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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

The Latin American Crime Novel  

Glen S. Close

Latin American authors have written detective novels for approximately a century and a half. However, writers and critics have long recognized formidable obstacles to adopting the classical ratiocinative detective mode in a region with an unstable democratic tradition and relatively low levels of public confidence in police forces and the rule of law. Few Latin American novels written in the classical mode have found readership outside their countries of origin. Over the last half century, hard-boiled detective novels and criminal-centered novels have decisively supplanted classical ratiocinative novels to become the primary modes of crime writing in the region. Regional subgenres such as the sicario or hitman novel and the narco-novel have gained international visibility in recent decades, while some of Latin America’s most prestigious writers, including Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ricardo Piglia, and Roberto Bolaño, have produced highly original crime novels that dramatize the failings of legal justice in their countries. Latin American detectives are commonly disabled and defeated during their investigations, while criminal characters operate with an impunity that realistically reflects extremely low levels of prosecution for serious crimes in many parts of Latin America in the 21st century. Many of the most significant contemporary Latin American crime novels communicate a profound despair and skepticism with respect to the possibility of obtaining legal justice in countries where organized crime has corrupted and overpowered state institutions and security forces.

Article

Literature and National Formation in 19th-Century Latin America  

Andrea Castro and Kari Soriano Salkjelsvik

There is more to the formation of a nation than the political reforms needed for the construction of a national state. To create a sense of national belonging, a collective consciousness among citizens is as crucial, and literature plays an important role in this effort. Issues connected to literature—its relation to Europe, the dangers of imitation, the creation of literary histories, the institutionalization of language, the role of translation, and so on—were discussed all over Latin America during the 19th century. Authors tried to pave the way for literary expressions that could give form to their national specificity. Literature sought to showcase the nation’s history, customs, people, national symbols, and landscapes—from mountains and valleys to cities and pueblos. In so doing, it engaged with an unruly and changing historical, cultural, and ideological space.

Article

Jorge Luis Borges in Argentina  

Geraldine Rogers

To consider the most influential Argentine writer of the 20th century within the South American cultural and historical framework implies going deeper in a literature that put the periphery—the margins, the minor literature—forward as a particular place of enunciation, not only by destiny but also by choice, as an imaginary place of freedom derived from the lack of cultural tradition tied to a territory. After some years in Europe as a youth, in 1921, Jorge Luis Borges went back to Buenos Aires, where he took part in avant-garde projects and little magazines, as well as in mass circulation publishing and journalistic endeavors. It was in this junction of Modernism and mass culture that, from the 1930s, he began to create his sophisticated fictions, which fully exploited the resources of a second-hand culture, made of hybrid genres, clippings, displacements, plagiarism, and mistranslations, making artistic innovations from some of the most usual practices in printed culture. In the following decade, his anti-Hispanism and his appreciation of certain forms of Argentinian orality were paradoxically combined with his militancy against nationalism. The peripheral condition he addressed in one of his most famous essays (“The Argentine Writer and Tradition”), which stands as a theoretical and critical locus that could decenter Western tradition in its entirety, was an argument stated from a particular time and place against the realism and the nationalism that predominated in the vernacular literary field. His opinions on literary, cultural, or political matters (veiled, as in “The Aleph,” or more visible, as in his anti-Peronist texts “L’Illusion Comique,” “The Monster’s Feast,” and “The Mountebank”) present a minefield of controversial interventions in the Argentinian disputes of his time and account for a specifically Borgesian way—self-interested, instrumental, strategic—of taking part in the dilemmas of the history and the culture that he was part of. Borges has sparked various responses throughout time in Argentina. Some milestones are the tributes to him by the Megáfono group, in 1933, and by Sur magazine in the 1940s, the Contorno patricide trial in the following decade, the Borges “for the masses” in the 1970s, and the generalized rejection of his support for military dictatorships (the one that overthrew Perón in 1955 and the one that began in 1976). In 2009, the literary experiment of a young writer using one of the most famous short stories by Borges gave rise to a lawsuit for copyright fraud, which, in turn, triggered intellectual debates on literary heritage in a socially significant and broader sense, reinstating the problematic—and not merely legal—character of literary property. A well-nourished history tells how, in Argentina, consecutive generations of authors, critics, and readers have dealt with one of their most challenging and intense writers, wondering how to read him, how to get away from the fascination he causes, and how to make his powerful legacy their own.

Article

Roberto Bolaño within World Literatures  

Oswaldo Zavala

The name Roberto Bolaño (Santiago, Chile, 1953–Blanes, Spain, 2003) has become a central signifier within Latin American contemporary literature but also a key reference in what is often called “world literature” in academic discussions and mainstream editorial circles. At the regional and the global levels, both in the original Spanish and in English translation, Bolaño’s work moved from the margin to the canonical center as Latin America’s foremost representative in the 21st century, as Argentinean Jorge Luis Borges, Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, Mexican Carlos Fuentes, and Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa all did during the 20th century. Bolaño’s novels, short stories, essays, and poetry delve critically into Latin America’s past—Chile’s 1973 coup d’état and subsequent military dictatorship and Mexico’s convulsive 1960s and ’70s society—but also offer insightful explorations of contemporary Western culture and its history of violence, from the effects of world wars, racism, and gender violence to intellectual engagement, avant-garde poetics, and the question of culture in disenfranchised societies of late capitalism. His two masterpieces are major canonical landmarks: The Savage Detectives (1998), a nostalgic memoir about the forgotten avant-garde “visceral realism” and the artistic ethos of his generation, those who witnessed the defeat of the Latin American’s left with the rise of neoliberal governance, and 2666 (2004), his most ambitious book—composed of five interrelated but independent novels—bridging European, US, and Latin American histories converging in the sinister femicide at the US-Mexico borderlands. Read as the author of a complex œuvre expanding across continents, Bolaño surpasses expectations for writers from non-hegemonic cultural centers, defying various conceptions of Western canons and pioneering the avenues of 21st-century Latin American literature.

Article

Cuban Revolutionary Literature  

Lanie Millar

Fidel Castro’s arrival in Havana on January 1, 1959, marked the triumph of Cuban revolutionaries over dictator Fulgencio Batista, initiating a new era in Cuban culture. While critics generally agree that Cuban revolutionary literature began after this watershed event, their opinions on when the revolutionary period ends range from the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980s. Among the revolutionary government’s earliest priorities were to bolster Cuban cultural production and the infrastructure to print and circulate it, as well as to develop a literate public who would read new Cuban works. The state invested in new institutions and established new publishing venues that disseminated both Cuban and international literature. Meanwhile, independent publishing outlets briefly played an important role in the early revolutionary years. Accompanying these new opportunities, however, were debates and polemics over what kind of literature was suited to the revolutionary moment and who got to decide on its parameters. While Cuban literature boomed and publishing opportunities increased, by the 1970s, top-down authorities exerted increasing control over the cultural realm. Especially during the 1970s and 1980s, other kinds of diverse Cuban literature flourished, as Afro-Cuban and women writers gained prominence and pushed literature in new directions. Questions of race, gender, and sexuality came to the fore in works depicting both past and contemporary times. Much of the earliest literature of the revolution sought to respond to the social and political changes underway, either by describing the recent past or by writing with new styles considered to be suited to the new revolutionary landscape. Trends such as literatura de violencia (literature of violence) portrayed repression in the prerevolutionary years and the fight against Batista’s dictatorship, while the new genre of the novela testimonio (testimonial novel) sought to highlight marginalized voices and experiences, particularly those of enslavement or oppression. These developments accompanied Cuba’s new view of itself as a leader to the decolonizing world. After 1959, narrative and poetic experimentation abounded. However, by the 1970s, cultural authorities eventually converged on literary movements like socialist realism and conversational poetry as the preferred literary styles for the revolutionary society. Certain themes such as homosexuality, social criticism, and portrayals of racism in Cuba’s postrevolutionary society, as well as literary styles that deviated from the realist social engagement in vogue with Cuba’s institutions, resulted in tensions between state cultural authorities and writers. Sometimes, writers would face censorship and persecution. As the worst strictures of centralized cultural control lessened in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Afro-Cuban and women writers pioneered trends in social commentary, humor, and irony. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 initiated profound political and economic crises in Cuba, remaking society and changing the direction of Cuban literature again. The revolutionary period had come to a close.

Article

Latino Gay Literature  

Daniel Contreras

Who are we when we read queer Latinx literature? It may be helpful in approaching this topic to think about what we mean by America along with what we mean by Latinx, or Latina/o, and Latin American. Some Latin Americans, for example, become irritated by US citizens referring to their own country as America when in fact that term refers to two enormous continents. Another issue to consider is what dynamic exists between Latino/a and Latin American as terms identifying groups of people. We should add Caribbean to this discussion, which also complicates matters since Puerto Ricans are US citizens with histories tied to the Caribbean. Mexican Americans (or Chican/aos) live in a country that borders the other “half” of their designation. Both these cases introduce vexed questions about immigration and belonging. Queer itself is not a word that escapes controversy. It can be used as a provocation, to challenge hate language by neutralizing it. But does that work? How do we know when it does? And when do we know when we have succeeded and can drop its usage entirely? And does queer automatically mean gay? In its usage as an umbrella terms what happens to the specificity of same-sex desire? And finally, literature is itself a contested term as there is no critical consensus on what exactly designates written expression as literature as opposed to simply writing. Therefore I would argue that any attempt to be comprehensive about Queer Latinx literature can only be provisional. But any such attempt that is based on critical rigor and empathy should be welcomed.

Article

Literary Representations of Migration  

Marisel Moreno

Migration has always been at the core of Latina/o literature. In fact, it would be difficult to find any work in this corpus that does not address migration to some extent. This is because, save some exceptions, the experience of migration is the unifying condition from which Latina/o identities have emerged. All Latinas/os trace their family origins to Latin America and/or the Hispanic Caribbean. That said, not all of them experience migration first-hand or in the same manner; there are many factors that determine why, how, when, and where migration takes place. Yet, despite all of these factors, it is safe to say that a crucial reason behind the mass movements of people from Latin America and the Hispanic Caribbean to the United States has been direct or indirect US involvement in the countries of origin. This is evident, for instance, in the cases of Puerto Rico (invasion of 1898) and Central America (civil wars in the 1980s), where US intervention led to migration to the United States in the second half of the 20th century. Other factors that tend to affect the experience of migration include nationality, class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, language, citizenship status, age, ability, and the historical juncture at which migration takes place. The heterogeneous ways in which migration is represented in Latina/o literature reflect the wide range of factors that influence and shape the experience of migration. Latina/o narrative, poetry, theatre, essay, and other forms of literary expressions capture the diversity of the migration experience. Some of the constant themes that emerge in these works include nostalgia, transculturation, discrimination, racism, uprootedness, hybridity, and survival. In addressing these issues, Latina/o literature brings visibility to the complexities surrounding migration and Latina/o identity, while undermining the one-dimensional and negative stereotypes that tend to dehumanize Latinas/os in US dominant society. Most importantly, it allows the public to see that while migration is complex and in constant flux, those who experience it are human beings in search for survival.

Article

Poetry of the Latin American Avant-Garde  

Justin Read

The Latin American avant-garde—more widely known by the Spanish vanguardia or vanguardismo—emerged after 1910, roughly contemporaneously with parallel literary movements in Europe and Anglo America, and often in direct dialogue with them. Although vanguardistas worked across various media and genres (novels, theatre, film, painting, sculpture), the primary modes of vanguardismo were poetry and, curiously, poetic manifestos that blur lines between poetry and performance (a hybridized “performance manifesto” as Vicky Unruh has called it). Like many other facets of Latin American culture and society, the historical trajectory of vanguardista poetry roughly traces patterns of political-economic dependency between rich and poor countries in the 20th century. Vanguardismo was born of the rapid transformation of Latin America from rural-agrarian to urban-industrial societies between 1870 and 1920. New modes of transportation made circum-Atlantic travel and communication more fluid than ever. A poet like Vicente Huidobro (considered the foundational figure of vanguardismo) could follow new artistic developments in Europe from his native Chile, reject the traditionalism of prior generations, and reformulate symbolism, cubism, futurism, and so forth into his Creacionismo—a movement he then “exported” back to Spain, fomenting vanguardismo in the former colonial metropolis. Huidobro would be followed by several major “international” vanguardistas—notably Pablo Neruda (Chile), César Vallejo (Peru), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), and Nicolás Guillén (Cuba)—who ingrained themselves in key literary circles like Dada, negritude, surrealism, and other Parisian avant-garde “-isms.” Back in the Western Hemisphere, vanguardista poetry flowered in the 1920s and 1930s, yet mainly by way of small, close-knit intellectual circles in urban centers publishing their own small, ephemeral journals. This “localized” vanguardismo most forcefully began in São Paulo, Brazil with the “Modern Art Week” held in the city’s beaux-arts Municipal Theatre in February 1922. The three-day event abruptly altered the literary culture of the entire nation and continues to influence poetry, popular music, film, and art. Brazilian poets would be followed by other small movements in other large Latin American cities. Although these movements often had minimal contact with one another, they almost uniformly promised the creation of a national utopia by means of new poetic practice. Such movements did not merely rehash or regurgitate Europe and Anglo-American “advancements” so much as they attempted to reformulate Latin American identity vis-à-vis Europe. Rather than colonial copies of European development, Latin American poetry would now be exported back to Europe as a utopic beacon of a new modernity; while Europe fell into decadence, the Latin American vanguardia remained largely hopeful and positive despite its frequent attacks on tradition. Poetic utopias failed to materialize even as vanguardismo continued to influence poetic innovation in the latter half of the 20th century. In retrospect, vanguardista poets transformed literary arts, yet could not revolutionize the rest of society. The era was dominated by the poetic production of white males (with very few black, indigenous, and female poets) who continued to perpetuate legacies of colonial appropriation even as they sought to dismantle them.

Article

Indiana Hernández, Rita  

Selma Feliciano-Arroyo

Rita Indiana Hernández (b. June 11, 1977, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) is a Dominican writer, musician, and performer. In addition to her popularity as a singer-songwriter, she is widely regarded as one of the most important Dominican authors of her generation. Her literary career began in the 1990s with short works included in zines such as Vetas. By 2001, she had self-published three books: two collections of short stories—Rumiantes (1998) and Ciencia succión (2001)—and one novella, La estrategia de Chochueca (2000). A second novel, Papi, followed in 2005. About that time, she began experimenting with musical and visual projects as part of different performance groups, such as Casifull and Miti Miti. In 2009, she was the youngest Dominican author to be honored in the Santo Domingo Book Fair, where she was also booked as a musical performer. Her popularity as a musician grew even more after the 2010 release of the album El juidero, recorded with her band Rita Indiana y los Misterios. She subsequently published two more novels, Nombres y animales (2013) and La mucama de Omicunlé (2015). Scholarly interest in her writing and her music has centered on the way they give voice to contemporary subjectivities and put forth imaginaries of citizenship, social relationships, and belonging that depart from institutionalized discourses of identity. Rita Indiana has stated on various occasions that she sees her literary projects and her musical projects as intertwined endeavors. This is evident not just in the thematic unity between them but also in the aesthetic strategies she uses. In her work, she references mass media, Dominican popular cultural production, and global youth cultures to highlight the interplay between the local and the global in the postmodern Caribbean. Rita Indiana also explores issues pertaining to the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and migratory status. Since approximately the middle of the 2000s, Rita Indiana’s work has been embraced increasingly by critics. She was also named one of the one hundred most influential Latino/a personalities by the Spanish newspaper El País.