Katalin Bodó is an undergraduate student in Spanish and American Studies at the University of Szeged. E-mail: email@example.com
Americas: A Study of Hybridity Through the Literary Works of Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales
This present essay has the aim of presenting the definition of the concept of America through some literary works of Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales.I try to examine the effects of the dominant culture played upon immigrants of Latin American origins in the United States, the problematics of self-definitions and identity of Latino groups and their resolution in the cultura mestiza.
The increasing presence of Latinos in the United States and the transnational connections that immigrant groups maintain with their Latin American origins suggest a new way of thinking or rather rethinking of the history and culture of the Americas. Latin American writers have attempted to create a continental vision of the Americas. They contributed to the formation of the concept of ”Nuestra América,” ”Our America,” which was developed by Cuban writer José Martí. He tried to define the cultural elements that mark Latin American identity and dreamt of a free and antiracist multicultural society in which the dominant force is acceptance of diversity. The idea of equal dignity and harmony among the different races and the affirmation of a multicultural and multiracial America call forth the desire to put an end to the Anglo-American ethnocentricity and give voice to the suppressed communities.
Since America is considered to be a multicultural society, self-definition and assertion of difference is an essential demand of people living on the margins. American identity is not based upon a specific system of values of one single dominant culture but made up of many voices. Nowadays marginalized groups are moving toward the centre of cultural attention which indicates a new definition of identities and the rethinking of history. ”America has been invented and reinvented by each generation.” There was an urgent need to redefine the everchanging concept of America and rewrite history now from the minorities’ perspective. The new definition of American identity has to be built upon the recognition of difference concerning racial, ethnic and gender affiliation, as well.
In the following I will present the definition of America relying on the work of Neil Campbell and Alasdir Kean. I will also take a closer look at the term hybridity on the basis of the works of Tzvetan Todorov, Breyten Breytenbach and Hommi Bhabha. The book of Aschroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back and Ania Loomba’s Colonialism/Postcolonialism offer an insight into postcolonial theory. Borderlands./La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa was the primary source I used in order to present the process of establishing and the definition of the so called mestiza culture.
Within the field of American Studies the question of what is American identity and how it is constructed and reconstructed by the Latino members of society is the major concern in this essay. America has been the site of mingling different cultures and races from the beginning. Originally the notion of America was connected to the realization of a homogenious community assimilating all the foreign nations and cultures into one dominant group. In that sense assimilation meant practically the ”denial of ethnic difference and the forgetting of cultural practices in favour of Americanisation.” There was only one dominant culture considered the only referent point while the cultures of minority groups were put on the periphery. The ethnic voices of history therefore were either silenced or even erased. American national identity was defined and constructed on the basis of the white male heterosexual perspective. The oppressed communities, the members of the ”other” America: women and people of color were excluded from this definition. The notion of Other, meaning the margin and everything that is different from the center, was not considered to be culturally significant. In reality margin, in contrast with the alienated atmosphere of the center, is the bearer of cultural values since there is a strong social interaction and collective social experience among the members of a marginal culture. As Kathleene Stuart claims people and places denominated as ”others” situated on ”the side of the road” are essential contributors to the overall picture of the New World.
Postcolonial theory examines the effects of colonialism on cultural, racial and gender terms and deals with the relationship of colonizer and colonized. Indigenious people and their culture on colonized lands were considered inferior to the colonizer and thus were distanced and placed into an object position in contrast with the colonizer subject. The ”construction of the ’other’” on basis of different skin color and culture created a hierarchical relation between colonizer and colonized. This hierarchical posititon included not only fixed power relations but also the desire of the ”meeting and incorporating the culture of the other,” which is what Young calls the ”colonial desire.”
The colonial era has affected both colonized men and women. Colonial power is understood as the ”white man’s possession of black women and men.” As a result, men of color, suffering from the humiliation and oppression of colonial rule, became opressors or ’colonizers’ of the native women. It is not accidental that the term machismo, which means the oppression of women by men, appears and develops in the Spanish language as the cause of colonization. The question of gender was a problematizing factor in the formation of the other since colonized women were ”doubly opressed” in the sense that they had to struggle for equality on racial terms and had to bear the subordination by both colonized and colonizer men, as well. These ”unequal relations of colonial rule,” imposed in different degree on women and men, are present to some extent ”in the contemporary imbalances between ’first’ world and ’third’ world nations.”
Postcolonial theory is also concerned with hybridization which is a natural process in case of the encounter of different cultures. The concept of hybridity is a collective term for intercultural mixtures which have different denominations such as racial or ethnic fusions, in other words mestizaje, and cultural syncretism. In postcolonial theory the term of the hybrid is used to denominate such an individual whose identity is constructed on the basis of more cultures. From this multiple belonging comes the essence of the term which is, in Young’s interpretation, ”a double-ness that both brings together, fuses, but also maintains separation.” Hybridity itself indeed includes a binary opposition: that is, being in both cultures, and yet not, since a new point of view develops. The mixing and fusing of cultures next to its unifiying tendency uproots the hybrid out of both cultural spheres. They can no longer be complete part of the native culture, and, at the same time, they cannot integrate into the dominant culture either. Such a person, as Gloria Anzaldúa would say, has to learn how to ”live in the borderlands.”
The rootlessness of these hybrid people indicates that they have to face difficult problems of self-definition and constructing an identity. Breyten Breytenbach points out the general characteristics of a hybrid person. He argues that hybrid has a ”conflictual relationship to identity--mourning perhaps the loss of it while multiplying the acquisition of other facets.” Indeed people of multiple origins cannot possess a pure identity since they do not belong to only one culture. They will be considered Others. Their identity, which expresses their otherness, is constructed out of cultural fragments of all the cultures they consider vital. In order to survive, the continuous renewal and inventing of one’s self is inevitable in case of a hybrid identity. Breytenbach also claims that the hybrid individual has a high awareness of their being the Other and are proud of their difference. The feeling of being the other is experienced by every single member of a minority group. The hybrid’s own struggles as an individual are closely connected to the struggles of their community at large. Individual experience is after all a collective experience of the people sharing the same difficulties and therefore ethnic pride will develop.
Todorov’s perception of the hybrid focuses on the positive side of the hybrid’s existence: ”hybrid is one of the rare individuals who really understand both cultures” and ”capable of translating the signs of the one into the signs of the other.” Later in his work The Conquest of America, Todorov proposes a definition of hybrid identity. The hybrid remains in both cultures, and still, he or she cannot belong to the two groups anymore, cannot be the participant of either this group or that. He claims that once a person has asserted his or her hybrid identity s/he takes up a special point of view, the hybrid’s point of view, which he considers a separate entity from the original cultures. Todorov, this way, is the precursor of Anzaldúa in perceiving the hybrid culture as a special space in which maintaining ambivalence and ”developing tolerance for contradictions” is important.
The mixture of races and cultures created a new way of seeing hybrid identity, which was reflected in literature. Authors belonging to a group of multi-ethnic minority, discovered the positive influence of their multiculturalist existence, and now they claim their place within mainstream history. As a resolution of inner struggles for self-definitions, Anzaldúa has introduced a new consciousness, the mestiza culture and consciousness, which places the margin into the center through giving voice to the previously silenced groups.
The term mestiza is derived from the Spanish word: mestizaje, which traces back its origins to the era of conquest and colonisation of Latin America and Mexico. Originally the term was a racial ideology used for the racial mixture of European colonizers and Indians, and had a derogative meaning in the eye of imperial Europe. It did not include the African element. Gloria Anzaldúa was the one who called attention to the African lineage of mestizaje, which is an important element in the formation of an ethnicity in the Caribbean region.
Mestizaje does not only refer to racial mixtures, but it is also a paradigm for cultural incrustations, meaning the fusing together of cultures and even languages at the prize of creating ambiguity. Feminist mestiza writers give voice to their feeling of ambivalence concerning their affiliation, in terms of race, culture and gender. The mestiza writer’s experience as a woman is closely connected to her experience as a member of a racial and ethnic minority. ”Mestiza communicates the multiple connotations of color and femaleness.” These female writers are in a two-faced struggle concerning their affirmation of separate cultural identity and their equal place in the society as women.
Language is among the determining factors of the cultural identification of the individual. Since ethnic identity is connected to the choice of a certain linguistic code, multiple identification can be represented more closely through a switch, which is moving from one language to the other even within a sentence. Switching back and forth from English to Spanish expresses the ambivalence mestizas experience in their everyday lives, the feeling of belonging neither here nor there. The combination of the two languages means the ”linguistic mestizaje” for Anzaldúa, which is a way of expressing the mestiza identity through language, as well.
The above mentioned mestiza identity and the cultural and racial mestizaje is a central feature and an important element in defining the Latin American identity. Martí makes his term ”Nuestra América” more specific with stressing the mestizo element and thus declaring ”Nuestra América Mestiza.” The present population of Latin America are the descendants of Indians and Spanish colonizers. So racial mestizaje as such is a characterisitic element of the Latin American population. Martí making the term mestizo a contributor to the national character converts it into a positive marker.
The Caribbean plays a significant role in connecting the two parts of this America mestiza. The multiplicity and diversity of the components on cultural, racial and linguistics terms that construct the Caribbean contributes to its fragmentation. The complex character of the Caribbean is due to the fact that there are different European and Creole languages spoken in the Caribbean as a result of the region’s common historical experience of slavery and colonial rule. The word Caribbean does not only refer to a sea or a group of islands, but to a ”meta-archipielago” which unify different cultures. Therefore it does not have any boundaries. As Antonio Benítez-Rojo would say: ”the Caribbean is the union of the diverse.” Since the ”fragmentation” of the Caribbean ”can actually provide a principle of coherence” when writers, like Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales, from this region are working on establishing unity.
The new definisions of the multiethnic America and the development of mestiza identity, that is being ethnic and American at the same time, allows immigrants the preservation of different cultural values instead of the assimilation into only one culture.
Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales
Rosario Morales and Aurora Levins Morales are mother and daughter of Puerto Rican origins who are at present living and working in the United States. Their major book Getting Home Alive is a synthesis of their different and common immigrant experiences. The book’s major themes include multiple identity, feminism, the concept of the immigrant and the importance of language. Furthermore, the differences and the existing generation gap between mother and daughter are presented. The experiences of two women in the United States, i.e. living in a society where they are part of a national minority, is expressed in this collection of poetry and prose as well as their feelings about their native land, Puerto Rico.
My focus will be predominantly on the literary activity of Aurora Levins Morales. She was born in Puerto Rico, on February 24, 1954 as a child of a Puerto Rican mother and a Jewish father. She started writing when she moved to the United States with her family in 1967. Cultural symbols of her country are themes of her writing in her early literary period. Her earlier works include This Bridge Called My Back and Cuentos: Stories By Latinas. Now she teaches about antisemitism, racism and feminist politics at the University of California in Berkeley. She belongs to the group of female Puerto Rican writers who write primarily in English, although the Spanish language has a significant role and an influential force in their work.
She has two identities and two ethnicities through which she writes about her unique heritage, and at the same time constructs her own individual identity through the medium of writing. Due to her multiple identity W. E. B. DuBois’s problematic question of ”two-ness” emerges. How can she become consistent with her two different sides of cultural and racial heritage? She is not only the representative of two distant cultures but experiences being both ’American’ and black at the same time. This multifaced origin is one of the major reoccurring themes of Morales’s work.
Ideologies of the feminist movement of the 1960’s had a great impression on both Aurora’s and Rosario’s literary activity. They have been influenced by feminist writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. They examined the difficult ambivalent situation of a woman of color in a male-dominated society where, on the one hand, she has to face the problem of racial diversity and discrimination while, on the other hand, as a woman she has to fight for certain human rights.
Challenging the melting pot
Resistance of women of color against the imposition of negative images on their identity is visualized in Rosario Morales’s prose, ”I’m on Nature’s Side” which also reflects the inferior situation of a Latina woman. The first few lines of the prose are about the superior position of the white man and how he wants to control nature, that is, the woman in the name of ”civilization.” In a complex and multifaced society such as the American, where the concept of equality has become the trademark of the North American continent, the traces of the classical patriarchal society can still be detected. The denominations of masculinity and femininity are still not equal. This is best characterised by the concept of machismo, which is the aggression of man played on the woman. In this work the ”white ruling class man,” the incorporator of civilization and the metaphor of the Anglo-Saxon culture, sets himself against nature that is, against the woman. The poet with her statement of ”I’m on nature’s side” personifies nature and Latin America. As a result of this, the woman and her cultural identity are the targets of the aggression of man and the culture he represents. Morales makes her inferior status visually more recognizable through placing herself into ”the insects’ point of view.” This way the poem represents the vision of a metaphorical aggression on behalf of forced assimilation. Assimilation, which is a fearful process or rather a threat in case of the clash of cultures, is strongly presented in this literary work together with resistance. Morales writes: ”We’ve got to be fit in, we’ve got to be controlled.” The author visualizes the melting of the subculture into a supposedly superior civilization.
A major characteristic of postcolonial literatures is the concern with ”place and displacement.” Generally home is associated with security. If a person is torn away from this protecting space, and lives in a foreign culture, which hybridisizes her native culture, the injury of her identity can occur. A strong sense of self can be eroded through displacement or marginalization of cultural values by a supposedly superior society in cultural and racial terms. Morales’s vision is that ”many of us die. But not all. Some of us survive. Our survivors are stronger in some ways, more wily, more versatile. We protect ourselves. We fight back.” Morales is fighting against the erosion of self and culture. In this literary work problems resulting from cultural hybridity is not yet resolved, only pure resistance against a patriarchal society is presented. The final stanza of the prose: ”We will survive!” suggests that the fight for constructing an identity and self-definition is yet to come.
”Between languages, between countries”
Postcolonial examines the triple criteria: place, language and subjects. Through the process of migration the place might have been destroyed or the subject is displaced. The person of diasporic existance is caught in a cultural context, which is altered by the imposition of foreign values. The inevitable consequence of this process is an ambivalent attitude of the subject towards itself. Language is also exposed to a kind of ambivalence as far as the subject is concerned.These in-between, ambivalent and sometimes contradictory feelings towards place and language are articulated in most of Levins Morales’s works.
The prose, ”Puertoricanness” puts a great emphasis on the searching of one’s roots which is the result of place and displacement. An imagined place that represents the vivid landscape of Puerto Rico appears in the USA cultural context in form of the memory and dreams of the poetic subject. The quest for the Puerto Rican self, which is considered as other in the dominant culture and has been repressed, is now redescovered by the author through the visualization of traditional foods, life scenes of her native land.
As a result of migrancy she is caught between two cultural contexts and must live on the ”interstices,” which is ”the overlap of displacement of domains of difference.” She conceives herself as an in-between figure who ”found herself between languages, between countries, with no land feeling at all solid under her feet.” In order to reconcile her dilemma of belonging she recreates home in the new environment: ”she would live as a Puerto Rican lives en la isla, right here in north Oakland.” These lines assume that Puerto Rico in the present is not just the island in a geographical sense but also includes the ’islands,’ inhabited by the Puerto Rican diaspora in the USA. Puerto Ricans living in diaspora in the US mainland constitute almost half of the Puerto Rican population. Therefore she considers herself as a real Puerto Rican even within the new environment in a great distance of her country of origin, while at the same time she also affirms her ’Americanness.’
Another prose by Levins Morales called ”Immigrants” restates the theme of in-betweenness and also explores how the author sews her present identity from the story fragments of her family’s past. The title ”Immigrants” in the plural refers to the multitude of experiences and diverse voices of immigrants.
In this prose the picture of Puerto Rico as a tropical Eden and Chicago as the manifestation of urban corruption are compared. Puerto Rico appears as an earthly paradise—”the flamboyan tree, the pine woods, the rainforest hillsides covered with alegría” — in one word a place of desire for Levins Morales. In diaspora, under conditions of social oppression immigrants tend to turn towards the imaginative construction of homeland as a paradise. This imaginative escape is the only way for oppressed people to find consolance. On the other hand Chicago is presented as a ”wasteland” and the cradle of crime and violance from which the author intends to escape.
While the poetic subject longs for Puerto Rico in the US metropoli, Chicago, her grandmother’s story indicates a different perspective of immigrant’s experience. Levins Morales’s grandmother after retiring in Puerto Rico ”longs for New York or some other U.S. city where a woman can go out and about her own… and live among many voices.” Returning to a once abandoned home is problematic since the place with time has changed and the landscape has become memory. As a returned immigrant, she perceives the previously imagined Puerto Rican ’paradise’ and community as ”stifling” referring to the oppression of women in her native society. In this respect Morales puts herself into a cultural gap between US American culture and Puerto Rican culture inhabiting the space of the ”unhomeliness.”
Since home functions as a place of identity formation, in the state of unhomeliness insecurity and uncertainity elaborates the individual. The author’s intention by asking the question ”and what am I?” is to highlight the fact that as a member of a marginalized group, she suffers from the lack of identity in the urban center. On the one hand, she is not able to integrate into the dominant culture, and tries to imagine homeland as a place of refugee. On the other hand, her original native culture denigrates her for being a woman, as well. She is exposed to ’attack’ from both cultural sides. The feeling of belonging neither here nor there suggests rootlessness. Consequently the so called ”fragmented identity” comes into being which state of mind is a general characterisitic of people representing a hybrid culture.
In order to integrate into the new environment the immigrants are forced to adapt the center’s language and modes of behavior. For the postcolonial person to use the center’s language is to call forth the problem of self-definition, to be exposed to mimicry and ambivalence. Mimicry is the imitation of the center’s values, institutions and language. Due to the difference of the immigrants their imitation will always be imperfect, lack authenticity and the imposition of the imperial tongue develops ambivalence in the colonial subject in respect to their native language.
The prose of Rosario Morales ”I recognize you” represents this ambivalence concerning language. The author by applying the second person singular together with the first person singular in order to invoke herself separates her Puerto Rican self from her U.S. American self.
Language functions in the postcolonial world as the collective tool of homogenization, which is a form of linguistic assimilation. The metropolis considered not only the immigrants but their native tongue, as well, inferior. Therefore adapting the imperial language means to ”store away-hide-a whole treasure box of other, mother language,” for which Morales feels sad.
Appropriation of the dominant language has the positive consequence of interfering into the dominant discourse and introducing her own perspective. Morales writes that ”you can make the English language roll over, bark on command, sit up and beg.” Through using the English language as a mode of expression she gets into a power position with the help of the oppressive idiom itself. She becomes able to overcome the silence to which the periphery has been condemned and resist cultural control. In this respect the appropriation of the dominant language is both a sign of mimicry and the tool of the minority group to have their voice heard.
Diasporic people may move between countries and languages but they also have to recreate home and find a place which reconciles the ambiguities of borderline existance.
Ending Poem: the way to a mestiza consciousness
The final poem of Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales ”Ending poem” is about the problematics of self-definition experienced by immigrants, especially Latina immigrants and the solution of problem emerging from hybridity. Furthermore this excellent literary work of Morales has a fundamental role in defining AMERICA, as well. The term America generally refers to one single country, it has become synonymous with the United States of America, and we tend to forget about the fact that the term is a reference to a continent which Latin America is also a part of.
In the first few lines of the poem the poet identifies herself as ”A child of the Americas./ A light-skinned mestiza of the Caribbean.” This way she reconnects North America, the transmitter of masculine values with the feminine South America. By including Latin America within the American context, on the basis of connecting such antonym pairs as male-female, civilization-nature that have been associated with the two parts of America, the author places woman into an equal position with man. Through declaring herself as ”a mestiza of the Caribbean” the author makes the region of the Caribbean the actual link which connects North and South America.
The poem can be divided into five parts according to its context. This number can also symbolise the five continents. All the continents are represented in one single poem with the purpose of reflecting unity and equality. The first part is about the mixture of cultures and identities, the so called mestiza culture. The second contextual unit is a reference to her homeland, Puerto Rico. The feeling of displacement and the introduction of the social and economic conditions in which the natives live are reflected. In the third segment there is a historical review. She looks back on her origins but cannot completely identify with the European, African or Taíno cultures. The fourth part includes the issue of multiple identitiy which is one of the main themes of the poem. In the last unit the birth of a hybrid culture is shown, the claim of the immigrants for their own identity which is not less valuable than any other cultural or ethnic affiliation.
The multiple identity of the author emerges from the different cultures she belongs. ”Each plate is different./ wood, clay, papier maché, metals, basketry, a leaf, a coconut shell.”
The ”plate” might be the object correlative of culture and the different materials listed can all refer to different cultures.
The table has a cloth woven by one, dyed by another,
embroidered by an ather still.
I am a child of many mothers.
They have kept it all going
All the civilizations erected on their backs.
In that citation the ”table” is a symbol for the individual and her identity, and suggests that a person’s identity has been influenced by many cultures. The line ”I am a child of many mothers” can support my understanding of the poem as the representation of not only different cultures but the five continents in the reflection of unity and equality, as well. The gender relations of the colonial rule appear in a methaphor. The continents appear as the symbol of femininity and female bodies as the representations of the conquered lands. On the one hand, continents, on which ”all the civilizations erected” as Morales claims, personify feminine values. While on the other hand, civilization functions as a masculine entity therefore man as the colonizer and woman as the colonized appear in hierarchical relation with each other.
Next to the multiculturalist perspective emerges the ”migratory subjectivity” of the author in the analised poem, which shows a contradictory reference in connection with the concept of immigrant: ”I am an immigrant. And the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants.” Puerto Ricans are also American citizens and politically they are not considered to be immigrants, because Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since Spain, the original colonizer of the island, gave it to the US after losing the Spanish American War in 1898. The special contradiction in her writing is that Puerto Ricans are officially American citizens, they have all rights on grounds of politics, but still, she declares herself an immigrant. There is still a wall or border between the Latin American minority in the US and the American society. These immigrants are alienated from their native land and also has the role of an intruder in their dominant culture. They are constantly in a struggle within the values of their traditional native culture and those of the west.
The poet belongs to more cultures at the same time, therefore she does not possess a pure identity but a mixed one. The sense of self of a person of multiple backgrounds is very complicated and is based on personal choice. She does not assimilate into the dominant group, nor does she accept certain rigid ideas of the minority group. As a result of this she places herself into an intercultural position by proclaiming herself ”a California Puerto Rican Jew”. In this intercultural situation the problematics of self-definition can occur.
The issues of identity and self-definition appear when the individual is not sure who she is and where exactly she belongs to. This ambivalence is present in the poem since the poet recognizes her multicultural background through her Hispanic, African, Taíno and European roots but she cannot completely identify with them.
I am not African./ Africa waters the roots of my tree, but I cannot return.
I am not Taína./ I am a late leaf of that ancient tree,/ and my roots reach into the soil
of two Americas. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European, though I have dreamt of those cities (…)
Her aim by listing the multitude of her origins is to declare the ”sociocultural plurality” of the Caribbean and therefore of Puerto Rico. In reality she feels herself really close to the American and Puerto Rican culture. She declares that ”I am Puerto Rican. I am US American./ I am New York Manhattan and the Bronx.” A person can identitfy herself in interaction with others, that is in case of Morales, the person, more specifically the woman coming from the Caribbean region ’meets’ the American culture. Mutual recognition between the individual and society is imposible on terms of a relationship based on hierarchy. Morales claims that she comes ”from the dirt where the cane was grown./ My people didn’t go to dinner parties. They weren’t invited.” The colonial oppression of the past, the history of slavery which are unseparably connected to the Caribbean are reflected in this line. The hierarchy of the colonial past is still present and maintains a kind of inferiority of the Latino people compared to the people of the United States.
The hybridization of the author is present on different levels. The most important of all is her hybridization on linguistic level. The hybrid culture juxtaposes the introduction of the hybrid language known as Spanglish which is the mixture of Spanish and English. People, who live in a dominant society which is not their native community and cannot entirely identify with the language of that given culture, have no other possibility but to create their own language. Once a new language is created, a new identity is born, too. The hybrid language or as Anzaldúa puts it the ”border tongue” is ”a language which corresponds to a way of living” Their language shows their mixed heritage, being binational and bilingual and indeed a part of two cultures.
Aurora Levins Morales through using words and expressions from her mother tongue, from the Spanish language, reconnects herself to her native culture, and at the same time, expresses her cultural difference and femininity. Generally, the Spanish words appear in the text without any footnotes. As a result, the entire text can only be interpreted through ’learning’ the language of the subculture. This way the author ”writes back” to the dominant culture using the medium of language.
The Spanish words give rhythm and dynamism to the given poem while representing the exotic and temperamental indigenous culture from which they derive. Such words, included within the English text, as ”mija,” ”negra,” ”Caribeña” represent the oppressed culture and femininity. The Spanish words stand as the personification of the native culture of the author. The ’a’ letter at the end of these words is the sign of the feminine gender in Spanish. Consequently, Morales expresses that her Puerto Rican culture of Hispanic origin and her femininity have a place, in fact, an equal place in the dominant culture, which is in the present case the American culture. The presence of the Spanish language in the English text is a common characteristic of the majority of Latina writers. The multicultural background and the place of the woman are manifested on linguistic terms, as well.
Home is important to the diaspora writer, therefore next to the appearance of Spanish words in the text, the representation of traditional flavours, exotic places of the native culture through writing is very common:
I am Caribeña, island grown.
Spanish is in my flesh, ripples from my tongue, lodges in my hips,
the language of garlic and mangoes.
These lines by Morales visualize the Latin American temper and also its implied mentality which is best characterized by a ritual celebration: the carnival. The word ”flesh” translated to Spanish is carne from which the word carnival derives. The carnival as Antonio Benítez-Rojo points out is considered to be a ”liberating process” from the ’chains’ of colonisation and also interpreted as a ”counterviolance.” The complexity of the culture of the Caribbean, the ”sociocultural density; that is a critical mass or high concentration of paradoxes, difference, ethnological and social hierarchies” is the primary cause of this tradition. Since the multifaced origins of this region contributes to its fragmentation, carnival functions as the expression of ”unifying desires within Caribbeanness.” The author goes on expressing this unity by declaring that: ”I am of latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent./ I speak from that body. Just brown and pink and full of drums inside.” Morales despite of its multiplicity, imagines the Caribbean and Latin America as one ”body.” This way creating a unit out of fragments. The carnival has a two-fold function, that is, liberating from the colonial oppression of the past and unifiying the people of this region in the present.
Home is usually referred to as the ’lost Paradise’ in contradiction with the corrupt and imoral urban centers. In postcolonial literatures such dichotomies as nature-civilization, minority-dominance, male-female, active-passive can be found etc. This duality can be detected in connection with North and South America. In most of the analized poems the two poles of the Americas are separated. The United States of America embodies the world of citycenters and skyscrapers. The USA occupies a central place in the cultural, economic and political sphere. As opposed to that, South America, the marginalized ’other’ America is the correlative of nature and poverty. Since the author belongs to both cultures, she stands as a bridge between these two oppositional realities ’civilization’ and ’nature,’ North America and Latin America and thus connects the two parts. Ultimately the postcolonial subjects have learnt that their privilege is their loss and their identity is their difference which requires a new space. A general feature of postcoloniality, the so-called ”third space” is introduced which means real home to those who were ”born at a crossroads.” The incorporation of all the diverse cultural elements into one mestiza identity makes the immigrants whole. In this respect the two parts of the Americas are culturally connected and seen in a continental sense.
In conclusion there was a need to create a new culture, a ”third space,” a ”mestiza culture,” which should have legitimacy in that Anglo-European centric society.
Hybridity was the primary cause of the formation of a fragmented identity. People of multiple origins feel the ambivalence of belonging neither here nor there and therefore experience what it means to live in the borderlands. The identity of a person becomes even more fragmented in case of a woman. Morales had to face the subordination of her as a woman and also suffered from the degradation of her native culture.
The majority of mestiza writers are in constant struggle within their mixed heritage. The struggle among her multiple identity emerges from the paradox situation of having to adjust her sense of self to a dominant culture which rejects and places her native culture into an inferior status. To decide whether the belonging to a dominant culture or the preserving of the native culture is the better choice is extremely difficult. As Gloria Anzaldúa claims there is always a crossroad in front of every single immigrant: whether they surrender to the dominant culture or swing into resistence and control. Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean immigrants affirm a separate cultural identity while maintaining strong interactions with their home lands. They have learned how to establish new communities, to share their collective memories, to synthesize and preserve what was useful, and to discard what was no longer relevant to their survival in a new cultural environment.
Aurora Levins Morales along with many other writers of multiple identity experiences what it means to live in the borderlands, because even though at present she is living in the United States, her cultural background cannot be simply denied or erased nor does her femininity. The most difficult task of the author is finding one’s self, one’s place in a culturally agressive world and discovering all the cultures which make the immigrant or mestiza cultures and communities ’whole’ by establishing their own legitimacy.
She claimed her equal place in the American society on cultural, racial and gender terms, as well. The only way for immigrants of Latin American origin to resolve their struggles among their multiple and fragmented identity was to create their own culture. Through the establishing of mestiza culture the immigrants’ experience of ambiguity is resolved, since their own culture considers diversity and the belonging to different cultures essential.
The word ‘America’ is generally used to exclusively refer to the United States of America. It is no longer appropriate to talk about the concept of ’America’ without including the Latino population and other minorities in the United States. The Caribbean region is a crucial cultural location which connects the parts of the Americas. Many writers like Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales coming from the Caribbean through their literary activity, through telling their subjectivities contribute to this unifying approach. The works of many Puerto Rican, and other Latina writers connect the Americas, playing the role of trans-cultural mediators between North America and Latin America.
I’m On Nature’s Side
I’m on nature’s side. Man the scientist, white man the scientist, white ruling class man the scientist, the entreprenuer, the corporation president sets out to control nature–to make it behave!
But I’m a Third World, born working-class woman. I look at it from nature’s point of view, form the insects’ point of view, the insect out in the cornfield sucking the sweet juice of the crunchy cane or the nourishing mealiness of the newly plumped kernel.
Pest control takes on a different meaning now. Pest control. Why we–you and I–know about pest control right here in this human society. We know all about it.
We know we’re pests for wanting to live our lives in peace and plenty. We’re pests for not fitting into the grand plan of cornering markets and conquering peoples, increasing profitability and productivity, of sheltering taxes and fixing prices. And we’ve got to be made to fit in, we’ve got to be controlled. A la buena o a la mala, or come quietly cause I carry a big stick.
Now those bugs out there in our wheatfields, cornfields, orchards, and gardens, they’re out for the same things we are–for a stomach full of grain and a heart full of joy, for love under a green leaf, and sleep under the moon. That makes them pests. To control them, gardeners and agricultural schools, farmers and multinationals spray poisons, distribute infected blankets, unleash predators and armies, demolish nesting sites and villages and neighborhoods. And we die. Many of us die.
But not all. Some of us survive. Our survivors are stronger is some ways, more wily, more versatile. We protect ourselves. We fight back.
We grow in numbers. And they spray more poisons, attack again and again. And we die, and then, we who survive revive and grow in numbers.
And still they maim us and kill us. Still they spray radiation, spray malathion, parathion, agent blue and white and orange, TNT and EDB. No matter how we resist, how often we survive, they spray, because they are so deluded by their power–so sure that when they command, we will obey–that they cannot see what is before them. They cannot even understand that the more they shoot and spray us, the more numerous we become, the more we fight back, the more corn and wheat we eat, until one day we will devastate their crops, bankrupt their agribusiness, destroy their armies, topple their goverments.
We will survive!
It was Puerto Rico waking up inside her. Puerto Rico waking her up
at 6:00 a.m., remembering the rooster that used to crow over on
59th Street and the neighbors all cursed ”that damn rooster,” but
she loved him, waited to hear his harsh voice carving up the Oak-
land sky and eating it like chopped corn, so obliviously sure of him-
self, crowing all alone with miles of houses around him. She was like
Often she could hear them in her dreams. Not the lone rooster of
59th Street (or some street nearby… she had never found the exact
yard though she had tried), but the wild careening hysterical roosters
of 3:00 a.m. in Bartolo, screaming at the night and screaming again
at the day.
It was Puerto Rico waking up inside her, uncurling and shoving open
the door she had kept neatly shut for years. Maybe since
the first time she was an immigrant, when she refused to speak Spanish
in nursery school. Certainly since the last time, when at thirteen she
found herself between languages, between countries, with no land
feeling at all solid under her feet. The mulberry trees of Chicago,
that first summer, had looked so utterly pitiful beside her memory
of flamboyan and banana and … No, not even the individual trees
and bushes but the mass of them, the overwhelming profusion of
green life that was the home of her comfort and nest of her dreams.
The door was opening. She could no longer keep her accent under
lock and key. It seeped out, masquerding as dyslexia, stuttering, halt-
ing, unable to speak the word which will surely come out in the wrong
language, wearing the wrong clothes. Doesn’t that girl know how to
dess? Doesn’t she know how to date, what to say to a professor,
how to behave at a dinner table laid with silver and crystal and too
Yesterday she answered her husband’s request that she listen to the
whole of his thoughts before commenting by screaming, ”This is how
we talk. I will not wait sedately for you to finish. Interrupt me back!”
She drank pineapple juice three or four times a day. Not Lotus, just
Co-op brand, but it was piña, and it was sweet and yellow. And she
was letting the clock slip away from her into a world of morning and
afternoon and night, instead of ”five-forty-one-and twenty seconds
There were things she noticed about herself, the Puertoricanness of
which she had kept hidden all these years, but which had persisted
as habits, as idiosyncracies of her nature. The way she left a pot of
food on the stove all day, eating out of it whenever hunger struck
her, liking to have somethong ready. The way she had lacked food
to offer Elena in the old days and had stamped on the desire to do
so because it was Puerto Rican: Come, mija…¿quieres café? The
way she was embarrassed and irritated by Ana’s unannounced visits,
just dropping by, keeping the country habits after a generation of
city life. So unlike the cluttered datebooks of all her friends, making
appointments to speak to each other on the phone days in advance.
Now she yearned for that clocklessness, for the perpetual food pots
of her childhood. Even in the poorest houses a plate of white rice
and brown beans with calabaza or green bananas and oil.
She had told Sally that Puerto Ricans lived as if they were all in a
small town still, a small town of six million spread out over tens of
"The Day It Happened" by Rosario Morales is basically about something that happens a lot in Hispanic families. It's about domestic violence and a community that knows all about it. This story is told in the first person point of view by a girl that seems to be the author herself; Rosario Morales, as a child.
This story takes place in an apartment building with thin walls somewhere in a city. It starts off with the narrator washing her hair. She had the bathroom window open and could see Maria who she called nosy even though they are equally nosy by how the story is told. Basically half way through washing her hair, nosy Maria sucks in air very loudly when she sees Josie leaving the house at 5 o'clock just before her husband Ramon gets home. The only reason that the narrator knew any of this was because their neighbor Olga rang the bell and knocked on the door when Josie was leaving to tell the narrators mother about all of this.
Some kid named Mikey had been the one to get the cab for Josie to leave in and he was telling everyone what was going on. Basically as Josie is leaving Tona and Betty Murphy who are neighbors of Josie all go outside to help her leave. Then the story goes through flashbacks of the past 6 months. Basically Josie is leaving because after 6 months of being married to Ramon who has been an abusive husband Josie can't stand it anymore and has decides to leave. Ramon works and when he gets home he expects a well-cooked meal waiting for him at home. He screams at her if it's not ready when he gets home or it if is he screams at her for being a...