"While you are experimenting, do not remain content with the surface of things. Don't become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin."
--Isabel Allende Llona


My Summer Internship: Final Abstract

Hola, readers!

My summer research at Northwestern University was wonderful! The 5th biennial Latino Theatre Festival occurred during my stay, and I formed my project around it. While in Chicago, I attended 7 Latino/a performances, spoke with regional and international theatre artists, interviewed the Festival's curator, Henry Godinez, and witnessed the power of theatre. In conducting my research, I also consulted archival material and read critical analyses and theories, focusing especially on contemporary theoretical writings on decolonization, history, and performativity. Reading about and witnessing these new worlds of theory, performance, and community have truly been inspiring to me! I am so grateful for the opportunity to have participated in Northwestern University's SROP and to have been a part of the Latino Theatre Festival (as both researcher and audience member). At the end of the internship, I wrote an 18-page research paper that detailed my claims and findings. In my paper, I focused on three key performances: Memory of Fire/Memoria del fuego (Goodman Theatre and Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, both from Chicago), The Sins of Sor Juana (Goodman Theatre, Chicago), and La visita de la vieja dama (Teatro Buendía, Cuba). Below is the abstract from my paper... Enjoy!

"The day grass will set fire to the damp grass"[1]:

Decolonial Revolution through Collective Cultural Memory

in the 2010 Latino Theatre Festival

              As part of the 2010 Latino Theatre Festival, national and international Latino/a theatre artists gathered in Chicago to celebrate Latino culture through performance. The Festival participated in the "Year of México in Chicago," which celebrates Mexican presence in the City as well as commemorates the bicentennial of Mexican Independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. Under the banner of "revolution," the Festival centered on Latino/a experience with an investment in histories generally excluded from a version of the past that privileges Europe. It is through performing these omitted histories that the Festival created a collective cultural memory—a communion of latinidad. Through analyzing performances included in the 2010 Latino Theatre Festival as well as applying critical analyses of performance studies and decolonization theories, I argue that the collective cultural memory which emerged from the Festival has decolonized latinidad by restoring the past, renegotiating the present, and reclaiming the future. 
[1] African proverb; from Memory of Fire: Genesis by Eduardo Galeano


Toying with Latino Identity: Latinization in Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated films of this summer. The third installment of Disney/Pixar's toy-centered series offers family-friendly comedy that is not only beautifully crafted and witty (as the past two films have been), but now in visually-striking 3-D as well.

I was genuinely excited to see Toy Story 3, and so I saw it the day it came out, June 18. Let me begin my critique by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the film, as did the others in the audience (which consisted of not only parents and their children, but adolescents, teenagers, and adults too). I marveled at the animation and 3-D graphics, I appreciated the well thought-out and executed story line, I laughed at the smart quips,  I even teared up towards the end of the film.

However, there was one thing that I didn't feel quite comfortable laughing about (or at), although, admittedly, I did. By now, it's no surprise that Toy Story 3 includes a segment in Spanish (thanks to the widely-circulated trailer, I can discuss Buzz Lightyear's "Spanish mode" without spoiling anything for anyone). After having been switched to his original settings by a group of the film's villains, Buzz's companions (Andy's other toys) try to bring back their old friend by pressing the reset button, as per his instruction manual's directions. However, things go slightly wrong when the button is held for too long, setting Buzz to the Spanish language option instead. This Buzz acts just as any newly purchased Buzz Lightyear action figure would: he believes he is the one-and-only Buzz Lightyear, sent on a mission by Star Command; he is flabbergasted when his "laser" proves to be nothing more than a flashy light; etc, etc. It is comical to watch Buzz go back into his default setting, delivering the programmed spacey speech in fluent Spanish, relearning the reality of his situation in this new context.

But Buzz's "Spanish mode" isn't limited to his Spanish-speaking. And this is where I became uncomfortable. Before I elaborate, let me offer a bit of background: in Toy Story 2, Jessie the Talking Cowgirl Doll is introduced to the series, and the film hints at a possible romance between the cowgirl and the space cadet. The beginning of Toy Story 3 follows in this vane: Buzz is obviously smitten with Jessie but cannot bring himself to verbalize his emotions. The result is a sort of awkward tension typical of first love between the two characters. However, when Buzz becomes Spanish-speaking Buzz, he can do nothing but try to conquer his intended lover. Having no recollection of who he is, where he is, or who anyone else is, Buzz must get re-acquainted with his cohorts. He quickly rediscovers Jessie and openly makes it clear that he is interested in her. But when Jessie and Woody share an embrace, Buzz mistakes the friendly gesture as a romantic one; he becomes jealous and makes wooing Jessie his sole priority...

And this is where the problem of Latinization comes in. Let me first clarify between two homophonic yet distinct terms: Latinidad and Latinization. Latinidad implies a claiming of the Latino identity as a means of empowerment (whether social, political, personal). Although it groups Latinos together (generally disregarding their national origin), Latinidad is a positive phenomenon since it generates a sense of connection--almost a fabricated sense of a "Latino" nationality--among those who actively decide upon, accept, and claim their Latinidad. Latinization, on the other hand, is a negative process through which things are "Latinicized" from an Anglo perspective; that is, the object of Latinization is either hyper-ethnicized so that it is a farcical and almost minstrel-like representation, or intentionally repackaged and re-interpreted (by Anglos) with supposedly "Latino" signifiers. Whereas Latinidad is the result of an active claiming, Latinization is the result of a forceful branding.

...Spanish-speaking Buzz is clearly the product of Latinization in this film. As he tries to win Jessie's heart, he turns to tactics painfully stereotypical of the "Latin lover" type: Buzz serenades Jessie with romantic words; he flaunts his good looks, his masculinity, his machismo; he even courts Jessie with a pasa doble (much in the way an animal tries to attract its mate through a series of courting rituals). Spanish-speaking Buzz is a bit of a narcissist, a ladies' man who won't take no for an answer, a daredevil of sorts: a Latin lover. This portrayal is an intentional Anglo misunderstanding of what it means to be a Latino male. It is a (mis)understanding which equates Latinoness with a series of ritualistic actions, a primitive performativity of self. I won't say whether or not demo Buzz gets the girl, but I will say that he is eventually reset to his familiar, English-speaking self.

Buzz Lightyear in demo mode. Source: Disney/Pixar

But the problem of Latinization neither ends here nor is it fully manifested until the film's end, more specifically during the credits. It seems Jessie was taken by Spanish-speaking Buzz and wishes to have another fling with the Latin lover: She cues music with a heavy Latin rhythm and Buzz, who is no longer in his Spanish-speaking mode, is overcome by the need to dance. His hips sway to the beat, his feet tap, his arms fling about in the air. He has no idea what he is doing, yet his body instinctively leads him into a reprisal of the pasa doble. One of the key elements of the Latinization of peoples is the belief that the Latino identity is a performative one. Not only did Spanish-speaking Buzz go through a series of performances to show himself off in an attempt to woo Jessie, but now the Anglo Buzz--a character obviously ignorant of all things "Latino"--is fully capable of performing the role of the Latin lover, of being a Latino male.

As a result, the Latin lover demo Buzz can be interpreted as purely an "act" which can be performed by anyone. Demo Buzz is denied any claim to Latinidad; instead, he is the product of Latinization. His character is purely for entertainment--more specifically, a commodity to be consumed by Anglo audiences. Said director Lee Unkrich, "When trying to make funny movies, then you want the characters to be fun. 'Demo Buzz' just seemed ripe with comic potential." And that's just it: the Spanish-speaking demo Buzz was a type employed merely to get a laugh. In a way, demo Buzz is a minstrel of sorts, a hyper-ethnic caricature used as entertainment.

Although Toy Story 3 is most certainly an enjoyable film (and one which I highly recommend), I find it troubling--though not surprising--that Disney/Pixar indulged in stereotyping Latinos with their inclusion of the Latin lover that is demo Buzz. So go ahead, see the film and enjoy it--but be conscious of the product you are consuming, the racial dialogue that is being not only literally spoken but performed on the big screen!


Exciting News: My Summer Internship

Hola, readers!

I want to share some news with you: This summer I will be interning at Northwestern University through the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP). SROP is offered by the Graduate School and is designed to give undergraduate students the opportunity to design and conduct their own research project (under the guidance of a faculty mentor), introducing them to life as a graduate student.

My proposed research project is, of course, on Latino/a Theatre in the United States. I am very excited to say that I will be working with Dr. Ramón H. Rivera-Servera. His interests and experience both reflect and complement those of my own, and I am extremely grateful that he has agreed to be my mentor. He and I have been in communication over the past few weeks, which brings me to even more great news!

My stay at NU coincides with the Latino Theatre Festival at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Dr. Rivera-Servera is already involved in a book project with the festival's artistic director. As a result, my research will most likely bring me to the festival. What's more, my research may end up published!

The program begins June 21, 2010, and ends on August 12, 2010.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this internship! Over the summer, I'll be blogging about my research, experiences, etc., etc.
I can't wait to begin my work at Northwestern University as a Graduate School intern! I hope you are looking forward to reading what I'll have to share.

Gracias por leer.

Hasta luego,
tu dramaturgista fiel,


La ignorancia: Una arma de autodestrucción

            Escrita y dirigida por John Sayles, Hombres armados explora cuestiones de la identidad, ignorancia, política, y colonización. La película está ambientada en un lugar no divulgado (pero supuestamente en algún país latinoamericano), con un gobierno y pueblo innombrados, y en un tiempo indeterminado. A consecuencia, se problematiza las actitudes convencionales acerca del sí mismo y el otro, utilizando ambigüedad como una herramienta que destaca la universalidad de los temas. La trama de Hombres armados cuenta la historia de un médico que intenta descubrir la verdad detrás de las misteriosas desapariciones de sus alumnos. Su búsqueda lo lleva a hacer preguntas, y de repente descubre que hay una historia conflictiva que consume el país. A través de su película, Sayles hace conexiones pertinentes entre la colonización europea de América Latina y conflictos actuales, la lucha para respectivamente reclamar y subvertir identidades, y los papeles de la ignorancia (de tipos fingidos y reales) en la política y la historia.
            La película trata del conflicto en afirmar una identidad nacional. La mayor parte de esta lucha es el resultado de una negación de la multiplicidad del pueblo. Como es el caso en la historia europea, mucho de la violencia resuelta de disputas feudales y conflictos por cuestiones étnicas. Los grupos en las dos instancias luchan para mantener poder y, por tanto, subvertir el “otro.” Para los de la ciudad, los nativos (que se llaman “indios”) forman la gente inferior; el mundo exterior es un “lugar salvaje.” Este punto de vista es el resultado de y la racionalización por el gobierno, que promueve la guerra contra los indios. Así como la gente de la ciudad tiene el ejército del gobierno, los indios tienen las guerrillas. Las guerrillas luchan contra el ejército del gobierno opresor. Ambos grupos utilizan tácticas de violencia e intimidación contra ambos los demás y su propia gente. Ni los soldados del ejército ni las guerrillas están libres de culpa. La ambigüedad de las circunstanciales libera la película de prometer lealtad a ningún lado o perspectiva, y, en cambio, permite un comentario sobre la situación en general. Es obvio que la batalla por una identidad es una guerra fabricada—no una guerra de necesidad. Uno de los personajes relata la situación a la de la conquista de Cortés: la guerra es una de hombres pequeños y de cuestiones insignificantes, hecha grande por las armas.
           Tal vez el arma más poderosa es el de la ignorancia, que la película también critica. La ignorancia es principalmente explorada a través del personaje del Dr. Fuentes. Como hombre letrado, Fuentes es bien preparado, respetado, y conocido. Sin embargo, aunque él es el hombre “más preparado” del pueblo, también es el “más ignorante.” Fuentes es incapaz de darse cuenta de la situación actual, y sólo llega a aceptar la realidad cuando se amenaza directamente a lo que él cree que sabe. Como dice uno de los personajes secundarios, Fuentes es “un extranjero” en su propia tierra por ser tan ignorante. Las expectativas de Fuentes dejarlo ciego; irónicamente, los que están literalmente ciegos pueden ver más de la verdad de lo que puede él. Debido a que la ignorancia tiene connotaciones morales, se convierte en el tema principal de la película. La falta de reconocer la realidad atroz puede ser interpretada como un pecado de omisión. Obviamente, la ignorancia de Dr. Fuentes le hace culpable. Fuentes, como Cortés, estaba más preocupado por dejar un legado que con el descubrimiento de la verdad. La expectación y la ignorancia ciega a ambos. Hombres armados desafía a su público a cuestionar su propia ignorancia de la historia actual.


Chicanismo y marxismo en Los vendidos

Luis Valdez, El Teatro Campesino, & Karl Marx
Chicano theatre experienced a rebirth in the 1960’s, when Mexican-American farm-worker turned playwright Luis Valdez founded El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, California. Though he had been raised in the States, Valdez remained faithful to his Chicano roots, as he recognized the U.S. social, political, and economic abuses of Mexican-Americans and fought against such oppressions through theatre. As a result, Valdez wrote plays that were both relevant and relatable to his audience of huelgistas (“strikers”) (Copelin 73), always calling for social change and action—for a Chicano revolution. More than a form of entertainment, Valdez realized that, “for the Chicano, teatro is both a witness to social change and an active propagandist for that change” (Copelin 89). Among his actos (short, bilingual plays) is Los vendidos, a play in which Valdez satirizes the U.S. use and stereotyping of Chicanos. Although Los vendidos can be read through many lenses, I argue that a Marxist framing of the play is most revealing, since the play is a “discurso teatral que se teje en el universo socio-economico de las relaciones humanas en general y chicana en particular”[1] (Peña 161). Though in his essay “Wage Labor and Capital” Marx argues that labor power is commoditized and abused in capitalist society, applying this theory to Valdez’s Los vendidos reveals that it is an entire class/race of people which are commoditized by not only the United States, but by themselves. It is through applying a Marxist reading to Luis Valdez’s Los vendidos that the deeper meanings of Valdez’s nationalistic and revolutionist outcries are revealed.
Chicano: “The Race of Workers”
            In “Wage Labor and Capital,” Karl Marx identifies two socio-economic camps in capitalism: those of the capitalist and of the laborer, or worker. Marx then claims that capitalism is structured not to “hold good for the single individual but for the species” (Marx 662). In this way, the laborer is not important as an individual, but as a class. Though Marx argues that the laborer is defined by the exchange of labor power for capital, Marx refers to the working class as a “race of workers” (Marx 662). For Valdez, Marx’s wording is significant, as the worth of Chicano laborers is determined by their ethnicity, and Valdez argues that Chicanos are not only depreciated but racialized as well. Marx claims that the wages that laborers receive are determined not only by the skill required in performing the task, but by “the cost of existence and reproduction of the worker” (Marx 662). Valdez agrees with Marx’s reasoning, though he adds that there is an inherent racialization in defining the laborer as Chicano.
For example, in describing the Farmworker “type,” Honest Sancho notes that the model is economical, since “one plate of beans and tortillas will keep him going all day. That, and chile” (Valdez 224). Here, the wages of the Chicano are racialized, as Valdez uses the simple yet traditional Mexican meal to tie the Chicano’s poor socio-economic status to his race. Furthermore, Honest Sancho notes that all of the models are economical—except for the more refined and costly Mexican-American. In this way, Valdez reveals the dichotomy of Chicanismo: for while Chicano means Mexican-American, there is a distinction in treatment between those of working class who are considered to be more “Mexican Chicanos, and those more “suave, debonair” Chicanos who are, therefore, more “American.” Valdez employs Marx’s logic to show that the more “Mexican” Chicano is, indeed, grouped into a racialized laboring class, and that the bare minimum is employed to keep this class of working Chicanos alive, not the Chicano worker himself. However, Valdez argues that the economic aspect is not the sole racial signifier of the Chicano. When asked about storing the model, Honest Sancho replies that the
new farm labor camps [built by] our Honorable Governor Reagan… were designed with our model in mind. Five, six, seven, even ten in one of those shacks will give you no trouble at all. You can also put him in old barns, old cars, riverbanks. You can even leave him out in the field over night with no worry! (Valdez 224)
Here, it is clear that Valdez is commenting on the political and social treatment of the Chicano Farmworker by insinuating that this mistreatment has racial roots which are not accidental. It is obvious that the “types” which Honest Sancho sells are not really models, but stereotypes of the Chicano. I argue that Marxism informs the reading of Valdez’s Los vendidos by further highlighting the Chicano’s position in relation to U.S. socio-economic structuring.
Commoditization of the Chicano
The action of Los vendidos takes place in “Honest Sancho’s Used Mexican Lot and Mexican Curio Shop,” where “owner” Honest Sancho sells “all types [of Mexicans]” (Valdez 223). Here, Mexicans like the Farmworker and the Pachuco are commonly sold for purposes ranging from cultivating crops to the “[training] of rookie cops” (Valdez 226). In Honest Sancho’s descriptions of the uses for the Chicano “types” that he sells, Valdez reveals the objectification of the Chicano: the Farmworker can be used for “cutting grapes… [picking] cotton” (Valdez 224), the Pachuco as an “escape goat [sic]” (Valdez 226), the Revolucionario as an “International Harvester of Mexicans” (Valdez 226), and the Mexican-American as a “political machine” (Valdez 228). Through this description, Valdez claims that that the Chicano is a commodity in U.S. society—a thing which is and can be mishandled, “beaten,” “killed,” used for both political and working means, a piece of merely replaceable “merchandise” (Valdez 226). And though Marx argues that solely labor power is bought and sold in the exchange between capitalist and laborer (Marx 660), Valdez’s portrayal of the Chicano as “merchandise” reveals the dispensability of the Chicano individual; the Chicano, therefore is a commodity of “human flesh and blood” (Marx 660) which can be used not only for its labor power (in the case of the Farmworker models), but for the sake of abuse as well (in the case of the Pachuco models which are bought to be beaten by LAPD rookies). Through Los vendidos, Valdez clearly portrays Mexican-Americans as products of double-meaning—for the Chicano is not only a good himself, but the product of the U.S. political and socio-economic systems.
The Sell-outs
Perhaps the most important aspect of the play hinges on the title: Los vendidos, translated, means “The Sell-outs.” I claim this titling is Valdez’s answer to Marx’s problem of the “Negro slave” (Marx 662). Marx argues that a laborer is not a slave, for a laborer continuously sells his labor power, whereas the slave himself is sold “once and for all to his owner” (Marx 661). In order to truly understand the commoditization of the Chicano, we must first ask, “What is a sell-out? And who is selling whom?” In the Oxford English Dictionary, a “sell-out” has several meanings; however, there are two that are most helpful in interpreting Los vendidos. The first definition states that a sell-out is “an agreement or contract corruptly made by a public body, involving sacrifice of public to private interest” (Def. A); the second definition is “a completely disposable commodity” (Def. B). In applying both of these definitions as well as Marx’s theory to the play, I argue that Valdez is claiming that the Chicano himself is a “sell-out.” For that reason, Valdez’s text is able to answer the Marx’s problem of slavery by stating that the Chicano individual is not a slave, but a commodity in that he willingly and continuously sells himself.
Valdez poses multiple instances in which Chicanos have “sold” themselves. The first lines of the text reveal that Honest Sancho was once a contractor but now owns his own business of selling Chicano “types” (Valdez 223). Sancho, then, has made a living by selling his own people, whom he realizes can be marketed as “completely disposable commodities” (Def. B). In addition, the Anglicized Secretary Miss Jimenez [sic] identifies herself only as an American, thereby betraying her Chicana roots and “selling out” to the mainstream American culture (Valdez 223). Furthermore, Miss Jimenez is a sell-out in that she seeks to purchase one of her own people to be a “Mexican type for the [Reagan] administration” (Valdez 223). Lastly, the models themselves are sell-outs both in their stereotyping of Chicanos and in their business transactions. For example, when Sancho notes that the Farmworker, in addition to striking, also scabs, the Farmworker cries, “Me vendo barato, ¿y qué?”[2] However, the most striking instance of selling-out is the when the selling-out of the Chicanos who play the “types.” In his portrayal of these vendidos, Valdez notes that they have perpetuated stereotypes about their people, sacrificing their people for their own monetary advancement. Clearly, for Valdez, it is the Chicano’s willing to sell both himself and his race to the corrupt American systems that is most disturbing.

A Call to Action

Through applying Marxism and Chicanismo to Los vendidos, it is obvious that Luis Veldaz is highlighting the need for change amongst Chicanos themselves. Valdez clearly highlights the abuse of U.S. politics and socio-economic structuring through applying Marxist theory of wage minimum. However, perhaps the most important call to action that Valdez makes is the cry for a Chicano revolution of the self, in which Valdez shows the brokenness of Chicano self-selling and self-commoditization. It is through reading Los vendidos through a Marxist frame that Valdez’s argument is most poignant and relevant: for the Chicano is not a victim of socio-economic structures alone, but of his own willingness to become a Chicano vendido.

[1] Trans: theatrical discourse that is woven into the socio-economic universe of human relations in general and, in particular, of the Chicano
[2] Trans: I sell myself cheap, so what?

Works Cited
Copelin, David. “Chicano Theatre: El Festival de los Teatros Chicanos.” The Drama Review: TDR 17.4 (1973): 73-89. JSTOR. Web. 4 Dec 2009.
Marx, Karl. “Wage Labor and Capital.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. 659-664. Print.
Peña, Luis H. “Praxis dramatica, praxis politica: Los actos de Luis Valdes.” Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 10.19 (1984): 161-166. JSTOR. Web. 4 Dec 2009.
 “Sell-out.” Def. A. The Oxford English Dictionary. Second ed. 1989.
“Sell-out.” Def. C. The Oxford English Dictionary. Second ed. 1989.
Valdez, Luis. Los vendidos. Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States. Ed. Nicolás Kanellos. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2002. 222-230. Print.

The Languages of Junot Díaz: Spanish, English, & Silence

            In “Drown,” the title story of his narrative collection, Junot Díaz recounts the story of a Hispanic youth growing up in New Jersey. Though Díaz explores issues of queerness, desvergüenza, and familial relations within this selection, perhaps the most intriguing topic in the short story is that of language. Díaz employs the languages of Spanish and English, often using Latino street slang to further the story’s urban tone. At a Drue Heinz Lecture in which the author was featured (and which I attended), Junot Díaz explained his understanding of the languages from an immigrant perspective, as well as his uses of the languages in his short stories. Moreover, rather than simply recounting the struggles of adapting to a new language or customs, Díaz recounted how, at an early age, he used language as a tool to makes sense of his new hybrid identity. Díaz further revealed the importance of a third language: the language of Silence. It is this language that proved to be the most powerful means of exploring issues of self. Through applying Díaz’s uses and understandings of Spanish, English, and Silence to his short story “Drown,” I argue that the Hispanic immigrant experience can be understood through an establishment of a “third place” (Reagon). This third place allows for the immigrant, like Díaz, to make sense of his mezcla of identities; for Junot Díaz, this third place was found in literature.
            In order to explore the third place that exists in “Drown,” I will first analyze Díaz’s understandings of language in relation to his immigrant experience. Junot Díaz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; in 1974 at the age of six, Díaz and his family immigrated to “the absolute frontier of Spanish in America… New Jersey” (Díaz). It is a known fact that second-language acquisition is easier for those in their youth, like Díaz was at the time of his own immigration. Díaz, however, still found himself in a struggle between Spanish and English. During the Drue Heinz lecture, Díaz remarked that “it was not just a matter of learning a new language,” for he “found [him]self in 1974 plunged into a language war” (Díaz). From his exposure to differences in treatment and use of the two languages, Díaz noted that his younger self soon realized that “Spanish was a form of abuse… It was discouraged, a stigma,” whereas English was “the language of [his] acceptance—it was the language of [his] future” (Díaz). From these two “warring” worlds, Díaz drew upon the language of Silence to make sense of his situations and, indeed, of himself. For the young Díaz, “Silence [was] a way of communicating, of organizing identity” (Díaz). It is through this Silence, present in both real-world relationships and in literature, that Díaz discovered himself: in order to cope with his two colliding worlds—those of Spanish and English, Latino and Anglo—Díaz turned to literature. For Díaz, literature was clearly an escape: “I dealt with the malignancy and uselessness of Spanish by getting into reading, to engage in reading so that you feel safe, confident [sic]. Reading was that safe space” (Díaz). It is obvious, then, that the silent acts of reading and writing provided Díaz with a third place, a retreat, which existed outside of the conflicting worlds of Spanish and English.
            But how was this silent sanctuary of reading transferred into the act of writing and, thereby, into his short stories? I argue that it is through layering the worlds of Spanish, English, and Silence that Díaz first made sense of his surroundings; writing then became a mode of continued self-discovery and self-invention. For the young Dominican, “reading [was] understanding the language and culture [he] was living in” (Díaz). It is obvious that the young Díaz first interpreted his immigrant experience through literature. If reading was the act by which Díaz first processed his hyphenated existence, then writing was the means by which he reclaimed himself. For Díaz noted that “it was in… writing that [his] true self cohered: [he] wasn’t just reading or speaking. For an immigrant kid who had lost his tongue on the flight from Santo Domingo, writing gave [him] a way to discover and make [him]self anew ” (Díaz). Though the silent act of reading was the way in which the self-proclaimed “immigrant kid” made sense of his bi-lingual and bi-cultural world, the act of writing allowed Díaz to reinvent himself. For, as Bernice Johnson Reagon notes, “there are those of us who straddle. We are born in one place, and we are sent to achieve in the larger culture, and in order to survive we work out a way to be who we are in both places or all places we move” (Reagon 114). Through writing, Díaz was able to bridge the divides that his biculturalism and bilingualism had created. Díaz remarked during the lecture that he was able to “[speak] the language of elisions” and that “in many ways, silence is the writer’s material” because “writers often say, ‘there is a silence, there is a gap, there is a lacuna, and I want to speak to it’” (Díaz). Writing, then, allowed Díaz to create for himself a third place in which he could straddle and make sense of his Anglicized Latino identity.
            Díaz’s understandings of language and literature in relation to the immigrant experience have undoubtedly transferred into his own writings. Díaz himself confessed that “immigrating in 1974 must play a tremendous role in why I am a writer. I’m struck by how little we know about young immigrants” (Díaz). This fixation on the immigrant experience fueled Díaz’s desire to write about the topic. Though Díaz avoids autobiographical conversation pertaining to his short stories, it is clear that Díaz’s writings are informed by his own process of self-discovery. In this way, Yunior (the protagonist of many of Díaz’s writings, including “Drown”) can be understood and analyzed as Díaz’s literary device of introspection. In “Drown,” Díaz (through Yunior) recounts relationships with his mother, his friend Beto (who complicates the introspection with issues of queerness), and urban life, mainly through the English language. And though the short story uses some Spanish, the majority of “Drown” (and, indeed, the collection itself) is written in English. Why does Díaz not write in his native tongue of Spanish? And is this lingual choice significant in understanding the writing or the content? I claim that, yes, Díaz’s avoidance and occasional use of Spanish are both choice-specific and informative. As I noted earlier, the young Díaz recognized Spanish as “a form of abuse” (Díaz). For this reason, when Spanish is used in the short story, it is employed as a tool of denigration, a signifier of shameful identity, or a source of brutality: Yunior refers to Beto as a “pato” (Díaz 91), himself as a sinvergüenza (92), and the “Spanish-language news” as “violence” (95). It is also interesting to note that Yunior’s drunkard of a father, whom he describes as “a real asshole” (Díaz 98), lives in the Spanish-named, Floridian city of Boca Raton (Díaz 107)—a name which, when translated to English, literally means “Mouse Mouth.” In Spanish, a “ratón” (rat) can be either an insult or a hangover—a description of a bibulous or unruly person; similarly, in English, “mouse” can be used to describe a cowardly person. Clearly, Yunior, like Díaz, locates the Spanish language as “not only a national identity, but [as a means] to hurt each other” (Díaz). Furthermore, the importance of Silence in Díaz’s own life and immigrant experience is conveyed through Yunior’s encounters with himself as well. In “Drown,” Yunior plunges into a pool, and he describes the experience of being underwater as follows:
The water feels good. Starting at the deep end I glide over the slick-tiled bottom without kicking up a spume or making a splash. Sometimes another swimmer churns past me, more a disturbance of water than a body. I can still go far without coming up. While everything above is loud and bright, everything below is whispers. And always the risk of coming up to find the cops stabbing their searchlights out across the water. And then everyone running, wet feet slapping against the concrete, yelling, Fuck you, officers, you puto sucios, fuck you. (Díaz 93).
Here, Yunior’s submersion in the pool offers a literal “third place.” In describing “everything below,” the tone is peaceful: the word choice denotes a sense of calm, and the structuring of the sentences is simplistic and grammatically correct. However, Yunior’s description of a hypothetical disturbance from this third place drastically changes the writing style: sentences are short, rushed, and grammatically incorrect; more notably, Spanish is, once again, re-introduced into the hectic narration as a means of insulting, a “form of abuse” (Díaz). Finally, in Yunior’s description of his mother, he notes that “she has discovered the secret to silence… [She’s] like a shadow warrior” (Díaz 94). Díaz, like Yunior’s mother, has discovered the “secret of silence” through writing. For it is through Silence that Díaz and “Mami” have transformed themselves into “shadow warriors”; in this way, they are able to cope with and battle the warring worlds of Anglo and Latino that threaten identity.
            It is through living in the third place—the realm of Silence—that both Díaz and Yunior have made sense of their immigrant experiences. For Díaz, writing and reading have proven to be secret sanctuaries through which he may rediscover and reinvent himself. Yunior, then, is Díaz’s primary method of introspection, a personification of Díaz’s personal third place. Furthermore, Yunior is emblematic of the Hispanic experience in America, for the character creates identity and self-understanding through assigning both language- and culture-specific meanings. As Díaz noted in the Drue Heinz lecture, “We all have three or four identities at once, some of us just don’t get carded at the door” (Díaz). It is through literature that Díaz analyzes this mezcla of identity. Exploration and recreation of self through writing works such as “Drown” is clearly the method through which Díaz has made sense his own Hispanic-American and immigrant experiences.

Works Cited
Díaz, Junot. “Drown.” Drown. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group. 91-107. Print.
Díaz, Junot. Drue Heinz Lecture Series. Carnegie Music Hall. Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, Pittsburgh. 16 Nov 2009.
Reagon, Bernice Johnson. “‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I See’; or, ‘By and By I'm Gonna Lay Down My Heavy Load’.” The Journal of American History 78.1 (1991): 111-119. JSTOR. Web. 15 Dec 2009.


La vida en círculos: Una reseña de Los amantes del círculo polar

¿Ud. podría contar su vida uniendo casualidades? ¿Opina Ud. que la vida ha nacido de nuestras decisiones, o hemos nacido de las opciones que la vida presenta a nosotros? ¿Es posible manipular su propio destino, o es el destino que siempre manipula a Usted? Para Julio Medem, el director de la película Los amantes del círculo polar, las dos posibilidades existen en armonía. La vida es un conjunto de círculos—una cadena de eventos, memorias, personas, y decisiones—todos independientes, pero a la vez juntos.
Contada desde el punto de vista primero de Ana y luego de Otto (y a veces los dos juntos), la película se enfoca en las vidas de los jóvenes que se encuentran por casualidad—una casualidad que los define para el resto de sus vidas. En un momento en que la muerte del padre de Ana y la separación de los padres de Otto habían creado lagunas en sus vidas, los dos niños encontraron el uno al otro y, al hacerlo, se llenaron los agujeros. Poco después, para completar la unión de sus vidas, la mamá de Ana y el papá de Otto se conocieron y se enamoraron. Esto provocó que los muchachos crecieran juntos—y la fascinación del uno con la otra rápidamente floreció en un amor secreto. Otto luego abandonó a su madre para vivir más cerca de Ana. Años llenos de felicidad habían pasado cuando un día Otto visitó la casa de su madre y la descubrió muerta. Otto sentía que él era culpable, y quería morir. Después de eso, Otto salió a vivir por su cuenta. Separados, las vidas de Ana y Otto progresaban, dejando al destino y a la esperanza de reunir. El resto de la película sigue las vidas de Ana y Otto mientras se desenvuelven sus destinos.
Pero la esencia de la película no se encuentra ni en un sólo personaje ni en una sola historia. Usando la estructura de la trama además de las decisiones de sus personajes y los acontecimientos que siguen, Medem explora la circularidad de la vida. La película está llena de círculos—en las imágenes, estructura, y además en los nombres de Ana y Otto, que son palíndromos. Del mismo modo, todo se interconecta en la película. Por ejemplo, la primera escena es también la escena final; las cosas como los accidentes de coche (evitados y mortales) y los aviones (verdaderos y de papel) ganan importancia durante la película. No podemos entender la significancia de los eventos o los símbolos sin unir las coincidencias, las casualidades.
La película también explora la filosofía de la vida. Para unos personajes, «[l]a vida está llena de estas cosas sin explicación.» Ellos no ven las conexiones y viven sus vidas buscando la satisfacción. Álvaro, el padre de Otto, no puede reconocer el amor que está en frente de él, en las formas de su esposa e hijo. Sigue buscando satisfacción en otras mujeres, como la madre de Ana. Como le dijo a Otto: «Así es la vida: implacable, alegre, y triste. Todo caduca con el tiempo. El amor también…» Esta incapacidad para disfrutar del amor causa su infelicidad por último. Irónicamente, la madre de Ana deja a Álvaro por otro hombre, y Álvaro ya tiene que vivir sólo.
También, la película exige que la audiencia mantenga su propio punto de vista. Aunque se narre la historia a través de múltiples puntos de vista, los resultados no son siempre iguales. Medem le presenta a la audiencia dos conclusiones: en una de ellas Ana y Otto se reúnen, completando el círculo; en la otra, Ana se ha muerto y ha dejado a Otto solo, completando el círculo de Otto con una mirada en los ojos de ella. El público es el factor decisivo en los destinos de los amantes. Así, la película no tiene un fin sin la audiencia. A través de la película, Medem nos invita a considerar la circularidad de nuestras vidas, con los temas de la fé, el tiempo, el amor, y el destino. Los amantes nos pregauntan: ¿Podría contar su vida uniendo casualidades?
Publicado en la edición de otoño de 2009 de Polyglot.
[Published in the 2009 Fall edition of Polyglot, Carnegie Mellon University's Undergraduate Journal of the Modern Languages Department]