A Q&A with Marisel Moreno, Ph.D.

Learning from Literature

“Latina/x literature offers us a window into the strength of Latina women. Latinas—especially AfroLatinas—don’t get enough credit for being the pillars of our communities and guaranteeing the survival of our peoples.”

Through her 2009-10 AAUW American Fellowship, Dr. Marisel Moreno conducted research for a book examining the literature of Puerto Rican women authors on the island and the U.S. mainland. Now an associate professor of Latino/a literature at the University of Notre Dame, she shares some insights on contemporary Latina/o/x literature and a peek at her forthcoming book, which examines the representation of undocumented migration in the Caribbean.

Tell us about the research you did under your AAUW Fellowship and how it informs the work you’re doing today.

The work I did under the AAUW Fellowship was related to my first book, Family Matters: Puerto Rican Women Authors on the Island and the Mainland (University of Virginia Press, 2012). I’m deeply thankful for the support I received as an assistant professor because it allowed me to finish my book and earn tenure. It continues to inform my work to this day, as my teaching and research are at the intersection of Caribbean, Latina/o/x and feminist studies.

As we recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, what works of literature by Latinas and Hispanic women would you recommend?

I prefer to call it Latina/o/x Heritage Month, as most Latina/o/xs reject the imposed label “Hispanic.” Unfortunately, this month-long “celebration” is rooted in a history of colonialism—including settler colonialism—dispossession, forced displacement, genocide, anti-Indigenous and anti-Black violence, and slavery; close to 95% of the enslaved Africans brought to the Americas were sent to the Caribbean and Central and South America. It’s a history that began with the Spanish colonization of the Americas and continues to this day under U.S. neocolonialism.

Most Americans hear the words “Hispanic” and “Latino” and think of people of Mexican descent. Although Mexican Americans are a majority, such labels erase regional, national, ethnic, racial, class and gender diversity, including many other aspects of identity.

For people interested in engaging with works of Latina/o/x literature that challenge “white-washed” versions of Latinidad—that is, works that question mestizaje and the white supremacy that undergirds this concept—I suggest the works of AfroLatina/o/x writers, including Elizabeth Acevedo, Grisel Acosta, Ariana Brown, Ana Lara, Raina Leon, Jassmine Mendez and Yesenia Montilla, and Indigenous poet Natalie Diaz. There are many others, but this list is a good place to start.

How can the study of Latina/o literature help debunk myths or stereotypes people hold about Hispanic women and girls?

I think we are all familiar with the stereotypes, which are the unfortunate products of U.S. and Latino heteropatriarchy, as well as racism and anti-Blackness (U.S. and Latino white supremacy). Latina/x literature offers us a window into the strength of Latina women. Latinas—especially AfroLatinas—don’t get enough credit for being the pillars of our communities and guaranteeing the survival of our peoples.

How would you summarize your current book project?

Crossing Waters: Undocumented Migration in Hispanophone Caribbean and Latinx Literature & Art is the first book to examine the representation of undocumented migration in the Caribbean, a region not associated with border crossings despite the thousands of lives lost at sea each year. I examine works by Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican writers and visual artists from the islands and the diaspora to show how they reveal the bordering of the Caribbean. I center anti-Blackness and draw links between the history of slavery and present-day undocumented migration. The book is scheduled to come out in spring 2022 as part of the series “Latinx: The Future Is Now” with the University of Texas Press.