Unhomely spaces: US Latinas, empire, nation
Perez, Lorna Lynnette
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Unhomely Spaces: US Latinas, Empire, Nation investigates the political underpinnings of the house metaphor when appropriated by Latina writers. Though the house as a metaphoric and poetic structure has been adequately analyzed by theorists such as Gaston Bachelard, critically contextualized in terms of canonical American literature by critics like Marilyn Chandler, and tied into narratives of settlement, conquest and nation building by thinkers like Amy Kaplan, examinations of the metaphor's use by non-white writers has been limited. Despite Toni Morrison's reminder that "there is not a house in this nation that is not filled to the rafters with some dead Negro's grief," we nonetheless read the house as though it signifies in a roughly similar manner for both canonical and non-canonical writers. My work corrects this assumption by arguing that because the house is one of the dominant metaphors for the nation in American literature, when appropriated by Latina writers it becomes a profoundly fraught sign. While much of the current discourse surrounding Latina/o literature focuses on hybrid identities, my work highlights the already given nature of this hybridity. There has never been a "pure" space or identity in the Americas; rather discourse has shaped and manufactured this category to strategically allow for national formation. The writers I consider highlight this by appropriating the foundational metaphor for the nation, the house. I argue that Latinas, specifically Chicanas and Boricuas, cannot help but experience a profound alienation from the nation as they are historically constituted outside of it as colonial subjects and are currently marginalized within it as ethnic others. This profound alienation is what Homi Bhabha, borrowing from Freud, calls "the unhomely," the sense of that which should remain hidden coming to light. I contend that for the writers I examine--Sandra Cisneros, Judith Ortiz Cofer, and Rosario Ferré--the use of the house metaphor reveals what attempts to remain hidden in our national imagination: slavery, colonialism, genocide and imperialism. The house is unhomely as it is the space of cultural ambivalence; it is precisely the sign that both polices and obliterates the boundary between self/other and world/home.
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