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Article

After a long void in scholarship, literature on US/Central American art began to emerge in the decade of the 2010s. As this new body of literature emerges it is important to consider the politics of visuality and visibility as it informs production and reception of contemporary art by US Central Americans. During the years of US intervention that fueled Central American conflicts (1970s–1990s), the United States produced a visual discourse on Central Americans for US audiences, especially evident in photography, political posters, and Hollywood films. This visual discourse relied on a what I call a “solidarity aesthetics” for Central America, in which images and representations of Central Americans were made, selected, disseminated, and framed to produce empathy and encourage action with the region across the globe. Yet, this solidarity aesthetics entailed optical codes—imagery on poverty, violence, and tropical landscapes—that subsequently established a reductive visual trope about Central America still used today. This visual discourse not only objectifies a Central American subject, but further enables the erasure of US/Central American creative practices as it implies the region produces violence and not art. In the context of such visual discourse, art by Alma Leiva, Muriel Hasbun, Beatriz Cortez, Jessica Lagunas, and Óscar Moisés Díaz exemplifies a disruption of dominant visual discourse by US Central Americans artists. They create art and images that counter historical erasure and the visual tropes that propagate violence while offering alternative visual narratives that reflect on the legacies of war, US intervention, and the consequential displacement and mass migration of thousands of Central Americans.

Article

The study of Native American and Indigenous literatures reveals how native knowledges resisted the Westernizing onslaught implemented forcefully since the beginning of the colonial era by colonial authorities, and after the 19th century by ruling national elites that shared with colonial authorities their belief that local Indigenous cultures needed to be Westernized to be saved. Despite its brutal enforcement, ancestral knowledges managed to resist and survived through the many social crises and transformations that took place from the 16th to the late 20th century. Their lingering effects are visible in this new literary corpus that began to appear in print since the 1960s. In the Latin American case, it is a literary production that is bilingual in nature, as all the authors publish in their own language and in Spanish. The authors in question have rescued their maternal languages in written form and standardized their systems of writing. As Central American-American Indigenous subjects migrate to the United States, they carry with them ancestral knowledges and written literatures as well.

Article

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

Yajaira M. Padilla

Central American-American feminisms have come into existence within the recent span of the late 20th to early 21st century as communities of Central Americans have become more established within the United States and multiple generations of US Central American women have come of age. Central American-American feminisms are conceived of in a collective fashion and share some general characteristics. However, they are also characterized by their heterogeneity, reflecting the diversity of US Central American women and their emergent feminist politics. Among the key influences that have helped shaped Central American-American feminisms are women of color or Third World women feminisms. The theory making and feminist praxis that form the basis of Central American-American feminisms register many of the central tenets of the latter, including an emphasis on intersectionality and the notion of shared struggles against broader systems of dominations among women and peoples of color. Within the scope of these broader women of color feminist influences, Chicana feminisms have been particularly important, partly due to the cohabitation of US Central American and Mexican American/Chicano communities in areas such at the US Southwest. In as much as US Central American women identify with Chicana feminist paradigms and experiences of oppression, they also disidentify with them, responding with their own sense of US Central American feminist politics and paradigms that draw on their Central American roots and diasporic experiences. In keeping with their transnational or transisthmian nature and sensibilities, Central American-American feminisms also bear the imprint of the histories of oppression and resistance and of migration of Central American women. Indeed, such histories, and the ongoing struggles tied to them, are understood within US Central American feminist politics as ones that remain inherently linked to those of women in the Central American diaspora. This helps to explain why diasporic experiences and issues related to the legacies and traumas of war, transnational migration and family separation, intergenerational relationships between mothers and daughters, and notions of identity and belonging are prominent within Central American-American feminisms. Such issues and experiences are integral aspects of the everyday lives of US Central American women, immigrants and subsequent generations alike, and, as such, are foundational to US Central American feminist politics. The literature and cultural production, as well as scholarship, of US Central American women, both feminist and not, has been instrumental to the cultivation and emergence of Central American-American feminisms. Looking to such texts provides a useful means of helping to define what Central American-American feminisms are and to make discernible their general characteristics and limitations, the US and Central American-based influences that have shaped them, and the issues that drive them. Many of these works also push back against the multiple mechanisms and structures that have silenced multiple generations of Central American women in and outside of the isthmus. In this sense, such works do more than just offer fertile ground for exploring many key dimensions of Central American-American feminisms. They also constitute an example of US Central American feminist praxis.

Article

Floridalma Boj Lopez

Maya youth literatures in the diaspora are creative works of literature that defy easy categorization. Instead of focusing on form or genre, these works emphasize the refugee experience in relation to issues of state violence and migration in Guatemala and the United States. Mayan youth use do-it-yourself (DIY) publishing as a strategy to create narratives that embrace their experiences with their families and at schools, and in their efforts to create a Mayan community. As a result, these stories are reflective of not just their own experiences, but also their own political investments in how their Maya community is represented and written into existence.

Article

The Spanish invasion of 1492 was the first marker and constitutive element of coloniality. The presence of coloniality is critical for the explication and reflection on racialized and subalternized relations of dominance/subordination in the Americas and all other places affected by European colonization. In 1992, Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano introduced the category of coloniality of power, further developed in 2000 by Walter Mignolo in his work Local Histories/Global Designs. Coloniality not only constituted a pattern of continual production of racialized identities, and an unequal hierarchy whereby European identities and knowledge were considered superior to all others in what amounted to a caste system; it also generated mechanisms of social domination that preserved this social classification into the present. Coloniality is not limited to the colonial period, which ended for most of Latin America in the first quarter of the 19th century. Despite political independences from Spain and Portugal, the pattern articulated by Quijano continues to our day, structuring processes of racialization, subalternization, and knowledge production. This is the reason Mignolo labels coloniality a “matrix of power.” The literature examined in this article concerns itself with revealing the markers of coloniality on the Central American social body in diaspora. This article contends that diasporic Central American literatures produced within the United States represent not only the experience of exile and migration, but also an experience of continued war and perpetual violence, as Central American bodies discover in this US diasporic landscape, the racialization of their bodies, and how they in turn become disposable as a result of their status.

Article

The presence of coloniality is critical for the explication, and reflection, on racialized and subalternized relations of dominance/subordination. The Spanish invasion in 1492 was the first marker and constitutive element of modernity. In 1992 Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano introduced the category of coloniality of power, further developed by Walter Mignolo. This epistemic change not only constituted a pattern of continual production of racialized identities and an unequal hierarchy whereby European identities and knowledge were considered superior to all others in what amounted to a caste system but also generated mechanisms of social domination that preserved this social classification into the present. Coloniality is not limited to the colonial period, which ended for most of Latin America in the first quarter of the 19th century. Despite political independence from Spain or Portugal, the pattern elaborated by Quijano continues to our day, structuring processes of racialization, subalternization, and knowledge production. This is the reason Mignolo labels it a “matrix of power.” Central American–American literature represents the nature of colonialized violence suffered by U.S. Central Americans and constitutes racialized and subalternized migrants as a form of interpellating agency deployed in the name of the excluded subjects. Novelist Mario Bencastro’s Odyssey to the North, Sandra Benítez’s Bitter Grounds, Francisco Goldman’s The Divine Husband, and the EpiCentro poets mobilize in different fashions and directions the inner contradictions of identitary and decolonial issues in reaction to colonialized perceptions of textual subjectivities—or their traces—manifested in their respective discursive practices. These phenomena cannot be understood outside of the historical flux generated by the coloniality of power.

Article

While literature by Latin American origin groups within the United States (e.g., Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican) has been treated as a single literary corpus—“Latina/o Literature” or “Hispanic Literature”—since the last decades of the 20th century, in practice, the commonalities among such texts were more comparative than panethnic in nature until significantly more recently. That is, while literature by different national-origin groups revealed some strong similarities in theme and form, the writing itself reflected the specific concerns, background, and history of the specific national-origin group, rather than giving evidence of intra-Latino group interaction or a developing sense of a shared intra-Latino culture. This article traces the commonalities among these bodies of literary production, including in the “pre-Latino” period, the 19th to mid-20th centuries, before there was even a commonly understood concept of “US Latino literature,” as well as during the Chicano and Nuyorican Movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It then turns to a discussion of developing representations of inter-group interactions and tensions, including in the more recent emergence of “Central American American” literary production. Particularly in the increasingly cosmopolitan urban centers of the United States, an evolving sense of intra-Latino solidarity and panethnic Latino “community” has come into view in the literature produced by Latinx writers of the later 20th and 21st centuries.

Article

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.

Article

Throughout the mid-20th and early 21st centuries, Central American writers, in and outside of the isthmus, have written in response to political and social violence and multiple forms of racial, economic, gendered, and other oppressions, while also seeking to produce alternative social imaginaries for the region and its peoples. Spanning the civil war and post-war periods and often writing from the space of prolonged and temporary diaspora as exiles, sojourners, and migrants, in their respective works, writers such as Claribel Alegría, Gioconda Belli, and Martivón Galindo have not only represented the most critical historical moments in the region but moreover transfigured the personal and collective social woundings of Central America into new signs and representations of the isthmus, often from other sites. Read together, their texts offer a gendered literary topography of war, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization and imagine other “geographies of identities” as suggested by Smadar Lavie and Ted Swedenburg for post-conflict, diasporic societies. These writers’ work is testament to the transformative and transfigurative power of women’s writing in the Central American transisthmus.