South American latino/a writers in the United States

Juanita Heredia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


As Latino/a literature in the United States continues to receive wide critical attention in the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is appropriate to recognize the literary contributions of a wide spectrum of cultural groups south of the US border. Since pioneer Latino/a groups such as Chicanos and Puerto Ricans have struggled to make inroads in highly regarded publishing houses in the United States, it is also important to pay attention to the least-known group of Latino/a authors, South Americans in the United States, for they form a heterogeneous collective whose contribution to American, Latin American and world literary traditions in the twenty-first century can no longer be overlooked. This literary group refers to people of national heritages/origins in a Spanish-or Portuguese-speaking republic south of Central America. By differentiating these authors from Chicano/a, Puerto Rican and Cuban-American ones in terms of immigration patterns, socioeconomic status, and geographic settlements, South American Latino/a literature reveals a different understanding of the hybrid Latino/a identity in the twenty-first century because many authors in this chapter represent transnational migratory experiences between the US and the South American homeland. According to Oboler, in “South Americans” (2005), the relationship between each nation in this region and the United States has played a significant role in shaping the mobility, residence, and community formation of South Americans in the United States. For example, Chilean and Peruvian workers whose immigration to find employment in northern California during the Gold Rush of 1849 coincided with the United States’ annexation of one third of Mexico, the present Southwest. Although they may appear like “new” Latinos in the United States, Oboler demonstrates that South Americans have a long history of immigration that is barely known to the public eye. US foreign policy has further helped push various South Americans to consider leaving their homelands to the United States for economic, social, and political reasons throughout the twentieth century. The Good Neighbor Policy during Roosevelt’s presidency in the 1930s and 1940s allowed privileged Latin Americans to immigrate to the United States. In another example, the involvement of the US to overthrow Salvador Allende in 1973 displaced thousands of Chileans and their families as political exiles to the US and other parts of the world. Likewise, dictatorships and violence in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru from the 1970s to the 1990s forced thousands to flee their homelands and settle with their families in the US. Political intervention from north to south has resulted in enclaves and archipelagos of South American individuals and communities throughout the United States, principally in metropolitan centers, which has affected the constantly changing demographics of Latinos in the United States. These Latinos may immigrate as a result of US intervention or for prosperity. As globalization has increased in the twenty-first century, many South Americans have maintained more consistent contact with their national heritages/homeland through frequent travels. Some authors I discuss in this essay have been able to proceed with transnational migrations due to their class privileges, which is not the case for authors of a working-class background in the United States. The ability to travel consistently between the United States and a South American nation definitely informs the narratives, be they novels or memoirs, in this study. This chapter will provide an overview of key South American authors in the United States beginning with the decade of the 1990s. The United States witnessed the largest influx of immigrants from all of Latin America, but particularly from South American nations, after 1980 (Espitia 2004: 275). While the aim of this chapter is to cover a diverse array of narratives by South American authors in the United States, it is by no means exhaustive but rather comprehensive. That said, it would be impossible to find a representative author of the diaspora for each of the ten countries - Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela - in this South American region. At times, within a single nation such as Colombia or Peru, the authors contrast with one another according to generation, gender, race, and social class factors, which makes for a broader portrait of the “South American” diaspora in the United States. For the sake of consistency, the authors discussed will be those who primarily publish in English because part of their formation and formal education took place in the United States, giving them a dual sense of identity. Because this literary group is beginning recently to be recognized as a collective, they will be presented according to generation within their respective historical and social contexts. In this way, one can appreciate the diversity within each group. Since the majority of the authors in this chapter write in the genre of the narrative, which permits a dialogue with the past through memory, I will focus on this form to find an appropriate balance among a variety of authors who emerge in the 1990s. While South American Latino literature may begin in the twentieth century, it is in the post-2000 period that more authors come into prominence with wider critical acclaim. The scholarship on South American writers in the United States does not really exist with such an appellation in a given collection, but rather as case studies, general essays, or chapters in other topical academic works. In “South Americans,” Oboler (2005) presents many authors discussed in this chapter, such as Ariel Dorfman, Marjorie Agosín, Jaime Manrique, and Marie Arana, all of whom may be considered part of a South American diaspora. In A Companion to US Latino Literature (2007), Caulfield and Davis include two chapters dedicated to the works of Argentine and Brazilian writers in the United States who represent experiences in both their respective homelands in South America and the United States, but none write originally in English or are from a dual bicultural perspective. Kathleen de Azevedo’s novel Samba Dreamers (2006) is only mentioned in a note at the end of the Brazilian chapter as the first Brazilian-American novel published in English. However, another chapter in the same collection, “Toward a Jewish Latino Literature,” exemplifies a good overview that includes memoirs by Ariel Dorfman and Marjorie Agosín regarding their multiple identities as a consequence of various genealogical migrations. In the collection The Other Latinos (2008), Falconi and Mazzotti provide case studies such as the chapter, “The Andean Archipelago,” where authors of the Andean diaspora such as Marie Arana and Leo Spitzer are mentioned in passing, but their works are not fully analyzed. Further studies in this collection are dedicated to Brazilian-American literature and cinema, including a brief mention of de Azevedo’s novel. In Transnational Latina Narratives in the Twenty-First Century (2009), Heredia examines Marie Arana’s memoir American Chica (2001) in the transnational context of gender, race, and migration issues. In The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2010), the editors under the direction of Ilan Stavans include a wider array of Latino/a authors publishing in the United States, such as Jaime Manrique, Ariel Dorfman, and Daniel Alarcón; yet, important women authors of the South American diaspora who published since 2001 are omitted. Evidently, more critical work needs to be addressed in the analysis of literary works by SouthAmerican Latino/a writers in the United States. In the decade of the 1990s, one notices a generation of South American Latino/a authors such as Marjorie Agosín, Ariel Dorfman, Jaime Manrique, and Leo Spitzer emerge in the literary spotlight. Through the social and historical context of their narratives one can better understand how each author develops a bicultural identity between their respective country of origin/heritage in South America and the United States. These writers have been raised and educated in part in their respective South American nations and, then continued to develop intellectually and socially as adolescents or adults in the United States. Furthermore, these particular authors raise race and religion concerns related to Afro-Latino and Jewish Latino identity in their narratives to highlight the representation of several levels of diasporas through transnational migrations. Although Ariel Dorfman is best known for his prolific academic criticism and fiction, his memoir Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey (1998) best exemplifies his internal struggles in coming to terms with his multifaceted identity across nations, cultures, and languages in a US (north)/South America (south) dialogue. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1942, Dorfman lived there until the age of five, when he and his family had to migrate to New York City to live for ten years, then relocated to Chile until adulthood, and eventually, exiled himself to the United States after the fall of socialist president Salvador Allende in 1973. From an early age, Dorfman experiences a dual sense of identity between English and Spanish, the US and Chile, one that enables him to live biculturally. Because of his privileged social status, Dorfman is able to benefit from his experiences in Chile and in the United States by receiving a formal education. It is not until he develops his political views on socialism during the time of Salvador Allende that he finds his life at risk and, thus, must exile himself from his homeland in Chile to seek security in the United States. By chronicling Dorfman’s genealogy from Eastern Europe to South America and the United States, Heading South is as much about global immigration as the formation of an intellectual of the South American diaspora. Although Dorfman decides to make his home in the United States as an adult, he reflects on his past in Chile with a strong sense of nostalgia recognizing that he is a hybrid product of south and north, not quite fully part of each. Similar to other US Latino authors, Dorfman’s memoir demonstrates the cultural politics of speaking English and Spanish, an alienating experience as a bilingual speaker in the US. Born in Bethesda, Maryland, the academic, critic, and writer, Marjorie Agosín, is another author who negotiates experiences in being accepted culturally in the United States as well as in Chile, where she spent her formative years. In the trilogy of her memoirs, A Cross and a Star (1995), Always from Somewhere Else (1998), and The Alphabet in My Hands (2000), Agosín chronicles her genealogy from her ancestral homeland in Eastern Europe to Chile and then to the US as her grandparents were the first generation of immigrants in her family to arrive in Chile in the 1920s and 1930s. Agosín further captures the discrimination her parents felt as people of the Jewish diaspora in a predominantly Catholic Chile. When she was ostracized and mistreated at a young age among her peers at school due to her cultural and religious practices, Agosín’s parents decided to educate their daughter at the Hebrew Institute in Santiago, Chile, to acknowledge and remember her Jewish heritage. Through photographs in the narratives, Agosín reflects on what it means to be a Chilean Jewish woman when few Jewish people lived in the Catholic-dominated country. As she recovers her genealogy, Agosín also draws attention to the migratory trajectory of her Jewish identity. She not only represents the pogrom taking place in Eastern Europe in the twentieth century, but she also critiques the Holocaust where she lost family members in Europe during World War II. Because of the family’s ideologies in support of Salvador Allende, Agosín and her family are exiled from Chile and must move to settle in Georgia in the United States in the 1970s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781136221613
ISBN (Print)9780415666060
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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