Volume 1 Issue 1 (2003)
Irene Vilar: Critique of
Self-Sacrifice in the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party From the Forbidden Side of
Puerto Ricans on the island and the mainland have long struggled
with the experiences of migration and how they have affected national identity.
This essay looks at the history of that migration and its representation in
literary texts. The author argues that in the age of globalization, migration
is sometimes represented as the pleasure of being a “border subject,”
yet such celebratory depictions tend to ignore the realities of class, racial,
and gender difference. Particular attention is paid to Piri Thomas’s Down
These Mean Streets and Irene Vilar’s The Ladies’ Gallery.
Quizá debamos llegar a la conclusión
de que la cohesión del movimiento nacionalista en sus años de
mayor actividad se basaba, más en una condición psicológica
común a sus miembros –el impulso suicida del puertorriqueño
llevado a su más alta exacerbación—que en una doctrina revolucionaria
o en una metodología terrorista. (163)
René Marqués, El puertorriqueño
WAITING AT THE GATE
What has been called globalization is an economic, political, and
cultural phenomenon that has provoked a lot of thinking by cultural
theoreticians. This is because the manner in which meaning is produced either
by communities or nations must change along with this reshaping of world
relations that implies the always violent movement of people, industries and
goods across borders. Just how and
how much the production of meaning has, and will change is the question that
academics are attempting to answer.
In this context, I am usually impelled to remember that Puerto Ricans,
as well as Mexicans, have been crossing borders long before we started talking
about globalization. For these
communities migration was, in part, a product of the economic practices of the
1940s in their mother countries. In those years the industrializations that
were called the Mexican Miracle and Operation Bootstrap were created, and with
these programs access was given to a larger sector of the respective populations
to modern spaces and consuming habits, in a manner similar to what is now called
Migration happened in this context because these projects needed to
expel from the local territories the large populations of unemployed workers
that challenged the possible success of the modernizing projects. Also because
poor communities saw a relocation to the United States as a possibility of
employment and social advancement that they did not think possible in their
contexts of origin.
In both these countries industrialization was negotiated with the United
States, and in that sense, what is being called globalization now, can be
understood as another stage of this same process of negotiating access to
consuming markets with the Metropolis. In fact, the manner in which
industrialization was achieved in both these countries can be defined with the
same words that a Mexican scholar uses to describe globalization. According to
him this phenomenon is the "globalization of the subordination to the more
powerful countries (especially the United States), and to their representation
matrixes" (Valenzuela 217). In
this context, thinking about border crossing must be done by the incorporation
of the scholarship that the Puerto Rican and Chicano communities have generated
in the US.
Migration was once identified with living in the ghetto, being
rejected by both the community of origin and the new community in which the
migrant was inserting her/himself. It was also identified with insecurity, lack
of identity, and lack of being, which was translated as the lack of a voice,
as many essays on cultural identity written in the 1940s and 50s suggest.
The always growing scholarship on these communities suggests that the migrant
subject in the US is not so confused and lacking as it was taught by main stream
scholars. In this, and the context
of globalization, migration is represented sometimes as the pleasure of being
a “border subject,” always able to cross frontiers and, simultaneously,
interact with different and opposing realities.
But, is the reality of migrations as pleasant as it is sometimes represented?
I will attempt to offer an answer to this question by analyzing representations
of migration in the Puerto Rican cultural field. I will read these representations
in works written in two moments of this migration: the migration that was a
product of the industrialization process in the island and the later one that
is an indirect product of the same process and was called in Puerto Rican media
as the “brain drain” from the island (“fuga de cerebros”),
since it is the migration of professionals, or sons and daughters of professionals,
looking for better job opportunities on the mainland. Irene Vilar’s The
Ladies' Gallery (1996) is a book that talks about a recent act of migration,
in opposition, to Down These Mean Streets (1967), in which Piri Thomas
describes the earlier migration of the working class sectors that industrialization
displaced. In an old fashioned way, let’s talk about the lady first.
In 1996 an autobiography—that is also a memoir and a chronicle—was
published for the first time in English translation. To my knowledge, this written
text never saw the light in the Spanish language spoken by its author, Irene
Vilar. It is the story of three generations of Puerto Rican women that includes
Vilar herself, her mother, and her grandmother. A Message from God in the
Atomic Age (Pantheon) was the first title that this book assumed, taken
from a manifesto that the oldest of these three women had written in prison,
where she was for having committed a political crime. In 1998 Vilar’s
book was re-edited by Vintage with a new title that made it more attractive
to the possible (paperback) reader: The Ladies' Gallery.
Personally, I find this second title more attractive for the
many implications that can be read in it. It makes the book like a museum in
which the ladies will be finally exposed. To be exposed in a museum means that
the ladies, their words, will finally be looked at and read as a part of high
culture, but to be exposed also means to be open to criticism, to be vulnerable.
The Ladies' Gallery is also, literally, the name of a balcony in the chamber
of the House of Representatives from where bullets were shot by a group of
Puerto Rican nationalists in 1954, among whom was Lolita Lebrón, the
grandmother of Vilar. This is the political crime for which she was convicted.
It is from the ladies’ gallery, understood as a female space, or “a
room of ones own,” that the world is seen in this book, since it is a
woman, Vilar, who tells the lives of her grandmother, her mother, and herself.
The room, or gallery, is also a room in a psychiatric hospital from where the
act of writing begins.
The lives of these three women are implicitly contrasted with the
location that is assigned to women in the national narratives. That detail,
among others that I will proceed to explain, is what makes this a significant
text. This is how the world is seen from the ladies’ gallery at the
beginning of the book:
MARCH 1, 1954. In the afternoon, a young woman
together with three men entered the House of Representatives of the United
States of America and opened fire. Next day, the front page of the New York
Times would show the same woman wrapped on the revolutionary flag of Puerto
Rico, her left fist raised high. What the Times would not quote were her
words, "I did not come here to kill. I came here to die."
The image of this woman wrapped on the Puerto
Rican flag relies on a pervasive metaphor in political debates and cultural
representations of the island’s twentieth century: that silent image of a
woman as nation. However, even though the words that Vilar puts on the lips of
her grandmother rescue her from the silence of the simple visual image, to have
her become a subject capable of naming herself; even if words are put in her
mouth, the act of naming herself takes place in accordance with the nationalist
narratives of self-sacrifice constructed by Puerto Rican male intellectuals in
the latter part of the twentieth century, when she declares: “I did not
come here to kill. I came here to die.”
With her text, Vilar enters the Puerto Rican cultural field confronting
a series of past assumptions that have given shape to debates about national
identity and nationalism for over a hundred years now. The most obvious are her
attacks on the image of women as nation, by the exposure of the straight-jackets
it imposes on them: woman, it is assumed, can be the nation, and consequently
the object for which men will perform their nation-saving deeds or actions: men
will be the only agents, and the only
citizens. But she not only
criticizes the effects of this metaphor, she also challenges the elevation of
self-sacrifice to the category of political strategy to obtain independence, as
inscribed in the famous phrase by Pedro Albizu Campos, the leader of the Puerto
Rican Nationalist Party: “The motherland is bravery and sacrifice”
(“La patria es valor y sacrificio”).
An equally important aspect of Vilar’s text is the manner in which
this manuscript circulated to become a published text. I suggest that the story
that tells the journey of this text to publication has to be read along with the
one that is told in the book, if we want to be able to unpack the multiplicity
of political implications that are wrapped in it. We know that the book was
published in English and not in Spanish, and this fact forces the reader from
the island to wonder why it had to go through the work of a translator (Gregory
Rabassa) to become a published work of literary art, since the implied reader
seems to be the Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican who promoted the Hispanic cultural
nationalism that claimed sacrifice as a political
strategy. A reading that goes
from the story told in the book to the one implied in the publication process is
the most interesting to me, because English is the language that Puerto Rican
intelligentsias on the island expelled from their canon, along with the
Puerto Ricans who migrated to the U. S., who were also systematically expelled
from the social imaginary. In
spite of these attempts to erase them from the historical record, Puerto Ricans
on the other side of the pond (“el charco”) continued being
Puerto Rican and the act of claiming a culture gave them the means to survive in
the metropolises that received
them. I am interested in the
publication history of the book because I wonder if this book was expelled, as
the migrant communities were, from the island’s historical record by
denying it the possibility of being published by local presses.
There are yet other issues this autobiography raises, among
which the most interesting is an examination of the dialogue it establishes
with other autobiographical texts constructed by Puerto Ricans who grew-up in
the context of that migration, but experienced a totally different reality.
Piri Thomas’ work, Down These Mean Streets is an example of a
text written by a Puerto Rican in the US that tells a different story: at least
when considering race and class issues. Here the narrator is the son of a working
class Puerto Rican family who starts his act of writing from prison, another
enclosed space equivalent to the psychiatric hospital. The story he tells is
different because he draws on a landscape other than the middle-class position
and the privileged location in which Vilar lived in the US: a private secondary
school and, later, the University of Rochester.
Thomas challenges purist and monolithic Puerto Rican nationalism when
writing in English, because it was the language he knew, and with this gesture
his text helped to initiate a literature of the migration that has been expelled
from the insular canon. By
writing about the landscape of his experience, East Harlem or El Barrio, Thomas
creates a symbolic economy in which he incorporates the social imaginary of both
the U. S. and Puerto Rico.
Vilar, on the other hand, shows the effects of the symbolic economy that
makes of the island a sick woman, to later promote the martyrdom of its male
children. But to do this, her text has to be translated and published into
English. The conditions that made this publication possible was opened many
years ago when Thomas published his autobiography. In this manner, literature
of the Diaspora comes full circle when it goes from being a marginal literature
to being one with a well-established market—a market that enables the
publication of texts that also talk about a Puerto Rican experience produced by
an entirely different kind of migration.
III. ON BOARD AND
The second wave of migration that is happening as I write was described
in Puerto Rico by the media as the “brain drain,” whose flow needed
to be stemmed for the good of the island. This change of official position
regarding migration is an extremely classist one, since when the people
migrating were poor land workers nobody spoke about containing that particular
flow of migration. Instead, it would be proposed to forget those migrated
Puerto Ricans who would soon forsake their national identity and start becoming
“Brains” (“cerebros”) was the name that the press
used to describe the people with university or professional titles who were
leaving to the U. S. in search of better salaries, or were escaping from the
street violence of the island, and who had to be seduced to stay to promote and
enlarge its industrial progress. Magali García Ramis wrote an essay
parodying the media’s representation of the new type of migrant,
describing them as:
Cerebros; esa gran masa encefálica
que como nube nuclear se desplaza lenta y constantemente hacia el extranjero;
esos sesos con patitas que se suben a diario a los aviones rumbo a otra vida:
doctores a Dallas, profesoras a Boston, maestros a Rutgers, pintores a San Francisco,
trabajadores sociales a Nueva York, enfermeras a Chicago, arquitectos a Miami,
investigadores a Washington ...(12)
Brains; that great encephalic mass that like a nuclear cloud
moves slowly and constantly to foreign lands. Those pork brains with pigs feet
that, as a giant cuchifrito, daily get on plains leaving for another
life: doctors to Dallas, female professors to Boston, male teachers to Rutgers,
painters to San Francisco, social workers to New York, nurses to Chicago,
architects to Miami, researchers to Washington
it is classist to promote the erasure of the poor people who first left since
the 1940s, and then attempt to keep on the island the professionals who leave
after the 1980s, it is also problematic to arrive in the U.S. believing in the
American Dream (because you need it if you are looking to fulfill it), and erase
the professional class position that allows you to intervene in the US economy
and public sphere with a greater degree of success than the generations before
you. That is, precisely, the most problematic aspect in academic proposals made
by successful professionals who have recently migrated to the US and found it
easier to acquire economic and professional rewards. If on the island, crime,
violence, along with bureaucracy and economic disadvantages, it is harder for
these professionals to live a peaceful and rewarding life, we cannot forget
several historic facts.
That same reality of violence is the product of the industrialization
that created a consumer society without providing to a great sector of the
population the income necessary to be able to consume. These individuals later
organized an informal economy that allowed them to
survive. At the same time,
industrialization gave a significant sector of Puerto Rican society access to
education, and therefore gave them or their parents (unless the class position
was inherited) the professional status that allows them to succeed in the U.S.
Together these facts demonstrate that what worked to the advantage of the
“brains” that constitute the new migrant population of Puerto
Ricans, worked also to create the violence and bureaucracy from which they
escaped. It also worked to the disadvantage of the sectors who migrated with no
professional titles and therefore had to fight to be incorporated successfully
into U.S. economic and symbolic fields, at the same time that they had not much
agency to perform the same struggle in the Puerto Rican cultural field. While
the migrated “brains” can easily cash the capital (social,
political, symbolic) accumulated by the struggle of the older generations of
migrated Puerto Ricans, they should always remember how this capital they are
cashing in was accumulated, and by whom.
One has to ask if Vilar’s book could be read in this new
context of migrations that have produced a very specific symbolic capital that
now circulates in US media.
But if the point of departure of Vilar’s narrative is considered, then
it becomes obvious that the answer is no: this book is not a complacent text
about the pleasures of migrating or crossing borders. Her narrative starts in
a lunatic asylum in the US, to later tell the story of a life divided between
two borders: an infancy of political harassment in Puerto Rico, the death of
a mother, and then a trip to experiencing adolescence in the US. In it, identity
grows from migration, but the process she describes is so painful that she attempts
suicide several times. Therefore, the image of Irene, the character represented
in the book, does not correspond to the one described in the book review section
of the New York Times: “Since her mother died, Ms. Vilar has
lived as a peregrine, toting suitcases everywhere from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia,
from Spain to New York” (3).
It is for this reason that I interpret this book in dialogue with different
audiences, the Puerto Rican on the island, the Puerto Rican in New York, and
the mainstream American public that reads her book as a totally different work
of art. Is the New York Times review of what seems to be a sort of
jet-set traveling accurately describe the same experiences that Irene, the character
in Vilar’s text, had to live through? Is it the same experience of traveling
that caused Piri’s trouble at finding a community with which he could
fully identify? In his book, the narrator/protagonist fought poverty, racial
violence, and discrimination in the Puerto Rican community in New York and in
other U.S. communities. His search leads him down a path of violence, crime,
drug addiction, and, eventually, incarceration. By comparing Vilar’s and
Thomas’ autobiographical texts, we see that after two generations, the
writing produced by Puerto Ricans who have faced migration emerges from the
enclosed spaces of the asylum and the prison. That, in a Foucauldian sense,
brings to mind that migration is still both the result of violence and a violent
act that forces the migrant soul to reconstruct itself.
For Vilar, distance enhances the quality of the dialogue with
the island, allowing her to produce one of the most moving critiques of Puerto
Rican nationalism. The cuts on her wrists, that are described by the New
York Times writer as the only thing that sets Vilar apart from a normal
gal, are set up in the textuality of the bibliography as the consequence of
a search caused by a history of violence, that is usually denied in the island
(Puerto Ricans are so peaceful, and welcoming, and humble, people say when describing
on the streets the essence of a national spirit). So while in mainstream media
the scars of this character are erased, I would rather concentrate on them,
and explore what they mean for generations of Puerto Ricans that keep moving
back and forth from continental U.S. to the island in the Caribbean. The violence
that she deals with is a pervasive effect of a historical period. The days when
Thomas lived and later shaped his memoir; and the ones that Lolita Lebrón,
the grandmother, lived were marked by World War II, the War of Korea, massive
migrations, social restructuring on the island, and political repression.
The violence implied in migration, that violence that made Piri live
with an anger that he could not explain, and did not know how to manage, is
suggested, even though not developed to explore its full implications, in an
article published by the Puerto Rican historian Silvia Álvarez. She
describes migration as a physical displacement in terms of Puerto Rican
La consolidación del populismo en
Puerto Rico a partir de 1940 puede narrarse como una crónica de desplazamientos
y de tráficos acelerados. Los umbrales provistos por dos guerras: la
Segunda Guerra Mundial (1939-45) y la Guerra de Corea (1954), que involucraron
traslados de contingentes numerosos de puertorriqueños; los amplios movimientos
del campo a la ciudad debidos a los imperativos del desarrollismo industrial
y al deslumbramiento ante las urbanizaciones; los exilios y encarcelamientos
consubstanciales a la política de erradicación del nacionalismo
y del independentismo; y los éxodos migratorios más intensos en
nuestra historia constituyeron episodios simultáneos de desalojo, renovación,
y reocupación de los espacios políticos, económicos, demográficos
y culturales por el populismo puertorriqueño en una duración comprimida
de 15 años. (92)
(The consolidation of populism in Puerto Rico, beginning in
the 1940s can be told as a chronicle of movements and accelerated traffic. The
limits were provided by two wars: World War II (1939-45), and the Korean War
(1954). Those wars implied the movement of many Puerto Rican soldiers; [but
also] the great movements of people from the country to the city due to the
imperatives of industrial development policies; and the mesmerizing effect the
construction of new suburban living had in peoples; the politic of eradication
of the followers of the nationalist and independentist parties that implied the
exile and imprisonment of their followers; and the most intense migration exodus
of our history; all these constituted simultaneous scenes of eviction,
renovation, and recuperation of political, economic, demographic, and cultural
spaces provoked by populism in Puerto Rico in the short span of 15
The violence described here was
physical, but there was also a symbolic violence perpetrated against women,
homosexuals, and the migrant nationals. In the context of the colonial
relationship with the US, the intellectual sector whose work was canonized in
the 1940s portrayed women as the repository of the essence of cultural identity,
which had to be, according to them, Hispanic and, therefore, male dominated, in
opposition to matriarchal pattern, which they assumed was the organizing social
structure of Anglo-Saxon
cultures. According to this
rhetoric, women could not become lettered intellectuals since the world of the
letter was seen as a male
territory. The production of
culture by women had to be circumscribed to the oral domain and the security of
the domestic private sphere. Otherwise women would have become masculinized and
the world would have fallen from its natural
Pedro Albizu Campos, the leader of the nationalist party, on the other
hand, saw the motherland as a sick women that needed to be taken care of by her
male sons, as Carlos Gil, a cultural critic from the island, has suggested.
Since Gil’s objective is to show that the role of the intellectual in the
late-modern and post-nationalistic era should not be to take care of the
mother-nation, he is not concerned with the context in which the Albizuist
discourse was produced. Albizu’s proposal of violence to the point of
self-sacrifice was, as he continuously said, a desperate (if not practical)
response to a violence being inflicted on the Puerto Rican people. A quick
review of his speeches would make this fact evident. In them he accuses the US
of performing experiments with radiation on Puerto Rican people, as well as
promoting the use of contraceptives as a means of decimating the population.
He also speaks of the testing of drugs (vaccines) on Puerto Rican people before
they were approved for consumption in the U.S., the repression of the
Nationalist Party, the Korean War and, perhaps the most delirious of his
accusations, the deliberate infection of tuberculosis on the island through
books as yet another means of decimating the population. Were these accusations
the words of a madman? That is what many people taught. But, according to
this, for Albizu, the motherland was not just a sick mother, it was a mother,
yes, willfully sickened by a tyrant. For Albizu, also, if the male son of the
motherland was not brave enough to save the sick mother, she would either force
her misbehaving children to act in her defense, or be saved by her own heroic
actions, as he explains:
El valor no necesita de la fuerza física.
La mujer más endeble puede derribar un imperio si tiene valor. Que empuñen
su rosario, que se inspiren en lo eterno. Y las mujeres nuestras serán
las que empujarán los hombres a ser los hombres gloriosos para lo que
han nacido. (151)
(Courage does not need of physical force. The weakest woman
can overthrow an Empire if she has courage. Let them clutch their rosaries, let
them draw inspiration from the eternal. And our women will be the ones that
will push men to become the glorious men that they have been born to
This description seems to embrace
the same kind of resistance that women of Argentina used against the military
dictatorship, and that has been analyzed by academic scholars as the new
political tool of these, so called, post-political times: the use of the
historical relegation of women to the sphere of the home, and motherhood, in the
public sphere to claim rights when protesting in the public square in the name
of their children, silently, as they have been taught to
do. That is precisely the role
that Lebrón assumed, to a much less effective political result, probably
because she was alone.
Carlos Gil suggests that the time of the messianic intellectual is over,
and that contemporary intelligentsia should go on a diet in order to loose
intellectual weight: all the weight of the utopias that he had to produce.
Free of these heavy weights the new intellectual of late modernity should
concentrate on saving himself, goes the
argument. In this context, I
recall the words of Albizu not to say that he was right to call the people to
start a revolution, even if it meant losing one’s life. I just want to
point out the effects of such a violent context. It made Albizu sound like a
madman. Lolita Lebrón followed him, attempted to embody the nation, or
the mother of the nation, or the woman that would inspire men to save the
nation. In jail she became a mystic as her last resource to articulate some
sort of resistance. The
inheritor of this tradition, Vilar, does not find it so easy to go on a diet.
The reason why I bring to memory the context of violence of the 1940s in Puerto
Rico is not that I want to re-legitimize the Albizuist project. Rather, my
intention is to question the complacent intellectuals who seem to see this
neo-liberal stage of capitalism as the end of history. If diets make us feel so
light, why is it that we are still dealing with the same issues of injustice,
racism, discrimination, displacement, incarceration, and sickness?
Death and silence were a destiny that Vilar's grandmother had accepted
when she confronted the US government with a Kamikaze attack, in response to
Albizu's plea for brave sons and daughters. Death and silence were also assumed
by her mother, who killed herself on March 1, 1977, "on the twenty-third
anniversary of the attack on Congress" (Vilar 3), as a protest against her
husband's infidelities. Again, the only way a woman could be a central part of
a narrative, would be by killing herself, by being silent. The story of this
book starts a little later, when the third woman of this family, confronted with
this national myth of self-sacrifice, is placed in a lunatic asylum for
attempting to kill herself. But, Vilar breaks the chain of martyrdom through
the act of writing. "Mother has died, therefore I am. Not a nation, it is
true, but a presence that remains. A book" (323). Thus Vilar’s
narrative becomes a book that closes a circle for her. Thomas, also, at the
beginning of his narrative sets telling one’s story as an instrument that
will cure his suffering, or “make things better:” “He
didn’t give me a chance. Even before the first burning slap of his belt
awakened tears of pain, I was still trying to get words out that would make
everything right again” (4).
In both narratives, the writer, along with the implied readers, Puerto
Ricans on both sides of the border, are healed of this past after the written
talking cure. But what is the meaning of the refusal of Puerto Ricans on the
island to read Vilar’s book, if it is true, as I suspect, that it was not
published in Spanish for the lack of publishers willing to make public such
heavy words in such light times? I want to close this essay by remembering
again that the publication of Piri Thomas’ work is a condition of
possibility for the publication of Vilar’s work in English, by Pantheon
and then Vintage. In the same manner, the work of the generation of the 1940s,
along with the work done by the leaders of the Popular Democratic Party, and the
Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico, with their displacements, use of force and
absolutely modern debates with which they attempted to create a nation, all of
them are conditions of possibility that created both an imaginary culture and a
consumer society that allow contemporary academic intellectuals to suggest a
lighter agenda for themselves. What Vilar’s book suggests, among many
other things, is that when there are so many heavy issues unresolved, we have to
be careful about diets, because we run the risk of going up and down, like a
José Manuel Valenzüela: “Globalization processes or
supranational formations of meaning refer to different processes of convergence
and integration, and allude to codes, symbols, and information that circulated
in a broad manner to most of the countries in the world. Notwithstanding,
globalization also conveys processes of disintegration and the, sometimes
violent, irruption in other fields of meaning.” (“Los procesos
de globalización o de formaciones de sentido supranacionales refieren a
diferentes procesos de convergencia o de integración y aluden a
códigos, símbolos e información que circulan de una manera
amplia en la mayoría de los países del mundo. Sin embargo, la
globalización también conlleva procesos de desintegración,
de irrupción, a veces violenta en otras conformaciones de sentido"
(216; all translations are my own).
 In the case of
Mexico, migration is not necessarily the migration of people, but of the border
itself. On top of that, the farm worker who goes to California does not operate
in a land foreign to him, since he sees it as his own stolen property.
Recognizing that fact, I do think that the process of migration was accelerated
in the context of the modernization project of the 1940s in Mexico. In his most
recent publication Néstor García Canclini says on this subject:
“If it is true that this process started before what, in a strict sense,
can be called globalization, is with these movements of the second half of the
twentieth century that one arrives to the point in which, for example, a fifth
of Mexicans and a fourth of Cubans live in the United States. Los Angeles
turned into the third Mexican city, Miami into the second concentration of
Cubans, and Buenos Aires the third Bolivian City.” (“Si bien el
proceso comenzó antes de lo que en rigor puede llamarse
globalización, es con estos movimientos de la segunda mitad del siglo XX
que se llega al punto en que, por ejemplo, una quinta parte de los mexicanos y
una cuarta parte de los cubanos viven en los Estados Unidos. Los Ángeles
se convirtió en la tercera ciudad mexicana, Miami la segunda
concentración de cubanos, Buenos Aires la tercera urbe
boliviana.”) (Cited in Monsiváis 2). García Canclini
argues that this stages of population movement cannot yet be called
globalization. I argue that neo-liberalist practices that have created what we
now call globalization were already operating when the industrialization
projects of these two countries were conceived and implemented.
The whole quote in
Spanish reads: "Si el capitalismo expandía las industrias y sus
relaciones sociales, y el imperialismo se caracterizó por la
exportación de capital, el concepto de globalización se nos
presenta como un concepto aparentemente aséptico que refiere a la
mundialización de la subordicación a los países más
poderosos (principalmente los Estados Unidos), así como a sus matrices de
representaciones" (Valenzüela 217).
 In the second chapter
of my Ph.D. dissertation I develop the symbolic parallels that the simultaneous
industrializations in Mexico and Puerto Rico created. I have envisioned two
chapters that will force the dialogue between Chicano and Nuyorican Literature
with the ones produced on the respective mainlands. My project can be read
within the context of the proposal in Borderless Borders. This book is
the first one I’ve seen that creates a supranational frame for the
comparative studies of the histories of the migrations to the United States and
the relations of the mother countries of the migrant with the
 I am thinking of
Paz’s El laberinto de la soledad, Antonio S. Pedreira’s
Insularismo, René Marqués’ El
puertorriqueño dócil, and many other essays that make an
argument about cultural nationalism that expel the migrant national from the
national cultural field.
 See, as examples, the
works of Juan Flores and Gloria Anzaldúa.
 There is, as
an Anglo example: the work of Emily Hicks. The context in which I am intervening
more directly with this essay is probably formed by the publication of Puerto
Rican Jam in the US, and in Puerto Rico, the work of some of the intellectuals
that has been published in Polifonía Salvaje. On these anthologies
I see a tendency to conceptualize the history of minorities in the US, on one
hand, and the production of intellectual debate on the other, as easier and
happier experiences and tasks than how they are experienced on daily life. In
Puerto Rican Jam, for example, even though the writers are careful
in signaling the inequality of the relationship of both, colonial countries
and ethnic populations with the US, the final proposal on the introductory article
to the anthology is jaibería, or the Puerto Rican refusal to play
by the rules (similar to the famous “acato pero no cumplo”
of colonial times) as the most valid political strategy for Puerto Ricans, both
in the island and the US. The problem I see with this proposal is that if we
conceive resistance politics as naturally happening in the daily life of peoples
(which does happen), then we refuse to come up with a project that seems to
be needed, or to criticize power structures. The most interesting essay in that
anthology from my point of view is the one written by Agustín Lao, titled
“Islands at the Crossroads.” This essay ends with the following
proposition: “Caribbean cosmopolitanism has since the nineteenth century
included New York as one of the main stations of its metropolitan trajectories,
but now with the “caribbeanization” and “Latinization”
of the Big Apple, the continuous transit of Caribbean islanders has created
a transinsular territory between the basin and the north continent. If the islands
have always been at the crossroads of modernity, the ‘postmodern island’
now also ‘repeats itself’ in Manhattan, in Long Island, and in all
the ‘Calibanized’ and ‘insularized’ embodiments of the
global Caribbean diaspora. The archipelagos of Puerto Ricanness (our bodies,
ourselves), in so far as they serve as intersection of the crossroads, could
hopefully become midwifes for the birth of postcolonial imaginaries, and (ideally
and paradoxically) gates of hopes for the gestation of postimperial worlds”
(186). Caribbean peoples in the US should unite, yes. And also Caribbean peoples
in their main islands, and Latinamericans too. But my attention on this article
is focused on attempting to map a little of what happens to people when they
migrate, as it is represented in the literature they write. This literature
will contradict the representation of them in relation to confusion and lack,
made from above, at the same time that it will talk about the painful experience
of finding a space on this land, not letting go the abandoned land, and at the
same time reconstructing the self. I am reading migrations within the context
of violence that displacement generates. I find the success story problematic
because it erases the history of violence against migrants in this country.
The Ricky Martin story shows that whoever refuses to be whitewashed is violently
excluded from the spaces in which hegemonic political, economic, and symbolic
production occur: he does not and that explains his success. That is why I prefer
to focus my attention on violence and its effects.
 See Elisabeth Dore
for a study on how the Holy Family as a symbol of the ideal family has shaped
family structures in Latin American societies. Mary Louise Pratt has a study in
which she traces both the location of women in the literary imagination of
modern Latin America and their dialogue with the literary canon to be able to
create their own narratives. See “Women, Literature and National
 A couple of years
ago, while attending to a conference in California a friend and colleague, Lisa
Sánchez González, who is Assistant Professor at the University of
Texas (Austin), called my attention to this book and wondered why it apparently
never came out in Spanish. This paper is a product of my conversations with her
that day. The only way to confirm any publication information would be to talk
to the author or the editor. I have made attempts to contact both and, up to
this date, have not received an answer from any of them. This fact shaped my
method of research here, which is to read implications from the information I
have about the book and what I know about Puerto Rican cultural
 Here is how the
historian Silvia Álvarez describes that: “After performing its
role in the battle against unemployment and overpopulation, and after having
crossed the border, the emigrant had to leave the stage of the narrative of
modern Puerto Rico.” (“Tras cumplir su rol en la batalla contra
el desempleo y la sobrepoblación, y después de cruzar la frontera,
el emigrante debía hacer mutis de la narrativa del Puerto Rico moderno.
La salida era su ara sacrificial para la construcción del país; la
entrada a los Estados Unidos marcaba la asingnación de un nuevo espacio,
la adquisición de una nueva identidad conmesurable a la que dejaba
 See the book
Latino Cultural Citizenship for more detailed studies on the implications
of claiming, precisely, cultural citizenship in the US.
 Flores locates
Thomas’ book as the precursor of the third stage of Puerto Rican
literature in the United Stated. On that stage Puerto Ricans in the US write
without dialoguing with the insular canon or with the tradition of writers that
from New York dialogued with it. For a history of Puerto Rican writing in the
US see “La literatura puertorriqueña en los Estados Unidos: Etapas
 In an interview
with Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá, that later came to be part of his
chronicle Las tribulaciones de Jonás (1981) Luis Muñoz
Marín, governor of the island during the industrialization period, declared
about migration exactly what I paraphrase above, responding to a question about
the politics of the Popular Democratic Party regarding migration. I quote his
statement followed by Rodríguez Juliá’s comment: “’We
thought: after two generations there will no longer exist the problem of the
Puerto Ricans in New York, simply because by then they will no longer be Puerto
Rican [...]’ My God, without sorrow or pain he just almost denied the
Puerto Ricanness of Roberto... Roberto was saved by a hitch, by being of first
generation... but his son... The energetic Puerto Ricanness of Roberto was the
best proof that the sinister project of assimilation for emigrants had failed.”
(“’Nosotros pensamos: después de dos generaciones ya no
existirá el problema de los puertorriqueños en Nueva York, sencillamente
porque ya para entonces no serán puertorriqueños [...]’
Dios mío, sin más, sin pena ni dolor, casi le ha negado la puertorriqueñidad
a Roberto... Roberto se salvó por un pelo, por ser de primera generación...
pero su hijo... La enérgica puertorriqueñidad de Roberto era la
mejor prueba de que el siniestro proyecto de asimilación para los emigrantes
había fracasado” (43).
 She also adds
examples of people who leave to Mexico City and Saudi Arabia, but we all know
that the bulk of our migrations go to American cities, named like that, with a
single name, as if speaking of an endeared friend.
 Talking about
Puerto Ricans in New York, this is how this fact is described in the introduction
to Puerto Rican Jam: “The expulsion of Puerto Ricans from manufacturing
jobs and the racist educational system that excluded Puerto Ricans from the
best public schools produced a redundant labor force that could not reenter
the formal labor market. This led to the formation of what some have called
the Puerto Rican “underclass,” which we prefer to call a displaced
racialized/colonial population. Unable to find jobs, many Puerto Ricans developed
survival strategies, legal or illegal, to overcome the crisis” (22). Another
example in which drugs and violence are read in the context of world economy
is given by an essay about Latin America and globalization, in which George
Yúdice says: “My hypothesis about Latin America is not that informal
economies or narco-traffic are postmodern phenomena, but that they represent
alternative responses/proposals to the grand récit of postmodernity
constructed by Lyotard, Jameson and people who wrote before them.” (“Mi
hipótesis en cuanto a Amperica Latina no rside en que las economías
informales o el narcotráfico son fenómenos posmodernos, sino que
representan respuestas/propuestas alternativas al grand récit
de la posmodernidad construido por Lyotard, Jameson y sus predecesores”
 I recognize that
the new “latino” imaginary that has imposed itself in US mass media
has its New York born cultural icons, like Mark Anthony and Jennifer
López. In fact, I think that their contributions to the mediatic
imaginary are richer and more productive for the Latino and Puerto Rican
communities than the image of the middle-class-island-born Ricky Martin (Ricardo
 See Mirta
 That is, of
course the work of the writers that are now known as the Generation of the
1940s, and especially, René Marqués. To explain the canonization
of the work of intellectuals that criticized the project of the populist sector,
it has been said that while the populist (PPD) leaders got to rule in the
political field, in the cultural field the independentist sectors were allowed
to rule. For an intellectual history of those times in Puerto Rico see the
first chapter of the title by Arlene Dávila.
 I discuss this
symbolic displacements in Puerto Rican literature on the Second Chapter of my
 For a brilliant
article that explains how notions of masculinity and femininity are deployed in
Puerto Rican lettered cultural debates see: Lugo Ortiz.
 I do agree with
studies that see this as an important defensive strategy, even though I like to
remember that it is that, a defensive strategy, which implies a specific (less
empowered) position in a larger power structure. Two examples of articles that
discuss the rupture of clear divisions between public and private sphere when
women become politically engaged are Elizabeth Jelin, and Ann
“As normalized sons and daughters, not guilty ones, we know that it is not
the health of our mother that we must take care of, but ours.”
(“Como hijos normalizados, no culpables, sabemos que no es la salud de
la madre la que debemos cuidar, sino la nuestra”) (135).
 In the first
chapter of Jean Franco’s study of women writing in Mexico she deals with
mystical writing by women in colonial Mexico. About it she says: “The
torment and obstacles the nuns relate reveal, however, that they were well aware
of the danger of their words, since they constantly deny authorship. It was
only by disappearing as authors and becoming mediums for the voice of God (or
targets of the devil) that these women were able to speak of their experiences
at all, though this did not always exempt them from the petty jealousies and
entrapment in the web of intrigue that were intrinsic ingredients of convent
life. More important, this self-effacement and their constant professions of
obedience whenever they appeared to be trespassing on alien territory were the
preconditions for their flights of the imagination. When they returned with
messages from God or the Virgin, they still had to resort to considerable
hedging before conveying the messages and ‘secrets’ so that their
mystical knowledge should not be seen as undermining in any way the authority of
the clergy” (15).
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