Burning Down the Canon:
Queer Family and Queer Text in Flaming Iguanas ) (1)
California State University, Chico
What do sex, family, comedy, road trips, and latinidad have in common? The answer of course is the Puerto Rican Diasporic author Erika Lopez, who with her innovative series of graphic novels (Lap Dancing for Mommy, Flaming Iguanas, and They Call Me Mad Dog) has established herself as a writer who bravely goes where as of yet few authors dare to tread. Her transgressions only begin with the addition of graphics to her textual production, going on to flout rules of structure, content, and political correctness. (2) Although not a comic book style graphic novel in the style of Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers (2004) or Allison Bechdel’s new Fun Home (2006), Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing (1997) does reflect the elements of subversion and rebellious confrontation that may be found in some of the best women’s (and men’s) comics.(3) Nevertheless, this study is not an in-depth look at the work as graphic novel (the novel’s imbrication of text, line drawings and stamp art being a departure from that genre), but rather mentions this aspect of structure as one more indication of how the author intentionally transgresses literary and social boundaries–especially those around gender and sexuality. Indeed the main character and narrator Tomato Rodríguez–a woman on a cross-country trek and a quest for identity–questions and ultimately frustrates every possible gender role expectation, as do many of the other characters that she gathers around her. Partially because of the novel’s mixed genre and partly due to other insubordinate elements, Flaming Iguanas shares to a great degree the mixed blessing of marginalization that women’s comics have enjoyed (or suffered). This is one of the issues I would like to consider briefly here–the novel’s place at the periphery of the United States literary canon. How and why would this novel be perceived to belong at the edge of a literary tradition, rather than central to a new generation’s production? Still, the edge is indeed connected to the whole, and the periphery can’t help but influence the center in some way. That said, what are the possible ramifications of the novel’s existence on the fringes of U.S. mainstream literature? I will argue that in addition to the readily apparent visual and verbal edginess, it is also the author’s treatment of family as an intrinsically queer institution, and her creation of an inimitably queered family that ultimately relegate her work to the margins of academic viability. Moreover, this apparent weakness, this seeming lack of power or position may in fact be a paradoxical source of strength and agency that infuse the novel with a border-busting queer authority.
The Canon: Begging to Be Burned
begin our own
critical road trip with a consideration of the way that the literary
works. This does seem to be the first stop on our journey, and it is a
that cannot help but inform the writing (and reception) of even the
iconoclastic author. The canon exists on multiple levels and consists
immensely complex system of selectivity and prejudice that manifests in
only whether we read certain works, but also how we read them. A text
marginalized through its complete non-inclusion, through its relegation
allegedly inferior or less viable genre, or through a reading that
fundamental aspects of the text that would otherwise place it within a
part of the canon. Tey Diana Rebolledo has written extensively on the
which the canon has ignored entirely or failed to concede complete
to the writings of Latina women. Only in the last decades of the
century do we see Latinas being published by specialized (much less
presses, or even included in anthologies of American or Latin American
literature (2005, 13-39 and 56-73). So is it that recently women
claimed their rightful place as celebrated contributors to a vibrant
literature (although to this day women of color often only will be
part of the U.S. Ethnic canon). During this same period, when critics
professors of literature began to focus on an increasing diversity of
that highlight race, gender, class, and sexuality, there seemed to
remain a few
sticking points that continued to limit the scope of class reading
preparation materials, and academic discussion in general. There is yet
day a literary discourse that is dangerously on edge--a discourse that
the limits of tolerance and propriety. We are embarrassed and irritated
when we hear fingernails on a chalkboard and try to block out or
the offending words. After all, as established practitioners of a
profession, that is, the judgment and interpretation of written works
why should we pay any attention to the irreverence of disrespectful
As Julia Alvarez wryly comments in Border-Line
Personalities, when someone in one of her family gatherings would
“Qué dice la juventud?” the younger generation:
knew instinctively that the older folks didn’t really want to hear what we had to say. In fact, every one of us would have been grounded until the day we were married if we had fessed up to what we were doing with and discovering about our bodies. Los viejos just wanted to hear the old verities recited back to them…Old and young had to hunker together as a familia and comunidad, especially after we arrived in crazy gringolandia. (2004, xv)
So the juventud, the youth, the rebels and anyone who thought differently would keep quiet. Maybe someone would snort or giggle, which would earn her a glare and a sharp reminder that she was to be seen and not to be heard. After all, the family hierarchs, just like the recognized literary historians and critics, have a fairly tight rein on the hoi polloi. But when a rebel voice finds a place to emerge, then how do we respond—by looking the other way, by remaining complicit in its marginalization, or by finding a way to listen through the discomfort? Do the canonical guardians feel guilty when pouring salt on what they consider to be slippery and slimy? Do they hear our screams? In a way, this is a paper about the paradoxical coexistence of embarrassing noise and shamed silence.
One example of this raucous hush is Erika Lopez's Flaming Iguanas, a novel that teeters on a queer edge. The storyline, characters, and graphics often jar the reader emotionally, sometimes blatantly and other times requiring first that the reader traverse the chasm separating signifier and signified. For instance, a mixed graphic and text image of a bag of salt and a slug appears just after Tomato has fallen yet again on her motorcycle. As she picks herself up and starts to ride again, she notes a frog in the road and muses over how many of them she has not noticed and therefore hit, wondering “how many more critters I was tied to karmically [sic]” (197). The graphic points to the purposeful killing of animals, the guilt and shame connected to even the killing of slugs, who share with humans at least the capability of producing a sound like a scream as they sizzle, melt, and die. The realistic rendering of the slug juxtaposed against a stylized and comparatively tiny bag of table salt privileges the suffering of the much-maligned mollusk, while subtly jabbing at the human tendency to savor another of the gastropods as a delicacy (escargot) when we are not getting their cousins out of our garden.
Burn, Baby, Burn
The inserted line drawing, stamp art, and scrawled cursive and print of each page of the novel only look primitive at first glance, in reality being another element that hints at the protagonist’s constant soul-searching on her journey of self-discovery. The queerness resides partially in the visual fusion, partially in the protagonist’s willingness to speak of a silenced subject, and partially in the gap of meaning requiring the reader’s complicity. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick defines queer as "the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone's gender, of anyone's sexuality aren't made (or can't be made) to signify monolithically" (8). While a diligent critic could find ways to frame the slug graphic in terms of female sexuality (the moisture, the wetly curved lines, the abject status of the object), actually that is not a requirement of a queer reading. On the contrary, queer theory doesn’t fix its squinted eye merely on the sexual, but also involves questions of race, class, religion, able-bodiedness, and various other elements that frame one’s closeness to or distance from normativity. One of the foundational theorists of Queer Studies, Michael Warner defines queer as straying from the normal rather than simply opposed to heterosexual (xxvi). Critics such as David Eng and Yvonne Yarbro Bejarano push the limits of queer to include issues of race, class, religion, and ethnicity as well as sexuality. Bejarano’s oeuvre brings into the fray a complex discussion of the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality, especially as relates to cultural production by women of color (4). In sum, a queer text may be seen as subverting any number of standards or traditions, and for Flaming Iguanas, a graphic such as this is only the beginning. The graphics and narrative consistently will mark the novel as renegade, like an “all-girl” roughneck crew blazing across a literary frontier.
While queer studies does encompass the uncovering and twisting of canonical texts and authors, oftentimes queer criticism will focus on marginalized writers such as Sara Levi Calderón, or lesser-known texts by noted authors, like Luis Rafael Sánchez' "¡Jum!” Frequently, queer scholars gently stretch the strictures of literary analysis so that it slides into the contemplation of culture, as in Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano's work on Cherríe Moraga (2001). By the same token, queer studies can include scrutiny of texts that are radically outside of the scope of literary mainstream, to say the least, such as Yarbro-Bejarano's work on the newest Latina graphic artists (1995), José Muñoz's studies of the trash film star Divine or the Puerto Rican/Cuban performance artist Marga Gomez (1999), and Melissa Solomon’s comparison of Erika Lopez and intellectual diva Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (2002). Whereas these studies are undeniable contributions to the study of literature and culture, and do provide a possible bridge from the text to new readership, the scope of their influence is still relatively small. The mainstream canon remains elusive for many sorts of queered cultural texts, and one might ask why such a disjunction between one critic's judgment and another's still prevails. Perhaps this gap is due to the incredible sense of discomfort that may be generated by the intensive reading of a truly queer text; if so many innovative yet somehow compliant works are available for study, then why should we knowingly subject ourselves to the sense of crawling out of our skin in response to an aggressively odd and often offensive creation?
Even at first glance, and then increasingly upon further scrutiny, Flaming Iguanas is an earthy, eccentric, and of course queer text -- linguistically, stylistically, thematically, philosophically, and sexually. It exists in the gaps and dissonances that are celebrated within queer theory, as it crosses borders in every sense of the word. Nevertheless, that a text be considered tolerable in the permissive, rebellious, and even raunchy milieu of queer studies is not necessarily equated with acceptability in any other traditional field. Flaming Iguanas is not an obliging text and does not embody a sense of the normal, which of course makes it an ideal example of the queer according to Warner and a perfect target for ostracizing by practitioners of the normative. It is purposely a difficult, and sometimes even exclusionary text, but often in a much different way than the body of works written for an intellectual elite, such as the deliberately obscure (and of course fascinating) essays by Derrida or Cixous. Only the highly and eclectically educated will catch some of the allusions and references in Flaming Iguanas, but other elements of the novel are purposefully blatant, vulgar, and crass Solomon says “lewd” and “prurient”, 201), such as the front cover of the paperback edition of the novel.
There are numerous reasons that any “serious-minded” scholar of American or U.S. Ethnic literature might shy away from Flaming Iguanas. First of all, the novel is published by Scribner Paperback Fiction (Simon & Schuster) and is far from being re-released as a critical edition with notes and introduction by a properly academic editorial house (not to say that just that contingency will never materialize, given increasing interest in Lopez’s work). As an aside, one might speculate as to why a major publisher would give voice to and extensive dissemination of this kind of cutting-edge, genre-busting work, when the theoretically freer academy remains reluctant to do so. Perhaps the simple answer is that it sells! That, then, is another element that must be taken into consideration, that Erika Lopez is not the sort of writer who insists on subsisting precariously in a garret in order to produce what is purposefully inaccessible to the general reader. Whereas she is single-mindedly devoted to portraying what she wants in exactly her own chosen manner, she is delighted (as would be many struggling artists) to be given this opportunity to bring her work to the public. Interestingly, we have come to a point in time at which intelligence and profundity need not be considered anathema to sex and humor; I say need not, despite the fact that the contrary belief still holds sway in some hallowed academic grounds.
Other elements that may prejudice the more conservative scholar include the back flap of the paperback edition, which privileges reviews by queer and suspect publications such as The Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, Feminist Bookstore News, and Lambda Book Report, the last of which proclaims, "There's a sizable, rebelliously tasteless portion of our reading public who will soon want to make Lopez their cartoonist pillow queen.” This correlation between the novel and the comic book genre is enough to earn it scorn or perhaps amused condescension from some scholars. Although critics like Charles Hatfield credibly argue the emergence of the graphic novel as a legitimate genre garnering important academic notice (e.g. articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education), even Hatfield must acknowledge that for many “the form is at its best an underground art, teasing and outraging bourgeois society from a gutter-level position of economic hopelessness and (paradoxically) unchecked artistic freedom” (2005, xi-xii). As another example of cunning, ironic and beautifully rendered social commentary in the form of the graphic novel, consider the Hernandez Brothers’ Love and Rockets, which has a considerable cult following but has not yet received the analytical attention it deserves.
The concept of artistic license brings us to the physical appearance of the novel, which is both licentious (pun intended) and unchecked. The font of the chapter titles approximates the scratching–alternatively cursive and print–of a blotting ink pen, while the body of the text looks like the output of a somewhat damaged and imperfectly aligned typewriter. This does bring to mind a section of the canon that won critical attention and acclaim exactly for its blatant disregard for normative typescript, regular placement of verse or prose on the page, and accepted rules of punctuation and grammar. I refer to, of course, the writers of the modernist period, like Gertrude Stein or Julio Cortázar (especially in Rayuela), and even more specific movements, like the concrete poets. Why is it, then, that the visually playful text in a concrete poem by Jorge Luis Borges or E.E. Cummings has been accepted fully as innovative yet canonical, while a further development of such techniques is spurned in a novel like Flaming Iguanas?(5) I wonder if this could be due to the fact that the author departs from a solely verbal exposition: the entire manuscript is littered with line drawings and stamp art, whose relation to the text is often difficult to ascertain at first glance, although indeed becomes clearer upon close consideration. Underlying these parallels between specific graphics and textual context, Laura Laffrado suggests that “Lopez links the disruption of conventional female self-representation to the visual disruption of the conventional appearance of the page” (408). In many cases she makes visible and inescapable the perverse, abject, and hybrid complexity of female gender and sexuality, which can be an unforgivable excess. What's worse, the cover is bright yellow and red, sporting the image of a Carmen Miranda motorcycle chick showing the onlooker one of her breasts (6). Here, surely Erika Lopez has passed the line of reasonable moderation and fallen into the outlandish. One asks: Is this a comic book by a cartoonist, or can this really be called a novel, in the same way that we understand the novel, like Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quixote, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or even Dharma Bums? As an aside, the fact that the mixture of graphics and text is held in such low regard in the United States can be attributed at least in part to the history of the comic strip in this country. During the height of McCarthyism, comics were blamed for the perversion of America’s youth; the inappropriate gender models of comic strips were encouraging homosexual fantasies in boys and destroying girls’ aptitude for being good wives and mothers. How ironic is it, then, that today works like Flaming Iguanas again are pushing the limits of gender and sexuality as well as genre?
This brings us to the discussion of the novel’s content, which is queer indeed. The title itself serves as a brief plot summary, and as already mentioned, the protagonist's name is Tomato, as in juicy hothouse, thin skinned yet sweetly acidic, unashamedly meaty, round, and red. The narrative ambles non-chronologically through Tomato's cross-country motorcycle ride (and the preparations beforehand), scattering four-letter words and sexual references at every turn. Although the narrator is of a philosophical bent, she embraces a thoroughly contemporary and coarse expression of her spiritual and intellectual preoccupations. A few choice chapter titles include: “Chapter 3: Ashes to Ashes, Crust to Crust” (13); “Chapter 28: No, Those Aren't Panties, Those are Prayers” (179); and “Chapter 31: I'm determined to one day understand and love anal sex because I'm convinced I must be missing something” (190). The constant juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane is a trademark characteristic of Lopez’s writing and points to one of the underlying preoccupations of the protagonist of this novel. Raised in a very Catholic culture, Tomato’s tendency to associate sexuality and religion is not at all surprising. What does clash, however, is the language that she chooses to express these connections. The well-known concept that our corporeal being will return to the ground and disintegrate (ashes to ashes, dust to dust), leaving our spirit to travel to the afterlife of heaven, hell, or purgatory, is here satirized by the changed ending, “crust to crust.” The crust may call up the image of pie, but a more likely meaning in this context is that of the crusty covering of an injury (the cat Tomato accidentally runs over) or some sexually transmitted disease (herpes, scabies, or syphilis). Then, the comparison between panties and prayers (not directly tied to any apparent part of the plot developed in that chapter) and the focus on anal sex exemplify the novel’s embracing of the shocking and the inexplicable. The main character is truly obsessed and fascinated with all that is improper, but not to the exclusion of more standard philosophical inquiry. She asks herself time and again about her purpose on earth, the definition of love, and the nature of coincidence. However, the more scandalous elements do tend to stand out. If one could ignore the pop-art facade, then surely the book's irreverence and its brash and unapologetic vulgarity would make difficult its inclusion in the canon of mainstream literature.
The Last Straw: Queering Familia
Nevertheless, if one practices the sort of criticism that celebrates the twisted, the irreverent, and the otherwise queer, the inevitability of the fact that what passes through one person's mind will be patently offensive to some of her peers, then Flaming Iguanas is a rare find. Lopez's disregard of limitations and taboos takes many forms, as is suggested by the preceding. However, there is one aspect that deserves particular study for its determined irregularity: the queer aspect of family. Cooper argues that the myth of the predictably large and loving, stable and secure Latin American (and by extension U.S. Latina/o) family is one that begs to be demystified and recreated (2004, 2). The truth is that not every familia is composed of the same sorts of members, nor does it serve always the same functions, and most of all familia does not create a predictable environment where all are accepted and protected. The critic Ralph Rodríguez is bothered by the naïve “notion that familia is a safe haven, an outside to society’s structuring power relations. Understood in this manner, familia has been the operating trope for forming Chicana/o social movements, once again missing the multiple ways in which family itself can be oppressive and generating a nostalgia for a family structure that might save us from the wicked world” (2003, 74). He suggests that the queer subject must go beyond an innocent and uncritical vision of family, but rather than attempting to escape or deny family completely, the queer must queer family. His specific expression is to “scratch” family, in other words “embracing and yet distancing oneself from family” (81), a concept that comes close to José Muñoz’s theory of disidentification. Rodríguez advocates “the creation of new sets of relations and new lines of personal connections that offer us a language and practice of possibilities for constructing family” (76). The queer familia that this Chicano critic envisions for his specific culture is exactly what Erika Lopez paints from her Nuyorican mixed-race subjectivity in Flaming Iguanas.
Over and over the narrator uses insolent humor to undermine the vision of mainstream heterosexual family as picture-perfect. Tomato wryly comments that her best friend Shannon had left her to become a “Stepford wife with edge” and get “free stuff” through matrimony (36); she recounts how outside of her apartment a teenage male hooker is let out of a car sporting one of those “proud parent of an honor student” bumper stickers (38); and she admits that she herself has tried to be the ideal trailer trash wife with Bert, her “darling little alcoholic” (145). Bert’s family ethic can be deduced from what passes for a proclamation of affection: “Well, I didn’t say I’d marry you or anything. Not yet, anyway. But you could hang out here, and uh. . . we could hang out together, and well if you wanted to or if you got pregnant, well we could get married” (145). Matrimony, then, is a civil institution that is linked to consumer culture, the production of progeny, the support of homosexuality and prostitution, and premarital sex ending in self-imposed shotgun weddings. On Tomato's motorcycle journey she does her part to further subvert the sanctity of the idea of traditional marriage and family, having a brief tryst with her two Canadian Johns.(7) Tomato explains: “These were not the raping and pillaging kind of Canadian guys. They were family men who had desk jobs, lived with lawns, and I was their Stranded Biker Girl Experience” (125). Again, the appearance of social conformity seems to be much more important than any actual compliance with vows of monogamy or honesty; in this case the physical travel outside of their domestic sphere leaves men with the assumption that the regular rules do not apply.
If she is the Canadian Johns’ experience, their incursion into the queer, they simply serve to reinforce for her the unrelentingly flexible parameters of acceptable family composition and behavior. Tomato’s nuclear family is doubly queer–both odd and gay–although they sound somewhat straitlaced and cranky. She explains that her mom and Violet–her mom's girlfriend of fifteen years–“split up all the time and move out of each other’s houses. Between them, there are like four or five houses all over South Jersey because some of them are ‘too painful’ to move back into” (51). One of Tomato’s visits home comically highlights the couple's obsessive boundary issues and their “processing” based on decades of therapy, a caricature of stereotypical lesbian love. This provides the backdrop for Tomato’s confession to her mom that she has been contemplating becoming a lesbian herself. As Tomato bears her soul, the older woman reads and drinks wine in the Jacuzzi, forgetting to listen to her daughter’s confession and plea for information. This is when Tomato has an epiphany about her queer but not-queer family, that actually her mother and Violet spend most of their time avoiding the thought of what or who they actually are. “Violet was fifty-five years old, Catholic, and in denial about loving women. My mother just figured it was no one’s business. So it got to the point where they were pretending they weren’t ‘lesbians’ with each other, especially because they hated the word. They thought it was harsh to the ear with the ‘z’ crashing right into the ‘b’ sound” (176). That this episode of the contradictory evocation and denial of a lesbian sexuality occurs in a hot tub, the setting of so many pornographic as well as drunken and denied seduction scenes, is an irony not lost on the reader. At the same time, the two girlfriends bickering and the studied isolation that constructs an invisible boundary between mother and daughter deflate the erotic component of the lesbian relationship. It is just another white elephant in the Jacuzzi.
Tomato’s romanticization of the lesbian connection (and the gay element
of the queer family) is understandable, considering the alternative
her father. She remembers that when she and her 7 year old sister Glena
stay with Dad, who drinks too much and beds his coed students, he ends
punching his youngest daughter because she didn’t wash her hair (68).
family’s exemplar of the patriarchal hetero-normative culture does not
exactly inspire confidence or emulation. At some point Dad has moved to
California and started running a sex-toy shop with a lesbian named
further complicating the oddity of the family mythology. Now, in a
of the soaps, Tomato is taking her motorcycle cross-country to see her
father, but by the time Tomato arrives, her father has already died,
her at somewhat of a loss. The dearth is soon eliminated as Tomato
road-fueled sexual excitement onto the older, experienced butch. Hodie
provides her with the opportunity to try full-scale sex with a woman,
through some childhood issues (the protagonist mentions the Electra
a non-therapeutic atmosphere (250). Nonetheless, this experience
turn out exactly as she anticipates or dreads. Tomato exclaims:
To my relief, the next morning I didn't feel like a member of a lesbian gang. I didn't feel this urge to subscribe to lesbian magazines, wear flannel shirts, wave DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY signs in the air, or watch bad lesbian movies to see myself represented. No. I wanted a Bisexual Female Ejaculating Quaker role model. And where was she, dammit? (251)
Queer family does not admit the restraints even of an alternative or subculture, and the protagonist does not shy away from claiming her own unique identity, even when that transgresses the limitations implied by any externally-conceived label. Quite the opposite, she is delighted to ignore societal norms, or better, to taunt those around her (especially the reader) by going one step further.
violence, enmeshment, and sexualization of the rest of the family
perhaps the most outlandish relationship of all is that between Tomato
sister. The two are close
emotionally as well as in age, although Tomato has always felt like the
of the family, without proper manners or an acceptable form of
her brash vulgarity permeates the novel, one scene in particular
pinnacle of transgression of the family ideal:
I sat next to my sister on the sofa and started blowing in her ear. She smacked me on the leg so she could watch TV.
"Don't worry, Glena-Glane. Momma-girl knows about our special drive-in-movie kind of love," I said in a cheap southern accent.
I joke about incest with my sister and thank God it doesn't bother my mother. When I want to know if I look good in something, I ask Glena if it makes her want to have sex with me. When she doesn't say anything I like to believe it means, "why, of course." I tell her if we were back in West Virginia we wouldn't have to be ashamed of our love and she could bear my children. And in case something went wrong with the kids, there are special schools, you know. (53)
The protagonist's ease and humor diffuse the absolute seriousness of the incest taboo; at the same time, discussing incest so blithely is intrinsically queer. The desire and contradictory revulsion that surround incest are principal social and psychological motivators. However, there are many who would use Tomato’s running incest joke (and another jest two pages later about bestiality) as another reason to condemn her family as singularly odd and unacceptable. In this passage, the threat of sexual transgression within the family, combined with the skewed representation of the protagonist's gender and related power to impregnate is enough to make most readers a bit edgy, to infuse their laugh with a nervousness that can permeate the entire reading. Then too, Tomato’s comments associate this improper behavior with a certain class and regional area, a linking which underscores other class-related gender/sexual stereotyping, like her attempts at being a trailer trash wife. It would take a determinedly ingenuous reader, however, to view said scenes as examples of classist or discriminatory rhetoric. Lopez’s strength lies in laughing at herself just as she laughs at the hegemony and the disinherited.
the most compelling and
valuable contribution made by this novel is the disidentificatory
recuperating these emotionally loaded issues and performing them with a
that recognizes the patently ridiculous within the abject. Within lies
from internal and external discrimination, as explained by José
Muñoz. “Let me be clear about one thing,” warns
disidentification is about cultural, material, and psychic survival. It is a response to state and global power apparatuses that employ systems of racial, sexual, and national subjugation. These routinized protocols of subjugation are brutal and painful. Disidentification is about managing and negotiating historical trauma and systemic violence…I have wanted to posit that such processes of self-actualization come into discourse as a response to ideologies that discriminate against, demean, and attempt to destroy components of subjectivity that do not conform or respond to narratives of universalization and normalization. (1999, 161)
Lopez embraces even the most painful elements of her experience, but never in an innocent manner, rather as a prelude to a process of transformation that shifts the locus of power into her own hands. If she has lived out her idealized version of Anglo working class life, perhaps initially believing that she was doing so to escape her own ethnic heritage and the inescapably connected social disapproval, then she also has experienced an epiphany of sorts around race and class. After her time with Bert, she understands the nonsensical nature of a social hierarchy that can value spam above beans and rice, or vice-versa. Moving from the barrio to the trailer park essentially makes no difference in her life, as long as she is still attempting to shift responsibility away from herself for her own identity and future. Bert’s whiteness cannot negate her brownness, his gender-normativity cannot relieve her of her queerness, and his oblivious stupidity cannot take the edge off of her critical acumen. However, he can provide a mirror that eventually reflects the reality of her situation: she is a mixture of artist and working class, United States Imperial Anglo and colonial Puerto Rican, gay and straight, passive and assertive. In order to gain a sense of who she is, she must identify with the disparate elements of her makeup and then morph them into her own construction of self.
Tomato’s hybrid identity, one that shies away from full identification with any one group, be it ethnic, social, or sexual, brings up another issue related to the transparent borders that circumscribe any particular field. Some queer readers can thrill in the tension that arises from the perverse, in this case the complete disregard of censorship around family and sex. On the other hand, it is important to note that Tomato's somewhat unflattering portrayal of her lesbian mother and her insistent queering of family and individual sexuality mean that Flaming Iguanas is not even particularly attractive to all sectors of gay/lesbian studies (8). Her unapologetic bisexuality can be seen as betrayal, sell-out, and insulting, and as an expression of the younger generation runs the risk of undermining the tenuous popularity (or in some sectors of culture and the profession tolerance) of the gay lifestyle. You can almost hear the reaction of serious-minded lesbian feminist separatists: "Tomato and the author are both young upstarts, without two morals to rub together, and a serious identity crisis to top it all off." In discussing her non-monolithic portrayal of sexuality in the novel, and her general lack of self-censorship, Erika Lopez acknowledges that some lesbians and gay men have criticized and/or ostracized her as a direct result of this novel. Along these same lines, claiming that 90 % of the novel is autobiographical, Lopez admits to having angered a lot wider range of people than that, not the least of whom are the wives of the married Canadian men --the aforementioned family Johns (class visit). If the author will not be held back by the fear that her family and friends, even her immediate queer community will react poorly to her counter hegemonic narrative, then certainly she is not going to back down at the threat of non-inclusion in the mainstream canon.
I suggested above that there are more ways than one to relegate a literary work to invisibility within academia. The queering of Flaming Iguanas, or in other words, the fairly effortless work of highlighting the queer in this novel, makes clear many of the reasons why it is not an easy addition to the canon. The physical appearance of the book, the bawdy tone, the use of a young and patently offensive language, the foregrounding of a sexually transgressive ethic, and the very queer representation of family make it controversial, even dangerous.(9) The novel exists on a queer edge, and as such is not easily embraceable from the center, as represented by the canon of U.S. American (Ethnic) literature. Yet, perhaps there are reasons why this is an unfair evaluation and treatment of the novel.
There is an aspect of Lopez and Flaming Iguanas that insinuates, "Don't take me seriously, don't take this seriously, and don't make the mistake of thinking that I do." Flaming Iguanas is self-consciously performative, as is the author when she reads from or talks about the book. Her gestures are bigger than life, and somewhat in the mode of a boisterous, sexy, long/frizzy-haired Carlos Fuentes, many of the lines are pronouncements (class visit). Unlike those of the Mexican canonical author, Lopez's revelations are aggressively tongue-in-cheek, funny, and sexual in nature. This tendency to pronounce and opine is one of the many characteristics that the author seems to have bestowed upon her main character Tomato. A case in point is a scene in which the protagonist is watching some lesbian porn: "I hung up the phone, lit a cigarette and watched the video as one of the high-haired girls sucked wildly on her aerobic instructor's nipples without smearing her lip gloss, and I asked my cat, 'Hey Nena, come over here. Do you ever fantasize about something and then after you get off, think, oh, that is so stupid?' She looked at me, and her eyes said all the fucking time" (178). Although the protagonist's packaging of her nuggets of wisdom suggests a generation-X posturing, it may be just this fresh framing that will make the age-old message intelligible and relevant to readers of the new millennium.
The question of whether to include Flaming Iguanas in the lists of recommended readings for scholars of American (and specifically Latina) literature brings to mind the question of separation of high art from low art, now a subject of debate for some decades. This novel crosses genre boundaries, incorporating the popular and vulgar along with the poetic, and looses the voice of a renegade woman onto the sensitivities of a literary elite. Paul Julian Smith and Emilie L. Bergmann caution us that "the question of drawing the line between the native and foreign, proper and alien, is always a complex one" (1995, 2). Yes, Erika Lopez may seem foreign and alien when viewed alongside of more mainstream continental Puerto Rican authors like Esmeralda Santiago. However, critics like Goldman assert that the value of the novel is exactly its “narrative that weaves together the conventional and the radical… construct[ing] a queer Latina romance that is both legible and desirable” (13). Moreover, the work has its place within literary history: only think of the picaresque, the road novel, and the novel of epiphany. Lopez consciously includes direct literary allusions to evoking these classic traditions, with mentions of Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Henry Miller, and Erika Jong (27). With respect to this point, Goldman’s study cogently explicates how the specifically Latina consciousness “is reconfiguring traditional inscriptions of sexual tourism. In [the] novel, the national landscape becomes the space of sexual tourism, and the transcultural and transgressive are interwoven in a single trajectory that both produces unexpected results and rewrites the conventional juxtaposition of difference and displacement” (4).
Is she or isn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure…
If Flaming Iguanas is Literature (with a capital L), deserving of critical merit and inclusion in the wide range of privileges of that classification, can we go further to posit that it forms a legitimate part of a specific canon, such as that of the Puerto Rican Diaspora? Are there elements that mark the work as belonging, beyond any shadow of a doubt (because we do have to admit that the jury here will assume the guilt, the lack, or the legitimate invisibility of the work until proven wrong)? In general, the queer Hispanic text has included historically (in the short visible history that exists) a sharp and slippery questioning of subject positions and identities, including that of ethnicity and national identity (Bergmann and Smith 1995, 2). Specific issues that have been seen as key in the analysis of other, canonized works of Puerto Rican Diaspora literature include immigrant and bicultural identity, the complications of language, questions of color and other physical markings of race. One of the foremost scholars that interpolate questions of anti-normativity within those of Puerto Rican identity, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes suggests that Erika Lopez’s work is distinctively Boricua, but that her brand of “Puerto Ricanness assume[s] a significantly different spin” (294).
As might be
Lopez's treatment of Latinidad and Puertorriqueñismo
is as queer,
irreverent, and edgy as the rest of the novel, but it is undeniably
such she shares a liminal yet important space with queer Latinas such
writers Achy Obejas, performers Carmelita Tropicana and Monica
critics like Michelle Habel-Pallán. She may be writing from an
closet, but she definitely is situated within the Latino Diaspora
adapt Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s conceptualization of Chicana/o pop
texts as a place where the conjunction of ethnicity and sexuality is
articulated (2003, xxi-xxiii). In the first pages of the novel, Tomato
her "huge Latin American breasts" (2), and her code switching
includes such gems as nicknaming a lover "Hooter-mujer" (248). Laffrado
explores in some detail the way in which the line drawings and modified
stamps in this and other Lopez novels “refigure” and
“ironize” societal images of the Latina. “These
overdetermined figures mock the social framing of Latina women… Lopez
reworks these stereotypes to give them female agency, self-possession,
sexuality” (411). Equally interesting are the ways in which Lopez
approaches the protagonist’s contemplation of her own mestiza Boricua
identity. In one monologue she explains:
I don't feel white, gay, bisexual, black, or like a brokenhearted Puerto Rican in West Side Story, but sometimes I feel like all of them. Sometimes I feel so white I want to speak in twang and belong to the KKK, experience the brotherhood and simplicity of opinions. . . Sometimes I want to be so black, my hair in skinny long braids, that black guys nod and say 'hey, sister' when they pass me by in the street. / I want the story, the rhythm, the myths that come with the color. . Other times I wish I was born speaking Spanish so that I could sound like I look without curly-hair apologies. (28-29)
What is in focus here is not only the impossibility of either embracing or denying all facets of an immigrant and hybrid identity, but also the slippage between craving and repulsion. The protagonist wants a purity of experience that allows an almost mystical exultation in each part of her, yet must disavow and denigrate her complete self. One is reminded of the seductiveness of the abject and the compelling force of desire (sexual and philosophical hunger) that drives both the creation and the reception of the queer text (10).
However, the most telling remarks that mark Flaming Iguanas as a novel of the Puerto Rican Diaspora hark back to the central disturbance of this paper, that of the queer family. One must recognize that this is not a comfortable commodification of Latina identity, or of Puerto Rican culture, packaged to sell a certain limited and predetermined image of latinidad lite, a tendency lamented by Juan Flores. The protagonist describes her own sense of queerness in the midst of her family, her Puerto Rican hybrid family that embodies her past and present as much as it eludes a direct correspondence with her own perception of self. Just as the family doesn't conform to a traditional picture of heterosexuality, homogeneity, or domestic bliss, there is no more conformity of outward appearance than of style. Tomato's mother is light-skinned and her father dark, leaving the girls with mixed characteristics as well. The protagonist explains, "My sister ended up with pretty yellow Perdue-chicken skin, and when she gets a tan, she's golden, and I call her my little pollo. . Me, I ended up kind of gray brown" (54). However, some features like Tomato's pointy nose and curly hair leave others wondering how to categorize her, just as she is confused herself. In fact, she shares the racial mixture and social confusion characteristic of Caribbean islanders who immigrate to the United States, where black and white is not just a fallacy, but is a dividing line that does not admit any grey area. Clearly, the institution of family is where the concepts of racial difference continue to be perpetuated, as children are differentiated by their good and bad hair, their “tan.”
As the novel winds down, it becomes clear that the protagonist has not had the sort of complete catharsis that she had hungered for--she has not found a concrete and unchallengeable identity, sexually or any other way, still not being "a real Puerto Rican in the Bronx. . . a good one-night-stand lesbian. . . [or] a real biker chick" (241). As Melissa Solomon argues, Lopez might be best classified as a “lesbian bardo,” in that she portrays and explores “the transitional spaces between different and conflicting definitions of lesbian” (203). Looking at the final words of the novel, one wonders whether Lopez may invoke an odd, twisted, and queer note of hope that offers an escape from the false dichotomy of hetero-homo. Ever the artist and the idealist, Tomato envisions working with her father's ex-partner (for the moment her lover) to create a line of fake penis postage stamps, which would be successful because they "are all about penetration, communication, and dreams coming true in front of a warped circus mirror for EVERYBODY" (257).(11) In a way Tomato is suggesting that she take on the strategies of the patriarchal and hegemonic in order to perpetuate her own counter hegemonic, non-normative artistic vision. Her vision, however, is inclusive in the extreme: she wants “EVERYBODY” to benefit from the “warped circus mirror.” Like in the circus sideshow, where indeed no one can escape from the strangely transformed image of self that appears larger than life, no one is exempt from personal identification with this novel, symbolized by her postage stamp project. In the two-page representation of penis stamps, Lopez/Tomato have included such a diversity of imagery that every reader is sure to recognize many and find some personal connection with at least a few. Some penises are historical, like the Ye Olde Plymouth Rock Penis, the Penis Posse, and the St. Valentine’s Day Penis Massacre. A few will spark recognition only in those with some level of art history knowledge, like Penis Descending a Staircase and Andy Warhol Penis. In contrast are the contemporary figures and borrowings of popular culture: Fabio, Prince Charles, Kate Moss, the X-Files, and Absolute Vodka. Others humorously bring to mind very general experiences, like the Gas Station Penis Map, the Sunburn Penis, or the Penis Using a Litterbox. Some confrontationally juxtapose the penis with childhood images such as Bozo the Clown and A Christmas Carol (the Ghost of Penis Present). Even more provoking, perhaps, are the various religious scenes like the Zen Penis, the Buddhist Penis, and the Penis Last Supper. It seems as if Lopez (and her protagonist Tomato) want to be sure to thumb her nose at every sacred icon and tradition—an equal-opportunity smorgasbord of irony and social criticism. She screams that the penis is ubiquitous (which it is), and it does not belong uniquely to the patriarchy. Rather, here the image of the penis as central element of everything recalls Tomato’s conceptualization of queer family throughout the novel. We are all, at heart (or at penis), kith and kin, and we are all inescapably odd, hybrid mixtures of the acceptable and unacceptable.
From Puerto Rico to New Jersey to California is a winding road, of asphalt, words, and skewed visions. Has Erika Lopez, like a conflated Latina version of Thelma and Louise, taken a family road trip of self-discovery, only to shoot right over the big wide edge?(12) Will she shoot off the edge of propriety, sobriety, and literary piety, which instead of notoriety will gain her only a whisper or a whimper? Has her queering of family and literary form inescapably marginalized her and disincluded her from the canon? And if it has, is this a good or a bad thing? If the canon is by definition normalizing, then perhaps Flaming Iguanas can only retain its transformative and critical function on the edge, where canonization cannot disempower its discourse. From this vantage point Lopez can continue to make obscenely loud noises in the forest with "no one" official around to "hear." Perhaps both the longstanding expectations and even the passing fancies that inform literary criticism, and thus to some extent what passes into the canon, would only be a hindrance to a work like Flaming Iguanas. On the one hand, its incursion into the comic or graphic novel genre is in essence a thumbing of the nose at rules and regulations. As a highly creative and underground genus, comics (like queer literature) are in some ways anathema to the very ideals of a literary canon. Hatfield warns that “it makes no sense, and indeed would be bitterly ironic, to erect a comics ‘canon,’ an authoritative consensus that would reproduce, within the comics field, the same operations of exclusion and domination that have for so long been brought to bear against the field as a whole” (2005, xiii). On the other hand, Erika Lopez’s novelistic production as a whole does fit into another category of cultural production that also has defied convention and survived attempts at silencing it, that of U.S. Latina writers, graphic artists, and performers.
thoughts on silence and admissible conversation, we can celebrate along
Julia Alvarez that a new generation of Latina writers is consistently
coherently challenging the long-time restrictions of what may be said,
extrapolate, what may be written.
These wise, funny, very smart, and passionate young women are speaking up. In fact, if I were to single out the single most important change in this new generation, is that these mujeres are talking, and how. They’re confiando and fessing up, and that feels like the strongest bond, what creates a true community, one that doesn’t leave out the thorny question or answer we don’t want to think about. (2004, xvi)
This, then, is the advantage to existing on the fringe of the traditional literary canon at this particular point in time: the fringe is growing at an incredible rate and gaining strength in the energy and tension inherent in its push-pull relationship with mainstream culture and literature. An alternative canon that embraces U.S. Latina queer writers has come into a position of power that insures continued existence despite opposition and may even be able to disregard the foundational assumption that a cultural elite has the right to judge the value of a new novel or even a new genre. In this young forest, the trees can fall and be heard notwithstanding the most obdurate deafness engendered by entrenched tradition and hetero-normativity. What’s more, the existence of this counter canon actively encourages a frank and loud engagement with formerly silenced topics. Erika Lopez thus joins the ranks of outspoken Latinas like Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Cherríe Moraga, Nina Marie Martínez, and the novísimas represented in Robyn Moreno and Michelle Herrera-Mulligan’s Border-Line Personalities (2004).
The mixture of verbal and visual elements in Flaming Iguanas bring it closer in essence to the Chicana and Latina performative pieces studied by Michelle Habell-Pallán in Loca Motion. Habell-Pallán explains that the artists she studies are “important because they construct transnational imaginaries within the Americas that are shaped by a particular historical moment, politics, and humor” (2005, 2). Moreover, like Erika Lopez, they bring in questions of gender and sexuality alongside of race, nationality and ethnicity. Finally, they are shaped by the emergence of a powerful pop-culture, punk/hip-hop aesthetic that directly challenges the “neoconservative queer bashing and anti-immigrant hostility” present at the end of the twentieth century (2). If indeed Lopez falls into the general terrain of the artists studied by Habell-Pallán, then probably the critic’s most helpful and illuminating insight that we may transfer to this discussion of Lopez is her understanding of the underlying tone and ideology of the works in question. In Habell-Pallán’s words, “Although acknowledging that their point of origin is important, these artists are much more focused on a politics of destination” (4). What’s more, “their engagement with pop culture is subversive to the degree that it has hope for an America that has yet to live up to its democratic possibility” (6). I think that Flaming Iguanas is Erika Lopez’s manifesto of hope for herself, her family, and her Latina identity. In the novel Tomato has found a way to gather to herself the strength, ethnic pride, and history of traditional family without giving up a single iota of the quirkiness, sensuality, and rebeldía of her own non-normative soul. Yes, the influence of her Puerto Rican heritage and Nuyorican youth is a beloved part of her identity, as are all of the gender role expectations that stem from both, but this is merely her origin. More importantly, this All-Girl Road Novel Thing never ceases to emphasize movement, transition, change. Reflecting a centuries-old belief of this country, she shows that identity and destiny can only be found in pushing forward the frontiers. However, despite the fact that she literally follows in the footsteps of her ancestors in crossing the continent, the true frontier Tomato is forging is in her perspective on life and family. The queer family, as well as the queer text that transgresses boundaries meant to keep literature in line, is in truth a reflection (albeit in that circus mirror) of the only reality that we have. It will be in the loving acceptance of a queered reality, an embrace in which the warm pressure of our own bodies changes the shape of the embraced every time, that we have a future.
(1). I would like to gratefully acknowledge the substantial commentary of Naomi Lindstrom, Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, and my many esteemed colleagues in Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, all of which inspired me to expand, revise and update the original paper presented at the Modern Language Association’s Annual Convention in 2000 (Washington, D.C.). The conversation generated at that panel, “The Invisible Canon: Forgotten Names, Marginalized Texts,” also provided much-needed stimulus and provocative questions. Thanks as well to Dara Goldman, who was generous enough to send me a copy of her paper given at the 2006 LASA conference in Puerto Rico.
(2). Given the similarities between Lopez’s work and feminist graphic novels, her subversive power should be of no surprise. According to critic and historian Sherrie A. Inness “comic books are also at the cutting edge of exploring new definitions of gender because of their marginalization, which allows them to be what Ronald Schmitt [in Deconstructive Comics] identifies as an ‘important deconstructive and revolutionary medium in the 20th Century’” (153). Inness goes on, explaining that “this deconstructive power is one of the reasons feminist theorists should be interested in comic books—texts that can create alternative worlds in which gender operates very differently than it does in our own real world” (141).
(3). More visually related to the mainstream comic strip, Spiegelmen’s Maus, Maus II, and especially In the Shadow of No Towers have been garnering serious critical attention. See, for example, Marianne Hirch’s Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory (1997) and the October 2004 issue of PMLA that features images from The Shadow on the front cover as well as discussion of the work itself and the genre in Hirsch’s editorial.
(5). Although of course it is much too soon to tell if indeed Flaming Iguanas will be accepted into any particular category of the canon, originally I was inspired to write on the “unacceptability” of the novel due to my experience in a Queer Theory reading group at California State University, Chico in 2000. A group of staunch feminists with interest in the burgeoning field of queer studies, we read both literary and critical texts over the course of a semester. When we read Flaming Iguanas, despite the novel’s strong woman protagonist and sex-positive message, notwithstanding the innovative stylistic and structural elements, all of the group members but myself and one other decided that not only did they not like the novel, but they were sure it wasn’t real literature. It was too pop culture, too course, and too flippant. It was a comic book, one said. It did not make a stand politically or socially, another complained. It undermined the progress made by gay and lesbian activists over the past three decades. Perhaps also they found troublesome the fact that, as critic Laura Laffrado points out, “The model of female subjectivity inscribed and visualized in Lopez’s texts is compulsorily ‘I’-centered; it does not promote a conventional notion of belonging to a female community as a basis of self-representation” (408). I found it significant that the only other woman who shared my opinion was quite young, of the same generation as the author. Although I readily acknowledge the limited scope of this one personal experience, I have noticed that the critical scholarship on Lopez’s work does tend to come from the newer generations of scholars (those of us in our 50’s and younger). The novel also has been a resounding success in the classroom, which suggests that a future generation of literary critics (or a certain sort) will champion the book along with us.
(6). The cover picture of the paperback edition, as many other examples of the stamp and line art within the text, can be seen as a disidentificatory practice, as defined by Muñoz. Here, Lopez recuperates the image of the Latin bombshell, the tourist attraction, and the exoticized Latin music mystique, giving them all a twist. Framing the woman on top of a motorcycle, in the context of what is called an all-girl road novel, places the erotic gesture of her partial undressing in a different light. One must now question whether she is prostituting herself and her identity for the dominant group (political, social, or gender) or whether she is flouting their rules, claiming her own sexual power, and laughing at anyone who doesn't approve. In the end, the image captures much of its power from the mixture of its heavily charged sexist iconography with new elements suggestions of personal power, humor, and rebellion. For a discussion of the hard-back jacket cover, as well as more in-depth exploration of the physical elements of Lopez’s first three works, see Laffrado.
(7). Coincidentally, Puerto-Rican writer Letisha Marrero details a phone-sex escapade with a “Canadian named John who happened to be incarcerated in a Florida jail cell,” one assumes a different John (143).
(8). The schism between gay studies and queer studies is pronounced in some of Sedgwick's essays in Tendencies, where she explores an identity not hemmed in by restrictions of gender or sexual orientation. Thus, a lesbian who loves, marries, and sleeps with a gay man is not outside the realm of the queer. Similarly, a non-exclusionary outlook is professed by Philip Brian Harper in several essays, where he reminds the reader that the involuntary visibility and invisibility of homosexuality is much like that of the homeless, people of color and other groups who exist outside of the confines of supposed normalcy.
(9). An interesting comparison might be made with the literary production and critical reception of feminist writer Kathy Acker (1947-1997). Acker’s work, which incorporates a brash treatment of sexuality and some truly innovative structural and stylistic elements, has received critical acclaim in postmodern circles, but also exists on the edge of the literary tradition to some extent. One wonders how the element of race and ethnicity of the authors, as well as the time period of their production, may contribute to their placement in the American canon.
(10). The inescapability of desire as a textual element arises consistently in queer criticism. As suggested by Muñoz, in reference to Marga Gómez's monologues delivered from the sexed space of her on-stage bed, "The importance of such public and semi-public enactments of the hybrid self cannot be undervalued in relation to the formation of counterpublics that contest the hegemonic supremacy of the majoritarian public sphere" (1). Often desire is entwined with the concept of abjection or repulsion, as in Bergmann's "Abjection and Ambiguity: Lesbian Desire in Bemberg's Yo, la peor de todas" in Hispanisms and Homosexualities and Ana García Chichester's "Codifying Homosexuality as Grotesque: The Writings of Virgilio Piñera" in Bodies & Biases.
(12). In the film Thelma and Louise, best friends flee from the authorities in a classic convertible after one of them accidentally kills a man who is trying to rape her. As they get further from their origin geographically, the women realize that they also are retreating from the restrictions that society had placed upon them as women. They understand that they no longer can live within such a system nor tolerate such prohibitions and inhibitions, and they plan and implement various acts of rebellion and revenge throughout their road trip. Nevertheless, the “law of the father” comes ever closer to capturing them, and the film ends as they act on the decision to drive full-speed toward a cliff, holding hands, the gleam of triumph strong in their eyes. The implication, of course, is that rather than force themselves to adhere to social expectations of gender, they willingly sacrifice their lives altogether, while holding out a tenuous and unarticulated hope that they will be catapulted into another dimension where their subjectivity will not be squelched.
Alvarez, Julia. “Qué Dice la Juventud?” Foreword. Border-Line Personalities: A New Generation of Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass, & Cultural Shifting. Eds. Robyn Moreno and Michelle Herrera Mulligan. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Bergmann, Emilie L. and Paul Julian Smith, eds. ¿Entiendes?: Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings. Durham: Duke, 1995.
Chávez-Silverman, Susana and Librada Hernández. Reading and Writing the Ambiente. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2000.
Cooper, Sara, ed. The Ties That Bind: Questioning Family Dynamics and Family Discourse in Hispanic Literature. Lanham: U P of America, 2004.
Eng, David. “Out Here and Over There: Queerness and Diaspora in Asian American Studies.” Social Text 15.3-4 (1997): 31-52.
Juan Flores. From Bomba to Hip-Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity. Popular Cultures, Everyday Lives. Eds. Robin G. Kelley and Janice Radway. New York: Columbia UPress, 2000.
Foster, David William and Roberto Reis, eds. Bodies & Biases: Sexualities in Hispanic Cultures and Literatures. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996.
Gaspar de Alba, Alicia, ed. Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture & Chicana/o Sexualities. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2003.
Geirola, Gustavo. "Eroticosm and Homoeroticism in Martín Fierro." Bodies & Biases. 316-332.
Goldman, Dara E. “This Lan id Our Land: Erika Lopez’s Queer Latina Sexcapades.” Paper presented at the Latin American Studies Association’s International Conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 2006.
Gossy, Mary S. "Aldonza as Butch: Narrative and the Play of Gender in Don Quixote." ¿Entiendes? 17-28.
Habell-Pallán, Michelle. Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture. New York: New York UP, 2005.
Hatfield, Charles. Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Jackson: U P of Mississippi, 2005.
Inness, Sherrie A. Tough Girls, Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture: Feminist Cultural Studies, the Media and Political Culture. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1999.
La Fountain-Stokes, Lawrence. “Cultures of the Puerto Rican Queer Diaspora.” Passing Lines: Sexuality and Immigration. Eds. Bradley Epps, Keja Valens, and Bill Johnson González. Cambridge: David Rockerfeller Center for Latin American Studies and Harvard University Press, 2005. 275-309.
Laffrado, Laura. “Postings from Hoochie Mama: Erika Lopez, Graphic Art, and Female Subjectivity.” Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance. Eds. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. 406-429.
Lindstrom, Naomi. E-mail communication. February 17, 2006.
Lopez, Erika. Class visit to “Race, Gender and Ethnicity”. DATE*. Taught by Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano at Stanford University.
---. Flaming Iguanas (An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing). New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Lugo-Ortiz, Agnes T. "Community at Its Limits: Orality, Law, Silence, and the Homosexual Body in Luis Rafael Sánchez's '¡Jum!'" ¿Entiendes? 115-136.
---. "Nationalism, Male Anxiety, and the Lesbian Body in Puerto Rican Narrative." Hispanisms and Homosexualities. 76-100.
Marrero, Letisha. “Stumbling Toward Ecstasy.” Border-Line Personalities. 131-151.
Molloy, Sylvia and Robert McKee Irwin, eds. Hispanisms and Homosexualities. Durham: Duke, 1998.
Muñoz, José. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999.
Parr, James A. "The Body in Context: Don Quixote and Don Juan." Bodies & Biases. 115-136.
Rebolledo, Tey Diana. Panchita Villa and Other Guerrilleras: Essays on Chicana/Latina Literature and Criticism. Austin: U of Texas P, 2005.
Rodríguez, Ralph. “A Poverty of Relations: On Not ‘Making Family From Scratch,’ but Scratching Familia.” Velvet Barrios. 75-88.
Schaefer-Rodríguez, Claudia. "Monobodies, Antibodies, and the Body Politic: Sara Levi Calderón's Dos mujeres." Bodies & Biases. 217-237.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. Durham: Duke, 1993.
Sifuentes Jáuregui, B. "The Swishing of Gender: Homographetic Marks in Lazarillo de Tormes." Hispanisms and Homosexualities. 123-140.
Solomon, Melissa. “Flaming Iguanas, Dalai Pandas, and Other Lesbian Bardos.” Regarding Sedgwick: Essays on Queer Culture and Critical Theory. Eds. Stephen M. Barber and David L. Clark. New York: Routledge, 2002. 201-216.
Spiegelman, Art. In the Shadow of No Towers. New York: Pantheon, 2004.
Harper, Philip Brian. “Gay Male Identities, Personal Privacy, and Relations of Public Exchange: Notes on Directions for Queer Critique.” Social Text 15.3-4 (1997) 5-29.
Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. “The Lesbian Body in Latina Cultural Production.” ¿Entiendes? 181-197.
---. The Wounded Heart: Writing on Cherríe Moraga. Austin: U of Texas P, 2001.
Warner, Michael, ed. Fear of a Queer Planet. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993.