Transnationalism and Identity

Large numbers of Latin@ migrants remain heavily involved within their communities back in their native countries while adjusting and living in a brand new community within the United States. For these migrants and their offspring, this creates a two-pronged identity, with one foot entrenched in their communities here in the United States and another entrenched within their communities in their nations of origin. This going back and forth between a first home and second home thus facilitated the development of an identity for their participants that is many times confused and broken. Maruquita exemplify this rupture in identity.  The fluidity present between the United States and Puerto Rico develops a unique and equally as fluid identity for her. The creation of this fluidity thus questions the notions of representation that Vega Yunqué is using within his work. Furthermore, one of the main goals of Vega Yunqué is to contest stagnant notions of representations for Latin@s by creating fluid identities for his characters. The creation of this unbalance is then crucial to the narrative, and I would argue, necessary to the overall project of Vega Yunqué. Without it, his work runs the risk of essentializing the Latin@ experience. Through the intricate development of Maruquita, Vega Yunqué sets the stage for an overall reconceptualization of what the Latin@ body and experience within the United States consists of.

Vega Yunqué’s narrative tells the story of Maruquita Salsipuedes, Omaha Bigelow and their tumultuous relationship. Vega Yunqué’s way of constructing the Latin@ body is like none presented before within the Latin@ literature canon; his self-interjection into the narrative on a regular basis coupled with the ways in which he developed and created his characters on stereotypical biases which he then sought to deconstruct led to the evolution of one intense, entertaining and intellectually driven piece of literature.

The development of the character of Maruquita Salsipuedes is a complicated one to track because of the ways in which Vega Yunqué developed his novel. In the beginning, Maruquita is presented as a stereotypical “Puerto Rican home-girl:” ghetto and unintelligent, thus relegating her to a position where social mobility seems impossible. Constantly compared to her “foil,” her brother, Samuel Beckett, Vega Yunqué places Maruquita in a position where she seems stagnant and never changing. However, Maruquita’s constant and consistent “trips” to the Island make it so that her character is developing in ways that are unbeknown to the reader. By the time that Vega unveils the Maruquita that her grandmother, Bizquita, claimed she knew existed at the beginning of the novel, Maruquita has arrived at the crossroads of her American and Puerto Rican identities. Vega depicts this moment in the following quote:

It was as if, through the combination of eating from the Golden Mango of Wisdom and swimming in the ocean waters of Luquillo Beach, the thick veil of innocence, which had hidden knowledge from her, had been washed away. She smiled and saw the bound volumes of the Great Books in her mother’s living-room bookcase, stacked neatly in her mind, and knew that she could recall anything from them: Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Shakespeare, Dante and every humanist volume and literary book ever published. She saw great big chunks of Ortega and Gasset, Thomas Veblen, and James Joyce. More importantly, she knew that she could see the interrelation between the subjects contained there-in and the theorectical and speculative inquires they would produce in her mind. She smiled, got dressed, and walked along the beach until she was back at her apartment. The first thing she did was to cut her hair short. She then removed her hoop earrings, and for the first time in nearly two years, she got her eyeglasses from a box in the closet and put them on. She looked at herself in the mirror, and she looked like a J-Lo nerd.

She shrugged her shoulders and smiled with satisfaction (pg 314)

It is in this moment that she eats from the mango and her consciousness is awoken. This awakening is made possible by her unconscious journey to finding her identity and herself. The fluidity between the stagnant Loisaida Jungle (which is also the Island) and Loisaida itself makes it difficult for Maruquita to establish where she belongs within the discourse of Puerto Rican transnationalism.

Vega Yunqué positions stereotypical depictions of “the Island” as a way to then deconstruct notions of backwardness and stagnancy. Maruquita does not awaken and thus is unaware of her identity until the moment in which she sucks on the mango and as a result, gains consciousness of her person as a Puerto Rican body, as a Latin@ body and as a transnational body.

It is vital to understand what Vega Yunqué is doing with his work: he is redefining the Latin@ body so that it is not constrained to one definition but has access to a multiplicity of definitions. By doing this, Vega Yunqué combats schools of essentialization that have hindered understandings of latinidad. Through Maruquita, we see an immense amount of agency and power in the Latin@ body to reshape, recontextualize and redefine the ways in which they are represented. It is also through this paradigm that Latin@ authors are contesting notions of representation within the Latin@ community. Transnationalism is but one thing that falls into the list of issues that represents the Latin@ experience in the United States; however, it is through Latin@s fighting for the right to self-identify that new strategies and types of representation are developing and evolving. Ultimately, the goal of Vega Yunqué is to prove that the Latin@ body and culture are not stagnant concepts; rather, these concepts are always changing, morphing and expanding in new ways.



3 thoughts on “Transnationalism and Identity

  1. You draw attention to how both Maruquita and the Island of Puerto Rico are both stereotyped and call on and exaggerate over-used tropes, and at the same time, they are deconstructed. As you said, the narrator’s self-injection into the text reminds the reader that he is creating depictions – that they are a product of his mind. Also, I think that the magical realism also deconstructs the familiar stereotypes in the book because it all of a sudden make things very bizzare and not familiar. It also reminds you that the story is completely made up and artificial, like the narrator’s inserting himself. However I guess it is ironic that “magical realism” is also stereotypical associated with latino literature, since it is part of what destructs the familiarity/expectedness. but the type of magical realism is quite funny and fake. I wouldn’t call it “realism” at all, but like magic-of-convenience-to-the-characters-desires and I’m-the-author-I-can-do-whatever-I-want.
    I also that it was interesting in the quote you chose, for one thing, the golden mango seemed like a reference to eve, and the apple. So did he just tropicalize that bible story? Also, inside the island is where she gains knowledge of the literature which seems to be western cannon, though I am not sure of all the authors. I like how the quote ends, talking about how Maruquita looked at herself in the mirror, showing her awareness of her image and satisfaction/ownership of how she presents itself. I also kind of like how the narrator says “j-lo nerd” to remind you that she is not white washed just because she became intellectual and reads plato, aristotle, kant, shakespeare, etc. at the same time, again, it’s going on a stereotype/familiar trope to invoke j-lo.

  2. You homed in beautifully on Maruquita’s transformation and how Vega Yunqué worked his way toward rounding her out so that she becomes a fascinating critique of Latina stereotyping. I’m about Puerto Ricans as transnational subjects–they’re not! But they occupy a similar exile formation, one that reveals how racial difference and class inform national belonging and privilege. Leads me to wonder what you think of the way PR itself is represented in the novel, its tropicalization and its surrealism. That scene reminds me of the scene Jodie Foster lands on in the movie Contact when she travels through the wormhole. Okay, I’m showing my age here, I think….

  3. I completely agree with your statement that queer Latin@ bodies is always changing. Whether it is physically, emotionally, or symbolically bodies are always under construction. It’s interesting how Yunque represents this change literally in Mariquita when she transforms into different animals and people but also when she changes to the actress and not the character Mariquita. She talks to the Yunque about her role and how she would like a little more control over what happens. This reminds me of my other class Body fictions where throughout the whole course we were talking about the visibility of a body. Mariquita uses her body whether it is the ghetto stereotypical Latina or the more grammatically correct one. She makes her body visible in the novel as one that is always changing but keeping true to her Latinidad.

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