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Article

Maya Literature  

Rita M. Palacios

To talk about Maya literature is to talk about a literature that transcends borders though is not unmarked by them. Generally speaking, the Maya region encompasses Southern Mexico, including the Yucatan Peninsula, and Guatemala, extending as far as Honduras and including El Salvador and Belize. The majority of the Maya population resides in Mexico and Guatemala, as well as considerable diasporas in the United States. As a result, the literary production of Maya peoples occurs largely in the two neighboring countries, although the circumstances of the production and dissemination of each literature are quite different given that they respond to the development and continued reinforcement of the modern nation state. It is important to mention the role that the state has played in how Maya literatures have come to be, particularly because state policies directly affect the lives of Maya peoples and, in the case of Mexico specifically, some of these policies are invested in shaping the literature written by Indigenous peoples. Maya literature is indeed political. While this qualification may not necessarily apply to the themes that authors explore in their work, it certainly does to the promotion, production, and publication of Maya literatures. The reason for this is complex from the perspective of each country’s history, but quite clear-cut from the prism of nationalism and literary history. That is to say, while the notion of a national literature helps uphold a national identity and cement nationalism, Maya literatures for their part challenge more than promote such notions. In general, nationalisms set out to define and coalesce identity around ethnolinguistic markers, and literature is a key in shaping and promoting a sense of nationhood and unity. This results in a drive to homogenize and systemically exclued identities that do not fit the mold. In Mexico and Guatemala, this is further complicated by use of iconography and a reliance on myths from Maya culture to bolster national unity.

Article

Indigenous Studies: Brazil  

Tracy Devine Guzmán

Indigenous Studies as a topic of scholarly inquiry in modern-day Brazil comprise over five hundred years of colonial and national history, nearly three hundred distinct peoples with a collective populace of approximately 900,000, and some 270 languages or dialects, many of which approach extinction. Official estimates of indigenous populations have varied tremendously ever since officials began making such assessments during the late 19th century, in large part because a host of political and material interests have always informed and mediated the counting process. Who is indigenous, under what circumstances, with what conditions, and according to whom, are legal and philosophical queries—unresolved and likely unresolvable—that shape not only indigenous-centered scholarship and activism, but also, most importantly, the lived experiences of Native peoples across the country and the region. Political crises and catastrophic environmental disasters since the early 2000s have brought renewed international attention to the critical situation of indigenous Brazil. While non-indigenous peoples, beyond a doubt, also suffered tremendously from the impact of these events, the situation of Native Brazilians has been exceptional for two reasons: First, their miniscule numbers vis-à-vis the general population render them, their collective interests, and their political voices invisible or easily ignorable for the holders of power. Second, legal contradictions render their juridical condition vis-à-vis the Brazilian state unclear, resulting in a long-standing dynamic through which purported indigenous interests are represented not only by non-indigenous entities, but also by non-indigenous entities that are overtly hostile to collective indigenous interests. While distinct state mechanisms for “Indian protection” have been in place since the beginning of the 20th century, they have consistently lacked indigenous leadership or significant indigenous participation and have functioned, more often than not, to the detriment of the purportedly protected population. Indigenous peoples from radically distinct realities have responded to this dire situation in correspondingly distinct ways. Over the past two years, for example, Brazilians saw an indigenous woman (Sonia Guajajara) run for vice-president of their country, at the same time isolated Native communities in the Amazon fled from the National Indian Foundation’s highly controversial efforts to bring them into contact with dominant society for the very first time. In light of these radical differences, any effort to generalize the interests, needs, or lived experiences of Native peoples in Brazil is inherently flawed, resulting in overly simplified renderings of the past and a flattening of diverse Native subjectivities into idealized or demonized “Indianness.” Lauded or reviled, generic “Indians” and their Indianness are time-honored staples of Brazilian national identity and popular culture. To recognize the profound heterogeneity of indigenous Brazil is not to say that Native Brazilians do not share many of the same experiences, interests, and goals. Indeed, the very articulation of an “indigenous movement” requires a strategic suspension of, and extrapolation from diverse histories and present-day circumstances so that many voices, sometimes representing conflicting perspectives and priorities, can articulate their goals as a collectivity. Brazil’s so-called indigenous movement took root during the 1970s. With a focus on creating favorable (or at least, less prejudicial) national legislation, the first wave of that movement culminated in indigenous participation in crafting the 1988 post-dictatorship Constitution of Brazil, which represented, in theory, a profound change in the way the Brazilian state would engage with indigenous peoples. It is precisely the failure of dominant society to enforce those changes that has inspired the majority of subsequent work by indigenous intellectuals, scholars, writers, artists, and other activists. Acknowledging the profoundly antidemocratic political reality in which their voices are either muffled or ignored, indigenous peoples have not given up on politics. On the contrary, they have redoubled their political work by taking their struggles to diverse social organizations and expressing them through forms of cultural production that allow them to articulate their needs and interests to a broader audience, oftentimes with the support of social media. Demands for land rights and environmental protection measures often lie at the heart of these efforts, placing the well-being of indigenous peoples into direct conflict with multinational development interests (such as mining, agribusiness, and tourism) that operate with insufficient oversight, or even with the outright support of the Brazilian government. This dynamic has pushed indigenous peoples and organizations to seek national, regional, and global backing from Native and non-Native allies who mirror their critique of unchecked developmentalism and their concern for the shared ecological future of humanity.

Article

Indigenous Language Literatures of Colonial Mexico  

Heather J. Allen

Writing in indigenous languages, particularly Nahuatl, was widespread throughout colonial Mexico (called the viceroyalty of New Spain at the time). From the 16th through the 18th century, the república de indios—indigenous communities governed by native elites—functioned separately from the república de españoles. Within these native communities, alphabetically written Nahuatl (as opposed to pictographic) was used to record local government minutes; legal documents such as wills; and annals, histories, and genealogies. Semasiographic literature (writing with signs) also persisted, although in altered form; Spanish colonization destroyed the cultural structures that perpetuated this expertise and introduced European artistic and literary conventions. Some works combined semasiographs and alphabetic writing. While alphabetic and semasiographic literatures preserved indigenous knowledge and served as legal evidence within the colonial Mexican court system through the 16th and 17th centuries, by the mid-17th century their legal weight diminished as Spanish respect for indigenous collective memory faded. Indigenous language literatures circulated largely in manuscript form because printing presses were controlled by Spanish clergy until late in the colonial period. Moreover, paper was costly and the few presses could not keep up with publishing demand. When items were printed in indigenous languages (including Nahuatl, Mixtec, Otomí, Purépecha, Zapotec, and Mayan), they were generally grammars, dictionaries, sermonaries, confessionals, and catechisms, which were intended for evangelization rather than preservation and dissemination of the native archive. Because Nahuatl was the lingua franca in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the New Spanish viceroyalty, the majority of indigenous language imprints were also in Nahuatl. The friars who wrote these texts rarely acknowledged their native coauthors by name or recognized the full extent of their contribution, in part because the ecclesiastical authorities doubted the accuracy of native authors’ doctrinal knowledge. The Tetzcoca priest Bartolomé de Alva, was the only indigenous author who succeeded in publishing a Nahuatl-Spanish confessional. Published indigenous language books for a lay audience were much rarer, with the exception of a Spanish-Nahuatl phrasebook meant for merchants working with the Nahua population. When 19th- and mid-20th-century scholars studied colonial Mexican intellectual culture, they tended to focus on Spanish-language texts and gave less attention to native intellectuals and indigenous language literatures. This occurred because they did not speak or study indigenous languages and because the bulk of indigenous language texts sat undiscovered in local, national, and foreign archives until the groundbreaking work of Ángel María Garibay, who built the foundation for 20th-century Nahuatl studies beginning in the 1930s. These scholars believed that literate Spaniards and criollos (children born in the Americas to Spanish parents) moved in separate circles from literate indigenous people. But later 20th- and early 21st-century research demonstrates a social-intellectual network that crossed ethnic and linguistic boundaries, suggesting that there was a larger Nahuatl-speaking reading public interested in both European and Mexican literatures. Studying the contents and linguistic characteristics of indigenous language literatures, as well as how people in colonial Mexico utilized these texts, gives a historical voice to indigenous perspectives and better defines the vital role of indigenous language literatures in building colonial Mexico and transitioning to independence. Moreover, the increase in digitization of rare materials has made these items more accessible, contributing to a shift in the field aimed at centering indigenous voices.

Article

Indigenous Studies: Australia  

Peter Minter

Contemporary Indigenous Australian literature draws on tens of thousands of years of sustained cultural continuity and diversity, while bearing witness to the destructive impacts of colonization and assimilation, and imagining new horizons of restoration, healing, and sovereign expression. The late 18th-century arrival of the English language amid complex Indigenous societies presented Indigenous peoples with a set of unfamiliar literary, linguistic, and rhetorical conditions and forms, the sudden appearance of Western literary modernity forever changing Indigenous modes of expression. This “intercultural entanglement” of Indigenous Australian literature is central to an appreciation of its achievements, from its earliest appearances in letters, petitions, and chronicles aimed at negotiating with or at times subversively mimicking modes of colonial authority, to its growing confidence and autonomy in the 20th century as Indigenous Australians fought back again colonization, asserted civil and land rights, and began the long process of cultural restoration and healing, through to the sovereign expressions of Aboriginal consciousness today. Across various modern literary genres, from mythological narratives to political manifestos, in poetry, plays, short stories, and novels, Indigenous Australian authors have borne witness to tragic and humiliating histories of violence, incarceration, and cultural suppression and fragmentation, but have also assertively developed new and at times revolutionary reimaginings of Western literary modes and styles. Realist testimonial narratives and lyrics in prose and poetry are today complemented by assured works of the imagination in which genre and mode are transformed in the recovery of blood memory, country, and language. The literature of Indigenous Australia continues to make a profound contribution to the literature of the world.

Article

(Post)colonial Indigenous Anglophone Fiction of the Pacific Islands  

Emma Ngakuravaru Powell and Rebecca H. Hogue

(Post)colonial Anglophone fiction of the Pacific Islands is produced by Indigenous Pacific peoples who belong to the region, which is loosely marked by Hawai‘i to the north, Rapa Nui [Easter Island] to the east, Aotearoa [New Zealand] to the south, and Papua New Guinea and Belau to the west. Pacific fiction is as vast as the ocean itself, inspired by a variety of oral, visual, and material storytelling practices that are ever-changing. Independence movements swept the region in the 1960s and 1970s and with them came a proliferation of cultural expression both as part of those movements and after. However, many scholar-writers question the “post” of postcolonial approaches and the applicability of Western literary constructs when discussing Pacific literary expression. Instead, Samoan writer Albert Wendt offers that for postcolonial Pacific fiction, the “post in post-colonial does not just mean after; it also means around, through, out of, alongside, and against.” From short fiction in literary journals, periodicals, and anthologies from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Aotearoa in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, to novels and international prize-winning short fiction from Samoa, Hawaiʻi, and Tonga at the turn of the 21st century, to 2020s Pacific fiction anthologies by women from across Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, Pacific writers continue to reckon with ongoing colonial occupation across what Tongan writer Epeli Hauʻofa called “our vast sea of islands.”

Article

Radio and the (Re) Construction of Maya Identity in the Diaspora  

Alicia Ivonne Estrada

Founded in 2003 by Maya immigrants in Los Angeles, California, the radio program Contacto Ancestral, which airs weekly on the community station KPFK and online, creates a sense of community through the reaffirmation of indigenous cultural practices as well as the construction of a historical memory in the diaspora. This sense of community is particularly highlighted through the articulation of a Maya identity that is linked to indigenous hemispheric struggles and their resistance movements. Through the varied interviews with indigenous elders, activists, and community members on issues that range from the Guatemalan genocide, land, and environmental struggles to the multiple forms of violence faced by indigenous immigrants in the United States Contacto Ancestral creates, to use Ann Cvetkovich’s term, a “community-based archive.” This archive highlights a shared history between indigenous peoples as well as their differences and heterogeneity. In doing so, Contacto Ancestral produces an essential space to link and empower multiple generations of particularly Maya communities living in Mesoamerica, the diaspora, and elsewhere.

Article

Indigenous Studies in the United States and Canada  

Aubrey Jean Hanson and Sam McKegney

Indigenous literary studies, as a field, is as diverse as Indigenous Peoples. Comprising study of texts by Indigenous authors, as well as literary study using Indigenous interpretive methods, Indigenous literary studies is centered on the significance of stories within Indigenous communities. Embodying continuity with traditional oral stories, expanding rapidly with growth in publishing, and traversing a wild range of generic innovation, Indigenous voices ring out powerfully across the literary landscape. Having always had a central place within Indigenous communities, where they are interwoven with the significance of people’s lives, Indigenous stories also gained more attention among non-Indigenous readers in the United States and Canada as the 20th century rolled into the 21st. As relationships between Indigenous Peoples (Native American, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) and non-Indigenous people continue to be a social, political, and cultural focus in these two nation-states, and as Indigenous Peoples continue to work for self-determination amid colonial systems and structures, literary art plays an important role in representing Indigenous realities and inspiring continuity and change. An educational dimension also exists for Indigenous literatures, in that they offer opportunities for non-Indigenous readerships—and, indeed, for readers from within Indigenous nations—to learn about Indigenous people and perspectives. Texts are crucially tied to contexts; therefore, engaging with Indigenous literatures requires readers to pursue and step into that beauty and complexity. Indigenous literatures are also impressive in their artistry; in conveying the brilliance of Indigenous Peoples; in expressing Indigenous voices and stories; in connecting pasts, presents, and futures; and in imagining better ways to enact relationality with other people and with other-than-human relatives. Indigenous literatures span diverse nations across vast territories and materialize in every genre. While critics new to the field may find it an adjustment to step into the responsibility—for instance, to land, community, and Peoplehood—that these literatures call for, the returns are great, as engaging with Indigenous literatures opens up space for relationship, self-reflexivity, and appreciation for exceptional literary artistry. Indigenous literatures invite readers and critics to center in Indigeneity, to build good relations, to engage beyond the text, and to attend to Indigenous storyways—ways of knowing, being, and doing through story.

Article

Pidgin Poetics in Oceania  

Steven Winduo

English is the main language of writing among Indigenous writers of Oceania for a number of reasons. The various textual appropriations and ways in which language of writing and language of the culture have been infused together to produce texts do reveal a dialogic process at work. It is impossible to avoid the linguistic features of written texts as they are constructed in Oceania. Writers in Oceania are free to choose the language of their texts without any interference. In this way, they make readers aware of the cultural truth that these writers are representing in their writings. Metonymy as a poetic device and cultural truth as a thematic in Indigenous writings capture the interests of many of the older and younger generations of Pacific writers. Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. Some of the best poetry published across Oceania by generations of Pacific writers reveals extensive use of metonymy as a device to convey cultural truth. Poetry is written from the intimate knowledge of poets, embedded in the society in which they find inspiration. Bill Ashcroft and coauthors state: “the tropes of the post-colonial text may be fruitfully read as metonymy, language variance itself in such a text is far more profoundly metonym” because nuances in language can represent a whole cultural text. Syntactic fusion is one among different strategies of appropriation in postcolonial writing such as glossing, untranslated words, interlanguage, code-switching, and vernacular transcription.

Article

The Pasts and Futures of Latina/o Indigeneities  

Simón Ventura Trujillo

The question of indigeneity in the study of Latina/o literature and culture points toward conflictive histories of colonization and invigorates a set of global directions for the future of Latina/o studies. The pairing of the two terms—Latina/o and Indigeneity—appears initially counterintuitive. Conventionally understood as an ancestral relation of Latina/o communities that has been vanished or lost over the duration of the European colonization of the Americas, Indigeneity opens a set of insuperable problematics that continue to pattern and shape multiple and incommensurate iterations of Latina/o politics and culture. While “Latina/o” in some instances denotes ancestral relation with Native tribes in the Americas, for many the term has also come to signify decidedly non-indigenous mestiza/o, settler, or migrant identities, imaginaries, and belongings. The literary, cultural, and intellectual production of Latina/o Indigeneity offers a unique window into the ways in which Native politics continue to compete with, accommodate, and challenge multiple regimes of colonial occupation and periods of modern state formation. Indigeneity illuminates places of Latina/o literary and cultural production through which to engage the historic ascendance of a number of fundaments of modern life across the globe, including capitalism, nation-state sovereignty, and the transnational social structures of race, sex, citizenship, and gender.

Article

Indigenous Sámi Literature  

Kaisa Ahvenjärvi

Sámi literature is multilingual, transnational indigenous literature from Northern Fenno-Scandia. It is published in several Sámi languages as well as in majority languages of the Sámi area, which is located in the northern parts of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Russia. With approximately twenty thousand speakers, North Sámi is the most widely spoken and literarily used of the nine Sámi languages. Considering the limited readership, Sámi literature is exceptionally diverse and vital in the global field of indigenous literatures. The majority of Sámi authors write in their own indigenous language, whereas the majority of Maori, Aboriginal, and Native American literatures, for example, are published in English. Sámi literature has been translated into Nordic languages as well as into bigger world languages like English and Spanish. Sámi literature has its roots in the oral tradition. The first printed books written by Sámi authors were published at the beginning of the 1900s. However, it was not until the 1970s that Sámi literary institutions were established and the number of publications started to increase. Some key Sámi writers, who started their career then, are Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Rauni Magga Lukkari, and Kirste Paltto. In the 1980s and 1990s, the novel was the dominating genre in Sámi literature, whereas in the 2000s poetry has flourished. Since the beginning of the 21st century, two-thirds of literature published in Sámi languages is children’s literature. In Sámi literature there are several common features with other indigenous literatures, both in their historical developments and contemporary characteristics. The breakthrough of indigenous literatures was connected with the global indigenous movement that arose in the 1960s and 1970s, and it was characterized by anticolonial and identity-political themes. Recurring themes in contemporary Sámi and other indigenous literatures are, for example, the questions of hybrid ethnic and linguistic identities, ecological concerns and the interdependency between humans and nature, and the relationship to previous generations and the land. The 2010s have seen a return to political orientation in Sámi art and literature, but universal topics like motherhood and sexuality are also discussed in contemporary Sámi poetry and prose.

Article

The Transpacific Subject in Asian American Culture  

Erin Suzuki and Aimee Bahng

The use of the term transpacific in Asian American studies should be reevaluated vis-à-vis Pacific studies, Indigenous studies, and Oceanic studies. In particular, following Lisa Yoneyama’s model for examining “decolonial genealogies of transpacific studies,” such a reevaluation emphasizes interdisciplinarity, intersectionality, and, above all, a reckoning with settler taxonomies of intellectual production as vital to the continued use of the term. Beginning with a review of key scholarly interventions into the “settler colonial grammar of AA/PI,” this article relates the US histories and logics that first produced the categories “Asian American” and “Pacific Islander” and brought them into categorical relation with one another. These historical entanglements between diasporic and Indigenous movements across and through the Pacific, can be understood through cultural analysis of literary works that reconfigure transpacific studies around Oceanic passages and Pacific currents highlighting an Indigenous-centered regional formation. Rather than allowing transpacific discourses to dismiss the Pacific Islands as distant or remote “islands in a far sea,” such an approach recasts the region along the lines of what Tongan scholar Epeli Hau‘ofa formulates as an interconnected “sea of islands.” It concludes by considering the ongoing harm produced by settler epistemologies of possessive liberal humanism and by inviting a decolonial approach to Asian American cultural politics.

Article

Californio testimonios  

Rosaura Sánchez

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.

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

National Identity in Australian Literature  

Tanya Dalziell

On January 1, 1901, Australia became a nation; six British colonies—New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania—joined to form the Commonwealth of Australia. At the time of Federation, debates raged over who or what constituted a new national type; the forms best suited to convey the values these figures represented; and the proper settings for their stories. These arguments were had not only with aesthetic interests in mind but with a conscious awareness, or conviction, that literature had a special role to play in establishing what was (thought to be) unique about this new nation. Alliances between literature and the Australian nation have been observed, perpetuated, and contested since at least the last decades of the 19th century, and the result has been multiple imaginings of Australia with many conflicting ideas and interests at play. From the notion that Australia, as a “new nation,” might present white women with the opportunity to shed oppressive gender identities to indigenous knowledge systems questioning the very idea and authority of the nation, literary imaginings of Australia speak to national myths and political interventions alike.

Article

Indigenous Studies: Aotearoa/New Zealand  

Tina Makereti

As the second decade of the 21st century draws to a close, Indigenous literary studies in Aotearoa New Zealand are characterized primarily by tension between abundance and scarcity. The abundance relates to a wealth of writers, texts, and forms, both contemporary and archival. Many historical texts and literary contexts are being revealed and investigated for the first time. Abundance in this context also signifies the richness of approach, technique, and language use in both contemporary and archival texts. The significance of this deep archive is yet to be fully realized, due in part to the scarcity of scholars in Indigenous literatures of Aotearoa, a lack which is cemented and institutionalized by the absence of university courses that focus primarily on Indigenous literatures in English. A paucity of published Māori and Pasifika creative texts, particularly long-form fiction, further solidifies a perceptible absence in New Zealand writing. Significant scholarship is being developed despite this, however. And rather than being limited to viewing Indigenous literatures through the lens of English or New Zealand literary history, Indigenous scholars present innovative historical, geographical, and creative genre frameworks that open up multiple ways of reading and engaging with Indigenous literatures. In New Zealand, Māori literature is any writing produced by the Indigenous population. Māori and Moriori are the name of the Indigenous peoples of New Zealand, who also identify within distinct tribal groupings. In international contexts, the word “Indigenous” may be used more frequently to describe Māori, but in a New Zealand context, the term “Māori” is almost exclusively used. It should be noted that Māori is not a literary category, however. It is a cultural identity. It therefore follows that any form of literature can be produced by a Māori writer, and may be labeled “Māori writing.” Drawing on a long literary whakapapa, or genealogy, Māori writers and literary scholars are crossing colonially imposed boundaries to recognize distinctively Indigenous creative and critical epistemologies. Having passed through the Māori cultural renaissance of the 1970s to the 1990s, Māori writers no longer grapple with the need to articulate their right to existence as distinct peoples, but instead enjoy the autonomy to decide how that distinctive existence may best be expressed. One of the most lively aspects of contemporary Indigenous literature in New Zealand is the emphasis on new ways to present, read, incorporate, and interpret te reo Māori in English language texts.

Article

Baca, Jimmy Santiago  

Clint J. Terrell

Jimmy Santiago Baca is a poet, memoirist, novelist, essayist, filmmaker, and activist who began his literary career in Florence State Prison, Arizona, where he was incarcerated from 1974 to 1979. Baca spent most of his adolescent years between orphanages, stints of homelessness, and time in juvenile detention facilities. He credits learning to read and write in prison as the galvanization of his journey from illiteracy to worldly poet, and his endorsement of literacy as an avenue for individual and community empowerment echoes the black nationalist political thought of Malcolm X. In addition to an overarching theme of literacy, he also maintains a critical awareness to the politics of land ownership. He is of Chicano and Apache descent and often draws on his Indigenous heritage, as well as his prison experience, to critique the colonial settler ideology that associates private property with personal liberty. He is among the gallery of canonized Chicano pinto (prisoner) poets like Ricardo Sánchez and Raúl Salinas who discovered their talents while incarcerated. His poetry and prose are in harmony with prisoner discourse that indicts the state for economic injustices and contextualizes crimes as economic necessity instead of demonizing the individual. Similar to Sánchez and Salinas, Baca’s poetic voice can be both figural and visceral in the same breath. But distinct from these pinto poets, Baca’s poetic introduces a proliferation of personas that go back and forth between a poet who wants to love and make peace and a pugnacious identity that was nurtured by the violence of life in various state institutions, particularly prison. He has published eighteen books that include poetry, memoir, fiction, creative non-fiction, essay collections, and chapbooks. He is an active writer and frequently has additional publications in various stages of production, showing us that the negotiation of his traumatic past is never fully complete. Indeed, he continues to push his boundaries as a writer and challenges any preconceived notions about the literary limits of a prison cultivated intellectual.

Article

Speculative Fiction  

Marek Oziewicz

The term “speculative fiction” has three historically located meanings: a subgenre of science fiction that deals with human rather than technological problems, a genre distinct from and opposite to science fiction in its exclusive focus on possible futures, and a super category for all genres that deliberately depart from imitating “consensus reality” of everyday experience. In this latter sense, speculative fiction includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but also their derivatives, hybrids, and cognate genres like the gothic, dystopia, weird fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, ghost stories, superhero tales, alternate history, steampunk, slipstream, magic realism, fractured fairy tales, and more. Rather than seeking a rigorous definition, a better approach is to theorize “speculative fiction” as a term whose semantic register has continued to expand. While “speculative fiction” was initially proposed as a name of a subgenre of science fiction, the term has recently been used in reference to a meta-generic fuzzy set supercategory—one defined not by clear boundaries but by resemblance to prototypical examples—and a field of cultural production. Like other cultural fields, speculative fiction is a domain of activity that exists not merely through texts but through their production and reception in multiple contexts. The field of speculative fiction groups together extremely diverse forms of non-mimetic fiction operating across different media for the purpose of reflecting on their cultural role, especially as opposed to the work performed by mimetic, or realist narratives. The fuzzy set field understanding of speculative fiction arose in response to the need for a blanket term for a broad range of narrative forms that subvert the post-Enlightenment mindset: one that had long excluded from “Literature” stories that departed from consensus reality or embraced a different version of reality than the empirical-materialist one. Situated against the claims of this paradigm, speculative fiction emerges as a tool to dismantle the traditional Western cultural bias in favor of literature imitating reality, and as a quest for the recovery of the sense of awe and wonder. Some of the forces that contributed to the rise of speculative fiction include accelerating genre hybridization that balkanized the field previously mapped with a few large generic categories; the expansion of the global literary landscape brought about by mainstream culture’s increasing acceptance of non-mimetic genres; the proliferation of indigenous, minority, and postcolonial narrative forms that subvert dominant Western notions of the real; and the need for new conceptual categories to accommodate diverse and hybridic types of storytelling that oppose a stifling vision of reality imposed by exploitative global capitalism. An inherently plural category, speculative fiction is a mode of thought-experimenting that includes narratives addressed to young people and adults and operates in a variety of formats. The term accommodates the non-mimetic genres of Western but also non-Western and indigenous literatures—especially stories narrated from the minority or alternative perspective. In all these ways, speculative fiction represents a global reaction of human creative imagination struggling to envision a possible future at the time of a major transition from local to global humanity.

Article

Literary Ethnography/Anthropology in North America and Australia  

Julia Emberley

In the early 20th century, ethnographic “as-told-to” narratives published in colonial white settler nations, such as Canada, Australia, and the United States, were written by ethnologists from “data” collected from their “native informants” and presented as the self-authored life histories of Indigenous people. The texts were intended to represent Indigenous peoples in a Eurocentric progressive transition from “barbarism” to “civilization.” Throughout the 20th century, Indigenous and non-Indigenous literary scholars addressed the uncertainties of this autobiographical subject and how the rhetorical “I” left the texts open to the commercial and stereotypical demands for “Indianness.” By controlling and interfering with editorial processes, white settler and ethnographic publications of as-told-to texts instituted colonial forms of “authority” and “authorship,” solidifying a critical nexus between white settler print culture and the development of anthropology as a social scientific epistemology. Anthropological authority was based on these texts in the early part of the 20th century and challenged by Indigenous publications throughout the century. With the rise of new social movements in the 1960s, including Native American LGBT organizations, such as the Gay American Indians and the American Indian Movement, the politics of experience brought these earlier voices to the fore, creating awareness about the counternarratives of Indigenous national and literary sovereignties. In the 1990s and throughout the early 21st century, Indigenous scholars and writers in North America and Australia reclaimed their voices, introducing specific methods and theories that would advance national and literary sovereignties. Issues faced by Indigenous Elders and knowledge keepers—such as the appropriation of Indigenous cultural property, knowledge systems, and storytelling; and the attempt to erase or silence original Indigenous sources of anthropological “data”—were addressed by this important work. In addition, the literary sovereignty movement brought about significant changes in anthropological methods regarding the editorial reconstructions of Indigenous life histories.

Article

Settler Colonialism in Asian North American Representation  

Iyko Day

The study of settler colonialism has evolved from a nearly exclusive examination of the interplay of Indigeneity and white settler colonial domination to an engagement that has become attentive to questions of racialized migration. Because British settler colonies violently displaced Indigenous peoples without widespread exploitation of their labor, racialized migrant labor has played an important role in establishing and developing settler colonies, from the exploitation of enslaved and convict labor, to indentured and contract labor, and to contemporary iterations of guest and undocumented labor. The reliance on hyper-exploitable, deportable, or disposable classes of migrants has been an integral logic of settler colonialism in North America, rendering Indigenous communities even more vulnerable to dislocation, dispossession, and environmental harm. Asian North American cultural representation offers a rich site to explore settler colonial logics of land dispossession, resource extraction, relocation, urban redevelopment, and incarceration. In particular, Asian North American cultural production has often recycled settler colonial tropes that both denigrate and romanticize Indigenous cultures in claims for belonging that attempt to challenge the racial logics of civil, social, and political exclusion. In North America, the projection of a heroic “pioneer” identity aims to recover early Asian labor from historical obscurity by demonstrating its vital contributions to developing the settler nation. These expressions reinforce the value of Western civilization and industry over an empty, uncivilized, and unproductive Indigenous world. Asian American invocations of “local” identity in Hawai‘i similarly assert a romanticized identification with Indigenous cultures that obscures Asian Americans’ structural dominance and active role in the dispossession of Native Hawaiians. Alternatively, Asian North American cultural producers have also become strong voices in social and cultural movements to prioritize Indigenous self-determination, ecological protection, and decolonial anti-capitalism. Critical approaches to Asian North American representation have become increasingly attuned to reckoning with colonial complicity, exploring the ethics of responsibility, indebtedness, and solidarity with Indigenous communities.

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La Malinche, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and La Llorona: The Recuperation of Divine Supernatural Powers in Late 20th-Century Chicana Literature  

Rita Cano Alcalá

Myths and legends are the way in which human beings try to understand the divine or supernatural and their relationship to it. Created by humans, myths are reflections of the values and beliefs of the people, time, and place from which they emerge. Once they are in circulation and affirmed by religious doctrine or official historiography, myths are used as an explanation and then a legitimation of why things are the way they are. They become instruments of vigilance and control of human behavior, which in patriarchal cultures means principally of female behavior. Patriarchal cultures produce myths that justify and reproduce the principles of male supremacy. In the early centuries of Christianity, the Virgin Mary supplanted and absorbed the rituals and feast days of some of the pagan goddesses, but she was not endowed with their powers. Christianity reinforced an insistence on the one, true, male God. The mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, is the lone female figure in Christianity. The Catholic Church has sought to limit the Virgin Mary’s role to that of vessel bringing the son of God into the world, but she has resonated in the hearts of some believers to an equal or even greater degree than Jesus. The Church has responded to the popular religious zeal for Mary by making every effort to rein it in. The Church has officially recognized Mary, but with each proclamation it has put a nail in the proverbial coffin of women’s equal representation in the Church. Mary has been described as a Trojan horse for the perpetuation of male hierarchical control and supreme power in the Catholic Church. The principle way in which the Church’s construction of the Virgin Mary is detrimental to Catholic women is through the virgin–whore dichotomy embodied by the Virgin Mary and Eve. As the “great exception to women,” the Virgin Mary is held forth as an unattainable ideal against which to find fault with real women. In particular, any woman who does not remain a virgin until marriage and a chaste wife is automatically cast as sinner, as whore. There is no middle ground. The Virgin Mary and Eve follow a parallel trajectory in Catholic history by which each one is increasingly sexualized, one hypo- and one hyper-. The virgin–whore polarity has been handed down in Mexican Catholicism through the Virgen de Guadalupe and the woman who has been called the Mexican Eve, La Malinche, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés’s interpreter and the mother of his son, who has been considered the first mestizo (historically, he was not). In México, the process of usurping and replacing pagan goddesses with the Virgen de Guadalupe replicated almost exactly that seen with the Virgin Mary in the early centuries of Christianity. The popular legend cluster of La Llorona, the archetypal Weeping Woman, also dates to the colonial era in New Spain, a territory that comprises what is now México and the southwestern United States. The real woman who kills her children out of revenge for her lover’s abandonment and becomes the phantasmagorical La Llorona falls squarely on the whore end of the dichotomy. She is meant to serve as a negative role model that girls should do everything in their power to avoid following. But a funny thing happens on the way to the moralistic legend about female blamewothiness and untrustworthiness. Legends are notoriously recounted by women to their children, and in women’s narrations the legend of La Llorona takes on other contours. Girded in a cultural nationalism with the traditional Mexican family as its foundation, the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s invoked Malinche and Malinchista as epithets against women who pursued leadership roles or feminist principles. In response to these efforts to reaffirm and justify the virgin–whore dichotomy—personified in the figures of La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Malinche—Chicana writers, artists, and scholars produced work in the late 20th century that exposes the patriarchal values that undergird all three figures and offers empowering feminist reinterpretations and positive affirmations for female sexuality.