Having grown substantially over the past two decades as an institutional presence and in methodological sophistication, the field of Latina/o American literature has coalesced sufficiently to require its own literary history. By this adjective “Latina/o” American, we refer to literature by writers of Latin American and Caribbean origin who find themselves annexed or incorporated into the United States (as in the case of Puerto Rico and the formerly northern half of Mexico), or who have migrated or descended from exiled or immigrant Hispanic, Latin American, and/or Caribbean peoples residing outside their place of origin. Initially starting as disparate community-supported research staking claims to institutional resources through literary manifestoes during the 1960s (e.g., Chicano studies and Puerto Rican studies), what now circulates as Latina/o American literary history has not only expanded to include the writing of numerous and influential Latina/o groups such as Cuban Americans, Dominican Americans, and U.S.-based Central and South Americans, but has also shifted from its originally narrow national foci into new critical conversations with American, Latin American, and other interdisciplinary and diasporic literary histories. The scholarly conversations across these fields have raised questions about the “when” and “where” of any ethno-racial literary history and the nationalist or idealist narratives that have tended to organize them.
The long-awaited chicken to the egg of Latina/o literary anthologies that began to circulate in the last two decades (Herencia, published by Oxford University Press in 2002 and the Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2011)), this first major Latina/o literary history of its kind has a sustained focus on the categories of race, class, gender, and sexuality that came to the fore in struggles for representation, and that remain urgent for this field. Their intersections generate a significant imperative for inquiry as bodies classified as “Hispanic or Latina/o” now constitute the largest, economically, and politically disenfranchised “minority” in the United States. This rapidly growing U.S. demographic is set to displace a longstanding “non-Hispanic white” majority in the pecking order of ethno-racial groups by the mid-twenty-first century. “Hispanic or Latina/o” remains the problematic label for a multilingual, multiracial, and mobile force with a long history in the Americas that has required the development of distinct analytics and methodologies for bringing into focus a new literary history.
What is in a name? Like historical circumstances transmitted from the past, and not of our choosing, names form part of the inherited conditions with which we make literary histories such as this one. Given that counting “Spanish surnamed” individuals functioned in the 1970s as one method of assembling a disparate group that has historically included descendants of the colonizers and of the colonized, of the enslavers and the enslaved, of those who write history and those whose history is unwritten, of those who do not remember and those who do or are in the process of remembering and redefining, we recognize that a variety of terms have emerged to refer to the changing object of study that necessitates this volume. As editors, we have permitted different labels to coexist and circulate according to the interpretive commitments of each contributor. If “Latina/o” represents a gender-inclusive adjective that refers to the persistence of Latin-ness or latinidad as it moves outside its place of origin, the “Latina/o American” of our title should not be confused with the “Latin American” that refers to the region proper, which another multivolume literary history published by Cambridge over a decade ago has already addressed. Nonetheless, these fields intersect and overlap in crucial ways, as we discuss below. Breaking the rule of Spanish grammar that makes the collective masculine-ending term speak as the natural universal, the term we use in this Introduction – “Latina/o” – calls attention to the persistent material effects of a male/female gender binary, and acknowledges long-standing feminist transgression of breaking grammatical rules to inscribe difference within the tradition. The limits of the binary form have given rise to the newer term “Latinx,” which conveys both gender neutrality and creates another ending to stand in for polymorphous forms of sexual and gender presentation in excess of a male/female and normalized-as-straight binary. By abandoning an inherited patronymic as Malcolm X did, and by making the last syllable of the non-Anglicized term an “x” (or equis), this still-novel term might suggest a post-feminist latinidad. All these terms emphasize a mobile and displaced latinidad, a term that itself evokes the violence of the Iberian Peninsula’s colonial projects while coming to represent a more inclusive descriptor. Rather than the term “Hispanic,” which fetishizes linguistic purity and tends to lump together Spain with its former colonies, often further subordinating non-European cultural forms, Latina/o calls attention to Francophone, Lusophone, and other intermingling among variegated migrant communities outside Latin America and the Caribbean.
The field’s methods and heterogeneous object of study render both a nation-based, monolingual or mono-ethno-racial framework insufficient. While this literary history does not offer a single, overarching, developmental narrative, it articulates how this emergent literary field has begun to periodize – drawing on distinct interrelated regional conjunctures – and to theorize the relationships among texts across space and time. In four parts that reach from the colonial period to the twenty-first century, this volume demonstrates how the fixed space of what is now the United States does not offer the geographic criteria for inclusion in this history. These chapters acknowledge cultural herencias or persistent colonial deformations deriving from Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States and beyond, all of which continue to shape Latina/o literary imagination and aesthetic form.
In large measure, the “transnational turn” in American Studies can be attributed to the introduction of the “border” as a key concept through scholarship in Latina/o literature, history, and criticism. This multivalent term refers to more than geographic borders, and includes the zones of contact among languages, cultures, and differently racialized or gendered groups. Likewise, Latin American Studies has benefited from a Latina/o studies interpretation of the cultural and political effects of people, capital, and culture moving across national borders from the Global South to the Global North and back again, with particular attention to how migrants negotiate competing national, economic, political, and cultural transitions, from the nineteenth century to a post–Cold War moment. In turn, interaction with American and Latin American studies has “worlded” Latina/o literary history. This volume foregrounds literary comparison, contact with multiple languages and cultures, the effects of shifting political borders and contexts, in and beyond this hemisphere, all of which have pushed the field to recognize its broader implications.
The methodological turn to comparative frameworks in Latina/o literary history has remained grounded in specific cultural expressions, practices, and relationships, thus countering the trend among transnational approaches to globalize everything and thus decontextualize, in an uncritically celebratory fashion, the dynamics of power that operate locally and globally, below, through, and above nation-states. The essays of The Cambridge History of Latina/o American Literature situate trans-American articulations within texts, writers, communities, and historical moments. Rather than seek a continuous, unbroken literary genealogy, this history rehearses particular scenes of struggle, the changing significance of central terms (such as “Latina/o” itself), disparate and discontinuous literary genres, variably structured by the institutions of governmentality, the flow of transmigrant communities and cultural forms, mobilized largely by the dominant systems of colonization and capitalism.
The deepening of temporal dimensions complements the new spatial and linguistic dimensions of Latina/o literary studies. When first founded in the 1960s and 1970s, Chicano and Puerto Rican studies were hard-pressed to locate literary texts written or published prior to 1959. Thanks to the archival research and methodological insights about the archive made possible by the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, scholars have convincingly demonstrated how Spanish colonial-era texts dating to the sixteenth century may be considered as antecedents to Latina/o literature with regard to its origins in hemispheric coloniality, and Spanish-language texts previously read as only part of a Latin American literary history have acquired new significance in representing or informing the perspectives, narratives, and literary forms that have emerged. The constellation of texts that figure in these chapters thus mediate the displacement and transculturation, or two-directional influence, due to asymmetrical contact in the border zones created by colonization, annexation, and migration. In particular, research into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has greatly expanded the number and scope of Latina/o literary texts, the majority of which were written in Spanish.
In effect, what had been previously considered to be a minor, late twentieth-century subset of U.S. ethnic literature has become a literature that predates and unseats monolingual and Anglo-cultural origin narratives. Latina/o literary history reconceptualizes U.S. literature and extends beyond it as a multilingual, multiple assemblage that often emerges from spaces in between nations, through creative remaking of official languages and dissenting from dominant national cultural discourses. Without the ostensible unity of a single racial category, this extensive and variegated Latina/o American literary history is marked by the minor use of globally dominant languages (predominantly Spanish, English, and Portuguese), as enriched by hundreds of suppressed or surviving indigenous Amerindian, African, and Asian languages, by the stubborn adherence to a reworked or hybridized mother tongue, or even by an untranslatable bilingualism in the face of pressures to assimilate and standardize. Different languages imply widely dispersed readerships, punctilious wit aimed specifically at bilinguals and transnational print-communities constantly engaged in translation.
The Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, a multidisciplinary initiative directed by Nicolás Kanellos since 1991, has made many of these texts and much of the criticism about them available to a wide range of readers either through literary anthologies or reprints through Arte Público Press, providing a critical apparatus and widespread accessibility for adoption in college and university courses. International scholarly initiatives (such as Casa de las Américas in Cuba where Rolando Hinojosa’s narratives and Juan Flores’s critical work on Puerto Rican literature and the Nuyorican diaspora have each received international recognition, or the teaching of these texts in British, European, Latin American, and other universities) have launched research and scholarly inquiry that opens the conversations around Latina/o literary and cultural history far beyond the United States.
The Cambridge History of Latina/o American Literature makes this cutting-edge research accessible to a wide scholarly audience interested in the global emergence of this field of study. Written by eminent scholars from the Americas and Europe, the essays in this volume highlight key texts and contexts for a wide range of literary genres, especially narrative prose, poetry, and performance. The chapters are arranged to orient researchers to the most current developments in the field, with close readings, intertextual connections, and case studies giving sense to historical and methodological debates. As such, The Cambridge History of Latina/o American Literature complements other titles in Cambridge University Press’s History series such as The Cambridge History of African American Literature, The Cambridge History of Asian American Literature, The Cambridge History of American Women’s Literature, and the multivolume histories of American and Latin American Literature.
This very complementarity raises the question: what points of tension distinguish Latina/o American literature from what we may think of as the parent fields of Latin American and (U.S.) American literary histories? If Latin American literary history focuses on the relationships among literary works by people who share a language and conceive of themselves in relation to a shared geographic space, Latina/o American literary history refers to works by and relating to minor groupings, geographically dispersed, which share neither a single language nor a single territorial, regional, or cultural reference point. Much more than a cultural origin or single region, movements and forms in response to historical processes of displacement and transculturation define this literature. Rather than a narrative or epic recounting of a singular origin or cumulative national project, this field is marked by disjointed processes of European colonization, the genocide of indigenous peoples, the uprooting of slavery, the exploitation of migrant labor, and the violent mestizaje introduced by rape and border-crossing, all of which shatter any narrative of incorporation, belonging, or wholeness.
Diverging from Latin American and U.S. interpretive frameworks, this literary history emerges from its activist origins in the 1960s to name the experience of a mainly working-class, minoritized group that must necessarily creatively engage displacement. As the history of a minor perspective from within the bowels of a still aggressive empire, and yet nevertheless still in contact and communication with distant patrias, Latina/o American literature bears an oblique subaltern relation to the unmarked “American” or U.S. literature that, until the mid-twentiethcentury, considered itself a branch of British literature. Betraying the trenchant residue of the colonial conditions from which it emerges, Latina/o American literature plays a crucial role in pressing dominant forms of North American literary studies to recognize its complicity with empire and to define itself more precisely as a literature of the United States and/or Canada. Latina/o American literary history similarly challenges its Latin American counterpart to acknowledge the extent to which the area studies framework through which it entered the academy originally did not fully consider the cultural politics of representation – especially persistent problematics of race, gender, sexuality, language, class, and coloniality – within light-skinned, Creole-dominant, masculinist Latin American, North American, and indeed, even Latina/o forms of nationalism or regionalism.
Latina/o American literary history is in dialogue with and intersects with African, Asian, and indigenous or Amerindian diaspora literary histories, which afford it indispensable theoretical resources, many of which are on display in this volume. The notion of diaspora as a heterogeneous field of entanglement without the possibility of return to a single origin, relevant especially to Afro-Latina/o but also to other diasporic writing, and the concept of intersectionality, are directly indebted to scholars of African American literature and culture, even as queer, Chicana and Caribbean feminism have also contributed to the groundwork of thinking through multiple, intersecting categories. At the edges of these fields, we glimpse the future work not included in this volume, such as, for example, an Asian and or Muslim Latina/o literary history, which will become increasingly relevant in light of expanding U.S. empire and ongoing historical research on Asians and Islam in the Americas. From Boukman Dutty and Cécile Fatima’s role in presiding over a syncretized Islamic and Afro-Caribbean religious ceremony in Bois Caiman to launch the Haitian revolution to discussions of the misrecognition and solidarity among Arabs or Muslims and Latinas/os in the context of U.S. global imperial engagements as documented by Moustafa Bayoumi, these avenues of inquiry will only grow alongside examinations of Filipina/o and other forms of Asian-latinidad). Similarly, we expect this research to expand in the direction of international literatures of latinidades in the sites where Latina/o migrants move, including Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa, and even Latin America and the Caribbean, which have become sites of return migration and landing points post-deportation.
Part and Chapter Descriptions
The Cambridge History of Latina/o American Literature is structured into four parts and an epilogue. The four parts offer a comprehensive overview of the development of Latina/o American literature from the Spanish colonial era to the contemporary moment, with particular care to move beyond stale debates over identity politics and thematic concerns to more productive ones over periodization, the impact of coloniality and authoritarian regimes, and the complexities of multidirectional transculturation at moments of unequal exchange.
Part I revisits the relationship between colonial-era expressive practices throughout the Americas and the Latina/o American texts they inform. Starting with the long colonial era between Columbus’s arrival to Hispaniola and the historical events that prompted a rethinking of sovereignty, and subsequent independence movements in the Spanish American colonies Latina/o literary history works to initiate a process of decolonization in its very methodology. Previous theoretical frameworks of Latina/o literature focused upon finding genealogies of resistance in Spanish colonial texts in those parts of the Spanish Empire that would later become the United States, but this section departs from those models by offering not a literary lineage, traceable by unbroken links deep into a specific territory’s colonial past, but rather a proleptic and contingent articulation of specific cultural productions, emergent literary genres, and singular authors whose influence extends from the colonial period to the present. At the literary level, towering intellectuals such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, indigenous texts such as Aztec codices, and performative practices such as the Requerimiento or Las Pastorelas, continue to inform the imaginary of subsequent Latina/o American literature.
As in all American literatures, Latina/o literary history begins with the texts of the original inhabitants of this hemisphere. Indigenous texts – such as the Popul Vuj, transcribed from an oral recitation in 1524 – languages, woven forms, and signs inscribed upon other material objects besides books have survived despite distortion, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation. Arturo Arias underscores the often disavowed or underestimated significance of the relations of power between the ego conquiro (Dussel and Mignolo) and the indigenous women and men who bore the brunt of this violence. These relations of power take shape in the context of a genocide (killing some 86 percent of the indigenous inhabitants during the colonial period) that peaked between the fifteenth century and the twentieth. Late into the latter century, migrants from South and Central America of indigenous background have continued to be affected as a result of colonialism and anti-indigenous racialization; the film El Norte (1983), on which Arias collaborated as a screen writer, depicts the dangerous border-crossing journey of two Guatemalan migrants to the United States after they flee the Guatemalan government’s persecution during that nation’s civil war. Arias’s chapter calls for the acknowledgement of this history of colonial violence, including sexual violence affecting male- and female-gendered bodies, as a point of departure for interpreting the literature of the descendants of the colonizers and of the colonized in Latina/o literary history. Gloria Anzaldúa pioneered decolonial research that led her to coin the concept of nepantla from a Nahuatl word that articulated the subjective experience of invasion from the perspective of Mexicas (Aztecs). Arias suggests that Latina/o criticism might also usefully bring the tools of European theory to bear on the “phantasmic presence of indigenity,” in order to consider representations of the repercussions of this psychic and physical violence.
Pedro García-Caro follows the clues of a previous generation of “recovery” scholarship to uncover a new archive of the colonial period that includes secular and religious theater and spectacle among many other performance genres that circulated in Hispanic colonial territories of what is now the United States. García-Caro’s research drives home the point that the indigenous audience of this performative tradition is “captive,” i.e., imprisoned, within a colonial matrix and subject to performances that celebrate the extirpation and banishing of that audience’s pre-Columbian practices and beliefs. This chapter reveals how this literary tradition emerges out of, and has long been fully complicit with, a project of violent incorporation of this captive indigenous audience into a Latina/o sphere.
At the methodological level, the insights into “the coloniality of power” developed within Latin American literary and cultural theory have provided a crucial vocabulary through which to examine gendered subject formation under conditions of coloniality, thus vexing dominant narratives about how literary theory “travels” in Latina/o literary scholarship. While the dominant narrative posits a trickling down of Continental philosophy, filtered by the mainstream U.S. academy into a pre-theoretical, identitarian academic backwater, this volume’s reimagining of colonization indicates that Latina/o literature is itself a creative point of departure. Elsa Sampson Vera Tudela shows how a wide range of creative and interpretive representations of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz reveal a long-standing tradition of Latina feminist readings that claim the erudite Mexican nun as a theoretical and performative precursor and influence. Notable elements of sorjuanian tricks of the weak and performative practice include material and gendered embodiment as a foundational contingency of all intellectual and creative work. Sor Juana writes as a gendered subaltern subject with canny insight about how coloniality is also always gendered. Early twentieth-century Chicana feminist Jovita González and contemporary Latina performance artists and writers alike acknowledge and celebrate Sor Juana’s revolutionary sexual difference, and as a woman with no husband to “tuck in.” She critically engages the gatekeepers of the patriarchal Roman Catholic Church, from within spaces such as the convent, where women enjoyed opportunities to practice alternatives to maternal, heterosexual reproduction. Above all, Sor Juana’s powerful, unfinished posthumous lyric “Romance 51” affirms her writings’ irreducible difference from existing colonial knowledge, and illegibility through any of the limiting labels or interpretive systems derivative therefrom.
Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel’s chapter acknowledges the significance of the colonial period, which does not end in the nineteenth century, but continues, in some cases, into the present. With caveats about how narratives of the colonial period in Latina/o literary history often problematically elide thousands of years of indigenous civilizations or ignore the significance of black struggles for self-emancipation and self-government, Martínez-San Miguel interrogates how the emphasis on a Spanish “antecedence” to English colonizers problematically recenters European-descended Creole settler protagonists. Through a generative reading of foundational anthologies and histories of Latina/o literature, she notes the relevance of colonial period texts for understanding the matrix that forged contemporary Latina/o identities, especially for an increasingly heterogeneous Latina/o population that includes South, Central, and Caribbean migrants in the United States. This reading observes the persistent effects of coloniality that continue to isolate Latina/o literary studies from relevant theoretical work in Native American, colonial Latin American, Caribbean, or decolonial U.S. American studies. Martínez-San Miguel’s comparative and decolonial approach reads against the grain of the colonial archive in order to perceive the limits of what we know of this period, and emphasizes the need to listen for the multiple and often conflicting voices in the archive. She calls our attention to asymmetrical relationships of power within and among the intersecting fields of Latina/o, Latin American, Caribbean, Native, and U.S. American studies, and calls for vigilance about the persistent blind spots of Latina/o studies. Drawing on Edward Said, Martínez-San Miguel suggests that we read for secular affiliations rather than organicist and triumphalist assumptions of genealogical descent from the colonizers to the present day.
José Antonio Mazzotti documents the circulation of Spanish-language terms dating to the seventeenth century – such as “criollo,” “mestizo,” and “Latino” – that are fundamental to Latina/o literature and likewise inform a Latina/o American literary imaginary. He sets them in contrast to terms that have emerged in subaltern writings and social protest texts as alternatives to such European-derived terms. These counter-terms, such as “Anahuac,” “Abya-Yala,” and “Aztlán,” also circulated contemporaneously within subaltern communities. Even a seemingly neutral term like “mestizo,” carried a derogatory meaning in most written texts through the mid-nineteenth century despite being revindicated as early as 1609 by the Andean writer Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, himself a mestizo. According to Mazzotti, the term “Latina/o” cannot pretend to designate an oppositional group within the United States or other contexts where migrants from Latin America create minor oppositional cultures, without full acknowledgment of how it is always also marked by the trauma of colonial violence and by the internal exclusions of Creole-led nationalisms that formed in the wake of colonization. Mazotti offers us a deep historical sense of “Latina/o” and “latinidad,” noting their loaded, Eurocentric significance. Indeed, all these chapters excavate aspects of a long, incomplete Latina/o literary history in which the struggle over the meaning of a discontinuous past informs contemporary definition of the field’s scope, key terms, and its relation to subjugated or submerged knowledges, often available only through the filter of the colonial archive.
Part II focuses on the hemispheric aspects of Latina/o literature as it mapped out the possibilities of republican interactions between and coalitions among the nations of the Americas. Already in this period it is possible to see the limits of these visions once the United States turned increasingly imperialistic. This section covers the period from the late eighteenth century until the early twentieth century, and includes key historical moments, such as the dismembering aftermath of the Tupac Amaru II and Micaela Bastidas rebellion of 1780–1781, the end of the Revolution of the Thirteen Colonies in 1783, the Haitian Revolution 1791–1804, the four-decade-long Spanish occupation of New Orleans beginning in 1769, the wars of Spanish American independence between 1810–1821, the U.S.–Mexican War of 1846–1848, the wars of Cuban and Puerto Rican independence 1868–1878, the U.S.–Spanish-Cuban War of 1895–1902, and the Cuban Race War of 1912, in order to suggest their relevance for periodizing Latina/o literary history.
Emphasizing the blurred and mutually contaminating space between Latin American and Latina/o literary histories, Maria del Pilar Blanco brings into focus specific uses and inflections of the adjective “Latin,” as it derives from Latin American literature, and then examines specific late nineteenth-century uses of this term in writing outside of the region. Her chapter traces the emergence of this term in travel writings that reflect on the different meanings that latinidad acquires inside the United States. While Blanco revisits the foundational border regions between the United States and Mexico or among Caribbean and Latin American writers traveling or residing in the north, she provocatively invites us to consider Latina/o literary history not simply as it interacts with the cultures of the United States, but rather as a force that increasingly transculturates literatures across the globe.
Carmen Lamas recuperates exiled Cuban Roman Catholic priest Félix Varela’s near thirty-year residence in New York City, and in particular his writings in Cartas a Elpidio (1835–1838) and in numerous U.S.-based, English-language Catholic periodicals as an early instance of Latina/o writing. Complicating the prevailing focus on Varela’s supposed authorship of the historical novel Jicotencál (1826), Lamas depicts him as an activist community leader in New York who fostered coalitional politics across cultural lines for the protection of civil rights. Varela mobilized a largely Irish Catholic minority to critique Protestant denigration of the Roman Catholic Church and fight discrimination against immigrant Catholics while contributing to the secularization of the Protestant-biased public-school curriculum. According to Lamas Varela’s activism reveals how cross-cultural alliances against discriminatory practices became available under certain circumstances of mutual respect.
Kirsten Silva Gruesz, who has influentially raised the question of what was Latina/o literature, reveals a long history of Latina/o writing in the trans-American contact zone of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico. Bringing into focus three distinct historical nodes of writing that merit further research and investigation – mid-nineteenth-century serialized romances, early twentieth-century modernist fiction, and contemporary Latina/o writing that has become more visible in the post-Katrina era – Gruesz interrogates the elision of the long-standing Spanish cultural influence (a slippery, wide adjective that includes large contingents of Canary Islanders, Hondurans, Cubans, and Mexicans, among many others), which led to a widespread misreading of New Orleans’s Latin-ness as primarily French. She also meticulously documents a long-standing bi- or trilingual print culture in this port city and border region that plots the city as a part of the circum-Caribbean region, within Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. literary traditions, thus marking the nexus as a key point of departure for Latina/o literary history.
Rodrigo Lazo reminds us that this volume has the significant task of providing a literary history for a body of writing that since its inception has not had one. He reflects on the task of explaining the relationships between the historical periods that anthologies have introduced, sui generis, without the benefit of a literary history that would explain the logic – imposed or imagined – of the relationship between historically, geographically, and formally disparate literary texts. Revisiting the definition of literary history, outlined by René Wellek, as contingent upon history and criticism, Lazo calls upon this and future literary histories to theorize the relationships between periods and texts in a field without uncritically mapping Latina/o literary history onto literary periods that derive strictly from U.S. or Latin American histories. Lazo acknowledges the significance of recovery and mobile archives that often move “in unexpected directions,” including the biographical narratives and transnational routes of many “recovered” or long-marginalized Latina/o writers. He proposes criteria for explaining the connections across time – print culture and economic conditions – that in turn reveal the influence of a theoretical framework that attends to the material and economic forces shaping superstructural forms such as literature. Lazo offers periods for the nineteenth century that reflect the role of print culture, exilic political movements, and economic interests in the emergence of writing by racially and economically privileged Latina/o Creoles. One such case in point is María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, a scion of the declining formerly Mexican landowning elite of Alta California, who takes up fiction writing in English during the 1870s and 1880s as a way to sustain her family when she finds herself widowed and facing economic necessity in the wake of California’s annexation by the United States.
Continuing this focus on the long cultural, economic, and political aftermath of the U.S.–Mexican War of 1846–1848, Jesse Alemán underscores the unique regional contribution of the states that once constituted the northern half of Mexico and teases out the genres – the testimonio, the corrido, and the memoir – and the material conditions through which these regional Latina/o forms articulated a collective Mexican American critique of U.S. aggression as a creative response to the trauma of displacement and racialization. This chapter usefully recuperates the struggles, starting as early as 1855, to retain Spanish and the Spanish-language press, including the long-standing press of New Mexico, where early working-class Chicana feminist writers defended the preservation of Spanish-language literature and journalism as a means to preserve the cultural livelihood and identity of nuevomejicanos and californios, surrounded as they were by a domineering Anglo presence.
Milagros López-Peláez Casellas surveys nineteenth-century women writers from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean who overcame gendered barriers to publish novels, poetry, and political prose, and who, in some cases, lived or sojourned far from home in Paris, Madrid, Chicago, Washington, D.C., or New York. As most of these writers came from elite Creole backgrounds, their feminism is distorted by a possessive investment in whiteness. This chapter usefully glosses the limits of a liberal “Creole” tradition while acknowledging these early pioneers’ contributions to articulating a female-gendered subjectivity and authorship in overlapping traditions of Latin American and Latina literature.
During the 1880s, Latina/o literature adopted a new form of literary prose, la crónica, in an effort to translate the culture and politics of U.S. modernity for Spanish-language readers. A distinctly Latina/o modernist aesthetic emerges in New York-based Cuban José Martí’s poetic manifestoes, essays, and unpublished fragments, not unlike those of his French contemporaries Baudelaire and Flaubert. As such, Latina/o modernity critically dissented from the reigning literary aesthetic (realism), from the emerging instrument of U.S. hemispheric domination (Pan-Americanism), and from the increasingly virulent segregation and violence that characterized U.S. racism. Laura Lomas highlights the writings of Martí in establishing connections among Hispanic Caribbean and Latin American migrants, dispossessed people of Mexican descent, excluded Chinese migrants, Jim-Crowed African Americans, the militarily embattled Sioux, and non-English-speaking European migrant workers stigmatized for their anarchist political views.
This section’s end date of 1912 gestures toward the violent foreclosure of Martí’s idealized post-racial republic that occurred with “el Doce,” a “race war” in which a U.S.-backed white criollo elite (including José Martí’s only son) massacred several thousand Afro-Cuban men, women, and children, including many veterans of the Wars for Independence, after accusing the Partido Independiente de Color (PIC) of being “racist.” The leaders of this uprising, in particular Evaristo Estenoz and Pedro Ivonnet, had associations with U.S.-based activists such as W. E. B. DuBois and Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, and asserted Afro-Cubans’ right to full democratic and economic equality, including recognition of their contributions to the long struggle for national liberation. The history of this black-led social movement has largely remained repressed under both liberal capitalist and socialist Creole-led regimes. Diasporic treatment of this and other histories of Latin American and Caribbean black insurgencies has expanded space for critical theorizing and historical memory of such black-affirming and violently repressed movements for liberation.
As Silvio Torres-Saillant demonstrates in his essay on the emergence of Afro-latinidad, the point is that the hemisphere’s racist flames equally derive from Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S.-styled racisms, all of which continue to burn in the diaspora. This hemispheric racism has called into being ethnic sub-traditions that will remain urgent and necessary as long as violence directed against people of color persists. This chapter, which closes Part II, examines the emergence of “Afro-Latino” as a site of critical inquiry within the field of Latina/o studies that critically redefines the historical Latin American tradition by acknowledging its entrenched and persistent negrophobic racism. As the experience of living at the intersections of major racial, economic, and cultural discourses has defined the lives of African-descended people within Latin American and Caribbean diasporas to the United States, the field centers representations of these experiences in the writings of Afro-Latina/o authors. Doubly marginalized by hoary U.S. and Latin American traditions of anti-black theory and practice, and by the failure of dominant discourses of blackness within the United States to acknowledge fully the heterogeneous practices of blackness with roots in the Hispanophone Caribbean and Latin America, these authors offer a rich counter-tradition of Afro-Latina/o writing.
Part III centers on the gradual emergence of Latina/o American literature onto a global stage as the dynamics of modernity unleash large-scale military conflicts and consequent migrations. Aggressive U.S. interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, alongside the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution during the early twentieth century, created massive displacements and migrations northward, resulting in a literature that criticized the exclusion of Latinas/os from the U.S. national imaginary. U.S. military occupations of Cuba (1906–1909), Nicaragua (1912–1933), Haiti (1915–1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916–1924) disrupted self-governance and inscribed U.S. security forces into subsequent generations of diaspora writing. The Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans, but this was perceived as an unwelcome imposition to forestall the possibility of independence while allowing the U.S. military to draft Puerto Ricans to serve in the First World War. Puerto Rican writers chronicled their community’s continued exclusion, and often remained committed to national liberation struggles or other forms of cultural independence. Depression-era deportations of tens of thousands of Mexican nationals and Mexican American citizens alike by the U.S. government contributed to the constructions of Latina/o migrants and citizens as “illegal” and “deportable.” By mid-century, violent industrialization programs such as “Operation Bootstrap” had displaced tens of thousands who migrated to New York and other East Coast cities. The tropicalization of New York and the eventual development of a vibrant Nuyorican literary scene, starting in the 1940s with Julia de Burgos and others, found fulsome expression during the 1960s and 1970s and continues to the present day.
As decolonization proceeded on a global scale after the Second World War, Latina/o writers, some inspired by the Cuban Revolution, turned toward revolutionary art even as Cuban American exiles arrived to form strongly anticommunist communities in south Florida and New Jersey. First propelled by the Chicano and Puerto Rican movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Latina/o literature underwent a cultural nationalist renaissance in formal aesthetic terms, articulating a militant imperative to represent the radicalized Latina/o community in a deep critical engagement with the cultural dynamics of the United States during the U.S.–Vietnam War. Brown power groups such as the Chicano Brown Berets and the Puerto Rican Young Lords – inspired by Black Panthers – sought to address problems of economic redlining, governmental neglect, and racial discrimination through direct-action strategies such as street protests, takeovers of governmental and university offices, and mass boycotts. The purpose of aesthetics became increasingly and directly politicized: to instruct the masses about their untaught histories, to instill pride in their suppressed cultural practices (especially the use of Spanish), and to mobilize them to agitate for state resources and social respect. Throughout this period, anticolonial and decolonial imaginaries remained vital aspects of Latina/o literature even as the United States initiated and consolidated its role as global hegemon, with particularly devastating results for the Americas.
In his essay, Antonio López explores the possibility of accessing the seemingly elusive and intangible elements of everyday moments of the past – sights, sounds, smell, and touch – that inform the labor and political movements of early-twentieth-century Latinas/os through the writings and voices of Emma Tenayuca, Luisa Capetillo, Eusebia Cosme, and Alberto O’Farrill. Each of these figures – Mexicana, Boricua, Afro-Cubana, and Afro-Cubano respectively – engaged various sites of performance that left affective and sensory traces upon the written page. Whether on the picket lines (Tenayuca), as a lectora on the tobacco-rolling factory floor (Capetillo), in front of audiences performing declamaciones (Cosme), or performing in teatro bufo (O’Farrill), these historical actors imprinted the powerful affect of their vernacular performances for subsequent generations, defined a Latina/o public sphere and pioneered Latina feminist perspectives dating to the early twentieth century. As such, they advanced the critique of colonial capitalism that would continue as a through-line of Latina/o thought throughout the rest of the twentieth century.
The impact of the Mexican Revolution on the history of the Americas cannot be underestimated. As the first major civil war of the twentieth century, the Revolution not only shaped Latin American nationalism for decades to come but also initiated the century’s first great wave of migration from south to north in the Americas as nearly a million Mexican war refugees fled to the United States. The U.S. government, responding to fears of non-white migration from Mexico and Eastern Europe, enacted the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act in 1924, creating the Border Patrol, a racialized immigration quota system, and the conceptual framework for the “illegal alien.”1 While the 1924 Immigration Act was replaced by the less restrictive Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the former continues to expand its militarized presence on the U.S.–Mexico border. Revisiting the consequences of the Mexican Revolution for subsequent generations, Yolanda Padilla reframes scholarly conversations about the literary impact of transnationally situated border writers for post-Revolutionary projects of Mexican national consolidation. Arguing against a Mexican nationalist interpretation of the novel of the Mexican Revolution as the nation’s entry into modernity, Padilla makes the U.S.–Mexico border region and its inhabitants key figures not only in the history of the Revolution but also in its literary legacies. The Revolutionary-era and post-Revolution works of fronteriza/o and migrant writers such as Mariano Azuela, Leonor Villegas de Magnón, Sara Estela Ramírez, María Cristina Mena, Conrado Espinoza, and Daniel Venegas suggest that the meaning of the Revolution begins outside, and continues to exceed the national boundaries of the Mexican state. Padilla’s readings point to the role of actors whose concerns lay elsewhere than the creation of a coherent Mexican state but rather in the fostering of fluid transnational fronteriza/o subjectivities.
Responding to the dominant conceptualization of modernity as a Western European, metropolitan experience that eventually diffused across the rest of the world, recent scholarship in Latina/o literary studies has examined how Latina/o writers of the first half of the twentieth century engaged the question of modernity not as a deferred or belated experience but rather as a contemporary one. David Colón’s work on modernist poets from the first decades of the twentieth century reveals the ligaments that bind together traditions and shows how such interrelationships came to be ignored. Revisiting the question of latinidades and modernism, Colón argues for an approach that does not view these experiential analytics as separate or even antithetical but rather mutually constitutive. William Carlos Williams, a “high” modernist and associate of Ezra Pound, drew inspiration from the Caribbean and Spanish-speaking environment of his mother’s home, and from constant contact with the working-class immigrant New Jersey communities of Paterson and East Rutherford. Salomón de la Selva, the Nicaraguan-born Nobel Prize nominee, translated into unaccented English the hard rhymes made famous by the great poet of modernismo, Rubén Darío, after serving as his translator. Julia de Burgos’s intimate poetry irrupts during her nomadic travels outside of her island of birth, and echoes de la Selva’s critique of dollar diplomacy in Nicaragua and the Caribbean. The modernist poetics of Williams, de la Selva, and de Burgos challenge conventional narratives about modernism as a European phenomenon that diffused to the global peripheries. Rather, the works of these poets identify the proliferation of modernisms across the Americas through the transculturation, travel, and colonial displacement that characterizes the experiences of latinidad in the early twentieth century.
If the Puerto Rican roots of William Carlos Williams have been overlooked in discussions of literary modernism in the United States, so too have been the Puerto Rican roots of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, one of the key figures in African American literary history. Latina/o voices have often been absent from discussions of the modernism of the Harlem Renaissance, despite Schomburg’s Afro-Latinidad. Schomburg, who spent his youth in Puerto Rico before migrating to New York City in 1891, later anglicized his first name to “Arthur” as part of his affiliation with English-speaking African-American and West Indian historians, Masons, and bibliophiles. The contentious scholarly debate over how to interpret Arturo/Arthur Schomburg’s allegiances and legacies is addressed by César Salgado in his essay. Arguing against the two main interpretations of Schomburg as primarily engaged in either an Anglophone African American intellectual project or a Hispanophone Caribbean Latino one, Salgado makes the case for a third possibility that reimagines Africanity in a trans-American context: Afro-Latinidad. In particular, Schomburg’s Spanish-language correspondence with Langston Hughes suggests that, far from abandoning his Puerto Rican roots, Schomburg strategically redeploys it to influence another of the Harlem Renaissance’s key figures in a trans-American, bilingual direction. As such, Salgado suggests that Africanity dating to the period of the Spanish colonialism and the Renaissance offers the key missing term from the scholarly debate that would otherwise define Schomburg solely within U.S. terms of black and white.
The Second World War and its consequences – the Cold War and global decolonization movements – form the contextual framework for the Latina/o literature of the second half of the twentieth century. The latter in particular informs the Chicano and Puerto Rican cultural nationalist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the focus of the next two chapters on Latina/o poetics. Even as Chicanos – the self-adopted term to denote a Mexican-American community acting according to decolonial principles – mobilized en masse against the U.S.–Vietnam War and racial discrimination and for cultural, economic, and political autonomy, artists mobilized to enact a revolution in aesthetics. Rafael Pérez-Torres analyzes the aesthetic imperatives of Chicano poetry in floricanto (flower and song) to represent the struggles of the Chicano raza (people) against U.S. racism and to revalorize the indigenous practices and knowledges otherwise lost to colonial domination. Drawing upon the concept of Aztlán, the mythical geographic origin of the Aztecs and imagined community of a Chicano nation, Chicano Movement poets such as Alurista, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, José Montoya, Ricardo Sánchez, and raúlrsalinas formulated alternative epistemologies through complex multilingual performances that mixed English, Spanish, caló (Chicano street vernacular), and sometimes Amerindian languages. But, as Chicana activists and poets noted at the time, the Chicano Movement also replicated heterosexist and patriarchal modes of domination while criticizing racial and class hierarchies. While central to the creation of a Chicano collectivity, the poetry of the movimiento often created heteronormative and masculinist narratives of cultural nationalist inclusion that Chicana poets such as Lorna Dee Cervantes and Bernice Zamora challenged in their poetry.
In his chapter on the rise of Nuyorican poetry, Urayoán Noel proposes that this literature should be read less as an expression of an essential Puerto Rican identity or a single location, and more as the instantiation of a Puerto Rican diasporic poetics in constant motion, less about the fixity of such identities, and more as the fluid processes that mark their contingent yet critical production through both roots and routes. Nuyorican or Nuyorico poets such as Miguel Algarín, Victor Hernández Cruz, Pedro Pietri, Miguel Piñero, Sandra María Esteves, Tato Laviera, Willy Perdomo, Lorraine Sutton, Caridad de la Luz, Lydia Cortés, and Nancy Mercado established a polyvalent, multilingual intersectional site of the Boricua diaspora-in-motion, challenging both hegemonic representations of “a culture of poverty” as well as cultural nationalist imaginaries of authenticity. Spanning a period from the late 1960s through the contemporary moment, Noel considers the multiple legacies and future directions of this performative, irreverent, and mobile tradition into the present as it continues to negotiate neoliberalism, militarism, and gentrification, from Chinese American Martin Wong’s 1980s paintings of Miguel Piñero in La Vera de Nuyorico to Li Yun Alvarado’s Nuyorico, CA (2013).
Unlike Puerto Ricans who entered with citizenship but still felt like second-class citizens, Cubans seeking entry into the United States after the Cuban Revolution encountered a much more welcoming reception from the U.S. government than most other migrants from Latin America.2 William Luis examines the complexities of exile, language, and diaspora in Cuban American literature before and especially after the Cuban Revolution. The particularities of the Cold War diaspora created, on one hand, distinct advantages for those Cubans fleeing communism to the United States, but, on the other, fomented the politics of exilic nostalgia that defined a significant portion of the Cuban American literary output post-1959; Luis includes Carlos Eire, Roberto Fernández, Pablo Medina, Carolina Hospital, and Gustavo Pérez-Firmat in this category. Other Cuban American writers, mostly notably those not associated with the exilic Miami community such as Oscar Hijuelos and Cristina García, examined the diaspora experience of transculturation in the United States and the vexed possibilities for freedom of expression in sexual and racial terms. Writing outside Miami opened up space particularly for gays and lesbians (Achy Obejas, Reinaldo Arenas, Richard Blanco) and for Afro-Cubans (Lourdes Casal, Evelio Grillo, Adrían Castro).
Performance art from high drama to improvised street theater has formed an important aspect of Latina/o literature since the mid-twentieth century. In his essay, Ricardo Ortíz traces the emergence of a properly “Latino” theater from its origins during the Brown Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Even as Chicano and Puerto Rican theater of this period – as typified by Luis Valdez and Miguel Piñero respectively – mobilized a largely realist aesthetics in the service of the cultural nationalist movements, Cuban American playwright María Irene Fornés articulated a Latina presence within mainstream institutions of U.S. theatrical production through award-winning plays such as Fefu and Her Friends (1977). However, the general exclusion of Latinas/os from institutional venues led to the rise of performance art as a key genre, as witnessed by the emergence of artists such as Henry Gamboa, Coco Fusco, Carmelita Tropicana, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña during the 1980s and 1990s. In the twenty-first century, Latina/o dramatists such as Nilo Cruz, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Quíque Avila, and, most recently, Lin-Manuel Miranda, have reinvigorated mainstream theater with their critical examinations of the United States from the perspective of latinidades. In particular, Miranda’s award-winning hip-hop reimagining of the origins of the United States as a Caribbean immigrant story in Hamilton suggests the profundity of the coming transformation of U.S. theater in Latina/o literature.
Part IV of the volume highlights key literary developments of contemporary Latina/o literature within the context of the massive transformations in Latina/o communities wrought by the last decade of the Cold War during the 1980s and the rise of neoliberalism during the 1990s. Significant Latina/o diasporas from Central America and the Dominican Republic came into existence as a result of Cold War policies, while massive population displacements, due to neoliberalist economic policies implemented at the behest of the United States in Mexico as well as Central and South America, intensified the migrant streams al Norte. Developing and maintaining transnational ties via air corridors, electronic media, and the Internet, Latina/o communities in the United States expanded as a major supply of cheap labor, an ethnic community with deep-seated social problems, and a political scapegoat for anti-immigration nativists. Responding to this triangulation as a pathological “problem,” Latina/o literature asserted a prominent position for Latinas/os in the impending demographic and cultural remaking of the contemporary United States, especially in light of official recognition in the 2000 Census of Latinas/os as a group larger than that of African Americans and projected to become numerically more significant than any other “minor” grouping by 2040. In other words, Latina/o literature foresees a time in the not-too-distant future when the United States may at last embrace itself as a Latina/o American nation. The essays in this section trace this trajectory of Latina/o literature as it exits the cultural nationalist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and emerges into post- or critically nationalist reconfigurations. During this period, Latina/o critics pioneered border theory that became influential across the globe, and in particular in Latina feminist, queer, postcolonial and postmodern Latina/o theory. This section historicizes the current moment of cultural conflict in which difference and discontinuity has replaced identity and unity as the connective tissues that explain a minor literature. The emphasis on difference includes new genres and media, and cultural responses to intensified local policing and global violence that explain the scope of this heterogeneous literary history.
As migration from the southern half to the northern half of the Americas parallels a global migratory shift where the majority of the globe now dwells in urban centers, the question of migration’s effects looms ever more significantly as a defining characteristic of the world's economic, political, and cultural systems. In this period, Latina/o literature has provided the aesthetic basis to reimagine said migration beyond U.S. nationalist concerns about terrorism, job loss, and undesired cultural change. Even as the 1965 immigration reforms did away with racially biased annual national quotas, subsequent major changes in immigration policy and enforcement (1986, 1990, 1996, and post–September 11, 2001) have increasingly restricted documented migration and virulently criminalized undocumented migration, creating in the latter what historian Mae Ngai has termed “impossible subjects,” or non-citizens who embody a crisis of governability for nation-states. Latina/o literature has increasingly represented this condition, both as a reflection of the substantial presence of unauthorized migrants from Mexico, Central America, and the Hispanophone Caribbean within Latina/o communities and as an extended metaphor for the racialized condition of latinidades within the United States. As Marta Caminero-Santangelo writes in her essay, Latina/o literature traces the increasingly felt ethical imperative on the part of Latina/o writers to address the injustices encountered by migrants in their translation to the United States while also combatting the white nationalisms that render even U.S. citizens of color as undesirable aliens.
Part of the groundswell of feminist and nationalist movements of the 1970s, and also a critical reaction to them, Latina feminism has been a key influence upon Latina/o literary studies, especially since the publication of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Chicana lesbian feminists Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga in 1981. Vanessa Pérez Rosario makes the case that contributions by Chicana, Puerto Rican, and other Latin American and Caribbean diaspora feminists powerfully define current Latina feminist methodological concerns. Tracing the precursors of this decolonial feminist practice to anarchist and nationalist activists such as Luisa Capetillo and Lolita Lebrón, Pérez Rosario indicates how the contemporary Latina feminist approaches owe much to the interrogation of mind/body hierarchy, and to a critique of heterosexist and masculinist cultural nationalism by Anzaldúa and Moraga during the 1980s. The theorization of the Latina feminist subject through intersectionality is further developed in more recent memoirs of cultural and familial survival by Puerto Ricans Aurora Levins Morales and Irene Vilar, and by the Colombian-Cuban Daisy Hernández. As such, Latina feminism remains a vibrant, central force within Latina/o literary studies.
Just as Latina feminism has changed the conceptual framework of Latina/o literary studies, so too has the influx of migrants from the Central American nations of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) changed the idea of latinidad within the United States since the 1980s. The literature of U.S. Central Americans points to a vexed history of diasporic migration initiated in large part by U.S. Cold War policies in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s and continued by neoliberal trade policies and U.S. deportation policies. In 1979, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) overthrew the U.S.-supported dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, in conjunction with civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. Afraid of a Central American domino effect in which “backyard” nations would turn communist, the United States supported the repression of organized working-class and indigenous groups who demanded human and labor rights in an effort to undermine leftist guerrilla movements in Guatemala and El Salvador. The resultant flow of Central American war refugees (who were, for political reasons, classified largely as economic migrants) to the United States increased the Central American-origin population nine-fold between 1980 and 2013, to over 3.1 million, including some 80,000 unaccompanied Central American minors released from detention between 2013 and 2015.3
In her essay, Ana Patricia Rodríguez outlines how these dynamics have led to contrasting generational outcomes in terms of U.S. Central American literature. First-generation U.S. Central Americans writers such as Mario Bencastro, Horacio Castellanos Moya, and Martivón Galindo, dealing with trauma of state repression, attempt to address the diasporic impasse of seeking justice back home through testimonio while quietly surviving in the United States. The 1.5-generation writers such as Tanya María Barrientos, Francisco Goldman, and Héctor Tobar, whom Rodríguez terms “postmemorial,” negotiate the difficult terrain of familial and communal memory in the diaspora as they did not experience the violence of the civil wars firsthand, but nonetheless still feel the effects upon their parents and other older relatives that extend down to them. Second-generation authors, more acculturated to the United States and more comfortable in English, address issues of the lack of communal political visibility cultivated by the first generation as part of its survival strategy. These authors, often women who explore hierarchies of race, gender, and sexual identity, include Maya Chinchilla, Lorena Duarte, and Leticia Hernández-Linares.
In her essay, Crystal Kurzen examines Latina/o life writing – or “self-writing,” as she terms it – as a key discursive site for the development of Latina/o literature. While always in conversation with the self-reflexive Western European tradition of writing the self into individual subjectivity since the Renaissance, Latina/o life writing, as expressed through the subgenres of autobiography, memoir, testimonio, and even novels, differs from the normative trajectory of Western life-writing through its introduction of communal as well as individual subjectivities, especially in the testimonio. This turn to the communal is out of necessity, as Kurzen writes, as structural conditions of colonial, racial, and gender domination did not allow for the same experience of subject-making to be realized for non-white, non-male, non-literate groups. When conditions did allow, Latina/o life writing turned to collective subject-making to register resistance to abject subjectification; some mid-twentieth-century Chicano writers such as José Antonio Villareal (Pocho, 1959) and Ernesto Galarza (Barrio Boy, 1971) attempted to meld individualist and communal concerns even as Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory (1982) attempted to fully privilege the individual over the communal. Kurzen notes that life writing has assumed particular importance for queer Chicana feminists Cherríe Moraga and Norma Elia Cantú, who move between literary genres in their life-writing texts (Loving in the War Years: lo que nunca pasó por sus labios, 1983 and Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la frontera, 1995, respectively) to assert themselves into patriarchal and heteronormative (cultural) nationalist narratives that would otherwise silence their voices. Similarly, life writing has become a vehicle for gay Latino writers such as Cuban American Richard Blanco (The Prince of Los Cocuyos, 2014) seeking to dismantle heteronormative parameters of agency.
The focus of Norma Elia Cantú’s contribution is the intersection of poetry, the historical core of Latina/o literature with deep roots in the literary and oral traditions of pre-Columbian and colonial-era communities, and the largely grassroots institutions that Latina/o communities have created to preserve and advance this art form. As such, Latina/o communities have a long tradition of supporting poetry. Poems were a mainstay of Spanish-language periodicals since the mid-nineteenth century and the preferred aesthetic idiom of the Puerto Rican and Chicano literary renaissance of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since then, community-origin workshops such as Macondo and Canto Mundo have fostered the next generations of poets and writers in continuance of that tradition. As Cantú relates, poetry retains an important role in the articulation of latinidades today, particularly insofar as Latina/o poets choose the Spanish language or bilingual code-switching to construct ties to the literary traditions of Latin America and the lived experiences of the borderlands respectively.
As is the case with U.S. Central Americans, Dominican Americans have fundamentally altered the sense of latinidad in the United States, further pluralizing it into latinidades. Sophie Maríñez expands the definition of what diasporic experiences shall be encompassed by latinidades in her essay on “The Quisqueya Diaspora.” While the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic have sent significant numbers of migrants to the United States since the 1970s, literary scholars have regarded the diasporic writers from these migrations solely in relation to national and distinct linguistic literary traditions (when they are considered at all). But given that the two countries share not only the island of Hispaniola (also known as Quisqueya in the indigenous Taíno language) but also a long, tortuously intertwined history, Maríñez suggests that a new literary methodology that moves beyond national literary frameworks and linguistic divisions in favor of a composite approach better accounts for the complexities of Quisqueyan diaspora literature. Arguing that a too-narrow focus on the diaspora from the Hispanophone Caribbean has obscured the historic literary ties between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Maríñez calls for an analytic framework that recognizes not only the deep historical imbrication of the twinned nations but also how the common diasporic experience of their migrant writers have created coalitional opportunities not otherwise available within their respective nationalist discourses. In this sense, the tropes of state violence that manifest themselves in the diaspora in works of Haitian American Edwidge Danticat and Dominican American Junot Díaz are less about distinct national histories and more about the racialized definition of each nation in relation to each other.
Lorena Alvarado reminds us that Latina/o literature is deeply enmeshed within specific sonic contexts that define and refine its otherwise logocentric presentation. Afro-Caribbean rhythms, Amerindian tonalities, transculturated Western traditions, and the performative aspects of music in the Americas form a central experiential soundtrack of everyday life for Latinas/os. Focusing upon the presence of various kinds of popular music, both Latin and non-Latin, in Latina/o literary works since the 1980s, Alvarado discusses the sonic presence of the mambo, the Afro-Cuban dance craze in the United States during the 1950s, in several contemporary Latina/o novels. In Mary Helen Ponce’s The Wedding (1989), the presence of the mambo indicates not only how a Caribbean Latino sound travels into Chicano Los Angeles, but also how gender roles are negotiated in the act of dancing. In Marta Moreno Vega’s When the Spirits Dance Mambo (2004), the mambo provides working-class Puerto Ricans such as Cotito the opportunity to luxuriate in the splendor of an Afro-Boricua tradition that extended from the local botanica to the Palladium in New York City. Meanwhile, in the Chicago of Achy Obejas’s Memory Mambo (1996), the signature grunt of famed Cuban bandleader Pérez Prado, uttered while singing the mambo, becomes the key to understanding the familial dynamics of the novel. Finally, Oscar Hijuelos’s The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989) offers up a Pulitzer Prize-winning example of a nostalgic, libidinous, and excessively stereotypical Latino masculinity. Indexing a particular kind of experiential knowledge (“earwitnessing”), Alvarado signals exegetic audio elements of Latina/o literature that point beyond the printed page to a fuller account of the audible sensorium of latinidades. The inclusion of sound studies within Latina/o literary studies opens up possibilities of contextualization and understanding to a major aspect of Latina/o cultural production that goes beyond the often exclusive space of print-culture.
While migrants from all over the Hispanophone Americas have gained acceptance under the umbrella of latinidad, this has not always been true for migrants from South America’s largest nation, Brazil. Because of historic linguistic balkanization and the historic division between the Lusophone and Hispanic Americas, Brazuca (Brazilian American) literature has only recently begun to figure within Latina/o literary studies. Luz Angélica Kirschner examines the case for, and against, including this body of writing in Latina/o literary history. Cultural pride in a specifically Luso-American, rather than Spanish-American, tradition, along with the marked tendency of Latin American literary schools to marginalize Brazilian literature, have contributed to a Brazuca disidentification from diasporic Hispanophone latinidades. Added to this, as Kirschner relates, was the U.S. Census Bureau’s explicit rejection of Portuguese and the Lusophone diaspora from the definition of “Hispanic” as a disadvantaged minority group in 1973. Yet simultaneously, Kirschner argues, latinidad in its mid-twentieth-century configuration becomes popularized through two key figures: Desi Arnaz of Cuba and Carmen Miranda of Brazil, suggesting a historical precedent for Brazilians as Latinas/os within the U.S. national imaginary. In the present moment, authors such as Kathleen de Azevedo and Luana Monteiro are among a new generation of Brazuca writers reclaiming this genealogy of latinidades through their works, thus reminding us to take into account the complex history of the Brazilian diaspora’s contact with other Latina/o migrants, along with the legacies of plantation slavery that Brazil shares with the United States and Caribbean, as undeniable aspects of Latina/o literary history.
Laura G. Gutíerrez examines how Latina/o cultural production has played a crucial role in interrogating the neoliberal reconfiguration of hemispheric relations since the 1990s, particularly the relationship between Mexico and the United States as redefined by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), first implemented in 1994. As Gutíerrez writes, a major preoccupation of contemporary Latina/o performance is the effects of neoliberalism upon bodies as subjected to its disciplining through labor exploitation and the privatization of welfare-state safety mechanisms. Even as Latina/o labor became crucial for the contingent manufacturing and assembly work done in maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexico border, these bodies themselves became more disposable in this exploitative environment. Nowhere else was this more apparent during the first two decades of NAFTA than in Ciudad Juárez, the twin border city of El Paso, Texas. Several hundred young women were victims of femicidio, or brutally murdered through forms of gendered violence, while hundreds of others “disappeared.” Border performance artists and theorists such as Venezuelan-born Javier Téllez, Chicana Nao Bustamante, Cuban-born Coco Fusco, Mexican-born artists Astrid Hadad Jesusa Rodriguez and Lorena Wolffer offer critiques of neoliberalist discourses and practices, especially as they impact the well-being of women, even as they acknowledge how their own craft is in part enabled by them.
In his essay, William Orchard explores the contemporary impact of the fast-growing areas of Latina/o genre fiction and graphic novels by contextualizing the production and reception of these academically marginalized popular forms within the creation of a “Latino” market starting in the 1990s. While thoroughly enmeshed within the neoliberalist individualism of commodity relations, these texts also offer the utopian possibility of imagining other forms of social relations not entirely defined by their market matrix. Orchard provides a useful historical context for the emergence of genre fiction outside the literary mainstream: the ascendency of MFA programs in creative writing often privileged a stylistic realism, while cultural nationalist movements narrowed the character palate to working-class, resistant types. Genre fiction offered possibilities outside those demands on both counts, providing an autodidactic, other commercial space to experiment in what literary scholar Ramón Saldívar terms “post-race aesthetics.” Chica lit, typified by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s The Dirty Girls Social Club (2003), allowed for the exploration of upwardly mobile characters but often at the expense of defining them mostly through their relation to consumer goods. Other genres, such as horror or detective fiction, allow for an analysis of the Latina/o condition as the return of the suppressed subaltern/working class or as the difficult search for knowledge in a world of deliberately obscured power relations. Similarly, science fiction, and various forms of speculative fiction, have come to the fore for Latina/o literary studies thanks to Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2006) and the graphic novels of Los Bros Hernandez. Ultimately, Orchard argues that the antirealist aesthetic of these marginalized genres make them fruitful for reimagining latinidades in the twenty-first century.
Much as previous essays have opened the concept of latinidades to Haitian American and Brazuca writing, the contributions of Latina/o authors whose roots lie in South America is taken up in the chapter by Juanita Heredia. Although not as numerous as those from Central America or the Caribbean, Latina/o writers from Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and other Latin American nations have made significant contributions to expanding the forms, histories, and languages of latinidades, whether depicting the traumas of dictatorship, the effects of civil wars and dirty wars, or the trials of exile in the United States. Writers such as Majorie Agosín, Sergio Waisman, Maria Negroni, Ariel Dorfman, Marie Arana, Luisa Valenzuela, Walter Ventosilla, Patricia Engel, Daniel Alarcón, Daisy Hernández, Jaime Manrique, Carmen Giménez, Fredy Amilcar Roncalla and Carolina de Robertis draw on the diversity of South America from its northern Caribbean shore to the Southern Cone, from Andean indigenous cultural forms to Borgesian aesthetics, from tango to Quechua, from the role of radio in locating the disappeared to the task of translating between South and North America. Heredia offers a capacious and detailed account of how the complex histories of these distinct, yet intimately interrelated regions have marked contemporary Latina/o literary history.
Claudia Milian theorizes the production of the abject Central American American subject in her contribution. Beginning with a reading of Oscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, Milian maps out the spatial and temporal transformation of Central American bodies from non-agential citizens of their home countries to paradoxically crucial sources of “migradollars” upon becoming stateless and undocumented in the United States. This transformation occurs via the experience of the “Beast,” the grim moniker given the freight train through Mexico that migrants use as dangerous, even deadly, transport to the U.S.–Mexico borderlands. Milian outlines how this process of subjectification, violent and exploitative, comes to define the migrant experience of neoliberal capitalism and its production of abjection before and during its reconstitution as “Latina/o” in a U.S. context. Milian reminds us that the contingency of latinidades within the United States depends upon an entire series of social processes that often cross multiple national borders and legal regimes, each with its own social violence attached to it, before a migrant ever becomes “Latina/o” in the United States.
Latina/o literary history’s critical resources range from the submerged knowledges of subaltern Latina/o cultures to traditional “high” theory. Richard Perez builds on Juan Flores’s major theoretical contributions to this literary history by examining how U.S. Puerto Rican literature demands a transnational hermeneutic that revalues transnational and diaspora subjectivity, and challenges the dominant ontological framings of the subaltern subject. Drawing on a theoretical toolkit ranging from Levinas to Spivak to decode the wild freedom and beautifully strange and often ironic language of U.S. Puerto Rican literature, Perez observes how the writings of Piri Thomas, Pedro Pietri, Esmeralda Santiago, and Justin Torres call into question the colonial and heteropatriarchal discourses that enable domination on the Island and discrimination in the United States within a common capitalist extractive system. From Thomas’s Down these Mean Streets comes the realization that the cara palo, or hard face, that Piri adopts to combat racial discrimination is the very mask that racism forces him to wear but also the mark of his trans-American positioning. In Pietri’s classic Nuyorican poem “Puerto Rican Obituary,” the dead are resurrected as a critique of the capitalism that exploits them to death. Santiago’s America’s Dream enacts the colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico that is enforced by patriarchal masculinity but resisted by feminist actions. Perez closes his essay with a reading of Torres’s We the Animals, in which the condition of youthful “animality” comes to figure the utopian possibilities beyond heteronormative patriarchy as situated in the transnational border crossings of Puerto Ricans off the island. In close readings of these major texts extending from the late twentieth century through the first decade of the twenty-first, Perez finds in “trans-ing” – or the ghostly hauntings of the present by the past – a utopian resource to imagine shared aesthetics, alternative ethical practices, and new forms of desire that move beyond exploitation and silence.
Through a reading influenced by recent Latina/o and Caribbean radical philosophy and postcolonial queer theory, Eliana Ávila closes the volume with a call for a decolonial queer critique of racialized anachronism that reveals her South American perspective on Latina/o literary history. Ávila defines how relations of power naturalize hierarchies by plotting peoples and geopolitical regions linearly, as destined to progress from childlike, non-European, disabled backwardness toward heterosexuality, maturity, and consumerism within a white-dominant cultural norm. Given that this volume marks a kind of entrance into global legibility in English for Latina/o literary history, Ávila’s vigilance about how narratives of straight temporality naturalize the epistemic annihilation that assimilation demands is especially salient to this section on Latina/o literature as narratives of migration across the Americas. Reframing post-colonial critique to think beyond “straight time” in order to incorporate a critique of anachronism as a racializing and gendering device, Ávila usefully calls attention to the need for coeval relation and coalitions that consider both the standpoint of displacement and that of rootedness. Through a close reading of Latina texts (Daisy Hernández’s A Cup of Water under My Bed and Felicia Lemus’s Like Son) that bring into focus the proliferation of “temporal borderlands” occurring with the denaturalizing of borders, Avila takes up Gloria Anzaldúa’s creative liminality and José Esteban Muñoz’s queer utopia as a means to imagine futurity for all in ways that do not reproduce the straight time of coloniality.
In the volume’s epilogue, María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo contextualizes the disparate and discontinuous elements of the intellectual project that is The Cambridge History of Latina/o American Literature. For Saldaña-Portillo, the efforts of the scholars in this volume should not be considered as simply yet another academic exercise, but rather a continuation of the long struggle of Latina/o diasporic intellectuals to transform the production of knowledge within the sites where such production has material effect. Although often situated within institutions deeply implicated in the colonial project, these scholars embark upon this transformative project by linking their study of the literary and, more generally, the aesthetic, to the vernacular, organic knowledges generated from within the various latinidades that have arisen as a result of the trans-American operations of colonial capitalism.
Saldaña-Portillo and others in the volume single out two eminent Latina/o literary scholars who have made just such major contributions to the field: Juan Flores and José Esteban Muñoz. Their untimely deaths will always raise the question of what further transformative concepts they might have contributed otherwise to the field, and even to this volume, to which they had both agreed to contribute. Thanks to their efforts, and those of many less heralded critics–but no less important–past and present, this volume offers a history of the field of Latina/o literary studies as it theorizes the uncertain, yet-to-be-realized future.
1 See Mae Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).
2 In the waning days of his administration, U.S. President Barack Obama ended the twenty-two-year-old policy – also known as the “wet foot, dry foot” rule – that allowed unauthorized Cuban nationals to remain in the United States and gain legal residency upon reaching U.S. territory. A part of the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States, the revocation of this exemption means apprehended Cuban nationals without proper authorization are subject to the same deportation procedures as others so apprehended. See Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Frances Robles, “Obama Ends Exemption for Cubans Who Arrive Without Visas,” New York Times, January 12, 2017. Accessed online at www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/world/americas/cuba-obama-wet-foot-dry-foot-policy.html.
3 See Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova, “Central American Immigrants in the United States,” September 2, 2015. Accessed online at www.migrationpolicy.org/article/central-american-immigrants-united-states.