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8 In the Name of Salomé Julia Alvarez’s Feminist Discourse on La Patria Tegan Zimmerman Qué es Patria? Sabes acaso lo que preguntas, mi amor? What is a homeland? Do you know, my love, what you are asking? —Salomé Ureña Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Name of Salomé (2000), like most historical novels by Latin American, Hispanic, and Caribbean writers (Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Alejo Carpentier y Valmont, Carlos Fuentes, and Junot Díaz), focuses on la patria, the nation. Alvarez’s novel, however, provides one of the few literary contexts in which la patria is reflected upon from a feminist perspective.1 This innovative text traces the lives of two historical women in the Dominican Republic and Dominican diaspora: Salom é Ureña (1850–1897) and her daughter Camila Henríquez Ureña (1894–1973). Despite the success of two earlier historical novels, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) and In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), critics have—deliberately or not—evaded examining the contributions to historical fiction of feminist novelists such as Alvarez, Isabel Allende, Christina García, and Laura Esquivel.2 This chapter begins to fill the lack of scholarship on such novels by emphasizing Alvarez’s most notable contribution to the genre thus far; by 189 190 Tegan Zimmerman examining In the Name of Salomé, it provides a feminist perspective on women’s inscription in national discourses and the national imagination . I argue that Alvarez’s novel is primarily a feminist critique of the nation as patriarchal, and that this critique is sustained through the device of mimicry. A feminist strategy in the novel, mimicry reveals that patriarchal discourses such as the literary and the historical mutually inscribe, symbolically equate, and denigrate as feminine both Woman and the nation. In the Name of Salomé thus challenges not only how patriarchal tropes of the feminine—maternity, birth, children, weakness, peacefulness, silence, and so on—problematically signify both la patria and Woman but also how the feminine is defined as inferior and subordinate to the masculine. In this chapter, I address the several important doubles or mirrors the novel invokes to identify the aforementioned tropes of the feminine. In the Name of Salomé doubles Spanish and English; the mother (Salomé) and daughter (Camila); the fathers, Papá and Pancho; the Dominican family and national politics; Woman and Man; the mestiza and the white woman; the personal and the public; and poetry and children’s education. Rosi Braidotti claims that mimicry and mirrors have the potential to counter the colonization of the male imaginary because miming and mirroring amount “to a collective repossession of the images and representations of Woman such as they have been coded in language, culture, science, knowledge, and discourse and consequently internalized in the heart, mind, body and lived experience of women” (100). Given this power, mirrors and mimicry in Alvarez’s text work to expose, complicate, critique, and at times even undermine feminine tropes that exercise patriarchal authority over women’s lives. The novel’s feminist revisions of both the term la patria and patriarchal discourses on history/historiography are important to consider . The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology suggests the word patria can mean one’s homeland, or birth country, but that the origins of patria are themselves patriarchal. Nationalism and patriarchy , for example, share the same Greek root with “patriot,” a term whose definition excludes the feminine in using only the masculine pronoun, “his”: a “patriot” is understood as “ ‘one whose ruling passion is the love of his country’—F. patriote—late L. patriōta—Gr. patriōtēs, f. pátrios of one’s fathers, patris fatherland, sb. use of adj. ‘ancestral,’ f. pater, patr- Father” (“Patriot”). The historical and etymological link 191 In the Name of Salomé therefore between patria and pater frames familial and national politics as patriarchal (from the Greek patriarkhēs “patria, lineage + arkhos, chief or leader” [“Father”]). I read la patria in Alvarez’s novel as a feminine space, a motherland, that like Woman’s societal position, the patriarchy rules. Alvarez writes, “La patria still [is] in chains. . . . The tears I’ve shed for her have never dried ” (80). Patriarchy rules the nation like it rules Woman. Silvio Sirias equates la patria with the feminine, particularly the maternal. He believes that la patria, as a Spanish word, translates incompletely into English.3 He concedes, however, that “for Spanish speakers . . . the word encompasses all...


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