Latinas: A Social and Cultural Survey

Wrapping Up

This online course presented an interdisciplinary cultural survey of Latinas in the U.S. It explored education, economic, geographic, and cultural representation, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and gender formations. The first half of the course emphasized the experiences of Boricua women. The second half focused on the poetics of Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan descendants. The course also analyzed U.S. imperialism and war, colonialism and coloniality, policing, and surveillance. It paid attention to labor, empowering poetics and body-positive narratives, racial justice demands, oral testimonies, climate justice, relationships with African Americans, and issues of Puerto Rican standing in the U.S. The objective of the class was to facilitate entries into Latina, Caribbean, and Afro-Boricua cultures and identities while framing the struggle for cultural recognition, artistic platforms, civil, educational, and labor rights in the U.S.

“Hair” Elizabeth Acevedo

My mother tells me to fix my hair. And by “fix,” she means straighten. She means whiten. But how do you fix this ship-wrecked history of hair? The true meaning of stranded, when trusses held tight like African cousins in ship bellies, did they imagine that their great-grandchildren would look like us, and would hate them how we do? Trying to find ways to erase them out of our skin, iron them out of our hair, this wild tangle of hair that strangles air. You call them wild curls. I call them breathing. Ancestors spiraling. Can’t you see them in this wet hair that waves like hello? They say Dominicans can do the best hair. I mean they wash, set, flatten the spring in any loc – but what they mean is we’re the best at swallowing amnesia, in a cup of morir soñado, die dreaming because we’d rather do that than live in this reality, caught between orange juice and milk, between reflections of the sun and whiteness. What they mean is, “Why would you date a black man?” What they mean is, “a prieto cocolo” What they mean is, “Why would two oppressed people come together? It’s two times the trouble.” What they really mean is, “Have you thought of your daughter’s hair?” And I don’t tell them that we love like sugar cane, brown skin, pale flesh, meshed in pure sweetness. The children of children of fields. Our bodies curve into one another like an echo, and I let my curtain of curls blanket us from the world, how our children will be beautiful. Of dust skin, and diamond eyes. Hair, a reclamation. How I will break pride down their back so from the moment they leave the womb they will be born in love with themselves. Momma tells me to fix my hair, and so many words remain unspoken. Because all I can reply is, “You can’t fix what was never broken.”


Group Discussion

What did you learn in our class?

What was your favorite topic/reading/film/author/assignment?

What was difficult this semester and how you overcome that obstacle?


Chat Discussion

What tips would you give your classmates to finish the semester successfully? Send some words of encouragement

Every Person is a Philosopher/ Every Day is Another Story- William and Richard Ayers


Oral history is the poetry of the everyday, the literature of the streets, the subjective experiences and personal perspectives of extraordinary ordinary people

The focus of oral history, is always the space between: between history and anthropology, happening and narrative, fact, and meaning, past and present, remembering and forgetting, student and teacher, interviewer and subject.

The interview is not an interrogation or an intrusion, or a designated therapeutic moment; it is rather the opening of a narrative space that people may choose to enter or not. It is an invitation, not a destination.

It is outward-looking. It seeks answers in the wisdom of others. It also inspires us to examine what makes people tick, what makes our complex world so exciting and confusing, who we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed.

The stories people tell and share can become powerful tools against propaganda, political dogmas, and all manner of impositions and stereotypes. Seeking honesty and authenticity in stories means becoming attuned, as well, to contradiction, disagreements, silences, negation, denials, inconsistencies, confusion, challenges, turmoil, puzzlement, commotion, ambiguities, paradoxes, disputes, uncertainty, and every kind of muddle. Oral historians dive headfirst into the wide, wild world of human experience.


Thinking of these ideas presented by William and Richard Ayers and of the person you will be interviewing  design a questionnaire of five questions (or more) with your partners based on these open categories:

. Upbringing and homeland

. Language

. Education

. Migration (if applicable) and cultural retention

. Challenges in the U.S. as a Latina


Interview Assignment Instructions

Option 1: Personal Interview


  1. Interview a Latina based on your interests as a student.

You will be asking 5 questions of your choosing based on these open categories:

. Upbringing and homeland

. Language

. Education

. Migration (if applicable) and cultural retention

. Challenges in the US as a Latina


  1. Write an introduction presenting your subject and your take on the interview and a conclusion in which you summarize the five responses and the main points discussed in the conversation.

(3-4 pages/ Double Space/ Times New Roman/ Font Size: 12)


Option 2: Response Paper on an Interview


  1. Select, watch, listen, or read ONE interview (from the interview archive) with a Latina artist or thinker.
  2. Write a response paper using the following format:
  3. Paragraph 1: Introduce the person interviewed. Explain how the person is presented by the interviewer and summarize the main points discussed in the conversation.
  4. Paragraphs 2 and 3: Choose and analyze two relevant excerpts from the interview. Explain them in your own words. Why do you think these sections are important? How and why they resonate with you? Do you agree with the opinions expressed? Do you disagree? Why?
  5. Paragraph 4: Re-state the main themes and intentions behind the interview. How it allows you to understand better the person’s work and worldviews? Would you recommend the interview? Why? To whom?

(3-4 Pages/Double Space/ Times New Roman/ Font size: 12)

Asynchronous Assignment on Yesika Salgado and Melissa Lozada-Oliva




Reacting to the following quote from “The Fictions of Solidarity” by Ana Patricia Rodríguez, discuss (with concrete examples) how Yesika Salgado OR Melissa Lozada-Oliva interact with the proposals and aesthetics of Chicana and Latina feminist lineages.

“Latina feminist scholars [and poets] set out to produce “flesh and blood” [works]. For example, fusing personal stories into collective testimonios of struggle. Latina Feminist Group collaborated in the writing of intersectional stories, and theories bridging scholarship [and poetics] in the areas of race, class, gender, sexuality, generation, nation, among other things.” (Rodriguez 202)

*225-words minimum*


Pick TWO poems from Lozada-Oliva’s Peluda and answer their respective prompts

.In “Origin Regime,” the poet tells the story of their parents as newly-arrived migrants in the U.S., her family life, and her mom’s eventual beauty business. Thinking about all these interrelated elements, how you interpret the last line of the poem: “we can see jor face now.”

.”Maybe She’s Born with It”  states that the poet’s mom could never get away from being the cleaning lady, even when she started working in the beauty business. Expand.

. In “Lip/ Stain/ Must/ Ache” and “AKA What Would Jessica Jones Do?” Lozada-Oliva presents two confronting versions of Latina womanhood inspired by examples from literature and TV. Explain.

.Explain the connection between the poet’s self-image and the following lines from “What if my Last Name”: “she will get brown/ enough to be asked where is she/ from & this is how she will know/ she is different.”

*225-words minimum*

Peluda (Selection)- Melissa Lozada Oliva

Guatemalan descent, Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a nationally touring poet, educator, and bookseller from Boston, Massachusetts. She is the 2015 National Poetry Slam Champion, a Brenda Mosley Video Slam Winner, and currently an MFA candidate at NYU’s poetry program.

Peluda explores the intersecting narratives of body image, hair removal, and Latina identity.

“Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s poems make space for themselves beautifully, spilling blood and opening bodies to illuminate the trauma of living as a brown woman in America. These are poems that exist both because of and in spite of generations of pain and oppression, and they do so with a compelling force that leaves the language in your head long after you’ve stopped reading.”

-Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

Peluda- M. Lozada Oliva

Zoom Presentations:

Group A

Santisteban, Samantha

Tejada, Rosa J

Korini, Mateo

Pina, Andrea P

Ramos, Judah A

Milonovich, Maxim

Guaman, Brandon Fernando

Group Questions

.How the poet reverses “the insult,” to empower and celebrate the women in her life?

.In “You Know How To Say Arroz con Pollo but Not What You Are,” the poet points out the linguistic divide between her parents and her, a first-generation child. Expand on her complex relationship with the Spanish language.

. “My Hair Stays on Your Pillow” examines prejudices against Latinas and the self-doubts produced by whitewashed beauty standards. Discuss.

The Fictions of Solidarity- Ana Patricia Rodríguez


Ana Patricia Rodríguez is an associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and U.S. Latina/o Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she teaches courses in Latin American, Central American, and U.S. Latina/o literatures and cultures. Professor Rodríguez has published numerous articles and books on the cultural production of Latinas/os in the United States and Central Americans in the isthmus and in the wider Central American diaspora among them Dividing the Isthmus: Central American Transnational Histories, Literatures, and Cultures (University of Texas Press, 2009).

The fiction of solidarity- A.P. Rodriguez

In the 1980s and 1990s, Chicana/Latina feminist cultural activists who were critical of U.S. intervention and imperialism in Central America engaged in the production of what I have called “solidarity fictions,” or “fictions of solidarity.” During those decades, the United States provided military and economic aid to Central American regimes, particularly in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, to fund wars of genocide and general destruction. As a consequence, many Central Americans sought asylum in the United States as refugees, political exiles, and immigrants. In the heat of that moment, Chicana/Latina writers and critics began to document the deaths, displacements, and border crossings of thousands of Central Americans fleeing civil wars fought between U.S.-supported right-wing governments and leftist guerrilla organizations. (199)

Case Study: El Salvador’s Civil War Explained in Five Facts

1. Fourteen of the richest families own over 90% of your country’s land. Poor people began to question this system and wanted the land to be shared.

2. In 1980, the government in power at the time, ARENA, became very aggressive and labeled anyone who supported land reform as an “enemy of the state.”

3. Salvadorans formed the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The FMLN created a guerilla army of the people to oppose the government and right-wing paramilitary forces. They began to fight back and take back land from the government.

4. The United States funded the Salvadoran military to fight the FMLN, at about 1 million dollars a day. The United States offered refugee status to only 3% of Salvadorans, but after being taken to court, the U.S. offered Temporary Residential Status to many Salvadorans.

5. From 1979 to 1981 alone, an estimated 30,000 Salvadorans were killed by the government’s death squads. Violence on both sides lead to a truce brokered by the United Nations in 1993, and the FMLN was recognized as a political party. Overall, the civil war lasted for 12 years and left 75,000 Salvadorans dead.

Current Issues: There are high poverty and crime in El Salvador. Natural disasters and civil war have severely impacted the economy. In the 1980s, gang members returned from the U.S. and brought gang culture to El Salvador. Gang activities led to increased murder and displacement of Salvadorans. El Salvador has one of the world’s highest murder rates, at 71 murders per 100,000.

Zoom Presentations:

Guaman, Brandon Fernando

Lojano, Gisella C

Chicana Solidarity with Central America

This contact zone of sorts permitted Chicana writers to challenge borders imposed by U.S. imperialism and border regimes, starting with 1848, when the northern territories of Mexico were territorialized (taken) by the United States. Henceforth, if not before the Caribbean and Central America, each in their own turn, have been subjected to U.S imperialist and empire-building forces. (200)

Latina transfronterista feminists produce a unique mixed blend fictions to forge alliances and work across geopolitical border and global struggles, and challenge neocolonial and imperial forces at work across the Americas. (201)

Latina feminist scholars set out to produce “flesh and blood theory.” For example, fusing personal stories into collective testimonios of struggle. Latina Feminist Group collaborated in the writing of intersectional stories, and theories bridging scholarship in the areas of race, class, gender, sexuality, generation, nation, among other things. (202)

U.S. Chicana/ Latina Transnational Narrative Interventions

To the immigrant mexicano and the recent arrivals, we must teach our history. The 80 million mexicanos and the Latinos from Central and South America must know of our struggles. Each one of us must know basic facts about Nicaragua, Chile, and the rest of Latin America. The Latinoist movement (Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Spanish-speaking people working together to combat racial discrimination in the marketplace) is good but it is not enough. Other than a common culture we will have nothing to hold us together. We need to meet on a broader communal ground.

In an illuminating moment, [Cherríe Moraga] recognized that U.S. intervention and Latin American immigration are, in fact, linked, for “[e]very place the United States has been involved militarily has brought its offspring, its orphans, its homeless, and its casualties to this country: Vietnam, Guatemala, Cambodia, the Philippines.” Moreover, she linked U.S. intervention in Central America to massive Central American immigration waves that continue to this day. (204)

Recommended Essays:

Borderlands Chapter 1 & 7

Tesoro (Selection) -Yesika Salgado

Yesika Salgado is a Los Angeles based Salvadoran poet who writes about her family, her culture, her city, and her brown body. She has shared her work in venues and campuses throughout the country.  Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Latina Magazine, Univision, Vibe Magazine, Huffington Post, NPR, TEDx, and many digital platforms. She is the co-founder of the Latina feminist collective Chingona Fire and an internationally recognized body positivity activist. Yesika is the author of Corazón and Tesoro

Discussion in Groups

Which elements were impactful in Salgado’s process of self-acceptance-love-respect?

Tesoro is a poetry collection that examines family, migration, survival, and the formative power of the women in Salgado’s life. It is a telling of the balance between love and perseverance. Tesoro is an unearthing of the sacred connections that make a person whole; the treasure we forever keep with us when we learn from those we love, when we mourn those we’ve lost, and what grows in between.


Zoom Presentations:

Deng, Zihao

Reyes, Joyce M

Sanchez, Johairy

Milonovich, Maxim

Topics from our selection


Self-definition; linguistic identity; storytelling, heritage, and latinidad (Latin-ness)

.”The women”

Sexual and gender violence at the borderlands

.”Mami’s Cooking”

Motherhood; Community and identity formation through cuisine


.”San Vicente, El Salvador”

Dignified country life; respect and appreciation of the homeland

.”The Therapist”

White privilege; self-protection and brown womanhood; being disinherited: “having things taken from us”; the power of words

Quick Commentary

Inspire in the poetics (topics, images, play with language, narratives) presented in the selection, how will you describe Yesika Salgado’s vision of Latina identity?

Asynchronous Assignment on Year of the Dog by Deborah Paredez

Deborah Kalb: What inspired you to write Year of the Dog, which focuses on the Vietnam War and its legacy?

Deborah Paredez: A couple of things. The first thing was a lifelong obsession with the legacies of the Vietnam War, especially in Latino communities. My father was a Mexican immigrant, and he got his citizenship papers just in time for his draft notice.

When he returned from Vietnam, it was not talked about, but it took up space in the household. I began writing about it to fill the void. This was the book I was meant to write.

Also, I remember as a kid that because it wasn’t talked about, I would pore over photographs and snapshots from Vietnam, thinking maybe if I look, I’ll get some answers. It was part of the archive of my understanding of the war.

The war was hyper-documented through iconic images we have, and simultaneously, there’s so much we have to [undo] because we assume we know it.




1. Listen to or read the interview with Kim Phúc

How the Vietnam War’s Napalm Girl found hope after tragedy

2. Read the section on Kim Phúc by Deborah Paredez (Pages 57-76)

Year of the Dog (Selection)- D- Paredez

3. Pick ONE of the following topics and discuss how Paredez uses different poetic tactics to share the voice of Kim Phúc and show:

.the horror of napalm attacks in Vietnam (pages 58-61)

.different reactions and effects of the iconic photograph by Nick UT (pages 63-69)

.healing through the perspective of a father-daughter relationship (Page 71)

.reflections on being a survivor of the war (Pages 73-76)

*225-words minimum*


OPTION TWO (Designed by Professor Ramsey Scott)


Write a poem that includes one or more of the following:

.description of a family photograph;

.reference to a family holiday tradition or ritual of some kind;

.use of a punctuation mark as a metaphorical figure;

.lastly, you might experiment with enjambment–that is, with ideas that run from one line, to the next, drawing the reader down the length of the poem in a search for resolution or completion (which may, or may not, arrive).

(Each of the above appears in Deborah Paredez’s book of poems; look for them as you enjoy reading her work.)

Year of the Dog- Deborah Paredez

Deborah Paredez is a poet and interdisciplinary performance scholar whose lectures and publications examine Black and Latinx popular culture, poetry of war and witness, feminist elegy, cultural memory, and the role of divas in American culture. She is a co-founder of Canto Mundo, the author of the critical study, Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory (Duke 2009) and of the poetry volumes, This Side of Skin (Wings Press 2002), and Year of the Dog (BOA Editions 2020).  CantoMundo, hosts an annual poetry workshop for Latinx poets that provides a space for the creation, documentation, and critical analysis of Latinx poetry.

From the back cover:

In the tradition of women as the unsung keepers of history, Deborah Paredez’s second poetry collection tells her story as a Latina daughter of the Vietnam War.

The title refers to the year 1970—the Year of the Metal Dog in the lunar calendar—which was the year of the author’s birth, the year her father prepared to deploy to Vietnam along with many other Mexican-American immigrant soldiers, and a year of tremendous upheaval across the United States. Paredez recalls untold stories from a war that changed her family and the US.

Year of the Dog (Selection)- D- Paredez

Chicana Feminism

Paredez’s work is in dialogue with a lineage of Chicana poets that emphasize feminist readings of the United States as an imperialist and neocolonial power. Chicana feminism engages in the construction of a transnational cross border, anti-colonial discourse, and movement.

In the poem “Self-Portrait in Flesh and Stone” one of Paredez’s intertext is Gloria Anzaldúa’s essay in Spanglish “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” in which she analyzes linguistic prejudices and gender and cultural discrimination in the South West.


(Minutes 0:00-6:00)

Open Discussion on “Self-Portrait in Flesh and Stone” (Pages 23-25)

What connections do you think Paredez is trying to make between gender and linguistic discriminations against Chicanas (as presented by Anzaldúa) and bodies’ decay produced by the Vietnam War?

Zoom Presentations:

Perez-Leon, Alejandro

Pina, Andrea P

Ramos, Judah A

Gonzalez, Denise

Professor Ramsey Scott’s Intervention

When discussing Paredez’s book of poetry it’s important to emphasize the ways that participation in colonialist schemas provides one means of understanding space (in this case, Aztlán) and reclassifying oneself, albeit temporarily (and with many strings attached), in the “settler-slave-native” triad that Tuck and Yang identify as operative in the U.S., and in settler colonialism, generally speaking (See: “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor,” ).  The overarching premise will be to think of poetry as a medium for inscribing these concepts–mixing discourses, thinking geographically, etc.–in unique and provocative ways.

Group Discussion

In her poetry collection, Paredez presents her father and family’s accounts of the Vietnam War and the aftermath but also connects these fragmented portraits with the intersectional activism of students, indigenous, Chicanx, and Black people in the US.

Why do you think she incorporates these poems about mobilization and repression in the collection?  What ideas about the Vietnam War she is trying to convey?

Asynchronous Assignment on “Your Lips” by Yomaira Figueroa

In an attempt to map some of the gendered and racialized aspects of Afro-Boricua diasporic experiences in the United States, Yomaira Figueroa argues that “for Afro-Latinas coming of age in homelands, islands, and in the diaspora […] the kitchen table is a place of politics, poetics, kinship, and sustenance. Likewise, we know that this hallowed quotidian space is also a site of violence, revelation, and revolt.”

Figueroa invites us to acknowledge and combat the impacts of anti-Black racism that exist within our spaces. “This means that we must interrogate and contest the living legacies of mestizaje and its failure to eradicate racial interpersonal and structural oppression and inequality. This also means actively subverting the forms of anti-Blackness endemic to Latinx and Latin American communities.” (Page 4)




Pick ONE of these assignment options and answer in the comment section below.


Using the quote above, discuss how the story “Your Lips” (pages 6-9) illustrates colorism and Anti-Blackness within Boricua and Latinx families.

180-words minimum


Write a short poem or  anecdote in which you incorporate and reflect on the ideas of the following  quote:

“What hit you then was the blackness. Everyone in the room was soft and honey and even las trigueñas eran claras. But you were small and brusk and brown and black and all curls and no beauty. You knew it then. At four or five. Your papi was the black one. He’s the one that made you black and you did not belong to the table. Even though you were all from the same island. The same saltwaters. The same hard rivers. The same blood. It was then that the anger came.” (Page 8)

Your Lips- Yomaira Figueroa

A native of Puerto Rico, Yomaira was raised in Hoboken, NJ, and is a first-generation high school and college graduate. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Figueroa works on 20th century U.S. Latinx Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-Hispanic literature and culture. Her current book project, Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature, focuses on diasporic and exilic Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, and Equatoguinean texts in contact.

On her literary upbringing and the concept of faithful witnessing 3:15-8:40

“Your Lips”

This cross-genre essay examines how Afro-Latinas in general, and Afro- Puerto Rican women in the diaspora in particular, negotiate race, sex, and belonging within Latinx families and communities. Blending fiction with prose to discuss literary poetics, faithful witnessing, and world-traveling, this piece enumerates historical and contemporary practices of relating across differences that are part and parcel of women of color feminisms, decolonial feminist politics, and anti-colonial histories of struggle and resistance.



Faithful witnessing is a political act and an ethical strategy through which oppressed peoples form coalitions in order to combat systematic oppression. Faithful witnessing is likewise a part of the practice of engaging in relations across difference. (Page 3)

“Let us instead be faithful witnesses to the intimate folds of Afro-Latina becomings and take on the labor of seeing, knowing, and feeling the aches and beauties of Blackness for ourselves and with one another.” (Page 6)


Group Discussion

Based on our previous discussions about the colonial history of Puerto Rico, Anti-Blackness within the U.S., how do you interpret Figueroa’s poem?

I was born black and woman and desterrada.
A colonial subject hundreds of years in the making, rebelling and fugitive at every turn.

(Page 1)

*Select one person to report back to the group.*

Zoom Presentations:

Miro, Christine

Ortiz, Kelvin Joel

Pantoja, Melissa

Perez, Kevin A

Open Discussion

In conversation with scholar Angela Jorge and The Black Latinas Know Collective (BLKC) Figueroa contends that Afro-Latinas face manifold oppressions, and the Black Puerto Rican woman is triply “oppressed because of her sex, cultural identity, and color” and “is further oppressed by the act of omission or absence of literature addressing her needs […] the racialized and gendered dimensions of Afro-Latina life include experiences ranging from “having our Latinidad and Blackness questioned, to dealing with white Latinx standards of beauty that exclude us, to being invisibilized, to being designated as incapable of occupying our places as students, professors, intellectuals, and knowledge producers.” (Page 2)

Have you experienced or have witnessed these dilemmas of Afro-Latinas?