Latinos and the like: Reading mixture and deracination

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© Cambridge University Press 2016. A striking scene from the 2009 Academy Award-nominated film, Precious, sets up the entangled workings and dilemmas of the white, brown, dark brown, black, and mixed-race Latina/o economies illuminating this study. In it, the titular protagonist, an African American teenager portrayed by Gabourey Sidibe, attempts to understand how a “whiteness” that looks “of color” bands together with blackness. She asks Mariah Carey, who plays an ethno-racially indeterminate caseworker, “So are you Italian, or what color are you, anyway? Are you some type of black or Spanish?” Not only this, but also perplexing is the social worker's name, Mrs. Weiss. Precious does not know what to call her on several grounds. Weiss is a homonym for “wise,” and Carey is erringly addressed onscreen as “Ms. White” - occasioning a wise nonwhite moment of pensive measure. Eventually, Carey's character quips, “What color do you think I am? No, I'd like to know. What color do you think I am?” Precious fails to streamline Mrs. Weiss. Her evasive but no less symptomatic answer turns to “My throat is dry.” A dry, sore, or scratchy throat is a general indication of fatigue sometimes attributed to bad weather or wind. In this instance, however, it is running through an inventory of Mrs. Weiss's puzzling colors that provokes it. “Ms. White's” off-whiteness does not provide, as Blas Falconer and Lorraine M. López have it, “fast access and easy comprehension” of a U.S. body with a panoply of dangling ontological categories (1). Carey's familial composition, off-camera, includes a white mother and Venezuelan father, biographical details that allow her to metamorphose into the filmic Ms. White (or, on equal footing, a hypothetical missed white). Lacking one fitting definition, Mrs. Weiss's visual cacophony proves cinematically irritating. It highlights an unfamiliar American affect of classificatory discomfort. How the multilayered placelessness of Latina/o bodies is situated within the long-ingrained U.S. spectrum of black-white relations, paired with the wide array of latinidad, lies at the core of these pages, for as George Reid Andrews reminds us, “quietly elided” in U.S. discussions about Latinos and African Americans “is the fact that ‘blacks’ and ‘Hispanics’ are not necessarily separate groups” (3). For starters, numerous and revisionist clusters are coevally appended to the rapidly changing Latina/o genus.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Milian, C

Published Date

  • January 1, 2016

Book Title

  • The Cambridge Companion to Latina/o American Literature

Start / End Page

  • 195 - 212

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781107044920

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/CBO9781107045385.013

Citation Source

  • Scopus