Este espacio es de carácter personal, ya que para mí es lo que antes se nominaba "poste restante", esto es, un sitio de correos donde quedaba la correspondencia, o avisos, hasta que alguien llegaba a reclamar. Deposito en él lo mío y de otros que sospecho puede interesar a más de dos. Julio Escoto.
22 mayo, 2014
Ethnicity, Oral Tradition, and the Processed Word:
Construction of a National Identity in Honduras
In a conversation from Julio
Escoto’s Rey del albor. Madrugada (1993)
between two eighteenth-century fictitious characters, the Miskito leader Don Robinson
and the criolla settler Aurelina, the young woman pities the miserable lot of the
indigenous tribes of what is today the Honduran north coast: “Son el pueblo más
pobre de la tierra” (269). Don Robinson rejects her sympathy and, instead, affirms
the proud identity and independence of his community: “Pero somos eso pueblo!, pueblo!, pueblo con historia y orgullo, nación con raza, reino con
límites y jefes y leyes y tradición” (269). His affirmation summarizes the central
preoccupation of Escoto’s novel and that of two other recent texts from Honduras’s
Garífuna (Black Carib) community, La Bahía
del Puerto del Sol y La masacre de los
Garífunas de San Juan (1994), a testimony by Víctor Virgilio López García, and
Loubavagu: el otro lado lejano (1980),
a “crónica teatral musicalizada” by Rafael Murilloselva Rendón. That preoccupation is the will toward an inclusive nationhood
and the construction of a national identity.
While the Miskito expresses
confidence in knowing who he is, other groups within the same national space are
not so self-assured. Escoto’s panorama of transplanted characters, from the black
slaves and criollos of the past to today’s uprooted and socially marginalized sectors,
repeatedly ask, “Quiénes somos?” The Garífuna texts similarly attempt to self-define.
The overarching context is the nation itself which, amidst the efforts of various
ethnic peoples to reconstruct their histories and thereby their identities, is also
rediscovering itself through Escoto’s project. The questions this paper addresses
are threefold: How is this national identity constructed? What does the construct
look like? What role does ethnicity play?
For my purposes I will use R.
A. Schermerhorn’s definition of an ethnic group:
An ethnic group is... a collectivity within a larger
society having real or putative common ancestry, memories of a shared historical
past, and a cultural focus on one or more symbolic elements defined as the epitome
of their peoplehood. Examples of such symbolic elements are: kinship patterns, physical
contiguity (as in localism or sectionalism), religious affiliation, language or
dialect forms, tribal affiliation, nationality, phenotypal features, or any combination
of these. A necessary accompaniment is some consciousness of kind among members
of the group (cited in Sollors 1981, 262).
Although I do not equate ethnicity
with race, for the present study I will follow Sollors who classifies race as an
aspect of ethnicity (1986, 39).
The three texts present a contemporary
Honduran reality which is, descriptively, poly-ethnic and plural and, prescriptively,
inclusive. That is to say, while acknowledging the time-honored ideal of mestizaje
in Latin America, the writers do not pretend that such a harmonious fusion has been
achieved (Cyrus 31), nor that one biological “raza cósmica” is even desirable. Mestizaje
represents an acceptable dynamic but not a universal goal. Our texts document historical
abuse after abuse of people of “too much color” in what Stanley A. Cyrus calls a
pigmentocratic society, or a “mestizocracy” (30).
In exposing the objectification
of so many of their fellow countrymen by a few white (or “light”) elites, the authors
denounce the immorality of the legacy of conquest and colonialism. Such “minority
discourse,” as J. B. Kubayanda calls it, which emanates from the margin or the periphery,
poses collective questions of identity and purpose beginning with the basic “Who
are we?”, proceeding to the consideration of victimization in “What have
we done [to deserve this]?” and “What has been done to us?” and on
to an active subjectivity which wonders “What can we do?” and “Where are
we going?” (1987, 116).
For Escoto, López García, and
Murilloselva Rendón, subjectivity or agency involves staking one’s claim to equal
participation within the nation and to the full benefits of citizenship. They envision
a post-modern, democratic, multi-cultural society of blacks, Indians, mestizos,
and whites who unite spiritually under the blessings of nationhood. While ethnicity
marks difference, the nation transcends these differences and promotes unity.
Foucault has called attention
to the “nation-centredness of the post-colonial world” and to the role of imaginative
literature being produced there in creation of a national consciousness. The nation,
for him, is a “discursive formation” (Brennan 47).
It is apparent in both Garífuna texts and in the
Escoto novel that the narration of ethnic roots and important historical events
answers the question, “Who are we?” Without this information there is no identity.
A narrative binds complete strangers who share a national space, and “in the minds
of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson 15). Both Mariátegui and Benedict
Anderson have described this community as “imagined.”
Nevertheless, it grounds citizens
in a common enterprise. The nation is literally “saved by the book,” writes Boelhower
(342). Ethnic groups, formed on bonds of descent—to follow Sollors’s model—forge
relationships of consent with other groups within the poly-ethnic nation. Ethnicity
helps define the nation space from within; opposition to U.S. hegemony defines it
from without and is, in fact, a compelling reason for disparate groups to unite.
López García’s testimony, La Bahía del Puerto del Sol, documents a
crime perpetrated against his Garífuna ancestors by the supporters of the dictator
Tiburcio Carías and his Partido Nacional. (The historicity of this massacre is documented
in Los negros caribes de Honduras by Ruy
Galvaho; the first edition was published in 1948, and a second edition is currently
prepared by Guaymuras in Tegucigalpa.) The testimony can be read as the recovery
of a collective memory of the Black Caribs and, at the same time, a deconstruction
of a political discourse from the National Party which was anything but “national.”
This nation officially sanctioned the killing of its own citizens. Through transcribed
interviews with eyewitnesses, press releases, official letters, municipal certificates,
and photographs, López García recounts the 1937 massacre of a dozen Garífuna leaders
in the coastal town of San Juan near Tela. Noting that Honduran
historians have omitted any reference to the event, he states that he has gathered
“los acontecimientos más trascendentales de la vida de los Garífunas” (17) and hopes
that “en algo haya podido yo aportar en dar a conocer la historia de nuestro país”
At the same time that he describes
the tragic events of March 12, 1937, López García inserts descriptions of ancestral
customs and chapters of Garífuna history—his people migrated to Honduras in 1798
after they were forced to leave their home on San Vicente Island (Yurumei). He applauds the fact that the Garífunas of the current generation have aggressively
maintained their ethnic identity “que es lo más admirable en esta etnia que no se
olvida de sus costumbres, lengua, en fin, de sus tradiciones heredadas de sus ancestros...
Siguen resistiendo a la presión social” (76). They have resisted acculturation.
His worldview is Manichean,
the Garífunas on the side of virtue, “siempre hospitalario y generoso... siempre...
de cordialidad y cooperación” (42, 44), and their opponents—be they Cariístas, Nacionalistas,
ladinos, or greedy entrepreneurs from United Fruit who violated the Constitution
of the Republic and human rights (55)—on the side of evil. The testimony either
dehumanizes the enemy, “los lobos hambrientos con ansias de devorar carne humana”
(55), or repeatedly labels them as “asesinos,” “verdugos,” and “bárbaros.” In poignant imagery which illustrates the magnitude of their suffering, López
García explains that even Nature sided with the Garífunas in 1937: “Los pájaros
se ocultaban, las hojas de los esbeltos cocoteros se entristecieron y las olas del
mar se resistían a ser escuchadas” (61), in solidarity with the widows of San Juan
and saddened “que un vil foráneo regara el suelo moreno de una etnia que se resistía
ante una sociedad llena de odio que demostraba a las claras su actitud racista”
(61-2). Perhaps the most pernicious
crime against the nation is the racism of certain sectors against others. For that
reason, the choice of the word “foráneo” is particularly noteworthy because it suggests
that those who practice racism and hatred do not deserve to be called “nationals.”
Their bigotry is unhuman and unnatural and, therefore, has dishonored the nation.
To illustrate the case that
Garífunas are worthy subjects of the nation, López García recalls their past and
present loyalty to Honduran patriots and causes—they fought for independence “con
mucha valentía y eficiencia” (25) on the side of Francisco Morazán; they supported
Liberal president Villeda Morales whose brief tenure from 1957 to 1963 offered “un
nuevo amanecer” and hope for marginalized people (76); and now 98% of Garífunas
consider themselves Catholic, the religion of the majority of Hondurans (Rivas 274);
and many Garífunas participate actively within the political structures of the country
(mostly as “Liberales”) rather than organizing alternative parties or fomenting
revolution. Their only resistance, according to this testimony, has been cultural.
It is not clear from the text
why López García waited so long to tell the Garífuna story. The form of testimonio
has been practiced widely in Central America for several decades. Perhaps the author
was waiting for a more favorable political climate to publish his work.
By the date of publication,
1994, a Liberal government was again installed in Honduras. Knowing the Garífunas’—or
at least López García’s—strong bias for the Liberal Party and tradition of working
within the system, it seems reasonable to conclude that politics may have played
a part. Even with this “Liberal opening,” perhaps López García still exercised great
caution and sensitivity, as many Afro-Hispanic writers must do in a white-dominated
society, according to Stanley Cyrus: “Many of these writers have commented that
they run the risk of loss of recognition, career opportunities, ‘particular comforts’
and ‘friends’ if they assert their Africanity or forcefully decry the social system”
(31). Working from the inside may have come at a sacrifice and dictated compromise.
Unlike La Bahía del Puerto del Sol, the Garífuna musical chronical Loubavagu, which contains a scene memorializing
the victims of the San Juan massacre, debuted in 1980 when Liberals had returned
to power after an absence of many years. The difference perhaps lies in the acerbic
style and blatantly anti-Nacionalista discourse of the testimony. The fact that
chief henchman to Carías, Tomás Martínez—the target of most of López García’s vitriol—died
only recently (1993) may explain the delay in publication. Until his death, Martínez
wielded considerable power among the Honduran elites and military. Consistent with
his portrait of the Garífunas, López García—I surmise—chose to wait until he could
safely publish in Honduras with a reputable publishing house (Guaymuras) rather
than take his text outside the country or publish it clandestinely.
Whereas López García relies
on popular memory and eyewitness accounts from survivors to reconstruct the events
surrounding the massacre in La Bahía del Puerto
del Sol, Loubavagu: el otro lado lejano
by Murilloselva Rendón does not have access to a rich oral tradition, especially
to cover the colonial period. The only preserved oral tradition is in music, chants,
and dances, many of which are centuries-old from Africa and are included in the
As for the missing pieces of
the Garífuna story, the author actually elaborated them using the few already existing
accounts compiled by academic researchers, some from outside Honduras. His imagination
filled in the rest. Within the play, the schoolteacher explains this gap to his
students. After mentioning several local heroes whose names they
did not recognize, the teacher states that “ya nadie se acuerda de ellos porque
somos desmemoriados y porque a casi nadie le interesa en este país enseñar realmente
como fueron las cosas de antes” (34). If we recall Schermerhorn’s
definition of an ethnic group, we remember that an ethnic consciousness does not
exist without a shared history. In his introduction to the text, the author writes
that his principal purpose in creating the drama is “el rescate y valorización de
esos siglos enmudecidos” (3). What is being rescued, however, is not simply silent
history—something which we have seen is quite impossible—but rather a story, a narration
with a deeper meaning.
Kubayanda notes that the primary
function of minority discourse and especially Afro-Latino literary discourse is
“not to make an accurate description of historical events, but rather to raise the
national conscience by addressing questions that have to do with the minor self
vis-a-vis the national identity or sovereignty, and with the perceived conflicts
between freedom and autocracy, between Utopia and reality. Its purpose is... to project a minority ethos” (1987, 123).
The information Murilloselva
Rendón uncovers and the story Loubavagu
tells will educate and edify not only the Garífunas but the entire country as well,
writes the author: “Cosas tan elementales como el conocer el origen de su lengua
(arahuaco-caribe) así como el conocer que el tronco maternal de su ascendencia era
indígena precolombino, eran desconocidos para el pueblo garífuna, como también lo
era para la población hondureña en general” (3).
Before continuing with the text
itself, let us consider what Loubavagu
represents within the national cultural project. In 1976 the Secretary of Culture
and Tourism established a program headed by a Garífuna, Armando Crisanto Meléndez,
to bring this aspect of Honduran culture to the attention of the general public
(Yuscarán 38). Loubavagu, along with other
music and folklore, forms part of the repertoire. When asked whether he was suspicious
of the government’s motives especially in view of the economic gains which Honduras
stands to gain in the area of tourism, Crisanto replied: “Claro, esa es buena parte.
Las razones no son siempre las que quisiéramos. Pero
a fin de cuentas, no tiene tanta importancia. Después de todo, tenemos que comenzar
de alguna manera. La parte importante, a mi ver, es que la gente se dé cuenta de
la riqueza de esta cultura y lo que representa” (Yuscarán 38-9). Perhaps an element of exploitation exists in the arrangement,
and in this way, the Garífunas have been co-opted or compromised. To preserve the
integrity of the community, explains Crisanto, he prefers to travel with his troupe
throughout Honduras, Central America, and parts of the U.S., rather than see tourists
flood into Garífuna lands. Proud of the beauty of his culture which he wants to
share, he realizes he walks a fine line “para que todo lo sagrado e integral para
el Garífuna no vaya a ser destruído” (39).
The narration itself unfolds
through a succession of “cuadros” beginning with the myth of creation. Following
the wreck of a slave ship bound for the Americas, the freed slaves settle on the
island of San Vicente where they eventually intermarry with the local indigenous
Arawaks: “India y negro se juntaron como el grano y la mazorca, como el pez y el
agua, e hicieron surgir en nuestra América un mundo diferente” (8). Mestizaje is
their great legacy. They usher in a Golden Age of peaceful coexistence between Indians
and blacks although some historians dispute the reality of this harmony (Yuscarán
48). A failed resistance to the growing power and treachery of the French and English
finally leads to deportation and eventual settlement in Honduras. The Garífunas learn a painful lesson about trusting foreigners: “¿Por qué
pedirle a uno de afuera —sobre todo si es extranjero— que venga a limpiar la casa?
El que parte y reparte se queda con la mejor parte...” (9). More cuadros follow depicting modern repressions, racism, land grabs
by new imperialists—the unscrupulous gringos from the banana companies, follies
of bureaucracy which provide several moments of humor in the play, and of course,
the massacre. “Saints” are canonized: Morazán, Satuyé, Sambulá, Lempira—Spaniards,
blacks, and Indians who have recognized or represented the dignity of the Garífunas.
In the end, however, the machete—trope and sign of ethnic resistance and freedom
(Kubayanda 1987, 128)—finally yields to the gun in an epic struggle.
Not only does Loubavagu restore a collective ethnic memory,
it also fills a didactic purpose for the community. Along with the history lesson,
it teaches the Garífunas the rights they have as human beings and as citizens of
Honduras: “el derecho a trabajar... de comer... a ir escuela... a ir allá y venir
aquí... a circular libremente...[y] a la salud” (34). Justice is for all. Ironically,
as the maestro is showing his charges
the flag—”la bandera de todos nosotros los hondureños, de todos”—and teaching them
the national anthem, several army officers burst in searching for subversives. At
this point the massacre begins.
Part of the lesson also includes
knowing what to avoid and what to refuse if the patria chica, the Garífuna zone, is to maintain its ethnic integrity
and authenticity and if the patria grande
of Honduras is to retain its identity. The same maestro asks his students to name a word which begins with the letter
“d”; when they respond “dime,” the teacher scolds them for using a “gringo word.”
“Maestro,” they reply, “pero aquí se usa... porque es
la que vale.” The teacher then warns them that for now perhaps the word exists for
them because “no hay de otra; pero de todas maneras es incorrecta y hay que cambiarla
porque si seguimos así hasta sin lengua propia nos vamos a quedar” (33).
The play also heaps criticism
on those native sons who choose to leave the community, move to New York City, adopt
foreign customs, and then return to visit Honduras with an arrogant swagger and
a passion for conspicuous consumption. They have sold their souls and sacrificed
their identity to the gringos.
The play ends with the Garífuna
community demanding a place at the national table: “Déjame entrar, déjame entrar
connacional” and affirming their identity within Honduras: “Soy hondureño / de nacimiento
/ déjame pasar / déjame pasar” (44).
Honduran anthropologist Ramón
D. Rivas disputes such idealism and optimism on the part of the Garífunas seeing
instead much insecurity, apathy, and even pessimism regarding the future. Cynics,
he calls them, they have lost faith in the existing political parties and, unlike
Crisanto, they see hope only in the growing tourism industry (282). A process of
transculturation or even “desculturación” will accelerate.
Julio Escoto’s Rey del albor. Madrugada, literally picks up the pieces of colonialism’s legacy
of fragmentation and attempts to construct a poly-ethnic national narrative which
defines Honduran identity and sets it against growing U.S. cultural intrusion. An
activist priest presents the problem that the novel—and by extension, the nation—must
address. Honduras, he states, is a country on the march, albeit
slowly, but “nosotros mismos no nos reconocemos...[C]uando se supone que vamos paso
a paso formando nuestra nacionalidad, nuestra identidad moderna como nación, [las
potencias vigentes del mundo] intervienen y nos la trastocan, nos la reorientan,
nos la modifican” (99). What is worse, the U.S. not
only tells Honduras what it ought to do, it also sells them the machines with which
to do it. The machines, the computers, the high-tech engines of modernity may at
first glance appear benign and even (user) friendly, especially when one contrasts
them with the earlier imports of U.S. military imperialism. Nevertheless, in Madrugada they represent a threat more insidious
and more dangerous than weapons to national autonomy and cultural identity.
As if anticipating this novel,
Werner Sollors writes, paraphrasing Abner Cohen, that “at this very moment somebody
may be writing an ethnocentric novel on a computerized word processor” (1981, 268).
Ethnocentrism should have become obsolete with advancing modernity, so that Cohen’s
statement would appear to be antithetical. But Sollors and William Boelhower challenge
the assumption of obsolescence. Sollors writes: “It would be a theoretical shortcut
to assume that the rise of a more uniform world economy and of technological progress
leads to the disappearance of ethnic boundaries” (1981, 267). In fact, just the
opposite may be the case. Boelhower explains that “part of the reason for the centrality
of ethnic discourse in recent cultural debate... is surely that the ethnic subject
is required to talk about its absence; for... it is for the most part an absent
presence” (340). Perhaps at play, he theorizes, are attributes of postmodernism:
These are best located at the
moment of passage from an industrial to an informational model of society. Informatics
and its exasperation of the ubiquitous nunc now substitute a humanistic vision of
knowledge characterized by the progress of the subject and the emancipation of the
human community. The mass media prevail and succeed in turning this community into
an electronic society where nothing new or even real is possible under the sun...
We are, in other words, presented with a vast global network which is capable of
unifying the space of single national territories into a horizonless and instantaneous
informational circuit. Everything can be made to co-exist; history, the notion of
progress itself, grand legitimating myths, all are emptied of their former content
as they circulate and recirculate on our television screens (341).
The subject becomes a nomad
in cyberspace; boundaries and territories cease to exist. However, in a case like
Honduras, which never experienced modernism’s industrialization, the idea of a seamless
postmodernism is almost a joke. Most of the country limps to market while a lucky
few cruise the internet or run errands on the Home Shopping Network. The starving
millions are only too painfully aware that they are not really included in this
so-called democratic enterprise. Contradictions abound. Afraid of disappearing altogether,
the subject resorts to reasserting an identity through myth and history of ethnic
and/or national origin.
Another oxymoron appears to
be the text itself—Madrugada is a fast-paced,
high-tech novel set in one of the poorest and least developed nations of the hemisphere.
Honduras is a land of violent contrasts, “donde sobrevivían
juntas la rueca del medioevo y la máquina Singer de coser, la lumbre de tuza y el
televisor, el buey y la carreta de troncos a la par del automóvil, la quijada de
Caín y el arte de Abel... los jeroglíficos junto al lápiz y el papel” (504). Already we suspect an identity crisis at hand.
But, not only did Escoto most
likely compose his text at a PC, he placed a top-secret computer file at the center
of his plot. Discovering the password and entering forbidden U.S. Embassy cyberspace
is the work and direction of the primary narrative. The menace is “Madrugada,” a
plan secretly hatched by the North Americans to extend their control of Central
America through the power of information and technology in a post-Cold War world.
The winner is “quien poseía más o acumulaba más información”
(455), information being “el producto más caro, ambicionado y nutritivo del mundo
Intersecting this story are separate
fictitious episodes of various culture clashes based on historical fact, beginning
with the 1974 assassination of a priest in Olancho and going back, in reverse chronological
order, to the 1495 vows by Indians to resist imperialism.
The insult of having an outsider,
North American professor Quentin Jones, come to Honduras to write an official history
of the country at the invitation of its government irritates the local intellectuals
and political progressives. That he is black only half mitigates his position, for
he is simultaneously at the margin and at the center. Where are his sympathies?
He is an ambivalent personality at the outset.
Professor Jones performs work
that parallels Escoto’s revision of Honduran history. As he begins, Jones feels he is penetrating a tunnel “largo, oscuro y tormentoso
que era la historia de Honduras, es decir el otro pedazo del espejo de la historia
de toda Latinoamérica” (117).
On direct orders from the President,
his assignment is simply to write a fable, “una narración llana” of how Honduran
identity developed (30). It will involve writing a history which presents only the
positive and which ignores the rancor caused by the North American presence on Honduran
soil (21). Obviously, the President knows well the power of national myth and narrative
to interpellate its subjects. Geoffrey Bennington views with suspicion such efforts
to find a center which grounds our collective identity as a people: “At the origin
of the nation, we find a story of the nation’s origin” (121). There is only narrative,
nothing more. Furthermore, this narrative is highly manipulative in the service
of power. As for the professor, he is not yet aware that his research is intended
to help resurrect the Black Legend in order to impugn Spain even further and to
prepare the locals for continued “desculturación” and eventual Anglo acculturation.
Unknowingly, then, Jones is a key player in the implementation of Madrugada.
Early in his assignment Jones
stumbles into the Madrugada security “gatekeeper” and spends the rest of the novel
trying to “break in.” Through his reading and his contacts with the underground
urban guerrillas, liberation theology priests, Contra agents, computer viruses,
U.S. military advisors and Embassy personnel—one is never sure who is who in a drama
which twists and turns in high suspense and intrigue—Jones slowly unmasks “la otra
cara de la historia” (267).
At the origin of the nation
is a story of abuse and exploitation by all imperial powers—the Spanish, the French,
the English, and the Americans—and by national elites conspiring with them to subjugate
and sell first the indigenous peoples and later the blacks “como esclavos y animales”
(267). The only heroes are those who resisted and were martyred. At the point Jones
cracks the code, he also has almost reached the earliest historical episodes recorded
in the novel which describe the cataclysmic events of the first half of the sixteenth
century. One wonders whether there is a structural and a symbolic connection: has
he reached the beginning, the origin of his own historical narrative as he finds
the key to unlock Madrugada? Has he indeed discovered “lo que sintetiza al latinoamericano”
He opens Embassy electronic
files when he types the password, “Altar Q-Humo Jaguar,” a reference to the main
altar at the excavated Mayan ruins of Copán and to one of its sixteen kings. Madrugada
himself turns out to be the last king. During his reign he had tried to raise national
pride and unify various Mayan communities into “una sola nación indígena” (404).
But his world collapsed because of “una erosión, un monstruoso colapso cultural”
(404). The parallels to the modern-day Honduran cultural crisis are obvious. There
will be no national unity or identity if its culture gives way to outside forces.
Is the key to Honduras’s future as a nation, as an “imagined community,” then in
its precolombian past?
As Jones’s hacking reveals,
the secret plan Madrugada involves anglicizing the region and “la necesidad de desespañolizar
el pensamiento de la raza mestiza centroamericana” (470). Visual images which are projected through television
and the print media will include only “modelos caucásicos y mixtos—nunca puramente
hispánicos!” (470). “Cualquier orgullo de
una ascendencia hispana debe ser borrado, revertido, avergonzado y aniquilado” (471).
This ideological conquest will
be realized when a U.S. presence is a daily occurrence in the lives “of the natives”
through television, radio, and international exchanges.
Why should the U.S. go to such
lengths to propagate their culture? Part of the Madrugada plan explains that the
very survival of the United States itself is at stake. Official Embassy documents
detail why it is “our destiny”—our Manifest Destiny? —to survive at the expense
of smaller nations. “Por la inercia estructural,
la nación más tecnológicamente desarrollada debe proteger y asimilar a las otras.
A EUA le corresponde esta función humanitaria y trascendental” (469). Cultural propagation
is regarded in religious terms as a “misión salvadora” (469).
The underlying motive, however,
is that cultural dominance will ensure economic dominance. Apparently, there are
untapped riches in Central America that are unknown even to its inhabitants. Once
it “acquires” Central America as part of its territory in a new “América Unida,”
the imperial power can exploit these resources. Nor is it part of the master plan
that Hondurans, once they are absorbed, will rise to the same standard of living
as North Americans. When his priest friend observes that it looks as if they would
soon be brothers, Jones—who slowly realizes the implications of what he has just
discovered—replies that unfortunately “los imperios no conocen hermanos, trabajan
solamente con siervos y esclavos” (467). An international fraternity is not what
Madrugada has in mind.
Fortunately for Escoto’s Honduras,
Jones never writes the requested version of history. In the end, Madrugada “is blown”
but not completely thwarted. Jones is forced to flee the country, and we the readers
are left to figure out, with few clues, what has happened to the secret Embassy
files. Unbeknownst to the Americans, Madrugada has ended up in the hands of Israeli
intelligence who will most likely use it later to blackmail or bargain with Washington.
The message seems to be that “the U.S. should pick on someone its own technological
size,” and that at least another “First World” nation can provide the checks and
balances that Honduras cannot. At any rate, Honduras has bought itself some time
to deal with both its internal divisions and its external threats.
Escoto is proposing a national
and international ethos based on acceptance, appreciation and celebration of diversity
and poly-ethnic heritage: “América era el crisol de las generaciones, la fragua
universal de la mezcla de los elementos más disímiles de la humanidad, el hervidero
del tiempo, la confluencia geométrica de todos los espacios y las ideas y los sentimientos,
el magma, la sima, el cono del volcán” (506). Lest this description sound too much like its North American “melting pot”
counterpart, we note that more than lip service is paid to Honduras’s indigenous
peoples and early black settlers (235).
In Escoto’s vision, the survival
of multi-cultural discourses within the nation should contribute to its vitality
and should counter outside forces which would render the nation’s subjects invisible.
The bottom line is that no one—neither insider nor outsider—has the right to take
away another people’s culture, “sus dioses de palo, sus ídolos de piedra y sus altares
de barro... porque para ser hermanos los amigos tienen que ser diferentes... Es
la alquimia de la vida” (323). Escoto’s novel expresses the desire and quest “for
a genuinely plural reality,” “a unique multifacetedness which admits to collective
or multiple existence in America” —features which place the text within the parameters
of minority discourse, as Kubayanda explains it (1987, 120).
Madrugada, the novel, then further resembles
minority discourse the primary function of which is not necessarily to accurately
describe historical events—we have seen Escoto’s fictional elaborations on historical
facts—”but rather to raise the national conscience by addressing questions that
have to do with the minor self vis-a-vis the national identity or sovereignty”;
it is resistance literature seeking self- and national renewal through the recuperation
of one’s roots (Kubayanda 1987, 123). While it deconstructs power, it reconstructs
its own center of power: “its tendency, in symbolic terms, to destroy the negative
constructions of history or of repressive power is underscored by a corresponding
desire for ‘bio-power’ (Foucault), that is, the ‘solidaristic’ means to manage the
repressed self throughout history, the harrowing effects of domination notwithstanding”
(Kubayanda 1987, 123).
Furthermore, there seems to
be no danger of “balkanization” especially when a common outside enemy exists to
unify the various ethnic groups. One of Jones’s guerrilla friends
puts his finger on the source of conflict: “...si se lucha se lucha contra la maldad
imperial, la maldad congénita de todos los imperios, no contra ninguna nacionalidad”
(304). Escoto seems close to Rodó at
this moment, denouncing the influence of a practical, highly efficient, homogenizing
computer culture from the philistine power to the North.
Escoto’s project thus complements
both the Garífuna testimony, La Bahía del
Puerto del Sol, and the musical chronical, Loubavagu, as it attempts to rescue the identity of a “banana republic”
traditionally doomed to the cultural backwaters and currently in danger of extinction
altogether. The Garífuna texts resist being swallowed up in a nation which has failed
up until now to listen to its various ethnic discourses. The Garífunas tell a story
of a proud people determined to work within a nation despite the poor treatment
they have received at the hands of some of their co-nationals. Their project has
involved actually creating an oral tradition which they can write down as their
history. They derive strength and dignity from their roots.
For Madrugada, the key is also in the roots. The appearance of Escoto’s
novel, interestingly, coincides with the recent unearthing of archaeological treasures
at Copán. Escoto deconstructs official myths of exclusivity and reconstructs a different
national story in order to promote multicultural solidarity and to affirm his nation’s
right to exist alongside others—an in spite of others who are determined to exploit
Honduras for their own purposes. In these texts, then, ethnic discourse is a backlash
against postmodern anonymity and eventual disappearance. Ethnicity gives meaning
and individuality, where meaning has otherwise been stripped away.
By going back to roots, the
writers find inspiration to continue the struggle for survival. Going backwards
also inspires them to press forward to a new beginning—”una madrugada” —a dawn of
hope that it is possible to avert a monstrous cultural collapse and a complete loss
of identity and autonomy.
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