Latino literature is a rapidly growing genre of literature. There is debate over which writers should be included. Some say it should only be people born in this country, but others claim it should also include people who emigrated to the US and have spent a lot of time here.
I’m making my way through the Prentice Hall Anthology of Latino America which I found at a fantastic price at the HalfPrice Bookstore. It had great ratings on Amazon, but I’m not sure where it ranks within the scholarly debate. This is how the text defines Latino Literature:
- The work of writers whose ancestry can be traced to Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas.
- The work is produced by authors who have lived in the United States for a significant period of time. It doesn’t matter whether or not the author was born here, but rather that his or her artistic consciousness has been significantly affected by life in the United States. They must have a sense of both Spanish and English.
- The work should contain characteristics that are unique to the Latino experience. These include attention to family, concern for home, interest in historical formulations, and an attention to components such as music, food, and religion. Above all the work should contain issues that pertain to identity formation, appropriation, and determination.
This anthology focuses only on writers of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban descent which form the majority of Latin American culture in the United States as well as the majority of literary production. Besides Latin American authors from other countries who didn’t make it into the anthology, other writers who don’t demonstrate the universal themes the anthology seeks to highlight aren’t included such as Achy Obejas, Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, Aluristo, Alberto Rios, and Cherrie Moraga.
Labels used in Latino Literature
Two terms are generally used for people of Latin American decent in the U.S.: Hispanic and Latino. These are often used interchangeably but they carry different political and cultural connotations.
Hispanic was first coined by the United States government in the 1970s. This term is often rejected by people because it is not a self-defining term and they believe the term causes people not of Latin American decent to not recognize the European roots of the Latin American people.
Latino has become more popular in recent years and is widely accepted in academia. The term is not connected to Spain, but to it’s colonies in Latin America and encompasses people from North America (Mexico), Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. It is often preferred because it is a self-created term not imposed by others.
Chicano is a term for Mexicans and is associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that is still used by writers today. It stems from the word Meshicas which the Aztecs used to refer to themselves and was combined with Mexicano and eventually became chicano. Some people believe that chicano comes from the word chico (meaning small) and was used by Europeans as a degrading term. Therefore Mexican-American is the preferred term because it doesn’t have the political associations that Chicano has.
The most popular terms for Cubans are Cuban-American and Cuban Exile. The difference between the two terms is generational. People who arrived in the U.S in the 1960s usually continued to consider themselves Cuban so prefer to be called Cuban Exile because it explains why they abandoned their country of origin. The children of these immigrants, however, generally prefer to be called Cuban-American.
Puerto Rican-Americans, however, rarely refer to themselves as hyphenated Americans. If an individual from the island of Puerto Rico emigrated to the U.S., he or she is generally referred to as Puerto Rican. It is also somewhat redundant to call Puerto Ricans Puerto Rican-Americans because Puerto Ricans are, by definition, U.S. Citizens. Nuyorican applies to people of Puerto Rican heritage who have some connection with New York. The book, however, uses this text uses the term Puerto Rican-Americans to help distinguish and differentiate the different types of literature presented in the Anthology.
Cultural and Linguistic Considerations of Latino Literature
Spanglish is often used in Latino Literature. It is the combination of Spanish and English.
All three groups represented in the Anthology share a connection to indigenous and African American roots. Many of the European colonizers engaged often forcibly, in sexual relations with African slaves and native Americans which resulted in mulatto (white/black) and mestizo (white/Indian) children. Very specific spiritual beliefs and rituals are a result of this bond. The Puerto Rican Espiritismo and the Cuban Santería are both combinations of African gods with Catholic saints. In Mexico, Curanderismo is a form of spiritual, ritual healing for treating ailments that modern medicine often can’t resolve. The literature of these groups, therefore, reflect the varied, yet similar beliefs and customs of their multicultural heritage.
The racial dimension is often explored in the writings. Other literature concerns itself primarily with gender differences, which Latino Literature deals with in a unique way. Stereotypes are often examined. Machismo, for example, is common in Latino Literature as a paradigm of Latina identity and behavior. Some Latino writers deliberately shatter the stereotype.
Sense of place is often a focus. Sometimes it is the desire to return to the ancestral home. Mexican-American writers often refer to Aztlan, the mythical homeland of the Aztecs. Cuban-Americans often write of a longing to return to pre-revolutionary Cuba. Puerto Ricans write of a longing to return to their tropical island, Borniquen, the name the native Taínos gave the land. Whether it be mythical, nostalgic, or very real, the focus on returning to the place of their origins occurs frequently in Latino American literature.
Because all three groups share a past of colonization and oppression, all three groups have developed a strong nationalistic sense of their homeland. But at the same time, they also have a strong desire/need to be accepted in their adopted home. Many of the forefathers of Mexican-Americans were Mexicans before their lands were overtaken by the U.S. and their territories and national identity became American, so there is some lingering resentment about that. Puerto Ricans view the continuation of U.S. presence and it’s status as a Commonwealth as a form of oppression so feel resentment. For many Cuban Exiles, the U.S. is not their enemy, but rather their savior. Their children, however, often experience economic and social inequality so their adopted home is more problematic for them.
The Anthology presents each group separately, beginning with Mexican-American literature. I’ll begin there next week.