Academic journal article MELUS

The Global Baggage of Nostalgia in Cristina Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban

Academic journal article MELUS

The Global Baggage of Nostalgia in Cristina Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban

Article excerpt

Since its publication and nomination for the National Book Award in 1992, Dreaming in Cuban has enjoyed a great deal of critical interest within and outside of the academy. The novel was quickly canonized and incorporated into the fields of Latino/a and ethnic American literature, as evinced by its inclusion in numerous anthologies, such as Masterpieces of Latino Literature (1994), The Brooklyn Reader: Thirty Writers Celebrate America's Favorite Borough (1994), Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology (1996), and The Latino Reader: An American Literary Tradition from 1542 to the Present (1997). The novel was even adapted for the stage in 1999 at the American Place Theatre in New York City. Cristina Garcia's first novel also soon became the subject of numerous doctoral dissertations, the earliest of which were completed in 1993 and 1995 by David Thomas Mitchell and Ibis del Carmen Gomez-Vega, shortly after the book's publication, indicating the early academic acceptance of Garcia's novel. This essay, however, takes issue with the critical reception of Dreaming in Cuban, in particular, the celebratory reading of the migration theme in the novel. By reading against the grain of this discourse, I will highlight the textual ambivalence of nostalgia that has been glossed over by critics and the imaginative limits the novel places on Pilar's act of "dreaming in Cuban" in a globalized context.

The critical discussion surrounding Dreaming in Cuban includes a variety of approaches, particularly feminist and postcolonial readings. This body of criticism generally argues that Garcia's novel challenges the coherence of concepts such as nation, history, and patriarchy. More importantly, these interpretations are guided by a desire to locate travel as beneficial and enabling reconnection. Dreaming in Cuban's popularity within academic discourse is closely linked to the representation of exile and migration within the novel. Pilar emerges as the embodiment of a migratory subject; the critics articulate her identity as culturally in-between and, therefore, capable of moving physically and psychically between the locations of Cuba and the US. Underpinning all of these readings of Garcia's novel is the interpretation of Pilar's journey to Cuba as a positive and recuperative move that facilitates communication across generational and geographical lines. (1) "The loss incurred by exile" is linguistic, cultural, and historical (Alvarez-Borland 46). The return consequently provides Pilar with access to a family history as well as Cuban culture that she was previously lacking; she "can now preserve that family history and in the process know her own identity and place in this long and fascinating saga" (Payant 174). More specifically, then, this return is represented as a reclamation of identity, such that when Pilar leaves Cuba behind at the end of the novel, she takes with her a new sense of self: "the journey home to Cuba allows her to translate and define herself" (Gomez-Vega 99).

Indeed, Pilar is described as traversing "the path from exile to ethnicity" (Alvarez-Borland 48). While traveling to Cuba provides her with "full knowledge of her Cuban ancestry, of who she is" (Gomez-Vega 98), the criticism accepts the logic behind Pilar's decision to return to the US. This logic takes the form of a declarative statement: "Although Cuba is home, New York is more so" (Vasquez 24). Despite Pilar's "hyphenated existence," the criticism agrees that Pilar "does not belong in the real Cuba" (Payant 173). Pilar's choice to return to the US is deemed inevitable; she has acquired the knowledge she needed, so it is time to leave. Celia's death at the end of the novel is consequently depicted as a necessary step for Pilar to fully develop her new identity and independence from Cuba. Since Pilar has inherited the mission of recording the family history, Celia's "death represents rebirth and regeneration" rather than "an act of despair" (O'Reilly Herrera 90). …

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