The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States Edited by Miriam Jiménez Román and Juan Flores (review) [Ellison]Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-02 00:30Z by Steven
Mahan L. Ellison, Assistant Professor of Spanish
Bridgewater College, Bridgewater, Virginia
Román, Miriam Jiménez and Juan Flores, eds., The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010)
As noted in the acknowledgements, this compilation of essays, poetry, prose, and personal narratives coalesced over the past two decades from readings for classes taught by the editors. The collection focuses on the intersection of the Black and Latin@ experiences, avoiding the exclusivity of either/or dualities and instead emphasizing the rich history and diversity found within the encompassing term of “Afro-Latin@.” The collection adheres to a geographical focus of the United States, but it is so vast in its coverage of the many facets of the Afro-Latin@ experience and history that this regional concentration is one of practicality rather than oversight.
The book is divided into ten sections, and these sections address the four central concerns (“coordinates”) within Afro-Latinidad of “group history, transnational discourse, relations between African Americans and Latin@s, and the specific lived experience of being Afro-Latin@” (3). Section I opens by providing historical background for Afro-Latin@s in (what would become) the United States, reaching back to Estevanico el Negro in 1528 and introducing census records showing that 56.5% of the Los Angeles population in 1781 was Afro-Latin@ (30). Other sections focus on the construction of racial identity, popular music, gender, public representations, and one entire section dedicated to Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. There are 66 individual chapters that offer a wide variety of genres, and this mixed-genre approach lends itself well to use in the classroom. The disparate themes each section explores contextualize Afro-Latin@ history while displaying the diversity of Afro-Latinidad. This dense reader is a wonderful resource for educators.
The readings are organized chronologically, beginning with historical context from the sixteenth century, but largely focusing on the twentieth and nascent twenty-first centuries. This chronological ordering allows the intersperment of poetry and personal memoirs among academic essays, thereby varying the narrative tone and form from chapter to chapter. For example, the section on Arturo Schomburg begins with an excerpt from an article penned by Schomburg, is followed by an academic essay by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, and concludes with a personal narrative by Evelyne Laurent-Perrault that considers the continued resonance of Schomburg’s legacy. This varied-genre approach to the topics creates a narrative flexibility that shows the breadth of the subjects and offers multiple points of view.
The collection includes an excerpt from Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets, poetry by the Nuyorican poets Sandra María Esteves, Felipe Luciano, and Victor Hernández Cruz, and also more recent works by Tato Laviera, Louis Reyes Rivera, Willie Perdomo, and Mariposa (María Teresa Fernández). Section IX, titled “Living Afro-Latinidades,” is a collection of personal testimonies from Afro-Latin@s that explores the intimate and individual experience of being Afro-Latin@ in the United States. The first person narration that predominates in this section complements the academic essays and personalizes the poetry and fiction found throughout the reader. Section IX is followed by the final section that concludes the book with essays focusing on racial identity and social commentary. As Section I opens with historical context and Section X closes with analysis, these editorial choices emphasize the critical value of Afro-Latin@ identity and literary production.
The Afro-Latin@ Reader is a well conceptualized and executed resource for university instructors. Due to the fact that many of the works included in the reader are excerpts, the value of this book for research purposes is mostly bibliographic. However, as an introduction to the often overlooked areas of Afro-Latin@ identity and history, this collection serves as a valuable resource for students and educators. The variety of tone, content, and genre offers a broad and compelling view of Afro-Latinidad. This reader would serve well as a textbook for a class on Afro-Latin@ culture in the United States, or as an addition to reading lists on African, Latin@, or American culture and literature…