Writing as Resistance: The Case of Dominican Women Writers

Sintia Molina, ed., Escritoras dominicanas a la deriva: Marginación, dolor y resistencia / Dominican Women Writers on the Edge: Alienation, Pain, and Resistance (Madrid: Verbum, 2014); 155 pages; ISBN 978-8479629625 (paperback)

• February 2016

Literature from the Dominican Republic is often not given sufficient critical attention by those who study Caribbean letters. Sintia Molina (St. Francis College), with the publication of Escritoras dominicanas a la deriva: Marginación, dolor y resistencia / Dominican Women Writers on the Edge: Alienation, Pain, and Resistance, sets off to right that wrong; in her words, “By exposing situations and conditions previously unknown or just ignored, the authors in this anthology highlight the writing of women who seek the best for their culture, their nation, and their people by denouncing injustice and oppression, and by standing up against imposed norms and values affecting not only women but people in general” (9). Although focusing on a group of women who address specific issues of alienation and resistance in their writing narrows the pool of writers studied, the end result is actually a collection of essays that portray a diversity of writers and styles, a real testament to the richness of Dominican letters today.

The book contains critical essays in Spanish and English about well-known and little-known writers, those who write in English as well as those who write in Spanish. It also covers a wide geographical area: from women who write from and about the Dominican Republic to those who write about life in the United States, Germany, and Greece. The women Molina includes write about tradition, race, myth, sexuality, imperialism, oppression, and family. Thematically, the essays can be rearranged into four groups: two essays about Dominican-American writers (Julia Alvarez and Loida Maritza Pérez); two interviews (Emilia Pereyra and Ligia Minaya); two essays that situate Dominican writing beyond the typical geographical boundaries; and one essay, about Altagracia Saviñón, placing Dominican writing within the wider Latin American literary tradition.

The essay “Oral Culture: Folklore and Tales in Four of Julia Alvarez’s Children’s Books and Young Adult Novels,” by Wendy Blauman, focuses on works by Alvarez that are not among the most studied. Paying close attention to myth in Alvarez’s works, Blauman claims that oral storytelling functions as an alternative history that is passed on by women through generations. By writing about Dominican oral tradition in English, Alvarez expands the audience of these stories and gives them new life. Another look into Dominican American writing is “La familia: Unity and Latino Identity in Loida Maritza Pérez’sGeographies of Home.” In this essay, Lydia Rodríguez argues that Pérez’s novel explores how the sense of religion and obligation to family often presents Latina women with unique challenges when it comes to the development of a strong sense of self.

Two interviews are the highlight of the collection. The first is with Emilia Pereyra, by H. J. Manzari, the second with Ligia Minaya, by Sintia Molina. Pereyra is known for writing the first work of hardboiled fiction in the Dominican Republic, El crimen verde (1998), and Minaya for her erotic fiction. The inclusion of Minaya, who lives in Denver, Colorado, but considers herself an “escritora dominicana,” serves to geographically expand our notion of the Dominican experience beyond the Dominican Republic and the northeastern United States. Given the lack of access not only to the works by these authors but to the authors themselves, these interviews represent a unique opportunity to learn about how Pereyra and Minaya approach the writing process. Through them, the reader also ascertains that the main problem ailing Dominican letters, and writing by Dominican women in particular, is the lack of interest by publishers in and outside the Dominican Republic. Insofar as the collection sets out to expose their marginalization, the inclusion of their voices becomes an act of resistance in its own right.

Sharon L. Reeves’s “Transnational Marginality and Exploitation of Women: A Naturalistic Interpretation of Minelys Sánchez’ Amarilis mira en azul” and Elizabeth Russ’s “Walking in the Ciudad trujillista: Remapping Dominican Identity in Escalera para Electra and La estrategia de Chochueca” also take the reader outside the traditional boundaries of Dominican experience. Reeves studies Sánchez’s 2006 novel about a woman living in Germany after being taken to Europe to be prostituted, bringing forth a reality faced by thousands of Dominican women, that of being victims of human trafficking. The essay explores how the protagonist finds a way to leave the world of prostitution with the help of the women around her. Meanwhile, the first half of Russ’s essay discusses Aída Cartagena Portalatín’s Escalera para Electra (1970), a novel that takes place in Greece but nevertheless draws parallels between the way the tourists, mostly American, invade Athens and the American occupations of the Dominican Republic in 1916 and again in 1965. Russ concludes that Portalatín quite possibly wrote in fear of Joaquín Balaguer’s repressive government of the 1960s and ’70s and thus veiled her criticism of the Dominican Republic in her protagonist’s observations of Athens. To highlight how times have changed, Russ discusses a similar novel written decades later, La estrategia de Chochueca (2000), by Rita Indiana Hernández, in which walking becomes an opportunity to observe and to comment on the state of Dominican society, especially in the capital city. Hernández’s main character also criticizes US imperialism but at the same time embraces foreign cultural elements.

As if to bring the anthology geographically back home, Molina ends the collection with an essay by Oneida Sánchez, “Altagracia Saviñón: Vector clave en la poesía dominicana del siglo XX.” Sánchez points out that Manuel Rueda considered Saviñón’s writing to be symbolist, whereas Max Henríquez Ureña considered it modernist—a debate that is really about whether Saviñón’s writing was looking at European models or was part of an autochthonous Latin American movement. Although Sánchez sees hints of symbolism in Saviñón’s work, after a careful study of several of her poems as well as her sole work of prose, Sánchez ends up siding with Henríquez Ureña. To make the case further for modernismo, Sánchez highlights the similarities between themes found in Saviñón’s work and the work of the Mexican modernista Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera. Sánchez concludes by stressing that Saviñón should be credited with introducing modernismo to the Dominican Republic. By doing so, Sánchez not only inscribes Saviñón in a forward-looking Latin American movement but also gives her pioneer status in a time when there were so few Dominican women writers.

The book’s title, Escritoras dominicanas a la deriva: Marginación, dolor y Resistencia / Dominican Women Writers on the Edge: Alienation, Pain, and Resistance, hints at two underlying themes that permeate this collection of essays: on the one hand, it refers to the writers themselves, among them Ligia Minaya, Emilia Pereyra, and Minelys Sánchez, who become alienated in literary circles owing to a lack of scholarship and distribution of their work; on the other hand, it makes reference to what all the women in the collection are writing about—including the renowned and widely published Julia Alvarez. There are many writers, in and outside the country, not covered in this book (Angie Cruz, Angela Hernández, Nelly Rosario, to name a few) who could probably make a good case for themselves to be included in a study that focuses on the themes of alienation and resistance. However, what is clear through this book is that the very nature of Dominican women writing is guided by the spirit of resistance—they have continued their work in spite of the lack of critical attention received.

Sintia Molina’s book is an eye-opening and much-needed academic publication, well suited for anyone interested in Dominican women writers and the Dominican experience.

 

Rosa Mirna Sánchez is an assistant professor at Caldwell University. Her research focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Hispanic literature, especially rewritings of canonical works. She has published in Sargasso: A Journal of Caribbean Literature, Languages and Culture, and Voces del Caribe

 

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