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140 7 CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC The Mercurial Space of “Central” America New Orleans, Honduras, and the Writing of the Banana Republic KIRSTEN SILVA GRUESZ The poet-provocateur Guillermo Gómez-Peña offers this “turn-of-the-century geography lesson” in “The Last Migration: A Spanglish Opera”: dear reader/ dear audience repeat with me out loud: México es California . . . Puerto Rico es New York Centroamérica es Los Angeles Honduras es New Orleans . . .1 This equation of New Orleans with Honduras, placed as it is in the midst of more prominent U.S. sites undergoing “Latinization,” may have escaped notice at the moment when “The Last Migration” was first published in 1996. But in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the much-remarked transformation of traditional ethonoracial communities along the U.S. Gulf Coast with the influx of Spanish-speaking migrant workers, it may seem positively prophetic—indeed doubly prophetic, since the few media commentators who have recognized that there was a Latino population in greater New Orleans before Katrina date its presence to 1998, when the devastation of another hurricane, Mitch, sent tens of thousands of displaced Hondurans to the city. Gómez-Peña’s poem predates even this migration milestone, reminding us that the post-Mitch diaspora that made New Orleans home to the second-largest urban concentration of Hondurans in the world could only have taken place because of already existing circuits of migration and cultural exchange dating back nearly a century. The Latinization of the U.S. Gulf Coast does indeed disrupt more traditional spatializations of the Anglo-Latino border zone that cling to the THE MERCURIAL SPACE OF “CENTRAL” AMERICA 141 path of the Rio Grande, but the temporal coordinates of that border require some rethinking as well. Exactly fifty years before the “The Last Migration” was published, the Honduran writer Guillermo Bustillo Reina included a poem titled “Viaje a Nueva Orleans” (Voyage to New Orleans) in his collection of nostalgic national “romances.” The poem begins by comparing the speaker’s travels to those of Hernando de Soto, whose celebrated expedition up the Mississippi had preceded him by some four hundred years. Ironically mimicking de Soto’s “explorations ,” he and his companions traipse from one French Quarter barroom to the next, then boldly venture by streetcar to City Park (where they learn to “conjugate the verb amar” with the local women), before they turn around again to head home. The poem concludes with this stanza: El viejo Misisipí, Old man Mississippi, centenario y paternal, centenarian and fatherly, nos torna al Golfo de México, directs us toward the Gulf of Mexico, deseándonos Bon Voyage. wishing us Bon Voyage. En la cubierta del barco On the deck of the boat nos ponemos a ruminar we set to ruminating on los indelebles recuerdos the indelible memories de la alegre Nueva Orleans of gay New Orleans que es una prolongación which is an extension de nuestro nativo lar, of our native home, con una mitad latina with one half Latin y sajona otra mitad, and the other half Saxon, cóctel de razas rotundas a cocktail of sonorous races en lírico bacarat. in a lyrical crystal glass.2 Co-opting the trope of embodied geographical expansion so central to the discourse of Manifest Destiny, this thoroughly modern explorer reclaims New Orleans as his own territory to explore, as an “extension” of “our” native home (the term he uses, lar, is an archaic Latin adaptation that suggests the hearth to which the epic hero returns). Prolongación, which I have rendered as “extension,” contains the same temporal as well as spatial resonance it has in English, so this phrase also reverses the temporal priority that has governed Anglo-American apprehensions of Central America at least since the primitivist fixations of nineteenth-century Mayanists like John Lloyd Stephens and Ephraim Squier: that is, the idea that Central America nations are even later arrivals than the rest of Latin America to the table of modernity. From Stephens and Squier to the 1971 Woody Allen film Bananas and the computersimulation game “Tropico,” they have been characterized with reference to the atavistic political formation of the “banana republic” and the neocolonial economic formation of the touristic “retreat into paradise.”3 At the same time, however, Bustillo’s poem ends by representing New Orleans as a harbinger of 142 KIRSTEN SILVA GRUESZ a potential future, adapting one of the city’s own favorite symbols of pleasurable excess, the cocktail...


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