Academic journal article MELUS

Narrative Coyotes: Migration and Narrative Voice in Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo

Academic journal article MELUS

Narrative Coyotes: Migration and Narrative Voice in Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo

Article excerpt

And I realize with all the noise called "talking" in my house, that talking that is nothing but talking, that is so much a part of my house and my past and myself you can't hear it as several conversations, but as one roar like the roar inside a shell, I realize then that this is my life, with its dragon arabesques of voices and lives intertwined, rushing like a Ganges, irrevocable and wild ...

--Sandra Cisneros (424)

We discover toward the end of Sandra Cisneros's novel Caramelo (2002) that Celaya "Lala" Reyes, the novel's female adolescent narrator, tells the poignant, intricate, and at times hilarious history of her grandmother and the Reyes clan in order to help her grandmother's ghost "cross over." As Lala stands in a hospital room over her father's unconscious body after he has suffered a massive heart attack, she and her grandmother's ghost argue about his "destiny." (1) They eventually strike a deal: if Lala will tell her grandmother's story, one that is inextricably tied to the family's entire history, the Awful Grandmother--whose real name is Soledad--will allow her son Inocencio to live. Soledad explains to Lala that her inability to speak clearly about her own experiences, whether alive or dead, literally traps her "in the middle of nowhere":

   [I]t's so lonely being like this, neither dead nor alive, but
   somewhere halfway, like an elevator between floors. You have no
   idea. What a barbarity! I'm in the middle of nowhere. I can't cross
   over to the other side till I'm forgiven. And who will forgive me
   with all the knots I've made out of my tangled life? Help me,
   Celaya, you'll help me cross over, won't you?

   --Like a coyote who smuggles you over the border?

   --Well ... in a manner of speaking, I suppose.

   --Can't you get somebody else to carry you across?

   --But who? You are the only one who can see me.... You'll tell my
   story, won't you, Celaya? (408)

In this crucial conversation, Lala notes that her ability to become her grandmother's narrative surrogate depends on her understanding of the storyteller as a type of narrative coyote.

A coyote is a controversial figure who violates boundaries by smuggling individuals across the US-Mexico border. Cisneros's figurative use of the term "coyote" illuminates and links two of the primary concerns of the novel: migration and storytelling. Time and time again, Cisneros shows that the Reyes family's decades of migration bequeath to Lala, the family's narrator, a "tangled mess" (188) of family history even as she also draws attention to Lala's ability to talk: "How can I explain? Talk is all I've got going for me" (353). (2) Cisneros's use of "coyote" also underscores the illicit, transgressive, and "wild" properties of Lala's narrative voice. Because Lala's Mexican, Mexican American, and Chicano/a family members cross many geographical--and in the case of her grandmother, supernatural--boundaries, their stories of migration demand a narrative voice that likewise has the ability to transgress boundaries. Thus, like a coyote, Lala smuggles her grandmother's story and her own family history from the past to the present, from Mexico to the US, from the dead to the living, and from one person to another. Cisneros deploys the narrative coyote explicitly in this moment and implicitly throughout the novel to represent the relationship between migration stories and narrative structure; consequently, Caramelo exemplifies Edward Said's claim that "exile, immigration, and the crossing of boundaries are experiences that can therefore provide us with new narrative forms" (225). In her construction of Lala as a narrative coyote, Cisneros creates a migratory narrative voice that has the ability to cross supernatural, spatial, and narrative boundaries as a means to redress the "tangled mess"--the partial loss of identity, knowledge, and ethnic connection--that actual physical migration enacts in the Reyes family. …

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