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  • The Lens of Latinx Literature
  • Marilisa Jiménez García (bio)

Youth literature and culture serves as a dynamic space for Latinx artistry and innovation, and narrates some of most influential debates on Latinx life in the US, including those centered on citizenship, race, and gender. In our contemporary Latinx literary world, literature for youth, and also literature revolving around the processes of adolescence, has taken center stage. In November 2018, we celebrated the triumph of Elizabeth Acevedo as the National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature for The Poet X (2018). Later, in February 2019, Latinxs would add the first Latina Newbery Medal winner (Meg Medina) and first Latina Printz Award winner (Acevedo) to a list of milestones in literary culture. On the evening of the National Book Awards, Latinx Studies scholar Vanessa K. Valdés, the author of Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (2018), underlined a strong connection among issues of race, youth literature, and visibility in the literary canon, writing on Twitter, "#Afrolatinidad all up in the National Book Awards!!! Thank you, [Elizabeth Acevedo], for writing US into the canon!" Similarly, Charlie Vásquez, director of the Bronx Writers Center, recently credited youth literature as an important part of the "#BoricuaLit Renaissance [that] is Happening Now," marking young adult novels as part of a larger Latinx creative resurgence. Yet literature for youth has long-been a fixture of Latinx culture, from José Martí's La edad de oro (1899) to AfroBoricuas Pura Belpré and Arturo Schomburg's storytelling and archiving in the New York Public Library to Ernesto Galarza's "mini-libros" during the early Chicano movement. Literature for young people has functioned as a key platform, historically, for Latinx communities (Jiménez García, "Pura Belpré").1

When I proposed a guaranteed Modern Language Association panel on Latinx literature at the 2016 Children's Literature Association in [End Page 1] Columbus, Ohio, my objective was to subvert the conversation on diversity. Over the past few years, the Children's Literature Association has engaged in a meaningful discussion on how to improve as a more inclusive scholarly community in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and disability. Yet, often in discussions of inclusivity and social justice, we overlook that engaging with the intellectual histories and scholarship from marginal communities is one of the most basic ways to exercise equity. We forget that although Indigenous and people of color writers and scholars have been marginalized in literary and cultural history by conquest and colonization, the contributions of these communities are not marginal. As Toni Morrison once said in a speech titled "A Humanist View":

The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn't shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

Racism is also a stealth operative—its greatest trick is to deny its own existence through presenting itself as neutral while situating the epistemologies of Indigenous and people of color, for example, as working out of "identity." Epistemologies matter. Whom we cite matters. Yet, more than just adding in a citation, whom we decide to engage with and build with intellectually—and in the material spaces that make up our field—matters. I wanted to see a panel at the Modern Language Association dedicated entirely to Latinx literature for young people because I thought it was time that the lens of Latinx literature was presented as a framework for examining how children's and young adult literature behaves as an aesthetic and political medium.

In my call for papers, I presented research questions similar to those that follow as a means of grounding the conversation. I wanted to go beyond a discovery process of "Latinxs have written books for children" or...


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