Unpacking the suitcases they carried: Narratives of Dominican and Puerto Rican migrations to the northeastern United States
For Latinos living in the continental United States, migration is an experience that is at once familiar, as a historical phenomenon that shapes our lives, and ephemeral, as a series of momentous events in the lives of individuals, families, and communities that are rarely memorialized. Latino migration has contributed to a redesigned ethnic landscape in the northeastern U.S. although this migration is far less discussed as a contested site of Latino migration than that into the western United States. The two largest groups of Latinos in the Northeast, Dominican and Puerto Rican migrants and their descendants, have recorded the narratives of their migrations in cultural texts through autobiography, folklore, prose, and poetry.
The texts I discuss, by Pura Belpré, Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Antonia Pantoja, Junot Diaz and Angie Cruz are a part of North American literary history as well as Latino literary history. The core question guiding this research is: how do migration narratives reveal new perspectives, speak back, or contradict our existing understanding of Dominican and Puerto Rican migrations? A secondary question is in what ways do these texts contribute to a collective memory for Latino communities and thereby add to our understanding of ethnic identity? I argue these texts reveal the heterogeneity of the migrants' identities and their migration experiences. Four of the five authors identify with an Afro-Latino diasporic identity and contribute to our memory of Afro-Latino culture. The texts express the differential experience that women and men migrants have in their lives premigration in their home countries, as well as their lives post-migration. A close reading of migration narratives yields evidence of the migrants' agency, contradicting notions of passive Latina women and passive migrants who unquestioningly accept oppressive cultural practices. Tracing the moments of the migrants' agency in the texts balances structural arguments that suggest that migration was almost inevitable since the migrants came from very poor countries. These migration texts reveal erasures, correct stereotypes, and amend existing knowledge with subjugated knowledges that come from the migrants' first person perspective. The new perspectives contribute to a usable past for Latino communities.
0337: American history
0591: American literature
0737: Hispanic Americans