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A Queer Mother for the Nation: The State and Gabriela Mistral

Licia Fiol-Matta
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsxx6
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  • Book Info
    A Queer Mother for the Nation
    Book Description:

    A Queer Mother for the Nation weaves a nuanced understanding of how Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, cooperated with authority and fashioned herself as the figure of Motherhood in collaboration with the state.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9375-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Schoolteacher of America
    (pp. xiii-xxx)

    From the beginning, Gabriela Mistral defied the odds. Born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga in 1889, she grew up in the Elqui Valley of northern Chile, renowned for its view of the magnificent Andes. Although geographically stunning, the Elqui Valley was remote and sparsely populated, and many of its inhabitants, like Mistral’s family, were impoverished. Mistral’s father, Jerónimo Godoy, deserted the family in 1892, and Mistral, her mother, Petronila, and her older sister, Emelina, lived in a two-room shack while Petronila worked as a seamstress to support them. Though Mistral received some formal education at the primary level, it was erratic at...

  5. PART I A Gay Hagiography?

    • CHAPTER ONE Race Woman
      (pp. 3-36)

      By examining Mistral’s status as “race woman”—a public position that she fiercely claimed, as opposed to any public nonnormative sexual stance—it’s immediately clear that Mistral was instrumental in instituting sexual and racial normativity through nationalist discourse.¹ Within the Latin American public, Mistral upheld the heterosexual matrix. But was her queerness completely out of public view? Certainly, Mistral alluded to reproductive sexuality every time she spoke of race. She consistently portrayed herself as the spokesperson of Latin America—which she referred to as “our race” [nuestra raza]—posing as the mixed-race mother of the nation. Mistral devoted many prose...

    • CHAPTER TWO Schooling and Sexuality
      (pp. 37-64)

      What led the state to highlight the dangerous liminality of the schoolteacher by choosing arara[queer] to be its supreme representation? Undeniably, an aspect of the schoolteacher’s role was to serve as a model of morals and virtue.¹ But is the assumption that “femininity” was a primary requirement necessarily correct? Indeed, if Mistral was the symbolic prototype of the schoolteacher—if this image became indelible in the minds of schoolchildren and their parents throughout Latin America—then sexual ambiguity arguably had a role to play in the psychic process of national schooling. Essential both to Mistral’s rise and to...

    • CHAPTER THREE Citizen Mother
      (pp. 65-93)

      Mistral is best known as a proponent of separate male and female worlds, a believer in separate-spheres thinking.¹ This fact is taken as axiomatic, just like her universally known persona: la Maestra de América, the “Schoolteacher of America.” Essential to the idea that Mistral was a straightforward defender of “maternal thinking,” “republican motherhood,” or the “cult of domesticity” is the view that the schoolteacher is the continuation of the mother. And yet, as I explained in the preceding chapter, the role of the schoolteacher was more complicated, entailing a degree of antagonism toward actual mothers and enlisting aspects of masculinity...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Intimate Nationalism
      (pp. 94-122)

      National discourse in Chile during the first decades of the twentieth century became focused on, among other things, reproduction and the small child, even as it contributed to take over the idea of reproduction from the mother and to represent a state of parthenogenesis—the people beget the people—with the state’s parental functions occluded. The despised mother, however, could not simply be eliminated from this affective landscape. Enter Mistral’s lullabies, which represent, above all other things, the mother’s body as a site of intimate national pleasure. This maternal body appears free-floating and self-sufficient. Often, it is separated from its...

  6. PART II Queering the State

    • CHAPTER FIVE Image Is Everything
      (pp. 125-157)

      Gabriela Mistral was spectacularly successful as the image of “the mother,” despite her description in masculine terms, and even though she frequently adopted a style of dress that was either outright masculine or “masculinizing,” especially when compared to her female contemporaries. This fact indicates a productive or generative logic to be examined, not bracketed, within Latin Americanist narratives. Put succinctly, Mistral employed a masculine demeanor that was strikingly different from the femininity one might associate with the discourse of Latin American “national” femininity. The progression of Mistral’s image demonstrates that she tried on different “versions” of herself, some of them...

    • CHAPTER SIX Pedagogy, Humanities, Social Unrest
      (pp. 158-185)

      Mistral’s politics of the school were not confined to the assumption of a normative gender discourse, although, naturally, this was one of the most important facets of her role as educator. She had a broader focus. She was interested in the question of literacy and, as previously explored, was recruited by Mexico specifically to review and make recommendations for the holdings of school libraries. Furthermore, in pedagogical writings, she manifested concern with the elementary curriculum.

      The route of Mistral’s ascent to national icon in Chile was possible only through the public-school bureaucracy. This fact is evident in highly anthologized prose...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Education and Loss
      (pp. 186-212)

      Mistral was a noted and respected figure in Puerto Rico, as in every Latin American nation at the time. Of course, against the backdrop of the rest of Latin America, Puerto Rico was an anomaly because of its queer political alliance to the United States. The story of its modern nationalism revolves around its perpetually postponed sovereignty. Contrary to the other Latin American nations after 1898, Puerto Rico remained a colony. After the Spanish-American War, it was “ceded” to the United States by Spain. This unleashed a series of complex identifications and cross-identifications with the ideal of “America” and with...

  7. EPILOGUE: The “National Minority Stereotype”
    (pp. 213-220)

    In exploring Inés Mendoza’s private and public quandaries regarding Puerto Rico’s rapid industrialization period, I am not trying to be banal, ascribing this watershed moment in Puerto Rican politics solely or even primarily to Gabriela Mistral’s hold on Mendoza’s psychology. Of course, the process was very complex. The preceding chapters discuss Mistral’s specific involvement with far-reaching issues, such as race (chapter 1), schooling (chapter 2), maternal discourse in public and private (chapters 3 and 4), visual culture (chapter 5), pedagogy (chapter 6), colonialism (chapter 7), and, most important, women and nationalism. In none of them have I meant to suggest...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 221-256)
  9. Index
    (pp. 257-270)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-271)