The study of African American folklore has been grounded from its beginnings in the colonial period in discourses and power dynamics of race. This chapter posits that these beginnings have given rise to two folkloristic traditions, with differing agendas, methodologies, aesthetics, relationships to black communities, and investments in race. The mainstream tradition has been aligned with scholarly trends within academe and has seldom focused explicitly on the most pressing concerns of black people, or on the most obvious influence on the creation and expression of black folklore, namely race. The other tradition has been more aligned with the political interests, racial histories, and day-to-day needs of African American communities. This chapter critically examines these two tributaries, relative to issues of race, arguing for an African American folklore and folklife studies that embraces an African American–centered political focus while encompassing the unique intellectual contributions of both.
Folk dramas and festivals are encapsulated units of culture that distill, concretize, and make manifest through enactment important cultural values and ideas. Bounded in time and space, they offer scholars an isolatable prism through which to examine culture, making them appealing objects of study. They are marked off in time and space and amalgamate other genres such as song, dance, art, costume, food, and narrative to produce synergistic events that are greater than the sum of their parts. They also happen in public arenas, rely on active audience participation, and invoke frameworks of play. Both festivals and folk dramas create alternative worlds in order to transform reality. Festivals in particular are characterized by license, inversion, and a high degree of ambiguity. Which ideas, values, or social arrangements are proposed, whose values they represent, and how these ideas are contested or contradicted in festival and folk drama arenas remain important fields of investigation.
David J. Puglia
Metropolitan folklore and folklife studies often focus on ethnic, religious, and occupation-centered neighborhoods and their distinctive festive events. The material culture of streets and lots has also led to documentation of folk arts, vernacular structures, and customs that have been adapted to this environment. Examples include sidewalk altars in New York City, painted screens in Baltimore, and storefront churches in Los Angeles. In addition, beginning in the late twentieth century, both urban and suburban folklife studies took on the tinge of consumer culture as tradition and mass media mixed freely in commercial centers. Furthermore, the longstanding critique of suburbia as a homogenizing force has itself become embedded in American legend and belief, but suburbs have developed their own traditions of cookouts, malls, yard art, lawn care, car culture, and other modes of “hanging out.”
Folklore and folklife research is applied to a range of institutional settings that can be categorized in five different spheres of representation. These spheres overlap, but they include academic folklore, applied folklore, public sector folklore, public folklore, and private sector presentations of folk culture. This range of work revises the common dichotomy made between academic and public folklore. In addition to the overarching idea of heritage in applications of folklore and folklife research, key concepts such as preservation, interpretation, presentation, and representation that pervade the five modes of folkloristic work are discussed in relation to each sphere. The different situations within which folklorists work implicitly and overtly influence how they will preserve, interpret, and present folklore and folklife.
This essay deals with the multiple languages of Latino/a literature: English, English and Spanish (code-switching), Spanglish, and Spanish. It traces the linguistically and thematically diverse Latino/a literatures of today back to the Nuyorican literary movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. The argument here is that Latino/a writers like Sandra Cisneros, Judith Ortiz Cofer, and Cristina García, and even those who write exclusively in Spanish today, as for example, Tina Escaja, Marta López Luaces, and Miguel Ángel Zapata are the literary heirs of Miguel Algarín, Sandra María Esteves, Pedro Pietri, Miguel Piñero, and Tato Laviera, the writers who bravely paved the way for them.
The folklore of family and friends is a primary social frame of traditional knowledge, promoting distinctive values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Their associated narratives share certain characteristics. They have long been mined by folklorists as popular forms of personal experience narrative, and their transmission is somewhat gender dependent. Unlike friendship narrative, however, family narrative is widely studied in its own right. This chapter argues for a deeper study of friendship narrative, given (1) its role as a performative utterance, reflecting agency that helps form and maintain the group; (2) its horizontal, egalitarian mode of transmission; (3) the effect of the relative ephemerality of friendships; and (4) the role of gossip. The tension between tradition and innovation in American society and the growing importance of friendship groups in the culture, particularly through social media, make friendship narrative an increasingly compelling area of folklore scholarship and a potential means for countering intergroup hostilities.
People’s interaction with folklore is integral to the construction of, performance of, and resistance to multiple conceptualizations of gender in the United States. Folklore contributes to conservative processes of creating and sustaining inequitable social hierarchies in which gender is intertwined with other axes of identity, such as race, ethnicity, class, ability, and sexuality. And people of all genders use folklore to resist inequitable gender systems and to create alternate spaces and ways of being. Folklorists invested in gender issues within academic and public spheres recognize the importance and creativity of all people, including those who are subjugated and undervalued in different social environments, which has been significant for highlighting the creativity and cultural contributions of women and others in marginalized positions. They also interrogate the processes through which gender systems are constructed and perpetuated as well as the potential for folkloric forms to be used in effecting positive social change.
This article traces the important paradigm shift from Atlantic history to Atlantic studies. It then identifies the creative tensions generated by a three-dimensional conception of cis-Atlantic, trans-Atlantic, and circum-Atlantic perspectivism. With this new hermeneutic climate in mind, it turns to a discussion of recent U.S. literary scholarship, above all in terms of a select number of exemplars that self-consciously acknowledge and depart from the pathbreaking work of Paul Gilroy, Joseph Roach, and a number of historians of slavery and the African diaspora, such as Marcus Rediker, Peter Linebaugh, David Brion Davis, and Orlando Patterson.
Norma E. Cantú
This article, which focuses on the traditional cultural expressions of the Latinx community in the United States, first traces the history and development of Chicanx and Latinx folklore studies. Second, it presents the ways that the study and engagement with these expressions serve as tools for addressing social justice issues faced by Latinxs in the United States in the twenty-first century. To guide future work in the field, it concludes with an assessment of Latinx folklore studies and its role in reconfiguring and reimagining folklore and folklife studies in general. Within this discussion, the essay presents two key aspects of Latinx folklore and folklife that have defined the field—the academic study of folklore and the public-sector engagement by community scholars. Both have affected the ways that Latinx folkloristics have changed the field during the last hundred years and are shaping it as we leave behind outmoded and limited ways of seeing the cultural production of the second-largest ethnic minority in the United States.
Examining oratory as a dynamic, changing medium for communication during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America and, to a lesser extent, Great Britain, this essay scrutinizes several of its most important sites of performance: religion, politics, social reform, performance, and education. In each of those arenas, oratory helped to fuel some of most exciting social and political changes of the era by reconceptualizing ideas about the relationship between leaders and the public, the notion of rhetorical persuasion, and the importance of public opinion. An exceptionally interdisciplinary set of scholarship on the subject has done much to invigorate the study of oratory in recent years, and yet this field lacks an intellectual center from which scholars might move beyond individual studies to conceptualize the larger significance of oratory across all sites of performance.
“Theatre,” modified by the adjective “Latina/o”, like any other genre of human expression, is extraordinarily rich. It includes the legacy, and continuing vitality of varied and often conflicting aesthetic projects. This article discusses the vexed definitional problem of what is theater by, about, and for Latinas and Latinos, both in terms of production of plays and the academic study of theater. It provides a historical timeline that focuses on the 1960s to the present, a commentary on play production, an overview of academic discussions, and conclusions drawn from a survey of course syllabi. It uses the examples of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton and works by the Coatlicue Theater Company to challenge simplistic understandings of what Latina/o theater is and does.
Simon J. Bronner
The study of regions and borders in American folklore and folklife is essentially about the cultural significance of place and land. It has been of political interest more widely because of the implication of the way that national feeling developed after the establishment of a New Republic in the nineteenth century despite sectional division born out of cultural differences. It has been of folkloristic significance because of region as an important marker of cultural identity, in some places more than others. Along both these lines, folklorists have asked about the relative stability of regional cultures in the United States and the use of regional folklore as an expression of social belonging in relation to others, including race, ethnicity, occupation, family, and religion. Objective and subjective approaches to investigating these issues are presented. For the former, historical-geographical surveys of folk items that demonstrate diffusion and hybridization are covered, and for the latter, rhetorical criticism of narrative and visual expressions and frame or situational analysis of cultural scenes are discussed. The essay introduces the concept of regional “homelands” in a mobile society such as the United States—social constructions that are often imagined in folklife rather than in the reality of a cultural landscape. Addressing the view that place and region carry less cultural meaning with the advent of the digital era of the twenty-first century, the essay closes with research trajectories for assessing the continued need for “sense of place” in a modern context of heightened mobility, globalization, and digital communication.
Matylda Figlerowicz and Doris Sommer
Latinx writers cross boundaries between languages, renovating the experience both of language and of literature. This article takes up the invitations of several creative/disruptive artists: Víctor Hernández Cruz, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Ana Lydia Vega, William Carlos Williams, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Tino Villanueva. The analysis shows how bilingualism transforms rhetorical figures and affective structures, arguing that metonymy—understood as contiguity and as desire—is a predominant figure of bilingualism: a figure of almost arbitrary coincidence, an unintended intimacy that writers exploit. Through rhetorical and affective gestures, bilingualism alters genre conventions and opens a new space for aesthetic pleasure and political discussion, which requires and forms an alert audience with new ways of reading. The essay traces the visions of future (and its fantasies) and of past (and its memories) from the perspective of bilingualism, showing how operating between languages allows for new ways of constructing knowledge.
Silvia Betti and Renata Enghels
This article studies a series of important issues concerning Spanglish as a hybrid language. It discusses why Spanglish has constituted a growing topic of interest ever since it first attracted the attention of specialists, be it from a linguistic, literary, or social-cultural perspective. The study also discusses the main challenges Spanglish is expected to be confronted with in the (near) future given that, more than ever, the identity of its speakers is at stake. A final part argues in favor of the maintenance of Spanglish as a unique form of bilingualism. By adopting a cognitive and functional viewpoint on language, it is shown that the analysis of Spanglish grammar offers insights into the main characteristics of human language, including basic principles such as iconicity, economy, creativity, and productivity.
This article examines forms and uses of theatricality in recent African American productions on slavery in the performing and the visual arts. It argues that by deploying modes of the comic, such as satire and parody, along with racial stereotypes, in their engagement with the traumatic history of slavery, contemporary artworks aim to provoke their audiences into an affective relationship with the artwork and the history it represents. In this manner, they seek to bring into focus not the past itself but our present-day reactions to it, asking viewers to reflect on their involvement with the ongoing mimetic and affective legacies of New World slavery. The article discusses Suzan-Lori Parks’s 1996 play Venus and Kara Walker’s 2014 installation A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby as case studies.
This article identifies a particular subgenre of the road narrative, the transgender road narrative, analyzing the film Transamerica and the novel Nevada as representative examples. The first part draws on transgender studies scholarship, showing how these texts both depict a long history of trans (im)mobility and engage with the affective geographies of gender transitioning, including the idea of the body as home. The second part draws on ecocriticism and environmental humanities scholarship, comparing how Transamerica and Nevada depict landscapes and environments in relation to trans bodies. This article thus takes this subgenre as an opportunity to explore the intersection of transgender issues and environmental issues and subsequently to develop a new line of inquiry that we might call “trans ecology.” (This article has been commissioned as a supplement to The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, edited by Greg Garrard.)
Ivonne M. García
This entry examines Ramón Emeterio Betances’s The Virgin of Borinquen, not previously translated into English, and The Travels of Escaldado, also not yet in a full English translation, to show how they exemplify the transcolonial gothic and decolonial satire, respectively. Situating Betances within the transamerican tradition in Latinx studies emerging from the nineteenth-century confrontation among empires, the chapter introduces Betances’s works to an Anglophone audience unfamiliar with how the author engaged with US authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe and Benjamin Franklin, to provide a counternarrative of the colonial experience at a moment of competing and interconnected empires to critique imperialism across different geopolitical contexts.