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Elian Gonzalez and "The Purpose of America": Nation, Family, and the Child-Citizen

From: American Quarterly
Volume 55, Number 2, June 2003
pp. 149-178 | 10.1353/aq.2003.0010

Abstract

The preoccupation of the North American media with the story of Elian Gonzalez in late 1999 and early 2000 was unprecedented, even given a historical obsession with sensationalism and scandal. The plight of this "innocent" child, perfectly represented in the telegenic Elian Gonzalez, was a continual theme in the media coverage that relentlessly covered every move that was made in the negotiations between US and Cuba. This essay explores the cultural impact of the media story of Elian Gonzalez, focusing on the contradictory media discourses that shape dominant understandings of national identity, ethnicity, and immigration for American media audiences. The story of Elian demonstrates not only how mediated images of the family work to fuse individuals and communities with the nation/state and its project, but also how spectacularized media events speak to deep fears and anxieties about personal identity.