First Pieces of the Border Wall near Donna, Texas.
I keep calling this historical moment “our dystopian present.” And yet, while the “our” can signal any number of populations for whom this moment is dystopian, when I think of the “our,” I think of Latinxs. I think of the recent articles in the New York Times that detail how the Trump administration plans to collect DNA from immigrants and describe the moat he would like to create at the border, featuring, “a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators […] He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh.”1 Trump’s idea of a moat and his description of a spiked wall recall medieval methods for defending a castle under siege. In his imaginary, Trumps rules a kingdom that he must protect from invaders. This is his own speculative fiction. Typically, speculative fiction is an umbrella term that covers a range of genres, from sci-fi and fantasy to horror and paranormal romance. In Trump’s United States, his medieval fantasy undergirds the sci-fi elements of his regime, from DNA collection to the space force, all of which contribute to the horrors at the border.2
To combat the speculative fictions Trump conjures into reality, we must look to more liberatory forms of speculative fiction, especially ones that imagine a future for Latinxs at a time when such futures seem to be foreclosed by the concentration camps proliferating within the borders of the United States. At the same time, we must interrogate how our speculative imaginaries are, at times, limited by the contradictions of latinidad. Latinidad presumably names a shared, collective identity based on Latin American origins that seem to supersede differences in race, religion, and class (among other identitarian categories). However, a number of scholars point to the incoherence of the term.3 Further, as Pose star Indya Moore points out, Latinx often signals whiteness without referencing Black and Indigenous Latinxs.4 These tensions form the basis for the limits of latinidad while also pointing towards what a more inclusive, liberatory latinidad can look like, one that not only includes, but also centers the experiences of Black and Indigenous Latinxs.
Within the field of Latinx Studies, this exclusion takes a variety of forms. For example, as I mention in my contribution to this cluster, a number of Central Americanists have pointed to “Mexican hegemony” within the field, suggesting yet another way Latinx speculative fictions are limited. While such charges of hegemony can be difficult to reconcile against the Gilroy and El Paso shootings, which specifically targeted Mexican Americans, such a position insists on an either/or paradigm in which one can only be the subject of oppression, not the agent of it. Further, as Trump’s rhetoric makes clear, white supremacy figures all Latinxs as Mexicans, thus demonstrating how even if we’re attuned to the marked differences in our cultures, those who would do us harm are not. In short, in a world where we can all find ourselves in a camp or a shooting, insisting upon whose life is more grievable distracts us from the work of fighting white supremacy.
In our dystopian present it is all the more imperative that we not only work together toward liberation in the present and toward a future for Latinxs, but also that we closely attend to instances in which the term “Latinx” is used but fails to represent a diversity of Latinxs. To that end, this cluster is in conversation with the foundational anthology Altermundos: Latin@ Speculative Literature, Film, and Popular Culture (2017). While Altermundos is a ground-breaking work that crucially expands the scholarship on speculative fiction, the anthology, as cluster contributor Maia Gil’Adí pointed out to me one day, is also dominated by Chicanx authors and neglects to include other Latinx voices in the discussion of Latinx speculative fiction. I confess that, as a Chicana, I had not noticed the Chicanx focus of the anthology; the ability to not notice, of course, is already a sign of privilege. Moments like these render visible how specific Latinx identities can become subsumed under the general framework of Latinx, especially when, as in the case of the anthology, Latinx does not appropriately name the peoples and cultural productions in question. If we are going to use the term Latinx, then it is imperative that the work we are describing is Latinx, rather than Chicanx under a presumably more inclusive term. While Chicanx imaginaries have done much to imagine more liberatory futures, as Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita’s Lunar Braceros: 2125-2148 demonstrates by reviving a hemispheric history of revolution, we must take seriously the imaginaries that a more broadly inclusive Latinx framework allows.
The increasing use of Latinx over Latina/o or Latin@ exemplifies such an inclusive, expansive latinidad as it foregrounds queerness in its formation. While merely changing department names to “Latinx Studies” is a misnomer for departments that do not offer gender and sexuality for frames of thinking about latinidad, “Latinx” highlights the speculative possibilities of latinidad. It may not describe our present, but it can describe a future we can work towards. The “x” invites speculation. Alan Pelaez Lopez’s argument that the x is “a scar that exposes four wounds signified by each corner of the ‘X’” which are “settlement, anti-Blackness, femicides, and inarticulation” is a speculative one that asks us to reinscribe historical specificity onto the x, effectively mapping this history onto the gender inclusivity initially marked by the x.
In math, “x” signifies an unknown variable. As this cluster makes clear, given the variable nature of latinidad, the “x” in Latinx invites us to create our own genealogies and investments. As Latinx scholarship also emphasizes, the field itself is far from fixed. In embracing the x as marking an unknown future for latinidad, we should seek to create a world that lives up to the x. That is, rather than attempt to definitively name and delineate what counts as latinidad, we should welcome the possibilities such an unknown variable makes available. As Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández reminds us, the x in Xicana/o was used “to both indigenize the word and radicalize its politics” (142). Drawing on this history of resistance – and the speculative attachment between Xicanas/os and a mythic Aztec past – the x in Latinx has a genealogy of its own and a future we should refuse to delimit.
Latinx offers a unique opportunity to do the work of imagining alternate worlds to those of our terrifying present. As an ethnic rather than racial identity, Latinx offers a much broader view of futurities across numerous linguistic, national, and racial contexts. Drawing upon a range of historical material, from conquest and syncretic religions to immigration and genocide, Latinx speculative fictions seek to reframe the terms and terrain of futurity. Often featuring a dystopian present, Latinx futures offer modes of resistance based on a number of precedents, from political activism in Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper, as John Ribó discusses in this cluster, to riffs on urban culture such as the girl gang Las Mal Criadas in Dealing in Dreams, discussed by cluster contributor Shelley Streeby. However, as backlash over the use of racist tropes in Netflix’s recently released Siempre Bruja (2019) demonstrates, sometimes these futures are limited by historical fantasies, such as the romance between a slave and her master’s son. In other words, Latinx speculative fictions are not immune from colonizer imaginaries. However, they do offer an opportunity to do the work of decolonizing our minds while still others allow us to imagine otherwise.
The essays in this cluster call into being such alternative imaginaries by traversing a range of speculative fictions that illuminate the centrality of a hemispheric framework in considerations of Latinx speculative fictions. Leticia Alvarado opens the cluster with a riveting analysis of Dominican-born artist Firelei Báez’s Ciguapa series (2005-2015), which she reads as a study in “technologies of race making” that operate outside nationalist frameworks into an archipelagic one that sutures together Afrofuturism and Latinxfuturism. Maia Gil’Adí similarly examines a more expansive latinidad by exploring “the phantasmagoric vestiges of speculation in Venezuelan global imaginaries” in the work of Venezuelan artist Alexander Apóstol’s photography series “Skeleton Coast” (2005) and arguing for this work’s inclusion in notions of latinidad. Focusing on unfinishedness, stasis, and decay, Gil’Adí explores how “speculative aesthetics are a performative method of being in the world that can actively and continually question common conceptions of progress, regeneration, and revolution.”
Kristie Soares theorizes how Rita Indiana’s speculative works make use of incomodando (bothering) as an affective strategy that offers the possibility of revolutions. In Soares’s examination of the song “El Castigador” (The Punisher) and the novel La mucama de Omicunlé (2015), she considers how Indiana suggests dynamic utopianism where “we might continually arrive at justice.” While this potential future is complicated – in the novel, the character Acilde has a gender confirmation surgery that allows him to pass as a cisgender man, thus adhering to gender binaries – Indiana’s incomodando points to the necessary relationship between discomfort and justice. Much like Acilde’s decision to pass, Aaron Soto in Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not (2015), as William Orchard explains, “considers undergoing a Leteo memory erasing procedure to forget he is gay.” This plotline follows “a science fiction thread invested in technophilic futures” that Orchard contrasts with “a fantasy one affiliated with the forms of imagining promoted in comic books” that, taken together, imagine a future for “not only emergent queer Latinx subjects but also a range of persons whose experiences of trauma render them vulnerable to further violence.”
John Ribó takes up Christina Sharpe’s incisive In The Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016) to contemplate how “tactics for defending the dead take different forms throughout the African diaspora.” Ribó reads Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Cypher series, which features an Afro-Boricua protagonist, Sierra Santiago, alongside the #RickyRenuncia protests in Puerto Rico to consider how the novels and the protests participate in Sharpe’s notion of “wake work,” which is “a mode of inhabiting and rupturing this episteme with our known lived and un/imaginable lives” (18). Where Ribó focuses on the diaspora, Shelley Streeby, in her essay on Lilliam Rivera’s novel Dealing in Dreams (2019), underscores the importance of an inter-American framework to illuminate forms of speculation that are joined by shared “histories of colonialism, border control, medical experimentation, anti-colonial resistance, and queer kinship.” World-making is central to Streeby’s essay as it “highlight[s] queer, ethnic studies, and social movement genealogies of speculative fiction’s central project of imagining other worlds,” which is especially important as the rewrites of the novel took place under the shadow of the Trump presidency and informed Rivera’s revision process, as Streeby describes.
Finally, the cluster ends with my essay on the Roswell reboot, Roswell, New Mexico, in which I argue that the series seems to take place during the Obama-era despite the repeated references to Trump’s presidency. By highlighting an older, nostalgic, form of anti-immigration policies, I suggest that the series consigns us to a dead future incapable of imagining a future beyond our dystopian present as the show’s version of futurity relies on a dead former future. Taken as a whole, the essays in this cluster demonstrate the importance of young adult fiction in imagining Latinx futures. They also illustrate that speculative arts exceed the boundaries of genre fiction and include a range of forms from paintings and photography to experimental music and literature. Further, the essays underscore how Latinx speculative fictions move beyond nationalistic frameworks and are in constant conversation not only with Latin America and the U.S., but with each other. Futurity emerges in these essays as imaginaries, of course, but also as technologies, strategies, and tactics. In this way, the futurities of Latinx speculative fictions – and for Latinxs more broadly – isn’t only an imaginary, but a toolkit for a more just, anti-racist world and a more expansive, inclusive latinidad.
John D. Ribó, “’The Power of Memorializing People Not Memorialized’: The Wake Work of the Shadowshaper Cypher Series and #RickyRenuncia”
Shelley Streeby, “Latinx World-Making, Queer Futurities, and Spaces of Change in Lilliam Rivera’s Dealing in Dreams”
I owe my deepest thanks to Jacquelyn Ardam for encouraging me to put this cluster together. I would also like to thank Maia Gil’Adí, whose conversations with me about Latinx speculative fictions informed and inspired this cluster.
- Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Shoot Migrants’ Legs, Build Alligator Moat: Behind Trump’s Ideas for Border” The New York Times (October 1, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/01/us/politics/trump-border-wars.html. Caitlin Dickerson, “U.S. Government Plans to Collect DNA From Detained Immigrants” The New York Times, (October 2, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/us/dna-testing-immigrants.html
- Katie Rogers and Helene Cooper, “Trump Authorizes a Space Command. Next, He Wants a Space Force” The New York Times (August 2019, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/29/us/politics/trump-space-command-force.html
- Most notably, Cristina Beltrán, The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
- Yara Simón, “‘Pose’ Star Indya Moore On Why They Don’t Identify as Latino: ‘I’m Not White’” Remezcla (September 22, 2019), https://remezcla.com/film/indya-moore-emmys-red-carpet-interview/