- Women’s Bodies as Sites of (Trans)National Politics in Cristina Garcia’s The Aguero Sisters
Gender issues and gender identities are at the heart of shifting cultural and economic meaning systems.—Minoo Moallem, "Transnationalism, Feminism, and Fundamentalism"
If it is true that friendly as well as hostile relations between governments presuppose constructions of women as symbols, as providers of emotional support, as paid and unpaid workers, then it doesn't make sense to continue analyzing international politics as if they were either gender-neutral or carried on only by men. International policy-making circles may look like men's clubs, but international politics as a whole has required women to behave in certain ways.—Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches, and Bases
Cristina Garcia's 1997 novel, The Aguero Sisters, reflects a dimension of globalization that rarely makes headlines and yet has long been observed by contemporary feminists to be a component of transnational politics.1 As the two passages above suggest, global interactions of an economic, cultural, and political nature are never [End Page 478] separate from issues of gender, never separate from the ideological and institutional mandates that govern women's bodies, women's behavior, women's sexuality, and women's work. M. Jacqui Alexander confirms this fact in making the claim that "We now understand [that] sex and gender lie, for the state, at the juncture of the disciplining of the body and the control of the population and are, therefore, constitutive of those very practices" (65). The assertion that notions of femaleness and femininity are rooted in national imperatives such as "the control of the population" situates women's bodies as a site of political struggle at the state level and suggests, as both Moallem and Enloe do above, that those same bodies play an equally crucial role in mediating the political struggles of an international kind. As Angela Gilliam writes, "There are compelling interlocking relationships connecting natural resources, national liberation struggles, multinational corporations, and women's oppression worldwide" (220). In other words, global processes—just as national processes—are invested in and indeed contingent on the control of women and how they behave.
It is this theme that is woven implicitly into Garcia's narrative of Cuban expatriation and familial dispute, a narrative in which both national identity and transnational belonging mark themselves on the flesh of women in decidedly unsubtle—and often very violent—ways. The bodies of the four generations of mothers and daughters represented in this text are subjected to a range of violence and torture as those bodies are raped, beaten, burned, bitten, split with bullets, and visited by mysterious disfigurements. There is no prominent woman in the novel who does not experience some physical violation that is linked to national and international tensions in such a way as to reveal the political expediency of such corporeal harm. Women's bodies (and, by extension, women's lives), Garcia asserts in this way, are never fully owned and controlled by women themselves. On the contrary, those bodies are tied up in issues of nationalism and postnationalism, embedded in the framing and articulation of the state, in the negotiation of global cultural and political formations, and in the mobilization of the capitalist enterprises that either support or imperil both. The Aguero Sisters thus reveals the gendered nature of world politics, demonstrating the extent to which those politics are invested in limiting, controlling, manipulating, and/or otherwise impinging on the behavior of the female sex and what it means to be of that sex to begin with. That there is an implicit harm associated with this type of gendered management is one of the most forceful assertions the novel makes.
Located alternately in three different geopolitical settings (pre-Communist Cuba, Communist Cuba, and modern-day Miami), The [End Page 479] Aguero Sisters tells the story of two middle-aged siblings whose mutual reconciliation after thirty years of estrangement—an estrangement caused both by the politics of family and the politics of country—forces them to confront the truth about their mother's untimely death some forty years earlier. Constancia, the elder sister, is a fifty-one-year-old beauty products specialist whose...