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3 “Super-Size Me” Ritual as Affluenza in Julia Alvarez’s Once upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA Sara Gerend Julia Alvarez opens Once upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA (2007) with a short epigraph from Plato: “Education is teaching our children to desire the right things.” For the author, learning involves a straightforward intergenerational transmission: adults instruct their offspring about the correct items to want in life. Alvarez then asks readers to join her in examining the instructional role played by the quinceañera, a fairly recent Latino American tradition that “celebrates a girl’s passage into womanhood with an elaborate, ritualized fiesta on her fifteenth birthday” (2). As Alvarez uncovers the roots of the ritual and its pan-Hispanic transformations, moving through an inventive form that combines three separate narrative genres, she notes how the custom can provide a valuable place for older generations to teach young Latinas about “their community [and] its past” in order to “give them . . . hope” and direction for their futures (6). However, while the tradition should “support” girls (6), guiding them along the often-rocky path from childhood to womanhood, Once upon a Quinceañera also highlights Alvarez’s deep concern about the ritual’s present role. During her exploration, Alvarez discovers that a twenty-first-century U.S. culture of overconsumption has sickened the quinceañera and its aims. In Alvarez’s assessment, the Latina coming63 64 Sara Gerend of-age custom is teaching younger generations to desire the wrong “things” and is thus in vital need of being brought back to health. Few critics to date have examined Alvarez’s nonfiction in great depth. Instead, the majority of criticism on Alvarez’s writing focuses on her fiction, especially on her two semiautobiographical novels, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) and ¡Yo! (1997), as well as her historically influenced novels, In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) and In the Name of Salomé (2000). The mainstay of this critical commentary, perhaps unsurprisingly, centers on “the eternal quest for identity” (Luis 848)—how migration and exile can affect a sense of self and how writing and language can work to renegotiate the “hyphenated” identities of those living in the borderlands (Suarez 126).1 In fact, when critics have turned their attention to Alvarez’s first nonfiction text, Something to Declare (1998), the autobiographical essays are mined primarily for the writer’s declarations about the role fiction can play in the fashioning of transcultural identities .2 Despite the focus on identity, some scholars have examined how Alvarez’s fictions serve as effective forms of instructional critique. For example, in the author’s second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies , critics view Alvarez as a novelist who teaches readers about history and its exclusions. By resurrecting the story of the legendary Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic, who were assassinated in 1960 for resisting the repressive Trujillo regime, scholars see Alvarez as drawing attention to and advocating for the telling of tales that official histories have silenced. According to commentators, In the Time of the Butterflies works to educate Dominicans and Americans about the pressing need to revise their histories to include narratives about women’s contributions to nationalist struggles.3 Critics have also acknowledged Alvarez’s role as an instructor of the connections between contemporary Dominican and American culture in A Cafecíto Story (2001), a short children’s tale that arises from the author’s work with her partner, Bill Eichner, and their Dominican coffee cooperative . Alvarez’s “little parable” (Trupe viii) teaches readers young and old about the need for furthering sustainable, fair-trade coffee farming practices in the Dominican Republic4 and the importance of fostering ethical consumer practices in global partnerships. Ultimately, Alvarez’s didactic narrative warns her audience against the detrimental effects an American system of “rampant capitalism” (Johnson 7) can have on the landscape and citizens of her former Caribbean-island home 65 “Super-Size Me” and emerges as a clear prelude to the author’s admonitions about the dangerous effects of contemporary U.S. consumer culture on the Latina coming-of-age ritual; she explores these issues fully in her first work of cultural criticism. In this chapter, I argue that Once upon a Quinceañera, “a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism,” marks a new place on the map for Julia Alvarez as a writer (Trupe 100). Alvarez’s study of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781438449067
Related ISBN
9781438449050
MARC Record
OCLC
868914655
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2014-02-12
Language
English
Open Access
No
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