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  • House, Factory, Beauty Salon, Brothel: Space, Gender and Sexuality in Puerto Rican Literature and Film


    Radost A. Rangelova

    A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillmentof the requirements for the degree of

    Doctor of Philosophy(Romance Languages and Literatures: Spanish)

    in The University of Michigan2009

    Doctoral Committee:

    Associate Professor Lawrence M. La Fountain-Stokes, ChairAssociate Professor Maria E. Cotera Associate Professor Jarrod L. HayesAssociate Professor Jossianna Arroyo, The University of Texas, Austin

  • Radost A. Rangelova



    There are many people whose guidance, support, and friendship have been

    indispensable for the completion of this dissertation. First among them is Lawrence La

    Fountain-Stokes, a mentor whose erudition, thoughtfulness, generosity, persistent

    enthusiasm and dedication to the project have been instrumental at every stage of the

    writing process, from the conceptualization to the final revisions. He has showed me

    how to be an exemplary teacher, a rigorous intellectual, and a positive, supportive

    advisor, and I am deeply grateful.

    Similarly, Jossianna Arroyo has been a constant source of support and

    encouragement, of thoughtful comments and constructive ideas. Like her, Jarrod Hayes

    and Maria Cotera embraced the project and took it in directions that have enriched it


    A number of people outside of the dissertation committee deserve my recognition

    and thanks. Luis Figueroa has stood by me, and has followed the development of this

    project with enthusiasm and persistence. I am grateful for the stimulating conversations,

    for his faith and patience. At the University of Michigan, Catherine Benamou and Lucia

    Saks offered courses and provided a space for a dialogue on film studies that helped me

    expand the discussion of Puerto Rican cinema in the dissertation. The friendship of

    Raquel Vega-Durn, Mariam Coln, Andrea Dewees, Danny Mndez, Jessica Piney, Dani


  • Arroyo, and Jesal Parekh, among many other current and former graduate students, has

    been the source of a continuous exchange of ideas and of necessary moments of

    distraction. In Connecticut, I am grateful to Anne Lambright and Guillermo Irizarry for

    their consistent care and interest in my work, for their generous advice and warm

    friendship. Gustavo Remedi has been a thoughtful and challenging mentor and

    interlocutor for years, and I deeply appreciate his support. Pablo Delano, Maurice Wade,

    Janet Bauer, Angel Rivera, and Odette Casamayor have provided a space that made me

    feel like part of a community in a process that could otherwise seem quite lonely. Thank


    I give special thanks to the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures,

    and to the Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan, for

    providing the intellectual space and resources for the completion of this dissertation,

    including an RLL Research Fellowship, a One-Term Fellowship, and summer funds that

    allowed me to travel to Puerto Rico and to complete the necessary research. I also thank

    Trinity College for the Terry Fellowship for graduate education and for a year-long

    Graduate Fellowship that gave me additional time to write and revise the project.




    ABSTRACT vii


    I. Introduction 1

    Historical Context 5

    Gender, Sexuality and the Puerto Rican Nation 15

    Puerto Rican Cinema and National Discourse: Industry and Criticism 20

    Feminist Geographies, Space and Gender: Analytical Framework 28

    Space, Sexuality and Citizenship 44

    Chapter Outline 48

    II. Rethinking la gran familia puertorriquea in the Family House 52

    Spatial Tropes and the Representation of Puerto Rican National Culture 52

    The Trope of the House in Feminist Geography 55

    Rosario Ferr's The House on the Lagoon: Narrating the National House 58

    Space, Gender, Nation: Destroying and Rebuilding the House 66

    The Pedagogy of Gender and Nation in Felices das, to Sergio 74

    Gendered Spaces and Queer Nations in Felices das, to Sergio 81

    Puerto Rican Cinema and National Culture 88


  • Two Women, Two Houses, One Patriarch in Dios los cra 90

    Race, Gender, Nation in the Urban Space of Ligia Elena 99

    Conclusion 103

    III. Building the Nation: Women's Productive and Reproductive Labor in the Factory 106

    Gender and Labor in Puerto Rican Historiography 106

    Textual Absence: The Factory in Puerto Rican Fiction 111

    History and Representation: Tobacco and the Cigar-Making Factory 113

    The Home as Factory: Women in the Needlework Industry 122

    Union Organization, Women's and Worker's Rights 127

    Luisa Capetillo, Gender and Working-Class Consciousness 136

    Gender, Labor and the Factory in El pueblo no slo es testigo: la historia de Dominga 158

    Luchando por la vida: Reenacting History in the Factory 162

    Productive and Reproductive Labor in La operacin 169

    Conclusion 176

    IV. Gendering and Queering the Beauty Salon 178

    The Beauty Salon: Anthropological Perspectives 178

    The Beauty Salon in Puerto Rican Theory and Criticism 188

    Queering the Beauty Salon in Milagros, calle Mercurio 197

    Fantasy as Resistance in Pilar, tus rizos 219

    Hebra rota: Domestic Violence and Gender Solidarity 228

    Conclusion 240

    V. Locating Power on the Margins: Gender and Sexuality in the Brothel 241

    The Literature on Prostitution in Latin America 242


  • The Brothel in Puerto Rican History and Criticism 250

    The Brothel in Puerto Rican Literature and Film 260

    The House and the Brothel in Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres 261

    Rethinking Power in La ltima plena que bail Luberza 271

    Transgression and Punishment in Life of Sin 283

    From the Brothel to the National Family in Nuestra Seora de la Noche 294

    Conclusion 309

    VI. Conclusion 311




    This project focuses on the ways in which contemporary Puerto Rican authors and

    film directors construct and creatively negotiate womens feminist agency in a variety of

    spaces, from the family house traditionally associated with national unity, to beauty

    salons, factories and brothels that have contested the cultural nationalist discourse. My

    central argument is that, in the process of challenging traditional images of femininity, the

    protagonists of the short stories, novels and films that I analyze also transform, gender

    and politicize the spaces that they inhabit, to propose alternatives to the spatial tropes

    associated with the construction of Puerto Rican national discourse.

    The study takes as a starting point the family house, the spatial aspect of the gran

    familia puertorriquea, dominated by a traditional patriarchal figure. Chapter I situates

    the dissertation in the historical context of Puerto Rico of the mid-twentieth century and

    positions it within recent studies on the politics of space and feminist geography. Chapter

    II analyzes how, through the politization of space, Puerto Rican artists like Rosario Ferr,

    Magali Garca Ramis, Jacobo Morales and Paco Lpez negotiate the association of the

    house with cultural nationalist discourse.

    Chapter III studies texts that appropriate the space of the factory both as an

    instrument of official discourse, and as a space of opposition from which Puerto Rican


  • working women like Luisa Capetillo and Dominga de la Cruz have staged a resistance to

    marginalizing practices and discourses.

    By analyzing texts by Carmen Lugo Filippi, Mayra Santos-Febres and Sonia

    Fritz, in Chapter IV I argue that the gendering and the queering of the beauty salon

    through gender performativity, desire and the gaze disrupt cultural nationalist ideas of

    heteronormativity and propose alternatives to the configuration of the national family.

    Finally, Chapter V focuses on the space of the brothel, demonstrating how, in the

    work of Rosario Ferr, Manuel Ramos Otero, Efran Lpez Neris and Mayra Santos-

    Febres, the patriarchal figure is de-centered by the Afro-Puerto Rican prostitute Isabel la

    Negra, who challenges previous representations not only of gender and sexuality, but also

    of racial and class identifications.




    Gender, sexuality and space have had a complex and often contradictory

    relationship within Puerto Rican cultural nationalist discourse and with the official

    representation of the Puerto Rican nation. While in the 1950s, at the height of the

    construction of the cultural nationalist model, women were called upon to uphold and

    reproduce its economic and cultural pillars (projects such as Operation Bootstrap and the

    community modernization inspired by the films of DIVEDCO), they were systematically

    marginalized and discouraged from seeking leadership roles in the emerging national

    imaginary. This was accomplished by limiting the depictions of women to images of

    housewives, mothers and daughters, supportive of the social project of their male

    counterparts, reproached and punished when they strayed from the social roles deemed

    acceptable for them. These representations had a prominent spatial dimensio