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96 4 Mothering the Nation Women’s Bodies as Nationalist Trope in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory While the overriding concern in this chapter is to illustrate how women’s bodies are used to promote and reinforce a nationalist cum masculinist agenda and how they resist, it would be remiss to dismiss the pervasive “othering” of the Haitian body as a whole. In its biological, social, and political context, the Haitian body is frequently framed within the national consciousness as a site of state conflict and (continued) violence. This positioning complicates both the construction and attainment of citizenship. As Danticat has repeatedly reminded us, the Haitian body has long been politicized or, more pointedly, demonized, deemed a site of both contestation and ridicule. In her debut novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, her protagonist, Sophie Caco, serves as a conduit for disseminating and articulating the discrimination leveled against Haitians. Warned by her mother of the dire need to learn English quickly so as not to be identified as Haitian—fearing that she will become the subject of ridicule and be accused not only of possessing HBO (Haitian Body Odor) but also of being labeled a transmitter of AIDS—Sophie understandably expresses reservations about attending school in New York. The general consensus is that only “the ‘Four Hs’ got AIDS—Heroin addicts, Hemophiliacs, Homosexuals , and Haitians” (Danticat, Breath 51).1 Rendering a clear-cut, austere assessment of falsely consigning AIDS to Haitian citizens, Paul Farmer refers to this blame game as “the geography of blame” in which “the scapegoat role [was] assigned to Haiti” (Kidder, Mountains 106).2 Explicitly detailing how the myth of the Four Hs was born and sustained, he provides some medical/historical background, Women’s Bodies as Nationalist Trope in Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory · 97 squarely placing the blame where it belongs. In Tracy Kidder’s words, the story goes as follows: He’d tell the story of how, early in the AIDS epidemic in the United States, sociologists and even medical people had hypothesized that HIV had come from Africa to Haiti, then to the United States. Some experts even hypothesized that the disease had originated in Haiti, where, it was said by some, Voodoo hougans ripped the heads off chickens and guzzled their blood, then had sex with little boys. He’d write about how the Centers for Disease Control, a federal U.S. agency, had gone so far as to identity Haitians as a ‘risk group,’ along with several other groups whose names began with homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and heroin users—and about the incalculable harm all this had done to Haiti’s fragile economy and to Haitians wherever they lived. In his thesis, he’d marshal a host of epidemiological data to show that AIDS had almost certainly come from North America to Haiti, and might well have been carried there by American and Canadian and Haitian American sex tourists, who could buy assignations for pittances in Port-auPrince . (106) What is certain is that in the given situation one cannot accuse the United States of inconsistency in regard to its treatment of Haitians; this widespread mistreatment and disregard manifest in many palpable ways. A case in point is the United States’ current immigration policy that routinely ostracizes Haitians. In contrast to Cubans who are granted citizenship upon landing on U.S. shores, Haitians, or “stowaways or boat people” as they are routinely labeled, are deported to their homeland.3 Visiting Krome Detention Center in Florida, Farmer experienced firsthand this injustice that galvanized him to join protests “against what seemed to him the rank injustice of an American immigration policy that let in virtually every refugee from Cuba and sent nearly every fleeing Haitian back to hunger and disease and what had to be the Caribbean’s cruelest, most selfserving dictatorship” (Kidder, Mountains 63). More recently, following the devastating 7.0 earthquake that took place on January 12, 2010, Haitians living in the United States have been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), allowing them to stay and work in the United States legally.4 Paying much needed critical attention to the deplorable conditions in which Haitians find themselves at home and abroad, Farmer poignantly expresses that “Haitians [are] the underdogs of underdogs, ‘the shafted of the shafted’” (63). More telling, Farmer draws a parallel with Haiti’s 98 · African Diasporic Women’s Narratives history and The Lord of the Rings, “an ongoing story of a great and terrible struggle between the rich and the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813048871
Related ISBN
9780813049823
MARC Record
OCLC
879948953
Pages
248
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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