Academic journal article MELUS

Excerpts from MELUS NewsNotes

Academic journal article MELUS

Excerpts from MELUS NewsNotes

Article excerpt

MELUS: The Society

Once upon a time there was a dear little old lady who found she had enough money so that she didn't have to hang around doctors' offices anymore. So she sent in her subscription to her favorite magazine, but when the National Geographic came, she was abashed. She wrote the Society: "I am happy to get the magazine, but I really don't deserve it because I am just too old to do any of that mountain climbing that Society members are supposed to do."

It's like that with some folks that want our journal, MELUS. They don't understand that when they subscribe to our journal they are really joining a Society that expects them to climb mountains. For MELUS is a society composed of people who want to change American literary thinking. Beyond that, we want to dissolve some of the murky atmosphere of racial and cultural misunderstanding. We can claim some ground since 1973, our starting date.

[From the first NewsNotes, n.d., postmarked March 1983]

American or United Stateser?

In the early years of our society, the suggestion was made, more than once, that our title should be MELA, that we should not limit ourselves to literature produced within the geographic boundaries of the United States, but should recognize the openness of the literary flow produced by people throughout the Western Hemisphere, all the Americas. Franco-Americans are steeped in the literary traditions of their homeland, which is French Canada. For Indians, there are no rigid barriers, only an invisible line that they cross going from one tribe to another. For Mexicans, the lands in the Southwest United States have always been Mexican; there is constant movement from country to country, across a bridge or through a shallow river if necessary. Asian people who came to work or to take refuge in the States or in Canada were persecuted in both nations.

Isn't it chauvinistic and unrealistic to assume that white-imposed, treaty-determined "borders" should be used to bind and box literature? Should the literature of the United States be called "American" or should the word "American" be used to unite all the writings of the New World? Would the matter be diluted, if not dissolved, if "United Stateser" were pronounceable? If only we had kept "Columbia" (that gem of the ocean) and let the south American country remain as New Granada, as it was until 1865.... But it's too late for that. "Vespuccians" would have been more manageable, although it does have an outer-space sound. There's so much in a name.

The controversy came up again in an MLA group discussing the Feminist Press project, Reconstructing American Literature, where it was even suggested that "ethnic literature" is really Third World Literature, not "American."

The argument was often raised by Beth Miller when she was associate editor of MELUS during our years at the University of Southern California. Her recent book, Women in Hispanic Literature: Icons and Fallen Idols, is, however, a very handy piece of evidence. Not content with analyzing the literature of all the Americas, Miller includes essays about women (writers or characters) in medieval Spain and comes through Latin America to a contemporary essay about Chicana poets. The impact of culture, as defined by geographic (and, therefore, socio-economic and political) conditions on the attitudes toward--and the fate of--women is clearly delineated. From her own viewpoint, Miller constructed an introductory essay on feminism and then ruefully had to admit that most Hispanic women are more interested in the political struggle in their own countries than on forging a separate women's movement. The final essay, by Elizabeth Ordonez, brings us full back, it seems to me, to the narrow view of "American" literature as that which is produced in and essentially differentiated by the conditions of life in America. The American Hispanic women use very different languages: English, Spanish, or a combination/alteration of both, and their interests are expressive of their feminist struggle against machismo in this country. …

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