Family Matters: Puerto Rican Women Authors on the Island and the Mainland

By Garcia, Elizabeth | Centro Journal, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Family Matters: Puerto Rican Women Authors on the Island and the Mainland


Garcia, Elizabeth, Centro Journal


Family Matters: Puerto Rican Women Authors on the Island and the Mainland By Marisel C. Moreno Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-8139-3332-0 248 pages; $27.50 [paper]

In Family Matters, Marisel Moreno suggests a new approach to the study of island and diaspora Puerto Rican literature that bridges the two bodies of work across the proverbial Atlantic "charco." This new approach, which she calls "transinsular", explores the connections and commonalities that exist across Puerto Rican literature, both on the island and the mainland. Using this approach, she focuses on the works by Puerto Rican women authors and identifies their challenge to the national unifying myth of la gran familia puertorriqueña, as the "literary contact zone" between these works of literature. Expanding Mary Louise Pratt's concept of a "contact zone," which identifies spaces and moments where cultural exchanges among peoples across different cultures and power dynamics take place, Moreno adopts the concept of a "literary contact zone" to "address the continuities that can be observed between the literature of women authors from the island and the diaspora" (p. 11).

During the height of Operation Bootstrap, which led to the mass migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States, another simultaneous "operation" was taking place. Operation Serenity consisted of pamphlets, posters, and other propaganda material promoting a particular and unifying definition of Puerto Rican culture for the island, which incorporated the idea of la gran familia puertorriqueña. Moreno argues that this image traveled with the migrants as they settled throughout the United Sates and influenced their development of a Puerto Rican identity that is tied to the Island as made evident by such structures as the Monumento a la Familia Puertorriqueña, now found in Hartford, Connecticut. Thus she argues this notion of la gran famlia puertorriqueña serves as a connecting point between island and diaspora communities. Moreno analyses the literary works by island writers, Rosario Ferre, Ana Lydia Vega, Magali Garcia Ramis, and Olga Nolla and diaspora writers Nicholasa Mohr, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Esmeralda Santiago, and Alba Ambert exploring how the ideal of la gran familia puertorriqueña is present and contested in their works.

In her first chapter, Moreno discusses the development of a literary canon in Puerto Rico and its role in upholding a particular ideal of national culture. As she explains, the myth of la gran familia puertorriqueña "has been conceptualized along three primary tenets: (1) a unified nation built on racial democracy and harmony; (2) the glorification of the island's agrarian, precapitalist past under Spanish rule; and (3) the cult of patriarchy, embodied by a benevolent father figure" (p. 17). She traces the ways in which male members of the canon upheld all three tenets as a response to the feminist politics emerging on the Island, the rise of Puerto Rican women writers and their contestation of patriarchy, and as a form of resisting Americanization, which manifests itself as a rejection of diaspora Puerto Ricans and their cultural production. Through their critiques of racism, classism, and sexism, in their narratives, Puerto Rican women writers, both on the island and the diaspora, are challenging this literary canon and the national ideal of la gran familia puertorriqueña.

She begins dismantling the national myth with her analysis of Rosario Ferré's Maldito Amor and Judith Ortiz Cofer's Silent Dancing and the ways both of these works challenge the ideal of the unified family. By demonstrating how race and class threatened and finally led to the demise of the De La Valle family in Maldito Amor, and decentering the patriarch from the family home in Silent Dancing, both of these authors dispute the notion of the "family" as a white patriarchal space. In her next chapter, Moreno begins with Arcadio Díaz Quiñones' notion of la memoria rota, and the nueva historia critiques of exclusionary national historical narratives. …

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