Ana Lydia Vega
Matters of Responsibility
It might seem ironic that probably the two best known contemporary Puerto Rican writers (Rosario Ferre and Ana Lydia Vega) are women, given the macho nature of a culture that has generally been inclined to silence them. The machismo has often been commented upon. E. Zaretsky says for example: "Puerto Rican machismo is an ideology which tends to alienate men from themselves and their families and which has been institutionalized through the division of labor between the work done in the home and that done for a salary under the agricultural and industrial system." Victor de la Cancela, who quotes Zaretsky, notes, "One of the premises shared by the culturalists is that culture is to be respected, and, as a cultural manifestation, machismo needs to be defended as a conscious affirmation of the Puerto Rican in the face of discrimination and prejudices. "However", Cancela adds, the culturalists fail to recognize in their stance against negative views of Puerto Rican culture that they too are ethnocentric in emphasizing the desirable, giving the impression that machismo can be justified." ('A Critical Analysis of Puerto Rican Machismo')
Vega has herself written an essay looking at the problem of machismo in Puerto Rican culture and is aware that her writing cannot avoid attending to the broader Puerto Rican context. Elsewhere, in an interview with the same magazine, she insists, "once you begin to publish and achieve a certain standing, then everyone expects you to fulfil your "patriotic" obligations, no matter how hard you try to distance yourself from all that in your personality and work. You get invited to give speeches, to comment on important events. The literary and critical academic establishment has a set view of the writer, and they want you to fit into it. In certain circumstances there is no other choice for the writer if he or she wants to be included. Those are the dynamics of inclusion-exclusion..." (Hopscotch) The question then becomes what sort of Puerto Rico do you want to present to the world, and what tools do you utilise to do so, how to escape the macho assumptions of your culture and generate an aesthetic which will nevertheless acknowledge an important feature that it would be pointless to deny? If Ferre in Sweet Diamond Dust and The House on the Lagoon offers familial melodrama and historic romance, old-fashioned narrative forms that she energises with a keen eye on the intricacies of the socio-historical, Vega is more inclined to pastiche and the self-reflexive. In the stories in True and False Romances, she plays on the tropes of detective fiction and rites of passage ('Just One Small Detail'), revenge narrative ('Consolation Prize'), portmanteau narration ('Eye Openers'), a fish-out-of-water story ('True Romances') and a 19th century personal narrative of repression ('Miss Florence's Trunk'). The tone in all of them indicates that we are reading fiction after the event of post-modernism, while Ferre's work suggests much more a bypassing of the self-reflexive - even if The House on the Lagoon indicates narrative trickery and complexity in the central character working on a text that her husband discovers and feels, as a man, entitled to narrate over. Nevertheless, Ferre's irony is often minimal; Vega's usually great. Yet both would likely agree that their purpose isn't chiefly to play up narrative cliches (in Ferre's case) and tropes (in Vega's), with the latter suggesting a higher degree of self-consciousness than the former but that both wish to find a way to tell stories within histories, as though the machismo of a culture that refused women a voice can now more easily be heard, with the notion of the oral proving vital. As Vega says of the story collection, and why she gave it such a title: "They are always false because the oral tradition imparts a new history each time one tells it. If I were to interview five elderly people, each would tell me a different history. And when I go to the library, the written historiography tells other versions, as well. Everyone tells a history in light of his or her own vision, social class, sex, or position." Vega adds, "everything that you are frames your perspective of history. And that constantly changes. Just as I, too, relate history, this history will change in the process of writing it. It's inevitable because I am viewing it from my position as a university professor. So, I thought that the most honest thing to do was to call it false chronicles. (Callaloo) The stories often have a basis in fact but then pass through a generic prism that gives purpose to the history the writer wants to tell; this is nevertheless a history that gives a female perspective to an often white, masculine world, even if the former is never more than burgeoning.
One can perhaps see this most clearly in the longest story in the collection, more or less a novella, 'Miss Florence's Trunk'. Set on a plantation and written in a 19th-century idiom with only the occasional nod to the present ("the crafty slut") the tale emphasizes paraphrasis, denial and sexual repression. "More than once my eyes met those of my [slave-owning] employer. I do not know whether the effects of the wine or from my imagination, or from a secret alliance between the two, but I read in them the same curiosity that impelled my own." In the context of another man, Dr Fouchard, she observes, "an odd being, this man capable of baring his heart while remaining shadowed in mystery. The more I try to persuade myself that my suspicions are irrational, the more tormented by uncertainty I am. Can Dr Fouchard be one of those young idealists who preach the freeing of the black race?" Constantly threatening to fall into the knowing self-reflexivity of its telling, Vega deflects such a reading through the use of two actual epigraphs. "Slavery per se is not a sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of time for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom." This first is from Samuel F. B. Morse, and the second from his daughter Susan Walker Morse: "folks here pity my loneliness, but I continue to exist." Samuel is a peripheral character in the story and Susan a secondary one, with the focus on the titular character and her thoughts and feelings, however unrecognized, about those around her on the plantation, where she works as a governess. For all the skilful pastiching of 19th-century fiction, the emphasis for Vega seems to be to acknowledge in the background the atrocity of the slave trade and to show in the foreground the limitations placed on women of the time: that though Miss Florence has the freedom to travel the world and access a level of liberty far from available to the plantation workers, her choices are limited nevertheless. If the slaves are oppressed, Miss Florence is repressed, a woman wary of her burgeoning thoughts lest they prove detrimental to her livelihood or to her honour. When she has strange feelings over her employer Mr Lind these cannot be acknowledged for what they might be (incipient desires) but immediately contextualised into an unknowable affect, a physiological mystery. When she later adds, "who is this contradictory, evasive creature, this unpredictable man at once attractive and repellant? However hard I try, I cannot assemble the jumbled pieces of his life into one portrait of him. His distance can be glacial; his touch burns like fire...", we notice a woman who is observant but not penetrating she can only acknowledge a modicum of affects upon her body, feelings that will be transposed to Lind's son, Charlie, before the end of her time in Puerto Rico. It is indeed a common 19th-century trope, and perhaps accidentally vital to the fetishisation of sub-text in the novel: a woman has time and astuteness to observe the events around her but not always the psychic freedom to follow those thoughts to a conclusion.
Part of the potential irony in the story rests on a pre-Freudian narrative in post-Freudian times. When the philosopher Thomas Nagel reviewed a couple of books on Freud he sensibly noted that people can by all means pick apart the specifics of Freud's analyses but it is difficult to deny his influence. If we are all Freudians now it is very hard to write a pre-Freudian novel without the master's presence hovering over a character's desires. As Nagel says, "there is something strange about recent debates over the evidence on which Freud based his theories. His influence is not like that of a physicist who claims to have discovered a previously unobserved particle by an experiment which others now think to be flawed. Whatever may be the future of psychoanalysis as a distinctive form of therapy, Freud's influence seems to me no more likely to be expunged from modern consciousness than that of Hobbes, for example, or Descartes." (New York Review of Books)
Yet if Vega manages to indicate that such a gap between today and the 19th-century isn't merely an opportunity for clever hindsight, it rests on the historical nature of the quotes she introduces into the story. In the context of Samuel Morse's, what stance ought Miss Florence to take on the utilisation rather than exploitation of blacks? For Morse and Lind the purpose is to make the most of the worker as one might a horse or even a piece of machinery. The greater the object-status of the tool required for labour, the more inclined one will be to use the term utilisation rather than exploitation. Nobody suggests a car or a computer is exploited; they are utilised. One's assumptions of personhood, and also the broader culture's, will depend on whether a person is utilised or exploited. Looking at 'Ideas of Race in The History of Modern Philosophy', Naomi Zack views various western philosophers and their assumptions about race. "Garrett and Sebastiani note that Hume consistently insisted on a natural inferiority of blacks that set them apart from other races. He also believed that the difference between Europeans and Amerindians was as great as the difference between human beings and animals (and males and females, although that raises a host of other issues)." She also quotes Kant saying "[the] natural disposition of the Americans, betrays a half-extinguished life power, [so that] one makes use of red slaves (Americans) in Surinam only for labors in the house because they are too weak for field labor, for which one needs Negroes." Kant believed, "the Negro, who is well suited to his climate, [is] strong, fleshy, supple, but who given the abundant provisions of his motherland, is lazy, soft and trifling." Zack insists that we can't simply dismiss the philosophy or even the philosophers making such claims, and our purpose isn't to question the quality of their thinking but instead indicate that such ideas at the end of the 18th and well into the 19th century were prevalent. When reparations were made after the abolition of slavery in the UK, the money didn't go to the exploited slaves, it went to the slave owners who lost their 'property', rather like car owners who if driving were banned are compensated for their loss. Nobody would compensate the cars.
It is from such a perspective we can understand a little Miss Florence's thinking, or rather her reluctance to offer too much of it. She is reliant on a family of slave owners to continue her profession in such an environment. Miss Florence witnesses an affront rather than an offence: seeing the black slaves as a visual horror rather than in a desperate plight. In an epigram to an earlier story ('Solutions, Inc'), Vega quotes V. S. Naipaul's "hate oppression; fear the oppressed." A politicized perspective may have to acknowledge that fear, but first and foremost detest the oppression. Miss Florence suggests she fears the oppressed but doesn't know what to make of the oppression. "Why place at risk our friendship with behaviour that threatens not only my position but that of my protectors?" By showing her the conditions in which the slaves live and work, Fouchard hasn't shown her an offence, he has created an affront.
Again, as with her sexual denial, so we might believe the story wishes to make fun of Miss Florence for her socio-political naivety, for her misguided morals, but while one doesn't doubt that Vega sees in Florence a woman who could be more in touch with her body and its needs, and with the progressive ideas of her times (since colonial slavery had already been outlawed in Britain in 1807, even if Puerto Rico didn't abolish it until 1873) Vega wants to show us a woman in the middle of the 19th-century who practices repression and accepts oppression. The story accepts also, though, that to impose too clearly an ironic reading on the material would be to underestimate the feelings she wants to explore chiefly through Miss Florence. The slaves are peripheral to the story even if we note their captivity and later in the tale their release; what matters is Miss Florence's relationship to time and to the Lind family. When she returns to the island years later, hoping to see once again Charles, the Lind son she tutored, she finds that tragedy has befallen them with Charles dead after his father refused to allow him to marry a woman of mixed race, and the father dead too not long after. The house is now derelict, Susan a wreck, and the interiors of the mansion stripped bare after Susan allowed the freed slaves to take what they wanted. Vega's story doesn't work unless we feel the pain of the characters and what has been lost, even if out of that loss far more has been gained: the slaves are free. Vega balances well the needs of the characters within the story, and the desire of the reader to see in such characters a world that has no intrinsic reason to exist while nevertheless mourning its passing. It succeeds in being self-reflexive, affective and politically historical without allowing any one of them to dominate the others. If the reader gets too lost in the affective they haven't been acknowledging the reality of Freud; if one insists on the politically historical they have been attending to the story's periphery rather than the centre; if one attends too much to the pastiche they will be ignoring the epigrams that open the story and ground it in an important reality. "The use of parody, satire, and irony always poses a problem. It is a highly codified kind of writing, and if the reader does not have the key to it, he or she may misinterpret what is being said," Vega says. She also reckons, "The reader feels and interprets according to his or her particular interests; in that sense, the reader is always a person who acts in bad faith." (Hopscotch) One supposes a reader who pays too much attention to one aspect over another, to read into the story their own beliefs and priorities, is misreading the story but Vega seems to suggest such a reading is inevitable. However, while it might seem highly possible that someone reading it will insist on the slave dimension being of immense importance, surely a reader who claimed it was a tragedy the slaves were freed would be reading a bit too much against the story's grain.
Is this a question of ambiguity and interpretation? While we've acknowledged that the 19th-century novel possesses a much-enamoured sub-text partly because of the indirectness of desire, Vega sees in 19th-century fiction the opposite of readerly freedom when it comes to a 19th-century novel's conclusions. Wishing to "break from the 19th-century narrative model in women's writing which one finds in writers like the Brontes, I wanted to alter that narrative by leaving it open. Those narratives always left everything resolved, everything was nicely tied up at the end. You knew exactly what would happen." ('Women and Writing in Puerto Rico') She is discussing whether something might take place between Fouchard and Miss Florence but leaves the reader to muse over a future meeting instead of concluding on one. Miss Florence has his details due to a contingent meeting with a mutual friend, and we must wait and see. Here too, though, we may observe not only that Vega is resisting the 19th-century conclusive conclusion but also playing on the gap between 19th-century contingency and a late 20th-century awareness that the contingent moment is beginning to no longer have the same sense of fate associated to it. The more interconnected a culture happens to be, the more means of technology available to indicate that the person you have met for the first time in years also happens to be the ex-boyfriend you checked up online a month or two earlier, the less the moment has uniqueness. The person you haven't seen for years who you say hello to on the street can also be the person you can find online and contact at a later date. The situation that was in the past freighted with significance no longer demands a snap decision: maybe you will trace them through social media and contact them again that way.
Vega's story was written a few years before social media (in 1983) but perhaps the ambiguity between 19th-century fiction and modern fiction rests on a very big distinction. If many a 19th-century novel is permeated by repressed emotions, the 20th-century work is much more inclined to indicate ambivalent ones. Acknowledging a Freudian unconscious also reveals to us the complexity of our feelings and the mixed motives behind our behaviour. We can think of passages from Jane Eyre when the titular character finds herself thinking of Rochester. "I regained my couch, but never thought of sleep. Till morning dawned I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy...too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned." Even a very different passage from Stendhal in The Charterhouse of Parma shares the same sentiment. "It should be understood that, for some months past, Contessa Pietranera's heart had been besieged in a serious fashion, and by a man of singular character. Shortly after Fabrizio's departure for France, the Contessa who, without altogether admitting it to herself, was already beginning to let her thoughts dwell on him a great deal, had fallen into a profound state of melancholy." Both women are clearly falling in love and the ambiguity is in their level of self-awareness rather than in the strength of their affections. In contrast, there is no better modern work on the ambivalence of such feelings than Proust's Swann in Love, with Swann claiming: "to think that I've wasted years of my life, that I've longed to die, that I've experienced my greatest love, for a woman who didn't appeal to me, who wasn't even my type!" It is why Gilles Deleuze can see that finally Swann's was an apprenticeship in signs: "Proust's work is not oriented to the past and the discoveries of memory, but to the future and the progress of an apprenticeship. What is important is that the hero does not know certain things at the start, gradually leaves them, and finally receives an ultimate revelation." (Proust and Signs)
Vega's story negotiates the tricky balance between a pastiche which insists on the tropes and affects of the 19th-century novel, while factoring in a reader whose consciousness will be quite different, but avoids falling into a sterile mimicking by drawing on the historical, and the lazily self-reflexive, by insisting that Mis Florence's feelings may not be our own, but they are hers and deserve our serious consideration. A writer given to pastiche and parody, the self-reflexive and the post-modern, John Barth, once said in an interview: one ought to know a lot about Reality before one writes realistic novels. Since I don't know much about Reality, it will have to be abolished. What the hell, reality is a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there, and literature never did, very long." (Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature) Vega would be less inclined to such a facetious position, perhaps because American writers have often had the luxury of feeling that their work needn't be impinged upon by reality while the Latin American writer often does. Even the choice of language is a socio-political act as readily as a gesture of creative choice. Speaking of Ferre, she says, "Rosario Ferre is a great writer of the Spanish language. Papeles de Pandora is a text that can hold its own in any forum. She has said that her decision [to write in English] was based purely on commercial considerations, because [then] she could be more widely read and distributed. That strikes me as odd, because writers like Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel have attained wide recognition even though they write in Spanish. Ferre's decision must be deemed a political one." (Hopscotch)
Considering the complicated history of Puerto Rico, given that it gained Independence from Spain in 1898 and its citizens became American in 1917 without sharing the same rights as Americans, some islanders have sought full independence, others to become more obviously part of the United States, but for well over a century it has retained a limbo status. To write in English while coming from Puerto Rico can implicitly suggest a desire to sacrifice autonomy and become fully American. Equally, coming from a very small country as a writer means it is difficult to believe that you are only speaking for yourself, evident in Vega's remark that "once you begin to publish and achieve a certain standing, then everyone expects you to fulfil your "patriotic" obligations." (Hopscotch) In Latin American fiction, for all the emphasis we often find on exaggeration and the magical, socio-political reality isn't always easy to escape. 'Miss Florence's Trunk' can be read as a light pastiche but its basis in reality suggests a purpose behind the self-reflexive.
The other stories in True and False Romance are much more contemporaneous, even ostensibly autobiographical, or at least could be taken as such. In 'True Romances', a writer struggling to finish a novel goes off to the South of France, ending up not only with writer's block but blocked bowels too. "I spent an hour in the bathroom leafing through ancient Nouvel Observateurs and cursing the reinforced concrete constipation my quote-unquote-vacation had left me with." But ironically a text is produced and by someone who doesn't seem to be Vega at all but a person subsequently murdered. An editor's note at the end of the story states that the author was "killed by a bullet fired through the window of her living room, striking her in the head" on New Year's Eve; the murderer remaining at large. Offering a brief review, of the collection, Kirkus magazine reckons that "story after story falls apart at the end, and in precisely the same manner, we cannot but assume that these surprise endings...are intentional exercises of craft" - even if the anonymous reviewer isn't impressed. But while the ending is a surprise all right it isn't fair to say it is completely gratuitous. After all, the narrator had been working on a novel based on an incident that took place in her mother's building. The ex found the soon-to-be-murdered woman in bed with her new man then started stabbing her with a six-inch switchblade. The writer working on a detective story that is something like Murder She Wrote becomes by the end a writer murdered. One might find the story tacky as the Kirkus reviewers suggest but the ending isn't quite tacked on; if anything it gives circularity to the tale: a writer determines to write a novel about a person murdered and then ends up writing a story that is published just as she herself becomes a victim of a murderer's bullet.
Puerto Rico falls into the top 20 for murders in the world and allied to the macho culture we have already referenced, perhaps Vega feels it is easier to justify what seems like the narratively arbitrary within the context of cultural specificity. Barth's comment about reality being a nice place to visit can seem to others more like reality visited upon them. It may seem too coincidental that this woman who minds her own business in the south of France writing about murder returns to end up murdered around the same time as her story is published, but what might sound like a false narrative note to someone interested in form can appear like a warning note suggesting that nobody is impervious to the murderousness of a country with a high kill rate.
To what degree a fictional text needs to entertain a broader reality is always open to question and we should be wary of readers who dismiss a work because they find it unbelievable: that it doesn't conform to a notion of reality they accept. But few writers escape their historical moment and often those that do so diegetically are more inclined to write generic fiction, taking place in outer space, the distant past or in a fantastic world. When Barth says that literature never lived in reality for very long it depends how we see it. In Search of Lost Time is a work of immense emotional intricacy and interiority but it also acknowledges key events during the fin de siecle, including the Dreyfus Affair and WWI. Dostoevsky's The Devils attends to the revolutionary activities Dostoevsky was himself involved in, and much of Coetzee's work cannot be read without a little bit of context on apartheid in South Africa. Most great writers don't so much transcend reality as find out of it a corner that becomes their own, a proper territorialization in Deleuze and Guattari's terms. "The artist: the first person to set out a boundary stone, or to make a mark...the expressive is primary in relation to the possessive, expressive qualities or matters of expression, are necessarily appropriative and constitute a having more profound than being." (A Thousand Plateaus) The artist doesn't escape from reality nor conform to it but finds in the act of creation a reality that they territorialise, seize upon and make their own. The more significant the writer the more that territory will become theirs rather than the historical reality out of which it comes. The very fine Gulag Archipelago is an important book on the reality of the Gulag; Dostoevsky's The House of the Dead is far less interesting as an examination of 19th-century Russian prison camps but much more so from the perspective of Dostoevsky as a writer who insistently shapes reality through his consciousness. The Gulag Archipelago is close to reportage; Dostoevsky's novel the aesthetic. Writers often attend to reality in various formulations but often the greatest works are those which shape it to their own ends but don't feel obliged to ignore it either.
It might be a fair criticism to say that both Vega and Ferre are good writers but only of modest interest because their world isn't original enough, doesn't introduce us to a new vision but instead opens up a milieu that has hitherto been too little known. There have been plenty Puerto Rican writers preceding Ferre and Vega (including Abelardo Diaz Alfaro, Jose Luis Gonzales, and Vega is friends with others, mentioning Ferre, Juan Antonio Ramos and Edgardo Sanabria Santaliz). Indeed, Vega notes: "There were women writers. From the 19th-century, there have been many. Twenty-five novelists, at least. But these women writers never gained recognition at the national level. They never arrived at what we call literary power. They were always marginalized. (Callaloo) But Puerto Rico remains a country whose place on the literary map is much smaller than Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba's or Chile's and it seems also fair to say while such nations have produced numerous figures who go beyond their national context (Borges, Neruda, Pas, Amado, Lispector, Cortazar, Fuentes), no Puerto Rican writer has managed thus far to do so, even if Ferre's foray into writing in English may have been such an attempt.
Another Vega story that can seem close to the autobiographical is 'Eye-Openers', where a group of people share a car journey and during the trip the various characters each tell a story. Then it is the narrator's turn and she coyly says she has nothing to offer only for the story to conclude with her telling us that "my head was full of words, and I could hardly wait to sit down at my typewriter and roll in that first piece of paper." We may wonder if she is a good listener or a narrative vampire, stealing the storytelling blood of others for her own needs, or perhaps Vega is suggesting the writer needs time and tranquillity to tell a story at all. But one senses in this tale that Vega sees the writer as one who gives permanence to the impermanent. Though 'Miss Florence's Trunk' and 'Eye-Openers' have very little in common, they both share a passive narrative position that shows an interest in other people's stories, in finding in observing the lives or hearing the anecdotes of others, the reality that imagination can augment. As the people in the car tell their stories we can see too that in the telling it isn't just any tale that matters but one which can serve the teller's own worldview. The driver tells a story about a man with numerous wives and thirty-seven kids; another offers a brief story of fields that are constantly burned and links it to a curse. A sailor who was contagious arrives in Arroyo and instead of tending to the man they set fire to him and now there are all these fires, the young man reckons, because they burned him to death. Another tells a story of a cuckolded man who regains his pride by throwing his wife naked out onto the street. Whether the story is lightly comedic, superstitiously pessimistic, or protecting male pride, the tale reveals just a little bit about the teller, even if the teller seems to hide an aspect of the revelation until afterwards. The apparently retired schoolteacher who tells the story about the cuckold, says during the story the woman had a taste for firemen. Just before the end of Vega's story, it reveals that he wasn't a retired schoolteacher but a fireman himself. He may have been telling a story about others but we might assume he was also one of the cuckolders.
In such stories, and in Vega writing them, she indicates that she doesn't so much have a story of her own to tell but stories that others tell her which she ought to tell on the page in their place. In 'Consolation Prize', Vega opens by claiming, "this is a true story, historical fact, and not some eye-opener made up to entertain the professional do-nothings sitting around on the benches in the town plaza of some bored-to-death little burg put on the island." The tone is facetious but the point might not be; that Vega thinks in this tale of a woman who finally takes revenge on the man who cheats on her by cutting off his balls and sending them on to the woman with whom he was cheating, that Puerto Rico is revealed, even exposed. It is as if Vega is saying here is a tale that comes out of a culture based on machismo and violence, on men who have to prove themselves by sleeping around, and women who must avenge themselves by removing the very things that allow men their useless pride.
Is this cutting a man down to size, Puerto Rico style? At the beginning of' True Romances', Vega opens with a famous Alfred Hitchcock quote, "what is drama, after all, but life with all the dull bits left out." But we can also recall a Hitchcock essay 'Murder with English On It'. "Racial diversity in other parts of the world has produced various attitudes towards the law, and the taking of human life. Among the so-called 'hot-blooded people, homicides are often spur-of-the-moment matters with few subtleties to dwell on. England's population is quite homogeneously composed of people renowned for their reserve. Emotion and urges to which other people give ready vent are by tradition and habit bottled up." Hitchcock would probably see as Vega does Puerto Ricans as a hot-blooded people and so allied with a machismo in this instance quite literally undercut, Vega can tell a story which ends with a man losing his testicles. Puerto Rico is far from the most violent country in the world (Brazil, Argentina and Mexico all have higher incidences of murder) but when one sees the violence and aggression that permeates the work of two of its most famous writers, and both women, it makes sense that while we wouldn't wish to claim Puerto Rican society is necessarily violent and necessarily macho, the aggression plays out narratively much more plausibly it would seem than it might in English or German society and literature. "To understand machismo we suggest the use of a critical perspective that examines machismo more as a result of the socioeconomic status of Puerto Rican males rather than an intrapsychic, ethnic cultural or national character issue." ('A Critical Analysis of Puerto Rican Machismo')That is a fair and necessary point, for what benefit can there be in claiming a culture is essentially one thing or another? Equally, however, fictional writers often understand well the dispositions of their people, aware that certain narratives 'make sense' in their given cultural context that wouldn't be inclined to play out so well in another hence Hitchcock's remarks about the English and murder. "Vega has said that she reckons "I believe that our function at this historical moment in Puerto Rico is to create role models that didn't exist before." ('Women and Writing in Puerto Rico: An Interview with Ana Lydia Vega') She is talking about women writers and the need for them, and the need for them to become prominent in the culture. Yet at the same time, the more women writing, the more they can escape the violent and the macho, the more role models are thus more generally available to male Puerto Ricans as well.
© Tony McKibbin