- In and out of Home:Rereading as Practice
When I began conceptualizing a project on the representations of home in Esmeralda Santiago's three memoirs When I Was Puerto Rican, Almost a Woman, and The Turkish Lover, I thought that I was solely studying the roles of domestic spaces in diasporic, autobiographical narratives.1 In 2016, I had agreed to join a panel of colleagues who would work together on comparative auto/biographical studies in the Western Hemisphere. We planned to make a conference presentation as a multivoiced, transnational cohort, our differing situated subjectivities becoming an extension of the work that we do. Much to my dismay, I found myself resistant to sitting down and writing my part of the presentation, despite having the project fully mapped out.
I began to realize that I was very angry over the economic and humanitarian crisis that we were (and still are) living through in Puerto Rico. The dramatic changes happening in Puerto Rico, and the human suffering that comes with them, were making it impossible for me to write about Santiago and her narratives in the ways that I had planned to study them. How I thought about these three memoirs prior to the inception of the US fiscal oversight board created by the PROMESA Act is different from how I read her books while surrounded by the austerity measures being implemented by this board.2 When I wrote my abstract for the panel, I was hopeful that the US federal government would step in and assist the 3.5 million US citizens who call this Caribbean island home. That life raft, however, has failed to appear, and the Puerto Rican people are now drowning under an undue burden.3
My original premise for reading Santiago's three memoirs builds upon Leigh Gilmore's theorization of serial autobiography in which she explains that "for some self-representational projects, once is not enough" (97).4 I have previously argued that diasporic lives cannot be contained in a single narrative act as they are lives in flux between spaces and places; therefore, the selves narrated in these texts are also in [End Page 658] motion, between selves.5 Reading an author's oeuvre in order to trace this self in motion is a more fruitful approach to understanding the diasporic self. Recognizing the interconnectivity of serial autobiographies, and that an author who writes multiple autobiographical narratives cannot be located in a single text, can allow the patterns of slippage between national identity/ies to become more visible.
For example, Santiago repeatedly returns in her memoirs to the act of securing a residence-for her family, herself, and her boyfriend-as a metaphor for belonging. In When I Was Puerto Rican, Santiago traces her childhood movements through several casitas in Puerto Rico and eventually to an apartment in Brooklyn. Her mother's search for an appropriate dwelling for her and her children is set against the backdrop of "Operation Bootstrap" and the intended Americanization of Puerto Rico, signalling an early emphasis on belonging and "fitting in" present in Santiago's life.6 Santiago chronicles her adolescent years in New York City in Almost a Woman, as the narrative follows her from one residence to another. As her teenage self moves through the city, the trepidations of adolescence adopt the resonance of a diasporic identity caught between the facets of a multilayered self. In this way, Santiago marks the insecurity of migration as akin to the fraught spaces of in-betweenness she experiences as a young woman: she wavers between childhood and adulthood just as she exists in a third space between her two homes, the US and Puerto Rico, and the demands of womanhood placed upon her by both sets of gendered cultural expectations.
In the third volume in this series, The Turkish Lover, Santiago follows her abusive boyfriend around the US, waiting on him and doing his schoolwork as he pretends to study. Set against movements of second wave feminism, civil rights, and activism on university campuses, the author's tentative desire to become something more than her boyfriend's combined lover-secretary-maid is uncomfortable to her. She has run...