A guest post by Matthew David Goodwin, editor of Latin@ Rising: Follow @Matt30809580
Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy is slated for release on February 1, 2017 through the San Antonio publisher Wings Press. The book, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, will be the first collection to give attention to the unique work of Latino/a speculative fiction writers and to serve their growing audience. The anthology attempts to be somewhat representative of speculative fiction, and so it is broad in scope and diverse in terms of authors and kinds of stories. The book contains authors who have been important to the development of Latino/a speculative fiction, such as Ernest Hogan, Junot Díaz, Daína Chaviano, and Ana Castillo, and it contains authors who are relatively new such as Alejandra Sanchez and Richie Narvaez. My hope is that Latin@ Rising is the first of a long line of similar collections which show how Latinos/as have always been part of the genres. What I have learned through my involvement with this project is that there are a lot of Latino/a writers and readers who have been waiting for such a book. And honestly, although I’ve read the book many times as the editor, I can’t wait to have the book in my hands, and read it all over again!
There are a number of origin points for this project, but the one that stands out in my mind happened years ago while I was working in immigration legal aid in Northwest Arkansas. I was discussing a case with an immigration official who had denied an application without an explanation. I pointed out that the situation seemed a lot like Kafka’s The Trial, in which Josef K. is accused of a crime and yet doesn’t even know what the crime is. Granted it probably wasn’t the best way to convince a government agent, but I got the point across. I’m not the first to make this kind of connection. Immigration attorney Steve Cohen offers a comprehensive analysis of the dystopian nature of the immigration system in his Deportation is Freedom!: The Orwellian World of Immigration Controls (2005).
Latino/a writers and artists have made the connection many times as well. In Alex Rivera’s film Sleep Dealer (2008), for example, the wall that a current presidential candidate has promised to build, is up and running, and it’s not a pretty sight. And in Sabrina Vourvoulias’ novel Ink (2012) the federal government enacts a series of oppressive immigration laws: from English only laws, to tattooing migrants, putting them in detention centers, and finally deporting them. The novel shows just how easy it would be for society to fall into a real-life dystopia. And for some people, that dystopia is already here—one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. My point is that the language of science fiction and fantasy is a rich and unique language to explore the current state of immigration politics.
Speculative fiction works by making at least two worlds: either two planets, two kinds of reality, or the world created in the narrative as opposed to our actual world. These worlds collide through voyages and migrations, creating the potential to imaginatively depict contemporary Latino/a migration to and within the United States. I think that Junot Díaz describes it most eloquently in his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). In a footnote, the narrator attempts to explain Oscar’s love for science fiction and fantasy:
Where this outsized love of genre jumped off from no one quite seems to know. It might have been a consequence of being Antillean (who more sci-fi than us?) or of living in the DR for the first couple of years of his life and then abruptly wrenchingly relocating to New Jersey—a single green card shifting not only worlds (from Third to First) but centuries (from almost no TV or electricity to plenty of both). After a transition like that I’m guessing only the most extreme scenarios could have satisfied.
Because of these multiple worlds, speculative fiction also has the potential to explore being bicultural, liminal, and hybrid. It is this potential that the Latina writer Gloria Anzaldúa cultivated. In her work she often turns to speculative fiction to embrace the complex mixing of cultures, races, and sexualities, as she writes in Borderlands/La Frontera (1987): “An alien consciousness is presently in the making.” Importantly, the full acceptance of her mestiza consciousness is not here yet, but the beauty of speculative fiction is that it provides a powerful means to envision that future.
But while speculative fiction has been a source of inspiration for Latino/a writers, there have been plenty of challenges to getting it into the hands of readers. Consider the work of Chicano writer Ernest Hogan who, after some success getting his novels published, was eventually turned away. Hogan says: “It took the nice folks at Tor a long, long time to get around to saying that even though they loved me, the market for my work, which they described as a “noisy minority,” was too small.” Hogan’s experience is typical, but his tenacity served him well to get his novels out. How many Latinos/as have been directly or indirectly forced out of the speculative genres? In addition, the challenges have come from the scholars who read and study these works. A number of canonical Latino/a texts were not even recognized as speculative fiction or were simply denigrated as non-serious literature when they first appeared. Luis Valdez’s classic play Los Vendidos (1967) which includes Chicano and Mexican robots, for example, is only now being read in light of the long tradition of robot protest. Finally, I think that when many readers interested in diverse books think about Latino/a literature, the genre that comes to mind is magical realism. There is no doubt that the category of magical realism is central in Latino/a literature, but it is important to remember that Latino/a writers are writing in every possible genre, and that all of these genres should be celebrated alongside magical realism. The history of Latino/a speculative fiction is still being written, but there is good cause for a cautious optimism, as Hogan has pointed out recently: “My readers, who have been called a “noisy minority” have grown up to be editors, publishers, and professors.” Things are changing.
These days, I’m a professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico Cayey and this past semester I was able to teach a course on Latino/a and Caribbean science fiction. I wanted to share a couple of observations from my experience.
First of all, students are really primed for this kind of writing. Even those who are not passionate fans of the genre, have been watching science fiction and fantasy films all their lives and they want stories that resonate with their experiences. Secondly, the majority of my students want to become scientists of some sort, and yet, characters who are both scientists and Latinos/as are alarmingly absent in fiction. This makes the work of authors such as Carlos Hernandez, who has created a number of fascinating Latino/a scientists in his short story collection The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria (2016), so important. Without these stories, my students would always be faced with images of others as successful doctors and engineers, and not themselves.
Finally, and especially significant in Puerto Rico where the legacy of colonialism is not a thing of the past, it is vital for students to actively engage the ethical dilemmas of colonialism. Speculative fiction has deep roots in colonialism, as Nalo Hopkinson expresses in her anthology So Long Been Dreaming (2004):
“Arguably, one of the most familiar memes of science fiction is that of going to foreign countries and colonizing the natives…for many of us, that’s not a thrilling adventure story; it’s non-fiction, and we are on the wrong side of the strange-looking ship that appears out of nowhere.”
The result is that speculative fiction actually provides a great forum for debates about contemporary colonialism. One memorable discussion we had as a class was centered on Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s short story “Them Ships” (We See a Different Frontier 2013). The story provokes us to ask: In the aftermath of an alien invasion, should we fight back or should we acquiesce? And, how do nationality, race, and class affect this choice? As the protagonist says of her privileged roommate who wants to rebel: “…he saw too many American movies where they kill the monsters with big guns.” Many students told me that the discussion gave them a new clarity about the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Thanks to the space aliens!
I have little doubt that the Latino/a speculative fiction we get in books such as Latin@ Rising is important for young Latino/a readers. It demonstrates the value of being bicultural, it creates a way to examine the effects of technology on the Latino/a community, and it gives Latinos/as a unique means to imagine a future in which Latinos/as play a pivotal role. I can’t say it better than William Adama:
You should be very excited for Latin@ Rising, which will officially release on February 1st, 2017. If you are a fan of speculative fiction, this is not a collection you want to miss!
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About the author:
(From author website)
Matthew David Goodwin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey. His research is centered on the experience of migration in world literature and multi-ethnic literature, specifically Latino/a Literature. He is especially interested in how science fiction has been used to express the experience of migration.
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