensity to celebrate cultural differences while concomitantly claiming their belonging to the Latin American nation that hosted them or their ancestors. Sixth, (semi-)autobiographical writing abounds. Seventh, Asian-Latin American often reflects the uninterrupted contact with the sending communities in Asia, via mail, remittances or voyages back to the birthplace to visit relatives or find a wife. And one last idiosyncrasy is that it is, for the most part, relatively recent. Whereas Asian-Latin American literature cannot be considered “exile literature,” part of it is genuine “migration literature,” since several authors are immigrants who write about their immigration experiences. Sometimes, part of the narrative is set in the host Latin American country, while other times, they are set in the native Asian country. Both lyrical and narrative texts tend to chronicle or evoke the migration process itself. Because it is, for the most part, written by descendants of Asian immigrants, diasporic narratives are even more common than migration literature. Diasporic narratives are typically set in the Latin American country, and family sagas are common. Unlike characters in migration narratives, the ones in diasporic narratives typically do not long for a return to the fatherland. And while some migration literature is written in Asian languages, diasporic cultural production is written mostly in Spanish or Portuguese, even if it often incorporates words from Asian languages, mainly to give an impression of cultural authenticity or to underscore pride in cultural difference. While not necessarily absent, the sense of alienation is less pervasive in diasporic narratives than in migration literature since characters tend to be more culturally integrated into mainstream society.

Article

Literary and Cultural Representations of Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean  

Zelideth María Rivas

Representations of Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean have been caught in the fissures of history, in part because their presence ambivalently affirms, depends upon, and simultaneously denies dominant narratives of race. While these populations are often stereotyped and mislabed as chino, Latin American countries have also made them into symbols of kinship and citizenship by providing a connection to Asia as a source of economic and political power. Yet, their presence highlights a rupture in nationalistic ideas of race that emphasize the European, African, and indigenous. Historically, Asian Latin American and Caribbean literary and cultural representations began during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1565–1815) with depictions of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino slaves and galleon laborers. Soon after, Indian and Chinese laborers were in demand as coolie trafficking became prevalent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Toward the end of the 19th century, Latin American and Caribbean countries began to establish political ties with Asia, ushering in Asian immigrants as a replacement labor force for African slaves. By the beginning of World War II, first- and second-generation immigrants recorded their experiences in poetry, short stories, and memoirs, often in their native languages. World War II disrupted Asian diplomacy with Latin America, and Caribbean and Latin American countries enacted laws that ostracized and deported Japanese immigrants. World War II also marked a change for Asian immigrants to Latin America and the Caribbean: they shifted from temporary to permanent immigrants. Here, authors depicted myriad aspects of their identities—language and citizenship, race, and sexuality—in their birth languages. In other words, late 20th century and early 21st century literature highlights the communities as Latin American and Caribbean. Finally, the presence of Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean has influenced Latin American and Caribbean literature and cultural production, highlighting them as characters and their cultures as themes. Most importantly, however, Latin American modernism emerged from a Latin American orientalism that differs from a European orientalism.

Article

Postcolonial Avant-Garde Fiction  

Adam Spanos

Postcolonial novelists face a difficult double bind. On one hand, they are expected to produce fiction that accurately represents the political and social circumstances of the nations to which they belong. Yet realism came to them as an inheritance of imperial rule, and as such it served as a tool for organizing colonial understandings of time, social relations, and interior experience. On the other hand, experiments in novelistic form that would break with the tenets of realism are often understood as frivolous capitulations to Western fashions or as bitter attacks on cherished traditional aesthetics. For if literary experiments are conducted with the intention of transforming popular tastes, they may very well be taken as analogues of the imperial civilizing mission, which claims to be justified in forcing cultural transformations on colonized populations by virtue of their purported indolence and backwardness. Evidently there is no position that a postcolonial writer can adopt that does not involve some kind of complicity with imperial interests or mimicry of its aesthetic forms. Yet the postcolonial avant-garde can be defined by its refusal of the binary choice between colonial-national and metropolitan-imperial imperatives. Its aesthetic innovations are defined by the intention of challenging not simply the realities created by empires but the very social imaginary, often uncritically adopted by colonial or postcolonial populations, on which the imperial project rests. Writers working in this tendency develop non-, pseudo-, or para-mimetic narratives to force readers to entertain the possibility of realities existing outside the terms of the real as this has been prescribed by dominant agencies, including imperial ones; alternatively, they turn their prose to ends other than representation in order to demonstrate the embeddedness of ordinary language in imperial discourses and to indicate other possible usages of a shared tongue. Magical realism, most influentially and spectacularly, began as a challenge to the disenchanted and positivist nature of the Western gaze: writers like Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez, and Ben Okri reveal the everyday power of forces not recognized by modern secular reason. Other writers, like Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, disclose the relation between realist literary representation and the very order of rationality that consigns heterogeneous or dissident elements to the status of madness. Postcolonial avant-garde fiction is thus distinguished intellectually from realist writing by its assault on the presuppositions or unconscious preconditions of imperial domination as these have been taken up among colonized populations. Insofar as imperialism, in its liberal varieties at least, works through an epistemological register to transform the ways in which colonized populations think, avant-garde artists must direct their polemical energies against both foreign and domestic audiences simultaneously. The obscurity and difficulty of postcolonial avant-garde fiction is thus the result not only of the novel narrative and descriptive strategies it employs but also of the tenuous and often untenable situation of the avant-garde writer in the postcolony, a gadfly to all implied readers. The formal innovations developed by postcolonial avant-garde writers are vast, but all serve the project of offering new modes of perception that cannot be contained by either imperial or nationalist worldviews. In this sense the avant-garde is a democratizing agency, opposing consensual fictions and opening up multiple possible avenues for experiencing and responding to the problems and potentials of postcolonial existence.

Article

Transcolonial Studies  

Olivia C. Harrison

Since the beginning of the 21st century, scholars of race and empire have been invested in exploring the horizontal vectors that stretch across and between imperial formations, displacing the vertical axis of North-South relations taken to be characteristic of early postcolonial theory. An analytical framework that seeks to capture the relationality of empire and the transversal modes of resistance against it, transcolonial studies offers a methodology for apprehending the coloniality of the present. The term transcolonial was coined in the 1990s, but the horizontal relationalities it describes are as old as empire itself. Europe’s colonial ventures were relational from the start, driven by competition for hegemony over seas and land and modeled on the likeness of empires past and present. Likewise, resistance to colonial conquest and governance took shape in relation to liberation struggles elsewhere and drew inspiration from previous and ongoing revolts in Haiti, Algeria, Vietnam, and Palestine. The movements for racial justice and decolonization that have followed in the wake of empire are similarly rooted in practices of solidarity that span subject positions without conflating them, from Standing Rock to Gaza and Black Lives Matter. Such unexpected solidarities among heterogeneously racialized and colonized subjects and their majoritarian allies work to undo the reified identities produced in colonial and racial discourse, undermining the competitive identitarian model inaugurated by the divide-and-conquer methods of high colonialism. To describe these alliances as transcolonial is also to acknowledge that Euro-colonial modernity continues to shape the purportedly postcolonial present. The prefix trans is temporal as much as it is geographic and political.

Article

Twenty-First-Century West Indian Fiction  

Sheri-Marie Harrison

West Indian fiction in the 21st century continues a tradition begun in the late 1990s as the fourth generation of Anglophone Caribbean writing. Though West Indian writing dates back to the early 19th century, West Indian literature began coalescing into a discrete field of study in the 1930s, motivated in large part by the political imperatives of anti-colonialism, political independence, and decolonization. Much of the fiction published in the late 90s to the present continues to adhere to the realist mode of representing Caribbean life—both in the region and in diaspora—as well as thematic engagements with decolonization, cultural nationalism, migration, diaspora, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Historical novels, modernist narratives, coming-of-age stories, and neoslave narratives remain significant features of West Indian fiction, in ways that are geared toward negotiating sovereign realties for individuals and communities that share a history of colonial domination, slavery, indentureship, and more recently, depleted cultural nationalisms. In the last decade, scholars in the field have begun the work of theorizing the recent fictional output as constituting its own discrete moment in literary development. What is distinct about contemporary writing is the way in which some authors have begun to ironically rework now-familiar forms, themes, and politics of West Indian writing. Some recent West Indian fiction produces atypical, often incomprehensible, and ultimately dissonant conclusions designed to complicate the political priorities of previous generations. This ironic approach typifies 21st-century West Indian fiction’s skepticism about the nation building and identity politics developed in previous waves—in particular, the conflation of identity with sovereignty. At the same time, this fiction doesn’t simply reject earlier modes: one of its defining aesthetic features is a re-inhabitation of the central forms and politics of preceding waves, in order to complicate them. The central feature of the fourth generation of West Indian fiction, then, is a continued engagement with the region’s history of colonization, slavery, and decolonization that is also marked by critical and self-reflexive engagements with the Caribbean literary tradition.