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The Lira Popular in Chile: An Important Latin American Broadside from the Late 19th and 20th Centuries  

Simoné Malacchini Soto

Lira Popular refers to the group of broadsides printed in Chile between 1860 and 1920, a period considered to be “classic,” although reappearing into the early 21st century. In these broadsides, verses written in ten-line stanzas, called originally décimas in Spain (a metric consisting of stanzas of ten eight-syllable verses), that were dedicated to both the human (daily, historical, love, news topics) and the divine (religious topics) were published. Over time, the content of the sheets evolved to become more newsworthy by portraying journalistic events of a criminal nature. Each sheet contained four to eight poems, although they generally consisted of five or six. They were undated and generally contained compositions by a single popular poet (although there are cases of sheets signed by more than one poet). The poet included their name at the end of the paper and sometimes added their address in order to market their sheets, as well as the print shop that often functioned as a place of sale. Although the phenomenon is also called string literature, it has not been confirmed that, in Chile, these sheets were hung for sale. The name Lira Popular is usually associated with the popular poet Juan Bautista Peralta, who titled his sheets in this way, perhaps parodying a literature magazine of the time called Lira Chilena; however, among the popular poets themselves, this phenomenon was already called “popular verses” or “popular poetry,” even referring to the sheet with the term lira.

Article

Masculinity and Machismo in US Latinx Literature  

Ricardo L. Ortiz

Latinx literature’s historical interest in the cultural, social, and political dynamics of gender plays as central a role in its long and varied discursive tradition as any other major thematic concern. Since the 19th century, representations of life in Latinx communities inhabiting what increasingly became the territory of the United States put the forces and conflicts of culturally based gender differences center stage, whether those differences came from within a culture, whose values shifted when it moved to a new geographic setting, or from without, when a culture confronted the differing values of an often dominant, oppressive other. Latinx literature is too vast and varied to accommodate a comprehensive account of these shifts and currents. But one can see a steady move away from the rigid binary logic of gender difference inherited from the traditional cis-hetero-patriarchal mindset of colonial Spanish-Catholic rule, a mindset that, historically, overwhelmed whatever more fluid or ambiguous formations of gender and sexuality circulated through indigenous American societies. That steady move cannot be traced in a single line or direction, but it does clearly demonstrate a greater opening of the possibility of dislodging gendered styles of expression from the particular anatomical manifestations of sexed bodies, as well as a greater opening of the possibility for mixed lines of attraction and desire between, within, and even beyond genders. While much liberatory work remains to be done in the actual world, Latinx literature has increasingly opened itself up to more inclusive, affirmative representations of nonnormative lives under the signs of sexuality and gender.

Article

Mexican American (Chicana/o)  

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.

Article

Puerto Rican Nationhood, Ethnicity, and Literature  

Frances R. Aparicio

Given Puerto Rico’s long colonial history, Puerto Ricans both on the island and in the diaspora have had to grapple with contested notions of nationhood. Having been described as a “divided nation” and a “commuter nation” due to the geographical divides between the island population and those who have migrated to cities in the United States, Puerto Ricans have deployed literature to forge and re-imagine a space for belonging and community informed by the experiences of living in between the island and New York, in between Spanish and English, and in between racial notions of skin color, social class, and gender and sexualities. Challenging and unsettling the foundational discourses of national identity on the island, “Diasporican” literature proposes alternative imaginaries that resist power inequalities. This essay argues that Diasporican literature has come into its own, contributing new understandings of the fissures of Puerto Rican national, ethnic, and cultural identities. Puerto Rican writers in the United States have textualized their experiences of migration and transnationalism through their poetry as well as fiction, memoirs, and autobiographical narratives. They have contested traditional notions of home and have explored the failures and limitations of a sense of belonging. Rejecting both the island of Puerto Rico as the geographical site for Puerto Rican authenticity and the dominant urban imaginaries of New York City that have long excluded their working-poor communities, Puerto Rican writers in the United States have represented el barrio as an urban space that offers them a sense of community despite the mainstream notions of hyper-masculinity, violence, and illegal practices. Afro-Boricua and Diasporican writers have also reflected on the fissures of racial belonging, as their dark skin color is not always integrated into dominant notions of the Puerto Rican and U.S. national imaginaries. Their deployment, in poetry, of English, Spanish, and “Spanglish” speaks mostly to the centrality of orality and sounds in the formation of nationhood, while challenging the homology of Puerto Rican nationality to Spanish. Exploration of the ways in which female, feminist, and queer Diasporican writers grapple with issues of belonging, gender, and sexuality foregrounds how these categories of identity continue to go against the grain of traditional masculine narratives of nationhood. It is essential to acknowledge the geographic dispersion of Diasporican voices away from New York and the transcultural alliances and global identities that are being produced in Morocco, Hawaii, and other far regions of the world. A short discussion of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” focuses on an example of staging a return home to New York, in a performance that celebrates community, family, and the neighborhood for second- and third-generation Puerto Ricans among other Latino and Latina groups. The multiple and complicated ways in which Diasporican literary voices, from poetry to theater to fiction, textualize notions of home, belonging, and community are examined within the larger frameworks of nationhood and ethnicity.

Article

Salinas, Raúl  

Louis G. Mendoza

The poetry, memoirs, essays, letters, prison journalism, and other forms of writing by Raúl Salinas (1934–2008) were grounded in his commitments to social justice and human rights. He was an early pioneer of contemporary Chicano pinto (prisoner) poetry whose work was characterized by a vernacular, bilingual, free verse aesthetics. Alongside other notables like Ricardo Sánchez, Luis Talamentez, Judy Lucero, and Jimmy Santiago Baca, Salinas helped make Chicana and Chicano prisoner rights an integral part of the agenda of the Chicana/o Movement through his writing and activism while incarcerated (1959–1972) and following his release. He was also a prolific prose writer in prison, and much of his journalism, reflective life writing, essays, and letters from his archives were published following his release. As important as his literary and political production in prisons was for establishing his literary recognition, it is important to note that the scope of his writing expands well beyond his prison experience. Though his literary and political interventions were important to a still emergent Chicana and Chicano literary, cultural, and political aesthetic, he was influenced by, but was not limited to, American and Latin American literary traditions. Given the scope of his life’s work, his indigenous and internationalist commitments, Salinas’ literary output make him a Xicanindio (indigenous identified Chicano) poet, a Latino internationalist, as well as a spoken word jazz and hip-hop artist whose work engaged, adapted and transformed elements of the American literary canon.

Article

Zapotec Literature  

Gloria Elizabeth Chacón

Zapotec literature is one of the most diverse and vibrant contemporary Indigenous expressions in the kaleidoscope of spoken languages in México. Its wide-ranging articulations stretch from the foundational rich oral tradition to diverse postmodern narratives. Zapotec literature has a long-written history in both Spanish and Zapotec languages. Several works by 21st-century writers and poets have been translated into a number of Indo-European languages. Over the last five centuries, “Zapotec” has assumed the function of an umbrella term encompassing a number of endangered languages. These have evolved into inter-related but autonomous linguistic codes, analogous to Romance languages. The Zapotec people share territory with several other Indigenous nations. The Mixe, Huave, and Tuun Saavi, among many others in Oaxaca—Mexico’s most linguistically heterogenous region—neighbor Zapotec territories. The term Zapotec originates from the Nahuatl language. Around the time the Spanish armada dropped anchor on the Mexican coast, the Nahua people represented the most powerful community of Central México. The Nahua named the Zapotec people after what they perceived was an abundance of the Zapote tree in the latter’s lands. Of great significance are regional distinctions in contemporary literary expressions. Oaxaca’s topography divides into four regions: isthmus, valleys, Northern Sierra, and Southern Sierra. Most renowned contemporary writers like Natalia Toledo, Irma Pineda, and Victor Cata emerge from the City of Juchitán, about 30 minutes from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Provocative novelists like Javier Martínez Castellanos or Mario Molina hail from the Northern Sierra. Binni Za’ or Cloud people are the self-naming terms used by those writers who come from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec or Juchitán, while Benne Xhon or “people from these lands” are the autonomous names used in the Northern Sierra. Zapotec novelist Castellanos Martínez explains that “xhon” literally means that matter or sediments that stay at the bottom of a liquid. He writes that the idea of dregs may reference those Zapotecs who did not migrate to the mythical City of Tula (2018, 96). Self-naming and language specificity vary according to region and sometimes even in relation to their hometowns. Today, some writers continue to use Zapotec to refer to themselves or their language. In the isthmus, since the 1980s, writers have also turned to more autonomous names like Binni Za or People from the Cloud. In describing their language, many poets employ dillaza or dilla xhon too, but there are many other terms that are used depending on the region. Zapotec is considered part of the Oto-mangean language family. While linguists tend to classify Zapotec in 40–60 distinct languages, there is a recognition among writers that Zapotec may have been a unique and distinctive language that evolved over time and space. In contrast to other well-known Indigenous communities like the Nahua or Maya, Zapotecs have inherited few written pre-colonial documents despite the development of a writing system that, with well over 2,500 years of history, is considered one of the oldest in Mesoamerica. Foundational Zapotec writers in the early part of the 20th century weaved narratives in their creations that stem from the oral tradition. Other poets, short story writers, and novelists depart from engaging the oral tradition narratives to innovate their cultural production. Salient strategies employed by writers range from a use of linguistic parallelism, myths, intertextuality with other Indigenous texts, and the use of humor to debunk stereotypes. In addition to a legacy of rich verbal arts, Zapotec stories written in the Latin alphabet can be traced to the 19th century. Unrecognized by many scholars is that 19th-century Zapotec texts parallels the birth of what has traditionally been considered canonical, national literature that has been produced in Spanish mainly by criollo elites. In the 1950s, Zapotecs became the first Indigenous community in Mexico to establish a unified alphabet. The use of conventional literary forms by writers in Zapotec, bilingually, or in Spanish reflects its rich history and plurality.