Discussions and debates in and around the formation of Mexican American letters, including its periodization and formulations of its unique ontology, are reviewed, and discussions and analysis of key literary phenomena that have shaped in time (history) and space (region) Mexican American and Chicana/o letters are presented. Foundational scholars such as María Herrera-Sobek, Luis Leal, José Limón, and Juan Bruce-Novoa are considered along with scholar-creators such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. A wide variety of Mexican American and Chicana/o authors of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are reviewed, including Alurista, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Marío Suárez, Arturo Islas, Richard Rodriguez, and Ana Castillo, among many others.
Frederick Luis Aldama
Liliana C. González
To think about queerness in Latina/o/x literature necessarily entails a consideration of how queerness is regarded within Latina/o/x cultural expressions. But within popular Latino/a/x queer expressions, it would be difficult not to invoke the image of Mexican singer/ and composer Juan Gabriel and his unabashed gestures and sensuality. Juan Gabriel became a symbol of Latino/a queer subjectivity by “being” and “being seen” as “queer” but never explicitly “coming out” in the US mainstream sense. His unwillingness to conform to masculine gendered expectations within Mexican ranchera music and his reluctance to accept globalized gay modalities in many respects continues to embody the Latina/o racialized sexual experience in the United States. “Queerness” herein refers to a position of being queer in defiance of social norms within a given sociopolitical context rather than articulating a fixed state with a single understanding of what it means to be queer. As an expression with political impetus, queer has the capacity to mobilize resistance against sexual and gender norms, and is as much a political identity as it is a way to read society. The “ness” in “queerness” enables queer’s ability to modify conventional analysis and enhance readings of social relations as difference but, more important, as relations of power. That is, queerness as a relational mode of analysis unfolds the disruption of hierarchical binaries such as man/woman, masculine/feminine, and homosexual/heterosexual. The emergence of Chicana lesbian theory in the 1980s and queer of color critique in literary and cultural studies signaled a significant shift in thinking queer within Latina/o/x culture and thinking race, ethnicity, and class as integral to queer analysis, which had been previously overlooked by queer scholarship. As such, queerness has come to be understood as a critical lens that is capable of reading antagonizing associations not only against what is deemed as the sexual norm but precisely the way in which sexuality interacts with racialized, gendered, and class-based discourses. As a corpus, Latina/o literature reflects a range of topics that grapple with what it means to be a US Latina/o and to hold an ambiguous place in American racial and cultural politics and an often nostalgic yet contentious relationship with Latin America. Queerness, specifically in relation to Latina/o literature, is to imagine and create between and beyond these rigid delineations of gay and lesbian identity but at the same time breaking with assumptions of US Latina/o/x experience as exclusively heteronormative. In this sense, queerness within Latina/o/x literature imparts an unequivocal motion of being, thinking, and feeling against the grain of both Latina/o patriarchal literary traditions and the white US literary canon.
Melissa M. Hidalgo
Morrissey is a singer and songwriter from Manchester, England. He rose to prominence as a popular-music icon as the lead singer for the Manchester band The Smiths (1982–1987). After the breakup of The Smiths, Morrissey launched his solo career in 1988. In his fourth decade as a popular singer, Morrissey continues to tour the world and sell out shows in venues throughout Europe and the United Kingdom, Asia and Australia, and across North and South America. Although Morrissey enjoys a fiercely loyal global fan base and inspires fans all over the world, his largest and most creatively expressive fans, arguably, are Latinas/os in the United States and Latin America. He is especially popular in Mexico and with Chicanas/os from Los Angeles, California, to San Antonio, Texas. How does a white singer and pop icon from England become an important cultural figure for Latinas/os? This entry provides an overview of Morrissey’s musical and cultural importance to fans in the United States–Mexico borderlands. It introduces Morrissey, examines the rise of Latina/o Morrissey and Smiths fandom starting in the 1980s and 1990s, and offers a survey of the fan-produced literature and other cultural production that pay tribute to the indie-music star. The body of fiction, films, plays, poetry, and fans’ cultural production at the center of this entry collectively represent of Morrissey’s significance as a dynamic and iconic cultural figure for Latinas/os.
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.
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.
José Luis Morín
Racially demeaning representations of persons of Latin American origin, also known as Latinas/os or the more gender inclusive Latinx, as criminally inclined can be found throughout US literature—broadly defined in this article to include laws, fiction and nonfiction, news stories, as well as movie, television, and theatrical scripts. Rooted in a history of conquests, hemispheric domination, and an expansionist ideology premised on the myth of Anglo-American racial superiority, this literature promotes the idea that Latinx populations are racially alien and inferior. These depictions involve negative stereotypes depicting Latinxs as criminals. For instance, in the period following the US war against Mexico through which the United States wrested half of Mexico’s land base by 1848, popular novels about the post-conquest era typically depicted Anglo-American settler colonialists as noble and heroic, while persons of Mexican ancestry were commonly portrayed as bandidos (bandits) and denigrated as “greasers”—shiftless, deceitful criminal threats to white society. Mexican women were typecast as devious “halfbreed harlots.” Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Colombians and other groups of people of Latin American descent continue to be portrayed as innately criminal in novels, newspapers, movies, and other media, whether it be as greasers, pachucos, knife-wielding gang members, or drug traffickers. These abject characterizations are a recurring trope in some of the most popular and iconic works of fiction and entertainment media. Even in popular social science literature—from the controversial 1960s “culture of poverty” to the discredited 1990s “superpredators” theory—deviance, depravity, and criminality are presented as being at the core of Latinx nature and the problems their communities face. Since the late 1970s, a range of writers, scholars, activists, and organizations have sought to present a counter-discourse to these ubiquitous dehumanizing and demeaning caricatures. Often equipped with empirical data and social scientific analyses, a more accurate account of the lives of Latinx persons in relation to criminal justice issues in the United States has been emerging. These efforts notwithstanding, racist and negative narratives associating Latinxs with illicit drug cartel operations and other criminal activity endure, influencing and distorting the public discourse and the perceptions about Latinx communities in contemporary US society.
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.
Latina/os and Asian Americans have lived in what is now the United States for hundreds of years, yet they are often considered foreign in the national imaginary. Legally, through acts excluding Latina/os and Asians from citizenship, and socially, through targeted anti-immigration rhetoric, both groups have been racialized in the United States as outsiders. This form of racial discrimination, also called “nativistic racism,” forms the basis of several intersections of Latina/o and Asian American literature. Latina/o and Asian American literary works counter nativistic racism by emphasizing multiracial histories within the United States, by drawing attention to racial injustices, and by employing tropes of loyalty and betrayal to highlight the selective ways that the United States has defined citizenship and belonging along racial lines. Latina/o and Asian American texts may also recognize the US military interventions that brought Asians and Latin Americans to the United States as (post)colonial subjects, Cold War allies, and refugees. Some of these texts counter national narratives such as American exceptionalism and Cold War bilateralism; others protest the erasure of military actions overseas from dominant histories of the United States. In addition to suggesting comparative intersections, Latina/o and Asian American literatures also depict literal interactions when Latina/o characters feature prominently in Asian American texts and vice versa. Literature set in California and other areas with high Asian American and Latina/o populations portrays both the significant contact and common political interests between Latina/os and Asian Americans. This long history of contact appears in early texts that center on Asian American and Latina/o farmworkers; it continues in more recent literature featuring Latina/o and Asian American friendships, partnerships, and rivalries. Some Filipino texts emphasize cultural commonalities with Mexican Americans, including Spanish-language surnames and Catholicism. A final intersection of Latina/o and Asian American literature occurs in texts by authors who are both Asian and Latina/o, including Peruvians, Cubans, Mexicans, and other Latin Americans of Asian descent. Written in both English and Spanish, this literature draws attention to the transpacific connections between Asia and the Americas. While it is crucial to acknowledge the historical particularities of Latina/o and Asian American literature, as well as the diversity within each of these groups, recognizing the ways in which these literatures intersect is important to understanding cross-racial alliances of the past and potential solidarities for the future.
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.
Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita
Latina/o cultural production has long dealt in different ways with the impact of transnational capital, globalization, and imperialism not only on immigration from Latin America, especially since the 1970s, but also on Latina/o residents (whether citizens or immigrants) in the United States, particularly with respect to social location, positionality, and labor conditions. Of particular importance to contemporary Latina/o writers is noting that transnational capital has led not only to the restructuring of the U.S. economy but also to the creation of free trade zones in the Global South, especially on the Mexican border, where workers, especially female workers, are extremely exploited and subject to feminicide. In view of the continued participation of a number of Chicana/o workers in the agricultural fields of the Southwest and Northwest, Chicana/o writers have also been especially concerned with ecological issues and the health of all workers subject to pollution and contamination of the air, soil, and water. These are all issues reconstructed in Chicana/o—Latina/o literature, past and present.