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Reviewed by:
Emilie L. Bergmann and Paul Julian Smith, eds. ¿Entiendes? Queer Readings/Hispanic Writings. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 429 pp.

In their introduction to ¿Entiendes?, Bergmann and Smith explain why they have given this title to a compilation of critical essays on Spanish, Latin American, and U.S. Latino/a literatures and cultures; “¿entiendes?” asks if you understand, if you are in the know about same-sex desire. Yet the editors are careful not to assume that this desire fits comfortably into Anglo-American beliefs about homosexual identity or that it necessarily follows a trajectory from the closet to public space. Indeed, they point out that the multiplicity of cultures and peoples that comprise the Spanish-speaking world does not permit any easy generalization about nationality or sexuality, so they have put together a book which emphasizes the fluidity of categories, suggesting that the reader approach the essays not to uncover some truth of same-sex desire but rather to discover new ways to see.

The common ground here is an attempt to “queer”—and hence, decenter and destabilize—the most common narrative in the Hispanic world: that its history, its men and women of letters as well as its literatures, studied so assiduously by school children and quoted frequently by educated adults, are decidedly heterosexual. To the contrary, it seems as if homosexual desire along with homosexual panic have shaped Latin American cultures as invisible forces, willfully unacknowledged, but now painfully revealed. Many of the essays map the ways writers have concealed their sexual desires or embedded them in complex ways in their work. Federico García Lorca, Julián de Casal, Virgilio Piñera, Carme Riera, Gabriela Mistral, Teresa de la Parra, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Carmen Lugo Filippi are reread for the ways that their texts encode their lives or struggle with the forbidden.

The public and personal rejection of homosexuality in the Hispanic world cannot be underestimated. As is argued here, national independence and contemporary liberation movements are conceptualized as masculine projects which marginalize all women and position “sissy” men as potential traitors to the state as well as to gender. Thus throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, “undesirables” have been characterized by some relationship to (homo)sexual transgression, whether they be the male and female prostitutes of Buenos Aires who represented waves of European immigrants, Spanish apprentices in colonial [End Page 902] Havana who were outcast for their poverty as well as their nationality, or the less-than-macho Puerto Ricans who appear to acquiesce to physical and national domination. The taunts of a song quoted by Agnes Lugo-Ortiz, “Asuncíon, Asuncíon ese hijo / va a ser maricón” (“Asuncion, Asuncion, that son of yours / is going to be a faggot”) reverberates in different ways throughout ¿Entiendes? as writers like Jorge Luis Borges as well as theater groups in Los Angeles today hide from the homosexual, in themselves or in their midst, even as they may be fascinated with it. On the other hand, contributors and lesbian writers struggle to bring to consciousness the existence of women’s same-sex desire in cultures that do not allow the public utterance of sexual subjectivity by women and that relegate lesbian eroticism either to silence or to what Brad Epps has called a “virtual sexuality” based in absence and loss.

So by contrast, it is great fun to see how the queer can be seen as liberatory and playful in Hispanic cultures. Caribbean colonial history is presented through a dynamic between “bullies” and “sissies,” whereby the“ sissy” or object of desire fights back through seduction. Don Quixote’s Aldonza/Dulcinea become a fascinating butch-femme team that challenge the use of women’s bodies in the oedipal heroic narrative. The lesbian body itself becomes a site for celebration of desires in the works of Chicana artists Marcia Ochoa and Ester Hernández, while the Teatro VIVA! constructs Latino/a identities that can include homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. The queer romps, teases, becomes outrageously itself in these essays, partially as political strategies to subvert the heterosexual order of life, literature, and criticism, but even more to open up space for resistance and real...

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