By Ashley Brown
Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits tells the story of class struggle and post-colonial turmoil. The best-selling novel came to be a quintessential example of the magical realism genre. Latin America is exceedingly diverse, as there is an array of unique ancestries and ethnic groups. So often, literature that falls under the category of magical realism is associated with a “primitive,” Indigenous, or “Third World” consciousness (López-Calvo, 2014). However, this narrative is far from true, as these articulate works in this genre exhibit worldliness. Society deems the combination of a mostly European, realistic, rational worldview as the standard. The non-European acceptance of supernatural, magical, irrational, or carnivalesque events as part of everyday life has been interpreted as subversive (López-Calvo, 2014). Magical realism is illustrated as a tool of reclamation: taking back space that has been stolen by the colonizer.
This technique is pivotal in works by Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, and a variety of other authors of color. The use of magical elements in this genre communicates the inconceivable experiences faced by displaced groups. Morrison’s Beloved draws from a source like that of other Latin American fable tellers: oppression. A few, of many, Afro-Latinx authors that contribute to the creation of literature that transcends these boundaries set forth due to colonialism are Nelly Rosario, Angie Cruz, and Tony Medina. These authors have created writings that illustrate a world where Blackness and Latinidad are at the forefront of innovation and progress.
Magical realism is “a literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy” according to the Oxford dictionary. In contemporary Afro-Latinx literature, magical realism proves to be a compelling and useful literary device, which demonstrates the surreal nature of real-life events (Richardson, 2016). Afro-Latinx culture and writing embodies resistance as it is truly an opposition of colonial violence. Denouncing colonial violence and embracing the power of diversity in Latin America is a powerful driving force. According to Richardson (2016), “Afro-Latinx literature of the Caribbean is transcending spatial and temporal boundaries in order to revisit historical sights of trauma enacted during or as a result of colonization” (22).
We may look toward Latinx writers of African descent to learn more about why magical realism is utilized. In Latin American literature, the representation of people of African descent has been excluded and often stereotyped. This is not accidental. Rather, it is the result of an ideological concept known as the “Homogenous Nation.” This model, also known as the blanqueamiento or “whitening process,” was in forced in Latin America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Gamboa, 2018). Magical realism works as a narrative strategy in novels by Dominican-American writers who use their plots to explaining the impact of national, historical, and political events on the everyday realities of citizens (Richardson, 2016). There is a plethora of writers that have progressed this genre significantly.
There are quite a few powerful examples of this Latinx reclamation through literature. In Song of the Water Saints by Nelly Rosario and Soledad by Angie Cruz, “ghosts haunt, women fly, water heals, and dreams collide with past and future realities in an environment that is otherwise perfectly normal” (Richardson, 2016, p. 99). These novels express culture, familial struggle, and experiences faced by Latinx women. Notably, Cruz and Rosario combine African-derived spirituality with the tradition of magical realism to produce an Afro-Caribbean-tinged magical realism (Richardson, 2016, p. 100). This spiritual expression is an eloquent way to uphold and embrace tradition and their ancestry, which is something many are stripped of due to ever-plaguing colonial violence.
“I wanted to create a Black Lives Matter book for young people without ever having to write the words, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but to show the beauty, the three-dimensionality, interiority, and the emotional lives of Black boys who have been and continue to be so targeted and maligned in America. – Tony Medina
Tony Medina is another author that beautifully articulates what is means to write under this genre. He weaves together the histories and plights of the oppressed in Africa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S., demonstrating the interconnectedness of these groups through blood and shared oppression (Richardson, 2016). His work consists of poetry collections and books geared toward children and young adults. From his piece, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy” to “Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky,” his work is told from a plethora of perspectives illustrating the difficulties of being Black in an anti-Black, Eurocentric society. Medina’s first children’s book, DeShawn Days, took many by storm. This story looks at life from the perspective of a child growing up in an urban community that is home to many people of color and culture. In an interview, Tony Medina stated, “I remember when DeShawn Days came out, teachers and librarians would be floating me emails, where a child would ask, ‘How does he know about my life?’” (Angaza, 2016). The impact of Tony’s books is uplifting for children of color, as it gives rise to visibility, raises awareness and, in turn, enables change.
Magical realism is a powerful tool used to express the unbelievable and triumphant struggles faced by minoritized people. The violence that goes unrecognized is reclaimed through this expressive writing style. Fantastical elements and the success of people of color are just a few factors that embody this remediation. This genre lies at the intersections of identity, culture, and white fear. According to Richardson (2016), "the future development of contemporary Afro-Latinx literature will expand on the recurring themes of marginality, boundary crossings, rootlessness, and the representation of a multiplicity of homes” (p. 144). Creations such as these are made for the sake of empowerment and awareness. It is important that we consume literature written by Afro-Latinx authors, as they are pushing the boundaries of literature and giving rise to visibility.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Kafta on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
For more recommendations, please visit:
Angaza, M. (2016, August 03). Prolific Writer Tony Medina Passes the Torch. Retrieved from, https://africanvoices.com/avblog/tony-medina-tribute-2/
Can, T. (2015). Magical Realism in Postcolonial British Fiction: History, Nation, and Narration. Ibidem Press.
Gamboa, E. (2018, January 11). Afro-Latino heroes in Latin American literature. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@thegamboaproject/afro-latino-heroes-in-latin-american-literature-21a1004e9b8c
Howell, P. A. (2019, December 22). That Funky Cold Medina: An Interview with Tony Medina. The Big Smoke. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from https://thebigsmoke.com/us/2019/12/22/that-funky-cold-medina-an-intervie...
López-Calvo, I. (2014). Magical realism ([First edition].). Salem Press, a division of EBSCO Information Services, Inc.
Lu, J., & Camps, M. (2020). Transpacific Literary and Cultural Connections: Latin American Influence in Asia. Springer International Publishing AG.
Richardson, J. (2016). The Afro-Latin@ Experience in Contemporary American Literature and Culture Engaging Blackness (1st ed. 2016.). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31921-6