Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas and Mérida M. Rúa, "Critical Dialogues in Latinx Studies: A Reader" (NYU Press, 2021)


Latinx Studies has long been overdue for a revamp – a different orientation to the questions with which we concern ourselves. Critical Dialogues in Latinx Studies: A Reader (New York University Press, 2021) is a leap toward this direction by offering the field nine distinct díalogos around which various established and junior scholars from different disciplines present their own writings to these conversations. Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas and Mérida M. Rúa, the co-editors of the anthology, ground the book in the work of Jesús Colón’s A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches. “By opening this anthology with Jesús Colón we aim to highlight the role that history, memoir, and even autobiographical fiction invariably play in most empirically sound and theoretically sophisticated Latinx humanistic social sciences,” Ramos-Zayas and Rúa write (3). From this vantage point, they pry open the field of Latinx Studies and expose its expansiveness and depth by highlighting its methodological innovation, intersectional critique, various geopolitical scales that decenter the U.S. nation-state, and critical takes on seemingly established paradigms.

In this New Books Latino Studies interview, we focus on díalogos numbers 1, 2, 8, and 9. These four critical dialogues offer listeners only a glimpse into the 39 articles that make up the anthology.

Díalogo #1, “US Imperialism and Colonial Legacies of Latinx Migration,” grounds the readers in the historical context of US imperialism and colonialism as a way to frame Latinidades as social constructs that “best explains why Latin Americans ‘migrate’ to the United States” (11). For example, Susan Coutin and Pedro Cabán’s articles, “Borders and Crossings,” and “Puerto Rico: The Ascent and Decline,” both talk about how U.S. intervention impacted the lives of people in Central America and Puerto Rico, respectively. However, both also show how it is this same notion of identity rooted in a place that gave rise to activists struggling to keep their communities safe while also challenging histories of exclusion. Díalogo #2, “The Politics of Labeling Latinidades and Social Movements,” helps us understand better the complexities and nuances of naming. Two of the texts included in this díalogo include Suzanne Oboler revisiting her past work on ethnic labels in “Disposable Strangers” (67-80) alongside Maritza Cárdenas’ work on how Central American identities are being made and remade by queer central American diasporic artists and writers in what she conceptualizes as “centroamericanismo” in the text, “Querying Central America(n) from the US Diaspora,” (81-93).

Díalogo #8, “Latinx Kinship and Relatedness,” offers four texts to show how Latinx communities make and imagine communities. By focusing on race relations between Latinidades and Blackness in the work of Jennifer A. Jones, Femme Latina Chonga aesthetics in collective cultural practices as explored by Jillian Hernandez, church life in migratory labor in the work of Lloyd Barba, and the process of collective mourning in the wake of natural disasters in Puerto Rico by Frances R. Aparicio, diálogo #8 shows how various Latinx populations come together across time and space. These authors push the boundaries of kinship. For example, Jennifer A. Jones in “Blackness, Latinidad, and Minority Linked Fate” asks, “What would it mean to think of Latinidad as proximate to and/or inclusive of blackness” (425) instead of whiteness? Such a powerful question evokes past and present forms of Latinx racial formations and relationality. Díalogo #9, “Community Engagement, Critical Methodologies, and Social Justice,” offers a variety of methodologies that are central for altering and grounding the conditions of knowledge production in Latinx communities at different scales. Lorgia Garcia Peña and Aisha M. Belisio-De Jesus in their articles, “Bridging Activism and Teaching” and “Brujx: An Afro-Latinx Queer Gesture,” respectively, write about post-election actions by students in classrooms and Afro-latinx brujx. These readings underscore the election of Trump was a call to action for progressive and radical folks who were oriented toward social justice. At that moment, feeling mobilized action. Aisha recounts how Hector La Woke (brujx interviewed by author), was angry and turned to the writings of Black radical feminist Audre Lorde to “draw on Lorde as a spiritual guide to channel anger into warfare” (531).

While díalogo #9 heavily focused on self-reflexivity and spiritual work as critical methods toward liberation, reflexivity was also vital in the making of the anthology itself. In the introduction, the co-editors write, “we align our scholarship with the ethnographic convention of reflexivity, from an anticolonial/decolonial and antiracist stance grounded in history and political economy. We draw on ‘rigorous reflexivity’ to rupture prevailing categories and modes of analysis” (6). By taking a horizontal leadership approach, the co-editors coordinated planned conversations between the contributors to discuss connections and departures between their works. Ramos-Zayas and Rúa understood their role more as moderators and interlocutors working toward collaboration as a method and pedagogy of doing Latinx Studies.

Critical Dialogues in Latinx Studies: A Reader is itself a project in collaboration and kinship. The editors’ long-standing relationship with each other and with Puerto Rican diasporic scholarship exemplifies the generative possibilities available to us when we co-create. Since their early careers in the academy, Ramos-Zayas and Rúa have had to build connections with other Puerto Rican women, Latinas, and women of color to survive – and passed along these survival mechanisms to younger generations. In many ways, Critical Dialogues is a culmination of their friendship and a love letter to the field of Latinx Studies, launching us toward a new way to explore history, culture, and identity.

Over 538 pages, 39 articles, and 9 dialogues, Critical Dialogues in Latinx Studies provides different ways to access, define, disrupt, and embody Latinidades. Scholars, teachers, and anyone interested in Latino Studies will find something of interest in the anthology.

Jonathan Cortez is currently the 2021-2023 César Chávez Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @joncortz

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Jonathan Cortez

Jonathan Cortez is currently the 2021-2023 César Chávez Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @joncortz

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