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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.