Texas Christian University
"Continents strain to unloose themselves": Teaching Transnational Connections in Cristina Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban
This paper explores the displacement of traditional models of homogeneous personal and national identity in Cristina Garcia's novel Dreaming in Cuban (1992) and the implications of this displacement for the teaching of women's transnational literature. Beginning with early modernism the borders of national literary canons increasingly were pushed to their limits. Today, the growing production and reading of texts identified as "transnational" reflects the current process of economic and cultural globalization. Even the new edition of the culturally conservative Norton's Anthology of English Literature steps beyond the bounds of Great Britain and Ireland in its selections. These complications invite such questions as: What is the importance and potential of this new classification of "transnational" literature? What are the dangers? And what can this new body of work add to the literature classroom?
My paper focuses on Dreaming in Cuban and how the reader is presented through a fragmentary narrative with one family's competing views of the Cuban revolution, United States democracy, motherhood, and gender roles. Specifically, I explore how the character of Pilar becomes the connecting agent who successfully navigates between cultures and across borders. Attempting to negotiate their lives across cultures, political regimes and times, the women of the del Pino family struggle to construct identities--both personal and cultural--that depart from static and universal models. Ultimately, though, it is the granddaughter Pilar, brought to exile in the United States as a child, who succeeds in this transnational crossing. In contrast to her mother Lourdes, who "abhors ambiguity" and who immigration has entirely redefined, Pilar develops what Edward Said calls a "contrapuntal" awareness (55). By providing a reading of this mapping of cultural identity, I examine how this process parallels a rethinking of history beyond national borders.
This movement beyond borders unmasks the political and economic connections between nations. Foregrounding these transnational concerns, Garcia's novel stirs the reader beyond national identifications of "us" vs. "them." This new awareness asks readers "to rethink critically both their particular positions and the historical and geopolitical backdrop against which they are bound to cut their figures" (Moraru 174). Staging the development of transnational awareness, such texts as Garcia's proffer a pedagogical model that "[r]ather than pitting a rotating chain of oppositional communities against a White European dominant [. . .] stress the horizontal and vertical links threading communities together (Shohat and Stam 6). By commenting on the historical connections between the United States and Cuba and the intersections between public history and private lives, Dreaming in Cuban resists providing a voyeuristic entrance for students into the culture of the exotic "other." This novel demonstrates that the reading of transnational texts is not simply about "discovering" another culture, but rather illuminates the hidden processes of globalization.
Garcia, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban. NY: Ballantine Books, 1992.
Moraru, Christian. "Refiguring the Postcolonial: The Transnational Challenges." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 28.4 (October 1997): 171-85.
Said, Edward. "The Mind of Winter: Reflections on Life in Exile." Harper's 269 (September 1984): 49-55.
Shohat, Ella and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. NY: Routledge, 1994.
Talpade Mohanty, Chandra. "Under Western Eyes: Feminist scholarship and Colonial Discourse." Reprinted in Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. Eds. Patrick Williams & Laura Chrisman. NY: Columbia UP, 1994.
Trinh T. Minh-ha. Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989.
Wilson, Rob and Wimal Dissanayake, eds. Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary. Durham: Duke UP, 1996.