Authored by: Marta Caminero-Santangelo

The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature

Print publication date:  August  2012
Online publication date:  October  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415666060
eBook ISBN: 9780203097199
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221613


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The meaning of “latinidad,” ostensibly a fairly straightforward term that translates to “Latinoness,” is actually quite fraught. Like many labels referring to questions of identity, “latinidad” implies questions of authenticity (“Is that really Latino?”), of degree (“How Latino is that?”), and, perhaps most of all, of difference and opposition. As various theorists of ethnicity have pointed out, ethnic group identities are generally based on contrast (Sollors 1995; Cornell and Hartmann 1998). When we classify writers and their literature by ethnicity, we put them in one group as opposed to another: “the writer is an X, meaning not a Y” (Sollors 1995: 290). Anthropologist Fredrik Barth introduced the notion that it is “the ethnic boundary that defines the group, not the cultural stuff that it encloses” (1969: 15) – suggesting that, more than cultural commonalities within a group, what makes groupness is the ways one group understands itself as opposed to or different from others. Werner Sollors argues that literature itself helps to “construct” such ethnic group identities, through narratives that invoke a common history and culture and that suggest that there are differences that matter between ethnic groups; thus literature “may help to create the illusion of a group’s ‘natural’ existence from ‘time immemorial’” (1995: 290). “Latino” as an ethnic label thus suggests a contrast with some “other” people understood to be “non-Latino.”

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