If this writing seems strange or piecemeal to you, it’s only because my thoughts being written up at half-past midnight might have that effect. Nevertheless, after taking a look at what I’ve written below, as a new take on culture and artistic impact, I think it’s worth sharing even by the light of day.
So, how did we get here? By way of Afrofuturism, and how it inspired such amazing modern feats like the film Black Panther (directed by Ryan Coogler, and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole), and the whole of Janelle Monáe’s career. As a concept, Afrofuturism is an aesthetic where African culture and technology intersect. Cultural critic Mark Dery first coined the term in his 1993 essay “Black to the Future,” although this ethos has been prevalent since at least the 1950s (possibly as far back as Ralph Ellison’s 1954 novel Invisible Man). It’s an aesthetic that both celebrates African achievements and identity, and clashes with mainstream views of science fiction and technology determined by the often white cultural elites.
Naturally, thinking about all this late at night got me into a few questions about my own ethnic heritage. I’m Irish-American and Mexican-American, but when I’m asked to pick one race on any census form or official document, I always pick “Hispanic or Latino.” I can’t deny that side of myself, and in recent years, I’ve learned to embrace it as part of my overall identity, along with being bisexual, politically progressive, and devoutly Catholic. Thinking about this, especially as a writer, means that I’ve been pondering how my Latino heritage and our social views on technology might intersect in the larger media? To coin a phrase, how to achieve an aesthetic like “Latinofuturism.”
So what, then, would Latinofuturism look like?
Let’s say there’s Aztec ziggurats standing next to Spanish colonial cathedrals. There are Mayan stone calendars everywhere you look. All signs of old and new cultures are available to the public.
Let’s say that someone’s bringing back the pachuco heyday of the Twenties, with flashy suits, big hair, and floral colors. We dress well, and we’re doing well, too.
Let’s say that cybernetics and medical engineering is something that Latin Americans revolutionize (as is actually the case in countries like Cuba). Instead of the old tired cliché about low-paid workers stealing manufacturing, imagine a world where trained youth are building their own futures.
Let’s say that Remedios Varo is handling the city’s architecture, Frida Kahlo is turning news stories into sensual portraits, Diego Rivera is covering every street corner in his murals, and Jean-Michael Basquiat is the inspiration for a new generation of graffiti artists.
Let’s say that Simón Bolivar’s face is being flown against the likes of Che Guevara and Benito Juarez. A new politics based on independence and human rights.
Let’s say that indigenous people are being consulted on which lands to cultivate and which to let be. Imagine a world where jungles and deserts are allowed to bloom as they have for centuries before us, and where our need for natural resources isn’t at the expense of native cultures and tribal lands in places like Chiapas and Tres Islas.
Now, you might read all this and say, “So what? It’s some left-wing laundry list of things Latin America has in common.”
And I’d say, “Exactly.”
Afrofuturism is a movement and ideology built on the concept of black cultural heritage and achieving technological and social progress under that banner. In my mind, Latinofuturism is the same thing, but placed on a different set of continents. It’s what Latinx people can cherish and strive toward, no matter their countries or their economic status. We all share these elements, and we can make a start in our media, our industries, and our politics.
And as someone who wants stories with more Latina protagonists in them, I think it’s as good a place as any to begin.
So, readers. Thoughts? Comments? First impressions? I’d love to see a conversation starting about culture, identity, art, and literature here.