Mothers Mild and Monstrous: Familial Metaphors and the Elian Gonzalez Case

By Martinez, Maria del Carmen | Southern Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Mothers Mild and Monstrous: Familial Metaphors and the Elian Gonzalez Case


Martinez, Maria del Carmen, Southern Quarterly


A mother is, next to God, all powerful

-The Public Ledger, 1850(1)

ON EASTER SATURDAY of the new millennium, Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was found adrift in the Florida Straits some months before, was forcibly removed by federal agents from the Little Havana home of his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. The boy was flown to Washington, where he was reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. By Easter Sunday, Elian had vanished from our televisions with all the finality of an infernal ascension-a disappearance so complete it was said to inspire a kind of Elian withdrawal or, at least, a wicked hang-over. The siege abruptly ended a media circus and a grotesque spectacle suspended in the modern master narratives of country, Christianity, and consumer culture. "News" coverage of the boy had achieved monstrous proportions, surpassing even the deaths of Princess Di and John Kennedy, Jr. Breathless and alarmed media reports about the Elian Gonzalez case and the boy himself, often couched in the language of the Cold War, provoked dangerous, if predictable, displays of nationalism (both of the exile and anti-immigrant varieties). Incessant press and radio commentary fueled demonstrations, counter-demonstrations and sporadic violence-not to mention obscene displays of political pandering.

Now that the anniversary of the Elian orgy has come and gone, it is perhaps time to examine the case in a sober, critical light. The case, as many noted, did indeed come to resemble a tacky telenovela-aflame with all the gloss and hyperbole of a serial romance. The case, in fact a simple custody matter clearly outlined in US immigration law, hardly merited the disproportionate attention it generated in the press. But neither did it warrant its nearly universal dismissal in intellectual circles both during and after the case. Certainly, the Elian spectacle and the intransigence of the "Miami mob" inspired much head-shaking, but it failed to yield serious academic discussion. The case, involving a contingent of learned people, provoked much commentary, but little analysis. Few bothered to note anti-Hispanic sentiment the case unearthed, despite the Buena Vista socialization of American pop culture. Few noted the obvious gendered and racially marked elements of the case.

However marked with absurdity, the case makes a useful study on several levels. To begin, Camp Elian, at once tract house, religious and nationalist shrine, media circus, and feeble military stronghold, made visible the interstices of power which converge on the so-called private or domestic sphere. The case, described as an anomalous, isolated, inexplicable phenomenon, actually reflects a longstanding set of patterns in US-Cuba relations-a relationship long described in the potent, gendered language of a failed love affair, especially at the turn of the century when the US was first becoming a world power. Indeed, the case made plain the psychosexual force of nationalism, articulating those submerged desires and festering resentments inherent in neocolonial relations.

In the US, debates about the boy's "rightful" place in some ways represented larger anxieties not only about paternal privilege but about race and the Hispanicization of America. Once described as "golden exiles," Miami Cuban Americans have become, in the eyes of the press, an irrational, sweaty and vocal mob or "banana republic." And judging from talk of "wet feet" Cubans have become the most recent mojados or "wetbacks. "It did not go unnoticed that George "W." Bush, in his singularly strange grasp of the English language, continually mispronounced Elian's name as "Alien."

In negotiating the fear of the "Hispanicization" of United States population and culture, responses on both sides of the issue constructed an "ethnic" American identity through gendered terms. In the camera's eye, Elian, with his cherubic smile and golden good looks, reduced what many remember as a Cold War menace to a tiny, somewhat sexualized and consumable poster-child for paternal privilege and US superiority. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Mothers Mild and Monstrous: Familial Metaphors and the Elian Gonzalez Case
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.