Lorga García Peña
Translating Blackness: Latinx Colonialities in Global Perspective
Duke University Press, 2022
Reviewed by F. Joseph Sepúlveda Ortiz
In Translating Blackness: Latinx Colonialities in Global Perspective, Lorga García Peña includes a wide variety of citations of people who experience exclusion because of their Black Latinidad. García Peña’s book discloses its investment in expanding the borders of Latinx Studies by including Italy and Hispaniola alongside the US, to map “a new cartography” that elucidates the international complexity of Black Latinidad. For García Peña, Black Latinidad encompasses an embodied identity and a methodology that seeks to “move us beyond homogenous concepts of racial and citizenship exclusion.” The book offers a rethinking of Blackness worth elucidating in detail: first, the author understands Blackness as a both “local and global” concept marked by differences in languages, cultures, and migrations. Second, given the heterogeneity of Blackness as a social category of difference, and as a political language, she argues that global Black subjects must translate a hegemonic US Blackness to render visible their specific struggle as Black Latinx Europeans, for instance. These Black diasporic translations of Blackness, lastly, point to how Black being must transcend the nation state to claim Black “humanity as a global category of belonging.”
Divided into an introduction and two parts, “On Being Black and Citizen: Latinx Colonial Vaivenes” and “Black Feminist Contradictions in Latinx Diasporas,” the book confronts a central dilemma of translating Blackness: what happens, when the uses of the language and symbols of US Black power (hegemonic Blackness). For example; the raised fist symbolizes the Black Latinx European subject as resisting white power and not necessarily as fighting against the rise in anti-immigrant, anti-refugee hate in Europe. Thus, the book illuminates the liminal, in-between spaces inhabited by Black Latinx diasporic subjects who are both racialized as Black and treated as forever foreign immigrant bodies within the receiving nation. The book’s first chapter “A Full Stature of Humanity” emphasizes the contradictory space navigated by Black intellectuals like Frederick Douglass who advocated for the recognition of Black citizenship and full humanity within the US but also served as an agent of empire in his advocation for US American annexation of Afro-Caribbean territory. Whereas Chapter One exposes the ways Black citizenship can collude with Anglo-American imperialism, Garcia Peña’s second chapter “Arthur Schomburg’s Haiti” illustrates how Schomburg forged a “diasporic consciousness” through his efforts to create an anticolonial archive of Black culture. This archive of Black history was, for Schomburg, necessary to uncover Black achievements that would counter global anti-Blackness. Accordingly, Schomburg was less concerned with shoring up Black rights within the nation-state but in creating a “nation without a nation” for Black subjects by recovering global Black history—including Haiti’s revolutionary past of Black emancipation and self-making against white supremacy and imperialism—that would create the conditions of “Black people’s civic and future development.”
The next two chapters, “Against Death” and the “Afterlife of Colonial Gender Violence” document the struggles of Dominican women as freedom fighters and activists within the post-dictatorial period of the 1960s. Many of these women were forced to migrate in order to escape repression and violence at home. The book makes a novel contribution here to the study of Dominican migration and the role of women, especially working class guerrilleras or soldiers, by highlighting Dominicans who have relocated to Italy. As such, these two chapters reveal Italy as a significant and understudied site of the Dominican diaspora, and it should be of interest to those looking to explore the ways race and racism shape contemporary Italian society as a European nation receiving Global South immigrants. They also analyze the intersections of race, colonialism, empire making, and migration in the creation of italinatà (Italian identity), emphasizing the afterlife of colonial racism and sexism within current conceptions of an Italian identity exclusive of Black immigrant bodies. Chapter Four engages in a brilliant exploration of the uses of photography and film to depict African women under Italian colonialism as deviant, exotic objects of desire through which Italian manhood and imperialism were mutually constituted, and the ongoing effect on Black female bodies of the racist colonial representation of these “afterimages.”Chapter Five, “Second Generation Interruptions,” continues García-Peña’s exploration of how in Italy “nonwhiteness is assumed to be a marked of
foreignness,” resulting in the negation of Italians of color who are permanently excluded from belonging. This chapter focuses on the cultural production of a new wave of Italian writers like Igiaba Scego who forms part of a postcolonial critique of the nation. Showing how Scego’s work intervenes in a redefinition of Italian identity by insisting on her multiplicity of identities as Black Italian. Further, the chapter also elucidates how racializing language prevents belonging and inclusion for racialized subjects. The impossibility of being both Black and Italian points to the “afterlife of colonial violence experience by migrants and their children” in a nation that continues to romanticize its imperial past, while erasing its occupation and subjugation of African territory. Counter-narratives like Scego; therefore, open a space of resistance that along with other artistic work in film and street art as well as activism that seeks to open up Italian citizenship for non-white Italian contest normative Italianness.
As a work that explores the intersection of immigration, race, colonialism and its afterlives, and nationalism, Translation Blackness is an important contribution to Latinx and Caribbean, Global Black, Gender and Sexuality, as well as film and literary studies. Translating Blackness: Colonialities in Global Perspective should be of particular interest to scholars and students interested in the international struggle against anti-Blackness, and how scholars, writers, and activists have used Blackness as a political language to contest their exclusion. As García Peña shows, “antiblackness is a pandemic that transcends time and geography,” and today more than ever, many racialized subjects continue to call for solutions that challenge the limits of the nation-state and that push us to imagine other possibilities of belonging and community.