Formation process of public self

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6.3 Formation process of public self

Most of the issues of public affairs related to women which are stated earlier , are reflected in García’s novel, especially in Celia’s character who is depicted as the person devoted to Cuba island and Castro’s regime. After her husband death she decided to give herself to revolution. She took part in sugarcane field works and through that participation she felt tight connection with the rest of the world: ”people in Mexico and Russia and Poland will spoon out her sugar for coffee, or to bake in their birthday cakes. (45). Besides harvesting sugarcane, Celia used to volunteer for every social project such as vaccination campaigns, building local nurseries, setting tiles and operating construction lift to bring the prosperity to the country.

When she was given a judge post, Celia told us with pleasure that “what she decides makes a difference in others’ lives, and she feels the part of a great historical unfolding. (111) From these Celia’s words we can feel the pride of the person who is taken in charge and feel to be involved in public life. No matter how hard the work was, women felt proud to provide jobs, which are generally considered to be males. And vice versa when Celia sentenced a man to volunteer work at the nursery to look after children, she promised to see that he would become “one of a model Socialist man” (116). This way socialism wiped the difference between genders off and attempted to launch the system of equal rights for everybody. What Celia labelled as “the greatest social experiment in modern history” (117), we would nowadays consider as an early (and not totally inappropriate) attempt to redefine traditional gender stereotypes. Celia further remembers the past, comparing the women’s prospects in Cuba before and after revolution:

What would have been expected of her twenty years ago? To sway endlessly on her wicker swing, old before her time? To baby-sit her grandchildren and wait for death? She remembers the gloomy letters she used to write to Gustavo before the revolution, and thinks how different the letters would be if she were writing today.(111)

Although in my opinion the communistic way of emancipation was rather degrading for femininity in a sense, the revolution is referred here as a step forward to emancipation and self-fulfilment of women outside their homes. Together with money, the opportunity to make a difference is generally perceived as one of the motivational factor for employees all over the world. From this point of view, the communist regime managed to do the mission – Celia, as well as many others felt responsible for the sake of the world.

García also refers to early history and women who have had their place in public life - when Celia was wandering round the city, admiring architecture sights, she entered the museum where “is a bronze weathervane of Doňa Inés de Babadilla, Cuba’s first woman governor”. The mere existence of such female heroine from 16th century, proves the historical participation of women on public life and works as a signal for other women to take their chances. The legend further says that Doňa Inés was frequently seen staring out to sea, searching the horizon for her husband. (43) We might find a contact point with Celia in such a habit, since Celia also spent most of her time searching the horizon of the ocean, either as a service to the regime or in hope to see her lover again. In the first chapter, however, her husband’s ghost emerged from the sea to passed her a message about his death. Neither Doňa Inés nor Celia have seen their men again.

Through this resemblance, García might have intended to remind the way ordinary women identify themselves with outstanding characters of their culture. I argue that imitation of such models plays significant role in the process of identity formation, in a sense of feeling proud as the member of particular nation, ethnicity or gender.

The importance of an impact to national and political consciousness is confirmed three generations later in the person of Pilar, Celia’s granddaughter. If Celia identified herself with Donňa Inés and manifested it with her passion for the sea, Pilar felt herself fully responsible citizen and accepted her active role in the society. She questioned the historical role of women as the members of society and blamed historians for not recording marginal historical events and neglecting the importance of women as active participants in public affairs:

If it were up to me, I'd record other things. Like the time there was a freak hailstorm in the Congo and the women took it as a sign that they should rule. Or life stories of prostitutes in Bombay. Why don't I know anything about them? Who chooses what we should know or what's important? I know I have to decide these things for myself. Most of what I've learned that's important I've learned on my own or from my grandmother.(28)

Pilar in many aspects represents the split character in García’s novel and she embodied the same double-identity as her Chicana correlates. However as we can see further, their view of the world significantly differ in many points. In favour to my hypothesis about public model, I would here refer to Cisneros’ Felice in “Woman Hollering Creek” to contrast Cuban and Mexican milieu: “Did you ever notice how nothing around here is named after a woman? Unless she’s the Virgin. I guess you’re only famous if you’re a virgin.” (55) Apparently, Chicano (or Mexican) culture misses an alternative strong feminine cult to identify with. This way we can understand the significance of historical models, its presence or absence in respect to particular gender stereotypes within the society.

The role of historical model might be traced in intergenerational relationship too. When Pilar spoke about her grandmother, she admitted that ”she gives me the confidence to do what I believe is right, to trust my own perception.” (176) It is obvious that Pilar’s grandmother must have been able to create her own identity before she was able to support that feeling in her granddaughter’s person. This natural passing of self-perception from generation to generation assures gradual growth and development in a society. On the other hand, Cisneros in her stories suggests hegemonic environment that had been immutable for generations up to nowadays, and her contemporary heroines are just pioneering the idea of struggle. Chayo, Cisneros’ Chicana character of the same age as Pilar, expresses considerably different attitude to her female ancestors: ”I wasn't going to be my mother or my grandma. All that self-sacrifice, all that silent suffering. Hell no. Not here. Not me" (Chayo, 127). Both Cuban and Chicano society are described as patriarchal, however, Cuban women, with their historical models, are depicted as more progressive in the sense of self-independence and their search for identity. In the following section I am going to analyze public environment and its influence on the social position of Chicana.

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