1 Inhabiting the borderlands: hybridity in U.S. Puerto Rican literature Liesbeth Vermont Faculty of Arts and Philosophy Supervisor: Dr. Leen Maes
2 Vermont 2
3 Vermont 3 I know who I am, and who I may be if I choose. - Don Quixote
4 Vermont 4 Motivation I chose this subject as it incorporates my interests in the specific situations of immigrants, seen from within, and the Hispanic minority within the United States. It is a fascinating subject since it unites two very different cultures, languages and literary traditions. It transcends traditional American literature and traditional ideas about immigration, assimilation, ethnicity, identity, gender behavior, literary forms and nationhood. The idea of working on minority literature dawned on me during Prof. dr. Berthold s classes which focused on the position of minority groups in American culture.
5 Vermont 5 Acknowledgments Firstly, I would like to thank my supervisors dr. Leen Maes and Prof. dr. Kristiaan Versluys for their encouragement, suggestions and help. Thanks to Prof. dr. Kristiaan Versluys for his help in defining my subject and his suggestions in approach, and dr. Leen Maes for her enthusiasm, encouragement, suggestions, and corrections. Furthermore, I especially thank my parents for all the opportunities they ve offered, and their emotional and financial support in and outside my studies. I d also like to thank all of my friends, and especially Nele Lievens and Yannick Moulin for their support and at times necessary distraction, and Laura Verheyde for the occasional translations.
6 Vermont 6 Table of contents Introduction... 7 Chapter One: General Framework Post-1965 immigration wave Puerto Rico s political status Judith Ortiz Cofer: biography and ideas Chapter Two: Judith Ortiz Cofer s Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood Immigration Ethnicity Feminism Language Chapter Three: Judith Ortiz Cofer s Call Me María Immigration Ethnicity Feminism Language Conclusion Bibliography... 89
7 Vermont 7 Introduction In this dissertation, I address the phenomenon of hybridity and the borderlands, as described by Gloria Anzaldúa in her work Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), in third wave immigrant literature, and more specifically in U.S. Puerto Rican writing. I analyze the theme of hybridity in Judith Ortiz Cofer s Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (1990) and Call Me María (2004). Both these novels describe the development and the hybridity of a young immigrant girl s identity, who is faced with immigration. These novels are particularly interesting as they oppose different types of immigration, namely singular, reversed and circular migration, and cover the spectrum of possible behavioral adaptations to the new host country. They in detail cover the dynamics of ethnicity within the characters, and introduce an innovative idea of ethnicity as fluid and voluntary. Both these novels also specifically concentrate upon female migratory experiences and their strategies concerning traditions. Finally, they both focus upon the development of a young artist, and thus place a lot of emphasis on language and linguistic creativity. Although Anzaldúa s concept of the borderlands is specifically related to the situation of Chicanos around the U.S.-Mexican border, it is not limited to this physical borderland. By extension, it also applies to the crossing of cultures, ethnicities, social classes, races, gender behavior, languages, and literary forms. I focus upon the presence of these borderlands within the themes of immigration, ethnicity, feminism and language as determiners of puertorriqueña identity. Anzaldúa s theories are especially useful as she shares the characteristics of third wave immigration and as she embraces hybridity within all aspects of identity, as does Ortiz Cofer. Anzaldúa, like Ortiz Cofer, sees the inhabitation of the borderlands and an individual s incorporation of supposedly oppositional traits as enrichments, rather than signals of an incompletely developed identity.
8 Vermont 8 Firstly, I propose a general framework providing additional insights into the characteristics of third wave immigration and Puerto Rico s special political status, which distinguishes immigration from Puerto Rico with immigration from other Latin American countries. Furthermore, I shortly sketch Ortiz Cofer s life, and go into deeper detail about the general characteristics of her work and her ideas concerning immigration and transnationalism. Within the discussion of the migratory experience, I focus upon the representations of Puerto Rico and the United States as these are greatly determined by the immigration and its pull and push factors. Also, the memories and representations of these places are strongly linked to the dynamics of assimilation to the new host country. In these novels, the different characters present a range of different manners of adaptation, some of which are more successful than others. This adaptive behavior is closely linked to the dynamics of ethnicity as the assumption of different ethnic identities gives rise to different behavior with regard to the host country. In both novels, the dynamics of ethnic identification within the parents and their offspring are contrasted. Whereas the parents adopt a single ethnicity, conform to traditional ideas about ethnicity and immigration, the children espouse a hybrid and multiethnic identity. Feminism is a central theme in Ortiz Cofer s work as it centers upon women s strength and power, and their defiance of the duality in traditional gender roles. She does not solely depict Puerto Rican traditions for an exotic effect, but more importantly questions the role of traditions in general. Feminism is linked to ethnicity and immigration in that the migratory experience compels characters to rethink traditional gender roles and to cope with different expectations in female behavior. Both novels are contrasted through the dynamics of power between the parents. Lastly, language is also a central aspect of both Silent Dancing and Call Me María: like the other themes discussed, language resides in the borderlands through the novels hybridity within language and literary form. Also, as these novels concern the development of a young artist, the importance of language and
9 Vermont 9 linguistic creativity in the character s development and emancipation process will be discussed.
10 Vermont 10 Chapter One: General Framework This introductory chapter proposes a general framework for the more detailed analyses of Silent Dancing and Call Me María. As both these novels frame within the third great immigration wave, a detailed description of this migratory wave and of Puerto Rico s political status provide additional insight into the different aspects of these novels. Lastly, a short biography and sketch of Ortiz Cofer s literary characteristics and ideas frame the two novels discussed in Ortiz Cofer s work Post-1965 immigration wave Both novels discussed in this thesis frame within the characteristics of the third great immigration wave to the United States. Although Ortiz Cofer s Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood takes place in the 50s, it does share many characteristics with the post-1965 immigration wave. Also, as explained below, the immigration from Latin America was initiated before 1965 and thus partly precedes the official boundaries of this new immigration wave. Payant has addressed the issue of third wave immigration extensively in The Immigrant Experience in North American Literature, as does Massey in The New Immigration and Ethnicity in the United States. The third great wave has its roots in the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that abolished the immigration quota set up under the National Origins Act of 1924 (Massey 638). These amendments took act in 1968 and initiated a third great wave of immigration. Whereas former immigration waves brought mainly northwestern Europeans ( ), and southern and eastern Europeans (1880s-1920s), this third great wave introduces immigrants originating mostly from third world countries, especially from Latin America and Asia (Payant xviii-xx). Even before the abolishment of immigration quota, immigration from Latin America, and especially Mexico, was on the rise as immigration from these countries was not regulated by the quota
11 Vermont 11 set in the 1924 National Origins Act. The 1965 Act did not increase immigration from Latin America, but rather restricted it by placing immigration from these countries under the 20,000-per-country limit. However, the Act removed the ban on immigration originating from Asia, thus unleashing an unexpected flow of Asian immigrants. Unlike the predominantly European immigrants in the first and second immigration wave, these new immigrants are overwhelmingly non-european: half come from Latin America, one third originates from Asia and only 13% of third wave immigrants originate in Europe. It is important to underline that official immigration figures underestimate the true immigration situation as these do not take into account undocumented immigration. This undocumented immigration became increasingly important during the 1970s and 1980s and is especially significant for immigration originating in Latin America. Massey interestingly claims that assimilation processes will appear very different for third wave immigrants than they did in the past for first and second wave immigrants. These first and second wave immigrants benefited from two factors that are unlikely to hold for these third wave immigrants, namely the economic boom and the long hiatus in immigration, which limited the influx of immigrants to three generations. This economic growth allows immigrants to improve their status within American society, while the limitation of the immigrant influx allows them to quickly adapt to American culture without the continual influence of the culture of origin brought by new immigrants. Furthermore, third wave immigrants differ from the mainly European immigrants of the two former great immigration waves in that they come from distinctly non-european cultures, bringing with them different religions [...], unusual exotic languages, and different customs (Payant xx). More importantly, these new immigrant groups are mostly nonwhite, or at least darker-skinned people whom white Americans perceive as colored (Payant xx). Although the southern European immigrants also encountered racism in the late 19 th and early 20 th century, it does not compare to the degree of racism encountered by contemporary
12 Vermont 12 immigrants. An additional difference is that, unlike the earlier immigrants, third wave immigrants are able to maintain close ties with their family and countries and culture of origin through modern means of communication. Additionally, Latin American immigrants are united through their use of Spanish, whereas former immigrant groups were scattered among different nations and languages, making English the lingua franca among these first and second wave immigrants (Massey 646). In the United States, their common language interestingly overarches the otherwise distinctly different cultures and ethnic identities and gives rise to a new ethnicity, namely Hispanic or Latino (Portes and Rumbaut 158). This new U.S. Latino identity thus slows the assimilation process as Latin American immigrants identify themselves first and foremost with other Latino immigrants, rather than with mainstream American culture. Also, many of these immigrants live in ethnic enclaves and thus continue with the customs of their native lands. Although many third wave immigrants consider themselves American, they consciously choose not to assimilate to certain aspects of the American lifestyle they consider undesirable for themselves and their children (Payant xxi). First and second immigration waves are associated with traditional immigration patterns, namely a single, one-way, and permanent change of residence and reverse migration (Duany 161). Third wave immigration in contrast introduces circular migration, by which immigrants move back and forth, or circulate, between their places of origin and destination. These two-way, repetitive, and temporary moves are especially the case for Mexican and Caribbean immigrants, among which Puerto Ricans whose circular migration is facilitated by their U.S. citizenship. Therefore immigration from Puerto Rico also precedes immigration from other Latin American countries. Due to their frequent relocation, Puerto Ricans could be considered transnational, rather than international. The differences in geography, climate, religion, ethnicity, cultures, and languages are sufficiently large to create
13 Vermont 13 symbolic frontiers between the United States and Puerto Rico, yet legally they are not different nations (Duany 166) Puerto Rico s political status Officially known as Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Duany states that it is neither a state of the union nor a sovereign nation, but a dependent country with limited autonomy under the current Commonwealth status (Duany 163). Puerto Rico is thus officially part of the United States, yet it does not hold the same rights with regard to representation in Congress. This political situation started in 1898 when Spain ceded its colony of Puerto Rico to the United States. The U.S. was welcomed by the Puerto Rican population as they expected either becoming an independent nation or a fully incorporated state of the Union. The 1900 Foraker Act however reduced Puerto Rico to an unincorporated territorial possession of the United States and left little hope for self-government. The Foraker Act soon caused resentment and anger in the Puerto Rican population. This discontentment led to the more liberal Jones Act in 1917 which did not change the Puerto Rican political status as an incorporated territory of the United States, but did provide for a larger measure of self-government, including an elective insular legislature (Fliess 636). Moreover, the Jones Act granted the Puerto Rican population United States citizenship. To this day, Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship, but they are still not entitled to vote in presidential and congressional elections on the island. 1 Even though they can vote in the Primary, Puerto Ricans residing on the island are not entitled a vote in the general presidential elections. In Congress, Puerto Rico is represented by an elected resident commissioner who has a voice, but no vote, in the House of Representatives in matters 1 As Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship they are entitled to vote on the mainland, but these elections are not held on the island.
14 Vermont 14 affecting Puerto Rico (Fliess 637). The strongest obstacles withholding independence are economic rather than political factors. Independence would mean economic ruin for Puerto Rico, as it holds a dense and rapidly increasing population and is almost completely devoid of natural resources. Puerto Rico is thus a nation both in- and outside the United States. Legally, it is a part of the United States, yet they are separated by a cultural, linguistic, and ethnic border Judith Ortiz Cofer: biography and ideas This biography on Judith Ortiz Cofer is based on the article by Ocasio in the online Literary Encyclopedia, the online New Georgia Encyclopedia and the online biography by the University of Georgia. Judith Ortiz Cofer was born in 1952 in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico and moved to Paterson, New Jersey at the age of two as her father who had joined the U.S. Navy was permanently stationed in the United States. This relocation to the United States was particularly harsh on Ortiz Cofer s mother who had difficulties adapting to American life. The family maintained contact with Puerto Rican culture as they relocated to the island when Ortiz Cofer s father was away on mission overseas. Due to this continual movement between the United States and Puerto Rico, Judith Ortiz Cofer grew up in between cultures and languages, an experience she recounts in her poetry and several of her novels, and more specifically in the two novels discussed in this thesis. She achieved her Masters in English at Florida Atlantic University in 1977 (website University of Minnesota) and currently works as the Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia, where she also lives. Ortiz Cofer is one of the most notable Puerto Rican authors writing in English as her work stands out of the margins and is published in mainstream academic and commercial publishing houses. Her first novel, The Line of the Sun (1989), introduced Puerto Rican literature in mainstream American circles. It was an immediate success and was also translated into Spanish as La Linea Del Sol (1996). The Line of the Sun was awarded with
15 Vermont 15 several prestigious awards and received a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. Many of her collections of poetry and short stories appeared in independent journals and small publishing houses that are not specifically linked to U.S. Latino literature. Her literary memoir, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (1991), and her collection of short stories and poetry, The Latin Deli (1993), incorporate her best known stories, poems and essays. Silent Dancing received the Pushcart Prize in Both these publications focus upon the lives of Puerto Rican immigrants in the Puerto Rican barrio in the United States and emphasize the issues of female immigrants. Her novel Call Me María (2004), which will be discussed here, was selected in 2005 as one of the two texts to receive Honorable Mention for the Américas Award, which awards U.S. literary texts that succeed in authentically and engagingly portraying Latin America, the Caribbean or the lives of Hispanic immigrants in the United States. Ortiz Cofer is strongly influenced by her Puerto Rican heritage as she relies on Puerto Rican culture and the Puerto Rican oral tradition in all of her novels and poetry. Her grandmother s cuentos serve as inspiration for her predominantly English literary texts, and introduce Puerto Rican culture in American literature. With regard to her grandmother s storytelling, she claims that: [e]arly on, I instinctively knew storytelling was a form of empowerment, that the women in my family were passing on power from one generation to another through fables and stories. They were teaching each other how to cope with life in a world where women led restricted lives (Acosta-Bélen 86). Although Ortiz Cofer denies being a feminist (Pagán 2 ), her literature can be considered feminist as she focuses upon the specific migratory experience of women. Her most powerful characters include Puerto Rican women who defy restrictive cultural and social conventions or who develop survival strategies to deal with the sexism in their own culture (New Georgia Encyclopedia). Ortiz 2 Page references for Pagán s article are not mentioned as page numbers are not shown on the online version.
16 Vermont 16 Cofer stands independently from the Nuyorican 3 tradition. She claims that I continue reading [Nuyorican writers] and supporting them. However, they do not exactly speak to me and for me in the sense that the Nuyorican school is specific to that area. Although I lived in Paterson, it is not the same as living in New York City, in the barrios, and in those large communities where there is support and confirmation of culture and literature (Ocasio 45). Furthermore, Ortiz Cofer is a fervent defender of the idea of transnational identities, a concept that defies conventional ideas about immigration and assimilation. Whereas traditional theories of migration focus on voluntary and necessary assimilation to American life (Sollors), this transnational vision on immigration allows the immigrant to maintain his identity independently from geographical location (Faymonville 124). Ethnic identity is no longer inextricably defined by geographical location. The idea of a transnational identity makes complete assimilation less obligatory, and even undesired. It allows the immigrant to develop a hybrid identity that unites the cultures of both his home and host country, rather than choosing either one or the other. This transnational identity is particularly significant for third wave immigrants, as they have the means to keep in touch with relatives and the culture of the homeland through modern communication. Ortiz Cofer broaches the themes of assimilation and transnational identity in all of her novels that deal with immigration. She especially does this in Call Me María as this novel focuses strongly on immigration and the dynamics of adaptation to the new homeland. Ortiz Cofer explores the dynamics of the migratory experience by contrasting the different reactions to immigration in her characters. She does this in both Call Me María and Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood 4. In Silent Dancing, the protagonist experiences difficulties to unite both Puerto Rican and American ethnicities. Ortiz Cofer tries to offer an alternative to the difficult 3 The term Nuyorican refers to the Puerto Rican community in New York, and more specifically to the literary school of these Nuyoricans. 4 Ortiz Cofer also broaches this theme in The Line of the Sun, an autobiographically inspired novel.
17 Vermont 17 bicultural situation in Silent Dancing through the idea of transnational identities developed in Call Me María (cfr. ch. 3.2). She is entitled to both Anglo feminist tradition, which she discovered during her studies in English literature, and Chicana feminism, also present in Gloria Anzaldúa s Borderlands/La Frontera. The very complexity of women s experiences belies singular portrayals and, as a result, while Cofer participates in an Anglo feminist tradition of reinterpreting the roles to which women are assigned, she also participates in a tradition articulated by Chicana feminists such as Gloria Anzaldúa, who cites the pluralistic mode as a strategy used by women, as members of multiple cultural communities, to circulate a wealth of terms that define women and their experiences (79). (Pagán) Ortiz Cofer relies on Virginia Woolf s idea as expressed in A Room of One s Own (1929) of financial independence and the need for personal space and time for female writers. Virginia Woolf also provides Ortiz Cofer with a theoretical ground on memories and the writing of memoirs and with a role model concerning feminist writing. However, next to this model for an Anglo feminist literary tradition, Ortiz Cofer is also determined by her Puerto Rican heritage of a female oral tradition and non-anglo ideas of feminism, as also present in Gloria Anzaldúa s ideas. Judith Ortiz Cofer s work includes several books of poetry: Terms of Survival (1987), Reaching for the Mainland (1987), A Love Story Beginning in Spanish: Poems (2005), and a collection of short stories and poetry, The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry. Further, she has written several novels: The Line of the Sun (1989), Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (1990), The Meaning of Consuelo (2003), and Call Me María (2004). She is also the author of a collection of short stories, An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (1995), and a collection of essays, Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer (2000).
18 Vermont 18 Chapter Two: Judith Ortiz Cofer s Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood Judith Ortiz Cofer s Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance Of A Puerto Rican Childhood (1990) is an autobiographical novel that consists of a collection of prose essays and poetry. The novel begins with the parents marriage, and recounts Ortiz Cofer s early childhood among the women at her grandmother Mamá s house. Later, she is snatched from this environment to live in the United States with her mother, her younger brother and her father who is on leave from the Navy. The family returns to Puerto Rico whenever the father is on a mission abroad, which causes a constant back-and-forth migration between Paterson in New Jersey and Hormigueros in Puerto Rico. Silent Dancing recounts Ortiz Cofer s development from childhood to adolescence as she lives in between cultures, places, and languages. Interestingly, none of the main characters in the novel are called by name. The parents are referred to as Mami and Papi, and the name of the protagonist is never made explicit Immigration Judith Ortiz Cofer s autobiographical novel Silent Dancing focuses on processes of migration and assimilation, as does Call Me María. My discussion firstly addresses the representation of both Puerto Rico and the United States separately. This contextualization allows for a more in-depth analysis of the complexities of the migratory experience between both countries. In Silent Dancing, Puerto Rico is presented as a tropical paradise characterized by both physical and emotional warmth. The protagonist associates Puerto Rico with physical warmth as the island has a tropical climate and her visits mostly occur during the summer. The island
19 Vermont 19 is also linked to emotional warmth: the protagonist is surrounded by her large and loving family, and their reunions are described at length. However, the paradisaical and stereotypical image of Puerto Rico is problematized: the island is not spared of economic regression, social inequality, and a rapid Americanization of the traditional Puerto Rican culture. With regards to her grandfather, the protagonist mentions that I believe he saw heaven as an island much like Puerto Rico, except without the inequities of backbreaking labor, loss and suffering which he could only justify to his followers as their prueba 5 on this side of paradise (Dancing 32). This conflicting image returns in Call Me María: on the one hand Puerto Rico is presented as a tropical, colorful and social paradise, but on the other hand it is depicted as a country without a future. Puerto Rico is starkly contrasted to the United States in Silent Dancing. The United States is associated with physical coldness, emotional distance, lack of color, and loneliness. The protagonist s early childhood memories are significant in this respect: My memories of life in Paterson during those first few years are in shades of gray. Maybe I was too young to absorb vivid colors and details, or to discriminate between the slate blue of the winter sky and the darker hues of the snow-bearing clouds, but the single color washes over the whole period. (Dancing 87-8) These memories unite physical coldness and the impression of an absence of color. The protagonist associates her home countries with opposing impressions of color: in contrast to the vibrant colors of Puerto Rico, the cold city of Paterson in New Jersey seems to be covered by a gray film. Life in the United States is lonely and this is not only due to external circumstances. The protagonist is forced into an isolated position both in the family structure and in her American surroundings: Papi warns against an emotional attachment to immigrant neighborhoods and Mami refuses to adapt to American life and learn English. The warm, 5 A prueba is a spiritual term that denotes the test of one s abilities. (Dancing 30)
20 Vermont 20 socially rich life at Mamá s casa in Puerto Rico is the exact opposite of the solitary and imprisoned life that the family leads in their small apartment in New Jersey. The protagonist recounts her American childhood as [o]ur solitary life in New Jersey, where we spent our days inside a small dark apartment watching television and waiting for our father to come home on leave from the navy [...] (Dancing 75). Darkness is linked to the absence of the father and his preference to live in the United States. Significantly, the act of watching television as a mind-deadening and solitary act is contrasted to the creative and social act of storytelling in Puerto Rico (cfr. ch. 2.4). The American invasion of Puerto Rican culture, which is addressed in the last chapter of the novel, indicates that the opposition between the stereotypical images of both countries is no longer absolute. Ortiz Cofer s critical reflection on the Americanization of Puerto Rico can be seen as a political statement. The following description demonstrates the hybridity of Puerto Rican space and the inevitable dissolution of the dichotomous imagery discussed above: There my mother lives, at the foot of this hill; but surrounding this postcard scene there are shopping malls, a Burger King, a cinema. And where the sugar cane fields once extended like a green sea as far as the eye could see: condominiums, cement blocks in rows, all the same shape and color. My mother tries not to see this part of her world. (Dancing ) Through this image, distinctions between the United States and Puerto Rico become less clear, but the protagonist s mother desperately clings onto the idea of oppositional national cultures, which is a concept of the past as is shown by the phrases postcard scene and once extended. Hormigueros has become a hybrid place that combines the stereotypical images of a natural and paradisaical Puerto Rico and a capitalist United States. Hormigueros transforms
21 Vermont 21 into the borderlands between traditionally defined Puerto Rican and American culture as it incorporates the seemingly unconciliatory oppositions of natural and urban atmospheres. As Puerto Rico is described as a paradisaical island however lacking economic opportunities, the main reason to immigrate to the U.S. is economic, never ideological or emotional. This also returns in Call Me María with the exception of the reverse migration of María s father, who wishes to return to the world of his childhood. The protagonist in Silent Dancing for instance describes her uncle s migration to the United States as an illegal farm worker. Many Puerto Rican men immigrate to the United States by themselves in the hope that they will return to Puerto Rico as men of wealth in order to eventually relocate to the U.S. together with their families. The protagonist s father likewise joins the Navy to be able to provide sufficient financial support for his family, as there is little work on the island at the time. He moves his family to Paterson, since the Navy stations him in the area around New York. In this novel, as in Call Me María, the act of immigration entails different and sometimes opposing ways of adapting to the host country. Some of these behavioral adaptations are successful, while others are not. It is important to distinguish adaptation from assimilation, as the latter is only one possible manner of adapting to the new host country. A large number of Puerto Rican immigrants remain emotionally attached to the island through childhood memories. These immigrants are reminded of their homeland by food and music. This recalling is especially noticeable in the essay Silent Dancing which centers around la Navidad 6 : [t]he men drank Palo Viejo rum and some of the younger ones got weepy. The first time I saw a grown man cry was at a New Year s Eve party. He had been reminded of his mother by the smells in the kitchen (Dancing 94). Some Puerto Rican 6 La Navidad is the Spanish term for Christmas.
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