restricted access Bodies that Antimatter: Locating U.S Latino/a Poetry, 2000-2009
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Bodies that Antimatter:
Locating U.S Latino/a Poetry, 2000-2009

Much of the critical commentary on U.S. Latino/a poetry has focused on the poets of the Chicano and Nuyorican movements of the 1960s and 1970s. These poets' countercultural and decolonial sensibilities helped shape the politics of Latino studies as a field and fueled scholars' groundbreaking explorations of particular poetic strategies such as code-switching and Spanglish.1 Yet how are we to read, both formally and politically, more recent Latino/a poetries far removed (temporally, and sometimes aesthetically as well) from the 1960s and 1970s zeitgeist? The wane of these countercultural movements coincides with the rise, in the 1980s, of what Raphael Dalleo and Elena Machado Sáez have called the "Latino/a canon." For Dalleo and Machado Sáez, "post-sixties" Latino/a literature is often strategic in its politics, engaging with markets and canons in complex ways that require Latino studies critics to think beyond the long-standing nationalist and anticolonial approaches that have characterized the field since its infancy.2 In an effort to rethink the field of Latino/ a poetry from a postmillennian perspective and along the lines proposed by Dalleo and Machado Sáez, my own reading emphasizes the complexities of poetry's circulation, on and off the page, and across markets, canons, borders, and forms. [End Page 852]

To be sure, the problematics of poetry's circulation were already evident in the Chicano and Nuyorican movements, which poets helped shape through public readings and various kinds of cultural actions despite their work's minimal print circulation. Still, substantive analysis of this performance life has been largely absent from scholarly writing on U.S. Latino/a poetry, which has tended to focus on questions of language and representation. What began to change in the 1980s was largely a matter of the gradual incorporation of Latinos/as into the cultural mainstream and the accompanying rise of Latinos/as as a social and marketing demographic, a process described and analyzed by anthropologist Arlene Dávila in books such as Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race. By the year 2000, these processes had significantly altered not only the terms of Latino/a identity but also the term "Latino" itself. Latino studies has for a long time eschewed the label "Hispanic," partly to sidestep the colonial connotations of a term that recalled centuries of Spanish rule, and partly to differentiate itself from the business world and from mainstream politics, where "Hispanic" was the term of choice.3 In 2000, the U.S. census added "Latino" alongside "Hispanic" to its list of identities while also allowing respondents to check multiple boxes for racial or ethnic identification. The opposition between a mainstream Hispanic identity and a countercultural Latino/a one has begun to blur, as the state (following the marketplace) has taken on the business of making Latinos/as visible, allowing even those with competing or contentious identities to be "counted."

Ironically, or perhaps inevitably, this impulse for visibility and accountability has been matched at every step by a media-fueled depiction of Latinos/as as an unmanageable other, most notably in the controversy over illegal immigration. Thus the same market-driven system that demands census visibility and accountability is threatened by an increased Latino/a presence that is viewed as beyond control. The media has responded by making hypervisible certain Latino/a bodies (think Jennifer López and Alex Rodríguez) that are by necessity both emblematic and problematic, [End Page 853] symbols of Latino/a success and excess.4 The last decade has also witnessed an increased mobility within certain Latino/a communities, a mobility shaped partly by demographics and partly by the deracinating effects of a global, neoliberal economy. Whereas mainland Puerto Rican communities have historically been concentrated in the industrial cities of the North, including New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia (cities where postwar migrants went to find work), the recent demographic growth has been most marked in the Southeast (especially central Florida). Similarly, new arrivals from Mexico have settled in large numbers throughout the country, especially in the Midwest (sometimes alongside older Mexican American communities) and the...