“Latinidad” and the Defining and Contestation Thereof

Identity is more than a list of categories that name our sexuality, gender, HIV status, nation, age, ethnicity, ability, class, language, citizenship status, and religion. Even if we expand the list to include all the other significant features of ourselves, what do these attributes actually explain about our lives? What aspects of identity exceed the categories we have created to define our places in the world? How do memories of desire and violence mark us in ways that are similar and different from the ways we have been marked by color and gender? How do street corners and kitchen tables, friends and lovers, lullabies and taunts, private violations and public betrayals leave traces on our lives? How do the many moments of our daily existence determine how we view ourselves and the world around us? – Juana María Rodríguez, Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces

Even before reading Rodríguez’s part on Afro-Latin@s in this chapter, this paragraph hit straight home for me. Rodríguez urges us, the reader, to critically think and analyze things, ideas, concepts, in ways that we may or may not have considered before. She really expects a whole lot from her reader, which is refreshing because I certainly do not just want to be talked to. Identity is constructed, deconstructed, reconstructed, recycled and upcyclyed; I’m just glad that I am reading someone who not only realizes, but understands that this is the case.

Identity is a very tricky subject to talk about. What counts as a part of your identity? For me, dominicana, nuyoquina, Afro-Latina, woman, U.S. American (because saying that the nationality of a U.S. born citizen is American makes no historical sense. Before the United States hijacked the term “american,” it meant a citizen of the Americas, aka the New World. In fact, Simon Bolivar (aka the George Washington of Latin America – dude was responsible for the independence of 5 Latin American countries in the 1820’s – Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivía, Peru, Ecuador) in many of his documents, including his famous Letter from Jamaica, speaks of the unification of Americans, and he was not referring to the unification of U.S. Americans, rather to the Americans that formed a part of the Americas. Unfortunately, there is no word in the English language for a person from the United States except for American. Some people like to use the word USer (person from the US; also, user =D. Rodríguez would love this). However, in Spanish, there is such a word, estadounidense. Yes, a mini rant, but I would argue, useful food for thought.) are all things that pop into my head. These things are not separate entities, but different aspects of my being that work together and complicate and restructure each other everyday. I am Latina, but I am also a black woman, who was born to Dominican parents in the Bronx who is now at an elite private liberal arts institution. These are all parts of me, all aspects of me that I must learn to navigate and understand in order to understand my identity.

Rodríguez’s section of Afro-Latinidad emphasized something crucial: “‘Queer’ is not simply an umbrella term that encompasses lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, two-spirited people and transsexuals; it is a challenge to constructions of heteronormativity.” (24) By defining queerness and queer identity in such a way, I find another name for what I am in the mainstream Latin@ canon: queer. I am the missing, the silenced, the ignored and rejected, and that’s fine. I don’t need to be fully accepted or understood, I don’t even need to be liked, I just need to be respected. I just need it to be known that I am, and that’s it, the end. And while Rodríguez advocates for her reader to think outside of theories and paradigms, she acknowledges that even her own work is being hindered by theories and paradigms. She too is queer, not only within the mainstream Latin@ culture which she problematizes, but also within academia.

Academia works to be Rodríguez’s biggest silencer; while she yearns for freedom to do and say as she pleases, she knows she cannot and that there is a limit. The realization of such a thing makes the cage that surrounds her more visible and apparent to the reader. However, Rodríguez, like many other bodies, exercises agency within her entrapment and, in her case, produces radical and revolutionary academic work. The production of her work = queerness. My interpretation of her work = queerness. In fact, within Divas, Atrevidas y Entretenidas, Rodríguez makes all the more apparent that anything against the Self is queer. The Latin@ is queer next to Anglo-American, the latina is queer next to the latino, homosexuality is queer next to heterosexuality, etc. This is the most important thing to take with you from Rodríguez. Her examples of activism, law and cyberspace are vehicles through which she could further her initial, most basic and most necessary conclusion: queerness does not only address gay/lesbian/trans/anything not straight bodies, but also all of the silenced bodies that do not form a part of the dominant culture. When you think about it this way, a large majority of us are queer. Who would have known?

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8 thoughts on ““Latinidad” and the Defining and Contestation Thereof

  1. This is inspired, Julissa! I wonder about the “Self” you refer to here. Is there a tension between selfhood and queer collectivity in Rodriguez’s work? Is there a notion of anti-Selfhood embedded in Rodriguez’s take on how identity works? Is it queer to resist self-hood? Doesn’t it kind of hurt to let go of selfhood? This is stuff that troubles me ALL THE TIME. Thanks for your provocative, parenthetical, and expansive take on it.

    -RP

  2. Quite interesting piece Julissa. Although I was born in New York, as I came across the section where you write about the term “U.S. American”, I could not help being reminded that I feel seperated from this U.S. American Identity by society. Unfortunately, I feel that most of society in the U.S. grants you this identity or says that you are deserving of it, if you are white, heteronormative, and patriotic (to name a few), as if any person living or born in the U.S. is not deemed fit to be called U.S. American just because they are brown. I feel that most of America paints a picture of the “appropriate American” and just flushes brown people out as a group that does not quite fit that. As Latin@s, we have all sorts of ancestors that may not have originated from the United States, but many of the whites’ ancestors originated from Europe and not the U.S. either. Even though some Latin@s may have been born here or were granted citizenship status, they are not the people that greater society has in their minds as All-American. Even in the media, a U.S. American is depicted under a facade of an All American-Lumber Jack -next door Joe. The depiction of a U.S. American through this white-heteronormative-patriotic scope is problematic.

  3. Hey Julissa,
    I really identified with your post, especially when you discussed being queer in the “mainstream Latin@ canon.” Her discussion about Afro-Latinidad and also of how to define being a Latin@ really stood out to me. I almost jumped out of my seat while reading it because I felt like, Yes! Someone finally addresses this issue within the within the Latin@ community.
    I really liked Rodríguez’s discussion about different types of Latin@s, whether they fit this mestizaje ideal.
    “Often both popular and official projects of mulatismo and mestizaje have been used to flatten or subsume differences, reinscribe margins and uphold whiteness” (13). Or as Coco Fusco states: “In a sense, we cannot think that everyone in Cuba, Mexico or Puerto Rico identifies with the official celebration of mestizaje” (13).
    I am Andean Latina, another Latin@ that is often ignored when discussing Latin@s because we don’t “fit” into this idea of mestizaje Rodríguez discusses. For example, where my dad comes from (Bolivia), many people speak Quechua and Aymara, not Spanish. Dancing salsa or eating tortillas with everything (typical stereotypes of Latin@s) are not basic parts of our Latinidad. And to top it off, many Bolivianos are not mestizos, they are the indigenous descendents of the Incas.
    Rodríguez definitely made me aware of the different queer Latin@s that are out there. Like white Latin@s that have to prove their “authenticity” or Afro-Latin@s that are “tug-of-war” between their different identities (20-21). As you said, defining identity is so tricky!
    I really am glad that Rodríguez has brought this to light. Latinos have so many different identities. We are of different races, geographies, genders, sexualities and religions. We speak different languages, eat different food, have different histories, etc. Most of us are queer and we cannot let our Latin@ identities “flattened.”

  4. Rodriguez’ usage of the notion of queerness, and your beautiful rearticulating of it, were particularly poignant to me in this response. If queerness does not merely represent gays and lesbians, not solely gender and sexuality non-conforming individuals, but actually encompasses all bodies, communities and identities which are forged in opposition to systems of domination and normativity, what does such a conception of queerness mean for the aligning of those countless queer people and their political needs? If a majority of us are queer, as you insightfully point out, then how do we understand our many queernesses in relation to one another? Is solidarity amongst all missing, silenced and rejected bodies the goal of this notion of queerness, or is this strategic essentializing of non-normativity too simplistic a means of comprehending our vast and varying histories, communities and identities?

    • Ben, I think your response places my post at a crossroads. While I do think that all oppressed peoples should unite for support purposes, I also think that your latter point in regards to the dangers of essentialization is an extremely important one. I would argue that a compromise between both poles must be reached in order to produce healthy relationships with, understandings of and definitions of queerness. The “happy medium” should be established on an individual basis since people carry a multiplicity of identities which they relate to. Ultimately, any extreme is never ideal or useful because as human beings we don’t live in extremes; we live in constant contact with other people and other entities.

  5. Julissa, I completely agree with you in saying that the majority of us are queer. Before this class when I heard the term queer, I automatically thought of the LGBT community like anyone else in my community back home would. Yet being queer not only means that but also anyone who is outside of a ‘normal society’. When you think of Latin@s you think of European looking women with some Indian facial features and a curvy body, but this isn’t how all Latina@s look. This is why I loved reading what Rodriguez said about afro-latin@s. These latin@s are considered queer in the Latin@ community for both Latin@s and non-Latin@s because they are not what society says they should be. Will they ever be accepted into the Latin@ community? Why is it that there has to be a specific way of being for a Latin@. If you actually pay attention to any culture, no one is considered to be purely Latin@, or black, or white in all aspects being a true Latin@ is a social construction, something that the media has made up and that actually doesn’t exist.

  6. Hola mi gente–it’s the author here (juana maría rodríguez) so excited to see that you read my work, and “got it.” you all are my audience, the reason I write, the questions you are asking are the questions I ask myself. Julissa, es tremendo honor to have you blog about my work, really. I hope to be reading more of your work soon, thank you for making reading community with me, abrazos sinceros, jmr

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