those crazy ethnonyms


two posts, one by didi menendez and the other by miguel murphy, caught my eye today because they relate to the post below & the launch of LPR.

miguel writes: “I have to say I have a natural skepticism toward group-think of most kinds.” he’s talking about the “Latino” in Latino Poetry Review and the dangers of this kind of ethnostructure limiting the expressive carnival of identity (he also warns us against the danger of taking our selves too “seriously”–whatever that might mean).

i definitely agree that the main danger of identity politics is its sometimes debilitating essentialism (as opposed to its strategic essentialism), which can further marginalize those who exist within that identity yet remain outside the perceived essentials of that identity.

in response to miguel’s post, francisco wrote: “But your post here, for me anyway, captures the spirit with LPR has embarked on its journey: that we do contradict ourselves, that we are hybrid in our thinking, that we are multitudes, that are not, as you eloquently say, afraid of verbally getting into a ‘fistfight with [ourselves].'” whereas miguel seems naturally skeptical (which isnt to say he isnt also optimistic) about the identity of LPR, francisco seems naturally optimistic (within isnt to say he isnt also skeptical). Yet, they both seem to embody the same spirit.

i think this is possible because francisco’s editorial activities are not what i’d call identity politics, even though he uses the ethnonym ‘Latino’. instead, i’d argue that his work is creating a postmodern identity politic–a practice that incorporates what is best about identity politics (creating an imagined community–community in the sense of common background, common struggles, etc)(as well as the ability to bring people together with a symbolically and politically charged ethnonym) with what’s best about postmodernism (re-inforcing the diversity, contingency, performativity, and indeterminacy of ‘identity’). like i wrote in the post below, francisco multi-media editorial projects galvanizes around ‘Latino/a’ but resists the closure that miguel rightly warns us against.

Didi’s post only indirectly relates to LPR. She writes: “From time to time someone confuses my magazines for a “latino” publication. I publish everybody no matter what nationality, race, color, creed, denomination, etc. The only thing I am looking at is their poetry and art. I do not see beyond that. Please stop confusing what I publish with who I am.”

I think Didi touches on an important point: the situation of the ethnic editor. i’m not going to say that all ethnic editors should only always publish other ethnic writers. i’m also not going to say that ethnic editors should structure their editorial choices through their ethnonym of choice. ethnic editors should feel free to follow their hearts. i respect that didi doesnt only publish american-cubans. i respect that carmen gimenez-smith of noemi press publishes writers from many different ethnic backgrounds. i respect reginald shephard published more white writers than ethnic writers in his new anthology. i respect elena minor at palabra magazine for her focus. and, quite obviously, i respect francisco for all his work for ‘Latino’ poetry and poetics. so YES, don’t think that just because an editor is ethnic that you know what we might do.

the aspect of didi’s post that does trouble me is when she writes: “The only thing I am looking at is their poetry and art. I do not see beyond that.” one could argue that it isn’t possible to not see beyond the text into other contexts, but we all know that so many people do not see beyond that, whether because they refuse to (read the new-criticism-ethnic-reincarnate reginald shepherd) or are just blind to it (read the editors of poetry magazine commenting at harriet).

relating this to my own work, achiote press does not use an organizing ethnonym nor do we only publish ethnic writers (we are lame, i know.) however, i can’t claim that “i do not see beyond” ethnicity or nationality. race isnt “beyond” poetry, but they intersect and are woven in a diversity of patterns. i think it’s important–as francisco continues to do–to look at the various ways poetry and ethnicity intersect and interconstitute.



3 thoughts on “those crazy ethnonyms

  1. You know what? I lied. I do see past everything. I see dead people. I think I will put a call out for them next.

    Regarding publishing though, seriously, I do see beyond what most see. I see ways of bringing voices and images beyond what is being done now. I see where publishing is going and I am following my gut instinct. My animal drive.

    I think others will follow me.

    Thank you for your mention in your blog.

    Dulce Menendez

  2. Although, I’m not exactly sure what Didi means when she says “where publishing is going,” what I do love about Menendez publications—and I’m thinking of OCHO —is that she seems to have created a space where different editors, in this case, guest editors, are allowed to shape their particular editorial vision for a particular project. Where she stamps her vision, of course, is on WHO she extends an invitation to: and HERE is how she is different, I think, than what is too prevalent with mainstream literary culture, which seems to be a bit narrow when it comes to inviting people to the table: she seems to be curating her editorial stable in a way that reflects how diverse american poetry is. Whether she does this consciously or not, I’m not sure. For example, when she asked me to guest-edit OCHO, she did NOT direct me to do a Latino-themed volume. In fact, my first idea was NOT a Latino issue. But I quickly abandoned my first idea for reasons not worth exploring here, and moved on to my Latino issue, but with a deliberate twist. In the end, I was very happy with how it turned out, primarily because of my decision to go beyond The Wind Shifts, Momotombo Press and Canto Cosas.
    But I’ll end this comment by stating something that is usually implied, but perhaps needs to be made more explicit: as passionate and committed as I am in the work I’m doing, Letras Latinas is, if you will, my “day job.” I feel very fortunate and lucky to have this “day job.” But I empathize with Didi’s sentiment in not wanting Menendez publications to be mistaken for who she is. In other words, someone who took a quick glance at the activitiess that I’m involved in might come to the erroneous conclusion that all I read and am nourished by is Latino poetry. But thanks to having come of age in the San Francisco/Bay Area, and having been at UC Berkeley in the mid to late 80s, my tastes in poetry are very very ecclectic. And this is likely the reason why I insist that Latino poetry and poetics be as expansive as possible, which is why I welcomed Miguel’s post, and why I welcome the efforts of Achiote Press.

  3. wow what an honor–my two editing role models commenting on the same blog!

    thanks for commenting didi. if anyone could see beyond everything, perhaps it is only you 🙂 tho if you do put a call for dead people, let me know cuz i think i might be dead.

    seriously, i’m always excited to see what you are doing next…love the audio, love the website. love OCHO (tho they seem to me to come a bit too one after the other–hard to keep up and you’re gonna bankrupt me!) love the new mag esp with all the colors and baby pictures & the good looking poets (i wish i was ‘hot’). love your unpredictability.

    hey francisco, sorry for writing about you so much around here…just want to think thru things that your work has brought up for me 😉 i agree with what you say about didi-very few editors (ethnic or not) have her sense of diversity (both in who is published and how they are published).

    and that’s another thing i love: your own unpredictability and eclecticism. and i think you bring up another good point about the ethnic editor: the misconception that IF they do devote a lot of time to ethnic poetry, then that’s all they really know and read and are nourished by. i cant tell you how shocked some people are when i mention the influence of spicer or duncan or HD on my work. i’m sure you must get the same since your name is so much more embedded and visible in Latino editing.

    i am inspired by both of you indeed. and even tho you both approach editing in very different means, you both seem to embody that same spirit.


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