Academic journal article MELUS

When the First World Becomes the Third: The Paradox of Collapsed Borders in Two Novels by Gabriela Aleman

Academic journal article MELUS

When the First World Becomes the Third: The Paradox of Collapsed Borders in Two Novels by Gabriela Aleman

Article excerpt

There are concrete reasons why students of American literature or Latino/a studies may not have read either of Gabriela Aleman's two novels: neither has been translated into English and Aleman does not fit into pre-established categories of either US of Latina writers. A native of Ecuador, Aleman has published five books of fiction--two novels and three collections of short stories--all of which were written in Spanish. One could imagine Aleman's work appearing in a Spanish class on contemporary Latin American literature, but certainly not in a class on Latino/a studies or American literature. However, as a writer who is deeply immersed in the Latin American tradition of writing and actively engaged in the transnational realities of development and power, Aleman provides an excellent test for pushing against the more traditional conceptualizations of both American and Latino/a Literature. She not only explores the fluidity of form and genre, but also offers an ambitious conceptualization of the contradictory and paradoxical nature inherent to borders of all types.

While recent conference and panel themes at the American Studies Association, the Modern Language Association, and the Latin American Studies Association suggest that inter-American studies is a recent, pressing issue, scholars throughout the Americas have for two to three decades considered the national borders of the United States as both outdated and even misguided when thinking about and examining conceptual paradigms such as American Studies. US and Latin American scholars such as Jose Saldivar, Donald E. Pease, Sophia A. McClennen, Daniel Mato, Nestor Garcia Canclini, and Jesus Martin-Barbero have long questioned the emphasis American Studies places on US national borders as the legitimizing force behind what we understand as "American" studies. Under the rubrics of inter-American, hemispheric, transamerican, transnational, and postnational studies--all terms that are intimately connected to what is now generally referred to as the "transnational turn"--scholars have argued that American Studies is a field of inquiry that extends far beyond the national borders of the United States.

McClennen suggests that one of the most encouraging aspects of inter-American studies is its potential for critically engaging previously marginalized works such as those by Brazilian and indigenous writers. McClennen favors an inter-Americanist approach because of its ability to "put pressure on nationalist and cultural essentialist epistemes by focusing on the ways that culture often transgresses borders, both geographic and identitarian" (393). The benefit of inter-American studies is its inherent ability to go beyond stolid, overly determined, and outdated borders while simultaneously turning attention to marginalized voices. For other scholars, such as Debra A. Castillo, the turn toward inter-American conceptualizations of literature and culture reflects certain key, hard-to-ignore demographic realities (for example, the presence of at least forty million Latinos/as presently residing in the US). Castillo suggests that to speak of the US without addressing Latin America is to dangerously ignore this undeniable demographic shift. The recent patterns of migration that have brought millions of Latin Americans to the United States have had profound implications in Latin America as well. Castillo argues this point by citing the work of Garcia Canclini, who writes that "the actual condition of latin America exceeds the borders of its territory.... latin America is not complete in Latin America. Its image is reflected back by mirrors dispersed throughout the archipelago of migrations" (qtd. in Castillo 4). (1)

Castillo's citation of Garcia Canclini draws attention to the notion that a collective understanding of identity is a process that transcends geography. As an idea, Latin America is manifest in the lives of Latin Americans in Latin America, but the idea is incomplete without consideration of the Latin American lives developing beyond the geographical confines of the region. …

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