Date of Award

5-2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Dawn A. Duke

Committee Members

Millie Gimmel, Luis Cano, Bertin Louis

Abstract

Through an analysis of the literature by Afro-Latino writers Junot Díaz, Evelio Grillo, Piri Thomas and Loida Maritza Pérez, my dissertation shows how the multifaceted nature of Afro-Latino/a identity and culture is reflected in the works of three novels written by Spanish-speaking authors who self-identify as Afro-Caribbean Americans. I use criticism from such scholars as Juan Flores, Miriam Jiménez, and Jorge Gracia to show that U.S. Afro-Latinity is not representative of an essence, but rather of a set of common manifestations resulting from conflicting concepts of race and ethnicity. I assert that U.S. Black Latinos not only possess a unique history and culture that has its roots in both Latin American and African cultures, but also that they are currently constructing their own definition of selfhood that transcends the fixed racial labels that American society has created over time.

In Chapter One, I discuss the historical realities that have created the concepts of race in both the United States and in Latin America. Chapter Two addresses Junot Díaz’s use of language play as a means to resist colonialist discourse about race in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). In Chapter Three, I look at how Evelio Grillo and Piri Thomas’ appropriations of blackness in their autobiographies Black Cuban, Black American (2000) and Down These Mean Streets (1967) demonstrate a tendency toward exclusion of those not belonging. This is evident in both authors’ overt rejection of White supremacy. Finally, in Chapter Four, I discuss the concept of home in Geographies of Home (2000) by Loida Maritza Pérez. Through an analysis of the main female characters of the novel, I assert that Afro-Latina women, by virtue of their racial heritages and the implications of their gender, often struggle to forge their own identity due to the tension between the societal expectations of their homelands in Latin America and the societal expectations of Black women in the United States.

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