Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Feminism and Afro-Hispanism: The Double Bind

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Feminism and Afro-Hispanism: The Double Bind

Article excerpt

Feminism and Afro-Hispanism: The Double Bind*

*In 1988 the members of Ferministas Unidas, a coalition of feminist scholars in Spanish, SpanishAmerican, Luso-Brazilian, Afro-Latin American and U. S. Hispanic Studies, initiated a Roundtable on feminist theory and practice in the classroom and in the academy. This paper was prepared for the 1989 Roundtable, "teaching ourselves teaching others," held at the annual meeting of the Modem Language Association.

In his book Black Literature and Humanism in Latin America, Richard Jackson calls for scholars, teachers, and students to remain keenly aware of the rehumanizing role that black literature has brought to bear on the concept of literary Americanism: the author concludes that the moral quality of Afro-Hispanic literature coupled with its "correctness of vision" makes this field of study particularly potent as a means of experiencing the richness of human possibility.1 For feminist scholars, however, it is a complicated endeavor to approach Afro-Hispanic studies in terms of "humanistic value" alone, for in examining the (hi)stories concerning women of color, we often find ourselves confronted with the reimplantation, or the translation, of the same patriarchal values that oppressed all Africans in the colonial societies of the New World. As we observe the liberation and the celebration of the African spirit as manifested in the literature of Afro-Latin America, we feminist scholars often must focus our sight on the spectacle of woman perpetually enslaved. Our double bind, then is to uphold the dignity of all Afro-Latin American characters, as Jackson suggests, while engaging in legitimate feminist practice. And it is precisely through feminist inquiry that we may discover many rich possibilities for black women as expressed through Afro-Hispanic literature, such as the role of women in the Cuban revolution, or the image of an "authentic" black woman who eschews white patriarchal ideology. In a similar vein, the methods of feminist scholarship and pedagogy may assist us in channeling this literature into a space where students and faculty alike can think through the centrality / marginality of their own positions.

However, matters are not simple when Afro-Hispanic literature is brought into North American universities: they are complicated by the cultural, racial, and class attitudes in both the instructors and her students. As a non-black, non-Hispanic woman, how do I legitimize the gender and culture-coded space from which I speak? And how can we bring together a classroom full of students-some of Afro-Latin American origin, some latinos of mixed descent, some North Americans far distanced from the cultural world of the other Americas -in a common endeavor? Can the subaltern speak, to reiterate Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's fundamental question?2 Or will the dominant, colonizing patriarchal voice find a way to emerge through its unsuspecting ventriloquist, who, resist as she may, remains entrenched in her original cultural space? Finally, what are the possibilities that we may achieve what Miguel Barnet and Che Guevara have implored: to become politically black, "paint yourselves black"? Recent feminist scholarship has shown us the vital importance of the speaking subject: when we teach about Afro-Hispanism, we teach about ourselves, we teach about the place from which we speak, and we can only arrive at a discussion of race and gender via a deconstruction of the ideological constraints that bind us. "Alterity" in feminist Afro-Hispanic scholarship has as its imperative the formulation of alternate interpretive practices, and it is through analyzing the link of race to gender that we can gain more complete access to that world of difference.

One of the choices often made in the study of these texts is in effect to perform a type of "violence" by imposing a schema of neocolonization onto them. This interpretive mode may take shape, say, through the enforcement of dominant theoretical frameworks which privilege the text as an autonomous object: in the process, we run the risk of severing the work from its cultural base, and thus we may assimilate it into our dominant cultural constructions at the expense of its historical and cultural specificity. …

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