In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Non-Latino Authors Writing on Latino Topics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Education
  • Linguistic Approaches
  • Children’s Literature
  • Harlem Renaissance Encounters Latin America
  • Representation in United States Theater
  • Representation in United States Cinema

Latino Studies Non-Latino Authors Writing on Latino Topics
Steven G. Kellman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0070


Just as Latinos (people of Latin American or Iberian descent) have become the largest ethnolinguistic minority in the United States, authors of Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and other Latino backgrounds (e.g., Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Junot Diaz, Cristina Garcia, and Oscar Hijuelos) have come to occupy a prominent position within the literature of the United States. And Latino characters and their distinctive experiences naturally play an important part in their own writings. However, despite the fact that a huge section of what is now the United States—including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas—was formerly controlled by Spain, Latinos have long been largely invisible in texts by non-Latino authors. When they did appear, Latino characters were often stereotypes—either idealized or demonized versions of human beings with Spanish surnames. Their evolving representation in North American literature is a reflection of changing demographics and attitudes. Coinciding with the independence movements in Latin America and the adoption of the Monroe Doctrine, interest by North Americans in the Spanish language and Spanish culture underwent a surge in the second and third decades of the 19th century. And, from the end of the 19th century, Latino characters and themes have been showing up in the work of an increasing number of non-Latino authors, including such major figures as Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Katherine Anne Porter, John Steinbeck, and Tennessee Williams. Works by foreign authors set in Spanish-speaking countries—Spain for Prosper Mérimée’s French novella Carmen (1845); the imaginary Costaguana for English novelist Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo (1904); Mexico for both B. Traven’s German novel Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1927) and English novelist Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano (1947); Panama for John le Carré’s The Tailor of Panama (1996); and Argentina for Witold Gombrowicz’s Polish novel Trans-Atlantyk (1953)—offer instructive parallels. However, located within a hemisphere that is largely Spanish speaking, the United States itself contains the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world as well as more than 40 million Latinos, and the literature that its non-Latinos have produced about Latinos is of particular interest.

General Overviews

Although the literary representation of other groups such as African Americans, Jewish Americans, and Chinese Americans has become a relatively common topic of research, the depiction of Latinos has not received the same broad attention. No comprehensive study exists of Latino characters and themes in writings by non-Latinos in the United States, nothing either as ambitious or as wide ranging as the essays on the Latin American presence in German countries collected by Gustav Siebenmann and Hans-Joachim König in Das Bild Lateinamerikas im deutschen Sprachraum (Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 1992). Aside from a brief encyclopedia article (Kellman 2005), overviews tend to be limited to particular authors, periods, genres, or subgroups. Because “Latino” is an imprecise term that imposes a common classification on people of varied backgrounds, it is much easier to discuss separately how non-Latino authors have depicted Chicanos, Cubanos, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and others with Spanish-speaking origins. And because examination of Latino characters and themes is most often part of general cultural analysis, literature is often only part of a general discussion that includes film, TV, and music. Citations of primary and secondary materials relevant to the handling of Latino themes by particular non-Latino authors of the United States are found in the section Latinos in the Work of Individual Non-Latino Authors. However, the collection Aparicio and Chavez-Silverman 1997 does explore how the concept of Latinidad has been defined and explored by American writers, including non-Latinos Richard Harding Davis, Joan Didion, and Paul Theroux. Havard 2012 argues that Americans created an identity for themselves specifically in opposition to Hispanicism, their view of Spanish culture as rooted in irrationality and intolerance. Wertheimer 1999 examines the ways in which early American writers portrayed the Spanish incursions into the Americas. Lowe 2011 examines how American writers, especially William Bartram, Constance Fenimore Woolson, and Lafcadio Hearn, conceptualized the land and people of the Caribbean and Florida in terms of a “tropical sublime” that they contrasted to the dull industrialized North. Luis-Brown 2008 finds in the work of such non-Latinos as W. E. B. Du Bois, Carleton Beals, Helen Hunt Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Claude McKay a broad movement toward “hemispheric citizenship.”

  • Aparicio, Francis R., and Susana Chavez-Silverman, eds. Tropicalizations: Transcultural Representation of Latinidad. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1997.

    A collection of essays exploring how the concept of Latinidad has been defined and explored by numerous writers, mostly Latino. However, the first three essays focus on non-Latinos, especially Richard Harding Davis, Joan Didion, and Paul Theroux.

  • Havard, John C. “Hispanicism: Spanishness, Liberalism, and National Identity in U.S. Literature, 1787–1861.” PhD diss., University of Rochester, 2012.

    John C. Havard examines how North Americans created a national identity for themselves in opposition to “Hispanicism.” In contrast to the irrationality and intolerance they associated with Spanish culture, writers in North America endorsed an ethic of enlightenment and liberalism.

  • Kellman, Steven G. “Literature, Latinos in Anglo-American.” In Encyclopedia Latina: History, Culture, and Society in the United States. Vol. 3. Edited by Ilan Stavans and Harold Augenbraum, 3–6. Danbury, CT: Grolier Academic Reference, 2005.

    An encyclopedic survey of how Latino experience has been portrayed throughout history by non-Latino authors of the United States.

  • Lomelí, Francisco, and Donald Urioste. “Chicanesque Writings.” In Chicano Perspectives in Literature: A Critical and Annotated Bibliography. By Francisco Lomelí and Donald Urioste, 107–110. Albuquerque, NM: Pajarito, 1976.

    Lomelí and Urioste introduce the term “Chicanesque” as a way of understanding the work of non-Chicanos, such as Danny Santiago and Jim Sagel, who have so thoroughly absorbed Mexican American culture as to write as if they are Chicanos themselves.

  • Lowe, John W. “Nineteenth-Century Southern Writers and the Tropical Sublime.” Southern Quarterly 48 (2011): 90–113, 158.

    John W. Lowe examines how 19th-century American writers conceptualized the land and people of the Caribbean and Florida in terms of a “tropical sublime,” in contrast to the dull industrialized North. While his focus is on the work of William Bartram, Constance Fenimore Woolson, and Lafcadio Hearn, he also finds the tropical sublime in other authors including Sidney Lanier and Herman Melville.

  • Luis-Brown, David. Waves of Decolonization: Discourses of Race and Hemispheric Citizenship in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

    David Luis-Brown draws on the work not only of such Latino or Spanish-language writers as José Martí, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Brianda Domecq, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Manuel Gamio, and Miguel Angel Menéndez but also such non-Latinos as W. E. B. Du Bois, Carleton Beals, Helen Hunt Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Claude McKay in order to demonstrate a broad movement toward “hemispheric citizenship.”

  • Wertheimer, Eric. Imagined Empires: Incas, Aztecs, and the New World of American Literature, 1771–1876. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    With particular emphasis on the work of Philip Freneau, Joel Barlow, William Hinckling, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman, Wertheimer studies the ways in which early American writers imagined the Spanish incursion into the Western Hemisphere.

  • Williams, Stanley T. The Spanish Background of American Literature. 2 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1955.

    A comprehensive study of the ways that Spanish—and, to a lesser extent, Spanish-American—culture has been absorbed into the culture of the United States. Williams is especially attentive to eight writers whom he considers “the major interpreters in American literature of Spanish and Spanish-American culture” (Vol. 2, p. 1): Washington Irving, George Ticknor, William H. Prescott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, William Cullen Bryant, Bret Harte, and William Dean Howells. This detailed study’s usefulness is limited by the fact that it ends with Howells’s (1913) Familiar Spanish Travels.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.