Work in Progress

Essay; “Generation MFA: Neoliberalism and the Shifting Cultural Capital of US Latinx Writers.” [For Latino Studies; 11,101 words.]

Abstract: This essay describes the emergence of an MFA generation of Latinx writers as a neoliberal phenomenon that offers critics another lens by which to understand the production and critical reception of US Latinx literature. With academic institutions training and credentialing authors through creative writing programs, I argue that the market and culture of an MFA education informs generational shifts within the US Latinx canon. The disciplinary training of writers such as Ernesto Quiñonez, Rich Villar, Julia Alvarez, Junot Díaz, and Sandra Cisneros provide a glimpse into the limited agency of these authors within racist and neoliberal institutions, particularly how they understand their positioning within the academy as writers of color. Looking at the variable and fluid status of authors within the US Latinx canon helps us evaluate critical practices within US Latinx literary studies while also opening up the possibility for alternative historiographies of contemporary US Latinx literature.

Essay; “Blackout on Broadway: Affiliation and Audience in In the Heights and Hamilton.” [For Hamilton: A Special Issue of Studies in Musical Theatre, Ed. Peter C. Kunze; 6,694 words.]

Abstract: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights (2008) and Hamilton (2015) find their inspiration in a generative conflict between individualism and community, freedom and property, whiteness and blackness, and empathy and complicity. The contradictory thematic pressures organizing Miranda’s musicals are the product of a complex negotiation with the institution of Broadway and its historic (mis)representation of people of color. The musicals ambivalently balance a counter-narrative to a history of stereotype on the Broadway stage with the goal of convincing the predominantly white, highly educated tourists in attendance that the ‘other’ is one of ‘us’. The musicals showcase different sets of Others and therefore have divergent goals in educating the audience, with In the Heights focused on countering stereotypes of Latinx criminality and Hamilton on affirming the immigrant’s centrality to the American nation. Nevertheless, both musicals display an ambivalence about the efficacy of the affective strategies used to educate the spectator. The stories of In the Heights and Hamilton share an investment in private property as a defining facet of the American Dream and, by extension, national belonging. At the same time, both musicals are fractured by an anxiety about the terms of such belonging, namely, who is silenced or excluded. The themes of acquisition and dispossession in terms of property ownership are fractured by the constant plea for forgiveness, for who gets sacrificed by the ‘free’ market in order to facilitate the upward mobility of the rest.

215px-In_the_HeightsEssay; “Bodega Sold Dreams: Middle-Class Panic and the Cross-over Aesthetics of In the Heights.” [For Dialectical Imaginaries: Materialist Approaches to U.S. Latino/a Literature, Eds. Carlos Gallego and Marcial González; 10,133 words.]

Abstract: Puerto Ricans Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda brought Dominican York to Broadway with In the Heights, which won a Tony for Best Musical in 2008. The reception of In the Heights hailed it as a welcome change from prior Broadway musicals about Latinxs, namely, West Side Story and The Capeman—in other words, as a musical that challenges the racial borders of the Great White Way. I instead read In the Heights as representative of a middle-class politics that is haunted by the inability to speak for a working-class experience of Latinidad and threatened by the stereotypes of chaos and poverty associated with U.S. Latinx working-class subjectivities. The musical is also preoccupied with the crowding out of the middle class from urban centers like New York City via the gentrification of ethnic enclaves and the concurrent disappearance of small, local businesses. The tension over what constitutes an authentic depiction of Latinidad informs what I call the cross-over aesthetics of the musical. In the Heights seeks to translate for a predominantly white mainstream audience a set of cultural referents that are specific to a unique ethnic, racial, classed U.S. Latinx literary tradition. The musical acknowledges how decontextualization facilitates the move between U.S. Latinx and mainstream public spheres and, in turn, its vision of a pan-Latinx community. In the Heights is troubled by the work of crossing over and by the history of how U.S. Latinxs have been depicted on the Broadway stage. While it focuses the concerns of a U.S. Latinx business class, the musical also references the ways that the artistic and activist legacy of the Nuyorican community challenges the priorities of cross-over consumption for Latinx culture and history. The nuances of the play’s cross-over aesthetics are flattened out by a reception that is fixated on delimited notions of cultural authenticity. I aim to complicate the expectation of authenticity attached to this play, peeling away the hyper-positive guise of pan-Latinidad celebrated by the reception and even at times the musical itself. In turn, I perform a reading of In the Heights that acknowledges: first, how the musical is in dialogue with a U.S. Latinx Civil Rights generation, and second, how the musical embodies a crisis of imagination and authority on the part of U.S. Latinx middle-class cultural creatives. By adopting the conceptual frameworks from Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez’s essay, “An Octopus with Many Legs: U.S. Latino Theater and Its Diversity” (1999) and Elda María Román’s Race and Upward Mobility: Seeking, Gatekeeping, and Other Class Strategies in Postwar America (2017), I argue that supplementing an analysis of In the Heights with an appraisal of the identity politics of its authors and their discursive inheritances can help us critically examine the musical’s cross-over aesthetics.

Current Research Project; “Hamilton and the Digital Archives of Latinx-Caribbean Writing.”

Abstract: In order to reflect on the market aesthetics of Latinx-Caribbean digital production, I engage in the ongoing debate about race and representation in Hamilton by placing the musical within the context of the online archive produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I begin by analyzing Miranda’s annotations of the musical’s lyrics on PoetryGenius during the 2016 Presidential election and how Miranda sought to connect the musical to a critique of contemporary discourse on immigration. Miranda’s use of social media more broadly speaks to his understanding of the relationship between institutions, audiences, and aesthetics.

By data scraping his Twitter account, I identify Miranda’s primary discourses of self-representation, affiliation, and activism while reflecting back on his interpretive interventions via PoetryGenius. These online paratexts form an archive for rereading the musical through the lens of market aesthetics and for comparing Miranda’s strategies of negotiating intimacy and ethics online with those of other Latinx-Caribbean writers, like Achy Obejas, Kristoffer Diaz, and Jennine Capó Crucet.