By Frederick Luis Aldama
Back in the day we had to fight to be heard. To have our creative and intellectual work as Latinas and Latinos published. We’ve been pounding on doors ever since. Some of those doors opened, but only a crack. Mostly we’ve created our own edifices, and with doors, windows, and all else wide open. We established our own venues to disseminate our artistic creations—to all that we create that actively makes new perception, thought, and feeling and that actively transforms the world we very much exist within.
Racist gatekeeping has been the name of the game for all metabolized by the mainstream publishing industry: from books published to literary prizes awarded to review space provided. With gates locked tight, we’ve learned to make our own. We see this with the establishing of Spanish newspapers in the Southwest and Florida in the 19th century where some of our great abuelos and abuelas found readers for their serialized fictions and essays. Since 1992, Nicolás Kanellos’s Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project has located, preserved, indexed, and digitized over 1,700 newspapers to date. We could, of course, reach deeper into our history to consider how Juan Ponce de León’s and Cabeza de Vaca’s travel diaries found their ideal Latina/o readers centuries later once reprinted and put into our hands.
In the 20th century, our ancestors continued to build, build, and build venues for creative circulation, and in increasingly multiple and mixed idiomatic registers: fiction, poetry, plays, and performance art in Spanish, and indigenous languages. They cleared spaces for creative and intellectual work that moved within and across languages to fully capture our betwixt and between borderland identities. In 1967 Octavio Romano, Nick C. Vaca and Andres Ybarra established the first Chicano publishing house, Editorial Quinto Sol and its interdisciplinary journal, El Grito. On its coattails, in 1970, Romano et al. established the first literary prize for Chicana/o authors, Premio Quinto Sol. Veritable floodgates opened in the 1970s. During this epoch, we saw the founding of Pajarito Publications (1970-2002) that published seminal works in Latina/o letters such as Ron Arias’s Road to Tamazunchale and scholarship by Francisco Lomelí. We also saw the establishing of Bilingual Review (1974- ), Miguel Méndez’s Peregrinos Press (1974), Lorna Dee Cervantes’s Mango Publications Tonatiuh-Quinto Sol (1976- ), Nicolás Kanellos’s Revista Chicana-Riqueña (1972, later known as The Americas Review), Miguel Algerian’s Nuyorican Poets Café (1973), Fuego de Aztlán (1976-1980), Norma Alarcón’s Third Woman Press (1979), and Kanellos’s Arte Público Press (1979). During this period, we saw, too, the rise of presses focused on the margins—focused on the worldly within the US. We saw this with the creating of White Pine Press (1973- ), Curbstone (1975), Broken Moon Press (1976- ), and Audre Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, et al’s Kitchen Table Press (1980). The 1980s saw the arrival of Floricanto (1982), Lalo Press (1983), and Cinco Puntos (1985). We poured solid and deep foundations. We built edifices—and with gates wide open to all our forceful creations.
The struggle is far from over. Today, we’re over 18% of the population and growing. Yet, we’re only represented in about 2% of all of US mainstream’s cultural dissemination. The struggle to be heard, read, viewed continues. It’s real.
Fortunately, in today’s digital age we have Latinas and Latinos who continue to dedicate their time and labor to clearing much needed spaces for our creative acts. Daniel Olivas’s La bloga provides a forum for Latina/o authors to reflect on the creative work—and the world at large. Michele Shaul and Kathryn Quinn-Sánchez’s Label Me Latina/o publishes scholarly essays, and interviews as well as creative poetry and short fiction. And Abril Trigo and Ana del Sarto’s alter/nativas publishes articles and multimedia essays on the Latin American arts in Spanish, English, and Portuguese. The most recent and robust arrival on the scene: the biannual Latin@ Literatures – A Cultural and Literary Journal.
Latin@ Literatures provides a bold, vital new digital canvas for showcasing Latina/o fiction, poetry, visual art, and intellectual inquiry. With its 21st century anything-goes rasquache and punk spirit, there are no limits to Latina/o art and creative expression. Latin@ Literatures is the latest celebration of our Latina/o cultures. When it comes to Latina/o creative and intellectual expression, there can only be total freedom in art, thought, and interpretive production.
Frederick Luis Aldama is University Distinguished Scholar as well as Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor at The Ohio State University where he teaches Latino and Latin American literature, comic books, TV, and film in the departments of English, Spanish/Portuguese, and Film Studies. He was honored with the 2016 American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education’s Outstanding Latino/a Faculty in Higher Education award as well as a recipient of the White House Bright Spot for Higher Education Award and the Ohio Education Summit Award for his Latino High School outreach program, LASER.
He is the author, co-author, and editor of over twenty-eight books, including recently The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Pop Culture. He is editor of Latino and Latin American Profiles (University of Pittsburgh Press) book series. He is editor of Latino & Latin American Profiles (University of Pittsburgh Press), Latino Cultural Studies (Routledge), and the trade-book graphic novel and nonfiction series, Latinographix (Ohio State University Press), co-editor of the following book series: Latinx Pop Culture (University of Arizona), Global Latino/a Americas (The Ohio State University Press), Cognitive Approaches to Literature and Culture (The Ohio State University Press), and World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction (University of Texas Press). He is a member of the standing board for the Oxford Bibliographies in Latino Studies.