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.
Ricardo L. Ortiz
Like Frantz Fanon, Anne McClintock, R. W. Connell, María Lugones, Elizabeth Martínez, and other scholars of postcoloniality/decoloniality, I agree that the concrete historical conditions of colonization as constituting and constitutive of heteropatriarchy set the parameters of masculinity for men of color and subsequent specific expressions of cultural nationalism and masculinity for Chicano men. These contexts, in fact, are best described by María Lugones as part of the modern/colonial gender system. Still, any investigation of gender/masculinity must simultaneously attend to other interlocking and intersecting systems of oppression and identity formation like racism and class, which remain dynamically constituted by other facets of identity like sexuality. “Homeboy Masculinity,” in these contexts, then, indicates a situational and historically specific type of masculinity that remains influenced by the complexity of the modern/colonial gender system. This particular type of masculinity, as such, emerges in various practices and expressions of masculinity in Chicana/o barrios across the United States but especially in the American Southwest and is particularly exemplified by barrios in East Los Angeles, the west side of San Antonio, and El Paso, among others. Homeboy masculinity also emerges in primary and secondary cultural texts whose locus of expression and whose epistemological formation is the Chicana/o barrio. In this respect, the barrio, as the site of the production of this type of masculinity and epistemological formation, must consequently be understood as a byproduct of the dialectical processes of “barrioization” and the barriological. Indeed, Raúl Homero Villa argues that barriology is a critical and witty challenge to knowledge produced in the predominantly white institutions of academe and in dominant ideological apparatuses like the mainstream media that is made by offering a subaltern knowledge produced from within the barrio and by barrio residents. Villa, in Barrio-Logos: Space and Place in Urban Chicano Literature and Culture, succinctly distinguishes between the “socially deforming” processes of barrioization and the “culturally affirming” processes of barriology in describing this dialectical model for understanding the social and material construction of the barrio; this model, as a result, is integral to understanding homeboy masculinity In addition, homeboys, as culturally and historically specific subjects, also form part of a legacy of Mexican and Chicana/o figures that have worked to set the parameters for Mexicano/Chicano masculinity and femininity. Therefore, while La Malinche, La Virgen, and La Llorona function to structure Chicana femininity, they also operate as an implicit boundary zone for the construction of Mexicano/Chicano masculinity, as Gloria E. Anzaldúa notes in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Octavio Paz and Tomas Almaguer, like Anzaldúa, note the sociohistorical and linguistic relationships between these figures and their gender/sexual correlations in various cultural expressions and practices in the community. Paz and Almaguer, in discussing one specific role of la chingada as La Malinche in the Mexican/Chicano imaginations, describe the power politics involved in being los hijos de la chingada and how this framework produces a homophobia that stems from the onset of conquest. They also note how the framework of “being the fucked one” produces a type of Mexican “masculine homosexuality” that is tolerated among Mexicans alongside of such homophobia. These scholars, as a result, point to the multifaceted ways in which these archetypal historical, religious, and cultural figures structure both Chicana femininity and Chicano masculinity. Moreover, the figures of the Aztec warrior, Hernan Cortes as a model of the conquistador, the revolutionary figures of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, el pelado as a manifestation of working class “noble” masculinity, and el pachuco (later, the homeboy) collectively form an explicit historical and ideological apparatus that structures Mexican/Chicano masculinity. In many ways, these culturally and historically significant figures, as embodiments of Mexican and Chicano masculinity, can also be understood as part of complex negotiations in the maintenance of a hegemonic masculinity and as potential challenges to such a masculinity from an insurgent or subaltern form of Mexicano/Chicano masculinity. This phenomenon of competing and, at times, mutually reinforcing forms of masculinity as a result remains rooted in the onset of conquest but is also dynamically intersectional. In the contemporary context, race and ethnicity, nonetheless, remain the primary modalities upon which this phenomenon rests; it is best exemplified by adapting Gayatri Spivak’s calculus as: white men saving all women from the threat of black and brown men. Hegemonic masculinity, as defined by Tim Carrigan, Bob Connell, and John Lee in “Toward a New Sociology of Masculinity,” is part of a set of powerful circumstances in which the meanings and practices of masculinity also become a normative force through, for example, the mass media; it also emerges through a “naturalized” division of labor that works to reify classed and gendered identities and spaces in society. Furthermore, this type of hegemonic masculinity is more powerfully underscored, they argue, when supported and embodied by the state. Homeboy masculinity, by contrast, is not ideologically or politically pure in practice or performance precisely because it is informed by the complex histories of Spanish and American imperialisms and the modern/colonial gender system that emerges from these large-scale structures. In the present context, homeboy masculinity is also de/formed by the late-modern processes of urbanization—themselves inflected with the legacies of those imperialisms and more contemporary racial and spatial formations. It is, consequently, a central social element of the dialectical relationships between barrioization and the barriological. Homeboy masculinity, nonetheless, remains an insurgent form of masculinity whose spirit challenges these white hegemonic forms of masculinity and, by extension, a compulsory heteronormative sexuality.
Ariana E. Vigil
Latina/o literary engagements with war include a wide variety of texts that touch on more than a century of US militarism and encompass a broad range of genres and perspectives. This body of work includes memoirs by soldiers and novels set during various military conflicts (often based on the authors’ own experiences), as well as short stories, plays, poems, and essays that reflect on, question, and problematize Latina/o participation in war. Just as Latina/o individuals and peoples occupy a variety of positions vis-à-vis the US nation-state—as conquered and colonized populations, as internal “minorities,” and as migrants and refugees—so, too, have Latina/o texts that take up war reflected a variety of positions. Taking an expansive view of war that includes movements of military-backed annexation and colonization, this literature may include Latina/o literary and cultural engagements with the annexation of Texas in 1845, the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), and the annexation of Puerto Rico in 1898. These topics sit alongside very different perspectives on US militarism such as those that reflect Latina/o experiences within the US armed forces in World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Central America, and Iraq. This literature, then, covers works that celebrate and oppose US military action. Although factors such as geopolitical setting, history, ethnicity, and nationality affect the ways Latinas/os have experienced and interacted with US militarism, gender, and sexuality have also played important roles in these articulations. Gender is a necessary category of analysis that facilitates a more nuanced understanding of the way individuals and communities experience war. Just as it is best not to assume that military service for Latinas/os has had a singular or constant meaning (such as an experience of bravery or pride), it is necessary to avoid approaching gender as synonymous with women. Thus a gendered analysis facilitates questioning of the way masculinity and femininity shape and are shaped by questions of violence, military intervention, and national cohesion.
Arnaldo M. Cruz-Malavé
Initially censored, shunned, or ignored by the literary establishment, both in the United States and Puerto Rico, New York Puerto Rican author Piri Thomas’s 1967 autobiographical coming-of-age story, Down These Mean Streets, gained great visibility as a sociological document when it was first published, garnering much media attention and recognition for Thomas as a spokesman for the New York Puerto Rican community, a role that he embraced as part of his social activism. But Thomas’s work, which includes the sequel to Down These Mean Streets—Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand; a prison memoir, Seven Long Times; a book of short stories, Stories from El Barrio; and performance and poetry, would not acquire canonical literary status as founding a new U.S. Puerto Rican or Nuyorican literature until the 1980s when critics in American universities began to introduce Nuyorican literature as part of a curricular revision of the U.S. literary canon that sought to include minority literatures in American college courses. In the 1990s, Thomas’s status as a founding figure of Nuyorican literature and identity would give way to a more complex view of him as an author, as queer and feminist scholars of color began to examine the relationship of race and national and ethnic identity and belonging to questions of gender and sexuality in his writing. Thomas would then emerge as a more ambiguous, intercultural, and intersectional author, indeed as emblematic of the in-between or abject zone that the hierarchical binaries of dominant discourses of race, national, and ethnic belonging often situated Latino/as in, invisibilizing them. If in the late 1960s and early 1970s Thomas’s work became representative of the communities and subcultures whose voices were elided in American society, in the 1990s young U.S. Latino/a writers would adopt his work as emblematic of a resistant Afro-Latino otherness that could be deployed against an increasingly homogenizing version of Latinidad or Latino/a identity as a racially and ethnically unified commodity in the plural neoliberal American literary and cultural market. Since the 2000s, readings of Thomas’s work have continued to address the topic of otherness in his work, interrogating its normalization and focusing on the psychoanalytic and political issues of racial melancholia, introjection, and the status of lack in subject formation in his writing. Another trend has set about situating Thomas’s writing at the intersection between colonial and diasporic metropolitan racial formations, connecting it with Puerto Rico’s racialized literary canon, Caribbean “intra-colonial” diasporic relations, and Filipino American literature and culture. Yet another line of research has focused on the author’s narrative and performative choices rather than on his abject condition. And his performance in poetry has begun to get some well-deserved critical attention. All in all, the challenge of Thomas criticism remains the ability of scholars to establish a dialogue between the aporias and impasses that his writing is situated in (that is, questions of racial abjection and coloniality) and his skill and imagination as a writer and performer, between what he characterizes, on the one hand, as the “bullets” and, on the other, as the “butterflies” that constitute and propel his writing.
Yomaira C. Figueroa
Junot Díaz is a Dominican American award-winning fiction writer and essayist. For over twenty years his work has helped to map and remap Latinx, Caribbean, and American literary and cultural studies. Since his collection of short stories, Drown, debuted in 1996, Díaz has become a leading literary figure in Latinx, Afro-Latinx, and diaspora studies. His voice is critically linked to the legacy of Latinx Caribbean literary poetics reaching back to the 1960s (including Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets, 1967). Díaz’s work is likewise transnational and diasporic, often reflecting the lived experiences of working-class immigrant populations of color in northeastern urban centers. Within a broader scope, Díaz’s writing is tied to feminist African American and Chicana literary traditions, with Díaz citing the influence of writers such as Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros in his writing practice. His 2007 award-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in fiction and catapulted him into literary superstardom. Díaz followed that success with his 2012 collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her, which was a finalist for both the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. In 2012, Díaz was conferred the MacArthur Fellows Program Award, commonly known as the MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and in 2017, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2019, he was the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the fiction editor at the renowned literary magazine the Boston Review. Over the course of his professional writing career, Díaz has published numerous nonfiction essays and political commentaries, and coauthored opinion editorials on immigration and reflections on Caribbean and US politics. His short story “Monstro,” published in 2012, further rooted Díaz in the genres of science fiction and Afrofuturism. “Monstro” was understood to be a teaser for a now discarded novel of the same name. The simultaneous publication of the English-language Islandborn and Spanish-language Lola in 2018 represented the author’s first foray into the genre of children’s literature. Like much of Díaz’s literary oeuvre, the children’s books chronicle the experiences and memories of Afro-Dominicans in the diaspora through the perspective of a child narrator. Díaz is one of the founders of Voices of Our Nation (VONA), a summer creative writing workshop for writers of color where he helps aspiring writers to workshop their fiction. Díaz’s fiction and nonfiction writings have catalyzed work in literary, Latinx, and Afro-Latinx studies, prompting renewed discourses on literary representations of masculinity, gender, sexuality, intimacy, sexual violence, dictatorship, immigration, disability, Dominican history, race and anti-blackness, anti-Haitianism, decolonization and radical politics, and diaspora and belonging.