Latinx DNA: Race, Latinidad, and the Gene(ome)
Latinx DNA: Race, Latinidad, and the Gene(ome) examines how the fields of genomics and genetic genealogy are increasingly informing (and being informed by) twentieth-century and contemporary Latinx literary and cultural productions. Taking to task what I call the “myth of Latinx genomic exceptionalism,” Latinx DNA focuses on the various genetic fictions (re)produced by popular scientific and cultural (mis)understandings of Latinidad, ones that render the Latinx body a living archeological site that is biologically seductive for its always assumed synthesis of African, Indigenous, and European ancestries. I then situate these contemporary discourses of “positive mixture” within a long and fraught history of Latin American and Caribbean cultural, esoteric, and scientific approaches to race, racialization, and mixedness to show how these ideas are appropriated, disrupted, and negotiated by turn-of-the-twenty-first century and contemporary Latinx cultural workers.
Latinx DNA, in turn, brings together popular science writing and scientific literature on Latin/x American and Caribbean communities alongside a vast array of literary and cultural artifacts like the futurist writings of Chicana lesbian thinker Gloria Anzaldúa, the science-fictions of Afro-Dominiyorkian writer Raquel Cepeda and Afro-Dominican-Haitian visual artist Firelei Baez, and the multimedia genome reveals of Puerto Rican hip-hop artist “Residente,” among others. Because my conception of “culture” is broad, I also engage elements of oral and social media cultures such as podcasts, Tweets, Facebook Groups posts, and TikToks where “facts” and “fictions” of genetic ancestry are being continuously blurred and re-made. In so doing, I offer a layered meditation on how the biosciences are (re)shaping, for good or for naught, popular understandings of Afro-Indigeneity, Latinidad, mestizaje (or Indo-Hispanic mixing), and mulatez (or Afro-European mixing) across the Americas. And while genetic essentialism reductively bills DNA as the key to identity, Latinx DNA reveals how Latinx root-seeking projects are ingeniously responding to and challenging reductive interpretations of the gene(ome) in ways that seek to re-tell the hemispheric histories—and continuing presence—of Latinx communities across geographical and temporal boundaries.
Thus, I show how Latinx “root-seekers,” to use sociologist Alondra Nelson’s phrasing, deploy a visionary and reparative conceptual tool that I call “speculative genealogy” as a means of mapping ancestral origins and restoring (sometimes imagined) African and Indigenous kinship ties across the Americas. Through their speculative genealogical expeditions, I argue that Latinx root-seekers confront, albeit imperfectly and to varying degrees, the conceptual and political baggage that comes with oft-times romanticized hemispheric discourses of race mixture by writing new stories of mixedness, stories that critique and decenter Anglo and Hispanic whiteness. Ultimately, it is through their reparative mining of African and Indigenous histories, ontologies, and epistemologies, that Latinx speculators imagine new forms of (inter)relatedness and ethno-racial identification that privilege the centrality of Blackness and Indigeneity (and other racial formations) in discourses and representations of Latinidad.
Stories of the Flesh: On Epigenetics and Racialized Embodiment in African-American and Latinx Science-Fictions
Tentatively titled Stories of the Flesh: On Epigenetics and Racialized Embodiment in African-American and Latinx Science-Fictions, this book project examines how writers like Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Junot Díaz, among others, enact what Butler calls “stories of the flesh,” stories that attempt to theorize a fraught yet nevertheless powerful embodied conception of hemispheric American history. Disrupting essentialist versus social constructivist approaches to race, these stories of the flesh suggest that biology cannot, and indeed does not, live outside culture/history. As such, these writers theorize the effects of both historical and contemporary white supremacist environments on racialized bodies and how racism, in turn, becomes embodied. Though many of the works under consideration are written either before or during the earlier stages of the nascent field of epigenetics (briefly, the study of how genes interface with their environment), these stories of the flesh envision processes of corporeal change that are not unlike recently discovered epigenetic mechanisms (ex. DNA methylation).
These stories of the flesh, in turn, articulate what epigenetic studies are only beginning to understand: (1) that race(ism), to borrow from biological anthropologist Clarence Gravlee, “exists as a socio-cultural phenomenon that has force in people’s lives—one with biological consequences,” and (2) that the evidence of biological responses to the trauma of racism (and other forms of oppression) can be inherited by subsequent generations. In taking a relational approach to literature, history, and science, I consider what scholars of race(ism) and scientists may learn by understanding that ruling narratives of culture and history need to be rethought, to paraphrase Lennard Davis and David Morris, in terms of their inextricable yet nevertheless protean relationship to biology. Writers like Anzaldúa, Butler, Díaz, and Morrison thus tackle this relationality by turning to the speculative (ex. alternate history, horror, science fiction, etc.) and charting what I read as their (proto)epigenetic (yet non-Lamarckian) approaches to race(ism) and history. By foregrounding the complex interplay of past and present, of the biological intertwined with the cultural and the historical, these writers suggest that history is indelibly linked to (and animated by) the very bodies that live it.