- The Promises and Perils of US African-American Hemispherism:Latin America in Martin Delany's Blake and Gayl Jones's Mosquito
Central and South America, are evidently the ultimate destination and future home of the colored race on this continent. . .the advantages to the colored people of the United States, to be derived from emigration to Central, South America, and the West Indies, are incomparably greater than that of any other parts of the world at present.Martin R. Delany, Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered
We should be international. Not just provincial. We shouldn't just be a provincial people. That's what they want, just to keep us thinking we're a provincial people, and they're the universalists. That their perspective is the universal perspective. They claim for their provincial perspective universality. We're a universal people. We're more universal. "Cause we don't think everybody's supposed to be like us."Gayl Jones, Mosquito
Both Martin Delany, in his advocacy of US African-American emigration to Latin America, and Gayl Jones, in her call for US African Americans to be "international" and "not just provincial," argue that engaging the world beyond the US is crucial to their [End Page 579] community's struggle to be acknowledged as equal to European Americans.1 They are voices in long-standing debates over whether this battle is most effectively fought by US African Americans embracing a supranational conceptualization of community that negates the salience of national boundaries, or by emphasizing their connection to the US, and demanding what Rebecca Scott describes as "public rights." Engagements with Latin America and Latin Americans have constituted a crucial element of US African-American attempts to gain access to and recognition within mainstream US literary, intellectual, and political discourses. Historical and recent trends in American literary studies, however, have made grappling with these representational and ideological interactions a particular challenge.
In their introduction to the special issue of Modern Fiction Studies dedicated to the "Trans-American Imaginary," Paula M. L. Moya and Ramón Saldívar rightly declare "that unless we make more visible the unequal relations of domination that exist in this hemisphere, our conception of American literary history will remain both incomplete and inadequate" (2). Those unequal relations, whether based on economic capital, cultural capital, or political power, have determined the construction of the canons, conventions, and courses of US literary history and therefore must be foregrounded in our attempts to depict that story. Not doing so, Moya and Saldívar go on to contend, "has the effect, finally, of devaluing . . . literatures that look south and west instead of north and east" (2). The increasing attentiveness in literary scholarship to hemispheric perspectives, evidenced by José David Saldívar's The Dialectics of Our America (1991) and more recently by Kirsten Silva Gruesz's Ambassadors of Culture (2001), is indeed demanded by historical realities. Copiously documented by scholars such as Louis Pérez, the stubborn presence of the US state in Latin-American histories, particularly in the independence movements that created Cuba and Panama, in the governance of Chile and Nicaragua, and in the agricultural labor markets of Costa Rica and Colombia, has shaped not only lives and literatures in the US and Latin America but also the ways in which the histories of those lives and literatures are told.
As a consequence, recent hemispherist scholarship has often focused primarily (and appropriately) on the "unequal relations" between the US and the Latin-American nations and states, especially with respect to what Michael Mann has called "financial transnationalism" (Robbins 34) and on the genealogical links between white mainstream and Latin-American writers that have hitherto been obscured by the transference of those inequalities onto the processes of constructing literary canons and histories. Such an orientation, [End Page 580] however, has led to a dearth of critical scholarship on relations between US African Americans and the rest of the Americas.2 Unsurprisingly, the fact that the most vocal proponents of the "new" hemispherist American studies have been primarily Latino/a studies and Latin-American studies scholars has left the...