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Moving towards Latinotopia

Vers un Latinotopia…
Karin Ikas et Francisco A. Lomelí

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La utopia no es lo imposible,

  • 1 Cited in the art section of El Mercurio, Santiago, Chile, January 15, 2012, l.

sino lo que aún no existe. 1

Ariane Mnouchkine,

Director of the Théâtre du Soleil

  • 2 Antoni Bernat, “Latinotopia: Puerto Rican Architects in New York,” in ReVista: The Ha (...)
  • 3 Online at <>.

1“The most global of global cities holds a new manifest destiny: New York is now ‘Latinotopia,’” so claimed Antoni Bernat an architect and cultural critic based in Barcelona, 2 Writing in ReVista: The Harvard Review of Latino America in 2010. New York City, Los Angeles and Miami are not the only cities facing such a challenging transformation as other spaces are turning into a Latinotopia as well, including smaller cities or towns in Missouri, North Carolina, Washington, New Mexico, Georgia and across the United States – even some parts of Appalachia. For Anthony De Jesús, such developments particularly influence education and teaching. In a presentation at the School of Social Policy & Practice Latin@ Social Service & Policy Initiative, he claimed that American educational institutions of higher learning are now “Tinkering Toward Latinotopia: Pipelines, Pathways and Paradox” in an effort to develop better strategies to improve higher education for Latinos. 3 The growing importance of modern information technologies and virtual spaces has further supported the proliferation of Latinotopia. In cyberspace, Latinotopia is booming as a domain name for internet blogs, chatrooms and the emergence of virtual communities. The website <>, for instance, takes the user to “Latinotopia Webdesign and E-Marketing: El Portal de los Hispanoparlantes en Alemania,” a web-portal which posts the activities and events of the Latino community outside the Spanish-speaking world. Curiously, this time it does not concern the Latino community residing somewhere in North America but rather in Europe – specifically, in Germany, where, so far, multicultural issues and matters of integration have hardly been associated with Latinos, but rather from the 1950s onwards with Italian guest workers and since the 1960s with Turkish immigrants. Just the same, it appears Latinos are now everywhere in the world in diasporic trends like never before.

2From all indications, therefore, Latinotopia is about to become an increasingly domestic influence as well as an international or rather transnational phenomenon triggered by an ever-growing Latino and Spanish-speaking population worldwide. Nevertheless, it is particularly in the United States where a critical mass has accumulated in recent years, almost producing a country within another country to the point that U.S. Latinos as a group represent the second largest number of Latinos only superseded by Mexico among all Spanish-speaking countries. At least, the figures speak for themselves: U.S. Latinos already number over 50 million (15% of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census), with a growth rate of 24.3% or almost four times the growth rate of the rest of the population (6.1%). It is here that a new catchphrase has been making the rounds and headlines first: “Latinotopia-USA” and that is precisely why we chose this phrase for our special volume. The buzzword which we proposed independently of anyone else – without knowing that someone else also was using it – ultimately becomes a poetic coincidence in attempting to capture the internal cultural and demographic changes happening in the United States, having of course other transnational implications in Germany, Canada and other countries. The limited usage of the term has been in specialized spheres (i.e. architecture, commerce), but we prefer to propose an over-arching theoretical concept with anthropological and sociological implications, something as broad and foundational as Alurista´s Aztlán back in l968. We later encountered a similar term originally initiated by a California advertising company as “Latinolandia”, which rightly testifies to the profound impact of U.S. Latinos on the contemporary and future social, educational, communicational, technological, architectural, religious, cultural, culinary, and fashion makeup of the United States. Surprisingly, domestic and global politics as well as a large section of the (inter)national and interdisciplinary research community still do not pay sufficient attention to these striking developments and transformations in this Third Millennium.

3This LISA e-journal number on “Latinotopia-USA: International Perspectives on a Transforming USA in the 21st Century” aims to contribute to closing this research gap from an international and interdisciplinary angle. Thus, we have brought together a broad roster of interested critics and specialists from far corners of the globe who submitted innovative critical and interdisciplinary vistas on the burgeoning real and discursive landscape of “Latinotopia-U.S.A”, a term which we resorted to in order to challenge the applicability of such a notion from a variety of perspectives. As a result, the phenomenon helps us assess the new (inter)national significance and role of U.S. Latinos within and beyond the United States, which is ever more Latino-realigned and globally transforming, as the 21st century is getting into full swing. Given the comprehensive scope of the subject matter, the contributions in this volume cover a fascinating and broad range of disciplines and approaches: theoretical angles, linguistic approaches, literary and cultural treatments, gender analyses, genre discussions, historical ventures, sociological methodologies, popular cultural emphases, anthropological precepts, film and (multi-)media studies, including re-examinations of key concepts and categories such as migration, diaspora, exile, identity, community, transnationalism, hybridity, borders, third spaces and third figures. As these entries will illustrate, the potential and challenges of Latinotopia are manifold and can best be approached from an interdisciplinary angle that allows us to mix and match in order to deal with the complexities of contemporary times.

4It is surprising to discover that despite the term’s recent usage – usually in isolated instances – there is no single or precise definition of the “Latinotopia”. Yet, maybe it is exactly its inherent vagueness, expansiveness and inherent suggestiveness that makes this term so attractive and provocative. It enables users to read almost anything into it and apply it in their own ways for their own purposes as the aforementioned examples have already illustrated. However big the heuristic gain might be in all this, such a proceeding is rather detrimental to scientific analysis. The following pages aim to fill important gaps to change this. Setting out to contribute to the clarification of the term, we propose first taking a closer theoretical look at the two components, “Latino” and “topia”. Proceeding to connect them systematically with each other will then lead to expounding further on what Latinotopia attempts to achieve for the participants (those affected and activated), their relationship, as well as society and the world community at large. After these general reflections and fundamental considerations of Latinotopia in this introduction, the individual essays that follow provide variegated case studies from multiple contexts and perspectives while attempting to illuminate the theoretical points-of-view sketched in these opening pages of the collection.

5So what does “Latinotopia” mean and encompass? Linguistically, the term is composed of the affix “Latino” and the suffix “topia”. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Houghton Mifflin, 42006), “Latino” refers to “a person of Hispanic, especially Latin-American, descent, often one living in the United States” but we also want to highlight their transnational contexture. “Topia” is derived from the Greek term “topos” meaning place and generally speaking it signifies a “place with specified characteristics”. “Topia” commonly appears in key terms such as “utopia” signifying an imagined place or a state of things in which everything is perfect, or the later invented opposite term “dystopia”, in which everything is viewed as negative and catastrophic. Of course “heterotopia” embodies another theoretical concept to invoke an alternative place of conflict, negotiation and difference. But we want to emphasize that we have deliberately chosen the term Latinotopia to raise expectations and provoke new treatments on the subject of U.S. Latinos through a broader transnational lens.

6We also acknowledge that Latinos no longer fit a simple or neat social classification or cultural category, nor do they belong to one place exclusively. Consequently, we envision the term Latinotopia as offering a new paradigm beyond its original cultural-geographical location and roots (Aztlán, Borinquen, Cuba, etc.) in order to establish a foundation for what Latinos themselves are creating and generating today and in the near future. The term connotes a variety of conceptualizations and some might be negative (dystopia) or some positive (utopia); yet they are anything but indifferent. We hope to go beyond the formulaic, the predictable and the assumed because Latinotopia hopefully suggests opening new ground, configuring new alternatives, conquering new spaces, creating a new ethos, and also accepting that Latinos are not all recent immigrants as the media generally want us to perceive them. This is exactly what Latinos seem to be doing by breaking boundaries and challenging outdated labels. Latinotopia captures the processes of a social-cultural metamorphosis taking place in the United States as something both real and imagined, both internal and external. Their former invisibility is something of the past as they have reached center stage of society in virtually all areas through their cultural presence.

7More recently, the suffix “topia” has commonly suggested and embodied new challenges, issues and developments. “Technotopia”, for instance, has come to represent a vision of a utopia brought about by the expanding potential of science and technology and “ecotopia” has emerged to designate a community whose environment is organized on environmentally friendly ecological principles. If we apply the gist of the above to “Latinotopia”, the following definition can be derived: Latinotopia signifies a real, imaginary and virtual space and/or environment that is organized, designed, shaped, envisioned and impacted by people of Hispanic, especially of Latin-American descent, and often those living in the United States with the motivation to create a new world of possibilities. Indeed, the consequences encompass shifting power relations in various contexts and fields which increasingly appear in contemporary life, politics and arts and which will definitely shape the future of the United States and in an ever-more transnational and borderless, translocal or globalized world.

8In the following eight essays, we encounter well-known international experts from a variety of fields who take a fresh look at these developments in the following six thematically organized chapters.

A Glocal or Translocal Latinotopia of Paradoxes

  • 4 Ronald Robertson, “‘Glocalization’: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity,” in M (...)

9This first section blends the local and the global as “glocal” as Ronald Robertson has sketched it in “‘Glocalization’: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity.” 4 Here, among others, the subtleties of mentality, race and culture manifest themselves in quite original ways through the prism of what it means to be Cuban in exile and in Cuba. In the first entry, therefore, entitled “The Politics of Waiting: Transnational Identity and Exile in Achy Obejas’ Ruins,” Kevin Concannon, currently from Texas A & M, Corpus Christi, examines a unique work to discuss a Jewish presence in Cuba that has been often repressed or denied. He provides a sample of the paradoxes found within Cuban culture in terms of nation, exile and identity within the context of Jewishness trying to find its niche within Cuba. The process described is an infinite state of waiting for something to happen. In “Cubanness Within and Outside of Cuba,” U.S. scholar Mica Garrett from Murray State provides an in-depth analysis of what constitutes being Cuban in the country and outside of it. It is one of the most precise explanations on how Cubans have inherently had to struggle with Otherness due to their historical background and the various influences from within and outside that have governed their lives. The essay can serve as a solid foundation for others as a basis to conduct research related to Cuban studies, literature, immigration, politics and of course history.

Gendered Latinotopia: Pushing New Boundaries

10The single author of this section revisits some of the foundational proponents and their texts in order to put gender studies among Latinas in a broader theoretical and ideological position. Jackie Cuevas from Syracuse University, in “Imagining Queer Chican@s in the Post-Borderlands,” takes some of Gloria Anzaldúa’s and Cherríe Moraga’s ideas about both borderlands and genderqueerness in order to examine Felicia Luna Lemus´s novel Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties. In the process she adds greater nuance to what it means to be genderqueer, suggesting that this novel transcends some of the past binarities to propose a more advanced and sophisticated notion of genderqueerness. She clearly expands our understanding of gender and especially genderqueerness as an evolving theoretical concept.

Transnational Latinotopia beyond a Third Space

11This section presents a Latinotopia that has now superseded and transcended a third space as something more expansive and interrelated within a far-reaching global transnationalism. It opens with Ramón A. Gutiérrez’s study of “Reactive Ethnic Formations and Panethnic Identities: The Creation of Latinos in the United States.” In this insightful entry, the renowned scholar from the University of Chicago delves into the complexity of ethnic identities in different national spaces and explores the emergence of panethnicity in the United States, which has become a phenomenon of significant sociological importance since the early 1970s. Specifically, Guitiérrez looks into how individuals from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America and South America came to think of themselves as tied politically as Latinos. He argues that such panethnicity can come from above, from state action to gather distinct national and ethnic identities, or it can come from below, from communities that band together for a common purpose. In “So Close and Yet So Foreign: Trans-Border Relations in Paul S. Flores’ Along the Border Lies (200l),” Maria Antònia Oliver-Rotger from Barcelona, Spain, then concentrates on a U.S.-Mexican border writer whose intimate experience of the region offers insightful information on the mind and psychology of both sides of the border. She unveils the many factors that reverberate among the people, namely the militarization of the border, the drug trafficking and consumption, the anti-immigrant sentiments and the imbalance of power found there.

Educational Latinotopia in the Struggle for Access

12Education stands out as a barrier to and a medium for potential progress and social mobility. The obstacles, however, do not cease or diminish in relation to the increasing numbers of Latinos going into higher education. Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita from the University of California at San Diego, in “The Privatization of Education and its Implications for Latinos/as,” offer a highly incisive and analytical article that examines education in a global context as it relates to U.S. Latinos. The fact that education has been turned into a business directly works against providing access for those students who have traditionally not had easy entry paths. Privatization of public education in a system like the University of California, then, works against such access and availability for Latino students by making their journey through higher education that much more difficult to navigate.

Latinotopia’s Philosophical Challenge of Old Definitions

13The two authors discussed in this section offer deep reflections on identity in terms of an old vs. a new construction for the changing world. Theory and philosophy merge to unveil new approaches toward understanding what U.S. Latinos are attempting to capture and define in their own terms. Sophia Emmanouilidou from Zakynthos, Greece, in “Liminalities and Displacements: The Rites of Passage to Self-Identification in Chicano Writings,” focuses on the theoretical premise that hybridity, liminalities and displacements can lead us to more fully comprehend how identity is constructed in two canonical works: Tomás Rivera’s “...y no se lo tragó la tierra” and Tino Villanueva’s Scene from the Movie GIANT. She demonstrates how such works counteract the effects of disempowerment within the Chicano community through institutional and economic racism. The result in both essays is a discovery of individuation as a new state of consciousness that paves the way for greater community development. Villanueva, for example, expresses a poetic means of turning melancholy into a critical tool for dissecting the racial indignities of the past.

Latinotopia of Spirituality, Inspiration and Reconciliation

14In the concluding section, German scholar Karin Ikas from the Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen, sheds lights on the concept of “Reconciliation and Latinotopia” as pressing and ever-more popular subject matter that takes us beyond conflicts and borders. Ikas demonstrates that reconciliation is pivotal when discussing the United States. Historically speaking, one may go as far as to claim that reconciliation or, rather its failure, was the seed from which the Mexican American community emerged. Today, when addressing how to deal with the borderlands and how to go beyond conflicts and dualities, reconciliation exerts a significant influence on the shaping of contemporary identities and the well-being of a community. Thus, the region is gaining greater influence as an in-between space – in the sense of a glocal, geo-political and transcultural as well as aesthetic space beyond a third space – not only in the Americas but internationally. How and to what extent Latinotopia can eventually be perceived as a discursive site for reconciliation in the Third Millennium is the question her essay aims to answer by integrating socio-political, historical and literary works in an interdisciplinary manner and by suggesting considering Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s figure of the “rhizome” as an illustrative concept to capture Latinotopia theoretically and practically in further studies.

15Collectively, the entries prove that Latinotopia embodies an innovative and ever-more significant and relevant topos with transnational challenges that open up new insights into reassessing national identities in a global environment. As a Latino lens to view the world, Latinotopia aims to anticipate the future in new critical terms after having weighed the past and the present. Thus, this collection reaches well beyond the study of the United States, Latin America and Latino communities worldwide and can be a valuable interdisciplinary resource for academics, professionals, teachers and students as well as the general reader of various disciplines while coping with such developing issues in which Latinos are increasingly operating as greater protagonists.

  • 5 See Tomás Almaguer’s key article “Ideological Distortions in Recent Chicano Histori (...)

16Latinotopia, then, embodies a working construct that combines utopia, dystopia and heterotopia all in one in order to best represent how Latinos are becoming an imposing social-cultural phenomenon. One of the main differences from past portrayals is that Latinotopia does not imply segregation or separation from majority society. Nor should it be conceptualized as a kind of internal colony as Tomás Almaguer and Rudy Acuña 5 first proposed back in the early l970s in terms of a binary of resistance. Latinotopia implies empowerment, leverage, cultural capital, counteracting hegemony with numbers and a real presence: this embodies an identity beyond the bilingual-bicultural Generation Ñ as Latinos settle more comfortably in various regions as active agents or generators of new cultural forms. Therefore, Latinotopia can best be understood as a sense of community by Latinos within their diversity in contrast to the past essentialism: more than geography and pure demographics, it is a state of mind stemming from feeling as if they belong to something larger instead of feeling marginalized. More than social theory, it is a practice through a mixed identity that is not a contradiction. Latinotopia should not be understood as a Latino island, but rather the unique methods by which they interface, blend and amalgamate survival strategies for the sake of creating a two-way method of assimilation instead of the past method by which Anglo meant normative.

17Now, the idea is finding ways to feel comfortable with what you were and what you are becoming – split or dual subjectivities, bisensitivities – by keeping some of both without sacrificing one way over the other. In this regard, Latinotopia denotes creating a new hegemony of diversity by avoiding hierarchies or exclusivities. While it is true that Latinos are becoming a significant cluster of consumers with considerable buying power and potentially political clout, they are mainly becoming a force of contributors and not only passive observers, actors instead of receptors, protagonists instead of spectators. By Latinotopia we do not suggest a cultural Trojan horse attempting to take over or overthrow anything because they aim to enrich. We view it more as a process, a mentality for changing the character of homogeneity and past hegemonies. Latinotopia is the acceptance that Latinos have come of age in their American environment as they adapt in their own terms, meanwhile influencing, inflecting, and shaping their social surroundings with their customs, foods, rituals, music and work ethic. In this way Latinotopia is the conduit and the burgeoning context that permit Latinos to grow roots in their new environments and, in the process, change and impact their surroundings much like a powdered drink gives water a new look and flavor. Latinotopia ultimately signifies a broad transformation, an uplift, and injection of vitality, a reinvigoration of either stagnant spaces or spaces that attempt to remain the same.

18Thus, we find the anthropology of new tastes, new rhythms and new styles where worlds and cultures converge into new hybrid forms of being where Latinos feel they belong. As a consequence, American society is gaining more color, a broader palate in addition to adopting new sounds into an ever-changing American social evolution. More than ever before, Latinos feel as an integral part of American culture because it is no longer as foreign. Latinotopia is fast becoming part of the New American matrix.

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1 Cited in the art section of El Mercurio, Santiago, Chile, January 15, 2012, l.

2 Antoni Bernat, “Latinotopia: Puerto Rican Architects in New York,” in ReVista: The Harvard Review of Latino America (spring/summer 2010): 1-2. Online at <>.

3 Online at <>.

4 Ronald Robertson, “‘Glocalization’: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity,” in Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash and Ronald Robertson (eds.), Global Modernities, London: Sage, 1995, 25-44.

5 See Tomás Almaguer’s key article “Ideological Distortions in Recent Chicano Historiography: The Internal Model and Chicano Historical Interpretation,” in Aztlán 18, Spring 1987: 7-28, and Rudy Acuña’s Occupied America: Chicanos Struggle Toward Liberation, San Francisco: Canfield Press, 1972.

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Karin Ikas et Francisco A. Lomelí, « Moving towards Latinotopia », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. XI – n° 2 | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2013, consulté le 21 avril 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.5331

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Karin Ikas

Karin Ikas is a Professor of Anglophone Literatures and Cultures with a particular focus on North American, British and New English Literatures and Cultures and currently teaches at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen (Germany). In the summer term 2012 she held the position of an Acting Chair for British and Anglophone Literature and Culture (chair holder: Prof. Dr. Jens Gurr) at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen (Germany). Prior to that she taught at the Ludwigs-Maximilians-University (LMU) in Munich (Germany) where she held the position of an Acting Chair for Modern English Literature (chair holder: Prof. Dr. Christoph Bode) at the Department of English and American Studies. She studied at the universities of Würzburg (Germany) and Texas (UT Austin) and has been a visiting scholar at various universities in the USA, Canada, South Africa and Australia. Her Ph.D. thesis on “Modern Chicana Literature: An Intercultural Analysis” (published in German as Die zeitgenössische Chicana-Literatur: Eine interkulturelle Untersuchung, Winter, 2000) won the Daimler Chrysler Foundation’s “Academy Award for Intercultural Studies 2001.” In 2010 she obtained her second PhD (“Habilitation”) in English Studies at the University Frankfurt/M. with her thesis “‘A Nation Forged in Fire’: Canadian Literature and the Construction of National Identity” (publication forthcoming). She is the recipient of several research awards and scholarships and has published widely on American, Chicano/a, Canadian, Australian and (Post-)Colonial Literatures and Cultures. Homi K. Bhabha prefaced her co-edited book Communicating in the Third Space published by Routledge in 2009. Harrassowitz publishing house released her edited collection of critical essays entitled Global Realignments and the Canadian Nation in the Third Millennium in 2010. Among some of her other book publications are: U.S. Latino Literatures and Cultures: Transnational Perspectives (2000), Mexican American Stories — Viewfinder Literature (2001, ²2006), Chicana Ways: Conversations with ten Chicana writers interviewed by Karin Ikas (2002, ²2003), Gender Debat(tl)ed: Gender and War — Special Issue of Gender Forum (5/2003), Stories from Down Under: Australia and New Zealand — Viewfinder Literature (2004) and Violence and Transgression in World Minority Literatures (2005). Forthcoming is her bilingual (German/English) edition — with preface and annotations — of William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline — Englisch-Deutsche Studienausgabe der Dramen Shakespeares (Stauffenburg).

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Francisco A. Lomelí

Francisco A. Lomelí is a Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara as part of two departments: Spanish and Portuguese, and Chicana/a Studies. Currently, he is serving as Director of the Education Abroad Program in Santiago, Chile, for the University of California system. He has published extensively on a wide variety of Chicano topics ranging from literary history, border studies, language acquisition, literary genealogy, poetics and hermeneutics, Latino/a imaginary, New Mexico cultural practices, transnationalism and others. He has also written critical studies on some Latin American authors (Carlos Droguett, Rodolfo Usigli, Rodolfo Braceli, Armando Tejada Gómez, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, etc.). He is well known for promoting Chicano/Latino literatures internationally and in part thanks to his many reference books. Among some of his publications are: La novelística de Carlos Droguett (1983), Chicano Studies: A Multidisciplinary Approach (1984), Chicano Literature: A Reference Guide (1985), Dictionary of Literary Biography, Chicano Writers (vols. 82, 122, 229; 1989, 1993, 1999), Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland (1989), Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the U.S.: Art and Literature (1993), U.S. Latino Literatures and Cultures: Transnational Perspectives (2000), Defying the Inquisition in Colonial New Mexico; Miguel de Quintana´s Life and Writings (2006), Imagined Transnationalism: U.S. Latino/a Literature, Culture and Identity (2010) and The Writings of Eusebio Chacón (2012).

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