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On September 23, 2009, Puerto Ricans in Hartford, Connecticut unveiled a monument to la familia puertorriqueña. Thus starts Marisel C. Moreno’s book, Family Matters, using this event and the monument as a concrete and symbolic icon of the central theme of her study, the “foundational myth of la gran familia puertorriqueña” (8) and the subversion of it in the writings of Puerto Rican women de aquí y de allá (from here and there). It is this juxtaposition of Puerto Rican writers separated by more than an ocean that makes Moreno’s book a groundbreaking landmark of what she calls “a new dawn for Puerto Rican island-diaspora studies” (4). Up until now, writers and scholars have engaged in exclusionary practices in Puerto Rican literature and the literary canon. Most anthologies and critical studies tend to focus on either the island’s literary corpus or that of the mainland. To this day, Puerto Ricans writing in the US are almost unknown in [End Page 559] the island and seldom studied in its academic institutions. Moreno proposes the term “transinsular literature” (26), which “signals the importance of recognizing works produced ‘beyond the island,’ or outside its borders.”
So, why then focus on the theme of la gran familia puertorriqueña in this first approximation to “transinsular literature”? With the American colonization of the island, and the election of the first Puerto Rican governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, there was a concerted effort to define puertorriqueñidad. Muñoz Marín with the help of government agencies engaged in an island-wide promotion of Puerto Rican culture by delving into the past of Spanish hacendados, who were the heads not only of the big plantations but also of their families and of all their servants and workers. Hence, the emergence of the myth of la gran familia puertorriqueña, which, according to Moreno, operates on three important principles: “social harmony and racial democracy, the glorification of the past, and the cult of patriarchy” (13). Moreno argues that the Puerto Rican women writers in this study were growing up at the time of Muñoz Marín’s industrialization and acculturation projects that also brought about the Great Migration (1946–64), which explains why even those writing in the mainland were influenced by this myth. While others insist on defining the differences between Puerto Rican writers on either side of the Atlantic, Moreno wants to establish “literary contact zones” (4), a term she borrows from Mary Louise Pratt, to emphasize the axis of commonalities between two groups of colonized people.
Family Matters is organized in four chapters and an epilogue. The first chapter, “The Literary Canon and Puerto Rican National Culture,” provides one of the best articulated and eloquent discussions of the intersection between canon and nation formation and the implications for Puerto Rican letters. The chapter focuses on the classical texts produced by the “Generation of the 1930s” (12), which Moreno identifies as the architects of the canon. Many of the intellectuals in this group are the second generation of the hacendado bourgeoisie, who saw the transformation of their feudal economy into a capitalist industrialist one. The patriarchal figure of the hacendado at the head of la gran familia puertorriqueña becomes “a strategy of resistance against US colonialism” (19). In order to fight policies that made English the official language not only of the government but of the schools as well, the writers from the Generation of the 1930s resorted to “Hispanophilia, or the cult of all things Spanish” (12). Spanish then becomes a “border” or “frontera intranacional” to demarcate the boundaries of what is and is not Puerto Rican literature (47). However, Moreno concludes this chapter with the observation that “nations are fluid, and so are the canons that mirror them” (50), [End Page 560] and the writers studied in the following chapters not only debunk the myth of la gran familia puertorriqueña, they also erode the traditional canon and our notions of nation.
The following three...