History and Stories of Mestizaje in the Spanish Caribbean: Rosario Ferre's Maldito Amor/sweet Diamond Dust

By Ortega, Gema | Journal of Global South Studies, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

History and Stories of Mestizaje in the Spanish Caribbean: Rosario Ferre's Maldito Amor/sweet Diamond Dust


Ortega, Gema, Journal of Global South Studies


Mestizaje refers to the racial, cultural, and religious mixture Spanish colonization produced and regulated into a caste structure (castas) to keep colonial society hierarchized based on purity of blood and origin. Thus, mestizaje is a semiotic system, rather than a merely biological phenomenon, that has defined the identity of Latin American countries and peoples throughout the hemisphere. (1) Since the nineteenth century, Spanish American intellectuals have used the idea of mestizaje to underscore racial and cultural synthesis as the essence of Spanish America, (2) inspired and led by its three major proponents--Simon Bolivar, Jose Marti, and Jose Vasconcelos. Mestizaje celebrates the uniqueness of cultural and racial syncretism, rejecting at the same time foreign models that, like US multiculturalism, center on one cultural identity and leave others at the margins and without interaction. However, this paper argues that in the context of the Spanish American nation, mestizaje has been reduced to a notion of cultural identity that is homogenizing and thus more essentialist than it appears. Mestizaje presupposes a harmonious relationship among the three main groups affected by the encounter, or encontronazo (clash), in Spanish America: Amerindian, European, and African. The presumed harmony is created by an adherence to a criollo ideology that favors and enforces the preservation of a Spanish cultural past. Thus, the essentialization of the Spanish American collective consciousness under mestizaje paradoxically silences the multiple voices of Spanish American nations from a class, racial, gender, and ethnic standpoint. Indeed, as Benedict Anderson points out, the Spanish American nation becomes a "deep, horizontal comradeship," when it is imagined from a fixed criollo location and ideology that obscures internal cleavages within a firmly bounded space. (3)

Puerto Rican scholar and writer Rosario Ferre did not explicitly denounce mestizaje. Yet her writing rejects notions of cultural and national identity that reduced diversity to an official narrative of racial harmony. She was born in Ponce in 1938. As the daughter of a wealthy businessman and the third governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, she was educated both in the United States and on the island. Rosario Ferre started her writing career by publishing articles in El Nuevo Dia. She later founded a literary magazine, Zona de Carga y Descarga, to promote the works of new writers and political ideas in Puerto Rico. Along with Ana Lydia Vega, Luis Pales Matos, and Judith Ortiz Cofer, Ferre became a prominent Puerto Rican writer of fiction, poetry, short stories, and literary criticism and feminist theory. Her work from Papeles de Pandora and Antologia Personal and her essay "La cocina de la escritura" in Sitio a Eros have been widely anthologized and translated into English, French, and German. Yet the appeal of Ferre's work on mestizaje stems from her unique tendency as a writer to apply theory to fiction that centers on the historical anecdote. The result is a "rewriting [of] history into and through literature" (4) that challenges unified official narratives that, like mestizaje, reconcile clashing viewpoints. She favored, instead, what Unamuno calls intra-history and Ginzburg calls micro-history. (5)

By retelling minor stories of the everyday lives of those at the margins of official history, Ferre exposed the monologic grand narratives that in Puerto Rico obfuscated the relationships among colonialism, nationalism, and the discourse of mestizaje. Particularly her novel Maldito amor, translated as Sweet Diamond Dust, denounces the official discourse of lo americano as mestizo for four reasons: it perpetuates the liberal myth of racial democracy, it idealizes the Spanish colonial past, it consecrates Spanish as a national language, and it bolsters the cult of la gran familia, which is the Puerto Rican way of accepting Marti's conviction that there is no racial animosity in the Caribbean because the nation is color blind. …

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