- Family Matters: Puerto Rican Women Authors on the Island and the Mainland by Marisel C. Moreno
Growing up in Puerto Rico, I remember hearing people, especially celebrities on television, and politicians and government officials, talk about the “gran familia puertorriqueña/great Puerto Rican family.” As a child, adolescent, and young adult I never questioned the idea, nor did I ponder the assumptions embedded in a statement summoning the totality of the Puerto Rican population under the umbrella of family. Marisel Moreno does a fantastic job breaking down and analyzing this concept, exposing it as the rhetorical strategy it has always been. Moreover, Moreno articulates notions of Puerto Ricannes within the island and those in the diaspora that provide counter-discursive strategies refuting the notion of the Puerto Rican nation (a highly disputed concept, as she rightly points out) as the “great Puerto Rican family.”
One of Moreno’s main arguments is that notions around “la gran familia” continue to inform articulations of Puerto Rican identity both in and outside the island maintaining that “the diaspora community has invoked this myth as a strategy to reclaim its kinship ties to [a] greater” Puerto Rican entity (3). She illustrates this kinship by way of the works by Puerto Rican women writers both on the island [End Page 396] and in the diaspora, while concentrating on literature released after the 1970s, when women’s works (mainly, poems, short stories, novels, and literary essays) began to be published en masse and read more widely. More importantly, Moreno identifies the perceived gap between the writing of women in Puerto Rico and those in the mainland, along with a “perceived lack of solidarity between authors on both sides . . . as a reflection of the division that exists between First and Third World feminisms” more than a division between island and mainland Puerto Ricans, as it is usually assumed (6). It is in this seeming dichotomy that lies Moreno’s biggest contribution to discussions about Puerto Ricanness and Puerto Rican identity, for she is making a solid effort to bridge the perception of that gap.
Moreno is clear that literature has been key in articulating the foundational myth of the great Puerto Rican family: mainly, a familial unity with racial harmony under a white/European benevolent father figure, a myth that generations of male writers helped to consolidate and develop throughout the twentieth century. She also describes the idea of the great Puerto Rican family as “nothing more than a fiction, a mere projection of the elite’s desire to recuperate their fleeting hegemony” after the change of command from Spain to the US at the end of the nineteenth century (51). Of course, as she correctly points out, these notions are also connected to another fiction: that of a racial democracy, stemming from the always-invoked mixing of Spanish, indigenous, and black racial elements.
Moreno advances the notion that women writers have been key in contesting the myth of the great Puerto Rican family and its racial democracy corollary. She includes a decidedly robust discussion of works by Rosario Ferré, Judith Ortíz Cofer, Ana Lydia Vega, Esmeralda Santiago, Magali Gracía Ramis, Olga Nolla, Nicholasa Mohr, and Alba Ambert. As she tells us, these writers are able to contest the ideology of the great Puerto Rican family through specific strategies such as parody (e.g., Ferré’s Maldito amor), conflictive narratives (e.g., Vega’s Falsas Cronicas del sur), and historicizing (Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican; García Ramis’s Felices días Tío Sergio), etc. The works of these women dismantle notions of a white patriarchal figure, racial democracy, and familial and racial harmony, with sometimes humorous and sometimes painful, but always incisive critics, creating a continuity in their writings. This continuity, Moreno assures us, provides a conduit for historicization, along with a strong connection between the experiences of island and mainland Puerto Rican writers, which is to say, between the experiences of island and mainland Puerto Ricans. In the case of mainland...