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Bicitizens, belonging and not: revisiting rules of exile and sexuality in Puerto Rico.

"But if true exile is a condition of terminal loss, why has it been transformed so easily into a potent, ever enriching, motif of modern culture?"

--Edward Said, "Reflections on Exile"

As Said says, it is ironic that while exile is nowadays considered a definite loss, this topic full of absence has been transformed into such an enriching literary motif. Exile has been inscribed in the writing process not just as a mean of remembrance but also as a transformative tool. In Undoing Gender, Judith Butler speaks of loss--not of a country, but of a loved one--as something that inherently has a transforming effect in those who lose. Losing a loved one entails simultaneously losing a part of one's self. From this, it can be understood that losing one's home country through exile does not merely imply the loss of a physical place, but the loss of one's original self as well.

Here, I will explore the literary representations of the relationship between the sexual practices of those in (present or future) exile, and their feelings toward the country left behind through the characters in two short stories written by Puerto Ricans Ana Lydia Vega and Carmen Lugo Filippi. Established by the national discourse, imposed heterosexuality suffers a crisis once citizens are no longer residing in their home country, thereby being liberated from having to conform to the homophobic status quo. The geographically defined space represented in the short stories discussed here, Puerto Rico, becomes a space which characters are unable to inhabit. This is why, I propose, the characters invent an alternative, fictional, nation that is, by definition, found outside the geographical limits of the country it supplants. This new national space, only ideologically constituted, is a nation that exists via praxis, in the daily lives of these (present and/or future) emigres. But the difference between this imaginary nation and that which exists in the mind of any immigrant is that this one comes into being through the practice of homosexuality. This neohomonation is born once these female characters are able to find their lost homeland reflected in a fellow countrywoman: an alternative, accepting nation is created through a same-sex relationship.

The new possibility of being able to feel within the national context, even when these characters are (1) in exile and (2) engaging in homosexual practices, so strongly stigmatized in their homeland, immediately provokes a major question: how do these short stories achieve a normativization of homosexuality, when it is considered treason against the reproductive heterosexuality imposed by the national discourse in Puerto Rico, and the Hispanic Caribbean as a whole? The insertion of homosexuality into canonical nationalistic thought also implies a reconsideration of cliched colonial metaphors that propose "the national" as true and pure, and what is foreign as the threat of cultural "infection." Here, both what is the true nation and what affects it is intercepted by the characters' feelings of belonging, regardless of their actual geographical location. In this sense, the "horizontal camaraderie" that Benedict Anderson establishes as needed in order to develop feelings of belonging toward one's country acquire new semantics: the sameness that allows for camaraderie and recognition as fellow countrymen turns into a physiological sameness. Sexual attraction toward a person of the same sex is no longer a threat to the fatherland, but serves as a means of ideologically recreating a new nation away from home, of recovering the homeland, which is now embodied in a same-sex fellow citizen. To inhabit that body is to inhabit a communal space, of country and of gender.

The complicated formula in which deleterious foreignness is embodied by the United States is a known lieu of Puerto Rican literature, especially since the 1950s, when the country went through a rapid industrializing process launched from the mainland, and which affected the island not only structurally but also culturally. Modernization, Operation Bootstrap (Manos a la obra), was perceived by many islanders as a threat not merely to agriculture but also to Puerto Rican morals and values. Even though Operation Bootstrap also signified a project for economic and technological progress, Puerto Rican literature of the fifties (1) portrayed the United States as the villain who exposed Puerto Ricans to new ideologies that menace what is "truly national," as well as well-established heteronormativity. American "sexual liberation," which interferes with stereotypical gender roles in Puerto Rico, was usually made responsible for an emigre's willingness to "forget" about his or her heterosexual reproductive responsibilities.

This is relevant in order to understand the love-and-hate relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, which is then juxtaposed to the relationship between islanders and those who migrated to the mainland. It is precisely this tense socio-political relationship, and the contrast between Puerto Rican gender roles and American female liberation, which Ana Lydia Vega tries to portray in her short story "Pollito Chicken." In Puerto Rico, one cannot avoid mentioning this famous and controversial short story when speaking of literary representations of Puerto Ricans residing in the United States. In 1977, Puerto Rican female writers Carmen Lugo Filippi and Ana Lydia Vega, both residents of the island, published a short story collection entitled Virgenes y martires [Virgins and Martyrs]. Vega's "Pollito Chicken," included in the collection, tells the story of Suzie Bermiudez's sexual adventure while vacationing on the island. Suzie left Puerto Rico as a child to move to New York with her mother. Now, after ten years of exile, Suzie conceives of her trip back as a vacation, and not as a return to her homeland.

Early on, we learn that Suzie was born in Lares, a Puerto Rican town famous for its historical role as the home for the 1868's Grito de Lares, a failed revolutionary movement in which Puerto Ricans tried to gain control of the island, then a colony of Spain. Ironically, Suzie does not go back to the mecca of Puerto Rican nationalism; instead, she has a tourist's experience of the island Suzie herself establishes her visit as that of a foreigner, and distinguishes herself from the average Puerto Rican. (2) But what primordially marks her as a cultural Other is the fact that the narrator relates what we perceive to be Suzie's thoughts in Spanglish. (3) This stylistic decision has been interpreted sometimes as an offensive gesture toward Puerto Ricans residing in the United States, (4) and at other times as part of Ana Lydia Vega's "colonial humor." (5) However, what is of significance here is that the use of Spanglish works as a symbol of the supposed "ambiguous identity" suffered by emigres like Suzie. By reading Suzie's thoughts in a constant code-switching, we are reminded of the island's ambiguous political status, an Estado Libre (pero) Asociado, literally translated as a Free (yet) Associated State, of/with the United States, which, like Suzie, also "performs" in two languages.

In regards to this ambiguous identity, Carol J. Wallace (6) and Alberto Sandoval have pointed out in their essay "!Mira, que vienen los nuyoricans!" that Suzie only speaks twice, and in English, throughout the story, and that it is the narrator who constantly uses Spanglish. The conflict, then, is born from the fact that the reader cannot differentiate the two voices. The decision to hear the narrator or to hear Suzie as we read is as difficult to make as it is for Suzie (or for the narrator?) to decide between Puerto Rico or the United States, Spanish or English. (7)

Rather than attempting to represent faithfully a nuyorican way of speaking, this language symbolically represents the inner conflicts of the character. And because the Spanglish appears in the narration, the narrator is implicated in it as well; the voice is Suzie's but it is also that of the narrator and it is not always easy to separate the two. (Wallace and Sandoval 45)

What becomes very clear through Suzie's ambiguity is the friction that "Pollito Chicken" created between islanders and Puerto Ricans in New York, who did not perceive the story as a joke but as an example of the cultural ostracism that they suffer while visiting the island. (8)

One could compare Suzie's "mark of ambiguity" and the way it separates her from her countrymen to the national marginalization experienced by gays and lesbians in the Hispanic Caribbean. The difference in the social ostracism suffered by both groups lies on the fact that whereas Suzie's takes place once she is back to the island, gays and lesbians suffer it even without leaving. However, both groups find a certain "relief' in the United States, a "relief' that implies a simultaneous punishment through eternal exile, (9) the impossibility of ever experiencing a feeling of belonging in their country of origin. Any attempt of return will be temporary and artificial: Suzie will be a tourist, and homosexuals will probably pose as heterosexuals while they visit their home-country.

Even though homosexuality is not the main taboo discussed in "Pollito Chicken," the story does present another one in order to portray the problematic relationship between national feelings and sexual practices in the Hispanic Caribbean: casual sex. While casual sex might be a concept commonly presented in American culture and, say, television, in Puerto Rico casual sex is not a topic openly approached, especially in regards to women, since it would affect the female's "honor" or reputation. While Suzie stays at the Hotel Conquistador, she engages in casual sex with the hotel's bartender. It is him who, for the first time, openly expresses Suzie's national ambivalence, which has only been suggested up to that point by the constant code-switching:
   The gal in 306 [Suzie] doesn't know if she is gringa [American] or
   pueltorra [Puerto Rican], bro. She asks for room service in legal
   (flawless) English but, when I show her real fun, she opens her
   mouth to yell in Boricua [Puerto Rican Spanish].--And what does she
   say? ...--Long live freeeeeee Puerto Rico! (79)

   La tipa del 306 [Suzie] no sabe si es gringa o pueltorra, brodel.
   Pide room service en ingles legal pero, cuando la pongo a gozal,
   abre la boca a grital en boricua.-- Y ?que dice? ...--!VIVA PUELTO
   RICO LIBREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! (79)


Bermiudez's decision to have casual sex with a Puerto Rican bartender presents her as a woman who is not afraid to enjoy her sexuality, but this is therefore culturally interpreted as American, for it disregards the Puerto Rican heteronormative canon, which establishes the female role as sexually passive, submissive, and conservative. It is implied that Suzie possesses such sexual freedom precisely because she is coming from the United States on vacation; she is from there, not from here. In this sense, Suzie represents the threat of the Other, of what is foreign, (10) she is that woman who can castrate the almighty Puerto Rican macho. Suzie is the result of American influence over women, precisely what writers such as Rene Marques (11) feared. Suzie's gender performance accords with American codes and is opposed to Puerto Rican ones. (12)

Thus, this story also functions as an opposition to writers like Rene Marques, who represented Puerto Rico's colonial status as a sexually repressive one for men, and a vehicle for women's sexual liberation. Once in the United States, Suzie operates free of traditional and conservative mores imposed on Puerto Rican women residing on the island. (13) But what is even more interesting is that it is precisely through sex that Suzie recovers her national identity as a Puerto Rican. Once she reaches orgasm, according to the bartender, Suzie makes a claim for Puerto Rico's freedom from the United States. The phrase "Long live free Puerto Rico!" takes her back to her roots in Lares, and allows the reader to find on Suzie a "mancha de platano," an inherently Puerto Rican mark that authorizes her Puerto Ricanness. (14) No matter how long Suzie has remained in the United States, she is and always will be Puerto Rican: those are the roots she goes back to in a freeing and liberating moment such as an orgasm. Having a disinhibiting sexual experience with a fellow countryman allows an other "I" to emerge, and this alternate "I" is undoubtedly a Puerto Rican one.

At the same time, the bartender's words should be taken cautiously, since they might just be a reflection of sexual bragging among men. (15) Be these words truly Suzie's or not, it is relevant to contextualize what these words propose: the recovery of the country left behind. Ultimately, we have only two options: either Suzie (unconsciously?) recovered her Puerto Ricanness on the spur of the moment, or the bartender decided to grant it to her--even if this is so under the condition of being subject of his showing off his macho prowess, and how his sexual powers have the strength to pull Suzie out of any (national) ambiguities and make her return to her true self. It is also clear, of course, that Suzie's return to Puerto Ricanness will also be a temporary one. Once she is back to work in New York, Suzie speaks of her trip to Puerto Rico as a holiday, and not as a visit back home.

Suzie Bermiudez' Puerto Ricanness is only recovered through engaging in sex with a fellow countryman, and since this engagement is brief so will also be her return to the lost country of origin. The briefness of the relationship and the fact that it is a heterosexual one are the two reasons I consider this story a prelude to the firm establishment of the connections between the lost nation while in exile and homosexual practices, resulting in the invention of a new alternative national space. An even more successful story that serves as a prelude to these relationships is "Milagros, calle Mercurio" by female Puerto Rican writer Carmen Lugo Filippi.

II.

The characters in "Milagros, calle Mercurio," a short story also included in the collection Virgenes y martires, do not engage in sexual relationships; they will not even recover the lost country while in exile, but they do conform to a neohomonation "in potentia." This story takes us back a step to show us the situations by which exile is produced within the country and before leaving it. The characters in Carmen Lugo Filippi's short story are positioned in the context that pushes exile as an option to oppressed Puerto Ricans. This is also the moment in which a new ideological freedom is found. It will be such freedom that is necessary for characters to consider alternative sexualities that do not conform to the predominant heteronormative morals of the Hispanic Caribbean. Thus, this story simultaneously presents a willingness to take into consideration both new sexual practices and exile in order to escape insular mentality and judgments.

Marina, the main character in "Milagros, calle Mercurio," is a literature student who decided to quit her college studies to marry at an early age. This decision was not made out of love, she tells us, but because the opportunities it could bring into Marina's life: to be able to evade the responsibility of being her elderly mother's main carer, which she would have had to take on as a single woman, and to be able to experience and travel throughout the world.
   I still wonder what the hell came over me. It may have been the
   fear of ending up a singleton: angry, old maids horrified me,
   especially when I thought of my poor aunt, enslaved by the caring
   of my grandmother and Uncle Manuel. The truth was that when Freddie
   showed up in my panorama, I lost it: he offered the moon and stars,
   we would live near the Torrejon base in Madrid, where he would be
   transferred the following year. Traveling, how nice! From Madrid,
   making it to France would be easy. There, I would be able to
   practice my two years of franchute, and from there, beautiful Italy
   was just a step away. (28)


But she would soon realize that she wouldn't be able to travel and that she would loathe her responsibilities as mother and wife.
   Those dreams never came true because Freddie was not able to leave
   Madrid and I became pregnant. When the girl turned one I was on the
   verge of a neurosis. The domestic routine was crushing me ... That
   was how I began studying hairstyling ... Even though the marriage
   was not doing well, work compensated for the boring coexistence
   with my dull husband ... (29) (16)


It is in this womanly environment, amongst female employees and female tourists, that Marina frees her imagination through the creation of hair styles, while her husband bores her plenty. Once her husband is transferred somewhere else, Marina decides to split and returns to San Juan.

It is relevant to notice that Marina's first and brief "exile" takes place in Spain, Puerto Rico's first colonizer. When her husband mentions Madrid, Marina thinks of France and Italy, but the Puerto Rican connections to Spanish traditions are not attractive to Marina and have no effect on her, except for when she returns to the island. There, the fact that her Spanish is "correct" and uninfected by English, positions her as superior to other Puerto Ricans. In this sense, the use of "pure" or "purist" Spanish by Marina has a similar effect to Suzie Bermiudez' Spanglish in Ana Lydia Vega's "Pollito Chicken" in regard to national status. While Suzie Bermiudez is excluded from the national community through the use of Spanglish, Marina's linguistic "superiority" validates her Puerto Ricanness. Her use of "traditional" Spanish, in contrast with her client's loose use of broken English, generated generous tips for her (29). Although Marina prefers to use "standardized" Spanish, we do not hear her glorify Spanish traditions or heritage. Her preference for linguistic "perfection" might well be one connected to her background as a prior literature student than to national ambiguities reflected through language.

Her "ambiguity" lies in the grounds of feminine beauty, more specifically, in the quasi-hypnotic beauty of young Milagros. Whereas Suzie's ambiguity is shown through language and resolved through heterosexual sex, Marina's ambivalence is of a sexual nature, expressed through the common admiration of beauty among females, and would be probably solved through exile. Exile, even though it is not explicit in the story, would provide an alternative space to the close-minded community where these women live, and in which the admiration of beauty could be openly expressed as what it truly is, same-sex attraction.

After working in San Juan for some time, and pressured by her mother to move back to her hometown, Marina decides to open her own hair salon in Ponce, exchanging San Juan's "missus putting on airs of dames" for "graduations ... ninth grade girls with their respective mothers ... four or five nurses, two teachers, eight secretaries, and numerous factory and department store employees" (30). In this far-from-glamorous environment, Marina's monotony is changed by Milagros' appearance. Writer Carmen Lugo Filippi introduces us to Milagros' characters through Marina's eyes. The hairstylist's first look upon the young girl makes her sexual attraction toward Milagros palpable:

I remember so vividly, as if she were in a Spanish black and white movie, one of those very sombre ones that take place in one of those godforsaken little towns, where the long-haired, slim protagonist walks slowly and all of a sudden, the camera approaches her; perfect close-up ... [that] takes delight in her features ..." (30, my emphasis)

The trope of the cinematographic gaze that presents Milagros as a seductive actress and that attracts both the attention of male desire and a female's "admiration" for another female's beauty is discussed by Larry La Fountain. In his case, La Fountain looks at Magali Garcia Ramis' Felices dias, tio Sergio, where the technique of the cinematographic gaze as seen through the eyes of a woman also appears. La Fountain explains that what the use of these techniques truly brings about is an alibi for the female characters. It is harder for readers to perceive a lesbian desire in the story, for it is being portrayed as a masculine, heterosexual gaze, and the readers, who are used to a cinematographic gaze that is always masculine, forget that the one presenting a sensual close-up of a female character is not a man, but another female. (17)

Marina's attraction for Milagros keeps increasing throughout the story. After she sees the young girl for the first time, Marina almost obsessively observes Milagros walking by on her way from school every day at 4pm:

To contemplate her would provoke in me a strange phenomenon of correspondences: film, literature, music, would all come together in a disorderly manner to bring back the eclectic image of a strange, mysterious creature that under any circumstances belonged to that ordinary and good-natured street. (30, my emphasis)

This strange phenomenon that takes over the hairstylist makes Marina recognize in Milagros a different sort of person, an adolescent girl that, as Marina herself, does not belong in a small town. These two women belong to a place outside the boundaries that surround them. But are these geographical boundaries or heterosexual ones? Marina also feels a correspondence between Milagros and the arts that reminds the reader of Marina's background as a literature student. Such a correspondence connects Marina to the original moments in which she freed her imagination. Milagros symbolizes the exposure to creative (and ideological?) liberties that Marina misses and has left behind since her college years. (18) As a previous literature student, or perhaps as a similar being, Marina can still interpret Milagros' mysterious figure: she understands, "entiende?," (19) that Milagros does not belong. In this sense, Milagros is, on the one hand, an artistic or "creative" muse because of the way she reminds Marina of her college years and the origins of her appreciation of artistic beauty. On the other hand, the young girl is a reflection of Marina, since neither of them belong in Ponce. Marina, who has always had a passion for adventure and travel, can read in Milagros a similar impulse.

Milagros signifies a space for inspiration--"you would even fantasize with possible haircuts [on the girl], true works of art" (31)--similar to the Marina's experience as a humanities' student--"they were all sure that I had talent when I won the second prize on that literary contest at the Ateneo" (28). Milagros easily allows Marina to recover her creative ambitions: the hairstylist envisions the schoolgirl as her client back at the more prestigious salon where she worked in San Juan, modeling her new creations. Marina imagines her previous boss sending her and her model to hairstyling contests in New York (31). Milagros' seductive beauty serves as a new bridge that reconnects Marina and her old self: travels, cosmopolitism, all that was left behind together with her failed marriage. Would it be too risky to think that Marina now envisions herself traveling throughout the world with Milagros in the same way that she pictured herself traveling with her ex-husband?

Unexpectedly, Marina receives a visit from Milagros. Milagros' mother asks Marina two things: not to cut Marina's hair, since their religion forbids it, and to cure her daughter's psoriasis, which is making her lose her long hair. Even though Marina is bored by the lack of creativity a psoriasis treatment implies, she is glad about the "unexpected opportunity to be able to observe the expressions of the little Madonna from a closer distance" (33). The hairstylist starts seducing the young girl, not physically, but from an ideological perspective. Even though Marina is aware that the schoolgirl cannot cut her hair for religious reasons, she offers her hairstyling magazines and puts her in front of the mirror while showing her simulations of what her hair would look like if cut in a fashionable way. Marina initiates Milagros in the consideration of new ("physical") possibilities by making her aware of her physicality and the potential obscured by their environments' demands. During her following visits, Milagros is further exposed to fashion magazines, photo romance novels, and make-up articles.

During one of her visits to the salon, Milagros is left by herself for a while, and when Marina returns, she finds the girl dancing. Marina listens and watches, unperceived, how Milagros moves to the rhythm of two songs, whose lyrics turn out to be very meaningful, provided these characters' situation. Firstly, the story presents lyrics from Hector Lavoe: "Tu amor es un periodico de ayer ... y para que leer un periodico de ayer" ["Your love is yesterday's news ... and why read yesterday's news"]. These lines, together with the passion they evoke in Milagro while listening to them, suggest that the young woman is leaving some sort of past (love?) behind, and moving on to something new. The lyrics serve to mark a point of transition, and the advent of a new Milagros.

The second set of lyrics quoted in the story belong to Ruben Blades' "Pedro Navaja": "La vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas te da la vida" ["Life is full of surprises, surprises is what life brings on"]. These words' meanings are several. On the one hand, they remind the reader what is taking place in the story at the moment the song is heard: Marina has surprised Milagros dancing, and Milagros has been caught in a private instance of freedom, away from the restrictions of her religion. On the other hand, it prepares the reader for the possibility of the unexpected. In fact, when combining the lyrics from the first and second song, the reader is warned: a new Milagros is on the way, and the new version of her will be unsuspected. The last lyrics serve as an omen for the scandalous discovery of Milagros' double life.

Ordinary life in the characters' small town is interrupted by the sighting of Milagros working as a nude dancer at a gentlemen's club. The reader is presented with Marina's supposed inner thoughts, as she hears the story from the neighbor.

And while dona Fina, who can hardly contain herself, describes the scene, you start recreating, Marina, each detail, fascinated before the abysmal world that, in that instant, takes form, letting yourself be swept away by the easiness with which the suggested images are drawn and blurred, a visual vertigo that makes you have to lean against the ginep tree ... There is Rada, making his way through ... He can no longer avert his eyes from the improvised altar ... then he gets turned on watching how the snaky figure rises ... And there is Milagros, before Rada's astonished eyes, who blinks in disbelief, who rubs his eyes trying to wake up and forever see those milky thighs, adorned by a little bunch of hair full of naughty forget-me-nots ... That is what it must have been like, Marina. (36-7, my emphasis)

Once more, Marina is submerged in her contemplation of Milagros. But it is imperative to analyze some of the details in the narrative of this description of the events. First, the reader can no longer separate the voice of the narrator and Marina's stream of consciousness. Secondly, Marina mentions Rada, the town police officer who has discovered Milagros at the gentlemen's club, and from this mention, the reader could interpret the erotic description as Rada's perception of the events, and not necessarily as a product of Marina's imagination. The confusion regarding the source of the description--is this the narrator's, Rada's, or Marina's voice?--blurs Marina's lesbian attraction to Milagros. However, by paying close attention to the text, the reader is cued into the "abysmal world that, in that instant, takes form." Milagros' nakedness and the sexual desire provoked by such imagery, makes it evident to Marina that there is a new lesbian world that welcomes her. Marina is letting herself be "swept away with easiness" into this new, lesbian world, into the possibility of being seduced by another female body. In regards to this, Luz Maria Umpierre concludes:
   It is obvious to me that this description [the striptease] is a
   sign of the fact that Marina has allowed herself to be aroused by
   Milagros sexually, and I link this to a previous passage in the
   story where Marina has imagined having Milagros in her life as an
   intelligent woman companion. Both facts are narrated in the second
   voice conveniently--a Lesbian, reading, could speak of Marina's
   fantasizing a Lesbian lifestyle ... (312)


On the other hand, it must be pointed out that there is still a subtle attempt to "pass as heterosexual" or to hide the evident lesbian attraction by including Rada in the narrative. He is the one supposedly turned on by the scene, but it is Marina adding sensual details to the description. The "milky thighs, adorned by a little bunch of hair full of naughty forget-me-nots" were never of Rada's own invention or depiction, but that of Marina's. Marina "recreates each detail" and seems to be as hypnotized by them as she depicts Rada to be. This narrative technique allows Marina to excuse her arousal through the alibi of a heterosexual male perspective. (20) On this aspect of the story, Luz Maria Umpierre explains that "within Puerto Rican society, Rada is allowed to enjoy and be aroused by the sight of Milagros's erotic dance, Marina is not" (311). But how does Marina know that Rada is aroused by Milagros' body, instead of being shocked--and turned off--by the discovery of one of his towns young schoolgirls, specially, one who is being raised by an overzealous mother, working as a nude dancer at a gentlemen's club?

How can Marina assume that Rada will want to "forever see those milky thighs" instead wanting to erase the naked image of a girl he could see with the eyes of a father or of an older brother? After all, the neighbor says that "since Rada did not want to harm Milagros, he let them [the men at the club] go without bringing charges so that he could bring la aleluya ("Jesus freak") [Milagros] to her mother. That is a very noble guy ... " (38).

Soon after the scandal, Milagros visits the beauty salon. She orders: "Put some make-up on, in shocking red, and cut my hair however you please." (38) Marina is to shape Milagros, to give her a new self. Marina is provided an image with which she should work when creating this new Milagros: the girl's entrance to the salon during that visit. Milagros' entrance is framed by a play on mirror images between the two female characters, which suggest a parallelism between their lives.
   You rub the mirrors, which all of a sudden hand you Milagro's
   image, yes, herself, would you be dreaming? But no, there she is by
   the door, looking at you ... Without turning around you examine her
   on the mirror ... you can't manage to avert your eyes from the
   mirror, in which Milagros becomes larger, assumes colossal
   dimensions, comes toward you, yes, comes toward you searching for
   an answer, for that answer that she urgently needs and that you
   will have to give, you can't put it off, Marina, look at yourself
   and look at her, Marina, what will you answer? (38)


Both Marina and Milagros are looking toward the mirror, simultaneously looking at themselves and each other: Milagros, from outside the salon, looks at the Marina in the mirror, while Marina, as well, can see both of them as a pair in the reflection. The mirror is their meeting place, where they can see themselves as similar beings, and as a couple. Thus, the reader now knows that when Marina gives Milagros a new look, the hairstylist can think of herself as a starting image to reproduce.

Now that Marina has found out that Milagros is open to a riskier sexual world than that expected from an "aleluya" ("Jesus freak"), the ending of the story--"what will you answer?"--is, in various levels, an open one. It is now clear, by the exchange of mirror images, that the answer Marina should give to Milagros is also an answer she is looking for herself, since when Marina addresses the mirror, she is addressing both characters. The mirror effect, combined with an "echo" between the characters, can be read in the phrase "Marina, look at yourself and look at her, Marina," in which Marina's name functions as opening and closing brackets for the bouncing of the gazes directed at the mirrors, and of the people reflected in them--"look at yourself and look at her."

Although the reader knows Marina is thinking of a response for Milagros, the question implied is still unknown. One could hypothesize various questions, starting from a simple, aesthetic one: What look will Marina give Milagros? But a second and even more exciting option lies on the fact that Milagros carries with her a suitcase. (21) The reader knows that neither character loves the idea of living in a small town, and that they both share a love for adventure, travel, and for breaking the rules. Then, will Marina dare encourage Milagros to leave town? Will Marina decide to leave town with her? Will they move to the "abysmal world that has now taken form" before Marina's eyes? This new world is not necessarily a geographic space, but is definitely a world that revolves around desire and sensuality. Milagros arrives with a suitcase as if posing the question: "Are you coming with me, Marina?," while Marina must prepare Milagros for her travels. Milagros' new look, which Umpierre describes as "the fulfillment of Marina's fantasies with Milagros" (308), serves as a rite of passage for the schoolgirl. By cutting her hair, Marina is "cutting" or parting with Milagros' past; she is also taking Milagros' (lesbian) virginity. By doing Milagros' hair, Marina is also taking her sexually. Marina's sexual fantasies come true with the phrase "cut my hair however you please": "Milagros is asking her to do whatever she pleases with her. And given the sexual attraction ... this would be, as we would say in vulgar or earthy Puerto Rican slang, her chance to meter mano, to get involved" (Umpierre 312). Thus, the cutting of the hair is a pleasurable deflowering of both the hair and of Milagros, in regard to lesbian experiences.

In Aqui cuentan las mujeres, an anthology of short stories by Puerto Rican female writers, Maria M. Sola points out that "Milagros, calle Mercurio" not only portrays the unexplored sexual possibilities available for Puerto Rican women, but it also reconstructs the social context of these women on a general level, since "sexual and erotic repression, according to the aforementioned contexts [politics, marriage, among others], cannot be separated from other aspects of female subordination" (45). Sola also makes a remarkable comment about the story's title and ending:
   The title "Milagros, Calle Mercurio" mentions a Roman god whose
   sphere is change: travels, transactions, deceiving appearances,
   overall, everything that is prone to quickly turn into something
   different. From that god comes the name of the chemical element,
   mercury, because of its continual movement, and the English
   adjective mercurial, synonym of variable, inconstant. The word
   milagros [which translates into miracles] indicates sudden and
   unexplainable turns from normal reality. What is crucial, then, is
   that both [characters] could go through a transformation; that
   their relationship has been fertile, and has revealed hidden phases
   of their conscience to them. (44)


The story's major contribution to the Puerto Rican literary field is precisely this willingness to change through the revelation of a sexual phase that is yet unexplored: one of the Puerto Rican literary Others, lesbian sexuality, which has, so far, appeared only peripherally.

While Ana Lydia Vega plays with the taboo of casual sex in order to "grant" Puerto Ricanness to Suzie Bermiudez, Carmen Lugo Filippi presents the taboo of lesbianism. But although Marina's and Milagros' Puerto Rican status is not endangered, they still occupy the position of the Other in Puerto Rican society; they belong, yet they don't fully belong. Marina and Milagros are "future exiles" for they already feel out of place, due to social demands that do not fulfill them. Marina has been presented as an Other since the beginning of the story. Her academic studies set Marina aside from the other hairstylists at the hair salon in San Juan, (22) whereas Milagros also represents a religious and sexual Other for her neighbors. (23) These ways of embodying the Other are just a prelude to the future exacerbation of their otherness as lesbians, an otherness that could easily push them into a space commonly inhabited by the Other in Puerto Rico, exile.

Said proposes that nationalist feelings originate from a group's ability to differentiate itself from other groups. Therefore, nationalism is a condition born from estrangement. While nationalism reaffirms existing bonds through language and customs, those living in exile threaten the stability of such bonds, since they are different--be it via being "infected" by another culture, "forgetting" their "true" culture, or dissenting from it. Suzie, as well as Marina and Milagros--even though these two have not left the island--are somehow different from the "national" group and, therefore, threaten its coherence and stability.

The characters discussed here are all excluded from the Puerto Rican "national space" because they do not know or buy into Puerto Rican mores. Suzie, but also Marina and Milagros are "denationalized" in the sense that "exile is a solitude experienced outside the group: the deprivations felt at not being with others in the communal habitation." (Said 177, my emphasis). Although Suzie may be acquaintanced with Puerto Rican customs, she experiences them from the outside, as a tourist. Likewise, Marina feels out of place in her mother's town, with a clientele less cosmopolitan than the one she was used to. Similarly, Milagros leads a double life: she presents a very reserved and religious image of herself to her overprotective mother, while working as a nude dancer at a gentlemen's club, and experimenting with make-up and fashion at Marina's hair salon. It is self-evident by the end of the story that Milagros does not belong, and thus, decides to leave town, leading up to a possible future exile from Puerto Rico. Marina and Milagros belong to the outside, and in Puerto Rican terms, the quintessential geographical "outside," "alla afuera" ("out there"), is by definition the United States. (24) When somebody decides to migrate to the United States, Puerto Ricans refer to this as "irse para alla afuera" (one is "leaving for out there"). In this sense, Marina and Milagros already belong to the "out there," they are on the outside--United States, a destiny too common for lesbians and homosexuals who prefer to escape oppression in the island.

Milagros' sexuality surpasses the mores that surround her. She is as much in the periphery as a lesbian as is Suzie Bermiudez as an exile. Marina can recognize that Milagros lives on the outside since she feels as an outsider herself. This is why Milagros' suitcase seems to propose the question of both characters leaving town together; they are both the town's outsiders. They are already symbolically living in exile, and seem to be moving to a new "nation," one, for now, constituted by two women who were born in the same country and are also attracted to each other: their own new Puerto Rican lesbian community. Only this country-community has no geographical place to be. Taking into consideration that they are both living on the outside of national parameters, but that they imaginarily "coexist" in the same "lesbian outside," it is clear that they belong to a neohomonation.

Ideologically on the outside, Milagros' sexuality exceeds what is permitted by her surroundings, while Marina's "proto-lesbianism" (to borrow La Fountain's term) and obsession with Milagros is not acceptable behavior either; it is out of place. Even though they are geographically in Ponce, Marina's and Milagros' space is different from that of their neighbors. Therefore, they might well be considering leaving for the out there of the United States, to a city where they could openly engage in a lesbian relationship without the town's censorship. These "proto-lesbians" are also "proto-emigres" who will potentially create a neohomonation of their own in the future. For the gay and lesbian communities of Puerto Rico, exile begins before leaving, while still in the country, because their sexuality locates them on the periphery, outside the larger community of the nation. But "exiles cross borders, break barriers of thought and experience" (Said 185) and Marina and Milagros are able and willing to do just that.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York & London: Verso, 1990. Print.

Arroyo, Elsa R. La contracultura, la parodia y lo grotesco: carnavalizacion de la literatura en los cuentos de Rosario Ferre y Ana Lydia Vega, Diss. Rutgers University, 1989. Print.

Barradas, Efrain. Prologue. Apalabramiento: Diez cuentistas puertorriquenos de hoy. Ed. Efrain Barradas. Hanover, N.H.: Ediciones del Norte, 1983. Print.

Bost, Suzanne. "Transgressing Borders: Puerto Rican and Latina Mestizaje". Melus, 25.2 (2000): 187-211. Print.

Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Fernandez Olmos, Margarita. "Desde una perspectiva femenina: la cuentistica de Rosario Ferre y Ana Lydia Vega." Homines 8.2 (1984): 303-11. Print.

Foster, David William. "Agenda and Canon: Some Necessary Priorities," Sexual Textualities: Essays on Queer/ing Latin American Writing. U of Texas P: Austin, 1997. Print.

La Fountain-Stokes, Lawrence. "Tomboy Tantrums and Queer Infatuations: Reading Lesbianism in Magali Garcia Ramis's Felices dias, tio Sergio." Tortilleras: Hispanic and U.S. Latina Lesbian Expression. Ed. Lourdes Torres and Inmaculada Pertusa-Seva. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2003. 47-67.

Garcia Passalacqua, Juan Manuel. "La narracion popular de la nacion," La narracion de la nacion. Caguas, Puerto Rico: Editorial Cultural, 2005. Print.

Henao, Eda B. The Colonial Subject's Search for Nation, Culture, and Identity in the Works of Julia Alvarez, Rosario Ferre and Ana Lydia Vega. Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003. Print.

Mohr, Nicholasa. "Puerto Rican Writers in the U.S., Puerto Rican Writers in uerto Rico: A Separation beyond Language (Testimonio)." Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings. Ed. Asuncion Horno-Delgado, et al. Amherst: University of Massachussets Press, 1989.

Muntaner, Frances Negron. "En Puertorriqueno: Una entrevista a Ana Lydia Vega." Dactylus 11 (1991): 15-24. Print.

Said, Edward. "Reflections on Exile," Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge, Massachussets: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Sandoval Sanchez, Alberto. "Puerto Rican Identity Up in the Air: Air Migration, Its Cultural Representations, and Me 'Cruzando el Charco,'" Puerto Rican Jam: Rethinking Colonialism and Nationalism. Essays on Culture and Politics. Ed. Frances Negron Muntaner y Ramon Grosfoguel. Minneapolis & London: U of Minnesota P, 1997. Print.

Sandoval Sanchez, Alberto and Carol J. Wallace. "Mira, que vienen los nuyoricans!: El temor de la otredad en la literatura nacionalista puertorriquena," Revista de Critica Literaria Latinoamericana, 23.45 (1997), 307-25. Print.

Sola, Maria M., ed. Aqui cuentan las mujeres: muestra y estudio de cinco narradoras puertorriquenas. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Ediciones Huracan, 1990. Print.

Treacy, Mary Jane. "Magali Garcia Ramis," Latin American Writers on Gay and Lesbian Themes: A Sourcebook. Ed. David William Foster & Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport & London: Greenwood Press, 1994. Print.

Umpierre, Luz Maria. "Lesbian Tantalizing in Carmen Lugo Filippi's 'Milagros, Calle Mercurio.'" Entiendes?: Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings. Ed. Emile L. Bergmann and Paul Julian Smith. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. Print.

Vega, Ana Lydia and Carmen Lugo Filippi. Virgenes y martires (cuentos). San Juan, Puerto Rico: Editorial Antillana, 1988 (3ra edicion). Print.

Velez, Diana L. "Pollito Chicken: Split Subjectivity, National Identity and the Articulation of Female Sexuality in a Narrative by Ana Lydia Vega." Americas Review 14.2 (1986): 68-76. Print.

Wallace, Carol J. "Reading Across the Puerto Rican Divide: Colonialism and the Politics of Humor in Three Stories by Ana Lydia Vega," Essays on Luso-Hispanic Humor. Ed. Paul W. Seaver. Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2004. Print.

Consuelo Martinez-Reyes

University of Pennsylvania

(1) Two quintessential literary works of the fifties that well exemplify this are "En la popa hay un cuerpo reclinado" and "El puertorriqueno docil" by Rene Marques. In the former, a work of fiction, women who have been integrated to the Puerto Rican work force, a societal change brought on by Operation Bootstrap, signify a threat to the male protagonist's masculinity, while in the latter, an essay, Marques complains about Puerto Rican passiveness when facing colonial impositions.

(2) Some of the quotes that exemplify Suzie's self-exclusion from Puerto Ricans: "[She] preferred, by far, to lose a fabulous job than to put Puerto Rican on job applications, and to starve to death rather than receive welfare or food stamps like those lazy, dirty, no-good bums fellow countrymen of hers." (75); "[She] wondered, with some kind of amusement, what would have become of her if Mother had not had the brilliant idea of emigrating." (76); "To learn to speak good English, to collect the trash they threw, like savages, on the streets, and to behave like decent people was what [Puerto Ricans] had to do, and forget about all that fuss." (77) This translation, as well as all others in the text, are mine.

Original quote: "[Ella] preferia mil veces perder un fabulous job antes que poner Puerto Rican en las applications de trabajo y morir de hambre por no coger el Welfare o los food stamps como todos esos lazy, dirty, no-good bums que eran sus compatriotas." (75); "[Suzie] Penso con cierto amusement en lo que hubiese sido de ella si a Mother no se lo ocurre la brilliant idea de emigrar." (76); "Aprender a hablar good English, a recoger el trash que tiraban como savages en las calles y a comportarse como decent people era lo que tenian que hacer [los puertorriquenos] y dejarse de tanto fuss." (77)

(3) Note that because of the translation of the original quotes, the use of Spanglish cannot be appreciated. Original quotes have also been included for linguistic reference.

(4) For Elsa Arroyo, Vega's representation of nuyoricans in this short story is a "disdainful parody, a mockery, whose purpose it is to lower or reduce what Suzie Bermiudez represents" (139, my translation). Diana Velez considers it "a joke only for the enjoyment of island Puerto Ricans, and despite the text's conscious project of national unity, nuyoricans are not included in the joke except as its objects." (73) While the most famous opinion on the story's conflicts is Nicholasa Morh's:
   Recently I read a story that attempted to deal with a working-class
   Puerto Rican woman from New York who goes to San Juan on holiday.
   The use of what the author considered to be a cross between Spanish
   and English, which is referred to as Spanglish, was incorrect and
   ludicrous. No one here speaks that way. The story line was quite
   silly and the story rather farfetched and stupid, much like a
   cartoon. This writer [Vega] had very little knowledge of who we are
   here and, I suspect, holds quite a bit of disdain and contempt for
   our community. This author is not the only one with this attitude.
   Unfortunately, it is quite common among the Island's intellectuals.
   (114-115)


(5) While female writer Nicholasa Mohr, who was born and raised in the United States by Puerto Rican parents, sees Suzie's Spanglish as pejorative, Ana Lydia Vega presents this way of speaking as a reflection of reality in one of her interviews: "[in her visits to New York] there was still a big sector [of Puerto Ricans] that wanted to pass as Americans." ("En puertorriqueno" 18, my translation). On the other hand, for Eda B. Henao, what produces a comic effect of a subversive quality is precisely presenting this "reality" in different Spanish "registers": "The amalgamation of registers [among them, Spanglish] brings open laughter by making obvious to the readers--and perhaps by allowing them to see themselves in it--the absurdity and the ridiculous nature of some beliefs, practices and behaviors. It also serves to spoof and to offer a counter-discourse to traditional discursive schema" (90).

(6) Wallace's essay does a thorough study of Vega's use of satire. He summarizes the tensions and debates surrounding the story's "comicality," and further explains the extensions of genres such as satire, parody, the burlesque, and comedy in order to explore the meanings of Vega's "joke."

(7) Efrain Barradas points to the publication of Luis Rafael Sanchez' En cuerpo de camisa, a collection of short-stories, as the birth of a new generation of Puerto Rican writers that stylistically differ themselves from the previous and so called Generacion del Cuarenta. Although Sanchez follows some of the tendencies of the Generacion del Cuarenta in that his stories are full of marginalized characters, Barradas sees in the author a stylistic trait that would define the new generation: managing popular speech as one that fuses the narrative and the character's voices (xviii). Whereas the Generacion del Cuarenta clearly discerns these two voices, the Puerto Rican female writers discussed here present "contaminated" voices, in which narrator and characters cannot be differentiated. It is also relevant to note that the new authors do not intend to present a "truthful picture" of their characters' dialectical reality, but that they "create a new language of their own, using street talk as their basis ... When [the new generation] commits to reality ... in postulates that in order to expose the truths of our national literature, a work of art has to be aware of the fact that it is lying" (xxiii). In "Pollito Chicken," Ana Lydia Vega uses both techniques, popular speech and contaminated voices. From Barradas's perspectives on Vega's generational stylistics, the use of Spanglish could be interpreted as a consciously hyperbolic gesture that does not intend to imitate but to create a speech.

(8) Wallace explains: "Puerto Rico is a perfect example of what Benedict Anderson has termed the "imagined community ... imagined and both inherently limited and sovereign" (15). It is a nation which has never existed except as a colony, and nearly half of those who identify themselves as Puerto Rican do not live, indeed may never have lived on the island. Those who live in the United States have often had to confront prejudices as a "racial" minority which Puerto Ricans on the island have not had to face. Because of the Diaspora, two distinct communities have developed, each calling themselves Puerto Rican, but often with very different concerns and problems. The boundaries between these two communities, however, are highly fluid as a result of the circular migration pattern which characterizes them. Yet despite the fact that it is impossible to define clearly the boundaries between these two communities, a high degree of tension exists within this discursive space. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that this tension exists because of that very impossibility. (46-47).

(9) Alberto Sandoval makes a good analysis of the symbolic eternal exile of Eduardo Marin, the main character in "Ardiente suelo, fria estacion." Eduardo does not want his name to be crossed off the list of passengers as he boards his plane back to New York, fearing that this act will symbolically erase him from Puerto Rico (315).

(10) Alberto Sandoval thinks that Suzie's visit, "activates the fears of those islanders whose identity is threatened by the mere fact that Puerto Rico is an American colony. With this, I mean to say that her return to the island represents what Puerto Ricans could become under statehood or through assimilation under a colonial status" (308).

(11) Margarita Fernandez Olmos thinks that female writers like Ana Lydia Vega and her generation of feminists are perceived as a reflection of American influence (304) since, after all, in Puerto Rico feminism has always been picked out as part of American imperialist influences. The stereotyped notion of the United States as the origin of Puerto Rican feminism explains feminist tendencies as the result of the influence of American women, who disobey their husbands or prefer not to marry so that they can lead libertine lives. It is also thought that a woman must be a feminist when she is a lesbian and, therefore, hates men. Eda B. Henao says: "The stigma of lesbianism is widely used to discredit feminism [in Latin America] ... Another barrier feminism faces in Latin America is the fear of imperialism. Feminist theories can be another way in which First World nations impose their values on Third World nations" (72). Furthermore, "The fact that women may not abide by the pre-ordained codes of behavior means the crumbling of an entire culture, and this disintegration means confusion, incomprehension, and anxiety, especially for those accustomed to be in control [men]" (81). This debate is thoroughly studied in other chapters.

(12) In a complimentary way, Suzie also has "a colonized view/representation of herself and the Puerto Rican people, especially of Puerto Rican men" (Henao 57). This becomes clear when Suzie imagines what it would have meant for her to be raised in Puerto Rico:
   She thought, with some amusement, what would have become of her if
   Mother hadn't had the brilliant idea of migrating. She would have
   married some billiards-playing, drunken bastard, one of those who
   are born with the flask incrusted in their hand and lock up their
   fat, ugly housewives at home, with ten screaming kids between their
   cellulitic thighs while they do pretty-body and get any shameless
   bitch into bed. No, thanks. When Suzie marries, because maybe she
   will so that she pays less income taxes, it will be with a straight
   All-American, Republican, church going, Wall-Street business man,
   like her boss Mr. Bumper, because those really are good husbands
   and treat their women like real ladies, raised by the Amy
   Vanderbilt manual and all. (76-77)

   Penso con cierto amusement en lo que hubiese sido de ella si a
   Mother no se le ocurre la brilliant idea de emigrar. Se hubiera
   casado con un algun drunken bastard de billar, de esos que nacen
   con la caneca incrustada en la mano y encierran a la fat ugly
   housewife en la casa con diez screaming kids entre los cellulitic
   muslos mientras ellos hacen pretty-body y le aplanan la calle a
   cualquier shameless bitch. No, thanks. Cuando Suzie se casara
   porque maybe se casaria para pagar menos income tax- seria con un
   straight All-American, Republican, church-going, Wall-Street
   business-man, como su jefe Mister Bumper porque esos si que son
   good husbands y tratan a sus mujeres como real ladies criadas con
   el manual de Amy Vanderbilt y todo. (76-77)


(13) According to Suzanne Bost, Ana Lydia Vega's characters define their notion of gender from a cultural perspective (191); thus, Suzie's gender role performance should be considered not only as a sexual practice, but as a cultural one as well.

(14) The phrase "la mancha de platano" (the stain of plantain) has been used traditionally in Puerto Rico to describe inherently national traits displayed by a Puerto Rican. Like the milky stain of plantain that cannot be washed off clothes, Puerto Ricanness is permanent.

(15) In her interview with Frances Negron Muntaner, Ana Lydia Vega says:

The voice of the narrator discredits the bartender ... that he is a "tumbagringas" [hits on gringas], a "mamitologo" [female specialist] ... and after he is discredited, he is given a voice. And he tells what happens. And one questions that because you don't know if it is a chauvinistic story of his or if it truly happened. There is an end much more ambiguous than what some people have wanted to read there. I made that change in narrator on purpose. I mean, that what he tells is not necessarily the absolute truth. It could be that what he says is just another story, like it happens in other stories of mine, where sometimes machos tell a story that never happened ... " (18, my translation)

(16) Only my translations, and not the original, will be used to quote from "Milagros, calle Mercurio" since issues of language are not involved in this discussion.

(17) In "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" feminist Laura Mulvey points out that the cinematographic gaze is constructed so that it provides pleasure to male, heterosexual desire, since women are a part of such a gaze only passively, as a recipient (or signifier) of male heterosexual fantasies (or signified). Thus, it can be concluded that in her cinematographic enjoyment of Milagros, Marina is also enjoying traditional, heterosexual, male desire. Therefore, she is portraying homosexual desires. This has been discussed by Larry La Fountain (in regards to Magali Garcia Ramis' Felices dias, tio Sergio) and by Luz Maria Umpierre's study on Carmen Lugo Filippi's story.

(18) Milagros is presented through a cinematographic gaze on a second occasion, in which it is obvious that there is a connection between Milagro's figure and Marina's dreams of travel: "The sobriety of that figure plunged you in grave cinematographic reminiscences of your third year of college, when you still had those intellectual preoccupations ... " (31).

(19) Note that the Word "entender" (to understand) or "entendido" (one who understands) is a known code word among people who have sexual practices alternative to heterosexuality. Marina understands Milagros in two ways: she is able to interpret her beauty, as well as to "read" her queerness within a small town context, and as someone who--as Marina--is secretly attracted by an alternative sexuality.

(20) Luz Maria Umpierre considers this change in narrators--from Marina to the narrator or to Rada's perspective, which is considered both the hairstylist's "male persona" and a "game of denial," a stylistic trick to push Marina "out of the closet" (309-10).

(21) Luz Maria Umpierre has proposed another possible and very interesting interpretation to the question "what will you answer?": "The question is not only addressed to Marina but to the reader--what kind of reading [heterosexual or lesbian] have you done? How far has your imagination's 'mercurio' [mercury] gone up or down?" (312).

(22)
   Let's say that the only one with a higher education background and
   experience abroad was me [Marina] and that granted me a certain
   supremacy over Junito's [San Juan's hair salon owner] ten helpers.
   Of course, that difference had caused resentment among the girls
   from the beginning ... In a certain way, it sweetened their bitter
   frustrations when I assured them that many women with a flaming
   diploma in Letters would see themselves obliged to find a job at
   airports, or to fly as flight attendants if they didn't want to
   starve. One could make more with some styling courses than with
   three years of literature ... (27-8)


(23) When Marina asks her neighbor, dona Fefa, why Milagros does not take care of her hair, the neighbor responds that "the mother of that girl is to blame for that atrocity ... such a Jesus freak, that old woman, you have no idea, Marina, about what [religious] fanaticism makes people do. Then you understood why she didn't wear make-up either, or why she would always wear those habit-like blouses, even in the middle of summer" (31). Milagros and her mother are referred to as "aleluyas" by dona Fefa, which I have translated as "Jesus freak" because of the derogatory implications in the story. Puerto Ricans use "aleluya" to refer to some protestant sects, whose members are considered fanatics because they renounce any way of exhibiting or adorning the body. Being "aleluya" makes Milagros an Other because Puerto Rico is mostly catholic, and because feminine appearance is "judged" almost at a moral level in many aspects of culture.

See Maria I. Quinones Arrocho, El fin del reino de lo propio: ensayos de antropologia cultural, for an advanced study on the relationship between beauty "rituals" and the social development of Caribbean women.

(24) Alberto Sandoval Sanchez comments on the use of the word "fuera" (out) as a way to refer to the United States:
   Growing up in San Juan, I always heard relatives and friends
   saying, "Mi primo se va p'alla fuera" (My cousin is leaving for out
   there), "Mi hija vive alla fuera hace anos" (My daughter has been
   living out there for years), "Mi hermana viene de fuera el domingo"
   (My sister is coming from out on Sunday), "Mi hijo estudia alla
   fuera" (My son studies out there). Fuera meant New York, New
   Jersey, Philadelphia, Florida, Illinois, California. Fuera became a
   synonym for the United States. Fuera was and still is a euphemism
   for migration. ("Puerto Rican Identity Up in the Air" 189)
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Date:Mar 22, 2013
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