27 octubre 2010

A story about growing up Latina: Part I

I'm not certain if by 'story' I am meant to cite a particular, isolated instance that is related to my latinidad and that I, at that moment, identified as a 'Latin@ experience.' Instead, I'm choosing to talk about something that I did not realize at the time was shaped by my experience but looking back on it, I cannot separate having been raised Latina from my understanding of this text.

I think it was in my first or second year of college that I took a literature course in which we were separated into small groups and charged with the duty of acting out briefly a scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest. It was a very low level literature class, to say the least, and this seems a common way to engage students and to illustrate the difference of interpretation of a text. I was Prospero. I cannot remember which scene we were assigned but that I was Prospero and that one of my partners was Caliban and that when I read Propero's line, unlike the interpretations of my peers, my Prospero was an authority figure with a booming voice. He was not a gentle, wise, Dumbledore sort of a man. He was a master over other individuals. He was controlling and this somehow discomforted my peers. Why? He is knowledgeable in the text, of course, and they wanted to read him as someone who was very fatherly, but not at all cruel. How could I possibly read it the same way? How could I separate his love of knowledge from the fact that he was a man who had enslaved entities of the island? Of an island to which he himself was a foreign presence? Even if I was not aware of it at the time, or I did not have the words to articulate what I meant, how could I have seen Prospero outside the colonial sphere?

The contrast between the images of Caliban and Prospero have made me ask 'From whose perspective are we seeing?' Any quick read of Columbus's diaries about the islands will reveal not the truth about the people or the land, but his naming of it. He projects an image that to a very large extent prevents us from really knowing the land because the natives are not given the voice the self identify. Then I have to ask - is that also Caliban's reality? In an island where Prospero is the one who controls the individuals through his magical powers, is Caliban a would-be rapist? What role does Prospero have in that if he has the power to control Caliban?

Of course, the colonial reading of this play is nothing new, but I should emphasize that it was not something we had discussed prior to our acting in class. In fact, we never went over a specific colonial reading but instead discussed issues concerning Prospero's power (without mention of colonialism).

Thinking about all of this during a recent re-reading of the play caused me to ask myself and my spouse - the US has a colonial past like the rest of the Americas ('like' is used loosely), but is the American identity really tied to its colonial past as strongly as it is in the rest of the Americas? Am I imagining the discrepancy between the US and the rest of the Americas? Am I imagining the existence of a real post-colonial identity in Latin American & Caribbean countries? Is it that I am more familiar with texts on the post-colonial with regard to Latin America & Caribbean? It seems though that the figures related to colonialism, to betrayal, etc seem to be much more important figures in their respective countries. Take la Malinche for example. Is there a figure in the US? Are the revolutionaries of Latin America similar to those of the US? Sometimes it seems that there was a stronger sense of transculturation (thank you, Ortiz) at & around the point of colonialism despite the fear and avoidance of that bilateral cultural exchange. It's not that 'mestizaje' doesn't exist here, but it seems as though as an identity it is not as strong, but then again, this could just be me.

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