Introduction

Suzanne Bost, Frances R. Aparicio

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

This Companion provides a critical overview of US Latino/a literature - key ideas, figures, terms, and debates - as well as engaging new topics for consideration and drawing attention to new directions in which the study of Latino/a literature might expand. The collection of entries, like Latinos/as themselves, strains against any bounded conceptions of the nation and any singular definitions of identity. Although US Latino/a literature is, for the most part, produced and published in the United States, it is the product of multiple border crossings. This Companion traces the circulation and intermixture of cultures, identities, texts, and aesthetic forms across borders within and beyond the Americas. Not only is the literature under consideration here transnational; the contributors to this project come from multiple different nations in the Americas as well as Western Europe, Russia, North Africa, and Australia, addressing the increasingly global circulation of Latino/a literary texts. Identity terminology is particularly tricky in Latino/a studies. The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are US inventions designed to describe Latin American descent peoples in the United States. Both are misnomers to the extent that they imply a transplanted European heritage and elide the mixture with indigenous and African peoples that characterized the formation of mestizaje [racial and cultural mixture] throughout “Latin” America. The term “Hispanic,” adopted by the US government for census purposes in the 1970s, is seen by many US community organizations as an attempt to neutralize resistant cultural nationalism. (In the census, Hispanics have been considered racially white, and the term itself seems to equate to “Spanish.”) In contrast, “Latino” is recognized as a more progressive term and as a way to account for the mixtures that differentiate American Latinos from Europeans. In terms of nation, Latinos are “US Americans,” a word that does not exist in English, which myopically equates the hemispheric term “American” with the United States, but does exist in Spanish: estadounidenses. “US citizen” is also not the preferred term given the large number of undocumented Latinos/as in the United States. Nor are all Latinos/as immigrants to the United States, since many Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, for instance, became “US Americans” as a result of land annexation and colonialism. One might be tempted to use “American” in the hemispheric sense, but it is also important to foreground the US origins of the term “Latino” and the US locations of most “Latinos.” (We are, however, including Latinos/as who move back and forth between the United States and another homeland, as well as those who have left the United States but are still shaped by its influence, within our definition.) The central lesson to draw from this terminological friction is that all of these identity terms are contested, sometimes fluid, and always relational. How one identifies oneself is, of course, highly subjective. Indeed, most US Latinos/as define themselves first as belonging to a particular national, subnational, or binational group, like Boricua or Cuban-American, and only to a larger latinidad for the purposes of pan-ethnic solidarity or inclusion. Latino/a literature might be said to require a “companion” to aid analysis because of the variety of identities, locations, historical perspectives, worldviews, traditions, and cultural forms that it incorporates. We approach the field in the broadest sense here, using the term “Latino/a” throughout because it is inclusive in terms of gender (with the dual engendering of the adjectival form) and inclusive in terms of nation of origin, encompassing Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans, and Dominican-Americans, as well as US Latinos/as from Central America and South America. Like all literary fields defined by an identity, Latino/a literature is a field characterized by political and intellectual friction. It is one of the fastest growing fields in the discipline of literary studies, one of the most heterogeneous, and one of the most fluid - changing as fast as the demographics of US Latino/a population growth and immigration. The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature aims to replicate this friction while contextualizing, historicizing, and defining it. The idea of creating a single guide to Latino/a literature, however, implies (or at least creates the illusion of) some coherence. We thus follow a dual impulse towards particularization and generalization. The entries in this collection focus on the different locations, homelands, migrations, languages, cultures, races, sexualities, embodiments, aesthetics, and politics that form divergent Latino/a experiences as well as shared Latino/a histories and worldviews, hemispheric connections, and unifying identities. Following these simultaneous particularizing and generalizing impulses, we include entries that highlight inter-Latino/a differences - such as Afro-Latino identity and the different canons of Chicana lesbians, Dominican-Americans, and South Americans in the United States - as well as entries that build trans-Latino/a realities - such as “latinidad” and “Latino/a literary canon.” Our entries cross beyond the boundaries of what is conventionally considered “Latino/a,” including the interface between Latino/a literature and Arab cultures, Siberian borderlands, and emergent genres such as chick lit or science fiction. We also cross beyond the boundaries of what is conventionally considered literature to reveal more of the cultural, political, and aesthetic contexts in which the literature is embedded. The history and politics of US Latino/a literature are distinct. “Latino/a” identity is a product of layers of conquest, colonialism, and cultural mixture - beginning with Western European territorial battles upon the indigenous lands of the “New World,” from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, and, after most Latin American nations achieved independence, continuing through the US imperialist expansions of the nineteenth century to the present. As such, it is an inevitably politicized term. The nature and timing of these conquests differ across the Americas, producing (post)colonial realities as diverse as the Puerto Rican Commonwealth (which is still technically a US colony), the politically isolated socialist republic of Cuba, the dually conquered territories of what is now the US Southwest, and those Latin American nations subject to US cultural imperialism despite their own healthy and independent economies. The emergence of Latino/a identities, as a united transnational force or in particular nationalist traditions (like the Chicano/a consciousness that developed among Mexican-Americans or the Boricua consciousness that developed among Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States), constitutes a high degree of resistance to imperialism and assertion of selfhood apart from the (former or current) colonizer. Such acts of resistance have emerged at different historical moments for different groups. For some Mexican-Americans, for instance, the urge to assert independence from the United States began in the middle of the nineteenth century, after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded half of Mexico to the United States, and for others it began with the Chicano/a Movement of the 1960s. Similarly, for some Puerto Ricans the impulse to resist US imperialism followed the 1900 Foraker Act, and for others it began with the emergence of Nuyorican identity and nationalist groups like the Young Lords’ Party on the US mainland in the 1960s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Pages1-10
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781136221613
ISBN (Print)9780415666060
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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