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Salsa Epistemology: Negotiating the Present and the Utopic in the Work of Erika Lopez


Queer theory has been at the forefront of theorizations of utopia in the past ten years, with theorists such as José Esteban Muñoz and Jack Halberstam articulating how utopic creations—such as theatre, art, or even children’s animated films—can have an important function in social change. The field has been reluctant, however, to articulate the relationship between utopia and the vast majority of queer and feminist scholarship, which looks at social activism as a matter of resisting oppression in the present. This paper argues that articulating this link—between the present and utopia—is neither a simple nor a trivial matter, nor is it sufficient to just assume it exists. If, as queer theory has suggested, creating utopias is important for queer subjects, then how do these utopias engage with the everyday business of resisting oppressive social norms?

This paper seeks to answer this question by close-reading theories of utopianism in the works of José Esteban Muñoz, María Lugones and Chela Sandoval. It then turns to Puerto Rican-American writer/performer/graphic novelist, Erika Lopez, whose a-typical use of humor inThe Girl Must Die(2010) exemplifies a negotiation of both the present and utopia to deal with issues of queer Latinidad. Lopez’s work reveals a way of knowing rooted specifically in Spanish Caribbean cultural texts, which combines present-based resistance and utopic creation dialectically. I term this way of knowing “salsa epistemology”—a reference to salsa as a Caribbean dance form embodied in the present but simultaneously accessing the utopic dimensions of performance.

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