- The Latino Nineteenth Century ed. by Rodrigo Lazo, Jesse Alemán
The fifteen essays in The Latino Nineteenth Century illuminate for literary scholars a complex and often overlooked legacy of Latinidad that has largely remained absent from critical discussions in mainstream nineteenth-century American literary studies and Latina/o studies, although scholars involved in the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project have been writing about nineteenth-century Latina/o literature for, in some cases, more than two decades. Editors Rodrigo Lazo and Jesse Alemán have brought together some of the most active scholars in these fields to produce The Latino Nineteenth Century, an innovative volume that offers a variety of methods and terms for literary critics and historians to better grapple with the “Latina/o dimension” of American literary history and its implications for our contemporary moment. Most if not all the essays in the volume make the case that the key to expanding our knowledge about the American nineteenth century in general and the Latino nineteenth century in particular is to rethink the linguistic and formal boundaries of the American literary archive.
Central to most if not all of the essays in The Latino Nineteenth Century is the premise that the inclusion of Spanish-language texts in the archive of American literature is no longer a question but a necessity. Lazo underscores this point by stating [End Page 567] in the introduction that besides having to deal with a “dispersed” and “incomplete” collection of materials, scholars examining the literary history of Latinas/os must also deal with its linguistic diversity, which “raises questions about the notion of an archive (singular) versus archives that are not always and not easily accessible” (9, 10). Although the advantages of consulting a multilingual archive are somewhat obvious for many scholars of Latina/o studies, Chicana/o studies, ethnic studies, and other related disciplines—especially for scholars involved in the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project—the volume’s insistence on “reading Spanish-language texts” demonstrates for a broader academic audience some of the tensions, contradictions, and networks such a multilingual American literary archive reveals, as well as the questions it generates (Alemán viii). To what extent, for example, does Spanish-language print culture change the way we view historical figures we thought we knew well? How do we reconcile the nineteenth-century Latina/o archive’s formal and linguistic differences with existing categories and paradigms that fail to account for the conditions that produced them?
Contributors to the volume take up the issue of the archive in different ways, some more directly than others. Raúl Coronado writes that Latina/o history should not limit itself to an “object of knowledge (‘American literature’)” that was determined by the “logic of the nation” (50). One strategy for avoiding the impeding effects of nationalist logic on the writing of Latina/o literary history, he argues, is by consulting “alternative, minoritized—as it were—documents that yield different narratives of belonging” and approaching it as a “history of textuality” (51, 54). For him, this means being as aware of Latin American literary history as we are of the literary history of the United States, consulting Spanish-language texts, and focusing on local articulations of Latinidad (54). Carmen E. Lamas makes a similar argument about the importance of knowing the Latin American literary archive in her essay, which shows through a case study of Cuban intellectual Raimundo Cabrera’s writing how the Latin American literary archive helps scholars recover the heterogeneity of Latina/o identity.
The terms “Latino/Latina” are directly related to the issue of the archive in The Latino Nineteenth Century, of course, for they encompass a range of experiences and identities. Although some audiences may be skeptical about the applicability of “Latino/a” in a nineteenth-century context and its utility as an organizing term, Lazo explains that it enjoyed widespread usage throughout the Americas, where people used it to “reference themselves” but sometimes in a way that...