Saturday, November 22, 2008

A sad goodbye

I'll limit my sentimentality to my title.
I'll say I am happy to explore a relatively unexplored genre in the world of literature. Although it is a smaller genre, it addresses and gives life to the experiences of millions of people. This is what I thought was most important about this class; the life given to so many unheard voices by a select few. I listened in class to the comments of people who have been immigrants, and was interested to hear how well they identified with the stories. I saw in Carmen Rodriguez a woman who wanted to represent her people, to speak out where there was silence....and I was amazed to hear that the Chilean people's silence persisted long after the publication of the book because they were not ready to break the silence. This fact impressed me deeply; Rodriguez gave voice to the many people who had had the same experiences, because no one else had done or was ready to do so. I imagined all the Dominicans in New York, all the Mexicans in the Southwest, all the Chileans in Canada, and all the Latin Americans who look up to this big white north, which weighs heavily upon their more slender southern land. The immigrant experience is a relatively recent phenomenon, a modern expression of globalization, and as an increasing number of immigrants cross borders, an increasing number of stories need to be told. And we saw in this class that an increasing number of people are telling these stories on behalf of those who shared this experience with them. I found in Rivera's work an encouragement for these immigrants to find strength in each other and unite their voices in order to be heard, and thought it was a message all marginalized people should hear. I found in Alvarez' and Cisneros' books an encouragement of the acceptance of hybridity, of being neither one thing nor another, but both. I found in all of the stories (although to a lesser extent Rivera) a weighing of good things in the new culture versus bad ones and good things in the left-behind culture and bad ones. Marti's incredible description of the true liberty, the freedom of America countered his criticism of the materialism, the lack of class. These contrasts exist in all things.
My favourite writing was Marti, as you know, because of the beauty of the language, the power of the images, the purity of the idealism. Second place I will award to Sandra Cisneros, for the originality of her expression and imagery, and because of how much I identified with the Mexican aspect of it (how many times has my mother said, "Never marry a Mexican!", how many Mexican women I've seen who've been hurt by their men, how I agree that to love in Spanish is one thousand times more beautiful than loving in English!). And third place goes to Tomas Rivera, again for how much I love and identify with Mexico's culture as well as for the emotional power of his writing.
A note about the Wikipedia article, which created so much rage within me sometimes: this was an important experience for me because I am terrible at groupwork and I absolutely cannot do large projects gradually (I need pressure to function), and so I had to overcome these things. In the end, though, it feels cool to have contributed somehow to the general education of the WORLD haHAAA. I feel like I've done something to alleviate, if ever minutely, the massive ignorance of the modern world.
Y Basta.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

...y un cuerpo para recordar

The title of this book is an interesting choice; it got me thinking about the body, and its role in the stories. Why would Rodriguez title her book as such without some significance? Remembering with the body implies some comparison with mental memory. So far, in the stories, memory has played an important role. The first story, "Black Hole", explores extensively the concept of memory. Estela's memory of places in Santiago becomes intertwined, confused with images of Vancouver. Her daughters' memory of Spanish is becoming lost. These are mental memories, but there are also cases of bodily memories; the confusion between the smell of Chilean asados and Burger King, the physical memory of and yearning for being in her mother's arms. So it is not only the mind that remembers...the body remembers as well, and body memories are much, much stronger. In "The Mirror", the "perfume" and "image" of the fugitive linger, inside the perfume and image of the narrator herself. The memory of the woman she cared for takes root in her own sense of sight and smell, and this way her body remembers. In "I Sing, Therefore I Am" the woman's memory of her torture is a sort of out-of-body experience...she sees herself, legless, being raped, an external vision. The extreme pain her body is suffering disables her body's memory and her memory becomes purely mental. The birth of her son, however, is in her body's memory; she recalls pushing with her "skin, teeth, fingernails".
I find this distinction between body and mind interesting and profound, because it is not a separation. The violence of Pinochet's regime caused not only physical suffering, but also psychological pain from the pervading fear. Imprisonment and torture are not purely physical experiences either; they are mentally destructive (e.g. trying to make a woman betray her friends and her political and moral standing). And so surviving these violations is also not only physical, but also mental. When the prisoner is released on her crutches, without a leg, she is not only recovering her body, but also her family and therefore her heart.
Rodriguez seems to be emphasizing that memories are not only mental and emotional but also physical, and that military dictatorship is destructive not only of lives, but of people's hearts and therefore society as a whole.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In the second half of the book, to me there is more emphasis on the true identity of the Garcia girls. In the last part of the book, they are not the hybrid, dual-cultured, Americanized women that we know; they are 100% pure Dominican children, living a Dominican life. We see that identity is dynamic, that it has changed over time. Although they will never be completely American, at one point in time they have been completely Dominican. And although they feel later on in time that they no longer belong in the Dominican Republic, in childhood it was their whole identity. This feeling of completeness is reflected in the childhood stories. They are happy, innocent stories. The underlying ominousness of the political danger is not scary for them, since they do not grasp its full meaning. When they were children, they never questioned who they were or where they belonged, and this made for a generally happy childhood, with gifts and adventures and a big family and lots of wealth and support.
The fact that the story is told more or less backwards by Alvarez makes the understanding of the story an incremental process. With each chapter we know more and more about the past, and therefore understand more clearly the events in the "present". It is only at the end that we understand clearly the circumstances surrounding the Garcia de la Torre family's escape from the Dominican, and this clarifies very much the events that happen later on (timewise) in the story.
This novel definitely emphasizes the importance of family, of blood ties the support network that they provide. Although there will always be conflict between family members - misunderstanding, anger, resentment, difference of opinion - in the end, the family is the most important thing, and the only thing you can depend upon. This is a very Latinamerican way of seeing life.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Garcia Girls

The title of this novel, "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents", implies that this novel is about how the Garcia girls lost their most blatant foreign characteristic and became Americanized. In the beginning, they had accents; they were obviously from somewhere else and didn't belong. But growing up in America, the forces of the overpowering culture upon teenagers who just wanted to fit in took over and the accents were lost. But to look deeper into the story is to realize that it was the girls' father, the proud Dominican, who wanted them to lose their accents and therefore sent them to a fancy prep school for this reason. The story isn't just an account of a loss of culture and identity at the hands of a new one. It's more about looking for opportunities, and doing what's necessary to succeed, and being unique. Each chapter is a clear mix of American and Latin influences, and Alvarez doesn't favour one influence over the other, neither does she reject any elements of either culture. She celebrates the fact that each family, and beyond that each person, is a completely unique mix of everything they have ever experienced and everything that runs in their blood. There is no strict purity of culture; culture is a dynamic hybrid that constantly changes and adapts itself. Each of Alvarez' characters is very unique, and their differences are celebrated in the end, despite some initial reluctance by other characters and themselves.
So the novel isn't about a loss of culture. The only thing that's lost is the girls' accents, but in this process they find their identities and their directions in life.