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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

Brown/Brownness/Mestizaje  

Franco A. Laguna Correa

The representation of both individuality and collectivity in Latina/o literatures can be understood in terms of racial representation as well as in relation to colonial and neocolonial Weltanschauungen or worldviews. The colonial past of Spanish/Latin America imposed economic and biopolitical conditions based on a casta system that assigned different levels of humanness and determined the life expectations of human beings depending on a racial structure of signification that placed skin coloration and racial phenotype at the center of the colonial biopolitical order. Within the US context, this structure of racial signification has historically relied on the conceptualization of Brownness as a starting point to access the overarching terms of mestizaje/miscegenation, which through the early stages of the formation of the Latina/o literary canon have been both racial and literary tropes that have distinguished the coming-of-age process of Americanization—without losing their ties to Latinidad—of Mexican Americans/Chicanas/os, Puerto Ricans/Nuyoricans, Dominican Americans, U.S. Central Americans, and Cuban Americans, among other communities with cultural and ethnic links to Spanish/Latin America. Although since the first decades of the 20th century mestizaje became in Spanish/Latin America a synthetic racial category that underscored dark Brownness as the result of the racial intermix between Spanish and Indigenous people, the historical development of the term mestizaje hasn’t had the same connotations among U.S. Latina/o communities. Mestizaje in the United States, instead, has been read mostly in relation to Mexican Americans and Chicana/o collectivities, with a geopolitical focus on Mexican American people from the Borderlands. From approximately 2010 to 2020, the emergence of the term “Latinx” has shed critical light upon historically erased collectivities that in both the United States and Spanish/Latin America have been placed within the racialized boundaries of Blackness. Thus, the biolegitimization of “Afrolatinx” and “Afro-Latin American” communities not only has acquired an identity politics signification but has also entered the literary imagination of new Latina/o literatures. Departing from this critical perspective, the maintenance of the Latina/o literary field requires the development of an organic engagement with the political and cultural signifiers “Latinx” and “Afrolatinx,” as each of these terms brings into the Latina/o literary realm the continuous exploration of racial, gender, and national identity fluidity among Latina/o communities.

Article

Muñoz, José Esteban  

Iván A. Ramos

The late José Esteban Muñoz’s body of work provides readers and scholars of Latina/o literary scholarship a vast scope that centers the work of performance as the tactic minoritarian subjects engage against a racist and homophobic public sphere. Throughout his writings, Muñoz sought to reveal a trajectory for minoritarian subjects from the realization of difference through disidentification through the search for what he called a “brown commons.” His oeuvre bridges the divides between Latina/o and queer studies, and offers an expansive methodological approach for both fields.

Article

Twenty-First-Century West Indian Fiction  

Sheri-Marie Harrison

West Indian fiction in the 21st century continues a tradition begun in the late 1990s as the fourth generation of Anglophone Caribbean writing. Though West Indian writing dates back to the early 19th century, West Indian literature began coalescing into a discrete field of study in the 1930s, motivated in large part by the political imperatives of anti-colonialism, political independence, and decolonization. Much of the fiction published in the late 90s to the present continues to adhere to the realist mode of representing Caribbean life—both in the region and in diaspora—as well as thematic engagements with decolonization, cultural nationalism, migration, diaspora, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Historical novels, modernist narratives, coming-of-age stories, and neoslave narratives remain significant features of West Indian fiction, in ways that are geared toward negotiating sovereign realties for individuals and communities that share a history of colonial domination, slavery, indentureship, and more recently, depleted cultural nationalisms. In the last decade, scholars in the field have begun the work of theorizing the recent fictional output as constituting its own discrete moment in literary development. What is distinct about contemporary writing is the way in which some authors have begun to ironically rework now-familiar forms, themes, and politics of West Indian writing. Some recent West Indian fiction produces atypical, often incomprehensible, and ultimately dissonant conclusions designed to complicate the political priorities of previous generations. This ironic approach typifies 21st-century West Indian fiction’s skepticism about the nation building and identity politics developed in previous waves—in particular, the conflation of identity with sovereignty. At the same time, this fiction doesn’t simply reject earlier modes: one of its defining aesthetic features is a re-inhabitation of the central forms and politics of preceding waves, in order to complicate them. The central feature of the fourth generation of West Indian fiction, then, is a continued engagement with the region’s history of colonization, slavery, and decolonization that is also marked by critical and self-reflexive engagements with the Caribbean literary tradition.

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

Banning of Ethnic Studies in the United States  

Norma E. Cantú

During the first decade of the 21st century, a political movement based in Arizona sought, through legislation, to ban the use of certain books and the teaching of certain authors and concepts in high school classrooms in the Tucson Unified School District. HB 2281 was signed into law in May 2010 on the heels of one of the strictest anti-immigrant legislative acts, SB 1070. These two bills would become intertwined in the imagination of the country and would elicit protests and generate actions by activists, writers, and teachers as they wound through the legal battles that ensued. This article explores the consequences of the law and the impact both locally and nationally of such actions by focusing on two key events: The Poets Against SB 1070 and the Librotraficante project led by Houston activist Tony Díaz. Moreover, it contextualizes such a historic event within the larger history of educational disenfranchisement of Latinx in the United States.

Article

Circumventing Racialism through mulataje  

José F. Buscaglia-Salgado

Mulataje is a neologism, reclaimed in 2003 in Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean by José F. Buscaglia-Salgado. Prior to this reclamation, the term was used sparingly and in a very limited way to refer to “racial mixing” in societies that were predominantly composed of Afro- and Euro-descendants in the Caribbean and Brazil. As such it was simply an adaptation and a synonym of mestizaje, used in the context of the Afro-diasporic populations of the Atlantic World. Conceptually reformulated, in its current acceptation, mulataje identifies a counterhegemonic culture that, since the earliest times in modernity, has moved against all colonialist calculations aimed at the possibility of moving beyond and leaving behind all things racial. As a most fundamental practice of being and of knowing informing individual self-conception and social action in the modern colonial world, mulataje speaks to the movements, great and small, individual and collective, that have attempted to outmaneuver all racial codes and racialist conventions as they have informed the distribution of labor and the allocation of natural resources and political rights past and present. Ultimately, the movement of mulataje points to the possibility of dethroning race as a valid and privileged category of knowledge.

Article

Thomas, Piri  

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.

Article

Tígueres and Tígueras in Dominican National and Diasporic Culture  

Jacob C. Brown

This article explores evolving representations of the Dominican colloquialism and concept tíguere in academic scholarship and Dominican national and diasporic culture. Phonetically, the word tíguere is a “Dominicanized” pronunciation—with one extra syllable added in the middle—of tigre, the Spanish word for tiger. Instead of purporting an exhaustive analysis of every utterance of tíguere in the vast archives of Dominican culture (a Quixotic affair for a single encyclopedia entry), this article observes how scholarship in the last forty years has approached the “tíguere” as a Dominican cultural expression. While academic books and articles on Dominican culture vary insofar as their discussions of the origins of the term and to whom it applies (whether they be men or women; “straight” or queer; black, white, or mixed), they also show continuity in reinforcing the basic characteristics of tigueraje (wit, grit, and resourcefulness; cunning, confidence, and showmanship; stoicism, style, and fierce determination) as expressions of dominicanidad, or Dominican-ness. This article does not pretend to be an exhaustive study but rather shows some of the ways in which authors and academics have spotted and studied tígueres in the milieu of Dominican cultural production. While the growing fields of contemporary Dominican scholarship, media, and literature have gradually deconstructed and adapted the tíguere within critical, queer, gender-inclusive, racially conscious, and transatlantic methodologies, in doing so it has also played a role in reinscribing the tíguere’s place in Dominican culture, both at home on the island and across oceans.

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

Grillo, Evelio  

Kenya C. Dworkin y Méndez

Evelio Grillo, the son of black Cuban cigar makers in Tampa, Florida, was born in 1919, in Ybor City, an immigrant enclave whose population was predominantly Cuban, Spanish, and Sicilian. When the Cuban population, which was the largest of the three primary ethnic cohorts, had started arriving, in 1885, from Key West and Cuba, its members were approximately 15 percent Afro-Cuban, or darker skinned, and 75 percent white, or lighter-skinned. The number of black Cubans later dwindled significantly, in the 1930s and 1940s, because of the Depression and drastically reduced employment opportunities. Many Cuban immigrants headed North to New York City and other urban centers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic searching for and finding better work, more educational opportunities, and more Afro-Latin people and communities to mingle and join forces with, which led to their major involvement in Northern civil rights efforts. Grillo grew up on the “unofficial” border between Ybor City proper and a small, marginalized, African American area between Ybor City and downtown Tampa known as the Scrub. Early on, he came to feel somewhat alienated from his white Cuban counterparts, despite the fact he and they shared a great deal in common—language, history, culture, and religion. The idea of racial unity that had been promoted by José Martí and other Cuban leaders and intellectuals in the years leading up to and during the 1895 Cuban War of Independence, and which had never really totally existed, was quickly abandoned. Eventually, thanks to an extraordinary school experience that took him out of Tampa and to Washington, DC, he became more comfortable and functional in the African American world of Tampa and elsewhere. Grillo ended up receiving a first-rate education at Dunbar High School in the Capitol; earned a bachelor of arts degree at Xavier University, in New Orleans, Louisiana; took three years of courses in Latin American history at Columbia University, in New York City, after the war; and then moved to Oakland, California, to work and earn a master’s degree in social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. After completing his undergraduate degree at Xavier, Grillo had been drafted into the US Army—the segregated army—and was shipped to India with the 853rd Engineering Battalion to build roads. While there, the developed many talents that he would later synthesize and that served him well later on in life, for example, community organizing, administration, research and writing, communications, and dealing with institutionalized racism and discrimination. Upon moving to Oakland, he took a position in a community center, and after earning his master’s degree from Berkeley, he continued to be involved in community, social, and political organizing. He was active in in local politics and black, Mexican, and Latina/o affairs and initiatives at the national, governmental, and nonprofit levels, working, for example, for the City of Oakland, in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the War on Poverty, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Community Service Organization, and had the opportunity to work with the likes of Herman Gallegos, César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Fred Ross, and Saul Alinsky.

Article

Seguín, Juan Nepomuceno  

Jesús F. de la Teja

Juan Nepomuceno Seguín (1806–1890) was the leading Mexican-Texan military figure of the Texas Revolution (1835–1836) to participate on the Texas side of the struggle. He was the only Mexican Texan to serve in the Senate of the Republic of Texas and was the last Mexican Texan to serve as mayor of San Antonio until the 1980s. Having fled to Mexico to avoid violence at the hands of enemies he made during his tenure as mayor, he commanded an auxiliary cavalry company of fellow Mexican-Texan exiles in the Mexican army until the end of the US-Mexico War. During his effort to reestablish himself in Texas in the 1850s he wrote his memoirs of the Texas Revolution. He was one of only three Mexican Texans to do so, and the only one to have them published during his lifetime. Seguín returned to Mexico on the eve of the US Civil War to participate in Mexico’s civil conflicts. In about 1870 he permanently settled in Nuevo Laredo, where he died in 1890.

Article

Cuban American Literatures  

Ricardo L. Ortiz

Cuba’s historical relationship with the United States predates both countries’ emergence into full political sovereignty and consists of forms of political, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange that have intimately bound the two societies since well before the 19th century. The United States spent the 1800s emerging as an independent nation and increasingly as a regional power in the western hemisphere. Populations from smaller neighboring societies were emerging from colonial rule and often sought protection in the United States from colonial oppression, even as they saw the United States’ own imperial ambitions as a looming threat. Cuban-American literature therefore can trace its roots to a collection of key figures who sought refuge in the United States in the 19th century, but it did not flourish until well into the 20th when geopolitical conditions following World War II and extending into the Cold War era made the United States a natural destination for a significant population of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. Most arrived first as refugees, then as exiles, and finally as immigrants settling into homes and making families and lives in their new country. This population has also produced a robust literary culture all its own with deep ties and important contributions to the greater US literary tradition. Cuban-American literary production has proliferated into the 21st century, exploring complex themes beyond national and cultural identity, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and ideology.

Article

Díaz, Junot  

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.