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6 Isolation on Hybridity Road Complexities of Identity Formation in Julia Alvarez’s Something to Declare Karina A. Bautista To study the diasporic identity of the Dominican transnational community is, in a sense, to evoke the characters, anecdotes, and historical events described in the pages of Julia Alvarez’s Something to Declare (1998). This collection of essays reflects on the process of social fragmentation that Dominican society experienced from the 1950s, the last period of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo’s dictatorship, to the end of the nineties. The diasporization of this community is an important subject in Alvarez’s nonfiction. Although she was born in New York City in 1950, she lived the first ten years of her life in the Dominican Republic, a period during which her family endured the social and political oppression of the Trujillo regime. Considered one of the most recognizable writers of the Latino diaspora in the United States, Alvarez has excelled as a novelist, poet, and essayist over the last twenty years. Her writing gives readers both a personal and a historical perspective on the sociopolitical whirlwind that precipitated the migration of Dominicans from their country to the cities of the northern Atlantic coast, particularly New York. In Alvarez’s work, this intraAtlantic exodus route often appears to be a consequence of U.S. foreign policy in the Caribbean. This effect is made apparent in passages that emphasize that while the United States offered refuge to 131 132 Karina A. Bautista Dominican anti-trujillistas (like Alvarez’s parents), it also “created the circumstances that made them have to seek refuge in the first place. It was this same United States that had helped put [the Dominican] dictator [Trujillo] in place during their occupation of the country from 1916 to 1924” (“A Genetics” 108). Such references create the necessity for historical information and not only turn Trujillo and Dominican history into archetypes, but also make these archetypes fundamental to understanding Dominican identity in her work. Something to Declare grasps certain aspects of the hybridizing processes and the way identity is formed in the Dominican diaspora. The objective of this chapter is to examine the transnational experience as an unstable ground, as a zone that produces for Dominican Americans a shifting relationship with the society they leave behind and equally the one that hosts them as immigrants. The transnational Dominican state that emerges at the end of the nineties represents an ambivalent civic reality for Dominicans. This is particularly clear from the way Something to Declare represents Dominican identity and society, and perhaps equally as important, in what it does not emphasize —the transnational reality of working-class emigrants. For Alvarez, hybridity in identity is a process that “tortures” (“La Gringuita” 66) the individual, perhaps because this process requires multiple alliances and the ability to shift ideological and cultural positions, sometimes quickly, as an impulse of survival. Her essays both criticize and actively participate in the often-contradictory relationships hybridity demands of the individual. Published in the 1990s, Something to Declare appeared in an important decade for issues related to migration, diasporization, and dual citizenship. Like other Dominican intellectuals in the United States such as Silvio Torres-Saillant, during this decade, Alvarez published essays that discussed Dominican transnationality—the experience of migration that forced this community to confront and deeply internalize their peripheral positionality. Alvarez explores how the traffic between the Dominican Republic and the United States exposes aspects of hybridity that are both transformative and collective within an inherently isolating reality. But this text considered alone does not provide a whole picture. While the migration of political refugees in Something to Declare explores one type of isolation, other texts, such as Torres-Saillant’s El retorno de las yolas: Ensayos sobre diáspora, democracia y dominicanidad (1999), treat the issue of the emigrating 133 Isolation on Hybridity Road Dominican working class to reveal another face of marginalization. Texts like El retorno de las yolas fill gaps/omissions in Something to Declare, providing a view of the diasporic experience of the Dominican working-class, a central matter in the migratory movement of this community. El retorno de las yolas assists in contextualizing how Something to Declare defines Dominican identity as one that transforms itself through an intra-Atlantic conflict, a struggle no longer exclusively between U.S. citizens and Dominicans, but now also between Dominicans still living on the island and those in the diaspora. The identity paradigm that Alvarez traces in “So Much Depends” and...


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