Broken Souths: Latina/o Poetic Response to Neoliberalism and Globalization, by scholar and poet Michael Dowdy, is a tightly-woven, well-researched map of neoliberalism, as told through the poetry literature of Latina/o and Latin American writers. The core of the study comes from Dowdy’s multifaceted concept of “broken” or “to break.” The most obvious interpretation is the idea of broken borders and the resulting broken family and national ties, but Dowdy argues that, especially in terms of neoliberalism, there are “breaks,” or actions, that take place in political movements or in literature that represent resistance to corporate fascism and pervasive capitalism. Dowdy also examines the concept of multiple “souths” within Latina/o and Latin American literature. Instead of focusing on the stereotypical South, which implies Mexico or the U.S. South, he maps the interaction between various souths, such as Chile and Colombia, and a variety of norths, such as Appalachia. These spaces and places are viewed through an ecocritical lens in the works of authors like Víctor Hernández Cruz, Martín Espada, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Jack Agüeros, Marjorie Agosín, Roberto Bolaño and José Emilio Pacheco, among many others.
In the Introduction, Dowdy acknowledges that the concepts of “north” and “south” are ceasing to exist (3) and that he has a desire to expand the concept of where south and north are located in Latina/o and Latin American literature. In terms of geographic location, Mexico is referenced a lot, and Dowdy also references New York, Appalachia, Colombia and Chile. We explore how neoliberal goals have affected those areas in terms of work, access to water, environmental destruction and dehumanization. Dowdy writes,“Broken Souths offers ‘sustained speculation’ on how neoliberalism shapes poetry” (10), and he encourages the use of the word “neoliberalism” in the United States in order to draw connections to related events in Latin America, where the word is used frequently (11). It is troubling to imagine decades of literary cultural production bound to a word that describes very limited aspects of Latina/o and Latin American life, but what emerges under the neoliberal umbrella is a chronicle of complex reactions to the effects of corporatization and privatization of daily life in the Americas. In Chapter One, Dowdy examines Martín Espada’s “Sing Zapatista,” where Espada finds a desire to connect the U.S. with Latin America through the Zapatista movement, yet Espada references Lonely Planet as if he were a tourist in Mexico. His correspondence about the poem with intellectual and activist Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, however, counters the tourist identity and creates a bridge between the two countries, subverting concepts of north and south (39).
In Chapter Two, Dowdy uses Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “How to Enroll in a Chicano Studies Class,” to show the two parts to successful revolution: Molotovs (overt action) and subtleties (poetics). This framework, which is polemical, doesn’t allow for much subtlety at all, but the chapter does describe how Herrera’s poem chronicles the symbolic break of Chicano student movements that went against neoliberal plans for public education. The most exciting part of the chapter is Dowdy’s analysis of Herrera’s poem, “A Day Without a Mexican” and his claim that the poem undermines the concept that immigrants threaten U.S. prosperity because they so clearly contribute to it by providing low-cost labor (88).
Chapter Three has an emphasis on created spaces—Roberto Bolaño’s library as country and Martín Espada’s “Republic of Poetry” (91). Dowdy outlines neoliberal goals, as defined in the poems: “State legitimacy is measured by profits … [and the state] promotes the [consumer-owner] motivated solely by material gain” (94). Bolaño and Espada challenge this world-view by exposing how the state must impose these imperatives using force. Later, Dowdy connects Bolaño, Herrera and Nicanor Parra in their stance on mobilizing the public to find the “unchronicled” persons who have been erased, who...