The Power of the Voice: Listening to Mexican and Central American Immigrant Experiences (1997-2010)
Thornton, Megan L.
University of Kansas
Spanish & Portuguese
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This dissertation examines representations of immigrant experiences in Mexican and Central American cultural texts at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries. By examining immigrant experiences through the lenses of testimonial writing, fictional narrative, documentary film, and popular music, this project offers perspectives from multiple interpretive fields and dialogues with recent scholarship on mobility, transnationalism, and border studies. This multi-genre and cultural studies approach allows me to focus on a diverse group of writers and artists who either tell their own immigrant stories or create experience-based narratives by listening to the subaltern and challenging more canonical systems of representation. All of the texts examined here dialogue with Latin America's testimonial tradition, in that they give testimony, often personal and eye-witness accounts, to explore the many social, cultural, political, and individual facets of migration. Moreover, the narratives discussed here use discursive strategies of orality to emphasize the power of voice and, by showcasing immigrant voices, provide a social space for imagining alternative communities that expose "contact zones" in the Americas. Each chapter focuses on a different country and genre to show the convergences and divergences between representations of immigrant experiences. I also discuss reader and audience responses to the different texts by examining reviews and criticisms to better understand the impact of these representations. Chapter 1 draws on debates about testimonio and introduces the theme of orality by looking at the self-representations of Mexican immigrant experiences in the United States in Ramón Tianguis Pérez's Diario de un mojado (2003), J.M. Servín's Por amor al dólar (2006), and Alberto López Fernández's Los perros de Cook Inlet (1998). Chapter 2 examines an aesthetic of orality in postwar fictional narratives about Salvadoran immigrant experiences through close readings of Horacio Castellanos Moya's El asco (1997), Mario Bencastro's Odisea del Norte (1999), and Claudia Hernández's short story "La han despedido de nuevo" from her collection Olvida uno (2005). Chapter 3 focuses on the performance of affect and orality in four documentaries about Nicaraguan experiences in Costa Rica, thus presenting different perspectives on the less studied phenomenon of intra-regional migration. Chapter 4 ties together the histories, encounters, and communities discussed in the previous chapters by listening to transnational musical representations of Mexican, Salvadoran, and Nicaraguan immigrant experiences. The influence of the Mexican corrido and Latin America's nueva canción are considered in my analysis of the music, lyrics, and audiences of a variety of artists, including the Mexican norteño ensemble Los Tigres del Norte, the Salvadoran group Tex Bronco, and the Nicaraguan singer-songwriter Flor Urbina. Finally, my conclusion sets the stage for future work on representations of immigrant experiences to better understand the movements and migrations that continue to foster encounters between different cultures throughout the Americas and the world.
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