Author Q&A Session with Frederick Luis Aldama

Routledge is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with Frederick Luis Aldama, author of several Routledge titles, including recently The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture. Frederick is currently Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of English and University Distinguished Scholar at the Ohio State University where he is also founder and director of LASER and the Humanities & Cognitive Sciences High School Summer Institute. He is also the series editor for Routledge Focus on Latina/o Popular Culture.

It’s one year on since the publication of The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture, how do you think the world of Latina/o Popular Culture has evolved since then?

Today, we’re living minute by minute a remarkable historical period in terms of Latino/as in popular culture. Primetime TV includes Latino/as in shows like ABC’s Modern Family with its newly configured Latinx familia, the CW’s telenovela-styled, self-reflexive Jane the Virgin, along with cop shows like NBC’s Shades of Blue that naturalize the presence of the Latina protagonistand smart, politically aware workplace sitcoms like NBC’s Superstore. Nickelodeon’s Latina Dora who taught many infants a basic, and very functional Spanish is now a tween, entertaining, well, fellow tweens. And, with the rise of subscription and non-subscription digital media platforms like Netflix, El Rey Network, TVLand, and YouTube, we’re seeing Latino/as across many other genres and formats, including flash-animation, superhero epic, horror-goth vampiric romance, and heroic sci-fi.

Latino/a pop culture is shaping the sense of people everywhere. Of course, not all of it is created equal.Often, when corporate dollar-profit margins are at the forefront of any given pop cultural object by and about Latino/as, it shamefully slips into the careless, simplistic, and racist-stereotypical. Arguably, where we see the most interesting, richly textured and complex Latino/a pop culture is that created by Latino/as. I’m thinking of the smart, revolutionary writing on a primetime show like Superstore that’s produced the Latina, America Ferrera. I’m thinking of Robert Rodriguez’s serialized show on El Rey Network, From Dusk Till Dawn, that entertains with transmogrifying Latino/a vamps, but that also situates the story within a deep sense of Latino/a history and mythology. I’m thinking of an animated feature like Jorge Gutierrez’s Book of Life that builds into its narrative an ideal audience of the socially outcast: the detention kids, Latino inclusive. I’m thinking about our independent films like Peter Bratt’s La Mission and Aurora Guerrero’s Mosquita y Mari that craft exquisite filmic stories about LGBTQ Latinxers living today.

We must add to this mention of all the other pop cultural phenomena that include Latino/as. I’m thinking of the thriving world of Lowrider culture and pinto/tattoo art; the Latino/a pop art of practioners like Alma Lopez and Julio Salgado; comics by Latinas like Cristy Road, Breena Nuñez, Lila Quintero Weaver, Kat Fajardo, and so many others, along with fotonovelas by LeighAnn Hidalgo. There’s the popular food movements, too, that aim to decolonize diets through the consumption of indigenous-based Latinx foods.

Alongside all this Latino/a pop cultural phenomena that’s being created at Quicksilver superspeed pace there is also a rapidly growing body of scholarship. Indeed, much of this scholarship is being done by those contributors that make up The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture. Not only are they publishing articles and book chapters in this area, but also in ways that expand the questions asked and geographic territory covered; several such scholars, for instance, are publishing chapters in my forthcoming, The Routledge Companion to Gender, Sex and Pop Culture in Latin America. And, many have in production or published books in the area of Latino/a pop culture. For instance, Enrique García’s The Hernández Brothers: Love, Rockets, and Alternative Comics is hot off the press in a book series I edit for the University of Pittsburgh Press; and, García is currently working on another book that excavates the archive of what he’s calling “tropical superheroes” in Caribbean comic books. Another contributor, Ellie Hernandez is hard at work on her book, tentatively titled Joteria in U.S. Popular Culture, and that launches from the work done in her contributing chapter to The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture. Other contributors to the Latina/o Pop Culture volume are finishing up book-length studies in the area of Latino/a pop: Ilan Stavans (Sor Juana: or, The Persistence of Pop) and Paloma Martínez-Cruz (Food Fight!: [email protected] Foodways as a Decolonial Project), for instance. And, with the launching of the Latino Cultural Studies short book series with the Routledge Focus initiative, we will soon see the publication of books by other contributors: Pancho McFarland with his Toward a [email protected] Hip Hop Anti-Colonialism and Camilla Fojas with her Border Securities: Migrant Labor and Crisis Capitalism. Finally, I’m putting the finishing touches on a book I co-authored book with William Nericcio, the author of the Afterword to The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture. It’s a book that focuses exclusively on excavating and analysing television and its re-construction of Latino/a subjects and experiences.

I purposely mention the scholarship and projects that have grown from the publication a year ago of The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture. There is, of course, a lot more scholarship being done on Latino/a pop culture beyond these perimeters. I’m finishing up several other books for Routledge, including The Routledge Introduction to Latina/o Literature and World Comics: The Basics (March 2018) as well as the edited The Routledge Companion to Gender, Sex and Pop Culture in Latin America (May 2018) and the co-authored Latina/o Studies: The Key Concepts. Outside of the Routledge pubishing familia, I will publish Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics. And, to help open doors for the actual making of transformative pop culture by Latino/a creators, I launched the Latinographix trade-press series where I publish graphic novels, memoir, nonfiction, and more by Latinx writers and artists.

This is all to say, yes, I’m abundantly excited to be living, teaching, and publishing today. However, I’m also fully aware that much work still needs to be done, and not just in the world of scholarship and cultural production. Much work has to be done at the level of politics, policy and law making, education, and within deep socioecomic structures. Without systemic change, Latino/as will continue to be tragically underrepresented in college; they will continue to be cornered in ways that disallow the full realization of their creative and intellectual potentialities. And, the abundance of Latino/a presence in pop culture today is relative. We are 18% of the population, yet we only make up less than 2% of mainstream cultural phenomenon. And, there’s still plenty out there that’s actively denigrative. I’m thinking of social media platforms like the Harvard Facebook group that posted a message that likened the hanging of a Mexican child to “piñata time”. We are living an incredible moment in the history of Latino/a pop, but also one fraught with anxieties about what such an arrival means in terms also of our erasure.

What inspired you to write this book?

  • Of course, there’s a pressing need for scholarship in the vital and swiftly growing area of Latino/a pop cultural studies. I’d already published single authored books on film and comic books. And, I’d published the edited volume, Latinos and Narrative Media: Participation and Portrayal (2013). However, I knew that this was but a drop in the bucket. So, I chose to edit this volume on Latino/a pop culture—and for the following reasons: 1) to effectively cover such a vast territory as Latino/a pop culture; 2) to do this coverage well requires the skill and expertise of many minds; 3) to showcase the significant scholars from around the world who work on excavating and analysing all variety of Latino/a pop cultural phenomena, including cartoons, pop art, TV, film, video games, music, lowrider culture, sci-fi and pop mythology, and so much more; 4) to swiftly and with great scholarly rigor put the spotlight on the making, consuming, and active transforming that takes place in and around Latino/a pop cultural phenomena; this volume came together in just under a year, and this from conception to writing to its publication.
  • Finally, this and all the other work I publish on Latino/a pop cultural phenomena is about throwing open as many doors and windows as possible. It’s about showing future generations of Latino/a scholars that they can write significant scholarly work on comic books, video games, tattoo and poster art, TV, film, food, and you name it. It’s about showing the academy and world beyond its hallowed halls that Latino/a pop culture matters.

What is your academic background?

Born in Mexico City to a Mexican papá and a Guatemalan-Irish American mamá who ended up raising me on her own (life in Mexico didn’t work out), I certainly didn’t have college written in my stars. Anti-Mexican prejudice significantly shaped the person I would become, including lots of time spent off the playground and in the library. Indeed, it was yesteryear’s Affirmative Action that opened the door to college for me. An African American woman on admissions at UC Berkeley saw some potential in me that others hadn’t.

At Berkeley I did what most first gen Latinos do: pick a track that would lead to a profession we’d heard talk during our sobramesa—after dinner conversations. I thought I wanted to be a doctor. A first year of awe-inspiringly large lectures in organic chemistry, biology and physics 1A killed that mislaid dream. Instead, I found my pleasures studying Faulkner, Richard Wright, Dante, and Petronius. And, in this early morning comparative literature course filled with a mere 8 of us, I realized that one could study for a PhD in literature and make a living as a professional teacher of college aged kids—and not any college aged kids. I realized that as a professor I could give back to my community. I could help open doors for others like me who might not have had college written in their stars. After studying at Berkeley like my life depended on it, I was awarded a Mellon and Ford Fellowship to study for a PhD in literature at Stanford.

Today, I am Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of English and University Distinguished Scholar at The Ohio State University. I teach courses on Latino & Latin American cultural phenomena in the departments of English, Spanish & Portuguese, and Film Studies. I’ve authored, co-authored, and edited over thirty books (many with Routledge), including my recent fiction/graphic fiction debut, Long Stories Cut Short: Fictions from the Borderlands—a Chicago American Writers Museum selected book. I’m editor and coeditor of 7 different academic press book series, including the Latino Cultural Studies series with Routledge. I’m founder and co-director of Humanities & Cognitive Sciences High School Summer Institute at The Ohio State University. I’m founder and director of the White House Hispanic Bright Spot awarded LASER/Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment Research. I’m the recipient of the Ohio Education Summit Award for Founding & Directing LASER.I’ve also been honored with the 2016 American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education’s Outstanding Latino/a Faculty in Higher Education Award. Recently, I was awarded Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching and inducted into the Academy of Teaching. I was also recently inducted into the Society of Cartoon Arts.

In closing, I’d like to mention that I see my work as a scholar, teacher, and role model as a journey that has sought and continues to seek a deep understanding of all the ways that we Latino/as exist in the world. In all these capacities I celebrate all the ways that we vitally and actively receive, make our own, then recreate cultural phenomenon in materially transformative ways. Finally, in my teaching, publishing, service to the profession, and work with the Latina/o community on and off campus I am singularly committed to opening wide the doors for Latina/o thinkers and creators to transform the world into a better place today and tomorrow.

The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture

Other Books by Frederick

Routledge Focus on Latina/o Popular Culture Series