Academic journal article MELUS

Writing the Migration: Pedro Henriquez Urena and Early Dominican Migrants to New York City

Academic journal article MELUS

Writing the Migration: Pedro Henriquez Urena and Early Dominican Migrants to New York City

Article excerpt

Recalling the moment of his 1901 departure from the Dominican Republic, Pedro Henriquez Urena (1884-1946) wrote in his memoir that he felt no sadness departing for the United States at the age of sixteen: "I left happily, a fact that caused a strange reaction in those who knew me with my exaggerated patriotic feelings; but I thought that my absence would last four or five years, and that during that time I would be able to visit my country" (64-65). He traveled with a small group that included his father and brother to Puerto Rico and then to New York City. Henriquez Urena, an unintentional migrant, recalled, "I never would have thought that I would end up spending so much time outside of my country!" (64). (1) Despite his expectation that he would return home, he spent the rest of his adult life living in four different countries in the Americas, returning in 1931 to live in the Dominican Republic for only two years. He first traveled to the US in 1901 and stayed until 1904. Including a second stay from 1915-1922 and a period as a visiting professor at Harvard, he lived for about ten years in the US.

This article analyzes Henriquez Urena's unfinished memoir, Memorias (ca. 1909), as a migration narrative that offers insight into the subjectivity of early twentieth-century Dominican migrants in New York City. The historical backdrop of the memoir is the postcolonial period in the Dominican Republic, a tumultuous time of nation-building that included some advances and much suffering. Unpacking the national ideologies Henriquez Urena carried with him into the diaspora, the reader sees little that would signal the transformations one might expect in a migrant's consciousness. Reading beyond the memoir, there is evidence that an ethnic persona emerged within Henriquez Urena and that his literary and cultural interests shifted away from the dominant European and American master narratives to the literary culture of Latin America. However, without looking ahead at the author's broader oeuvre, the memoir constitutes a foundational text for understanding the formation of the early Dominican migrant community in New York.

Henriquez Urena's biography and autobiography are definitively marked by the political chaos in the Dominican Republic, although he was not a member of the suffering classes. By including biographical information about the social and class positioning of Henriquez Urena and his family, I seek to interrogate the position they held in the Dominican Republic before his migration, a social identity the author expresses in numerous ways. Henriquez Urena's voice represents the Dominican elite that moved into the diaspora. In the present, Dominican migration narratives in the US more commonly offer representations of working-class and poor families. Texts such as Drown (1996), by Junot Diaz, and Soledad (2001), by Angie Cruz, are marked by a struggle for survival. Yet the Dominican diaspora is heterogeneous in composition, a fact that is often overlooked in social scientific and journalistic perspectives on Dominican migrants. Understanding the social-class character of the Dominican migrant community is critical to a comprehension of the Dominican nation in motion throughout the twentieth century.

In the memoir, Henriquez Urena describes traveling an Atlantic circuit that includes the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, New York, Cuba, and Veracruz, Mexico. As did Henriquez Urena, a number of Hispanic Caribbean migrants created identities as transnational writers during the turn-of-the-century period. (2) Some are familiar to readers of US Latino literature: Jose Marti from Cuba and Eugenio Maria de Hostos from Puerto Rico. (3) Others are more obscure to today's readers: Henriquez Urena's sister Camila Henriquez Urena, Manuel Florentino Cestero, and Gustavo E. Berges Bordas. (4) Friendships and social networks described in Henriquez Urena's narrative speak to the formation of Latino/a communities that crossed national identity lines and the cultivation of ideas and reforms that crossed national borders. …

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