Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mapping the Feminine Fantastic in Hispanophone Literature

MLA 2017

                                                                                                Dr. Andrea Pérez Mukdsi

On a cold evening in Buenos Aires, in 1937, three bibliophile friends had the idea of putting together a collection of fantasy works from nearly every era and continent on Earth. In 1940, The Book of Fantasy – or Antología de la literatura fantástica – was published in Argentina. All of the stories were chosen for their unique power to question the reader’s perceptions of reality. The editors were three prolific Argentinian writers: Silvina Ocampo, her husband Adolfo Bioy Casares, and their best friend, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges and Bioy became renowned authors of the fantastic. Interestingly, despite the 154 short stories she wrote in this genre, Silvina Ocampo is still seldom read. Is it because her career blossomed in the shadow of these and other celebrated male colleagues in the same genre?
Forgotten Journey (1937), Ocampo’s first publication, consists of a series of watercolor pictures of colloquial language with some autobiographical hints. In the story that gives the name to the collection, a young girl is “trying to remember the day she was born.” Her nursemaid tries to convince her that before babies are born they sleep on shelves in a department store in Paris until their mothers come pick them up. When her mother avoids the girl’s questions by speaking about “the sunny day, flowers and birds,” the girl looks out the window and only sees a “dark sky of night where no bird sang.” The girl is the first of countless Ocampo’s protagonists who resists those limits that have been imposed and therefore faces dark, alternative realities on their own.
Ocampo’s protagonists are non-conventional and peripheral subjects that inhabit the liminal spaces between metaphors and the language that creates them. Hers is not an eccentric view of the world; it’s an “Ex-centric” one. It defies the centrality occupied and heralded by her male colleagues, instead pushing the perspective to the peripheries, where the real and the uncanny are indistinguishable. This she accomplishes through depictions of those socially marginalized, including children, maids, circus artists and forgotten fiancés. We should not be fooled by the appearance of naivete these characters exhibit. Her work actually gains force through that seeming innocence, as the very same quality that makes her stories fluid and readable also makes them seem unexpectedly cruel. Doubling back on themselves, Ocampo’s stories are populated by dream-like images that pervade everyday life with the only desire of building new forms of narrating (ir)reality. Her playful writing depicts worlds in which objects and emotions can only be known by dismantling our assumptions about what might be, were we to accept the fantastic.
But what is the fantastic? Is it the marvelous? The supernatural? The gothic? Ocampo writes “The world is not magical. We make it magical all of a sudden inside us, and nobody finds out until many years later.” We could write many volumes with what has been said and un-said about it. Quoting Cynthia Duncan, “the slippery nature of the fantastic is part of what defines it as a genre. It can shift, slide and transform itself across cultures.” It might help us to keep in the back of our minds how one of the most prolific writers on the genre, the argentine Author Julio Cortázar, has described it.  He writes “The fantastic breaks the crust of appearance … something grabs us by the shoulders to throw us outside ourselves. I have always known that the big surprises await us where we have learned to be surprised by nothing.”
Beyond genre definitions, a further complication in situating women writers is that most of the theory about the fantastic comes from Anglophone traditions out of Europe and the United States. Once again, we’re faced with a great irony. Though hardly the first to create “fantastic” stories, Spanish-speaking Latin America certainly produced some of the first anthologies and literary theories describing the genre and establishing its boundaries. Just as the story of Ocampo’s involvement in creating The Book of Fantasy is erased by the fame of her male co-editors, so too does Spanish-language literary criticism live in the shadow of its English contemporaries.
Ocampo’s works range from 19th-century-style horror to the fantastical atmosphere of her mature period. Her writing has all the ingredients that brought fame to male writers of the fantastic around the world. Of her formal inventiveness and all-pervading ambiguity, Grace Palet has said “Every story is two stories, the one on the surface and the one bubbling beneath. The climax is when they collide.’ Despite these attributes, many of her stories were rejected by editors and prize juries for their supposedly unexpected cruelty, stories where strange events crush mundane reality leaving the reader with an unresolved sense of asphyxia. Is it the case that her style is not understood because it came from a woman’s mind? Is it possible that the problem lies in the fact that her works come from Latin-America? How do we explain the case of Ocampo and other women writers like her?
When planning our MLA 2017 panel, my original aim was to provide some insight to these questions. For several years, I had observed a frequent omission from twentieth-century literary histories: women writers of fantasy in Spanish. I believe that this roundtable on The Feminine Fantastic in Hispanophone literature will help us to think about the relation between the female fantastic in Latin-America, in the Iberian Peninsula, and in the English tradition. My hope is that we can avoid fixating, as so many theorists do, on if this or that work is in fact fantastic or not, but instead focus on what can be revealed when we consider different the forms of the uncanny as a gendered vehicle for resistance of imposed rules and limits.
Even though our panel does not ambition to establish clear boundaries to the genre, we must acknowledge the fact the term “fantastic literature” conjures a variety of images in the minds of readers and scholars from around the world. From science fiction to the Gothic, adventure to afro-futurism, ghost stories to magic realism, modernism and the surreal: the word “fantastic” has been used to refer to many different literary aesthetics. Even our panelists may have different ideas about what constitutes the fantastic. No doubt the writers whose work they will discuss understand it differently—if they define it at all
Regardless of the debates and paradoxes, there is no doubt that certain regions and perspectives are better represented in scholarship about the fantastic than others. Anthologies and critical studies of Anglophone writers and male writers far outnumber those on work by women, especially when women write in languages other than English. According to Linda S. Zee (1993), the “implications” of this cultural and linguistic myopia are “momentous”; it leads us to believe that only Western, Anglophone and male definitions of reality (and the unreal!) are true. Following Zee, this roundtable speaks to the gap in scholarship that has largely overlooked the feminine fantastic in Hispanophone literature.
Each of the scholars participating in the panel have organized their work based on six strategic questions that come out from my initial exploration on the subject:

·      What are the differences in form and content between scholarship on the female fantastic in English and Spanish?
·      How is the female fantastic in the Iberian Peninsula different from that in the Americas? 
·      Do women writers of the fantastic in Spanish subvert male supernatural discursive practices? Overall, how might gender shape the genre?
·      How do Hispanophone women writers of the fantastic conceive of the boundary between the real and the unreal, between self and other?
·      Does any Latin-American distinctive trait serve as a point of departure on the study on the Latin-American female fantastic as gendered vehicle for exploring national identity?
·      Is/are there (a) distinctive linguistic, regional or gendered trait(s) that serve(s) as a point of departure for analyzing the Hispanophone fantastic?

Here is what our panelist have to say about these questions and their field of research in the feminine fantastic in Hispanophone literature.

Dr. Rocío Rødtjer
King’s College London

“The Spanish Female Gothic: On the Margins of Reality and Modernity”

When assessing the marginal place of Spanish women writers in the literary canon one should note that their invisibility is compounded by the peripheral place occupied by the Iberian nation in the western cartography of modernity. As Michael Iarocci has observed ‘A country [Spain] that had been one of the privileged sites for the enunciation of European history in the early modern era had by the eighteenth-century increasingly become an object of representation - and symbolic subordination - for a newly dominant northern Europe’ (2006: xi). As its imperial star faded, Spain turned Gothic but never produced Gothic. Such privilege was instead reserved for modern societies like England, home of the Industrial Revolution, which could afford to indulge in the other side of progress – irrationality and superstition. In the Protestant imagination, anywhere south of the Pyrenees became a popular setting for the travails of many a fainting maiden trapped in a labyrinthine castle, at the mercy of a cackling count, and outside the reach of rational Enlightenment. This impression was also popularized by English women writers, most notably Ann Radcliffe, pioneer of the Gothic novel. Radcliffe found great success despite a literary snobbism that stemmed partly from gendered prejudice and partly from her commercial popularity.
Recent decades have witnessed feminist scholars reclaiming the legacy of writers such as Radcliffe, and highlighting their impact on what is known as the Female Gothic, in which the ultimate source of terror is not the supernatural, but the lack of female agency, financial dependency, or the constant threat of sexual violence.
The recovery and study of Spanish equivalents has been slower in comparison, hampered by the Anglo-centric monopoly on parameters of modernity and progress that portrayed Spain as a slow adapter of European trends. As this narrative is increasingly questioned and our scope widens, the contribution of women experiences a similar recalibration.
Nineteenth- and even turn-of-the century Spain was part of the European mainstream, “not a copy of any other continental country, let alone England, but was unquestionably a member of the western European family” to quote the historian Adrian Shubert (2003: 262). At the same time, Spain was painfully aware of its lowly rank in the pyramid of progress, one could say it was haunted by it. The palpable anxiety that the country was merely copying foreign trends, and copying them badly, characterizes Spanish production. It harmed the reception of the Gothic mode in Spain, viewed as an imported foreign trend popularized by the likes of Radcliffe, who enjoyed success there in translated form. As in England, the novels of Radcliffe had many female readers, but while English women were berated for cheapening culture and overheating their imagination, Spanish ones were also accused of diluting the national patrimony with their foreign reading habits. Any Spanish woman with literary aspirations – already facing formidable obstacles – would have been aware of such dynamics
It explains why Gothic incursions in the work of Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851–1921) had until recent decades been overlooked. Pardo Bazán features as one of the few women admitted into the canon on the strength of her Realist novels, regarded as a native and legitimate medium. Yet even such unmistakably realist works as Los pazos de Ulloa (The Manors of Ulloa 1888-1887) contain their fair share of Gothic tropes, such as derelict houses and cursed ancestry, that highlight the powerlessness of the female protagonist trapped in a loveless marriage, her only role the production of an heir. As Pardo Bazán became more successful and secure in her status as a writer, these Gothic elements grew more visible. Short stories like “La resucitada” (“The Resurrected” 1908), articulate the invisibility of women in the language of the Gothic – a woman rises from her crypt only to willingly return after facing the complete obliviousness of her family. Exploring the Female Gothic mode in Spain helps reassess the country’s place in the map of modernity and also how women contributed to it – and certainly how they sometimes experienced it differently to men.

Rocío Rødtjer is a visiting research fellow at King’s College London, where she recently received her PhD with the thesis ‘Whose Ancestral Line Is It Anyway: Women, Legitimacy and the Nineteenth-Century Genealogical Imagination’, which explores the concept of family and its ancestral logic as a central metaphor that lends cohesion and cultural homogeneity to the nationalist project. Her main area of interest is fin-de-siècle Spain, and she has published on the Gothic incursions in the Spanish literary landscape of this period, as well as the relationship between scientific discourse and Catholicism. Additionally, she has an upcoming chapter on the more oblique strategies employed by Spanish women to influence politics before they were granted the vote. She also holds an M.A. in Translation and Linguistics and has worked as a translator and editor.

Dr. Inés Ordiz
University of Washington in Seattle

“The feminine fantastic” position paper: The female body of transgression: sexuality and vampirism in Carmen Boullosa’s Isabel

The novella Isabel (2000), by the Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa, is characterized by a formal eclecticism that serves a double purpose: on the one hand, by mixing the Gothic with the erotic, and melodrama with social commentary, it deconstructs the idea of literary genre; on the other, by challenging the traditional norms of patriarchal horror, it reshapes the female body and its role in the context of fantastic literature.
            Boullosa’s main character transforms into a vampire after her boyfriend/ husband breaks her heart. As a vampire, Isabel leads a chaotic existence defined by sexual encounters and murders spreading a deadly plague which kills thousands of people in Mexico City and other places of the world.
            The author Carmen Boullosa becomes a character in her own fiction at the same time that some of the characters turn into narrators. Moreover, even though the story is told by different voices, the narrator/author constantly reminds us that it is a true account, and that it is happening as we are reading it: “¡Ah! ¡Lector, lectora! ¿En qué tiempo puedo contarlo? ¿Con qué voz? Debo aclarar que si carraspeo y no sé por dónde ir, es sobre todo porque la historia es verdad, está ocurriendo ahora mismo” [Ah! Reader! In what tense should I tell this story? With whose voice? I should clarify that if I’m unsure about how to proceed is because this story is true, and it’s happening right now”] (182). This reinvention of time, space, and agency is consciously inscribed within a Gothic tradition that the author comments on and reinterprets. This postmodern revision of Gothic conventions starts with the inclusion of multiple references to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the literary imagination that it inaugurates, in which the female characters are victims of the male monster. Moreover, the novella also reinterprets the horror movie trope of the supernatural femme fatale that feeds on innocent men while becoming, for the audience, the sexualized object for the male gaze.
Boullosa’s challenge to this objectification lies in the author’s portrayal of a depressed woman who turns to vampirism to heal from a broken heart. In a commentary of her own writing, Boullosa links the connection between sexuality and monstrosity portrayed by her female characters to the dichotomy Virgin/Whore. This opposition has been described as key to Mexican female identity and comes imposed by a patriarchal writing of history. Isabel is a monster who looks for her own sexual pleasure, but also a romantic heroine with a broken heart. She is, at the same time, the victim of a man and a victimizer of many men, and therefore challenges the conventions of the horror movie, of melodrama and of historical and societal expectations. 
Moreover, her sexuality transcends gender, race and class, as she brings to her bed people from all backgrounds: As the author comments, when describing Isabel’s encounters, “[l]os cuerpos, entonces, son más amplios que el mundo. La pulgada del clítoris no tiene márgenes, la boca más honda que el océano, no hay palabras, ni nalgas, ni culo, ni labios, ni espalda, ni pechos, sino el tirón del gozo, la marea del gozo” [bodies, then, are bigger than the world. The inch of the clitoris has no margins, the mouth is deeper than the ocean, there are no words, no buttocks, no ass, no back, no breasts, but only the urge for pleasure, the tide of pleasure] (188). As a challenge to heteronormative conventions, Isabel puts forward a model of pansexuality that breaks with the imposed decency of the bodies in the context of patriarchal societies. This universalizing drift is also represented by the plague, which reaches both the poor and the rich: “¡Qué rico se vengaron entonces del silencio al que les habían sometido! La ciudad era de los miserables, de los que vivían en condiciones indignas, porque era su ley la que imperaba. Su ley era de la muerte” [How sweet was their revenge for the silence that was imposed on them! The city now belonged to the unfortunate, to the ones who lived in dreadful conditions, because their law prevailed. Their law was Death (212).]  The country’s deep social inequality is therefore broken by the widespread reach of death represented by the female vampire.
The shadow of Mexico’s social reality is projected upon Isabel’s body in a subversive way that challenges both societal and literary conventions: on the one hand, it defies the dichotomies separating the author from her characters and, therefore, reality from fiction; on the other, it reimagines some of the country’s accepted definitions of womanhood and femininity, while offering a social commentary of social inequality in Mexico. Boullosa disputes the conventional view of the female vampire as the embodiment of patriarchal fears, and the female body as object of desire. Her female monster, thus, becomes the ultimate representative of feminist transgression.

Inés Ordiz is a doctor of Modern Languages from the University of León (Spain), with a specialization in Comparative Pan-American Gothic literature. She is the co-editor of the volume La (ir)realidad imaginada: Aproximaciones a lo insólito en la ficción hispanoamericana, which focuses on the various manifestations of Fantasy in Latin American literature. She has recently published articles on contemporary zombie cinema, Mexican and Argentinean Gothic and the feminine grotesque. Her most recent publication is the article "Environmental Apocalypse and Uncanny Technology: Gothic Visions of the Future in Three Mexican Literary Dystopias" in the volume Tropical Gothic (Routledge, 2015). She is currently working on her second PhD on Latin American Female Gothic at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she is also teaches in the Spanish Department.

Megan DeVirgilis
Temple University

“Seduction and Subversion in Short Fiction by Emilia Pardo Bazán and Carmen de Burgos”

In The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar discuss the complexities surrounding the adoption of male-authored metaphors by female authors: “That literary texts are coercive (or at least compellingly persuasive) has been one of our major observations, for just as women have been repeatedly defined by male authors, they seem in reaction to have found it necessary to act out male metaphors in their own texts, as if trying to understand their implications” (xii). These subversive literary acts have, indeed, tremendous implications, such as the recognition of alternative modes of representation, unconventional norms, and gendered realities. But what are the implications when women adopt male-authored metaphors of monstrosity, which are challenges to the status quo in and of themselves? Considering two examples of fantastic fiction by Spanish authors Emilia Pardo Bazán and Carmen de Burgos, I suggest that both women subvert male supernatural discursive practices through their unique representations of the vampire metaphor in order to challenge the status of women in literature and society.   
Emilia Pardo Bazán’s “Vampiro” (1901), is a tragic tale that explores the toll that a loveless marriage can take on a young woman. After being given away by her uncle, a priest, fifteen-year old Inesiña believes she is entering a pact that will secure her financial future in exchange for her innocence. The seventy-seven-year old Gayoso, however, has other plans: he wants nothing of her sexually, but he does ask for her to hold him and keep him warm at night. What she does not know, however, is that through these seemingly innocent embraces, he is exploiting her for her energy and youth. Within five years, Inesiña is dead and Gayoso is on the hunt for his next victim. Although this story avoids explicit acts of penetration and blood-sucking, Pardo Bazán clearly uses the vampire metaphor to denounce arranged marriages, especially those involving very young girls. As Carolyn Richardson Durham suggests, “This grotesque short story is a gruesome metaphor for the lives that young women unquestionably surrendered due to the demands of society” (115). By taking the pen and appropriating the vampire figure to express uncertainties related to the female demographic and the private sphere, this short story marks an important turn in modern female authorship.
While the literary vampire was typically used by male authors to support prescribed gender roles and morals, and to secure the stronghold of the nuclear family in accordance with bourgeoisie ideology, the female vampire in literature was a response to the rise of the 19th century woman in the public sphere, which encompassed a fear of female power, economic independence, and sexual experience. Female authors of late Gothic literature, notwithstanding, appropriated the same representations that devalued and stigmatized women in order to draw attention to both their ridiculousness and damaging nature. In Carmen de Burgos’ short novel, La mujer fría (1922), Blanca, the beautiful yet cadaver-like protagonist, evolves from a sexualized object to a subject capable of making her own sexual choices. The story begins in a theater with everyone’s eyes on the mysterious widow who just arrived from Madrid, as if she were the attraction they had come to see. After falling in love with Fernando, the boyfriend of a local girl, Blanca begins to return the gaze and act on her desires; this, in turn, disgusts Fernando, who cannot get past her coldness and stench as he attempts to act on his passion. In the end, he quickly falls out of love with her, leaving Blanca broken-hearted, and, presumably, returns to his younger and less experienced girlfriend. On the surface, the story conforms to decadentist and fin de siècle aesthetics, most especially through its dialogue with artistic and literary representations of the femme fatale and Pre-Raphaelite images of women, but as Robin Ragan suggests, this text breaks with the norms by giving Blanca a gaze and a voice.
Apart from their gothic and decadentist influences, both of these texts can be considered fantastic. While the first-person narrator in “Vampiro,” a townsperson who somehow has access to their bedroom, causes a problem for the reader, Blanca’s mysterious past and the legends that follow her make it difficult for the reader to discern whether her death-like-state is a natural or supernatural phenomenon; that is, an exaggeration or misunderstanding, or something that cannot be explained by the rules that govern our reality. Additionally, both of the stories employ “unmarked narrative voice,” to borrow Maryellen Bieder’s term, meaning a narrator whose gender remains ambivalent, which only furthers the complexities, possibilities, and implications of both.
When considered in relation to each other, these two stories demonstrate a tendency in the feminine fantastic literary tradition to act out male-authored metaphors in order to question women’s place in society and literature; they subvert societal norms, question dominance, and, ultimately, shift power. Whereas “Vampiro” draws attention to the causes of Inesiña’s “sickness,” La mujer fria appropriates the vampire metaphor to focus on the illness itself. In doing so, the latter persuades the reader to sympathize with Otherness, something quite uncommon in fantastic literature of the time. In this way, the text anticipates later productions and shapes a genre that will later encompass Borges’ minotaur and Ocampo’s feminine doubles.

Megan DeVirgilis is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Temple University. She is currently completing her dissertation, which discusses major trends in the evolution of the vampire figure in Spanish and Latin American short narrative that expose economic, political and ideological tensions. Her research interests include Gothic and Fantastic literature in Spain and Latin America, the relationship between ideology and literary production, gender studies, and film studies.

Sarah E. Piña
University of Houston

“The Atlantis Effect: Aquatic Invocations, Spirituality, and the Re(Claiming) Of Women’s Space through the Works and Archives of Lydia Cabrera, Gloria Anzaldúa and tatiana de la tierra”

Though writing and living within different times and places, Cuban ethnographer Lydia Cabrera (1901-1991), Chicana scholar and writer Gloria E. Anzaldúa (1942-2004), and Colombian writer tatiana de la tierra (1966-2012) all three US Latina or Chicana lesbian writers, consistently invoked water, water imagery, feminine and/or queer deities or goddesses associated with water, as well as many creatures of bodies of water in their writings and in their respective archives, crucial for conceptualizations of gender, spirituality, and queer sexualities, ultimately (re)claiming their space vis á vis their texts. In the more extensive exploration, a much closer textual analysis coupled with archival research reveals something deeper: an overlying connection with water and all associated with it in general, part of something I deem the Atlantis Effect, stemming from the feminist literary trope of the Atlantis Paradigm. The space and physical and metaphorical nature of it allow for fluidity on many levels in terms of gender, sexuality, and unhindered, unlimited possibilities and alternative meanings of womanhood as this vast water space is one of women, free from patriarchal prescriptions and limitations. Sometimes explicit, sometimes more indirect, these spiritually feminine-queer aquatic invocations ultimately provided these US Latina and Chicana authors with an agency not available to them on land; decolonialism is inherent to the waters as they cannot be colonized, essentially the ultimate space where woman and more specifically the marginalized queer woman of color is free to develop, heal and nurture her identity on many levels without the restrictions of border/lands. ­This brief discussion, then, departs from this much larger proposal and will center on the authors’, principally Cabrera’s, emphasis on the feminine-queer divine in her life and her texts, as well as her shared spiritual ties with the powerful water deities from the Afro-Cuban religious tradition commonly referred to as Santería.  
Cabrera indeed led a deeply female-centric life as a woman and as a lesbian, and her texts on Afro-Cuban religious practices and folklore—some more creative, others more strictly ethnographic—are very much a reflection of this fact. Herein lies what I propose as the subversion of the male supernatural by way of female writers in Spanish, particularly in part by Lydia Cabrera.  Sylvia Molloy suggests that “the personal experience of Cabrera because of her double marginalization as a woman and as a lesbian brought her to Afro-Cuban folklore and culture, another group that has been marginalized and silenced by the hegemonic patriarchy” (251), something which feeds into precisely what sets Cabrera’s creative and ethnographic texts on Afro-Cuban spirituality and folklore apart from others writing within the same sphere, such as her brother-in-law, the Cuban ethnographer Fernando Ortiz. Furthermore, there is an abundance of confirmation in her published texts and especially her personal collection which show that Cabrera identified with “la Gran Madre,” the Great Mother of the orishas and the goddess of the ocean, Yemayá, who is invoked time and again in her archive.
Indeed, Cabrera highlights the feminine role and its importance in Afro-Cuban culture, particularly in Santería, in the various books she published in her lifetime[1]; this is to say, in her work she emphasizes the importance of the more characteristically feminine orishas and the impact of women in Santería creating later what critic Lynda Hoffman-Jeep has termed a “feminist ethnography,” and at the same time opens a space for what also could be considered queer orishas, animals, and creatures within the Afro-Cuban oral storytelling tradition. To this end, many of her ethnographic works emphasized women and queer subjects— subversive to the field on all accounts— even including homoerotic scenes between the orishas in her most celebrated works such as El monte, a text that has since its publication in 1954 become one a Bible of sorts for Santería practitioners both in Cuba as well as the diaspora, and a book which José Quiroga has notably said “is the queerest text ever written by a Cuban author; the full extent of its queerness can never be exhaustively decoded” (76).[2] 
Upon the incorporation of queer subjects in her works, with a clear emphasis on powerful female Santería deities, Lydia Cabrera found a space of belonging; she derived inspiration and therefore attained an agency otherwise unavailable a marginalized woman herself through her personal and professional connections to Afro-Cuban spirituality. Ultimately, Cabrera’s shared identification with the feminine and queer aspects of it demonstrates how both her texts and archive together form a subversive, destabilizing spiritual-queer counterdiscourse that is at once decolonizing as well as disruptive to heteronormativity and patriarchal hegemony. Afro-Cuban religious tradition informed Cabrera’s work and her life as a Cuban, as a lesbian, and as an ethnographer in great part, as shown in her published texts, and especially her archive, which together have produced some of the most intriguing feminist-queer documents of the 20th century with still much to explore.

Sarah Piña is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Hispanic Studies Department at the University of Houston. She has previously served as Editorial Assistant for Arte Público Press, the nation's largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors, and as Research Assistant for the distinguished Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. She is currently a 2016-2017 Dissertation Completion Fellow at UH where she is completing her dissertation on the lifeworks and archives of lesbian US Latina and Chicana authors titled “The Atlantis Effect: Aquatic Invocations and the Re(Claiming) of Women’s Space through the Works of Lydia Cabrera, Gloria Anzaldúa, and tatiana de la tierra.” A former Cuban Heritage Collection Fellow at the University of Miami, as well as the recipient of several travel fellowships for research in archives and ethnographic work in the US and Cuba, Piña is the author of several publications on the complex and significant ties between Afro-Caribbean spirituality, gender and sexuality in US Hispanic literature, including her most recent chapter titled “Habla Yemayá: El archivo y la etnografía feminista-queer de Lydia Cabrera” in the landmark critical anthology published this past Spring, Nuestro Caribe: Poder, raza y postnacionalismos para dinamitar el archipiélago LGBTQ (Isla Negra Editores, 2016).

[1] Solimar Otero, along with Cuban Studies scholars José Quiroga and Sylvia Molloy, offers a queer perspective regarding Lydia Cabrera in her essay “Yemayá y Ochún: Queering the Vernacular Logics of the Waters” in the anthology she edited, and plants the seed of possibility that this has some connection to the sexual identity of Cabrera as a lesbian, one of the main anchors of this study.

[2] It is interesting to note here that Cabrera is not the only lesbian writer that appeared to dedicate a great part of her work to Yemayá. Otero affirms that “Queer theory also thinks through the shifting manifestations of gender and sexuality within orisa performances…other seminal lesbian and queer women writers, theorists, poets, and activists like Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa [and Cabrera] devoted important sections of their lives’ work specifically to Yemojá (Yemayá)” (xx-xxi).  Building on the recent scholarship of Micaela Díaz-Sánchez, who writes about the aforementioned Anzaldúa and connection to Afro-Cuban religious traditions in her article  “’Yemayá Blew that Wire Fence Down’: Invoking African Spiritualties in Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza and the Mural Art of Juana Alicia,” I expand upon this connection, specifically between Yemayá and Anzaldúa in my essay “Beyond Borderlands: Spiritual Mining and the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, 1949-2004.”