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Latino Fiction &
T
he Modernist Imagination

By John S. Christie, Ph.D.
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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

WORKS
CITED PAGE

 Part I Part I Part I Part 1 Part I Part I

Part II

Part II

Part II

Part II Part II Part II

 

Part III

Part III

Part III   Part III


Chapter Four (Part II): Dreams and Betrayals: Latino Between Worlds

          If aspects of some works of fiction seem to concur with the much debated argument put forth by Richard Rodriguez in Hunger of Memory,[53] other works suggest a synthesis of two views, a blending of the value (often metaphoric) of an indigenous myth and non-European history (often oral) with an understanding of the deficiencies of old world life and the complexities and ambiguities of a hybrid U.S. existence.  At odds with the view that practicality dictates abandoning the myth of island purity and perfection, is Ortega's argument that it is precisely "the oral, matriarchal tradition that gestates [Latina's] discourse a priori" (123) and that it is the figure of a pre-Hispanic, indigenous woman -- Anacaona -- (like the Aztec figure of Coatlicue) that authenticates a lost oral tradition and is used by recent poets as a model for their "subversive poetic discourse" (122).  In the stories of Benjamin Alire Saenz, various characters struggle with divided allegiances reflected in their names.  One angry young library worker battles between the "Richard he had created" and the "Ricardo" of his family.  His renaming himself mirrors his futile attempt to escape the Spanish language ("The language of suffering"), and his family's poverty.  "Ricardo" reminds him of "desert, of drought, of too many years of praying for rain" (65), and of his nephew's death.  As Richard, he flees words, until a final cathartic explosion of words ("a downpour after many years of drought" - 79) allows him to open up and vent "the scream" which up to this point has been "stayed inside him" (66).  In another story, a young man corrects an English nun, insisting on Miguel, instead of Michael, though the sister pretends not to hear him ("In London There is no Summer"  106).  While Ricardo's dismissal of Spanish shows a debilitating incapacity to confront his own ethnic past, the Miguel of the later story (living in London) asserts his past affiliation and struggles to confirm his heritage.  He declares at one point that peanuts are a "new world food" though no one in his boarding house kitchen understands what he means.  Miguel grows to envy the anger of his friend Lizzie as he learns to recognize "the stench of London history" (123).  Crossing the channel from France, he feels the majestic images of the poem "Dover Beach" (whose author he can't remember), give way to the real cliffs: "gray and thick with old age like medieval prison walls" and watches the seagulls (read English imperialists) "flying down like mad dogs racing to pick off a piece of trash from the waters, fighting each other in flight, making [as does Arnold] the violence seem like something graceful" (123).

            The process of transition from one world to another involves psychological and social acculturation (adapting) and assimilation (changing).  Transition is therefore an instigator of change in characters' lives which, when focused upon, can reveal the nature of the conflicts and oppositions people encounter as they cross borders, both real and metaphorical.  Here too, the reader can discover the qualities of a liminal space inhabited by characters who traverse borders continuously, who never fully cross from one side to another, and who remain caught in what Eliana Rivero calls a "permanent, unresolved dualism" ("Rewriting Sugarcane Memories" 170).    In the traditional ritual progression from innocence to experience, the archetypal seducer robs the innocent of virginity, takes advantage of naivete or destroys the innocent's optimism and forces entrance into cruel reality (death and sin), and into confrontation with the facts beneath the illusory appearance.  The result of seduction is growth and maturity (often filled with disillusionment and pessimism) at the expense of childishness and ignorance.  Yet the transition in Latino writing is often blurred and confused, the result a hazy blending of growth and loss that defies the practical notion that the initiation is a maturing process.    

           Beyond the level of betrayal in terms of individual characters' psychological growth, the motif is often suggestive of the larger, political betrayal of the U.S. in that the dream it presents is illusory to the immigrant.  Though nothing earth shattering in itself, the subtlety with which such suggestions are made metaphorically in various texts allows the reader to simultaneously trace the development of character and detect elements of commentary upon U.S. life that might otherwise go unnoticed.  Alphonso de Sintierra (whose name translates into "with land), the phony genealogical expert in Candelaria's Memories of the Alhambra is a case in point.  Characterized by his cousin, a Senor Gomez, as one of those having the "devil in their tongue and money in their pockets," Sintierra's underhandedness makes him "a good Norteamericano" (33).  That Sintierra has made his living threatening Mexican migrants into purchasing printed copies of the Declaration of Independence (19) only emphasizes Candelaria's point that U.S. luxury and freedom come tainted, that the national anthem can "turn sour, like spoiled milk." Oscar Hijuelos intertwines the themes of sexual and cultural initiation by mixing the seduction of lovers and their betrayals with immigration and introduction into the U.S.  Over and over, the beginnings of a character's sexual activity metaphorically parallel that character's crossing over into the deceptive allure of U.S. culture and life.  In Mambo, the thirteen year old Delores Fuentes encounters her sleeping father in "a state of extreme sexual arousal" and, feeling "her soul blacken as if she had just committed a terrible sin and condemned herself to the darkest room in hell," she expects "to turn around and find the devil himself standing beside her, a smile on his sooty face, saying, 'Welcome to America'" (65).  The devil himself appears just pages later in the form of an "American fellow" whose ears turn "a livid red from the wine" (74).   Claiming to work for Pepsodent toothpaste, this seemingly wealthy smooth talker tries to recruit her for a beauty pageant and then, on a deserted beach on Long Island, attempts to rape her.  His "clean" smile and "wavy blond" (71) hair and his job in cosmetics suggest the larger image of the false attraction of superficial U.S. advertising.  His hair "whipped like a sea flag in the wind" (73) and he throws up his arms "as if to say 'I'm not armed...'"  On an allegorical level, Hijuelos could be alluding to the U.S. flag, patriotism and U.S. intervention into Latin America in general, the governmental pretense of peaceful assistance followed by brutal attack and violation.[54]   Delores's two early clashes with "the devil" are connected further in her mind as the Pepsodent man's attack becomes a frustrated attempt at masturbation and she is reminded of her earlier initiative experience with her father's frustrated attempt to relieve himself.   In The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien, there is a similar mixture of U.S. capitalistic seduction and sexual initiation.  Margarita's first romance leads to disappointment when the object of her first attraction, Curtis the aviator, proves to have a "sweet," blonde, farm girl fiance in another town (71).  The romance of her flight with this Douglas Fairbanks look alike (137) -- in his daredevil, sopwith camel, trailing a "brightly colored banner" advertising an airshow -- is deflated by her nausea, and the glow of the air show, like Delores's beauty pageant turns hollow and empty.   Margarita's husband,  Lester Thompson, is even more disillusioning despite his possessing all the "qualities and attributes that all young American men should aspire to" (Fourteen 137), when it turns out he sexually degrades her in his desire to recreate "the happiest time of his life" (158) -- a certain Parisian, carnival past with a French whore named Jeanette.  Actually a lousy business man, he is perversely "obsessed with her [Margarita's] bodily parts and secretions and scents" (182).   Though he is photographed as the epitome of U.S. success, manager of Thompson's Electrical Appliance Department Store, with a house "on one of the better streets of Cobbleton... impeccable in a worsted English suit and hand-made shoes...perfectly tailored and elegant" (137), in actuality, he has bought her ("winning over the family" with gifts  - 187), and married, not for love, but out of a desire to disturb his wealthy and "proper" parents.   She eventually recognizes being "demoted from wife to parent-rankling device" (184), throws away Ivanhoe, and, like the elderly grandmother Celia in Dreaming in Cuban (equally trapped in a marriage arrangement devoid of romance), begins reading Madame Bovary.   Roberto Fernandez mocks the same sort of romantic delusions in Raining Backwards.  At one point, Connie tells her gringo lover Bill: "Bill, hold me, Kiss me. Thrill me. Make me your baby, forever. But hurry up. I've got to be back home before five to help Mima fry plantains" (97).

 

           In contrast to past traditions, rarely in Latino literature is the seducer a woman, though there is some hint that the dyed platinum blond of gringolandia, the figure with the "fly-catcher tongue" seen kissing Pilar's father in Dreaming in Cuban could be the adulterous betrayer of "innocent" husbands.[55]  usually, the male figure (whether symbolic of larger facets of the American Dream or not) betrays a woman.    Moreover, when the infamous mistress does appear, especially in Latina fiction, she instills in the reader a certain respect rather than disdain.  This kind of privileging of the stereotypically negative female figure (for Helene Cixous: to see the "beauty" in the Medusa's laugh), allows writers like Sandra Cisneros to reverse the traditional image of the mistress.  We sympathize with Clemencia, the narrator of "Never Marry a Mexican" and her gummy bear rebellion, not solely because we get the story from her perspective, but because we sense her frustration beneath her wit.  We feel her vulnerability at the same time she lashes out (protesting too much) at those around her.  She doesn't want to be "owned" by a man, especially one who will "plant" his toothbrush "in the toothbrush holder like a flag on the North Pole," yet her desire for independence (to escape being territorialized) means she sleeps alone in a "bed so big because he never stayed the whole night" (69).  Similarly, we understand the nostalgic reverie of the adulterous couple in the car and their feasting in "Bread," mainly because the woman narrator offers a fleeting glimpse into the poverty of her childhood, pointing our sympathy toward the hardships of her life -- so different from his -- and away from the betrayal of the man's wife and family.  Helena Viramontes's story, "The Broken Web," leads the reader into deeper and deeper understanding of the complexities of a family love triangle.  By the end, we have come to sympathize, not only with Toma's abused wife (who is never given any name), but also with her sister, Olivia, the mistress.  Piecing together narrative threads, we learn of Olivia's trials growing up in the shadows of her more attractive younger sister, and her genuine love for her sister's husband: as, for instance, in the saloon, when she pets and comforts the drunken Tomas, in a futile attempt to share his pain (54).   Olivia's revelation to her niece that she, Martha, the young girl whose confession opens the story, is not the daughter of Tomas, but the result of a clandestine relationship between Tomas's wife and another man, further strengthens the reader's empathy for the mistress/sister. 

            Both Cisneros and Viramontes clearly identify with the compound image of La Malinche and La Llorona in their willingness to disrupt the traditional ethics of marriage.   As Sandra Messiner Cypress makes clear in her study La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth, depending upon one's perspective, it is possible to see this legendary figure in both positive and negative terms.  The traditional view, expounded by Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude, portrays her as the betrayer of her Indian heritage and responsible for "malinchismo" or "the preference for foreign over native."   As mistress of Cortes (Malintzin; Dona Marina, "La Lengua" or "the tongue), she worked as Cortes's confidante, translating between Montezuma and the conquistador, and thereby aiding the destruction of her own people.  Through the years, her image becomes symbolic of betrayal, violation (La Chingada) and abandonment (La Llorona).  The contrasting view, that of most Chicana writers, argues that her liaison was justified by virtue of her being a slave and having no choice in the matter; she is therefore, "victim and not an instigator" (Rebolledo and Rivero 193).  Called Malinal at birth (in 1501 or 1502 in Jaltipan or Olutla), she was the daughter of an Aztec family and sold into slavery (by a jealous mother if we concur with Rosario Castellanos's poem "Malinche" - 96-97), and then given as a gift to Cortes.   Modern writers reconstruct her symbolic image by pointing out the unpopularity of despotic Aztec rule, the betrayal by her own mother and her individualistic integrity in breaking down the stereotypical domestic barriers for women of her time and place.   She was "a woman who had and made choices rather than...the woman so often portrayed as the passive victim of rape and conquest" (Rebolledo and Rivero 193).  She returns, in the Castellanos poem, to "scratch up the earth / in the place / where the midwife buried her umbilicus" (96).  According to Anzaldua, an ancient Indian tradition dictates that a baby girl's umbilical cord is buried beneath the house in order that "she will never stray from it and her domestic role" (Borderlands 36).  Chicana writers celebrate the complicated combination of the three Chicano "mothers" (Anzaldua 31) as they weave in and out of the mythical figure of La Malinche (the hispanisized "syncretic mestizo" form of her name - Cypress 7).  In some sense, she engendered the Mestizo / Chicano race by giving birth to Martin Cortes, and she remains a symbol of a certain pride in the capabilities and intelligence of the Indian woman, the feistiness of the threatening rebel.  Because La Llorona's cries echo the wailing "feeble protests" of Aztec women who's sons were sent off to the ritual "flower wars," she has come to represent an alternative to the role for women in Latino life and for this reason her prestige, like that of her mythic counterparts Medusa, Medea or the Amazons runs high.

          Her sympathy for the La Gritona/La Llorona figure, shows Cisneros's understanding of the reasons, or the "quiet" (51) things that could drive a woman to "the darkness under the trees" (51).  The battered wife with the unromantic name of Cleafilas in "Woman Hollering Creek" is first betrayed by her family:  as her father leaves her he says: 'I am your father, I will never abandon you.'"  Then her romantic notions of love and marriage give way to a cruel reality of abuse and poverty.   So, on the way to her new home in Sequin, she laughs at the creek named La Gritona, but when she escapes the trap of her domestic torture, with an independent woman named Felice (happy) in a pickup, Cleofilas laughs with the creek.  From an image of a mourning sound of female pain, from the river bed comes the sound of a "gurgling... ribbon of laughter"(56).  The question of whether La Gritona had cried from pain (the pain of not having been able to be the dutiful mother) or from anger (the anger of having been forced into a domestic role despite a husband or lover's betrayal) haunts Cleofilas throughout the story.  Changing an eerie cry, associated in childhood stories with loneliness and despair and grief to an assertive "Tarzan" bellow of laughter and freedom for women is a significant alteration of the tradition. 

            Deflation of romantic notions, especially those implanted in young women by novelas (soap operas) and romantic novels is prevalent in Latina fiction.  Sandra Cisneros, in "Women Hollering Creek," traces how Cleafilas grows away from a self deception ingrained in her by her parents and her Mexican culture.  In the cinema, there is a hair "quivering annoyingly on the screen" which is later tied to "a doubt. Slender as a hair" (51) regarding her husband's fidelity.  When her husband throws her romance novel at her (literally "throwing the book at her" -- Cisneros turning metaphor into life) and gives her a "crack in the face," (53) her romantic delusions begin to disappear.  The power of various "mass-produced fantasies" (to use critic Tania Modleski's phrase) begins to crumble as Cleafilas (a name she resents at first because it is not sufficiently romantic) sees the reality of her abusive husband.  The telenovela of her childhood "Tu o Nadie" (You or No one) is transformed into a soap opera her neighbor watches called "Maria de Nadie" (Maria of No One) which follows the archetypal plot of a Harlequin romance outlined by Modleski (36).   In her domestic trap,  the heroine is sandwiched between the mysterious widow Soledad (Solitude, loneliness) and a faithful, religious widow La Senora Dolores (Pains).  The "crack" between her neighbors' houses, between pain and loneliness is the arroyo called La Gritona, the space of freedom and laughter. 

 

            Cleofilas resembles Ed Vega's narrator Mendoza in "La Novela" who falls "under the spell of the soap opera" and sees his life "in those terms" (Vega Mendoza's Dreams 158).  Cecile Pineda overtly mocks these romance traditions as her heroine Ana Magdelena Figueroa da Cunha, about to be abandoned by her first heroic idol, seems well aware of the implausibility of typical romantic scenarios gleaned from her secret reading in the convent.  Each imagined script "breaks down," as she gets closer and closer to the river where Ballado keeps his boat.  The first scenario that "the wind would carry her call to him like a flight of evening doves. He would wave in recognition...she...would run toward him breathlessly, her long dark ringlets flying in the wind..." is rejected because they don't really know each other.  The second and third possible unfoldings are disrupted when her high heels break off (The Love Queen of the Amazon 50-51).  Whereas in the Vega story, as in the earlier novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Vargas Llosa, the complications of people living in delusionary worlds of novelas result in absurdist comedy, both Cisneros and Pineda treat the results of mass-media romantic instruction on young women somewhat more seriously.  Cisneros's Cleofilas is not altogether escaping, after all, rather returning to "chores that never ended" and her "six good-for-nothing brothers, and one old man's complaints."  What is more, her father has always known that she would long to return.  Her life bears similarities to the fantasies of TV, not in its romance and "happily ever after" marriage, but in the typical "soap opera" trauma of abuse and pain (55).  Betrayed on both sides of the border, she can only admire a woman, like Felice, who laughs at everything and does what she wants.  Pineda parodies the dreamy prose of romance at the same time her heroine is allowed to deconstruct that sort of language as it occurs to her:

 

            "Sergio Ballado?" she would intone with the unblushing assurance of knowing what she was about to do.

            "That's me," he would reply.

            (Idiot, she would think, of course, I know it's you -- but instead she would smile in a mysterious but engaging way.) (50)

            Returning for a moment to Hijuelos's  novel, Fourteen, we find again a form of romantic betrayal. Margarita's sister Jacqueline, seventy five, "after a lifetime of virginity" suddenly falls for a twenty-five year old "Spaniard from Malaga" who takes her on a picnic to Bear Mountain on the Hudson river, only to be caught later "on a street corner, necking furiously with a brunette."  Hijuelos allusion to the Bob Dylan song "Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" (about an eventful picnic at Bear Mountain where a boat capsized) foreshadows this disappointment.  The fact that the unfaithful young lover is a Spaniard suggests that the Latino's belief in glorious European roots (a sympton of Paz's "Malinchismo") is just as dubious as are the allurements of the U.S.  In House, Hector Santinio is betrayed by Cuba in much the same way.  He longs for a Cuban drink for years until he learns the object of his fantasy is actually Hershey's chocolate syrup (179).   When the family gathers at a farm, the "big event of the day," a Cuban pig roast, is tainted somewhat by the black tarantulas that "rain down" from a nearby tree like "hundreds of black flowers...creeping like fire in all directions" (82-83).    Moreover, while in Cuba, he picks up certain "microbios" which damage his liver and he comes to associate the shape of that organ with the shape of the island itself (104).  Cuba, for Hector, "had become a mysterious and cruel phantasm standing behind the door" (106).   

            Emilio O'Brien is romantically betrayed first by an actress, appropriately named May Springweather (Jacqueline's affair also occurs in early summer) with a voice like music, who leaves him as quickly as the season she's named after.  As "glamorous as Ginger Rogers" (240), she is as reliable as the Douglas Fairbanks aviator.  Two years later, during World War II, Emilio is enchanted by an Italian woman he sees framed in a window: "beautiful and serene...hair falling down over her shoulders, a baby in her arms, the child reaching up and touching her face" (252).  This Madonna figure brings him into dinner with the family and then abruptly stops him when he attempts to kiss her.  It is her voice as well that haunts him, and her "expression of pure affection" (252) which attracts him so.  That she is inaccessible only points to Emilio's irretrievable infancy of love and peace to which he (like Nestor in Mambo) is obsessively devoted, to the extent that his desire to "suckle" the breasts of women seems nearly perverse.  Even when his wife Jessica dies in a fire, he looks down at her corpse and thinks of "the pleasure of his tongue on her breasts" (374).  Like many of Hijuelos's protagonists, Emilio is trapped by an infantile desire for his mother's protection and his lost state of innocence.     

            Nelson O'Brien, the Irish patriarch of Fourteen, has stock in a flag company (61) and he has clearly bought into the American dream in all its manifestations. The same is true for the practical Lourdes Puente in Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban with her "Yankee Doodle Bakery" with "tricolor cupcakes and Uncle Sam marzipan" (136).  She wears a bicentennial "red, white, and blue two-piece suit and to her daughter, she is "a thrashing avalanche of patriotism and motherhood" (144).  Yet, in Fourteen, the glory of the U.S. at the time of Nelson's photography job in Cuba will fade by the end of the century so much so that Margarita will find Nelson's pictures of the Spanish American War unsaleable.   Hijuelos purposely juxtaposes Nelson O'Brien's proud saluting of the marching U.S. soldiers (their "brilliance, their heroism, their manly virtues") with Margarita's disastrous marriage.  Both the fourth of July celebration and the wedding occur on the same church steps.  The American male image (soldier, salesman, manager, pilot) takes a beating here as time after time, the shallow nature of U.S. advertisement and deception is undermined by event.  Near the end of the book, in many ways a journey from dreamy, hazy nostalgia to pragmatic understanding and coping, Hijuelos further hints that immigration to the U.S. may have drawbacks.  Cobbleton for instance, first presents itself as "desolate... but it was America!" (381).  The porch of their new home is filled with "cocoons and spiderwebs" and "America looming in the distance" (382). Impressions change as people grow and this house, opened first with a skeleton key, will become the image of paradisal heaven for the fourteen children, and, especially for Emilio, come to represent that lost past "when everyone in the world seemed good," "clean and sparkling and sinless"(339), a Jungian womb of nurturing and perfection, forever gone, always desired.

            The dream of easy life, the tempting qualities of North America are usually countered in Latino fiction by stark reality.   To the perceptive Pilar Puentes of Dreaming, there is a discrepancy that needs addressing in the fact that "families of guajiros slept in the city's parks under flashing Coca-Cola signs" (206).    This is why the products of U.S. capitalism often symbolize the deception that North American governments and companies have visited upon immigrant populations.  "All anglos think about is money" says "Nana" the earthmother, grandmother figure in Candelaria's Memories of the Alhambra (71).  Judith Cofer's jibaros will learn that "La tierra de nieve" only sounds like paradise; it isn't (Line of the Sun 152). The narrator of Cisneros's House on Mango Street buys a replica of the Statue of Liberty at a junkshop for a dime (20). 

            As early as Tomas Rivera's classic ...Y no se lo trago la tierra, the migrant workers, scorching and suffocating in the sun, are warned against drinking ice cold Coke because its sweetness will make them sick.  This notion of U.S. product as "forbidden fruit" is common.  The easy materialism of the U.S. suggests a "magnetic world" of "treasures" that sucks up Jose Rafa (in Memories of the Alhambra) "from the beanfields of Los Rafas like iron filings from dirt" (35), and eventually lures him away from the natural familial world of his Indian/Mexican ancestry.   An Arlene figure from the Viramontes story, "Miss Clairol" represents the totally lost soul, the bleached blonde incapable of recognizing what is truly valuable, and metaphorically changing her true "roots" by administering the cosmetic falsity of cheap product.  In Mambo, Cesar Castillo and Vanna Vane, in Fourteen, Nestor and a "bleached blonde," in Garcia's Dreaming, an adulterous father and his "puffy blonde with a "flicking, disgusting...flycatcher tongue" (25) -- these are characters indicative of the hollow superficiality of U.S. life where people live on easy U.S. credit, and are incapable of resisting the temptations of the cheap and valueless in the United States.  The symbolic dying of the hair to cover the true Latin American heritage refers to bleaching out the culture -- erasing racial and ethnic markers -- and concealing the authentic self in favor of the trivial and cosmetically acceptable.  This is what Pilar rejects in Dreaming as she "goes south" toward her grandmother and Cuba in the opening of Garcia's novel.  The motif of betrayal by the U.S. mirrors the reality for Latinos in a world where, as Bruce-Novoa has pointed out, serving your country in the military service or educating yourself in U.S. schools or reaping the benefits of the Bill of Rights itself have proven unworthy and disillusioning, that in fact, though tempting in its democratic preaching, the U.S. has "duped and exploited" the Latino believers more often than not (Bruce-Novoa 120).  Anzaldua remarks that the border patrol, la migra, "hides behind the local McDonalds" (Borderlands 11).  Betrayal in the fiction reflects economic and political betrayal by a country whose immigration barriers fluctuate around the volatile rates of U.S. unemployment (illegals are overlooked in good times, condemned in bad ones) or the U.S. government's need for soldiers to, in Algaran's phrase, "to clean the battlefields" in foreign wars (i.e. the Korean war saw a drastic increase in Mexican - American casualties[56]).  It should be remembered that Wilson's famous Jones Act of 1917 which gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship cannot be divorced from the wartime U.S. government's need for military recruits.  Recognition of the duality of U.S. promises, the deception and seductive elements of U.S. culture constitutes maturity.  "In this country all you really need to know is how to count" declares Nina in Arturo Islas's The Rain God (42).   In Judith Cofer's The Line of the Sun, a character's back is badly burned when, as part of the American's "economical new system" canisters of pesticide are strapped onto his shoulders (11).  Later, Truman's lottery system (in which desperate Jibaros -- rural Puerto Rican peasants -- were rewarded with degrading migrant labor contracts) comes under the control of "enterprising con-men" (150).   The generally omniscient narrator of the first half of Cofer's novel steps away from her objectivity to describe in judgmental terms, more than once, one character's useless military death: "three months later he was blasted into a thousand pieces over the soil of Korea" (53).  The double standards of U.S. Corporations come under fire frequently in Latino fiction: Goldman describes a military base in fairy tale terms: "a few blocks down from the embassy...like a Disneyland castle with its bright gray castellated walls, turreted towers, drawbridgelike entrance and antique cannons" (72).  In Cofer's novel, the boss of the Nabisco cookie factory betrays Rosa (30); in Castillo's So Far From God, a high-tech weapons company, Acme International, poisons its diligent workers with toxic chemicals (180).  In La Maravilla, "pobre Maria [is] sprayed with pesticides in a field near Glendale" (8) and later the "Liquid-Ox plant" uses migrants to "clean up and bury the chemical spillage," handing out "impressive, new white cotton gloves and paper masks to attract their workers" (Vea 25).  Young boys are fascinated by the "chemical faces" in the side shows of the local carnivals (88).  The U.S. betrays Miguel Grande, the protagonist's father in Islas's novel when the land of opportunity shows that it is ruled by prejudice and he is denied his promotion (61) -- a result, correctly noted by Rosaura Sanchez, of the scandal surrounding his homosexual brother's murder (Sanchez 124).   Hector Calderon even reads Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, as commentary on the devastating effects of the nuclear tests at Los Alamos.[57]   

[53]The lengthy discussion concerning the extent to which the Latino must assimilate, accommodate or abrogate US culture and education is outside the scope of this study. See, for an Intro to the debate, Earl Shorris's discussion in his work Latinos: A Biography of the People, New York: Norton, 1992.

[54]Other Latino writers compare people to flags as well.  Viramontes describes, one suspects derogatorily, the "Saturday tourists" in Tijuana waving "like national flags along the sidewalks" ("The Broken Web" 52). 

[55]Jane Rogers' mythical reading of the La Llorona legend in Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima points to one clear case in which the siren/mermaid/seducer presents a classic moral dilemma for the novel's hero ("The Function of the La Llorona Motif in Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima" in Lattin, Vernon E., ed.  Contemporary Chicano Fiction: A Critical Survey. Binghamton, NY: Bilingual Press / Editorial Bilingue, 1986.

[56]The Peruvian writer, Julio Ramon Ribeyro, has an interesting short story which evokes both U.S. military exploitation of Latinos as well the desperation with which the Latin American poor succumb to the enticements of Gringolandia.  In "Alienation: An Instructive Story with a Footnote," Ribeyro's hero begins by "killing the Peruvian in himself and extracting something from every Gringo he met" (Ribeyro 57), illegally entering the U.S., changing his name from Roberto, to Bobby, to Bob and enlisting to avoid deportation. In Korea, "the first blast blew his helmet off and his head rolled into a trench, all of its dyed, tangled hair hanging down" (66).  Even more disillusioned is Roberto's original object of infatuation, Queca, who winds up in Kentucky, married to an Irish Puritan who beats her and calls her a "shitty half-breed" (67).   

[57]See his article "Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima: A Chicano Romance of the Southwest." Critica I, no. 3: 21-47.

 

Continue: Chapter 4 Part III


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July 25, 2011
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