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On Latinidad

U.S. Latino Literature and the Construction of Ethnicity

Marta Caminero-Santangelo

Publication Year: 2007

This is the first book to address head-on the question of how Latino/a literature wrestles with the pan-ethnic and trans-racial implications of the "Latino" label.

Refusing to take latinidad (Latino-ness) for granted, Marta Caminero-Santangelo lays the groundwork for a sophisticated understanding of the various manifestations of "Latino" identity. She examines texts by prominent Chicano/a, Dominican American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban American writers--including Julia Alvarez, Cristina García, Achy Obejas, Piri Thomas, and Ana Castillo--and concludes that a pre-existing "group" does not exist. The author instead argues that much recent Latino/a literature presents a vision of tentative, forged solidarities in the service of particular and sometimes even local struggles. She shows that even magical realism can figure as a threat to collectivity, rather than as a signifier of it, because magical connections--to nature, between characters, and to Latin American origins--can undermine efforts at solidarity and empowerment.

In the author's close reading of both fictional and cultural narratives, she suggests the possibility that Latino identity may be even more elastic than the authors under question recognize.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

I would like to gratefully acknowledge the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, which funded this project through a sabbatical leave in Spring 2005. This investigation was also supported by the University of Kansas General Research Fund, allocation numbers 2301138, 2301527, and...

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Introduction: Who Are We?

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pp. 1-35

Earl Shorris’s hefty tome Latinos: A Biography of the People (1992) begins with a telling anecdote. Shorris, in his ethnographer persona, asks one of his subjects, Margarita Avila, “If you were writing this book, what would you want it to say?” Avila responds, “Just tell them who we are and that we are not all alike...

Part 1. Race and Ethnicity

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pp. 37

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1. ”Jasón’s Indian”: Mexican Americans and the Denial of Indigenous Ethnicity in Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima

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pp. 39-50

The critical and pedagogical problem posed by Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima is that, while it is regarded as a classic of Chicano/Latino literature and even of ethnic American literature generally, the narrative is driven by personal identity issues which do not seem connected to the larger issues of collective...

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2. “Puerto Rican Negro”: Defining Race in Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets

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pp. 51-69

Although hegemonic U.S. culture generally assumes that Latinos see themselves as a single group—or at least as having very strong ties among the subgroups— De Genova and Ramos-Zayas maintain that very often Puerto Ricans and Mexicans (at least in Chicago) have seen themselves in opposition...

Part 2. Complicating the Origins

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pp. 71

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3. Speaking for Others: Problems of Representation in the Writing of Julia Alvarez

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pp. 73-92

The rise of ethnic literary studies, including Latino/a studies, is predicated, it would seem, on the given that groups must be allowed to speak for themselves, to represent themselves. And at face value, this seems an absolutely indisputable claim. Nevertheless, it hides some pressing difficulties—for example, those...

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4. Complicating Cubanidad Novels of Achy Obejas and Cristina García

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pp. 93-135

I have to admit to experiencing a degree of mild surprise when I discovered, in the summer of 2004, during my first visit to Havana, that the Cuban capital has a Chinatown. Apparently, though it is now reduced to virtually a single street, Havana’s “Barrio Chino” was once “the largest Chinese outpost in Latin...

Part 3. Difference and the Possibilities of Panethnicity

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pp. 137

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5. ”The Pleas of the Desperate”: Magical Realism, Latinidad, and (or) Collective Agency in Ana Castillo’s So Far from God

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pp. 139-160

Ana Castillo’s So Far from God, a romping and inventive account of four Mexican American sisters (Fe, Esperanza, Caridad, and La Loca, translated as Faith, Hope, Charity, and The Crazy One) and their mother, Sofi, has clearly established its credentials as a progressive, politically concerned novel, and thus...

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6. Dirty Girls, German Shepherds, and Puerto Rican Independentistas: “The Latino Imaginary” and the Case of Cuba

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pp. 161-195

As we have seen in the previous chapter, the implicit assumption that Latino/a identity as a whole is characterized by a resistant, oppositional stance has historically permeated much of Latino studies. The notion of latinidad, David Román and Alberto Sandoval have observed, often “circulates as a critical...

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7. Imagining Identity/Seeing Difference: Demetria Martínez’s Mother Tongue

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pp. 196-212

The fundamental necessity of recognizing difference, as a prelude to the forging of “solidarity” or of coalitions, is at the heart of Demetria Martínez’s novel Mother Tongue. This novel is primarily concerned with the debunking of idealized, romanticized conceptions of essential connectedness between peoples of...

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Conclusion: The Shifting Nature of Latinidad

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pp. 213-219

Felix Padilla, whose 1985 work, Latino Ethnic Consciousness, is still arguably the defining optimistic statement on the possibilities for Latino coalitions across lines of national origin, elevates as his model the Spanish Coalition for Jobs in the Chicago of the 1970s. As Padilla explains, this coalition of both...


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pp. 221-264

Works Cited

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pp. 265-284


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pp. 285-296

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813045740
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813030838
Print-ISBN-10: 0813030838

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2007