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Autres voix, autres témoignages. Les femmes et la conquête de nouveaux territoires

Narrative Power From the Metaphor of Witnessing: Written Testimonio by Ethnic Groups

Le pouvoir de la narration et la métaphore du témoignage : le testimonio écrit des communautés ethniques
Maria Antonia Alvarez
p. 183-194

Résumé

Des traces des expériences vécues par les Mexicains vivant aux États-Unis se retrouvent dans leurs textes autobiographiques, qui transforment l’histoire personnelle en permanence textuelle. Le Je narratif s’enferme dans un langage d’identité topographique et de pratique culturelle. Il en va ainsi des mémoires, journaux et lettres. Ces vies broyées, partiellement perdues à la marge de la page, restent suspendues jusqu’à ce que le lecteur ouvre le livre et lise. Il est temps de redécouvrir ces récits autobiographiques dont l’émergence remonte aux années qui ont suivi l’annexion d’une partie du Nord du Mexique par les États-Unis, après 1848. Ce travail envisage d’étudier la nouvelle « My Name » de Sandra Cisneros et de démontrer comment, en utilisant de nouvelles formes littéraires, les « chicanos » se sont construit une identité individuelle et non plus fondue dans une masse.

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Entrées d’index

Index chronologique :

XXe siècle, 20th century
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Texte intégral

1Ethnic American autobiography is a form of cross cultural literature that, despite its problematic nature, deserves scrutiny and comprehension. These memoirs express meaning and value, and the methodology is rooted in ethnographic practice; thus it is useful to look at the institutional influence that has shaped and still shapes ethnic American personal narrative in order to understand why this process and form of personal and cultural expression is so hard to access, since autobiographers present through their discourse the definition of their own rights. These written lives are generally first person narration of socially and collectively significant experiences in which the narrative voice of a witness or a protagonist—who metonymically represents other individuals or groups—recounts the experiences, the situations or the circumstances they have lived through, which are similar to others of the same group.

  • 1  Some critics have argued that Americans like autobiography because it reinforces some of the value (...)

2The study of ethnic American autobiography is a growing area; different groups of writers continue to create new texts, as The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups shows. Writers from almost every generation of different ethnic cultures have left a record of their experiences, and the life stories provided by these writers present images of America that cannot be duplicated, because their memoirs are captured at a specific moment in time and from different perspectives. In a culture formed from a variety of backgrounds and traditions, there are a great number of stories telling us what it means to be an American1: from the slave narratives, which reach their culmination in the colonial spiritual memoirs of the Puritan and Quaker narratives, to the modern ethnic American texts of the self.

  • 2  Deborah E. Reed-Danahay (ed.), Autoethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social. Oxford: Berg, 1 (...)
  • 3 Ibid, 22.

3These memoirs are classified as autoethnography by Debora E. Reed-Danahay, a term she defines as “a form of self-narrative that places the self within a social context. It is both a method and a text, as in the case of ethnography”2, such texts can be written by authors who place the story of their lives within a story of the social context in which they occur, differs from the more standard approach in which the writer separates his life from any social constraints. Autoethnographers create “intercultural texts giving authority to subaltern voices through the testimonio genre” in order to “demonstrate their resistance and gain their narrative power from the metaphor of witnessing”3.

  • 4  Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970, 168.

4A good example is African-Americans’ memoirs, which are written as a weapon to help their ethnic group. From the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and the Reverend James Pennington to Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, autobiography has been chosen by American blacks to tell their experiences and struggles as members of their community in order to solve what Angelou calls “the humourless puzzle of inequality and hate”4. Each individual testimonio evokes an absent polyphony of other voices, other possible lives and experiences, as in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, where the compelling relationship between literacy and the liberation of African-Americans is presented. The battle to achieve literacy in order to fight against slavery was the first stage of Douglass’s freedom from bondage; in fact, an ability to read and write was instrumental in his plans to escape to the North. As in Richard Wright’s Black Boy (American Hunger) the central theme is hunger not only for food, affection, justice, and knowledge, but for words, which have the power to confer proper identity.

  • 5  Albert E. Stone, “Modern American Autobiography: Texts and Transactions”, in Eakin, Paul John (ed. (...)
  • 6  See Herbert Leibowitz’s Fabricating Lives: Explorations in American Autobiography, where he invest (...)

5A distinctive cultural association between language and liberation is also found in autobiographies by Harriet Jacobs, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X, who try to help black people through the autobiographical discourse. Perhaps the most important act of the Black Muslim preacher’s life was telling his story, the force of which derives from a concatenation of circumstances which have made the readers change “their feelings about race, violence, religion, and global politics, permanently affected by it. This hypothesis, though based on twenty years’ experience in predominantly white classrooms, does not mean that black readers respond like white readers or that women of whatever race can ignore Malcolm X’s misogyny and his belated efforts to overcome it”5. By virtue of their collective testimonio, reproducing but also creatively reordering historical events, such autobiographies project a vision of life and society in need of transformation6.  

Feminine discourse as a reaction to the silence imposed upon women

6Women autobiographers see their writing as an assertion of female identity: they have always remained culturally silenced, and denied the authority to name themselves and their own desires. Since traditional autobiography has functioned as one of those forms and languages that sustain sexual difference, the woman who writes autobiography is estranged because she approaches her storytelling as one who speaks from the margins of autobiographical discourse. Being one who is on the outskirts of the prevailing culture, she brings to her project a particularly troubled relationship with her reader. She knows the price women pay for public self-disclosure: the readings she receives from the public have the power to make her reputation.

7The climate for women writers has not been congenial for centuries, since their inferiority demanded silence in a society dominated by males. When we approach Charlotte F. Otten’s anthology of women writers’ autobiographies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we see from different angles the negation of female identity. This collection of self-writing focuses on the actual lives of women. Their unheard but vibrant voices in accounts which do not contain fictional writing—diaries, autobiographies, letters, etc.—published in their own time and then buried under a heap of male writing, now become the necessary background for the twentieth century reader’s consciousness. Moreover, the comprehensive bibliography at the end of the anthology shows the great number of women writers who contributed to the development of the society in which they lived.

8Given that education was closed to female students in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it is surprising to note the plea for education beyond domesticity uttered by Bathsua Makin in her Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen, in Religion, Manners, Arts & Tongues (1673). Merely to teach gentlewomen to frisk and dance, to paint their faces, to curl their hair, to put on a whisk, to wear gay clothes, is seen as not truly adorning, but adulterating their bodies and (what is worse) defiling their souls. This—like Circe’s cup—turns them into beasts.

  • 7  Charlotte F. Otten (ed.),English Women’s Voices, 1540-1700. Miami: Florida International Universit (...)

9Although most women writers who appear in this anthology were educated as specified above, Makin insisted that women had to learn languages, since the tongue is the only weapon with which women may defend themselves, and they needed to use it dexterously. She herself was fluent in many languages, tutor to the daughter of King Charles I and founder of a school for girls where the curriculum began with learning Latin and French and further included Greek and Hebrew, Italian and Spanish. Nevertheless, many of the women writers—as Charlotte F. Otten affirms in the Introduction—“continued their private education by self-instruction: in the midst of their domestic life they read and they wrote. Writing became for them, and for their female readers, a path of knowledge that ran parallel to the road of education for males. Writing became an education in itself”7.

  • 8  Felicity A. Nussbaum, The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth-Century Engl (...)

10Moreover, Felicity A. Nussbaum, in her expounding of the autobiographical subject in order to assert female identity, makes it possible for a feminist to address the problems of analyzing the representation of the self during particular historical moments, by asking herself whether women’s autobiography, “constituting a separate tradition from men’s, may be thought of as the problem of women’s studies in miniature”8. Nussbaum analyzes different feminist answers in an attempt to develop a distinctive voice that reflects women’s historical situation and their exclusion from universal categories of human nature. She examines Elaine Showalter, Alice Jardine and also the contemporary psychoanalytic theories of identity—notably those of Freud and Lacan—concluding with her own interpretation:

  • 9 Ibid, 132.

Theories that speak about women’s voices must be grounded in particular and local instances of autobiographical writing within a systematic theory, provisionally held and subject to critique, if we are to avoid the generalizations that contribute to a gendered oppression by insisting that writing emerges from biological difference9.

11In fact, women’s self-writing escapes universal categorization and is subject to ideology that shifts and changes with time, while patriarchy is “a historical, rather than a natural, category that is complexly knotted into the economic and political” (135). In the dramatic passages of her text, where Nussbaum speaks directly to her reader about the process of constructing her life story, she reveals her degree of self-consciousness about her position as a woman writing in an andocentric genre. She is always absorbed in a dialogue with her reader, that other through whom she is working so as to identify herself and to justify her decision to write about herself in a genre that was originally the preserve of man.

12Tacitly accepting the fiction of women, including the story of cultural inferiority, accepting the place on stage, not as Eve, but as Adam, man himself is reassured as to the legitimacy of the structures and the stories he perpetuates to define himself, including autobiography itself. Therefore, to leave womanhood behind and to speak with that kind of authority is to risk undermining the values and the privileges the writer can expect as an ideal woman. Potentially more damaging, however, is the threat from within. The voice of her repressed sexuality and her uneasy denial of the maternal inheritance may disrupt the figure of male-identified selfhood. Betrayed in the narrative are dramatic and imaginary patterns of life revealing an alternative and private story that qualifies and sometimes even subverts the authorized and public version of herself. That suppressed story may, in its very silence, begin to drown out the assurances of the story she thinks is telling.

  • 10  Domna C. Stanton (ed.), The Female Autograph. New York: New York Literary Forum, 1984, 15.

13Domna C. Stanton, seeking a distinctive feminist perspective on autobiography and constituting a new female subject, names women’s writing of the self autogynography, concluding that “in a phallocentric system, which defines her as the object, the inessential other to the same male subject—that The Second Self had proved beyond a doubt—the graphing of the auto was an act of self-assertion that denied and reversed woman’s status. It represented the conquest of identity through writing. Creating the subject, an autograph gave the female I substance through the inscription of an interior and an anterior”10.

  • 11  For Trev Lynn Broughton, “[t]he challenge offered by women’s autobiography is precisely in this co (...)
  • 12  Martha Watson, Lives of their Own. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998, 3.

14The inventiveness and originality of women’s autobiographies in the history of the genre and the source of their fate at the hands of traditionally minded critics—those arbiters of the symbolic order and its ideology of gender—lie in that very attempt to reconcile sometimes irreconcilable readings of the self, to sustain and to subvert comfortable fictions11. They lie in that quarrel with one kind of significance or the other and, as many previous scholars have noted, women have traditionally written their lives differently from men both in form and in substance. Often uncomfortable with the assertiveness necessary to write an autobiography for publication, women have turned to diaries or other less public forms to record their life stories. So, one notable fact about the autobiographies is that they exist at all. These women overcame the reticence often typical of their gender to write about their lives; the mere act of their writing distinguishes them from many of their predecessors and contemporaries. Some feminist critics have claimed that women do not so much record their lives as write themselves into existence. As Martha Watson states: “women wrote their autobiographies because of the roles that they played in efforts for women’s rights, concerned with their place in history. They reflect the importance of gender, the concern for womanliness12.

15Some women’s efforts to depict themselves as womanly women and to fit themselves into prevailing social stereotypes at least to some extent, raise the question of whether only conventional women can be persuasive. Certainly, audiences are moved to action by persons they see as like themselves; conventionality may therefore be a rhetorical strategy, but defiant individuals may reach audiences beyond their own time. They may become part of the process of social change and may, in the longer term, have tremendous impact on attitudes and social customs.

  • 13  According to Vicent Newey and Philip Shaw, “the story of Victorian women’s struggle with tradition (...)

16Female autobiographers present through feminine discourse the struggle of women in a patriarchal society: women’s emancipation from the male definition of their rights. These women do not reveal the submissiveness often urged as appropriate for their gender; they reveal their assertiveness and sense of self, although their confrontations are limited almost entirely to their activities in the public sphere13. In fact, in their lives these women enact various new models of femininity that suggest a much wider range for the definition of womanly virtue. A good example is The Awakening, by Kate Chopin where she talks about her own ideas about feminism.

  • 14  Suzanne Nalbantian, Aesthetic Autobiography: From Life to Art in Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virgi (...)

17Women writers know that writing is the only way to defend themselves, so they need to use it well to assert their female identity in an attempt to develop a distinctive voice that reflects women’s historical situation and their exclusion from patriarchal patterns. A notable example is Virginia Woolf. Before writing her short story A Room of One’s Own, she was developing her own ideas about feminism, and, not being satisfied with the image of herself as a model for the new woman, she tried to experiment with the androgynous figure in Orlando, whose source was Woolf’s beloved aristocratic friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. Here, according to Nalbantian, “what began as a mock biography of a living loved one became a serious questioning of the status of the twentieth-century intelligent, liberated woman”14. In this way, through writing autobiographical fiction, Virginia Woolf succeeded in governing—at least temporarily—her own obsessions, converting them into art.

The definition of home and space15 in Cisneros’s autobiography

  • 15  See David McCooey’s Artful Histories, where he develops the concept of place, which he considers f (...)

18Woolf influenced Sandra Cisneros, in her autobiographical novel The House on Mango Street, where she presents a girl who fights to build a house of her own. Little has been written about the formation of autobiography in Chicano culture. It is as though individual Mexican Americans had never put their lives on paper, but had lived and then disappeared from history without a trace. Chicanas have been silenced not only by the grave but by political transformation, social dispossession, cultural rupture, and linguistic alienation.

  • 16  For Paul John Eakin, “in immigrant autobiography, no less than in the slave narrative and Native A (...)

19The traces of Mexican Americans’ lives reside in autobiographical narratives that transform life history into textual permanence16: memoirs so long out of print that they have almost been forgotten; social and cultural histories in which the I encloses itself in a language of topographic identity, cultural practice and political intrigue; diaries, family histories, personal poetry, and collections of self-disclosing correspondence. Lives are scattered on broken pages, faded, partially lost in the margins, suspended in language unread until someone opens the file and begins. We must initiate a recovery of that autobiographical formation which emerged after 1848, the year a vast part of Northern Mexico was annexed by the United States in a war of conquest.

  • 17  Renato Rodaldo, “Fables of the Fallen Guy”, in Calderon, H. and J.D. Zaldivar (eds.), Criticism in (...)

20“My Name”, from Sandra Cisneros’s short story collection House on Mango Street, exemplifies the experimentation and achievement of recent Chicana narrative. In trying new forms, according to Renato Rodaldo, “Chicana writers have developed a fresh vision of self and society; they have opened an alternative cultural space, a heterogeneous world, within which their protagonists no longer act as unified subjects, yet remain confident of their identities. Moving through a world laced with poverty, violence and danger, [the narrator and young heroine] Esperanza acts assertive and playful: she thrives, not just survives”17.

  • 18 Aranda Pilar E. Rodríguez, “On the Solitary Fate of Being Mexican, Female, Wicked and Thirty-three: (...)
  • 19  As a consequence of the Chicana intervention into the regional South Texas tradition of geopolitic (...)
  • 20  Aranda Pilar E. Rodríguez, op.cit., 68.

21As Sandra Cisneros explains in “On the Solitary Fate of Being Mexican”, she guessed that as Mexican daughters they were not supposed to have their own house: “We keep our father’s house and then he hands us over to our husband’s”18. For this reason, in The House on Mango Street, Esperanza—a girl who believes in and hopes for a better life—enlarges and reconstructs Virginia Woolf’s room of her own to make enough space to face the challenge of being poor and Mexican19. Being a girl made her invisible at times to her brothers—her older brothers soon paired off, as did the two brothers born after her, and the twin boys born after them—because “these three sets of men had their own conspiracies and allegiances, leaving me odd-woman forever”20.

22As she wrote about the dreams of her neighbourhood and family, she also began to realize her own dream of becoming a writer, not just of her people but for her people:

  • 21  Sandra Cisneros, “Notes to a Young(er) Writer”. The Americas Review, n°15, 1987, 74.

I don’t know when I first said to myself I am going to be a writer. Perhaps that first day my mother took me to the public library when I was five, or perhaps again when I was in high school and my English teacher forced me to read a poem out loud and I became entranced with the sounds, or perhaps when I enrolled in that creative writing class in college, not knowing it would lead to other creative writing workshops and graduate school. Perhaps21.

  • 22 Ibid, 76.
  • 23  Aranda Pilar E. Rodríguez, op.cit., 66.

23In “Notes to a Young(er) Writer”, she recognized that she had a responsibility to her community, since she was “the first woman in my family to pick up a pen and record what I see around me, a woman who has the power to speak and is privileged enough to be heard”22. That responsibility included both recording what was and what could be, how people around her lived and how they should live: “I felt, as a teenager, that I could not inherit my culture intact without revising some parts of it”, she added23. Straddling two cultures actually enriched her life in many ways; as a child, though, she felt mostly like an outsider who did not really fit in anywhere. It was not until her school years, when she began reading and writing, that she found ways to bridge the distance between Mexico and America by herself.

24Although Cisneros probably did not know it at the time, in her reconstruction of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One´s Own, the sketches about growing up female in the barrio would become her memoirs, since the short vignettes of life she captured were to form the manuscript of The House on Mango Street, her first book, begun in 1978 and not published until 1984. This autobiographical novel marked the blooming of an enduring writer, and with it she won the Before Colombus Award (an award given to an outstanding book by or about a minority). The popularity of its third printing in 1987 took her back to the barrio and eventually enabled her to travel the world and, years later, to buy her own house. Sandra Cisneros began to write the type of stories that she wanted to read—stories about people she knew and had cared about all her life. She led readers through the barrio always dreaming of a real house, one with “stairs, several bathrooms, and a big yard full of trees and grass”. The simple language and vivid descriptions of where she lived enabled her to speak to others who also grew up not knowing what having a rented house meant. Both the fictional Esperanza and the real Sandra, who had found the home of their hearts, could fulfil their promise to return and speak for the family and friends in the Mango Street they had left behind. And she returns again in her last autobiographical novel Caramelo or Puro Cuento (2002), where she emphasizes the universal by pointing to the particular. Even though the plot may be about a single Mexican clan, the Reyes family and their American dream, she aims it to be about the millions who “leave their homes and cross borders illegally” all over the world.

25This, in short, means that Chicana autobiographers desire the power, authority, and voice of men. They do not accept the silenced life demanded of most women. They have energy, intelligence, courage, and all these come through their texts. They are products of the outsiders who desire access to the father country. As such they offer fascinating and complex examples of the problematic negotiation of maternal and paternal narratives. They reveal the problems posed by the autobiographers’ engagement with the ideological voice of female difference and with the generic contract of autobiography that is forcefully androcentric.

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Bibliographie

Related and cited works

Angelou, Maya, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970.

Broughton, Trev Lynn and Anderson, Linda R., Women’s Lives/Women’s Times: New Essays on Auto/biography. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Challener, Daniel D., Stories of Resilience in Childhood. New York: Garland Pub., 1997.

Cisneros, Sandra, “Notes to a Younger Writer”. The Americas Review n°15, 1987, 74-76.

Cisneros, Sandra, The House on Mango Street. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995 (1984).

Cisneros, Sandra, Caramelo or Puro Cuento. A novel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Eakin, Paul John (ed.), American Autobiography: Retrospect and Prospect. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

Kaup, Monica, Rewriting North American Borders in Chicano and Chicana Narrative. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.

Leibowitz, Herbert, Fabricating Lives: Explorations in American Autobiography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

Makin, Bathsua, Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen in Religion Manners, Arts and Tongues. New York: AMS Press, 1976 (1673).

McCooey, David, Artful Histories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Nalbantian, Suzanne, Aesthetic Autobiography: From Life to Art in Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Anaïs Nin. London: Macmillan, 1994.

Newey, Vincent and Shaw, Philip (eds.), Mortal Pages, Literary Lives: Studies in Nineteenth-century Autobiography. Andershot: Scholar Press, 1996.

Nussbaum, Felicity A., The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth-Century England. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1990.

Otten, Charlotte F. (ed.), English Women’s Voices, 1540-1700. Miami: Florida International University Press, 1992.

Reed-Danahay, Deborah E. (ed.), Autoethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social. Oxford: Berg, 1997.

Rodaldo, Renato, “Fables of the Fallen Guy”, in Calderon, H. and J.D. Zaldivar (eds.), Criticism in the Borderlands. Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture and Ideology. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1991, 84-99.

Rodríguez, Aranda Pilar E., “On the Solitary Fate of Being Mexican, Female, Wicked and Thirty-three: An Interview with Writer Sandra Cisneros”, The Americas Review n°18:1, 1990, 65-76.

Stanton, Domna C. (ed.), The Female Autograph. New York: New York Literary Forum, 1984.

Stone, Albert E., “Modern American Autobiography: Texts and Transactions”, in Eakin, Paul John (ed.), American Autobiography: Retrospect and Prospect. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991, 95-120.

Thernstrom, Stephan, The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1980.

Watson, Martha, Lives of their Own. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1957 (1929).

Wright, Richard, Black Boy (American Hunger). New York: Library of America, 1991.

X, Malcolm, with the assistance of Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992 (1965).

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Notes

1  Some critics have argued that Americans like autobiography because it reinforces some of the values that they hold most dearly: independence and individualism. For Challener, it is “the deep desire of many Americans to get ahead” because after Colonial days, “financial and personal success (measured by money, power and status) have been goals of many Americans”. Since the Autobiography of Ben Franklin, “most Americans have been fascinated with the ‘facts of autobiography’ because they believe these facts will help them succeed in the competitive culture of the United States”, Daniel Challener, Stories of Resilience in Childhood. New York: Garland Pub., 1997, 12.

2  Deborah E. Reed-Danahay (ed.), Autoethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social. Oxford: Berg, 1997, 9.

3 Ibid, 22.

4  Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970, 168.

5  Albert E. Stone, “Modern American Autobiography: Texts and Transactions”, in Eakin, Paul John (ed.), American Autobiography: Retrospect and Prospect. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991, 101.

6  See Herbert Leibowitz’s Fabricating Lives: Explorations in American Autobiography, where he investigates how “[r]acial conflict has caused a permanent fissure in the American mind, and black autobiography living insecurely on its dangerous fault lines has recorded the seismic shocks assiduously”, Herbert Leibowitz, Fabricating Lives: Explorations in American Autobiography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989, 269.

7  Charlotte F. Otten (ed.),English Women’s Voices, 1540-1700. Miami: Florida International University Press, 1992, 6.

8  Felicity A. Nussbaum, The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth-Century England. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1990, 129.

9 Ibid, 132.

10  Domna C. Stanton (ed.), The Female Autograph. New York: New York Literary Forum, 1984, 15.

11  For Trev Lynn Broughton, “[t]he challenge offered by women’s autobiography is precisely in this complex weave between the metaphorical—the figures and products of writing—and their literal ground or reference. Like other recent feminist critics of autobiography, then, we perceive danger in theory’s tendency to generalise about the subject, to disenfranchise the bios, the lived element of autobiography, and thus drown out the multiple voices of women’s autobiography through the iteration of its own theme”, Trev Lynn Broughton and Linda Anderson, Women’s Lives/Women’s Times: New Essays on Auto/biography. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997, xi.

12  Martha Watson, Lives of their Own. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998, 3.

13  According to Vicent Newey and Philip Shaw, “the story of Victorian women’s struggle with traditional forms of authorial identity is one of self-counteraction. Upon entering the public sphere, the woman autobiographer assumes the adventurous posture of man; and in doing this she represses the mother in her, perpetuating the political, social and textual disempowerment of mothers and daughters”, Vincent Newey and Philip Shaw (eds.), Mortal Pages, Literary Lives: Studies in Nineteenth-century Autobiography. Andershot: Scholar Press, 1996, 9.

14  Suzanne Nalbantian, Aesthetic Autobiography: From Life to Art in Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Anaïs Nin. London: Macmillan, 1994, 167.

15  See David McCooey’s Artful Histories, where he develops the concept of place, which he considers fundamental “to individuals’ understanding of themselves, both personally and interpersonally; it is not a neutral category but a historical and cultural one”. For him there are three main types of place in order to explore the personal and inter-personal aspects: “the house, the garden and the nation’s place in the world. The house is set above nature and can metonymically stand for the family (what delivers him away from nature). Place represents the past, through its loss or change, as well as the immutability of the imaginary image, and is thus essential to an understanding of autobiography”, David McCooey, Artful Histories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, 137.

16  For Paul John Eakin, “in immigrant autobiography, no less than in the slave narrative and Native American autobiography, the impress of the dominant culture’s models of self and life story is central and profound, for the freedom from the authorizing discipline imposed by the collaborative relation proves to be only partial. As they sought through assimilation to make themselves over as Americans, immigrants and immigrant autobiographers transformed the principle of identification itself, of Americanness, for good. Ethnic autobiography can be interpreted as an act of higher criticism and an instrument of cultural construction that led to the creation of new American types and new narrative perspectives, equally subject to the fires of the melting-pot ”, op.cit., 9.

17  Renato Rodaldo, “Fables of the Fallen Guy”, in Calderon, H. and J.D. Zaldivar (eds.), Criticism in the Borderlands. Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture and Ideology. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995, 85.

18 Aranda Pilar E. Rodríguez, “On the Solitary Fate of Being Mexican, Female, Wicked and Thirty-three: An Interview with Writer Sandra Cisneros”, The Americas Review n°18:1, 1990, 73.

19  As a consequence of the Chicana intervention into the regional South Texas tradition of geopolitical resistance, Monica Kaup argues that “Chicana writers have redesigned the built infrastructure of the Chicano homeland as a way of eliminating patriarchal domestic structures of domination. The fragmentation of spatial unity results from the domestic situation in which women are strangers in their fathers’ and husbands’ houses”, Monica Kaup, Rewriting North American Borders in Chicano and Chicana Narrative. New York: Peter Lang, 2001, 224.

20  Aranda Pilar E. Rodríguez, op.cit., 68.

21  Sandra Cisneros, “Notes to a Young(er) Writer”. The Americas Review, n°15, 1987, 74.

22 Ibid, 76.

23  Aranda Pilar E. Rodríguez, op.cit., 66.

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Maria Antonia Alvarez, « Narrative Power From the Metaphor of Witnessing: Written Testimonio by Ethnic Groups », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. II - n°4 | 2004, 183-194.

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Maria Antonia Alvarez, « Narrative Power From the Metaphor of Witnessing: Written Testimonio by Ethnic Groups », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. II - n°4 | 2004, mis en ligne le 03 novembre 2009, consulté le 18 octobre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2942 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.2942

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Maria Antonia Alvarez

Professor (Madrid, Spain)
Maria Antonia Alvarez is an Emeritus Professor at the Faculty of Philology in Madrid. She teaches two post-graduate courses: “Henry James’s Experimental Novel” and “Translation and Literary Languages”. She has published several articles on American literature, more specifically on Henry James (for example “Henry James’s fiction as a turning point between convention and modernity”, en Do esplendor na relva. Elites e cultura comum de expressâo inglesa. Lisboa: E. Cosmos, pp. 473-80, 2000), and on Mexican–American literature (“Diversidad cultural de la literatura norteamericana: Representación del tema religioso en el discurso de las escritoras chicanas”, in Aspects of Culture, Elizabeth Woodward (ed.), La Coruña: Tórculo, pp. 25-36, 2002).

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