University of Texas at Austin

Monday, April 11, 2011

Frank Guridy discusses anthology on Latina/o life, stereotypes

The cover art for “Beyond El Barrio: Everyday Life in Latina/o America” features tall, spindly apartment complexes overlooking a street that disappears into the distance. The buildings are a reflection of barrios themselves: colorful, unbound by straight lines and rigid structures, each one different yet tied together as a community.

Frank Guridy, co-editor of “Beyond El Barrio” (NYU Press, 2010) and associate professor in the Department of History, set out to explore these notions of el barrio as both a place and a metaphor while attempting to address the negative connotations they often hold for outsiders.

What began as a project during graduate school more than a decade ago, has become a relevant collection of essays that approaches the many diverse Latina/o communities from an interdisciplinary angle.

Guridy recently answered a few questions for ShelfLife@Texas about “Beyond El Barrio.”

What prompted the creation of this anthology? Within our current culture, what makes this book especially relevant?

It started when I was in graduate school in 2000. The co-editors of the project and I had talked about the need for a book that combined and focused on the different Latino populations within the United States. We thought of what it would be like if we could bring together different works on these diverse communities into one book, from an interdisciplinary approach. So it started like that, a conversation.

Four of the contributors to “Beyond El Barrio” are faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin. How did these various ties form?

On one hand, The University of Texas connection is coincidental. But we’re not here by accident. We’re here because UT attracted us. There is a robust Latino community here; there’s the Center for Mexican American studies; the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, which focuses in part on Afro-Latino America; the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. The university has this institutional space for this kind of work. That’s how the connections developed.

What inspired the title of the anthology? In what ways did you seek to go “beyond” both the place and the metaphor that is “el barrio”?

The concept of el barrio is what really holds this project together. It is a concept that is significant and, at the core, unifying to the Latino community. It has many connotations, though, some of which are negative, which categorize el barrio as a place of poverty and dysfunction. At the same time, for others, it gives a sense of street cred, of being authentically Latino. Given these different phenomenon, across the spectrum of communities, how does it symbolize strength? For people on the outside, how does it symbolize these negative aspects? This is the hook that brings these things together.

What can people who have never experienced, or stepped inside, el barrio take from this anthology? What can people who have lived through it learn?

In an ideal world, people would read this book and understand that these are incredibly rich and diverse, yet vexed, communities like any other. People would stop viewing barrios singularly as sights of poverty, danger, and dysfunction, or as having one homogenous type of person within them. They are incredibly dynamic, diverse communities.

For people who have some experience, we understand that there are similar issues that are facing diverse Latino populations, similar histories. Yet we still need to know a lot more about the histories of Latino people in this country. Even if we’ve been through it, there is a lot more for us to learn about one another.

What is the enduring importance of el barrio?

Despite the fact that it’s called “Beyond El Barrio,” we understand that it remains a core construct that shapes the understanding of Latina/o people. So it will remain a source of information for community activists, for people who are looking to maintain Latino communities. It remains a source of strength for the core of Latino people. It remains a key construct for policymakers, too. The Latino population has changed; it is diversifying. And so, it behooves us to think in a more nuanced, broader conception of who Latinos are, given these changes.

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