Issue 41 2005
"Blanca from the Block"
Whiteness and the Transnational Latina Body
By STEPHEN KNADLER
"As we Latinos redefine ourselves in America, making ourselves
up and making ourselves over, we have to be careful, in taking up
the promises of America, not to adopt its limiting racial paradigms."
Julia Alvarez, "A White Woman of Color"
Will Ferrell to Jennifer Lopez during her opening monologue on
Saturday Night Live, "I’m deeply and totally in love" with
your "jungle rump." (qtd in New York Observer, February 19,
 In her essay exploring the meaning of the new collective classification
of the Latina/o within U.S. culture, Julia Alvarez replaces the
white woman as icon of insular national identities with the figure
of the mestiza, and admits that she herself identifies, as the title
of her essay discloses, as a "white woman of color." Although in
the past, as, Norma Alarcon has written, the woman’s body has often
played an instrumental role in illustrating the ideals and unspoken
myths of the nation, particularly the "whiteness" of the imagined
national community (Alarcon 148; Schutte 71), the mestiza has emerged
in recent years as the visible symbol of a liberating transnational
and transracial identity that brings together various hemispheric
peoples from Central, South, and North America, while, in the process,
resisting U.S. culture’s dominant race and nation-based identities.
Yet, just how much, I want to ask, does the "mestiza," as she is
currently being imagined within various mainstream and alternative
representations, really remain unassimilated to what Alvarez calls
"America’s limiting racial paradigms"? Indeed, even in her own
futuristic vision of overlapping racial categories at the end of
her essay on the emergent Latina/o identity, Alvarez herself can
oddly echo the theories of racial whitening most notably identified
with Jose Vasconcelos, the Mexican minister of education, who predicted
the rise of la raza cosmica (1925), a fifth cosmic race from
the confluence of "white, brown, red and yellow" (qtd in Hedrick
20). In what follows, I want to recover the way the mestiza has
become a site of contestation within current U.S. culture, and although
she has often been held up as a figure of multicultural or global
consciousness, many representations of the mestiza, even those coming
from the margin, can preserve the strong normative function of whiteness
and trivialize, if not completely erase, the mestiza’s African diasporic
history and culture.
 In her often cited essays from Playing in the Dark,
Toni Morrison has argued that the historical formation of the United
States as a "white" and "male" nation depended on the constitutive
shadow presence of blackness as the recognized, or more often unspoken,
projected "other" of difference. While Morrison’s observations have
inspired numerous investigations into the way that an "unmarked"
whiteness and a "shadowing" African presence were implicit within
19th and 20th-century U.S. modes of national,
gender, and class consciousness, and indeed in the rise of modernity
itself (46-47), we need to become more aware, as Vron Ware and Les
Back have argued, of the persistence as well as changeability of
"white" definitions across specific locations and times within transnational
migrations (14). The mestiza is less some final new millennial synthesis
or a new hemispheric identity, than a figure always in process.
As the Cuban writer Antonio Benitez-Rojo notes, echoing the sentiments
voiced by Morrison, the different components of the "mestiza" or
the "creole" are constantly shifting, often in unpredictable ways,
and in relation to each other, based on the situation in the moment
(56). Mestizaness then represents never some final transgressive
liberating crossing of borders, but an on-going recombination, which
changes as different social groups and economic and political forces
try to shape this identity formation. Although writers about the
diaspora or the borderlands tend to affirm a resistant cultural
hybridity as part of transnationalism’s new modes of subjectivity,
the migrant’s flexible positioning in relation to markets, governments,
and cultural regimes, does not necessarily mean that she/he is free
of internalized disciplinary norms, or what Foucault had referred
to as the "discursive governmentality" of the home country, and
thus whiteness canand doesremain as a norm that migrant
subjects carry with them from their home countries and that they
re-appropriate and reshape in an U.S. context (Ong 19). As Will
Ferrill’s’ satire of the protracted media buzz about Jennifer Lopez’s
ample derriere, with which I started this essay attests, the Latina’s
blackness when literally embodied, can provoke a primitivist fetishization
and titillation, that is oddly akin to the 19th-century
Anglo American society’s exhibition of another African woman, Saartjie
Baartman, as the Hottentot Venus (Gilman 88). In this fascination
with the otherness of the Latina’s possibly inherited black body,
we see mainstream U.S. society’s struggle to define and regulate
just how black the mestiza can be before she is no longer a "white
woman of color."
 As Juleyka Lantigua notes in her opening salvo "That Latino
Show" for The Progressive, February 2003: "Lately, Latinos
are everywhere on television." Yet, the difficulty as Linda Alcoff,
Susan Obeler, and Arlene Davila, among others have written, is what
is meant by, if it even exists, this new collective identity called
the "Latina/o." How and by whom has it been and will it be constituted
and what different political and cultural work do these different
figurations perform? While early political leaders and thinkers
such as Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti called for a pan-Latin identity
as an anti-colonial strategy in the 19th-century, the
particular modern discursive configuration of the "Latina/o" dates
from the period following the 1965 immigration act which allowed
the migration of various Spanish-speaking groups from Caribbean
and Latin American countries to the United States. Starting in the
1960s the media and entertainment industry increasingly addressed
this population as if it were a coherent community, although like
"whiteness" or "blackness," the term Hispanic or Latino is not an
identity that these immigrants, used to thinking in nationalist
terms, would have used to designate themselves prior to coming to
the U.S. (Alcoff 28 ). Latin American and Caribbean descent people,
as well as more recent immigrants, have been divided over how to
respond to this label, seeing it both as a strategic tool to mobilize
collective political action and as an imposed category that erases
the national and cultural allegiances that are often primary, particularly
to recent immigrants. As a consequence, there have been two competing
and shifting historical trajectories in response to this identity
category: first to acknowledge that U.S. Latina/os have become a
racialized population and to use this portrayal as a "race" (if
not a homogeneous one) to fight against discrimination and to seek
the inclusion of people of Spanish-speaking descent in affirmative
action programs under the Equal Protection Clause (Delgado 370).
And second, to resist Latina/o ness as a racial category, instead,
recruiting ethnic paradigms to define Latinidad as a set
of shared cultural practices, customs, and language. In Latinos,
Inc: The Marketing and Making of a People, Arlene Davila studies
the way that advertisers have constituted the Latino as a "nation
within a nation" (83) with a set of essential commonalities that
often re-inscribe older stereotypes, and render differences in class,
generation, nationality among Latina/os as irrelevant. Yet, despite
reservations about Latino-ness as an identity from above forcing
people on census forms to choose either Latina/o or white, Latina/o
or black, many among the second and third generation have embraced
this category of the Latina/o as a chosen referent for a perceived
historical experience, collective memory, and cultural expression
that make them both American and resistant to full cultural assimilation.
 Few media icons have come so closely to stand in for the new
Latina, I would argue, as Jennifer Lopez, rechristianed in hip hop
style--reportedly by fans-- as J.Lo. Although a Puerto Rican from
the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, Lopez earned celebrity status
playing the Mexican American tejana singer, Selena in director
Gregory Nava’s 1995 movie by the same name. When challenged about
this inauthenticity in interviews, Lopez savvily positioned herself
as one of the new Latinas whose shared experiences with her ethnic
sisters transcend national origins. In response to whether Mexican
Americans and Puerto Ricans have similar backgrounds, Lopez asserted
in defense, "Being Latina in this country, that’s the parallel.
Of course, there’s a lot of differences. There is the Nuyorican
culture here in New York City, and there is a whole different Tejana
culture. But there are parallels between us; growing up and
being treated a certain way, or not being treated a certain way.
Being a minority. Being a woman." While Lopez has vacillated, according
to expediency, in defining herself as a Latina and as a transracial
American diva, it is precisely this "plasticity" of her body (Bordo1112)
that makes her most clearly the representative of the new umbrella
term, Latina. Unlike other celebrities who have been embraced by
Hollywood and MTV as Latin brand names, such as Selma Hayek or Ricky
Martin, J.Lo like Madonna has marketed herself as an ever fungible,
complex, mediated sign, a shape-shifting performer of racial mimicry,
sometimes looking darker as the star who got her start playing one
of the "fly girls" on the Wayan Brothers’ comedy, "In Living Color,"
and who dated P. Diddy, and sometimes claiming a gentrified whiteness
as the off-again, on-again fiancé of Pearl Harbor day manhood, Ben
Affleck. In her entrepreneurial projects she has also deliberately
situated herself as a "generic" Latina, choosing to open a Cuban
restaurant, Le Madre’s, in Los Angeles, so as to be both West Coast
and East Coast, Cuban and Puerto Rican. As her web site with its
links to translations in fourteen different countries and languages
boasts, J.Lo is the "queen of all medias," and apparently of all
races and countries as well.
 Yet if J.Lo like Madonna re-invents herself constantly as a
woman of a thousand ethnic faces, she remains a Republican friendly
and de-Africanized emblem of the new Latina. While it is unclear
how much control Lopez has over her more recent Hollywood image,
she is a figure, nonetheless, whose popularity as a box office draw
for more mainstream audiences needs to be situated in relation to
her ability to assuage turn-of-the-21st century anxieties
about the decline of "white" America. During the last several Presidential
elections, the press has continued to carry stories about the Republican
and Democratic parties’ need to woo Latina/o voters. Behind these
stories about a "rising Latino tide," to take the title of a November
18, 2002 American Prospect article, lie fears about a changing
U.S. racial and ethnic demographic that could signal possible, if
not inevitable, changes in the political and cultural landscape.
Early 20th-century fears of "racial degeneration" find
a residual echo in contemporary apocalyptic narratives about the
diminution of Republican control and of the values of an unspoken
"white" Middle America that it synecdochically stands for. In a
1998 National Review article, Scott McConnell sounds the
clarion call that circulates and is recycled among other political
pundits. Citing the example of "Hablador Newt Gingrich,"
McConnell writes, "the unpalatable fact is the Republican party
does face a crisis over Latino immigration. The GOP is more or less
the party of settled Middle America, and it is not likely to do
well with Hispanics until they become more economically and culturally
integrated. Indeed without cultural and economic assimilation, current
trends have the Hispanic vote pushing the GOP toward minority status
sometime early in the next century" (2). While there is no single
Latino voter that corresponds to the specter lurking in this nativist
rhetoric, the National Review article discloses that anxieties
about "whiteness" have made the identity of the Latina/o a contested
site in the cultural wars. The solution to wooing the Latino voter
for McConnell is not just a matter of political strategy, but also
of subject formationconstituting Latina/os with the white
values of Middle America till finally their alien-ness, their unspoken
blackness, is bleached out. While such a political discourse might
seem a far cry from the celebrity of Jennifer Lopez, Hollywood has
sought to mold her into a complementary, reassuring phenomenon.
However, even as the marketing of Jennifer Lopez depends on her
representative status as a Middle-America-friendly new Latina, her
"jungle rump" acts as the displacement for a contradictory set of
anxieties and desires about the "blackness" that always threatens
to return and undo this identity formation.
 In what follows I want to use the figure of J.Lo, and her flexible
identity as revealed in the 2002 Wayne Wang directed movie Maid
in Manhattan, to disclose how in the contestation over the emergent
discourse of the new Latina, whiteness remains, at least for many,
an important part of the symbolic economy, particularly in such
as way that blackness is trivialized and reduced to a politically
neutral primitivism evacuated of African diasporic or Afro-genic,
as Sheila Walker calls them, influences. After mapping out the particular
discursive tactic imposed from above on the 21st century
woman of color, one which I will call, "blanca from the block,"
I will turn to the counterdiscursive practices coming from below
by examining two U.S Caribbean-born writers, the Dominican American
Julia Alvarez and the Cuban American Cristina Garcia. Both Alvarez’s
In the Name of Salome and Garcia’s The Aguero Sisters
are deliberate fictional attempts to depict a transnational Latina
subjectivity that repudiates the particular whitening of Latinidad
by various U.S. groups, from Republican nativists, niche marketers,
to ethnic nationalists. Yet, although Alvarez writes as a woman
of color from the margins of U.S. culture, she imagines an alternative
transracial Latina identity that does not completely reverse the
Americanized racial logic embodied in the figure of "blanca from
the block." In contrast, Garcia’s The Aguero Sisters flaunts
the black Latina’s eccentric body to overturn and replace the white
woman of color’s representativeness with a new trope of the disfigured
White Woman with Colored Assets
 At first glance Jennifer Lopez’s 2002 Maid in Manhattan
is not a movie that would seem to require extensive feminist
analysis. A cliché-ridden Cinderella story, and an equally jingoist
pledge of allegiance to the hard working immigrant success story,
Maid in Manhattan is Pretty Woman II for Latinas,
with an added Horatio Algiers lesson in the seven habits of highly
successful hotel managers. Directed by Wayne Wang, with a screenplay
by John Hughes, the writer/director responsible for the 1980s classic
tales of adolescence, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s
Day off, Maid in Manhattan is a cinematic allegory about
ethnicity and assimilation in the United States for second-generation
daughters. In the film, Marisa Ventura, the character played by
Jennifer Lopez, captures the heart and weds the old-moneyed (think
Edith Wharton) Republican senator from New York, John Marshall (Ralph
Fiennes). In Wang’s allegory, Cinderella’s class mobility is replaced
by a fairy-tale vision of "multicultural integration" in which Latinas
can become assets to the Republican party, not just by wedding (and
we assume voting for) their up and coming Senators, but also marrying
Republican self-help philosophy. Although Marissa’s mother remains
locked into the past and cannot accept the supposed end of racism,
Marissa discovers that the only obstacle holding her back from the
American dream is her mother’s–and the first generation immigrant’s–victimization
ideology. In Wang’s fantasy, the all white management staff at the
hotel is all too ready to embrace, as Senator Marshall sexually
embraces, the Latina as the "other white" in the nation’s dream
of integration. Although Wang’s earlier films such as Dim Sum
took a more complicated looks at the immigrant experience, in Maid
in Manhattan, an earlier Marshall’sThurgood Marshall’suse
of the judiciary to legislate social change, whether in terms of
desegregation or affirmative action, has given way to a sentimental
vision of racial friendship.
 By combining the immigrant story with the gendered fantasy
of Cinderella, Wang’s film offers a dubious political message. But
it, also, works to constitute a Latina citizenship. In using the
term "citizenship" I want to invoke the way theorists such as Lauren
Berlant have argued that participation in the public sphere of the
democratic nation, or in this case, of the imagined community of
the Latinidad, depends increasingly on a consumerist identification
with a set of privatized feelings and normative behaviors rather
than a critical knowledge, voice, and agency that might effect collective
action, protest, and social transformation (Berlant 45). For a
"white" audience, Wang’s film represents a reassuring image of the
"good Latina" (hard working, family oriented, sexually heteronormative
and responsive, not assertive, and largely apolitical, or at least
too busy to be politically outspoken). However, for many U.S. residents
of Spanish-speaking descent, it also "interpollates" (in the Alhusserian
sense) a preferred pan-Latina identity (138). Wang (and the writer,
Hughes) clearly mark Marissa as the new pan-Latina in the way they
disguise her specific nation-based ethnic origin. Although her mother
noticeably speaks with a Spanish accent and refers to her daughter
as mi hija, the viewer is told only that Marissa is from,
and still lives in, the Bronx. Later in the movie when the "prince"
Ralph Fiennes wants to search the "kingdom" of greater New York
to find Marissa, he describes her to his campaign manager as a "five
foot six Mediterranean looking woman." In turn this same campaign
manager (played by Stanley Tucci) identifies her to his staff as
"Spanish." In a process that modifies Manthia Diawara’s observation
that the African American lead in Hollywood films is depicted through
a process of defamiliarization, or as disconnected and removed from
the black community and its cultural milieu (68), Wang largely locates
Marissa in the "multi-ethnic" world of the hotel "downstairs." Here
Marissa is less associated with the white world, than an indeterminate
"ethnic world," where there are other Spanish-speaking maids, an
"Asian" seamstress, a Caribbean accented black man, and an African
American woman (whose "Aunt Jemima" body, we should note, is clearly
set apart from the Latinas). She is thus "re-familiarized" (not
de-familiarized) as part of an undifferentiated world of Latinas,
who no longer care about national, linguistic or cultural differences
 While Wang’s film then participates in the subject construction
of the new Latina, it does so only by re-appropriating age-old racist
fantasies and desires. To explain Marissa’s love at first sight
of Senator Marshall, the film deems it unnecessary to provide realistic
motivations or attractive qualities in the prince that might have
prompted such devotion. Marissa, like mythic women of color, such
as Pocahontas and Madame Butterfly, immediately betrays her cultural
heritage upon an initial glance at the more "civilized" white man.
The film, by contrast, has to provide a more elaborate plot twist
to account for the Anglo-European senator’s sudden notice of the
"invisible maid." I want to look closely now at the scene in which
Marissa escapes her "invisibility" because it is symptomatic of
the way that whiteness functions in the construction of the new
Latina body. Although Senate candidate Marshall first meets, and
forgets, Marissa when she is scrubbing the floor of his hotel bathroom,
he only "sees" her when she, at the urging of friends, dresses up
in the $5,000 all-white Dolce and Gabbana suit of the Anglo American
socialite played by the British actress Natasha Richardson. To be
noticed by the Republican senate candidate, Marissa must transform
herself from a "woman of color" to a "white" Latina. In an update
of the immigrant cliché that money whitens, Wang shows that, in
a world in which political visibility is attained through defining
the group as a marketing niche, it is commodities, or at least the
purchasing power to acquire them, that whitens, and grants a representative
voice. By engaging in a conspicuous consumption of status conferring
commodities–commodities once marketed to an Anglo-European eliteLatina/os
can achieve the only kind of enfranchisement, which according to
the film, allows visibility and voice.
 Yet, if this scene speaks to the commodification of identity
politics in a consumer republic, it also focuses on the specific
role of the "white" Latina body through its self-referentiality
about the tabloid press’s fetish regarding Jennifer Lopez’s "ass."
That J.Lo so easily fits into the size six pants suit of the "white"
socialite Carolyn denies that there are any real bodily or class-based
differences between Puerto Ricans from the Bronx and Daughters of
the Revolution from the Hamptons. In Wang’s pygmalion story, J.Lo
proves to be one my fair white lady, one who neither needs to change
her diet, her comportment, or her elocution to "pass" as a "Carolyn"
(Kennedy?). During Marissa’s walk in the park with Senate candidate
Marshall, while still wearing the same "white" Dolce suit, moreover,
the characters, symbolically, caution her not to sully its pure
"whiteness," or the new white Latina character it confers, through
"street contact." The new white Latina must dissociate herself from
the streets and their "dirt," the pollution of the people; and to
keep her clean image, Marissa tellingly sits on a copy of New
York magazine (which largely covers the lifestyles of the rich
and famous). After Marissa’s romantic interlude with the Senator,
Wang includes one final scene of telling comic relief. Upon getting
up from the bench, the glossy magazine sticks to Marissa’s behind,
and Marshall must protect the whiteness of J.Lo’s ass by peeling
off the recalcitrant magazine and declaring her prominent behind,
"one fine asset." This sanctioning of the Latina’s "whiteness" by
the "white male savior" becomes a turning point in the film, as
his legitimacy spurs her to aspire to management. The new Latina
is one, then, who will have feelings for white America and will
share its "common sense" ideology of hard work, individual success,
and consumerism. She may have a little more flava, a little something
extra behind her that will be a colorful "asset" (that, after all,
is what makes her so appealing), but this asset will not be a baggage
blocking her assimilative fit for a white Republican America.
 My point in lingering over this scene is not just to underscore
the white beauty standard pervasive within visual representations
of the new Latina (Mawani 45). Such a privileging of normative whiteness
for the Latina, but not, it is important to note, for the Latino,
is pervasive even in independent films supposedly offering an alternative
view of the Latino community, such as Raising Victor Vargas,
which the New York Times praised for its groundbreaking "realism."
If J.Lo is the representative of the new Latina, it is precisely
because she can both "pass" as "white" AND because her flavoring
blackness is reduced to an "asset"–a sign that is emptied of any
living history, racial trauma, or African diaspora cultural expression
that might challenge U.S. nationalism’s white self-conceptualization.
In his investigation of the shifting historical discourse of "whiteness,"
Mathew Frye Jacobson has noted that the category of whiteness has
continually expanded to include immigrant groups initially considered
too foreign, colored, or ethnic–the Irish, Italians, Jews (103-110).
But this largely early twentieth-century expansion of whiteness
involved the simultaneous crystallization of a black/white racial
dichotomy in the U.S. One was now either "white" or "black," and
historically many "Hispanic" groups, such as the Mexican American
League of United Latin American Citizens, founded in Corpus Christi,
1929, as Guitierrez argues, (424) took the "other white" strategy,
claiming to be as culturally and racially white as other ethnic
groups, and not black. Since many Caribbean Latina/os have an obvious–or
protruding – blackness and African diasporic heritage, one that
cannot pass, their incorporation into an imagined "white" American
presents a unique problem not faced by earlier immigrants. What
makes Wang’s film such a relevant artifact of our historical moment
is the way it tries to fashion a discourse to control the shift
from "white" to "mestiza" nation (one that most demographic experts
are predicting will happen by 2050), and, through such a strategic
discourse, to preserve and regulate the hierarchical meanings of
whiteness and blackness. As Troy Duster has argued, in response
to earlier calls for the abolition of whiteness, historically racial
identities such as "whiteness" have had a morphing and co-opting
power that has shifted but not preempted their continued discursive
allure (115). While Gloria Anzaldua, among others has argued, that
the Chicana (and here I put the Latina as well) has a borderland
identity that destabilizes these traditional dualities of race,
nation, gender, and sexuality, such a Utopian mestiza consciousness,
as Wang’s film demonstrates, does not always dismantle, in its notion
of a fragmented identity, racial and class hierarchies, nor does
it obviate the question of "when does one become too black."
 At the time that the film Maid in Manhattan was released,
the hip hop/pop star J.Lo had a top forty single called "Jenny from
the Block." In the refrain of the song, J.Lo raps that people should
not be "fooled by the rocks that I got" because "I’m still jenny
from the block. . . no matter were [sic] I go I know here I came
from." Responding to critics who challenged her authenticity (or
her "realness") as a Puerto Rican from the Bronx now that she had
achieved multimillion-dollar celebrity, J. Lo fired back that she
still had, and would always have, street credibility. In her discussion
of Hollywood films featuring African American middle class characters,
Valerie Smith has argued, that these bourgeois achievers maintain
their racial sincerity by keeping a similar "street credibility,"
whether by still hanging out with the homeboys from the old neighborhood
or remembering their "ghetto roots" (real or imagined) by performing
a street-style speech, dress or gendered behavior (68). What is
interesting about J.Lo’s adaptation of this double consciousness
for aspiring middle-class Latinas is that, in the end, she re-inscribes
the historical racial, class and gendered hierarchies of the mainstream
Anglo-European U.S. culture. Despite J.Lo’s obvious possessive investment
in "whiteness," that set of character traits that George Lipsitz
has argued was legally instituted as a property conferring social,
economic, and political privileges, she still wants to maintain
the Latina’s borderland difference. That difference, as her song
"Jenny from the Block" argues, will be a memory of the ethnic neighborhood
defined by a cultural expressive style of blackness emptied of historical
weight. It will not involve any complicating transnational allegiances
to multiple homes.
 Wang’s Maid in Manhattan, it could be argued, is an
extended video that tries to provide narrative shape to the racial
codes of Lopez’s song about the successful "white" Latina. While
Marissa shows that she can clearly "fit into" whiteness in the film,
Wang emphasizes that she still shares the values placed on these
black and white racial categories. Wang inserts this duality of
her borderland character (commuting back and froth from the ethnic
neighborhood of the Bronx to midtown Manhattan) in the scene when
Marissa upbraids Senate candidate Marshall for his lack of "realness."
Upon learning that Marshall will give a campaign speech in the Bronx
simply for the photo-op, she rebukes this white crossover politician
for reciting memorized platitudes when he has no actual experience
of the place. Yet it is specifically the visual accompaniments to
this message about the "experience" that makes the "Latina" different
that is of interest to me here. In his visual shorthand to code
the street credibility of Marissa’s Bronx neighborhood, Wang offers
us only one picture of the "street": a shot of black men playing
street basketball. While Maid in Manhattan wants to suggest
that the Latina has a double consciousness that makes her different
from the "white," her blackness (a protruding derriere, urban street
culture, a gendered male blackness) is trivialized and de-Africanized.
In the racialized fantasy that I am calling "blanca from the bock,"
racial categories are clearly gendered, and a "safe" feminized color
difference, one that is in the end nearly interchangeable with an
Anglo American culture, is contrasted with a masculinized blackness
that projects dominant U.S. society’s mass-marketed primitivist
fantasies about the rawness and "realness" of the streets. In the
Latina’s mestizaness, blackness is reduced to an asset, one that
adds to her coolness and hipness, but one that is not revolutionary
or transformative of a historically normative white (Anglo-European)
culture. This blackness does not recognize an African diasporic
cultural retention that would darken the reputably "white face"
of the Latina acceptable to the Republican party. It equally leaves
unchallenged the core hegemonic belief, as Shelly Fisher Fishkin
notes, that African-ness is not an essential foundation within the
supposed whiteness of U.S. mainstream culture, but something separated
out into an expressive style of dance or music or b’ball (457).
 While blackness might still be acceptable for Latino (men),
and Marissa does have an Uncle Remus-like coworker at the hotel
whose dark skin is matched by a strong Caribbean accent, the Latina
still remains, as Norma Alarcon argued, the "race mother," only
now a transnational one, responsible for the reproduction of "whiteness."
Continuing to embody the myths and values of an ever-evolving "Latino/a"
community, just as she previously illustrated the ideals of the
imagined nation, this mestiza spitfire must be still able to enact
whiteness, a whiteness that, as Ruth Frankenberg has argued, is
less a complexion adhering to a biological body, than a scripted
performance that locates one on a map of social, economic and political
power (14). Still the "race" mother responsible for the reproduction
of the people and its culture, this emergent Latina, Maid in
Manhattan suggests, should be able to raise a "racially indeterminate"
child, one who, like Marissa’s son, can be a speech-quoting Nixon
devotee. In such a rising tide of future Latinos, Republicans need
not fear to rule and tread. As Jennifer Lopez’s Marisa demonstrates,
the blanca from the block’s collective memories of her hood/home
do not signal an alternative sense of belonging, affiliation or
understanding; only a versatility of style that does not prevent
her essential love for "white" America. Such memories of "home"
certainly do not mobilize any resistance to the economic or political
status quo. Modifying the words of J Lo’s song, Maid in Manhattan
shows that the Latina blanca from the block depends on no longer
knowing where she came from.
In the Spirit of Anti-Haitianism: Whiteness and the Transnational
 At the center of Julia Alverez’s 2000 novel, In the Name
of Salome, lies the official portrait of Salome Urena, which
her husband, Francisco "Pancho" Henriquez, commissioned from a Parisian
artist. During her lifetime, the poet Salome Urena (1856-1895) wrote
patriotic hymns that often played a defining role in Dominican nationalism,
and her husband, after her death, disseminates this image of his
wife to represent the ideals of la patria. Yet, as Alvarez
shows in her counterhistory, this mythic view of Salome Urena depends
on the father’s foundational lie about his wife’s appearance and
racial ancestral, and on his concomitant control over and distortion
of the mother’s words, sexuality, and memory. As Salome’s daughter,
Camila, comes to realize, reflecting on this "posthumous portrait,"
in it "Salome is pale, pretty, with a black neck band and full rosebud
mouth, a beautifying and whitening of the Great Salome, another
one of her father’s campaigns" (205). Although as an adolescent,
Camila had "love[d] this portrait," and wanted to hear that she
resembled this false representation of the ideal white mother, her
aunt rebuked her for her complicitous identification with the father’s
fantasy–and the imagined nation it would fashion. "That’s not what
your mother looked like. . . Your mother was much darker, for one
thing" (280-81). In Camila’s refusal to repeat the lie about the
"white body" of her mother, and the national icon, Salome, Alvarez
clearly speaks out against Dominican nationalists’ symbolization
of female identity to stand in for the purity of Spanish descent,
a symbolization that robbed women of their mixed race bodies and
denied their "dark" sexuality. Throughout In the Name of Salome,
Camila struggles through revisionary acts of memory to liberate
her mother’s, and in turn, her own body from the father’s authoritative
law. If in In the Name of Salome, Alvarez asks the question
how should the exile daughter remember the mother–and simultaneously–the
mother country–she seems to suggest, as indicated by the opening
epitaph from "White Woman of Color" that "Latinos" should be careful
not to take up the "limiting racial paradigms" of Dominican or U.S.
 However, while In the Name of Salome asserts a counterhistory
to the official patriarchal story of Salome Urena and even tries
to construct a more transnational Latina subjectivity, it is equally
a novel that participates, like Maid in Manhattan, in the
white-faced identity politics that I’ve called "blanca from the
block," even as it tries to construct a more transnational Latina
subjectivity. Beginning in 1960, when Camila, the exile Dominican
daughter decides to return to Cuba to serve as a teacher after Castro’s
revolution, the novel subsequently cuts back and forth in time between
the history of the mother and the journey of the transnational daughter.
Camila, it is implied, is living out the spirit, or the "name" of
Salome in this "return," a return significantly to Cuba, one of
the countries of her exile, and not the Dominican Republic, because
she discovers that her mother’s "spirit" sought to uplift and educate
oppressed peoples throughout the Caribbean and the Americas (not
simply in one nation). Although the father had used Salome’s image
and poetry to mobilize the imagined community of the single Dominican
nation, Camila uses the remembered (or named) spirit of her mother
to build a pan-Latin or transnational identity. As the exile daughter,
Salome Camila acts out a new Latina subjectivity that is true to
both components of her full name: to Salome, the name of her mother
and mother country, and to Camila, the main character in Florians’s
Numa Pompilius, whom the mother tells her, represents mobility,
or "fleet feet," since she "could run through a field of grain and
not bend a single stalk, [and] walk across the ocean and not wet
her feet" (306). Significantly, the novel, which moves backward
in time like Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent,
ends with the moment in which Camila feels that she has discovered
the "truth" of her origins and identity. Camila finally stops her
story in 1897 after her mother’s death and at the time her family
decided to leave Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and join
her father in El Cabo, Haiti. She finds her "origins" in exile and
 Throughout In the Name of Salome, then, Alvarez sets
up a contrast between the attachment to the truth of the mother’s
body outside the official portrait and the father’s language and
law. Such an opposition seeks to place the mestiza (or the white
woman of color, Salome Camila) against the "whiteness" of patriarchal
history. Yet in the end, it is not clear that Camila’s memory of
the mother’s body and spirit are actually different from the father’s
naming of them, and that Alvarez’s novel does not de-Africanize
the mother’s blackness, as did Maid in Manhattan, despite
Camila’s telling of a supposedly counterhegemonic her-story. In
her own way, Alvarez incorporates a variation of the dominant U.S.
identity politics discourse that in its representation of the mestiza
displaces or removes traces of an African diasporic history. We
can see this "whitening" of the transnational Latina’s identity
in the disjuncture between Camila’s memory of the primal scene of
her emigration from the Dominican Republic and the actual history
of the mother’s relocation. While Alvarez ends the daughter’s story
with her exile–her banishment to Haiti–she fails to remember here
her mother’s own Haitian ancestry. In returning to El Cabo, Camila
and her family are, in one sense, reversing her mother’s grandparent’s
route from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. Her exile is, taken
from the perspective of African diasporic history, as opposed to
a Eurocentric nationalist one, a return as well as
a departure. Yet, Alvarez cannot make that return a part of the
transnational white woman of color’s multiple "homecomings." Salome’s
Haitianism is acknowledged as a genealogy that accounts for the
mother’s color (one that is darker than the father’s official portrait),
but not for an alternative history or understanding of the world,
which might also have shaped the "spirit" of Salome. The spirit
of Haitianism, if it is acknowledged at all in In the Name of
Salome, appears in the figure of the children’s "mammy" who,
to frighten the temperamental son Fran, tells him "voodoo" stories
of spirits and ghosts. Against the "colored" body of Salome is still
the differently marked body of the "black" Mammy, and against Salome’s
education is set the "superstition" of Afro-Caribbean-ness. Afrogenic
culture in In the Name of Salome has no place in the migrant
transnational daughter’s reciprocal cultural exchanges during her
 In In the Name of Salome, Alvarez addresses most directly
in her "counterhistories" of the Dominican Republic, the "anti-haitianismo,"
which Ernesto Sagas has argued functioned as a key part of Dominican
nation building (4). Between 1822 and 1844 the Haitians invaded
and occupied the other half of the Caribbean island of Hispanola,
and when Alvarez’s novel begins in the 1850s, many Dominicans still
feared Haitian control of the island. As a young girl, Salome recalls
how her father shared the nationalists’ fear of this political takeover.
When the Dominican elite agreed to be restored as a Spanish colony
(1861), though they had earlier fought for their independence, her
father announces that "I’d rather be Spanish than Haitian. We are
not ready to be patria yet" (30). Yet anti-haitianismo was
not just about the fear of lost sovereignty. As Sagas notes, the
Dominican elite continued to define a Dominican national cultural
identity against the Haitian "other"–this "NonWestern" opposite
which was defined as savage, uncivilized and backwards because of
its African cultural retentions perceived as mere "superstitions"
and "voodoo." Dominican nation building depended than on manipulating
racist fears in the process of invoking the memory of Haitian occupation
(22). In its ethnic fabrication of Dominican "racial democracy,"
moreover, this elite embraced an "indio" or indigenous past that
made them a mestiza culture different from the European Spanish,
but still resisted acknowledging an "unassimilable" blackness. During
his dictatorship, Trujillo would appeal to this racist nationalism
to unite the country and ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitian
immigrants and descendants in 1937 to "whiten" the country (Johnson
78). Such a history of direct oppression and murder the transnational
daughter strongly denounces in her antipathy toward her uncle Max
who served in Trujillo’s government and thus shares the culpability
for this Holocaust: As Camila tells her brother Pedro, "It’s more
than hardheartedness. That Haitian business was a disgrace. Twenty
pesos for each dead soul. . . . History will never forgive him"
 While the transnational mestiza daughter can condemn the atrocity
of the Haitian massacre, however, she cannot free herself fully
of the set of social and cultural prejudices that are an extension
of this anti-haitianismo. Haitianism, to put it another way,
cannot be a part of the spirit of Salome, or at least more than
a skin "color" or "asset" like J.Lo’s derriere, adding to her beauty,
and thus Camila ends up still seeing herself "hailed" in another
version of the father’s de-Africanized portrait of the "mother"
Salome. The novel’s own homologous "whitening" of the "spirit" of
Salomeone that finds its "re-embodiment" in the transnational
mestiza daughter-- is most clearly seen in the mother’s relation
to Eugenio Maria de Hostos, the Puerto Rican born philosopher and
social reformer who introduced positivism to the Dominican Republic.
Latin American positivism, as Harold Eugene Davis asserts, was based
on two key theories from Auguste Comte: first, that positive principles,
which could be scientifically investigated, underlie social structures,
and, second, that history was evolving toward a rational humanism,
a process that, though inevitable, could be furthered by education.
As a consequence of these two basic principles, positivism served
both radical and reactionary functions. For men such as Eugenio
Maria de Hostos, as Alvarez shows, it challenged a Church-led political
conservatism. Yet in its belief in gradualism, positivism also reassured
the elite that working class protest and revolution were politically
unnecessary and pernicious and, thus, they need not dread their
degeneration or decline as the result of a feared "racial warfare"
(Davis 106). While in the nineteenth-century, the inevitability
of a linked moral and racial evolution helped to maintain the status
quo, during the early twentieth-century modern period, positivism
worked more subtly to foster what Nancy Stepan and Jerry Davilia
have called a "eugenic nationalism." In promoting modernization,
many positivists preached the idea that being forward looking meant
breaking one’s ties to one’s past, in most cases an indigenous or
Afro-diasporic past now seen as savage and backwards (Stepan 15,
Davilia 9). While the Dominican Republic under Trujillo actively
encouraged immigration from Europe to "whiten the race," as did
Cuba and Brazil in the first part of the 20th-century,
whiteness remained, for the most part unmarked and transparent through
the way it was invoked under the language of modernity, social progress,
and consumerism. In words that adumbrate Vasconcelos’s fifth cosmic
race, for example, Hostos declaimed in his speech, "Temas Cubanos,"
that the new man would combine "the native virtues of the Latin
race . . . [and] those that make the Anglo Saxon the part of humanity
that is most useful to civilization" (qtd in Alba, 130). Although
positivist reformers such as Hostos might claim that all races are
equal, white people were still associated with the only civilized
and sophisticated, modern modes of cultural, social, and economic
practices. Hostos’s theory of the "new man" that would inspire Salome,
thus, combined brown and white, not black, into a new perfect "higher"
state for all.
 Alvarez’s attraction to the figure of Hostos as the soul mate
of Salome is not hard to understand. Hostos was a reformer who believed,
like Salome, in an activist service towards others, and he championed
a pan-American federation among Caribbean and some South American
nations (Alba 123). As the forerunner of a transnational "Latino"
identity, Hostos stands in the company of Bolivar and Marti. Yet,
his words that inspire Salome are not innocent of the racial logic
pervasive within positivist thought, and which I would argue, are
repeated even today in futuristic visions of the mestizo nation.
When Salome discovers her true soul mate upon meeting Hostos, her
language describing her attraction to Hostos is telling and suggests
her recognition of her identity in the mirror of the transnational
educational reformer rather than her nationalist husband. When
listening to Hostos, Salome confesses that "I was in moral love–does
that make sense? A moral love that took over my senses and lightly
touched my whole body with an exquisite excitement whenever the
apostle was in the room!" (172-73). By describing this putative
cerebral attraction in erotically charged language, Salome discloses
the repressed female sexuality that is not part of her husband’s
image for her. Yet this language of sexual possession also has overtones
of colonial conquest: he takes over her "whole body," shaping and
reconstituting it within his language and beliefs. As a positivist,
Hostos tells Salome that he espouses the idea of progress, that
"mankind [is] evolving toward a higher perfect state," and that
it should be the goal of the reformer through education to create
a "new man for a new nation" (175). While Salome, inspired by Hostos’s
prompting, will begin the first school for girls that will offer
them a modern, scientific education to create a "new woman for the
nation," she does not question Hostos’s vision of what this woman
should be. Certainly these new women will be different from the
ornamental ladies that could not even read and who graduated from
the sisters Bobadilla’s church school. Yet this ideal woman for
the Dominican nation is also one who will share in a universal progress
that will involve an Oedipal break with the mother’s African past–one
that like the break with Haitiwill not be mourned .
 Although African diasporic history is erased from the mother’s,
and her daughter’s story, blackness does resurface, as in Wang’s
Maid in Manhattan, through the invocation of primitivist
myths that recapitulate a history of racialized sexualities. This
reliance on an unmarked or transparent white norm set against a
black "other" can most clearly be seen in Camila’s brief affair
with the sculptor Domingo who asks Camila to sit for him so that
he can find in her the impression of her recently deceased father’s
face. As his name and his physical description underscore, Domingo
stands in for the "lure and loathing" of blackness, and he invokes
the "spirit of Domingo (Haiti)," which was used to incite revolutionary
protest, as Eric Sundquist notes, among many African diasporic people
through the Caribbean and the hemispheres. On first meeting Domingo,
Camila recalls, she was surprised to find a "large mulatto with
a handsome, big-featured face and body that, because she had been
printing placards, she instantly thinks of as ‘all in capital letters’"(148).
Domingo’s bigness and his connection to language are repeated when
later she recalls that in her daydreams, she had "written his name
DOMINGO in large, back capital letters" (150). In many ways these
scenes with Domingo serve as a contrasting mirroring scene to the
one I discussed earlier in which Camila sees herself being "hailed"
in the father’s portrait of her mother. Domingo offers Camila a
different languagebig black wordsin which to see herself
represented, and she is so represented in his colored sculpture
of her. In her conversations with Domingo Camila even acknowledges
that she felt free for the first time to talk of and acknowledge
her mother’s race (160). Yet, if the language of Domingo, the language
of the Haitian revolution and its fathers such as Touissant d’Overture,
might modify and replace the language of the Spanish-descent father,
Pancho, Camila closes off this possibility in fear of the primitive
 In a key scene that ends the first half of the novel, Camila
appears late at Domingo’s house understanding that he will recognize
that she has consented to give herself sexually to him. Never having
yet been with a man, and unsure that she wants the heterosexual
relations that would please her brother Pedro, Camila tellingly
turns to "blackness" or its black male representative, who stereotypically
embodies an abjected sexuality. Although, on one level, challenging
her father’s myths of pure "white" femininity, Camila has still
internalized the problematic racial logic of "blanca from the block":
she reduces her African diasporic heritage to a masculinized blackness
associated with sexual freedom and virulent heterosexuality. While
in this scene, Alvarez’s novel does disrupt norms of gender and
sexuality, for indeed Camila does learn that she does not really
desire to consummate her father’s and her brother’s heterosexual
myth of intimacy, we need to restore the racial overtures of this
scene. In describing her revulsion, Camila recollects, "She is revolted
by his big hands, his hardness pressing against her thigh. The word
become flesh is not always an appealing creature"(166). Although
initially in this "friendship/romance," the law of Domingo (and
the historical spirit of San Domingo) might have served as a complementary
representation to the Spirit of Salome in which Camila might come
to know herself, the language of "big black words" resembles all
too closely the white woman’s peril at the hands of the hyperphallic
black rapist. Fears of Haitian penetration still lie as part of
the transnational daughter’s sexual fears and fantasies. Although
Camila goes through with the sexual act in order to break "free
from the old life" (166), she has once again kept in play part of
her nationalist father’s anti-Haitianism: the primitivist myth of
black sexuality, and, as importantly, the reduction of the multi-layered
Afro-Caribbean heritage within mestiza-ness to a commodified male
sexuality. The spirit of San Domingo, which might inspire revolutionary
possibilities in Camila, becomes re-imagined as a thing of horror,
an undesirable sexual advance as violating as "rape."
 By outing a "tabooed" same sex eroticism in the transnational
Latina daughter, Alvarez challenges, as she does in her discussion
of the mother’s official portrait, the symbolization of the white
woman in the imagined nation. She frees the Latina’s body from its
sexual control within a patriarchal order. Yet, while Alvarez has
Camila break free of the regulation of the Dominicana’s normative
gender and sexual performance, she still leaves in play an unmarked
whiteness defined by its difference from a "demonized" blackness.
In taking up the name of "Salome," Camila does so only after rejecting
the violent and "violating" blackness of the spirit of (San) Domingo,
which would exceed the racial double consciousness of "blanca from
the block." In In the Name of Salome, anti-haitianism, an
anti-haitianism, it is important to note, reconfigured and re-affirmed
within the discourse of U.S. whiteness, still remains as the disciplining
norm of the Latina’s her-story despite her border-crossing migration.
In the end, the transnational Latina’s blackness is only a skin-deep
color that she gets from her mother. Camila can not, will not, author
herself in "big black words."
Disfigurement and the Crime of Whiteness
 As in Julia Alvarez’s In the Name of Salome, Cristina
Garcia’s The Aguero Sisters is a novel built around the father’s
lies. Over the course of the novel, the two estranged Aguero sisters
are reconciled when the secrets of their family’s past are disclosed:
that their father, while on an ecological forging mission out in
the Zapata Swamp, had shot their mother so as to keep her as another
of his taxidermal specimens over whom he had complete control (Socolovsky
9). As part of this multi-generational saga about family secrets
and sibling trauma, however, Garcia includes a revisionary account
of twentieth-century history that contrasts pre and post-Revolutionary
Cuba. In her contrast of Cuba before and after the Castro revolution,
Garcia depicts the liberation of a new Cubana (Reina) from
the sexual and gender oppression inherited from the colonial past,
but she also reveals, in the other sister Constancia’s story, the
troubling persistence of norms of whiteness disguised within myths
of Cuba’s exceptionalism as a country of "racial fraternity and
democracy." Left unexamined, these myths of Cuban racial origins,
Garcia implies, can resurface (as they literally do in Constancia’s
case) as a ghostly re-embodiment in the transnational or exile daughter's
 After the revolution that brought the independence of Cuba
from Spain (1898), as Alejandro de la Fuente argues, Cuban nationalists
instituted the myth of the island’s racial fraternity and democracy.
In this national ideology of exceptionalism, Cuba, unlike the U.S.,
was a nation for all, one that embraced its multi-racial heritage
and sought to fulfill Jose Marti’s idea of a heterogeneous culture.
Yet, despite its professed egalitarianism, this ideology of racial
fraternity often functioned as a tactic used by the elite to justify
the current social order (9). Within a presumptive integration,
elite Conservatives continued to push for the "whitening" of Cuban
national identity and to disparage African descent peoples as savages
who were not fit for self-government and even more so for political
citizenship (41). During the election of the Conservative Tomas
Estrada Palma, in particular, as de la Fuente writes, the campaign
was fought over the "true" representation of an inclusive Cubanness
and the legacy of Marti. Later in 1904, when Garcia’s novel begins,
President Estrada Palma ended a heated political debate by refusing
the United Fruit Company permission to introduce Jamaican laborers
in Oriente, and instead encouraged immigration from Spain to whiten
the allegedly "mestiza" democracy of Cuba.
 In her family saga, Garcia specifically associates the father
"Ignacio" with this historical controversy over the "whiteness"
of Cuban identity and the turn-of-the-century immigration of Spaniards
to strengthen the country’s European cultural allegiance. When Ignacio
is born in 1904, in a scene of symbolic resonance, an owl flies
through the open shutters of the bedroom to steal the placenta and
to rain the "birthing blood all over President Palma’s parade" (29).
Through the owl’s umbilical linking of Ignacio’s birth and the ceremony
honoring Palma, The Aguero Sisters implies that there is
a similar genealogical connection between the future naturalist’s
scientific projects and Palma’s nation building project based on
racial narratives of whiteness. As Ignacio himself remarks in the
diaries that he keeps as a legacy for his daughters, "it was science,
not politics or economics, that held the key to conquering the universe"
(118). In turning to naturalism, Ignacio continues the work of defending
and upholding the Spanish colonial culture enacted by his own father,
who emigrated from Spain as part of Cuba’s whitening campaign and
had become a "lecturer" in the El Cid cigar factory. As a "lecturer,"
Ignacio’s father had read from the Spanish and Greco-Roman classics
(Don Quixote, El Cid) and he had passed along his
"favorite recipes from Spain" (32). Although a seemingly unambitious
scholar, Ignacio’s unnamed father felt his reading gave him "a heightened
sense of purpose" (32). This purpose was the preservation of Spanish
culture in the new world, an act of imperial imposition built around
the "white lie" that there was a pure indigenous or Spanish culture
that could be saved from racial degeneration and miscegenation with
a "foreign" blackness.
 While Ignacio’s culpable lie that breaks up his family is
presumably about the murder of his wife, this crime only compounds
and extends the everyday prevarications that had been on ongoing
part of his naturalist history. In Garcia’s novel, science in pre-Revolutionary
Cuba worked as a key apparatus for inventing an effective racial
and cultural etiology for a Eurocentric history. Although Ignacio
insisted to his daughter that "Evolution . . . is more precise than
history" (46), Ignacio reveals in his diaries that he was not above
manipulating, withholding, or even killing to preserve inherited
views of the biological exigencies of Cuba’s origins. As a young
naturalist, Ignacio’s key discovery was of a leatherback turtle,
who lay her nest on the coast of the Isle de Pines. These leatherbacks,
as Ignacio knew, "breed primarily off the Gulf of Guinea in West
Africa" (93), and thus the mother leatherback’s presence here suggested
an African diasporic ancestry as central to Cuba’s environmental
evolution. Having discovered this key to Cuba’s natural history,
however, Ignacio represses it. Likewise, in other projects seeking
to trace out the "facts" of Cuba’s environmental history, Ignacio
continues to "naturalize" a preferred version of Cuba’s racial evolution.
When Ignacio becomes fascinated with the Andaraz, the rats of Oriente,
once again his investigations recall the political rhetoric surrounding
the province of Oriente, the predominantly black province of Cuba,
where Antillean immigrants settled and were blamed for the spread
of diseases and infestations. Behind all of Ignacio’s investigations
is, therefore, the unspoken lure and loathing of blackness, which
is at once made known and then displaced from his accounts of the
evolution of plants, animals, and by extension, people.
 While, in contrast to Alvarez, Garcia thus foregrounds the
role of positivist science in fashioning the nation's imagined racial
history, she also ties this instrumental naturalism to Ignacio’s
complementary desire to control his wife's body. Continually Garcia
links the natural history of Cuba and the story of "Blanca," the
mother, whose sexual autonomy and gender deviance must be regulatedand
finally stoppedso that she does not fail to reproduce both
biologically and culturally, a pre-revolutionary Cuban elite’s favored
representation as a European descent bourgeois culture. In his
fascination with the rats of Oriente, we later learn that Ignacio
had been investigating the "feared" black other that might be invading
his marriage bed. On his honeymoon, even more significantly, Ignacio
returns with Blanca to the Isle of Pines to show her the elusive
"leatherback, which has disappeared. By replacing the mother turtle
of West Africa with the human mother Blanca, Ignacio tries to reverse
the racial evolution of Cuba. While swimming with his wife in the
rivers of Las Casas where earlier he had met the leatherback, Ignacio
impregnates Blanca, who is symbolically bitten on her heel by river
rat or snake (the actual perpetrator in this Edenic "fall" never
being identified). Although Blanca urged her husband to give into
the riverto its natural freedomhe is unable to let go
of his "civilized" inhibitions and is more importantly unable to
see his wife as more than a "possession" (223). Despite his wife’s
desire to return to nature, Ignacio wants to preserve Blancaand
the race mother-- apart from the evolutionary cycles of the very
natural world, which he knows has a propensity for miscegenation.
 Like the leatherback turtle that she replaces as Ignacio’s
discovery, Blanca serves as a sign of an alternative Cuban history.
Despite her name, Blanca is the only daughter of a mulatta mother
whose ancestors "fled Haiti after the slave revolt of 1791" (187).
In giving her daughter the name of "Blanca," therefore, her mother
Dona Eugenia had asserted her colonial ancestry at the expense of
her confluent African diasporic heritage. In a scene of magic realism
in which natural history once again serves to stand in for the lies
of political myth, Dona Eugenia is crushed to death by stampeding
pigs"savage creatures"--that do the work that her ancestors
feared would be executed by the former slaves of Haiti. Although
the father has these "revolting" pigs slaughtered, in an ironic
re-appropriation, the villagers begin to worship Dona Eugenia as
a beatified martyr, one depicted in murals as reminiscent of the
Virgin de Caridad or Guadalupe. In this story of the mulatta mother,
Garcia also includes one other telling historical allusion that
becomes central to the racial allegory. All that remains to Blanca
of her mother after the "freak accident" is a "fragment of bone
in a worn flannel pouch on her belt" (186), a bone which Constancia
on her return to Cuba exhumes along with her father’s papers. This
bone fragment recalls the controversy over the "bone of the Inca,"
which allegedly resolved the cultural battle over the racial identity
of the mulatto, Antonio Maceo, one of the heroes of Cuban independence.
In 1930 President Geraldo Machado declared the date of Maceo’s death
a national holiday to win Afro-Cuban support, giving official recognition
to the way he had become a revered symbol of an Afro-centric version
of Cuba’s mixed racial fraternity. Yet, in the years immediately
after Maceo’s death in battle in 1897 during the war for Cuban independence,
there was a struggle over the racial identity of this military hero.
To end the controversy, Maceo’s remains were exhumed and he was
declared to have the "bone of the Inca"the wrist bone that
was said to have an extra bump (de la Fuente 39). Yet this forensic
exhumation did not end the controversy over Maceo’s "image," and
other anthropological studies, while acknowledging that Maceo was
a mulatto, declared that he was closer to white. Most drawings of
the independence leader, especially among the Conservative elite,
continued to render him as nearly white. By holding onto her mother’s
bones, Blanca, like many other Cubans of African descent, sought
to resist the whitening of Cuban history and national identity.
 Yet in uncovering the murderous lies that preserved a normative
whiteness within pre-revolutionary Cuba’s myths of racial democracy,
ones that were tied specifically to control of female identity and
sexuality, Garcia suggests that this same "whitening" is occurring
in contemporary formations of Cubana/Latina identities. Unlike Alvarez’s
In the Name of Salome, Garcia’s novel works to disrupt these
contemporary formations of the Latina as a "white woman with colored
assets." Alvarez’s working out of these racial issues can be seen
in her contrast between the two Aguero sisters, Constancia and Reina,
and what they represent. As her name would suggest, Constancia is
constant to her mother’s memory, or at least to her father’s telling
of it. Yet, if Constancia cannot forget the mother who "accidentally"
died, she literally seeks to re-embody this figure of the mother.
When Constancia moves from New York City to Miami to live among
the prosperous exile community, she undergoes an identity dissolution.
This dissolution Garcia dramatizes within the ghostly implausibilities
of magic realism as the taking on her "mother’s face" (106). While
at first, Constancia (and the reader) assume that Constancia is
hallucinating, her sister Reina and others confirm that she now
has become her mother. The Aguero Sisters makes literal Freud’s
observations that in mourning, the individual often tries to deal
with her or his grief by identifying with and becoming the lost
object of desire (Eng 6).
 Although at first, Constancia responds with horror when she
sees her mother’s face in the mirror, she soon begins to welcome
her transformation: "Last month, she awoke and discovered that her
mother’s face had replaced her own. . . . She finds the soft stretch
of Mama’s flesh over hers oddly sustaining, as if she were buoyed
by a warm tidal power" (130). While before Constancia had felt "adrift"
as a daughter (and an immigrant) who had lost her mother and her
mother country, in recreating in herself her mother’s identity,
she now finds herself "sustained." Having been re-energized by this
identification with her mother, Constancia even launches a line
of beauty products with her mother’s whitened face as the company
logo and actively markets this "Latina" identity to other Cubanas
as well as other Hispanics. After the success of her initial eye
repair cream, Ojos de Cuba, Constancia imagines that she
will "make-over" the entire body of the Cuban woman:
Constancia intends to launch a full complement of face and body
products for every glorious inch of Cuban womanhood: Cuello
de Cuba, Senos de Cuba, Codoes de Cuba, Muslos
de Cuba, and so one. Each item in her Cuerpo de Cuba
line will embody the exalted image Cuban women have of themselves
as passionate, self-sacrificing, and deserving of every luxury.(131)
By using her mother’s image in her ads, Constancia feels that she
will invoke her clients’ memories: "they feel more cubana
after using her products, that they recall long forgotten details
of their childhoods" (132). Yet, Constancia’s attempt to preserve
the mother as beauty myth recapitulates her father’s preservation
of her mother as taxidermal specimen over whose story he maintains
complete control. In The Aguero Sisters, Garcia complicates
the notion that a Cuban Americana or Latina identity can be authored
through a memory of the mother country. Not only are memories not
mimetic, but they can be, as they are here, rehearsals of the same
scripted lies that the father told. Blanca was a woman who rebelled
against normative feminine traits of sentimentalism, self-sacrifice
and passive consumption. She fled her home to defy her entrapment
as such a "kept woman," and she prized her black Afro-Cuban genealogy,
carrying the "bone" of her mulatta mother. By remembering her mother
as part of the contemporary immigrant story, Constancia simplifies
the way that the mother exists only as a textual memory controlled
by patriarchal history, and thus her sentimental idealizations of
the mother ignore the truth buried beneath the father’s "naturalized"
history and preserve an engendered whiteness within a "mestiza"
or Latinidad consciousness.
 Constancia’s marketing of her mother Blanca returns us once
again to the discourse that I traced out earlier in speaking of
Wang’s Maid in Manhattan, and which I called "blanca from
the block." What keeps this Latina distinct is her double consciousness,
but in this transracial and transnational identity, the consumption
of mass marketed racial narratives supplants cultural sensibilities
and alternative understandings. Since the blanca from the block’s
memory of where she came from is actually a commodified street
credibility, her invented memories, as we have seen in Wang’s film
and now in Garcia’s story of Constancia, can not incorporate the
presence of an African diasporic heritage, experience, or world
view. In returning to Cuba to recover a sense of "wholeness," Constancia
must not just discover the truth of her father’s crime (as revealed
in his papers) but also the heritage of the mulatta’s "little bone"
which "she will take home to her sister" (298). To heal her sense
of fragmentation and dislocation, Constancia had wanted to create
a new narrative of Cuban Americana identity that would reconnect
her with the father’s imagined "white" mother. Yet such a nostalgic
look backward only took her further and further from the full routes
(roots), to borrow Paul Gilroy’s phrase, of a revolutionary Haitian
and African diasporic history that her mother loved and carried
in her bone(s).
 This bone, it should be noted, stands in sharp contrast to
the prettified commodified reality of Latina-ness in the consumer
republicone that Constancia would make similar in design to
the white Dolce and Gabbana suit in Maid in Manhattan. Indeed,
it stands witness against the father’s positivist science with its
mystifying reports. In symbolizing the Aguero sister’s "blackness"
as a bone retained as a saint’s relic, Garcia suggests that, like
a relic, its power lies outside scientific verification. The value
of the bone fragment lies in the textual memories associate with
it, in the interpretations of a past, which future generations bring
to it, but which are no longer visibly present. Constancia’s discovery
then does not finally once and for all lay to rest the mystery of
her mother’s identity (or of her own). Instead, it initiates the
ongoing process that is at the core of a "mestiza" identity, an
identity which is never fully realized in some final synthesis or
product, but must be recreated by each generation of transnational
daughters who journey to discover and re-connect with the truth
of their mothers and ancestors in the context of their own lived
 In her essay, "Eccentric Bodies, " Carla Peterson argues that
historically African American women responded to the cultural perceptions
about the black woman’s body in one of several ways (xv). While
nineteenth-century writers pushed for the black woman’s assimilation
by decorporalizing or normalizing the black woman’s different body
in their representations, others sought to "flaunt" the grotesque,
eccentric body that served as the "other" to a normal (white) womanhood.
In The Aguero Sisters, Garcia takes a similar tactic of "flaunting"
an eccentric, or "grotesque" Latina body in her portrayal of the
sister Reina as the new cubana, who resists a normative whiteness.
As the half sister to Constancia, Reina is the child resulting from
Blanca’s affair with an unnamed giant mulatto. When Reina encounters
him at her mother’s grave, she describes him as "with skin a flawless
evening black" (194), and he in turn hails her as "mi hija" (194).
Like her mother, Reina has a wildness that refuses to be domesticated
and made over into the tamed "cuerpo de Cuba," and indeed
when Constancia offers her sister some of her beauty products, she
uses them as lubricants for her tools. In coming to Key Biscaye,
Reina, who is described as an "Amazon queen," disrupts the order
there with her defiance of domestic piety and her open avowal of
sexuality: "every inch of her body . . . is an invitation to pleasure"
(196). When chastised by her older sister, she refuses to assume
the Cubana’s modesty, decrying that "civilization she feels kills
every original thirst" (200). Neither in her looks nor in her behavior
does Reina embody her sister’s ideas of the cuerpo de Cuba.
 In her portrayal of Reina, Garcia suggests the new role allowed
women in a post-revolutionary Cuba. As a campanera who is
a competent electrician, a self-confident and assertive lover, and
an independent political thinker, Reina is eccentric or outside
the norms of femininity that her father tried to impose on her mother
in pre-revolutionary Cuba. But Reina is also an "eccentric" or "grotesque"
character in Petersen’s terms, because she represents an alternative
embodiment of the transnational "mestiza"one defined by her
disfigurement, not a preservation of feminine norms of whiteness.
Literally, Reina is a "grotesque" character because her body is
a patchwork of skin grafts and different racial histories. For Reina,
African diasporic history is not merely a colorful "asset" or a
commodified style to be worn on the weekend. It is a scar, one that
Reina carries on her body, as a witness to her past and experience.
 Her blackness, moreover, Garcia highlights, is also not reducible
to a renewed primitivist fantasy, but is associated with the revolutionary
spirit and name of slave ancestors, which Alvarez could not make
a part of the Spirit of Salome. While working as an electrician
in the El Cobre mines, the site of a slave revolt that ended with
the mutineers gaining their freedom, Reina is burned when an earthquake
and the resultant mud slides ignite a fire. After her body is badly
burned, Reina receives skin grafts from her lover Pepin, her daughter,
as well as other anonymous volunteers. Her body literally becomes
a palimpsest of the many different people, voices, histories and
ideas within post-revolutionary Cuba. Transformed by her encounter
with a slave past, Reina is resurrected as a different kind of mestiza,
one who is not just black or white, but truly multiple, fed by many
signs that still carry the weight of history. When Reina first
notices the disfiguration and itching of the grafts in the hospital,
Pepin tells her, speaking with a figurative resonance, that she
must accept this "disfigurement" as the "condition of survival"
(37). And indeed this "eccentric" "disfigured" body in contrast
to Constancia’s cuerpo de Cuba does give Reina a remarkable
strength and beauty, one that affords her not only a new self-presence,
but also allows her to surviveand indeed thrivein her
transnational migration. During the conflagration at the El Cobre
mines, Reina had burned into her the spirit and strength of her
slave ancestors. And it is precisely this power that gives Reina,
in contrast to Constancia, the ability to hold onto the stuffed
birds, specimens, antique volumes and other artifacts of her adopted
father (and Spanish-speaking fatherland) to pass down to the granddaughter
Raku. She does not fear a disintegration of self, no matter where
she may travel, even amidst the Cuba exile community of Miami that
might try to restore a pre-Revolutionary past. In this disfigured
cuerpo de Cuba, one that is a patchwork of "grafts" without clear
origins, Garcia imagines a mestiza who can pull from both her mother’s
and her father’s many racial pasts. She is no white woman of color,
or colored woman with whiteness, but an eccentric Amazon that resists
such easy racial hierarchies and gender and national classifications.
She looms as the nightmare, not the Hollywood palliative, within
Middle America’s fantasy because her Afro-diasporic history is burned
into her flesh in distinct patches.
 As Claudia Sadowski-Smith notes, abstract theories of the
borderland or transnational mestiza identities that see hybridity
as liberating marginalized groups from oppressive nation, race or
gender based forms can ignore how markers of identity are embedded
in historical context and thus can run the danger of re-inscribing
the very identity boundaries they seek to transcend. In recovering
the figure of the mestiza as "blanca from the block" in turn-of-the-21st-century
discourse, I have tried to argue that popular versions of the mestiza
Latina that are marketed by Hollywood and MTV can and do re-establish
racial borders to create a Republican friendly U.S. multiculturalism.
But rather than evaluating the mestiza consciousness of the new
Latina/o as finally either freeing or restrictive, I have tried
to foreground the figure of the Latina as a site of contestation,
as a fluid, syncretic identification over which various groups in
our contemporary society are struggling for authorizing control.
In their novels, both Julia Alvarez and Cristina Garcia begin the
important work of showing how whiteness can still retain a strong
normative function within contemporary formations of the transnational
mestiza. Yet, while both In the Name of Salome and The
Aguero Sisters are interventions into the ongoing, new millennial
debate about how to represent and think about the emergent subjectivity
of the Latina, Alvarez’s novel assimilates the Americanized race
logic of unmarked whiteness that I have called "blanca from the
block," and reproduces the ideological falsehood of the mestiza
as unscarred by an African diasporic cultural legacy that is more
than a "commodified asset" adding color to the "white woman." Despite
predictions of the abolition of whiteness in a new Utopian U.S.
borderland consciousness, we continue to struggle with what Morrison
described as the "black presence" in an emerging transnational American
culture. In her figure of Reina, Cristina Garcia, however, begins
the work of imagining a different kind of mestiza, one who can serve
as an important counter to the blanca from the block. This disfigured
mestiza will always carry the scar of her complex history and thus
retains the "blackness" (and brownness and yellowness) trivialized
within an abstract borderland theory. In the figure of Reina, Garcia
points out the need to expand theories of transnationalism: Just
as we have begun to re-conceive displacement and exile as also opportunities
for multiple sites of belonging, affiliation and cultural agency,
a paradoxically "enabling" disfigurement, Garcia implies, may--metaphorically
speaking--be just what the mestiza Latina needs to end the migrant’s
internalization and embodiment of the white lies of the father.
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Stephen Knadler is an associate professor of English at
Spelman College, where he teaches US literature and cultural studies.
He is the author of The Fugitive Race: Minority Writers Resisting
Whiteness (U Press of Mississippi, 2002), and his recent essays
on gender and violence in the Harlem Renaissance have appeared in
Modern Fiction and African American Review. Currently,
he is working on an NEH-funded project exploring the transnationalism
of nineteenth-century African American culture.