Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Solving Guzman's Problem: "An Other" Narrative of la Gran Familia Puertorriquena in Judith Ortiz Cofer's the Line of the Sun

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Solving Guzman's Problem: "An Other" Narrative of la Gran Familia Puertorriquena in Judith Ortiz Cofer's the Line of the Sun

Article excerpt

The first half of Judith Ortiz Cofer's novel The Line of the Sun (1989) narrates events that take place in the small fictional town of Salud, Puerto Rico, during the 1940s and 50s. In the second part of the novel, starting with chapter six, we see how two characters from the first hall, Rafael and Ramona, and their young children, Marisol and Gabriel, deal with life in the United States. Marisol narrates the entire novel, piecing it together from the stories told by her mother, grandmother, and her uncle Guzman. If Marisol's voice unites the different narrative threads to form the novel, the actions and occasional disappearances of Guzman are what drive her narrative. Indeed, the novel begins with him still in the womb causing his mother, Mama Cielo, sleepless nights. The problems he causes there foreshadow his unruly behavior as retold in the first hall of the novel. Cielo becomes obsessed with Guzman, trying to discipline her "nino del diablo" (3) so he will conform and obey. She searches incessantly for anything that will cure what she perceives to be his illness. As his tale weaves in and out of the rest of Marisol's narrative, we see him as a frenetic character that never has a calm moment with the exception of the short time he spends with Rosa of "La Cabra" in her home far on the outskirts of Salud. Underlying Guzman's story is a clash between discursive strategies that work to create the Puerto Rican cultural imaginary. Against narratives informed by what Walter Mignolo would call "Occidentalist" epistemological strategies that seek closure and often marginalize difference is Marisol's narrative retelling Guzman's life story.

Marisol narrates the novel after her family has moved from Puerto Rico to New Jersey. So it is from this diasporic space that she observes and joins the fragments of the stories she is told. The space she occupies is an important one since as a migrant to the United States she is neither part of that culture nor is she any longer accepted as a Puerto Rican. Guzman, in fact, calls her an "americanita," and in her stories of her young life in "El Building" in New Jersey and in school, we see that she is not accepted anywhere. The border space she occupies is such that it can also be called one of "colonial difference" since it is a space between the repressive discourses of imperialism and its response, nationalism. As Mignolo would say, the result of narrating from a place of colonial difference between imperialism and nationalism is to narrate "other wise." From this space, Marisol is able to weave together the story of figures who, like herself, exist outside the dominant paradigms of imperialism and Puerto Rican nationalism. Writing from a border location, Marisol undermines the dominant nationalistic icon of the jibaro, showing that, against traditional constructs, this national icon is not of pure white blood. Guzman's story shows that, as Arlene Torres would say, "el jibaro ej prieto de belda" or the jibaro is really black and not white as everyone claims. This discovery unsettles the master paradigm guiding Puerto Rican culture. Guzman's problem is not really his problem; he is rather the symptom of a nationalistic discourse that often refuses to fully incorporate and recognize difference. That said, what is most troubling to the Puerto Rican master narrative is not so much the discovery about the jibaro's race, but that "an other" signifying practice has found a space for its production.

By presenting the story of this mountain-dwelling family, Ortiz Cofer portrays one of the continuing and problematic archetypes of Puerto Rican culture, the jibaro and his gran familia puertorriquena. The jibaro, in many respects, represents the idealization of Spanish culture in Puerto Rico which, as the sentiment in Luis Llorens Torres's play El grito de Lares (1917) says, desires to be more Spanish than Spain itself. This desired return to mythified Spanish roots forms a response to the colonial pressures exerted on the island by the United States since 1898. …

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