Sarah D. Wald, David J. Vázquez, Priscilla Solis Ybarra, Sarah Jaquette Ray, eds.
Latinx Environmentalisms: Race, Justice, and the Decolonial
Temple University, 2019
Reviewed by Bryanna Barrera
Wald, Vázquez, Ybarra and Ray begin the necessary work of integrating the fields of Latinx Studies, Literary Studies, and Environmental studies in their 2019 edited collection Latinx Environmentalisms: Race, Justice and the Decolonial. With Literary studies and Environmental studies as historically white dominant fields, the authors of the collection combine approaches from these disciplines to examine Latinx literature and media. This important intervention in these fields allows for the collection of essays to investigate, complicate, and theorize the relationship Latinx communities have with the environment in ways that materialize as environmentalism that is culturally, historically, and geographically separate from that of popular white environmentalist movements and language.
As Pulido points out in the Forward to the text, Environmental studies has long been a field that ostracizes and excludes ethnic studies. For this reason, Latinx Environmentalisms is making huge steps towards a direction of interdisciplinary scholarship that produces material work on Black and brown communities and the fields that have long erased their presence. What is often referred to as the “third wave” of environmental literature amplifies and projects voices of communities that have been historically silenced, and, in this way, this text contributes to this literary space. The essays in the collection situate the relationship between Latinx communities and the texts they produce on the environment in ways that highlight “the variety of ways in which Latinx cultures are often (although certainly not always) environmental but hardly ever identified as environmentalist.” Many of the essays’ arguments hinge upon redefining “environment” itself to properly account for the exploitation of the earth, polluted spaces’ proximity to Black and brown communities, and the ways these communities have historically and continue to survive and thrive despite environmental racism.
The collection is separated into three sections that prioritize critical readings among the topics of place, justice, and the decolonial. In each section there are a multitude of essays that range from an analysis of the Disney production McFarland, USA (dir. Niki Caro, 2015) to various interviews with popular Latinx authors (Shane Hall, Priscilla Solis Ybarra, Sarah D. Wald, Davis J. Vázquez, Paula N, L. Moya, Gabriela Nuñez), to a critical environmental theorizing of Ester Hernández’s famous Sun Mad (1982) image (Ybarra and Wald). Throughout each critical essay the authors engage with various other fields to provide wholly succinct and capacious interdisciplinary readings that are in conversation with fields such as Disability studies, Media studies, Art History, Genre studies, Agriculture, Geography, and Animal studies, all in combination with a focus on Latinx communities and the natural world.
In the first section on place, the authors collectively discuss questions around both geographical (s)(p)laces via “expose[ing] the processes of racial capital (the idea that race is a structuring logic of capitalism), which produces the expendability of certain people and landscapes.” In a contemporary setting where all land is and has been long approached from the primary stance of its monetary worth, the authors seek to understand the ways Latinx communities specifically experience this process of commodification and how it influences constructions of Latinx identity. The opening essay by Julie Minich questions the missing conversation of environmental racism in Disney’s McFarland, USA, a movie that centers on an all-Latino high school track team living in a cancer-ridden environment. The following essay by Sarah D. Wald examines the National Parks Project and its long history of catering to a white audience by specifically looking at a contest targeted towards Latino bloggers with the prize of an all-expenses-paid outdoor excursion. In this essay, Wald unpacks the ways that Latinx communities are appointed social standing solely in contexts where their “achievements reinforce a neoliberal framework.” The rest of the section follows suit with essays on speculative futurity in Lunar Braceros: 2125-2148, interviews with prominent Latinx authors, and a critical reading of Sun Mad. This section succeeds in pushing the reader to question the relationships between the Latinx body, the spaces they occupy in the US and the processes of racial capitalism that wreak biopolitical and environmental havoc in Latinx dominant spaces.
The second section on justice takes a more activism-centered approach by focusing on essays that highlight the agency and power in Latinx communities despite long histories of violence, and specifically the effects of environmental racism. Sarah Jaquette Ray opens the section with a discussion of Ana Castillo’s canonical novel So Far from God (1993) and the role of the ecological Other in the literature. The other essays of the section feature more interviews with prominent Latinx writers Helena María Viramontes and Lucha Corpi as well as an investigation into contemporary ecopoetry by Maria Melendez. The section on justice questions what it means to produce work that is environmental and that pushes to expose the complications behind the identification of work as so. In pursuing these questions this section offers a variety of essays that critique the connections between “capitalism, colonialism, and racism with environmental concerns.”
The final section on the decolonial foreground questions how histories of colonization have shaped Latinx communities’ relationships with the land and earth. Not being afraid to call out their own problems with this generalizing approach, the authors work in nuance and the imaginary to suggest that “creative temporalities are key to decolonization and social justice.” The essays in this section push to reinvent ideas of kinship and family to include the land as an agential force to be in relation with. The essays in this section contribute critical responses to the question of “What does Latinx cultural production offer environmental thought?” with the support of an interview with Cheríe Morraga and Latinx literary critique: Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams (2000), Mayra Montero’s In the Palm of Darkness (1995), Helena Maria Viramontes’s Their Dogs Came with Them (2007), and Justin Torres’s We the Animals (2011).
Overall, Latinx Environmentalisms is a critical intervention in the field of Environmental studies and Latinx studies. Understanding the ways in which decolonial environmentalisms can be theorized as central to many Latinx communities, yet also heavily connected to the colonial history of many Latinx nations, furthers our understandings of what it means to conceptualize the colonial project, environmental injustice, and Latinx studies as a whole. While the collection excels in these areas, it leaves many conversations still untouched. For example, the collection could benefit from a larger investment in Black Latinx authors, creatives, and texts. In addition, the section on the decolonial lacks attention to the colonial history of Latinx countries, albeit recognized in the introduction, and specifically in the consideration of Indigenous peoples. Despite these gaps, Latinx Environmentalism takes a large leap into interdisciplinary work that connects Latinx literature and ecocritical thought to sufficiently begin bridging the gaps that historically white dominant schools of environmental thought have oppressed.