Literary Colonialism in US Spanish Departments

Book - 12-10


In 1952, Ralph Ellison published his first novel. Hailed as an immediate masterpiece, it won the 1953 National Book Award. The book was called Invisible Man.

Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is an invisible nation. This is most apparent in the near-total absence, of any Puerto Rican works from the US literary “canon.”

We have a poorly-translated Macho Camacho’s Beat, Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets, the Ed Vega novels, a few Piñero plays, Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican, Pietri’s Puerto Rican Obituary, and an array of Nuyorican poets, playwrights and novelists, all laboring in relative obscurity. That’s about it.

Even the few authors listed above, are rarely included in the US public school curriculum. Many of them are not found in Barnes & Noble. Some are out of print. From a literary standpoint, Puerto Ricans do not exist.


This point was recently affirmed by Prof. Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera in his insightful Colonialism in US Spanish Departments, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Prof. Herlihy-Mera found that “nearly all Spanish language departments in the US are overwhelmingly Eurocentric.”

He also found a tendency to “overload class time and assignments with material from Iberian cultures and literature, ignoring their unstudied Latin American equivalents.”

Prof. Herlihy-Mera also quoted Eduardo Galeano, who warned that “such tendencies have turned Latin Americans into nadies – nobodies.”


This treatment of Puerto Ricans and Latinos as “nobodies” will not last much longer. At 55 million and growing, there are more Latinos in the US than there are senior citizens.

As of 2014, the Theatrical Markets Report of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) shows that Latinos are buying twice as many movie tickets as African-Americans.

Until their chain folded in 2011, Borders operated 642 stores in the US and Puerto Rico. Of all these outlets, the Borders store in Plaza Las Americas (San Juan, PR) sold the most books, and was the most profitable by far, with annual sales of $17 million. 

Both in the US and Puerto Rico, Latinos are a hugely underserved market. They are hungry for stories. Starving for role models. 

Yet currently, the Big Five publishers service the US Latino market with mostly foreign literature (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Javier Sierra, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Julio Cortázar, et al). These foreign imports with pre-packaged P&L numbers produce an easier sale at the weekly marketing meetings in the publishing houses, and lackluster sales in the bookstores.


A tectonic shift…a tipping point…will inexorably occur. 

There are too many US Latinos, with our own heritage and experience and stories. Junot Díaz is the merest tip of that iceberg, and he didn’t scratch it very far.

Sooner or later, one media gatekeeper will realize this…make a fortune…and all the others will stampede to be second.

At that point – when they realize the enormity of the US Latino reading public – the publishing industry will finally begin to identify, and promote, Latino stories and Latino voices.

At that point, the literary colonialism will finally end.  


For a history of the War Against All Puerto Ricans, read the book…

War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s ColonyBuy it Now

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7 Comments on “Literary Colonialism in US Spanish Departments

  1. There remains for me a mystery as to why the Boarders in Plaza Las Américas was closed in light of the fact that it outsold all other Boarders in the US.
    How does this effect the narrative of the power of the Latino dollar regarding content and image before the cliché pushing publishers and media machines?


    The Borders store closed because the entire Borders chain declared bankruptcy, and ceased to exist.

    In other words…while the rest of the Borders chain was LOSING money, the Borders in Puerto Rico was the MOST profitable store in the entire chain of over 600 stores.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. A BIG part of the problem is that the USAmerican mainland publishing world is infested with lethargic, sold-out, generic “La Tino” gate-keeper tokens whose only job is to filter-out stories, profiles and dare I say it, precious “narratives” that are not about mangos, macarenas or 14 y/o “machos” defending the honor of 12 y/o virgin beauty queens waving from low-riders in California barrios.

    Their well-defined task is a simple one…to promote those (here I go again) “narratives” that will preserve the status quo as defined by their publishing houses and their 3rd-rate flunky “academic” allies that will continue to support the generic “La Tino” house of cards of demeaning, degrading, derogatory clichés, caricatures and cartoon representations of a very wide cultural, ethnic, racial continuum of peoples who are MORE distinct one from the other than they are congruent or identical by another metric of measurement. The charge is to promote the fallacious, fraudulent and flimsy “fiction” that all “La Tinos” share some magical, cosmic connection, that ironically and inconveniently hasn’t existed in the last FIVE centuries….you know…the farce that all “La Tinos” are inter-changeable cogs in the ever-spinning wheel of “La Tino” never-ending misfortunes…gimme a break!

    Just look at the books that DO sell…the story is always the same…breaking out of the ghetto, watching an ant-hill grow in Titi Conchita-Maria’s hut in some far-a-way jungle where she beat her clothes on a rock on a river, before she sneaked into the US to give key-note addresses at highly-paid conferences with such patronizing themes as “La Tinas Who Overcame in Duh Struggo”. But don’t ever ask them what they “overcame” because if they were honest, they would tell you that they only thing they overcame was the crowd at the Chanel counter at Bloomingdale’s or at the Hermes silk scarf sale at Macy’s.

    ANY age readers of ANY ethnic-cultural-racial coordinates are SICK of the generic “La Tino” profile as drawn by these publishers which is in serious need of a major seismic shift and an even bigger eraser!

    These publishers and their generic “La Tino” token flunkies need to leave the barrio, leave the projects, leave the prison visiting rooms, leave the blood-splattered hall-ways, leave the pile of meth wrappers, leave “lloriqueos” about gentrification replacing slums, leave the “EVERYTHING FREE IN AMERICA” roof-top back-drops and begin promoting the stories of those “La Tinos” (who truly do embody hope, success and dreams) and not the tired “narratives” of waxing poetic on rusting fire escapes and waving a plastic banderita.

    They will NOT even consider stories of the Puerto Rican who relates his stories of working in Amish communities in the Midwest while working 3 jobs to get through graduate school and went on to work for a head of state in the Middle East. They are not concerned with the “narrative” of the Cuban émigré who spent 7 years in a church basement in Boston as a child, while his 3 brothers languished in a Vermont commune living with stoned-out hippies who took them in and then put them to work rolling blunts for the next decade. Where are the stories about Argentinean who speaks Spanish as a 2nd language, after his native Welsh in Patagonia and is struggling to get through medical school in a THIRD language? Where is the story of Chinese Cuban who escaped Castro’s Caribbean “Paradise” on cruise ship bound for Curacao and made a fortune smuggling many of his countrymen to all the 4 corners of the planet? Where are their “narratives”? Where is the story of the Holo-caust survivor who made it to the Jamaica, W.I. and spent the last 70 years selling authentic Voo-Doo beads to be able to buy enough food at the end of the day to survive? Where are they?

    ANSWER: They’re in the “NOT LA TINO ENOUGH” pile of rejections.

    Until the publishing machines in the US get real, nothing will change and they will continue to churn-out the predictable generic “La Tino” garbage that they do today and then applaud as a “tour de force”, “a defining moment in the La Tino narrative”…(eye-roll)

    But, this is not likely to happen though, as these “La Tino” tokens promoting the ol’ stereo-types get paid handsomely to continue cranking out the same ol’ “brown and down” narratives that reassure their publishers view of the world and continue to perpetuate our public persona as always the “other” on the other side of the street.

    Meanwhile, they’re adjusting their MADE-IN-KOREA polyester hijabs in the Starbucks window, as they “struggo” to make it back to their offices to finish the rest of their difficult day as a “La Tina” publishing agent, till they can finally make it to Happy Hour at McSorley’s Old Ale House…(eye-roll) to meet Brad, Bob or Bryce.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a believer of higher Education for yourself and to improve your life, but to help others to Benefit as a whole. Your life will have to be a life Commitment, Another words a Marriage to others for a better life. If I could start my life over again I would’ve Love to get involved just in that area to help improve the lives of others. But it was not in the cards for me in the 1950’s when I come from Puerto Rico at 8 years old and haven to learn a Different Languish without the help of the teachers all the way up until I Graduated 1963 in those days so I join the Navy and Educated myself to be a Stationary Engineer Of High Pressure Boilers in 1977. I can honestly say without the help of anyone.

    Hiciste muy bien, Bernardino. Forjaste una vida muy noble y digna. Lograste muchisimo, no obstante todos los obstaculos. Hiciste bien, Bernadino.



  4. ah,ah! Pedro juan Soto “ardiente suelo,fria estacion, “la noche que volvimos a ser gente”……new York apagon! Estamos aun en el colonialism oscurantista!


  5. You are so right. The mere mention of a book by a Latino gets the red light this includes Amazon who shufles the book by giving it little exposure the author gets the same treatment. We must buy books written by our people immediately. I do!


  6. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Puerto Rico is an invisible nation! This is also noted in the literary field … however, great Puerto Rican authors are writing.
    However, their works aren’t printed or taught. Puerto Rican’s are ‘hungry’ for this knowledge. Figure the $$ coming in & this will change!
    Puerto Ricans DO read!!


  7. Pingback: Literary Colonialism in US Spanish Departments — WAR AGAINST ALL PUERTO RICANS –

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