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Latina Feminist Literature  

Alicia Arrizón

Any examination of Latina feminist literature must acknowledge that this area of study, like the identity of women of Latin American heritage, is a complex phenomenon. This complexity attests to the fact that the Latino population in the United States embraces multiple ethnicities, such as Mexican American and Cuban American. Aside from ethnic representations, the notion of Latina (Latino) recognizes various ideologically determinant identities, such as Chicanas (Chicanos) and Nuyoricans. In order to embrace the notion of Latina feminism in literature, it is paramount to recognize the reality of women who live in a complex bifurcated reality. Latinas are Americans, and yet, at the same time, they are not “Americans.” Latinas comprise multiracial and multiethnic communities whose multiple and diverse voices are situated within different hierarchies of social power and discourse. While Latina literature is deeply rooted within cultural values and traditions, it critiques the repressive, patriarchal foundations of that tradition. Consequently, Latina feminist writers embody a rebellious sensibility to the task of dismantling the structures that have defined, silenced, and marginalized them. Thus Latina feminist writing cannot be understood as an exclusive or absolute phenomenon but rather must be seen as a heterogeneous cultural practice drawing from the diverse genealogies of women’s specific ethnic backgrounds, as well as from their histories and their voices, while attempting to challenge gender norms, heteronormativity, and power relations. Although the renaissance of Latina feminist literary production became evident in the period after the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements, especially after the 1980s (and 1990s consecutively), discursive configurations of Latina writings have been identified dating back to the 19th century in the United States.

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

Central American-American Identity and Politics  

Maritza E. Cárdenas

The use of the term “Central American” as an identity category is neither new nor restricted to the US diaspora. However, it is within the last forty years and in the geopolitical setting of the United States that a thriving identity politics has developed. It is during this time period that the use of the term Central American has emerged to denote a tactical American pan-ethnic social identity. This act of consciously employing the term “Central American” as a unification strategy for peoples from the isthmus in the United States echoes other US-based ethnoracial identity politics. Such movements often utilize a pan-ethnic term not only to advocate on the behalf of a racialized minoritarian community but also seeking to provide them a space of belonging by focusing on sociopolitical, cultural, and ethnic commonalities. As other identity markers in the United States such as “Asian American” and “African American” illustrate, Central Americans are not the first population to utilize a region as a strategic unifying term of self-identification. Yet, unlike these other US ethnoracial categories, for those who identify as “Central American” the term “Central America” often connotes not simply a geographic space but also a historical formation that advances the notion that individuals from the isthmus comprise a distinct but common culture. Another key difference from other US ethnoracial identities is that use of the term “Central American” in US cultural politics emerged during a historical era where the broader collective terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” were already in place. The creation and deployment of “Central American” is therefore an alternative to this other supra-ethnic identity category, as subjects view this isthmian-based term as being able to simultaneously create a broader collective while still invoking a type of geographic and cultural specificity that is usually associated with national identities.

Article

Rodriguez, Richard  

Juan Velasco

The overwhelming critical attention received by Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982) has eclipsed the complexity and diversity of his work as well as the discussion on his impact on Latina/o studies and autobiography studies. A great deal of bibliography dedicated to Rodriguez is the result of the ideological battles the book was engaged in during the 1980s. The political context in which the book was used (mostly to oppose affirmative action and bilingual education) defined the rest of Rodriguez’s work, as some critics considered his positions on education almost treasonous. Lee Bebout summarizes those reactions in “Postracial Mestizaje: Richard Rodriguez’s Racial Imagination in an America Where Everyone Is Beginning to Melt,” as he mentions how most critics saw Rodriguez’s work as the result of a colonized mind, a mannequin for white America. “Tomas Rivera, Ramon Saldívar, William Nericcio, and others critiqued Rodriguez’s thinking, and sometimes Rodriguez himself, as the result of a colonized mind, blind to history and structural inequalities, and playing the role of a “Mexican” mannequin in the mind of white America.” In an interview with scholar José Antonio Gurpegui in Camino Real, Rodriguez admitted “I do see myself—in some more complicated way—as truly being a traitor to memory, if not exactly a traitor to Mexico or to Latin America. I do think I betrayed my family, betrayed my mother and father by becoming someone new—a ‘gringo.’” If we place his work in this context, Rodriguez’s work brings urgency and new significance to Latina/o studies in the 21st century by highlighting the unresolved contradictions that memory, culture, and identity posit as vehicles of agency. His approach to autobiography redefines traditional notions of identity, race, and language, and offers critical notions of subject formation beyond cultural nationalism, proposing queer paradigms that complicate and challenge writing as a clear vehicle for self-empowerment. His writing, queer to cultural nationalism, is deeply committed to the exploration of autobiography as discontinuous space—a space of disruptive transgression where words are barely a ghostly shell; a floating dream in search of an identity.

Article

Asian Dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o Identity and Cultural Production  

Kathleen López

Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, intellectuals and politicians have focused on three main groups as foundational to national and cultural identities: indigenous, African, and European. Mestizaje or racial mixing as a political project has worked to silence the presence and contributions of people of African and Asian descent, while favoring intermixing among European and indigenous. Researchers in the fields of history, anthropology, and sociology have long debated the role of Asians in the transition from slavery to wage labor and produced studies on the transnational and diasporic dimensions of Asian migration and settlement in the region. However, literature and cultural production captures aspects of the Asian presence in the Caribbean Latina/o world that remain absent or underplayed in most empirical studies. Prominent Latina/o writers and artists from the Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic) incorporate Asian characters and themes into their work on history, migration, and diaspora. They explore the Asian dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o racial, ethnic, gendered, and class identities and pose a challenge to foundational discourses of national and cultural identities based on mestizaje and syncretism that serve to subsume and erase the Asian presence. Secondary migrations of Asians from Latin America and the Caribbean to North America has produced a small but significant demographic of Asian Latina/os, some of whom reflect on their experiences through essays, memoirs, fiction, poetry, and art. The cultural production of Asian Latinas/os resists hegemonic concepts of race, nation, citizenship, and identity.

Article

Cuadros, Gil  

Rafael Pérez-Torres

Writer Gil Cuadros (1962–1996) composed an influential collection of short stories and poems, City of God (1994), that recounts the experiences of gay Chicano life in the age of AIDS. Learning he was HIV-positive after the death of his lover due to AIDS, he wrote to grapple with the enormity of his loss. Cuadros developed an aesthetic vocabulary for relating the richly complex experience of a seropositive queer Latinidad. Seeking to represent the unrepresentable, his work ranges from unflinchingly stark and minimalist to amorphously dark and surreal, exposing and exploring the cross-currents of race, violence, love, and sex ever haunted by an awareness of mortality. Concerned with making visible a queer literary chicanidad, Cuadros crafted poems and stories that are grounded in physicality and developed a vocabulary of sensation and sensuality. The stories reveal the body as a source of knowledge. While not the subject of extensive critical work, Cuadros’s writing is drawing more extensive attention. Earlier criticism focuses on the tension that Cuadros’s writing generates as it explores the racial and social ambivalence of queer Latinx desire. These analyses privilege the formation of queer mestizo subjectivity and read the body as a contested text. Following developments in queer theory, more recent critics foreground aesthetic and thematic ambiguity as part of a complicated dynamic between legibility and disciplinary social repression. Cuadros’s darkly ambivalent aesthetics perform what it means to be gay, Chicano, and living with AIDS, foregrounding new relations as aesthetics, politics, form, and content bleed into each other.

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

Dominican Ethnic Identities, National Borders, and Literature  

Lorgia García Peña

The formation of Dominican identity has been linked to the historical nexus that placed Dominicans in relationship to Haiti, Spain, and the United States. The foundational literature of the 19th century sought to shape national identity as emerging from racial hybridity through notions of mestizaje that obscured Dominican African roots. In the early to mid-20th century, at the hands of the Trujillo intelligentsia, these myths shaped legal, educational, and military structures, leading to violence and disenfranchisement. Since the death of Trujillo in 1961, Dominican writers, artists, and scholars have been articulating other ways of being Dominican that include Afro-Dominican episteme and accounts for the experiences of colonialisms, bordering, and diasporic movements. These articulations of dominicanidad have led to a vibrant, exciting, and incredibly diverse literary production at home and abroad.

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The US–Mexico War and American Literary History  

Jaime Javier Rodríguez

The US–Mexico War produced a wide range of literature in the United States that exposed the provisional and contingent qualities of US nationalism, even while it also asserted the anti-Mexican racism and xenophobia that continues to shape cultural and political discourse in the early 21st century. Much of the popular literature produced in mass-market novelette form, for example, deployed a range of Mexican enemies that ran through a sequence from noble, chivalrous opponents, to fiendish enemies and terrorist bandits. This instability in how writers saw Mexico and Mexicans suggests that the war could paradoxically generate critical self-reflections that countered essentialist notions of manifest destiny. The eventual projection of the bandit figure as the prototypical Mexican villain reinforced Anglo-American national self-definitions of moral, cultural, and racial superiority as a response to the destabilizing energies resulting from the invasion of a neighboring American republic. For Mexican American writers, the war, although a major feature of Mexican American literature, nonetheless became an environment in which to explore conditions of non-national, liminal border identities, which became strikingly relevant as the 20th century turned into the 21st. In Mexico, the agonized response to the nation’s failure to stop the “Yankee” invader led instead to a confrontation with its own lack of a unifying national identity and forced writers and political intellectuals to ask hard questions about Mexico’s destiny.

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Contemporary Latinx Literature in the Midwest  

Theresa Delgadillo and Leila Vieira

Latinx literature in the Midwest encompasses work created by authors from a variety of backgrounds, with authors of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban descent predominating in literature that takes locations throughout the region as its settings. Although much work focuses on Chicago, the multiple Latinidades of the region appear in fiction and poetry from across the region. Regarding genre, most of this literature falls into the categories of novel, short story, and poetry; however, works such as prose poems, novels in verse, heavily footnoted fiction, or metaliterary texts challenge genre boundaries and reveal Latinx literary innovation. This literature emerges from the history and experience of Latinx migration to the region, which dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, and, not surprisingly, that history often figures in the literature. Spanish-language Latinx literature about the Midwest also exists, and like its English-language counterpart, often addresses transnational experiences. Major publishers have made the work of Latinx authors in the Midwest well-known, yet there are also vibrant cultures of small press, community, and collective publishing, and self-publishing, through which Latinx authors have shared their talents with wider audiences in and beyond the region. Some of the themes addressed by Latinx literature in the Midwest are migration, with characters coming both from other regions of the United States and directly from Latin America; labor, mostly industrial and agricultural work, but also involving characters in the service sector and professionals; belonging and the question of what and where home is and how to create this space in the Midwest; environment and gentrification; transnationalism, often evoking different ethnic backgrounds from the present; family relationships; gender and sexuality, focusing on what it means to be Latinx and part of the LGBTQ community and situations of discrimination with families and workplaces; race, including Afro-Latinx characters; and religion and spirituality, looking not only to Catholicism, but also to Judaism and African diaspora–inspired systems of Orisha worship.