Gisabel Leonardo is a PhD Candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Being of Dominican heritage, much of her work focuses on the fluctuating identities across the Dominican diaspora, including the United States. She received her BA from the University of North Georgia in Spanish Language and Literature with a minor in Gender Studies and went on to complete her MA in Spanish Literature and Cultures at Georgia State University, where she later worked as a beginner and intermediate level Spanish instructor for three semesters. She is currently a Graduate College Fellow in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Illinois with a graduate minor in Latina/Latino Studies. Her current dissertation project looks at racial and sexual performance through hair in diasporic Dominican literary and cultural production.
She is the 2022-2023 LASA Latinx Section Graduate Student Representative.
Through narrative, stand-up comedy, street art, and theory Melenas Malcriadas: The Black Aesthetics of Hair and Dominicanidad examines hair as a means of resistance in the contemporary Dominican Republic and the US Dominican diaspora. By reading hair as a dominant motif of Dominican cultural production, this project draws on Black feminist theory, queer theory, and performance studies to articulate how Black and Afro-descendant women “talk back” to authority through a notably femme and Black aesthetic. Accordingly, this project proposes new methodologies by which to engage such themes to think alongside aesthetics of hair and acts of haircare as meaning-bearing tools of self-expression and actualization through a malcriada sensibility that centers Black mother- and daughterhood. The theoretical framework and case studies in this project underscore matrilineal relationships in contemporary Dominican literary and cultural production to offer a feminist intervention in readings about sexual, gendered, and racial forms of deviancy. This project contributes to current scholarship by examining modes of Black feminist resistance and representation in Dominican cultural production. Critical Black feminist theory is grossly underdeveloped in Latin American and U.S. Latinx Studies. As such, at stake with this project is the development of transdisciplinary paradigms that dialogue between fields of study to engage with Black intellectual production in literary and cultural studies. Some of my preliminary questions in this project are: How do Black and Afro-descendant Dominican women use hair as a tool of resistance? What role does maternity and haircare play in the negotiation and rejection of expressions of Blackness? And lastly, how do these women actively assert their deviancy as a form of protest that reimagines dominicanidad?
PhD Spanish Literatures & Cultures (in progress)
MA Spanish- Georgia State University '18
BA Spanish Language & Literature- University of North Georgia '15
Awards and Honors
Graduate College Fellow
List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent By Their Students Fall 2021
Human Rights Institute Fellowship Alternate
LASA Latinx Studies Graduate Student Representative
SPAN/ LLS 248: Latin American Diaspora Through Film
LLS 242: Intro to Latina/o Literature (writing consultant)
SPAN 232: Spanish in the Community
SPAN 326: Latin American Afro-Feminisms
Additional Campus Affiliations
Graduate Minor in Latina/Latino Studies
American Studies Association 2021. Creativity within Revolt, "Not Latin American Enough" (roundtable)
Modern Language Association 2022. Multilingual US, Race and the Aesthetics of Refusal in Contemporary Latin America/Hemispheric America (included in presidential theme), “Dios, (Doña) Patria, Libertad: Black, Femme Resistance in Evaristo Angurria’s Doña Patria Murals” POSTPONED
Invited LLAmA Talk at Augsburg University. February 2022. Rolos and Black, Feminist Resistance in Dominican Visual Culture
Latin American Studies Association 2022. Polarización socioambiental y rivalidad entre grandes potencias, Corporeal and Sonic Ecologies, “Teteo Amidst Crisis: The Queer Counterpublics of Dembow”
Review of Racialized Visions: Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean, ed. Vanessa K. Valdés, May 2021, Chasqui: revista de literatura latinoamericana, https://chasquirll.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Chasqui-Reviews-May-2021.pdf
Sueños Music Festival review, PULP Magazine, June 2022: https://www.pulpmagazine.net/post/sue%C3%B1os-chicago-s-new-latin-music-dreamland