- Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies by Claudia Milian
Milian’s work broadens current studies and constructs of Latina/o identities by taking into account multiple and shifting positionalities of Latino/as, especially as they intersect with African ancestry and African Americans. As such, the author stresses less the identification of who Latino/as are than the processes of how bodies become Latina/o. This emphasis sets the book’s theoretical and conceptual framework apart from existing work in the field of Latino/a studies by distinguishing between latinidad, a commonly used construct to understand experiences and social positions of Latino/as, derived from “latinity.” Through a critique of latinidad as a US-centric collective ethos that does not fully attend to the specificities of color related to the racialization of those considered Latino/as, Milian seeks to understand emerging and unsituated Latino modalities via the concept of latinity.
In establishing a dialogue between Latino/a studies and African American studies, Milian’s study concerns itself with two central questions: “What is a Latino or Latina? And how do these social actors arrive at such a discourse? (p. 7).” According to Milian, the construct of “Latinities” pushes beyond the often-politicized and US-bound “latinidades.” Instead, Latinities opens up the construct of subject formation in relation to blackness, brownness and dark-brownness, as well as intersectional factors associated with Latinidades such as language, ethnicity, class, gender, and race, among others. The particular addition of the category of “dark-brownness” crucially moves understandings of Latino/a racial identities in a more nuanced direction. A four-chapter structure of case studies explores and delineates Latinities in relation to brown, dark-brown, and black embodied experiences.
The first chapter, “Southern Latinities,” uses the conceptual category of the Global South to understand the US South. As such, Milian sets the work of W. E. B. Du Bois in dialogue with Evelio Grillo’s Black Cuban. Black American, to contest the notion that Latino/as are relative newcomers to the US Southeast as well as to understand that geographical context as a fraught space of Blackness and Latinoness. The second chapter, “Passing Latinities,” further advances the dialogue between Black and Latino/a identities and political activist engagement by broadening the meanings and applications of Chicano and Chicana border theory to include two central figures of the Harlem Renaissance, James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes. The bodies, histories, and travels of Johnson and Hughes provide for an interethnic comparison of Latinity in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Cuba.
Chapter 3, “Indigent Latinities,” directly interrogates dark-brownness and brownness as cultural representations through the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherrie Moraga, and Richard Rodríguez. This chapter advocates for a more nuanced understanding of the overarching category of brownness, pushing us to tease out Latino/a color lines via dark-brownness as well as brownness, or what the author terms “a more populous brownness” (p. 21). The fourth chapter, “Disorienting Latinities,” explores the emergence of Central Americans in the United States as “new” Latinos and as invisible subjects in the post-Cold War period. Milian is particularly concerned with how Central American groups arrive at latinidad and “a cultural and unmappable South [End Page 685] is wrestled with in terms of regional significations of Central America and the discursive deportability of the isthmus’s bodies” (p. 22).
The strength and urgency of Milian’s study resides in her cultural-studies approach to widening understandings of Latinoness and Blackness (via texts taken from narrative production, travel dispatches, urban tags, and television, among others), as well as her use of transdisciplinary approaches to bridge Latino/a studies with African American studies. While cultural production itself has engaged the interstitial relationship between blackness, dark-brownness and brownness, Milian’s study views this production from a unique critical lens that forces us to understand racialization and the Global and local South in more sophisticated critical terms with regard...