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Literature and the Signs of Central America
Central Americans are one of the largest Latino population groups in the United States. Yet, Arturo Arias argues, the cultural production of Central Americans remains little known to North Americans.
In Taking Their Word, Arias complicates notions of the cultural production of Central America, from Mexico in the North to Panama in the South. He charts the literature of Central America’s liberation struggles of the 1970s and 1980s, its transformation after peace treaties were signed, the emergence of a new Maya literature that decenters Latin American literature written in Spanish, and the rise and fall of testimonio. Arias demonstrates that Central America and its literature are marked by an indigenousness that has never before been fully theorized or critically grasped. Never one to avoid controversy, Arias proffers his views of how the immigration of Central Americans to North America has changed the cultural topography of both zones.
With this groundbreaking work, Arias establishes the importance of Central American literature and provides a frame for future studies of the region’s culture.
Arturo Arias is director of Latin American studies at the University of Redlands. He is the author of six novels in Spanish and editor of The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy (Minnesota, 2001).
Four Mexican American Women Writers
Voices from the borderlands push against boundaries in more ways than one, as Donna M. Kabalen de Bichara ably demonstrates in this investigation into the twentieth-century autobiographical writing of four women of Mexican origin who lived in the American Southwest.
Until recently, little attention has been paid to the writing of the women included in this study. As Kabalen de Bichara notes, it is precisely such historical exclusion of texts written by Mexican American women that gives particular significance to the reexamination of the five autobiographical works that provide the focus for this in-depth study.
“Early Life and Education” and Dew on the Thorn by Jovita González (1904–83), deal with life experiences in Texas and were likely written between 1926 and the 1940s; both texts were published in 1997. Romance of a Little Village Girl, first published in 1955, focuses on life in New Mexico, and was written by Cleofas Jaramillo (1878–1956) when the author was in her seventies. A Beautiful, Cruel Country, by Eva Antonio Wilbur-Cruce (1904–98), introduces the reader to history and a way of life that developed in the cultural space of Arizona. Created over a ten-year period, this text was published in 1987, just eleven years before the author’s death. Hoyt Street, by Mary Helen Ponce (b. 1938), began as a research paper during the period of the autobiographer’s undergraduate studies (1974–80), and was published in its present form in 1993.
These border autobiographies can be understood as attempts on the part of the Mexican American female autobiographers to put themselves into the text and thus write their experiences into existence.
Humanism, Rhetoric, and the Historical Imagination in the Early Chronicles of Spanish America
Sarah H. Beckjord’s Territories of History explores the vigorous but largely unacknowledged spirit of reflection, debate, and experimentation present in foundational Spanish American writing. In historical works by writers such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Bartolomé de Las Casas, and Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Beckjord argues, the authors were not only informed by the spirit of inquiry present in the humanist tradition but also drew heavily from their encounters with New World peoples. More specifically, their attempts to distinguish superstition and magic from science and religion in the New World significantly influenced the aforementioned chroniclers, who increasingly directed their insights away from the description of native peoples and toward a reflection on the nature of truth, rhetoric, and fiction in writing history. Due to a convergence of often contradictory information from a variety of sources—eyewitness accounts, historiography, imaginative literature, as well as broader philosophical and theological influences—categorizing historical texts from this period poses no easy task, but Beckjord sifts through the information in an effective, logical manner. At the heart of Beckjord’s study, though, is a fundamental philosophical problem: the slippery nature of truth—especially when dictated by stories. Territories of History engages both a body of emerging scholarship on early modern epistemology and empiricism and recent developments in narrative theory to illuminate the importance of these colonial authors’ critical insights. In highlighting the parallels between the sixteenth-century debates and poststructuralist approaches to the study of history, Beckjord uncovers an important legacy of the Hispanic intellectual tradition and updates the study of colonial historiography in view of recent discussions of narrative theory.
Interviews with Critics of Chicana/o Literature
Narrative Strategies for Navigating Latino Identity
Just as mariners use triangulation, mapping an imaginary triangle between two known positions and an unknown location, so, David J. Vázquez contends, Latino authors in late twentieth-century America employ the coordinates of familiar ideas of self to find their way to new, complex identities. Through this metaphor, Vázquez reveals how Latino autobiographical texts, written after the rise of cultural nationalism in the 1960s, challenge mainstream notions of individual identity and national belonging in the United States.
In a traditional autobiographical work, the protagonist frequently opts out of his or her community. In the works that Vázquez analyzes in Triangulations, protagonists instead opt in to collective groups—often for the express political purpose of redefining that collective. Reading texts by authors such as Ernesto Galarza, Jesús Colón, Piri Thomas, Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, Judith Ortiz Cofer, John Rechy, Julia Alvarez, and Sandra Cisneros, Vázquez engages debates about the relationship between literature and social movements, the role of cultural nationalism in projects for social justice, the gender and sexual problematics of 1960s cultural nationalist groups, the possibilities for interethnic coalitions, and the interpretation of autobiography. In the process, Triangulations considers the potential for cultural nationalism as a productive force for aggrieved communities of color in their struggles for equality.
Conversion in Ethnic American Autobiography, 1965–2002
In The Trouble with Sauling Around, Madeline Walker probes the complex and troubled relationship between ethnicity, society, and religious conversion in late twentieth-century African American and Mexican American autobiography. Religious conversion—the turning away from an old, sinful life toward a new life of salvation—manifests as an intensely personal experience, yet it calls into play a wide variety of social, cultural, economic, racial, political, and psychological forces. Thus, constant change and the negotiation of resistance to and assimilation within the dominant culture have been seminal topics for ethnic Americans, just as the conversion narrative is often a central genre in ethnic writing, particularly autobiographical writing.
Explorations of Place and Belonging
In literary and cinematic fictions, the fantastic blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. Lacking a consensus on definition, critics often describe the fantastic as supernatural, or similar to, but quite different from fantasy, science fiction, and magical realism.
In Unraveling the Real Cynthia Duncan provides a new theoretical framework for discussing how the fantastic explores both metaphysical and socially relevant themes in Spanish American fictions. Duncan deftly shows how authors and artists have used this literary genre to convey marginalized voices as well as critique colonialism, racism, sexism, and classism. Selecting examples from the works of such noted writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Carlos Fuentes, among others, she shows how capacious the concept is, and why it eludes standard definition.
Challenging the notion that the fantastic is escapist in nature, Unraveling the Real shows how the fantastic has been politically engaged throughout the twentieth century, often questioning what is real or unreal. Presenting a mirror image of reality, the fantastic does not promoting a utopian parallel universe but rather challenges the way we think about the world around us and the cultural legacy of colonialism.
Why are so many people attracted to narrative fiction? How do authors in this genre reframe experiences, people, and environments anchored to the real world without duplicating “real life”? In which ways does fiction differ from reality? What might fictional narrative and reality have in common—if anything? By analyzing novels such as Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist, along with selected Latino comic books and short fiction, this book explores the peculiarities of the production and reception of postcolonial and Latino borderland fiction. Frederick Luis Aldama uses tools from disciplines such as film studies and cognitive science that allow the reader to establish how a fictional narrative is built, how it functions, and how it defines the boundaries of concepts that appear susceptible to limitless interpretations. Aldama emphasizes how postcolonial and Latino borderland narrative fiction authors and artists use narrative devices to create their aesthetic blueprints in ways that loosely guide their readers’ imagination and emotion. In A User’s Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction, he argues that the study of ethnic-identified narrative fiction must acknowledge its active engagement with world narrative fictional genres, storytelling modes, and techniques, as well as the way such fictions work to move their audiences.
Gender and Militarization in U.S. Latina/o Cultural Production