Walk the Barrio: The Streets of Twenty-First-Century Transnational Latinx Literature

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University of Virginia Press, 2022 - American literature - 314 pages
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Immigrant communities evince particular and deep relationship to place. Building on this self-evident premise, Walk the Barrio adds the less obvious claim that to write about place you must experience place. Thus, in this book about immigrants, writing, and place, Cristina Rodriguez walks neighborhood streets, talks to immigrants, interviews authors, and puts herself physically in the spaces that she seeks to understand.

The word barrio first entered the English lexicon in 1833 and has since become a commonplace not only of American speech but of our literary imagination. Indeed, what draws Rodriguez to the barrios of Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and others is the work of literature that was fueled and inspired by those neighborhoods. Walk the Barrio explores the ways in which authors William Archila, Richard Blanco, Angie Cruz, Junot Díaz, Salvador Plascencia, Héctor Tobar, and Helena María Viramontes use their U.S. hometowns as both setting and stylistic inspiration.

Asking how these writers innovate upon or break the rules of genre to render in words an embodied experience of the barrio, Rodriguez considers, for example, how the spatial map of New Brunswick impacts the mobility of Díaz's female characters, or how graffiti influences the aesthetics of Viramontes's novels. By mapping each text's fictional setting upon the actual spaces it references in what she calls "barriographies," Rodriguez reveals connections between place, narrative form, and migrancy.

This first-person, interdisciplinary approach presents an innovative model for literary studies as it sheds important light on the ways in which transnationalism transforms the culture of each Latinx barrio, effecting shifts in gender roles, the construction of the family, definitions of social normativity, and racial, ethnic, national, and linguistic identifications.

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About the author (2022)

Cristina Rodriguez is Associate Professor of English at Providence College.

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