Afro-Asian Connections in Latin America Focus of New Book by Southeast Professor

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Dr. Debbie Lee-DiStefano, professor of Spanish at Southeast Missouri State University, is co-editor of a new book exploring how people of African and Asian descent are connected to Latin America and the Caribbean entitled “Afro-Asian Connections in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

“Afro-Asian Connections in Latin America and the Caribbean” examines how, although originally brought to North and South America as sources of labor, African and Asian peoples became an integral part of history in the Americas. The book seeks to shed light on this little-known piece of cultural history.

“This topic has been on my mind since 1998 when I started my dissertation,” said Dr. Lee-DiStefano, who analyzed the poetry of Regino Pedroso, an Afro-Chinese Cuban poet for her dissertation. “When I went to Cuba to do research, it was very interesting that people couldn’t comment on him because this duality of having Chinese ancestry and African ancestry seemed to confuse people.”

Lee-DiStefano found that scholars were confused by poets like Regino Pedroso and artists like Wilfredo Lam. The combination of African, Chinese and Cuban heritage is a blend that many people don’t have a full understanding of, she said.

“Afro-Asian Connections” seeks to present the relationship between these vastly different cultures in a historical context. The book will be the first work of writing to ever deeply examine the ties between African, Asian and Latin American cultures.

Lee-DiStefano and Dr. Luisa Marcela Ossa, associate professor of Spanish at La Salle University, co-edited the book’s comprised collection of essays.

“Our intent was to find authors who could really speak to the duality and complexity of what it means to be of mixed heritage,” Lee-DiStefano said.

Essays showcased in the book shed light on topics such as Rastafarianism, migration during the Coolie trade, and ties to Hindu culture, said Lee-DiStefano.

Among the highly esteemed contributors are Dr. Lisa Yun, associate professor of Asian and Asian-American studies and English at Binghamton University – State University of New York, and Dr. Kathy Lopez, associate professor of Latino and Caribbean studies at Rutgers University.

“Afro-Asian Connections in Latin American and the Caribbean” will challenge people to think about what it means to be of mixed heritage when living in a shared social space, said Lee-DiStefano.

“This book is a necessity because so often we talk about countries and identities in very monolithic terms,” she said. “This book challenges a lot of preconceived ideas.”

The book is published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers and will be available Jan. 15, 2019.