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Troubling Nationhood in U.S. Latina Literature

Troubling Nationhood in U.S. Latina Literature: Explorations of Place and Belonging

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Troubling Nationhood in U.S. Latina Literature
    Book Description:

    This book examines the ways in which recent U.S. Latina literature challenges popular definitions of nationhood and national identity. It explores a group of feminist texts that are representative of the U.S. Latina literary boom of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, when an emerging group of writers gained prominence in mainstream and academic circles. Through close readings of select contemporary Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban American works, Maya Socolovsky argues that these narratives are "remapping" the United States so that it is fully integrated within a larger, hemispheric Americas.Looking at such concerns as nation, place, trauma, and storytelling, writers Denise Chavez, Sandra Cisneros, Esmeralda Santiago, Ana Castillo, Himilce Novas, and Judith Ortiz Cofer challenge popular views of Latino cultural "unbelonging" and make strong cases for the legitimate presence of Latinas/os within the United States. In this way, they also counter much of today's anti-immigration rhetoric.Imagining the U.S. as part of a broader "Americas," these writings trouble imperialist notions of nationhood, in which political borders and a long history of intervention and colonization beyond those borders have come to shape and determine the dominant culture's writing and the defining of all Latinos as "other" to the nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6119-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Troubling America(s)
    (pp. 1-28)

    In June 2009 the culinary magazineGourmetran a feature entitled “Fiesta Forever.” Shot in real time with real people—“no casting, no script, no backup food”—the spread photographed Cuban-born cook and restauranteur Maricel Presilla’s annual barbecue in Palisades Interstate Park, in Alpine, New Jersey. The event, which also promotes Presilla’s two restaurants, is a giant affair where “as many as sixty people show up to cook, dance, and devour dozens of dishes,” and honors Presilla, whose “all-out Latin gathering of family and friends of all ages is the ultimate outdoor party, a perfect example of why we are...

  5. 1 Spaces of the Southwest: Dis-ease, Disease, and Healing in Denise Chávez’s The Last of the Menu Girls and Face of an Angel
    (pp. 29-60)

    One of the most striking aspects of Denise Chávez’s short-story collectionThe Last of the Menu Girlsand novelFace of an Angelis the figuration of New Mexico’s southwestern terrain as a space of dislocation, unease, and dis-ease. Given the long history of Mexicans (and Mexican Americans) in the Southwest, one would perhaps expect a narrative of rootedness and belonging rather than displacement. Instead, Chávez’s stories depict the geographical, political, and cultural space of the region as a complex environment that has both suppressed and maintained its ancestral legacies and histories, and whose characters, I claim, consequently experience symptoms...

  6. 2 Mestizaje in the Midwest: Remapping National Identity in the American Heartland in Ana Castillo’s Sapogonia and Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo
    (pp. 61-93)

    As the introduction demonstrated, U.S. anxiety about nationhood and citizenship has long been expressed through a rhetoric of unbelonging whereby the spatial, political, and cultural separation of the United States from Latin America has often rendered Latinos/as within the United States into outsiders, no matter their place of birth or historical continuity on the land. In this chapter the central exploratory question of the book—how Latina writers have challenged this rhetoric of unbelonging—is directed more closely at the concept of the “thickening borderlands” discussed in the introduction. The legitimation of Mexican Americans that we saw in chapter 1...

  7. 3 Colonization and Transgression in Puerto Rican Spaces: Judith Ortiz Cofer’s The Line of the Sun and The Meaning of Consuelo
    (pp. 94-126)

    Unlike Mexico, Puerto Rico lacks the contiguous geographical border with and proximity to the United States, as well as the stigma of illegality, that make Mexico—and Mexicans—appear to be the most apparent threat to mainstream notions of national identity. An analysis and discussion of displacement in U.S.-Puerto Rican literature, then, cannot ignore these material differences. It is certainly the case that there are important and real benefits to legal residency in the nation, particularly in comparison to the lived experiences of many undocumented migrants: Puerto Ricans, clearly, cannot be illegal border crossers and are not subject to fears...

  8. 4 Memoirs of Resistance: Colonialism and Transnationalism in Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican, Almost a Woman, and The Turkish Lover
    (pp. 127-153)

    Esmeralda Santiago, like Judith Ortiz Cofer, writes from and about the liminal space between colonized Puerto Rican islanders and postcolonial mainlanders, uses her stories in order to return to and interrogate the space of the island, and shows how the production of narrative confounds and resists the colonial framework of the United States. Clearly, the island’s status as a Commonwealth and unincorporated territory of the United States determines, to a great degree, its anomalous political status, its legislative subordination to the United States, and its residents’ binational identity.¹ As such, Santiago’s three memoirs raise questions about U.S. Puerto Rican belonging...

  9. 5 Tales of the Unexpected: Cuban American Narratives of Place and Body in Himilce Novas’s Princess Papaya
    (pp. 154-182)

    The issues of U.S.-Latino citizenship and nationhood that I discussed in preceding chapters show in part how Mexican Americans and U.S. Puerto Ricans have experienced a particularly racialized dynamic of otherness and perceived foreignness. Cuban Americans, however, have not been subject to quite the same dynamic of “unbelonging,” partly because Cubans themselves have historically tended to identify as “white” on the U.S. Census, and partly because the United States’ opposition to the Castro regime has overdetermined its policies toward and reception of Cubans migrating into the country.¹ The first waves of Cuban exiles entering the United States, themselves a majority...

  10. Postscript. The Illegal Aliens of American Letters: Troubling the Immigration Debate
    (pp. 183-194)

    Halfway through Helena María Viramontes’s 1985 short story “The Cariboo Café,” the nameless Anglo-American owner of the café watches the arrest (which he has facilitated) of three undocumented Latino workers and remarks, “I don’t know. I didn’t expect handcuffs and them agents putting their hands up and down their thighs.”¹ His comment exemplifies both the moment at which undocumented Latino/a workers become criminalized by the disciplinary powers of the nation and the bewildered response that witnessing this moment of criminalization evokes in the observer. The scene takes place toward the end of the café owner’s monologue, after a group of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 195-220)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-238)
  13. Index
    (pp. 239-244)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)