Afro-Latinas/os

The terms “Afro-Latina” and “Afro-Latino” refer to those Latinas/os in the United States who are of African ancestry and choose blackness as a racial identity in addition to identifying along ethnic lines with their Latina/o national origins. The terms are not exclusive to the United States, as activists of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean have also begun to use them (Whitten and Torres 1998; Seelke 2008). As the Latina/o population has grown in the United States, so has the number of Latinas/os of African descent (López and  Gonzalez-Barrera  2016).  According  to  the 2010 U.S. census, the 50.4 million Latinas/os in the United States (the nation’s largest panethnic group) account for 16.3 percent of the country’s population. About 2.5 percent of those Latinas/os also identified themselves as “Black” on the 2010 census. That compares with close to 53 percent who said they were also “White” and  the 36.7 …

Americas

Imagine carrying a gargantuan landmass, capped by glaciers, across your shoulders, the way people pose with reptiles at Coney Island. “Americas” is an impossible wonder to take on. This heavy expanse of a sign has the tendency to weigh down even the most ebullient. It means nothing and everything. America is named and narrated after the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci—a figure whose unverifiable itineraries continue to stump historians across the centuries (Lush, date unknown; Arciniegas 2002; de las Casas 2010). Although he was not the first to encounter all that lay west of Europe, nor are his voyages fully substantiated or substantiatable, the ancient continents were made his attribute by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller, who imposed it on his 1507 in utero rendering of the world, the Universalis Cosmographia (Hébert 2003). The naming, a grandest of prizes given to this grandest instance of fronting, carries in it a mystifying …

Art

Latina/o art is the shaping, iterating, and/or interrogating of the cultural expressions of one’s relationship—even if contested—to latinidad. This definition speaks to the concerns of artists who may choose to directly or indirectly address latinidad, as well as to the reception and interpretation of the work of Latina/o artists. When art is used with a qualifier such as the point of origin or gender of an artist, questions arise about whether such a designation implies a uniform or identifiable aesthetic outcome. Just as “Latina/o” and “Latin American” are heavily contested terms, so too is “Latina/o art” in that it can be used as an umbrella term to encompass diverse artistic practices from geometric abstraction to activist driven social practice art.

Adriana Zavala (2015) has addressed the shortcomings of the term “Latin@ art,” in particular in its emphasis on immigrant cultures and the ways it does not account for …

Assimilation

Assimilation has long functioned as the telos in narratives about the American experience and as an organizing rubric in U.S. immigration history, the social sciences, particularly sociology, and public policy (Alba and Nee 2007). Immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants are expected to blend into and to find acceptance, if not success, in the mainstream. Indeed, assimilation is often linked to the American dream. Those who do not assimilate or who are deemed inassimilable are generally regarded and treated as outsiders or failed citizens.

Assimilation is the process whereby the boundary between mainstream and margin blurs, disappears, or paradoxically, is reinforced. While the term is commonly used in the United States in relation to immigrants, it may also be applied to any group not deemed part of the mainstream, such as religious, linguistic, and sexual minorities, and to the production, circulation, and consumption of cultural practices and products (for example, Mexican …

Barrio

At its most basic level, “barrio” refers to a place—a neighborhood, community, enclave, and/or region— that is familiar to many and evokes a range of affective responses. Unlike the term colonia, which  conjures ideas of semi-rural spatial formations, barrios are often imagined as decidedly urban spaces—as dense enclaves, which are familiar features of American cities (Sánchez Korrol 1994; D. Diaz 2005; Vigil 2008; Ward 2010). They are places born out of histories of segregation, uneven development, conflict, and  marginalization;  but  they are also the precious spaces that affirm cultural identities, nurture popular cultural production, and provide sanctuary for people with long histories of displacement, land loss, repression, and collective  struggle. In  this way, barrios share a great deal in common with African American ghettos. According to Diego Vigil, both spaces derived from people’s experiences of having to “settle in inferior places that were spatially separate and socially distanced from …

Borderlands

Borders are fictions of material consequence, created by empires and fortified with the invention of the modern nation-state. They restrict the limits of territory and mark the transition between kingdoms, colonies, and private land holdings in advanced capitalist societies. Where national territory or private property begin and end, borders signal the essence of power relations. The actual geographic spaces of borders tend to be highly contested. Particular to Latina/o studies, the boundaries of Spanish and Anglophone empires and of the nation- state pervade how we theorize borders and borderlands in the field. While some borders are highly privileged and centralized, others are just as contested.

The subfield of borderlands theory emerged in the late 1980s. Part theory of language, part theory of subjectivity, and part theory of geography, it accounts for the relationship between the centers and margins of power, which are in dialectic tension for Latina/o populations. As Juan …

Brown

Brown is not an identity. Brown, along with its nominal form, brownness, are also not objects of knowledge in the ways that identity markers such as “Latina/o” or “Chicana/o” are in the late twentieth and early twenty- first centuries. The more popularly used ethnic marker aligned with a certain hue or accent of brownness, “Latina/o” is widely understood as designating a population historically displaced from Latin  America and living in the United States. Other identity variants exist within the Latina/o population that are assigned  to people from specific national and cultural heritages; the most widely used of these is the politically charged banner of Chicana/o, which signifies a person of Mexican descent or origin living in the U.S. Southwest. The definitional incoherence of Latina/o—let alone Chicana/o, Cuban American, Nuyorican, and so on— reveals how not all identities capture the people, lives, and experiences they seek to  demarcate.  As  a  …

Capitalism

The first use of the word “capitalism” has been credited to an 1855 British novel, The Newcomes, which narrates the story of an English family who became wealthy through business and marrying into money (Thackeray 1996). While the term retained associations with wealth, “capitalism” is commonly linked to Adam Smith and Karl Marx, two political economists whose writings about society were published one hundred years apart and who held opposing views regarding capitalism. These views became schools of thought and have influenced and divided the world in opposing camps until today. What follows briefly describes (a) key elements of Smith’s and Marx’s views; (b) the roots of capitalism in the Latin American region;  and  (c) the nexus between capitalism and migration from the Dominican Republic to the United States.

Capitalism is a mode of production that stimulates the private ownership of the means of production, the use of free …

Chicana, Chicano, Chican@, Chicanx

Self-naming is political, ideological, and resistant. “Chicano” remains thus inflected, true to its emergence in activist communities of the 1960s and 1970s to signify  self-determination,  working-class  origins,  and a critique of social relations of power. Although not entirely clear who first appropriated “Chicano” for this usage, it is generally accepted that at one time the word circulated in Mexican Spanish as a negative reference to the “lower classes.” Its appropriation by students and activists transformed it into an empowering alternative to “Mexican,” “Mexican American,” or “Hispanic.” To name oneself as “Chicana” or “Chicano” is to assert a gendered, racial, ethnic, class, and cultural identity in opposition to Anglo-American hegemony and state- sanctioned practices of representing people of Mexican descent in the United States. As it evokes the “radical” politics of cultural nationalism, “Chicano” stands against the institutionally normative “Hispanic,”  as well as the linguistically insistent “Latino” (Alcoff 2005). Always associated …

Citizenship

Citizenship, as we know it, is a technology of modern state power. It is the elementary political form by which people—embodied persons embedded in dense and complex  webs  of  social  relations—are  reduced to “individuals” who may be abstractly figured as “equals” before the law. The modernity of this form of power derives precisely from the notion that the rule   of man (as in a monarchy or an aristocracy) has been irreversibly replaced by the rule of law. As abstract individuals, therefore, all citizens are ostensibly equal, commensurable, effectively interchangeable, as  the law is supposed to apply uniformly to all, and no one is supposed to be enduringly subjected to personalistic and hierarchical forms of domination and dependency. Citizenship therefore  corresponds  to  a  social  order in which everyone is presumed to voluntarily and “freely” engage in exchange, whether it be the exchange of goods for money, or much more commonly, the …

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