Juanita Heredia’s Transnational Latina Narratives is undoubtedly a significant contribution to Latina literary criticism, as it fills several voids currently present in the field through its focus on Denise Chávez’s Loving Pedro Infante (2001), Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo (2002), Marta Moreno Vega’s When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing Up Nuyorican in El Barrio (2004), Angie Cruz’s Let It Rain Coffee (2005), and Marie Arana’s American Chica (2001). Not only is this the first single-authored book to examine twenty-first century narratives by Latina writers, but it is also one of only a few that displays a pan-Latina scope. This in itself is relevant because it signals a new direction, one that breaks the nationalist-based mold that has traditionally shaped Latina/o studies, in order to unveil significant connections among Latinas of different backgrounds. Moreover, the book’s emphasis on US-Latin American transnational and hemispheric links breaks away from the tendency to analyze Latina/o literature from a US-centered perspective. As the author reminds us, while “these Latina narratives may be ‘made-in-the-USA,’ their stories have roots and origins south of the U.S. border” (2). Only by acknowledging the connections between “both sides of the U.S./Latin American borderlands,” can we begin to appreciate the complexity of Latina/o literature.
The choice of authors, canonical and noncanonical figures from various backgrounds (Chicana, Dominican American, Puerto Rican, and Peruvian American), also sets this book apart from other critical [End Page 343] studies on Latina literature. Unlike Chávez and Cisneros, who began publishing in the 1980s, Moreno Vega, Cruz, and Arana made their entrance into the literary scene after 2000. The dearth of studies on these authors makes Heredia’s insightful analyses a crucial addition to Latina/o scholarship. That said, the inclusion of two Chicana authors, and the omission of any Cuban American figures, seems somewhat unbalanced for a book with a pan-Latina approach.
The introduction argues for the need to create new theoretical paradigms that reflect the dialectics between gender, race, and migration in transnational contexts, something Heredia accomplishes throughout her book. Although the author provides particular introductory sections on each of these topics, she seems to forgo the opportunity to engage in an in-depth discussion of complex concepts such as mestizaje and transnationalism. The book is divided into five chapters, each beginning with a brief, updated biography on a particular author followed by sections that provide a historical and geopolitical context to their narratives. A thorough analysis of each text, with subsections on race, gender, and migration, constitute the bulk of each chapter, and all of them conclude with interesting personal anecdotes about Heredia’s interactions with these writers.
Chapter 1 is the first extended critical study of Chávez’s Loving Pedro Infante and sees the novel as “a fearless manifesto on Chicana feminist consciousness, desire, and liberation” (13). She commends Chávez’s unique take on the formation of a “transnational border feminism” through her exploration of film, specifically golden age Mexican cinema, which “crossed national borders into the United States” (19), fomenting the creation of “a transnational community of film spectators” (24). As the characters in the novel come together as members of the “Pedro Infante Fan Club,” issues of race and gender are foregrounded through their reactions to the films, but more importantly, through “the transference of their responses from the films to their own lives” (25). As Heredia maintains, the protagonist “forms her feminism by negotiating values of the past (influenced by Mexican cinema and popular culture) with a more progressive Chicana vision of the future (informed by her community of peers and life experiences) to develop a transnational gender awareness in the U.S./Mexico borderlands” (16).
Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo is examined in chapter 2, and despite already having garnered considerable attention from literary critics, Heredia manages to offer an original reading of the novel that complicates previous interpretations through her elaboration of “the rich layers of...