Afro-Latinx Stories


MLA 2021 Special Session

Co-sponsored by MLA’s LLC Latina and Latino (G100) Forum and the LLC African American Forum.


Panel Date/Time: Thursday, January 7, 2020, 1:45 PM-3:00 PM EST.

Organizer and Presider: Elena Machado Sáez, Professor of English, Bucknell University

Panel Description:

“Afro-Latinx Stories” analyzes Afro-Latinx cultural and literary production. The panel emphasizes the centrality of African diasporic experiences to the formation of Latinidad, while foregrounding the stories that Afro-Latinx people tell about themselves, in their own voices.

The privileging of mestizaje and a regime of antiblackness have often led the field of US Latinx Studies to marginalize the creative work of Afro-Latinx people. Literary criticism on US Latinx creative writing has tended to gloss over intra-ethnic racial dynamics to focus on how contemporary texts depict racialization within the United States. In contrast, this panel centers the work of Afro-Latinx writers and artists in order to critique the homogenizing logic of pan-Latinidad. This panel strives to highlight the various historical contexts relevant to situating Afro-Latinx creativity: Civil Rights era art movements, African American literary traditions, scientific technologies such as DNA testing, religious practices, and climate change.

These presentations speak to the MLA’s Presidential Theme of “Persistence” by drawing attention to how African-descendant Latinx cultural producers “document the struggle and forge a path toward futurity.” The panel also draws parallels between literature that seeks to “transform the public world” and other types of creative expression, comparing fiction, poetry, memoir, music, visual art, social media, and performance art.

In sum, the panel offers a nuanced perspective on Afro-Latinx creativity within the United States and the Caribbean. In so doing, the panel makes an important intervention into contentious public debates over the belonging of US Latinx people and their legibility as subjects with rights, while at the same time asserting the importance of black Latinx lives. 


Presentations and Panelists:

  • “Black Latina Girlhood Poetics of the Body: Church, Sexuality, and Dispossession”
    • Omaris Z. Zamora, Assistant Professor, Department of Africana Studies, Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies, Rutgers
    • Abstract: Spoken-word poetry is an embodiment of what you know—it is, as Urayoán Noel describes Nuyorican poetry: a documentary-style poetry.[i] Elizabeth Acevedo’s work extends the legacy of Nuyorican poets and the Black Arts Movement by bringing an AfroLatina character to the forefront of The Poet X. Through a juxtaposition of autoethnography and literary analysis, I posit that Acevedo forces us to reckon with Black Latina phenomenology amid the intersection of religion, sexuality, and girlhood.[ii] The trauma and violence our bodies have experienced during our childhood and youth create an epistemology and a methodology for approaching Black Latina feminist research.
    • Bio: Dr. Omaris Z. Zamora is a transnational Black Dominican Studies scholar and spoken-word poet. Her research interests include: theorizing AfroLatinidad in the context of race, gender, sexuality, and Afro-diasporic approaches. Her current book project proposes an AfroLatina feminist theory by centering the epistemologies of transnational Afro-Dominican women’s narratives in literature, performance, and social media with particular attention to the body as an archive. Her work has been published in Post45, Latinx TalkLabel Me Latina/o, among others. She fuses her poetry with her scholarly work as a way of contributing to a black poetic approach to literature and cultural studies.
  • “‘Are we all the way white, Black, or Native-American?’: On Afro-Latinx DNA and New Mestizas in Raquel Cepeda’s Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina”
    • Karina A. Vado, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English, The University of Florida
    • Abstract: Geneticists and regular folk alike are increasingly “mapping” Latinx, Latin American, and Caribbean genomes, scientists for what they see as its rich genetic diversity, and Latina/o/x’s for ancestral recovery efforts. Yet scientific and popular discourses of “positive mixture,” ones that render the Latinx body biologically seductive for its supposed synthesis of African, Indigenous, and European ancestries, are part of a long and vexed history of Latin American and Latinx cultural and scientific approaches to race and race mixture. In this paper, I examine how the fields of genealogy, genetics, and genomics inform contemporary Afro-Latinx literary and cultural productions. I thus center my analysis on mixed-race Afro-Latina hip-hop journalist and filmmaker Raquel Cepeda’s memoir, Birds of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Described by Cepeda as an “archeological dig of sorts,” the book combines genealogy, familial history, and direct-to-consumer DNA testing to answer the question that is at the heart of her genetic expedition: what were, to paraphrase Cepeda, her Dominican ancestors’ origins before they became Latinx? Ultimately, I argue that Cepeda engages in a multifaceted root-seeking project that (1) confronts the conceptual and political baggage that comes with hemispheric discourses of race mixture, (2) emphasizes Blackness in discourses of mestizaje, and (3) offers new understandings of how Afrolatinidades are constructed, contested, and transformed across space and time.
    • Bio: Karina A. Vado is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate and Graduate Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Florida. Her research and teaching interests are in Literatures of the Americas, Science and Technology Studies, and Science Fiction and Utopian Studies. Karina’s scholarly writing appears or is forthcoming in Race and Utopian Desire in American Literature and Society and Human Contradictions in Octavia Butler’s Work (Palgrave). Traversing the boundaries between the humanities and (bio)sciences her current book project, Latinx DNA: Race and Latinidad After the Genome, examines the disidentificatory scientific engagements of contemporary Caribbean, Chicanx and Latinx cultural workers who critically fuse the lexicon of the biological sciences with the trope of mestizaje to forward, albeit imperfectly, their visions of anti-racist mixed-race futures.
  • “The Pitfalls of Ascension: African American Affinities and Post-Black Identity Politics in Mama’s Girl
    • Trent Masiki, Postdoctoral Fellow, Kilachand Honors College, Boston University
    • Abstract: In the 1990s, the US experienced a boom in the publication of immigrant and multicultural literature. In this essay, I focus on Mama’s Girl (1996), the understudied immigrant memoir of Veronica Chambers, an Afro-Panamanian American writer who published in the same literary era and orbit as Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz.  Although Chambers went on to become a more prolific and varied writer than Díaz and Danticat, she never garnered the national and international fame that they did.  How and why did Mama’s Girl fail to become a critical and commercial success during the multiethnic turn?  What market aesthetics and cultural forces account for the scholarly attention it is receiving in the contemporary moment?  This essay explores how Chamber’s discourse of symbolic geography, Talented Tenth ideology, and post-soul materialism framed Mama’s Girl as an African American text, undermining its potential to capitalize on its afrolatinidad in the era of liberal multiculturalism, 1980 to 2000.
    • Bio: Trent Masiki is a Postdoctoral Scholar at Boston University in the Kilachand Honors College.  Concentrating in literary and cultural studies, he earned his Ph.D. in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2017.  He has a graduate certificate in African Diaspora Studies and a second one in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies.  His research interests focus on African American and Latino American literature and culture from 1865 to the present.  Although he has taught mostly in the U.S., he served as a Fulbright Scholar in Panama, teaching literature and expository writing, in English, at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí.  He has published scholarly articles in MELUSAfrican American ReviewCollege Language Association Journal, and Short Story Journal.  He is a co-guest editor of Post-Soul Afro-Latinidades, a forthcoming special issue of The Black Scholar.  Afroethnic Renewal: Afro-Latino Memoirs and their African American Influences, his first book, is under contract with the University of North Carolina Press.
  • “Afro-Latinx Apocalypso: Ecology & Ritual Practice”
    • Yomaira C. Figueroa, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Department African American & African Studies, Michigan State University
    • Abstract: This paper examines the sonic and visual works of Afro-Cuban French recording artists Ibeyi and Afro-Dominican multi-disciplinary performance artist Joiri Minaya. Utilizing Michelle Cliff’s concept of ‘apocalypso’ I examine the aftermath and continuation of colonial ‘apocalypsos’ as patterns of cultural and ecological devastations in the Caribbean and beyond. I contend that ecologies of ‘apocalypso’ give rise to various forms of political, social, and artistic resistance. To that end, I trace the Afro-syncretic cosmologies in the lyrics and video images of Ibeyi in relation to the interruption of ecological spaces, through femme corporeal presences, in Minaya’s performances “Containers” and “Siboney.” I argue that these Afro-Latinx cultural works offer ways to understand and traverse physical and metaphysical borderlands though ritual and performance practices.  They also provide a discursive space to consider how Afro-Latinx and Afro-Caribbean arts and ecologies can inform our understandings of transatlantic migrations, diasporas, and decolonization.
    • Bio: Yomaira C. Figueroa is Assistant Professor of Global Afro-Diaspora Studies in the department of English at Michigan State University. Her book, Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature (Northwestern University Press, 2020), examines the textual, historical, and political relations between diasporic Afro-Puerto Rican, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Dominican, and Equatoguinean poetics. A scholar and organizer, she is a founder of both the MSU Womxn of Color Initiative and #ProyectoPalabrasPR. Her published work can be found in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, the Journal of Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, CENTRO Journal,Small Axe, Frontiers Journal, and SX Salon.


Latina and Latino Forum Executive Committee Members
Ariana Vigil, Jan. 2021
Carmen Lamas, Jan. 2022 (2020–Jan. 2021 Chair)
Elena Machado Sáez, Jan. 2023 (2021–Jan. 2022 Chair)
Marion Christina Rohrleitner, Jan. 2024 (2021–Jan. 2022 Secretary)
Joshua Javier Gúzman, Jan. 2025
Alberto Varon, Jan. 2026

African American Forum Executive Committee:
Koritha Mitchell, January 2021
Ifeoma C. Kiddoe Nwanko, January 2022 (2020-January 2021 Chair)
Jervette Ward, January 2023 (2020-January 2021 Secretary)
Kristin Moriah, January 2024
Sharon Lynette Jones, January 2025