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Title:Writing insurrection: U.S. literature and the politics of Latin American intervention, 1898 to 2010
Author(s):O'Neill, Kimberly L.
Director of Research:Bauer, Dale M.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Bauer, Dale M.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Castro, Nancy E.; Hutner, Gordon; Rodriguez, Richard T.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Hemispheric American Literature
Latin America
Twentieth Century
Latino Writers
Abstract:Stories of defiant rebels, leering dictators, and wretched refugees have defined Latin America for U.S. audiences during the twentieth century. Most scholars assume that these narratives reinforce the conventional rhetoric of Latin brutality that justifies U.S. imperialism, but my dissertation reveals that an array of writers told such stories to undermine state power, contest military intervention, and to urge American readers to intercede for hemispheric human rights. In chapters devoted to the 1910 Mexican Revolution, the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and the Central American “dirty wars” of the 1970s and ‘80s, my dissertation studies popular print culture alongside canonical Anglo and Latina/o authors to illuminate the vital place of Latin America in U.S. culture and to understand how writers and intellectuals intervene in international politics. The introduction situates my critical methods among those of current hemispheric scholars. Many have focused on the imperial narratives of fear and desire that characterize U.S. literature in the nineteenth century, but my research turns to the twentieth century to explore the cultural affinity and exchange that defy U.S. imperial aggression. To investigate this disconnect, I turn to the rhetoric of news writers and the narrative of fiction authors during the Spanish-American War. In 1898, the U.S. government frames its intervention in Cuba’s revolt as democratic resistance to Spanish tyranny. Richard Harding Davis and Stephen Crane emerge as ambassadors of revolution and translators of Latin American difference. Their popular journalism and fictional texts establish everyday Americans as guardians of Latin American freedom and plenitude. The three chapters that follow also demonstrate how journalists and literary writers wield their power as U.S. subjects and citizens to support rebellion among Latin Americans threatened by U.S. empire. Chapter 1 studies the Wilson-era writers who codify Mexico’s people and politics for American audiences during and after the Mexican Revolution. In contrast to the U.S.’s pro-revolutionary policy during the Spanish-American War, during the Mexican Revolution powerful American politicians and commercial magnates support the dictator Porfirio Díaz and threaten military incursion to defend U.S. interests against poor and working-class “rebels.” Journalists John Turner and John Reed and fiction writers Katherine Anne Porter and María Cristina Mena deploy progressive rhetoric to undermine armed interventionism. These writers champion Mexico’s revolutionaries and hope that literature can inspire democratic fraternity between workers in both the U.S. and Mexico, even as entrenched racial hierarchies compromise their hopes for a republican Mexico. Chapter 2 examines the cultural production surrounding the Cuban Revolution. U.S. covert operations in Cuba, made intensely public in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, galvanize an array of literary expressions in which the U.S. presence in Cuba is represented as clandestine and nefarious. Famous British author Graham Greene and the American political novelist John Kenneth Galbraith publish conspiracy thrillers that expose the imbrication of empires in the Caribbean. Public intellectuals such as Waldo Frank praise Fidel Castro’s great experiment, and Cuban-American journalist and fiction writer Jose Yglesias humanizes rural Cubans under Castro in his memoir In the Fist of the Revolution (1968). My chapter points to a rich but under-examined revolutionary literature in the U.S. I also explore the uncertainty that plagued U.S.-Cuban relations in the early 1960s, suggesting that anxiety over the limits of U.S. power in the hemisphere motivates both covert military intervention in the burgeoning Central American Crisis and widespread protest of U.S. incursion in Latin America’s political affairs. My third chapter addresses how U.S. writers influence American public involvement in the Central American Crisis. Following the 1954 CIA-backed coup in Guatemala and the triumph of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1979, journalists such as Joan Didion, the poet Carolyn Forché, and political novelist Robert Stone represent atrocity in Central America as evidence of the failure of U.S. neoliberal ideals. Resisting the popular conception of the region as the tropical breeding ground for corrupt guerillas and faceless indigenous migrants, their works contest such vexed stereotypes of Latin American identity to condemn U.S. economic and political expansion. Their arguments inspire public condemnation of Reagan’s actions in the 1979 Salvadoran military coup and civil war. Chapter 4 concludes my project with a comparative study of Latina/o literary production in the wake of a century of hemispheric political violence. Some of the most influential contemporary writers, including Cristina García, Sandra Cisneros, Achy Obejas, Héctor Tobar, and Francisco Goldman identify these conflicts as the source of modern race and gender relations in the U.S. Their counter-histories recover the cultural and political consequences of Latin American revolt and U.S. interventionism for the hemisphere. While officially authorized narratives have suppressed U.S. support for counterrevolution and terrorism, these texts uncover the discourses that have produced the migrant subject and the racial tropes that now dominate U.S. representations of Latin America. My project contributes to current scholarship in American Studies and hemispheric literature by rethinking the disciplinary boundaries that separate genres and limit our objects of analysis. Tracing what Walter Mignolo calls the “idea of Latin America” from the Spanish-American War to today, my work reveals the common conversations that have inspired a century of cultural expression and the conventional wisdom that continues to structure American attitudes toward the global South.
Issue Date:2012-02-01
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Kimberly L. O'Neill
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-02-01
Date Deposited:2011-12

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