Representation and Rhetoric of Abortion in the Film Bella: Implications of Its Standards as the Latino Response to American Views on Abortion

Abstract:  This paper considers literature written by American Latino authors who address the issue of abortion.  After surveying literary criticism of recent Latino literature, the paper focuses on works in three separate genres: Tato Laviera’s poem “Jesús Papote” (1981), the prose passage “Silent Dancing” (1990) by Judith Ortiz Cofer, and the film Bella (2006).  The paper explicates and critiques these works so that non-Latino audiences can appreciate the themes evoked in the literature.  Finally, the paper analyzes Latino literary aesthetics as pronounced by major theorists and determines if the standards apply to the film Bella.

          A substantial portion of this paper was presented at last year’s annual conference of The International Journal of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University in May and reprised at the University Faculty for Life annual conference held at Brigham Young University in June.  The IJAS audience (colleagues from India, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, Thailand, and elsewhere) and fellow faculty at the multidisciplinary UFL audience aided me considerably during the question-and-answer periods following the presentations.  Having the final version of the paper published in the Journal of Teaching and Learning late last year is one way to thank these communities of scholars.

          However, that was last year’s paper, last year’s research, and last year’s reading.  This paper this year allows me to expand on some unresolved questions from previous research, if not to answer them fully, then at least to provide others with ideas that they can write about next year and in subsequent presentations, whether here at the National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies or elsewhere.

Major themes in Latino literature can be culled not only from individually-published primary sources, but also from the most recent compendium of Latino literature yet produced, The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2011).  Most of the entries in this 2,700 page, four pound volume can be placed under five categories (in alphabetical order): 1. devotion to one’s ethnic heritage, 2. difficulties of finding and performing work, 3. faith, 4. family, and 5. love of children as the future of the race.  A sixth category (sexual conflict) is possible because a significant portion of the late twentieth-century literature in the Norton collection concerns sexual matters deviating from Latino religious and moral standards.  Although my research interests concern the three life issues in literature (abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia), for brevity’s sake this paper must focus on the first life issue since substantial fictional literature from the Latino perspective on infanticide and euthanasia has not yet been discovered.[1]

Certainly, literary treatment of abortion in the Latino population is as rare as literary criticism on the topic.  However, as rare as the subject of abortion as a rhetorical topic is in printed literature, there are notable exceptions, such as Tato Laviera’s poem “Jesús Papote” (1981) and Judith Ortiz Cofer’s short story “Silent Dancing” (1990).[2]

Moreover, if the film The Cider House Rules (1999) functions as an Anglo treatment of the issue, then Bella (2006) is unique in that it is the first film to represent abortion in the American Latino community.  Bella has achieved prominence not only as an artistic representation of the issue of abortion, but also as a vehicle for critical commentary ranging from perceptive cinematographic critique to polemic.  Thus, if Bella becomes the standard by which cinematic treatment of abortion obtains, then I will suggest the consequences of such a standard.  This component of my research is unique, involving a discussion not merely of Latino moral values, but also of aesthetics.

Literary Criticism of Latino Literature on Abortion

What literary criticism of abortion in Latino literature has been generated is, if not completely missing, scant and biased.  For example, contrary to the contemporary and admittedly myopic American view of feminism, the 2010 anthology Patriarchy in Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street neglects to mention abortion as an issue of reproductive liberation for women, even though nearly fifty pages of chapter three are devoted to “Patriarchy in the Contemporary World.”

On the second point (literary criticism being scant or biased), literary critics may be more concerned with what they would like to find in the literature than what is actually present.  For example, Aída Hurtado summarizes what she perceives are current trends in Latino studies thus:

Currently there is a flurry of academic and artistic production from Latina feminists who are making connections with Latina activists in the United States and in the rest of the Americas.  Some of the most exciting work is being created by Latina feminists who are questioning the heterosexism of Latino culture and are beginning to document the lives of Latina lesbians.  These scholars are also working with Latina feminists and women of color to form domestic and international alliances around women’s issues.  In the domestic arena are such organizations as the Women of Color Resource Center, which is committed to creating inclusive political agendas to span ethnic and cultural differences.

Politically, Hurtado is more direct in enumerating the specific issues that, to her, drive the Latina community:

Latinas in the United States have been forced to resist gender subordination within their own communities as well as gender, class, and race/ethnic discrimination in society at large.  Latinas’ “triple” oppression has resulted in their earning less, receiving less education, and having more children to support than whites or than men in their own group.  The core concerns of Latina feminists are material conditions such as employment, poverty, education, health, child care, and reproductive rights.

Since the language of this discussion is obviously politically leftist, doubt exists whether abortion, which in most leftist agendas falls under the euphemism of “reproductive rights,” is a social justice issue that the larger Latino population, nurtured and living dominantly Roman Catholic religious and ethical values, would support.[3]

          The political import of such criticism does little to help students, let alone their faculty, understand the literature.  What does the literature itself say about the first life issue of abortion?  What do Laviera’s poem, Ortiz Cofer’s short story, and the film Bella and its novelization suggest as the Latino approach to this issue?  What Latino literary aesthetics are operative when controversial issues such as abortion are discussed?  Why, also, is Bella a signal event in the canon of Latino literature?  What follows are deeper analyses of these three seminal works.

Tato Laviera’s Poem “Jesús Papote” (1981)

          The relevant passage in Laviera’s poem pertaining to abortion is brief, but not only the content, but also stylistic features support a rhetorical position on abortion overlooked by criticism.

My name is jesús papote may month flowers she dis-

covered me making her green throwing up she wanted

abortion she took pill after pill she had to wait

syphilis infection i came between the habit she

needed more i was an obstruction constant pressure

wrinkled inside cars in out constant pounding those

men were paying they had a right to hurt the habit

stronger tricks longer she became oral more and more

the money was not there one night nobody wanted her

she decided to extricate me she pounded punch after

punch like those men punch after punch abortion at

all costs she tired herself i lost my voice


My name is jesús papote june [….]

she threw up the world she greened

she scratched-drew-blood nails on scars scabbing

pores blood vessels eruptions hands on blood she

painted open mental torture digging into wall’s

electricity cabled concussion paralyzing currents

she wrote god let me die god let me die she fought

we fought i was not an added burden i kept quiet

i held if she survived detoxified normal life no

more deserted streets no more pains no more misery

she won grandma she won she smiled she ate she

beat the odds.  (15-6)

          Presuming that the poetic narrator is reliable (the poem ends in his joyous birth, so the recollection of the abortion threat occurs at a safe distance), the depiction of the mother’s life is one which surely engenders sympathy in the reader and, if the reader lacks a life-affirming philosophical perspective, certainly a justification for abortion.  The drug addicted mother survives on the streets by prostituting herself, and she is pregnant.  Would anyone suggest that such an environment is a worthy one in which any child should be born?  The answer, of course, is yes—not only from the mother herself, but also from her child.[4]  (The father’s reaction to the pregnancy is irrelevant because he is absent.)

          The stylistics of this passage wherein the mother contemplates abortion cannot be ignored.  The lack of punctuation and sentence structure could be attributed to the general norms of vers libre, where the absence of conventional meter qualifies any work as being poetry.  However, the absence of terminal punctuation and orderly sentence structure and syntax is mandatory in Laviera’s work to convey the eclectic emotions and events occurring in both the mother’s and the unborn child’s lives.  External events and the mother’s spoken words and emotions which threaten the unborn child must be delivered in a rapid-fire mode to convey the urgency of the situation and the chaos that is the mother’s life.  Note that the mother has no reference points for moral authority: no religion, no person who values her beyond a sexual object, and no faith.  Even the “god let me die” anaphora stated twice reads more as a mere interjection and not intercessory prayer to the Divine Being.

          What is most significant about the passage is not only the resolution of the conflict between abortion and the affirmation of life, but also the lack of traditional characters who are usually depicted in abortion narratives.  The US Supreme Court abortion decisions which legalized abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever were only eight years old when the poem was written.  No activist character, no individual doctor, and no abortionist intervenes to resolve this moment of crisis.  The characters themselves resolve the dilemma of life gestating in horrible conditions.  The narrator’s affirmation that “she fought / we fought i was not an added burden” demonstrates that, having been devastated by the world, the mother chose to fight against her circumstances instead of surrender to them.  The only person to help her was not the father of the unwanted child, but the child himself.

          Concluding the poem with direct address to the grandmother is a life-affirming rhetorical torque that any feminist on either side of abortion as a political issue would appreciate.  The unborn child’s exclamation “she won grandma she won she smiled she ate she / beat the odds” is not merely a replica of what a child would say to his grandmother.  Considering it from a feminist perspective, it is also an affirmation of the life-giving forces conserved by the women in the family.  Given the devotion to the maternal and to the feminine which is purportedly dominant in Latino culture, how right and just it is, then, that, even though he has six more months to be born, the unborn child could see his future secure.

Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Short Story “Silent Dancing” (1990)

Two functions need to be performed before one can appreciate the rhetorical value of Judith Ortiz Cofer’s short story “Silent Dancing” (1990).  First is listing what is absent in the short story when contrasted against its Anglo- or European-American counterparts; second is commenting on the high number of “removes” that the narrative establishes to distance the reader from the event.  The second is contrasting the short story’s perceptions of the mother who has aborted, the father of the child, and the unborn child him- or herself.

Here is the passage:

I came to tell you that story about your cousin that you’ve always wanted to hear.  Remember that comment your mother made to a neighbor that has always haunted you?  The only thing you heard was your cousin’s name and then you saw your mother pick up your doll from the couch and say: “It was as big as this doll when they flushed it down the toilet.”  This image has bothered you for years, hasn’t it?  You had nightmares about babies being flushed down the toilet, and you wondered why anyone would do such a horrible thing.  You didn’t dare ask your mother about it.  She would only tell you that you had not heard her right and yell at you for listening to adult conversations.  But later, when you were old enough to know about abortions, you suspected.  I am here to tell you that you were right.  Your cousin was growing an Americanito in her belly when this movie was made.  Soon after she put something long and pointy into her pretty self, thinking maybe she could get rid of the problem before breakfast and still make it to her first class at the high school.  Well, Niña, her screams could be heard downtown.  Your aunt, her Mamá, who had been a midwife on the Island, managed to pull the little thing out.  Yes, they probably flushed it down the toilet, what else could they do with it—give it a Christian burial in a little white casket with blue bows and ribbons?  Nobody wanted that baby—least of all the father, a teacher at her school with a house in West Paterson that he was filling with real children, and a wife who was a natural blond.  (96-7)

Although the cousin’s abortion is briefly mentioned in “Silent Dancing” and therefore lacks the detail that Anglo or European authors would provide in a lengthier treatment in a novel or more extensive short story, what is more pronounced in the above text is the series of several removes from reality in which the abortion episode is related.

There are at least six.  First, of course, is the obvious removal (the text itself as the initial distance from reality).  An immediate categorization of the short story as a work of fiction, not as a nonfictional account of a historical event, qualifies as a second remove.  The third remove involves the fact of authorship; the mother who aborted is not relating her account, but another person is.  The fourth remove becomes obvious when several layers are uncovered.  The reader needs to appreciate the distance involved in having the person relating the abortion matrimonially removed several times from the event; she is not merely a common law wife of a relative closer to Ortiz Cofer, but the narrator’s “great-uncle’s common-law wife” (96).  A fifth remove manifests itself when one considers the means used by Ortiz Cofer to relate the narrative of another woman’s abortion; it is recalled not in standard narratological form of a plot in past or present time, but as a dream, where facts about the abortion episode can be altered either intentionally or not.  The final, sixth remove is evident when the reader understands that the narrator within this particular episode of the short story (the great-uncle’s common-law wife) does not quote the mother directly but instead offers her own evaluation of the abortion episode.

          Besides considering the various removes from reality evident in this short story, one can also excavate a literary perspective towards the mother, the father, and the unborn child much at odds with those who support legalized abortion.  The attitude toward the mother is intriguing.  If negativity applies to “a responsible mother [who] did not leave her children with any stranger” (92), then the calculus of negativity could swing further against the mother who aborts, since she has “left” her child to the extreme (in the hands of an abortionist and thus abandoned the child to death).

          The narrator’s attitude toward the father is apparent in this story; the father of the child is a typically self-centered American man who values sex more than his marriage commitment and who does not regard himself as a role model for his children.

          The author’s attitude toward babies in general is not as negative as one would think.  Reflecting on the film images in the short story, Ortiz Cofer further indicates the Puerto Rican attitude towards children:

Here and there you can see a small child.  Children were always brought to parties and, whenever they got sleepy, were put to bed in the host’s bedrooms.  Babysitting was a concept unrecognized by the Puerto Rican women I knew: a responsible mother did not leave her children with any stranger.  And in a culture where children are not considered intrusive, there is no need to leave the children at home.  (92; italics in original)

Ortiz Cofer’s example is trenchant, for the attitude thus illustrated is greatly at odds with the negativity or hostility towards children in Anglo culture.

The Film Bella (2006; Novelization 2008)

          Although this study is concerned with the written aspects of the life issues in Latino literature, it is necessary to include Bella, which was released as a film written by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, Patrick Million, and Leo Severino in 2006 and novelized two years later by Lisa Samson.

          The plot for both film and novel is simple: Nina becomes pregnant, loses her job at an upscale New York restaurant, and considers abortion, but, thanks to the kindness of José, with whom she worked at the restaurant, gives birth to the child, surrendering the baby so that she can pursue her dancing career.

This severe reduction of the plot of a film that runs for one hour and thirty-two minutes and a book of 187 pages ignores some refined and crucial details.  José had been a star soccer player until he was convicted of vehicular homicide of a little girl; his employment now is that of a humble restaurant chef.  Nina is pregnant by one of the restaurant’s management staff.  The father of the child would support her only by paying half of the cost of an abortion.

Both José and Nina are suffering souls.  José’s psychic burden is the killing of the little girl and its attendant consequences: ignominy, a life of penance, even a radical change in appearance; the most frequently noted physical characteristic is his long and apparently unkempt beard—he calls himself “scruffy-bearded” at the denouement of the novel (181).

Exasperated with her condition in life (she is considering abortion because she is a failure at virtually everything: her dancing career and now her employment), Nina exclaims, “I can’t even take care of myself [….]  How am I going to take care of a kid?” (Samson 102).

The rhetorical value of one image from the film is not only an example of Nina’s tortured self, but also iconic.


In the above image from one of the initial scenes from the film, Nina has fallen back onto a gurney, being wheeled towards her ineluctable abortion.  Her face expresses the customary anxiety and hopelessness of any woman about to undergo an abortion, and this expression may demonstrate that the Latino literary aesthetic on abortion has been successfully transferred from the written text of the film’s narrative to this image.  Her disheveled hair and the haphazardly placed gown slung over her right shoulder add to the perception that something is terribly wrong.  This is not the image of a contented mother about to experience a procedure that will restore her to being merely a woman.

          Details of the plot and even a cursory analysis of the above iconic image, however, are relatively unimportant when the rhetorical functionality of the work is examined.  Bella illustrates the effect of a life-affirming perspective on a situation which is common in American culture.  As true as it was in 2006, when pregnant women lose their jobs in the “new normal” of the Great Recession of the past four years, and when those women are irreligious, have no support systems, and have no moral basis to distinguish between abortion, adoption, or giving birth, then abortion is an ineluctable choice.  Nina is such a young woman.  She has no family support, her beloved father died when she was a little girl, and her relationship with her mother is precarious.  Her religious background cannot be determined; a possible indication of familiarity with Christianity, if not Catholicism, can be suggested by her feeble effort to make the Sign of the Cross when she dines at José’s family’s house (“Nina tried but failed, sort of waving her hand in a circle in front of her chest” 155).

          And then come the round characters incarnating the life-affirming perspective: José and his family, of Mexican heritage, all of whom are imbued with a focus on family, good food, Catholic Christianity, and tolerance—even tolerance for a young woman who seems intent on abortion.  Since the opening scene of the work shows Nina seemingly prepared for an abortion, the rest of the narrative (in both film and novel) follows what would be an in medias res structure.  Nina is strongly affected not only by the sense of devotion to family asserted throughout the work, but also by José’s ethics.

          Is the loving support and quasi-religious imagery of this Mexican-American family relevant in a study concerning Latino literature on the life issues?  Yes, especially since ethnicity forms a crucial background of the plot.  After identifying himself as “RicoMex” (half Puerto Rican and half Mexican), José wonders about Nina’s ethnic heritage in a passage that concentrates the narrative’s focus on ethnic values:

José realized he knew so little about her.  Obviously not Hispanic, what type of family did she come from?  Irish?  German?  Or had they been over here so long they were simply typical Americans with nothing left of their old countries in them?  (166)

It is the final rhetorical question that the rest of American society must answer.

Contemporary Latino Literary Aesthetics

What remains is to consider how these works confirm or challenge, supplement or expand tenets of contemporary Latino literary aesthetics, and forming a canon of such tenets is necessarily conjectural.  Gloria Anzaldúa’s seminal 1987 Borderlands/La Frontera eclectically identifies several such tenets: the idea that “la mestiza is a product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another”; the idea that “remaining flexible” becomes a survival tactic; that “male hatred and fear […] we do not excuse, we do not condone and we will no longer put up with”; finally, that “el retorno” to one’s roots or heritage is ineluctable (1850-8). 

As summative as these points seem, they are not unique.  European Americans experienced the same in the middle nineteenth century (especially the Irish) and other European nationalities in the early twentieth century.  What is Anzaldúa’s definition of la mestiza if not the same as the European peasant who brought the Old World to the New?  Flexibility became a European-American survival tactic as the initial immigrants left their own rich Italian, Polish, or Russian cultural heritages for the so-called white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant American one.  Anzaldúa’s focus on resisting male oppression may sound unique, but the history of European women writers testifies to the production of work resisting such patriarchy, a favorite and now tired phrase of a feminist literary criticism largely propped up by feminists who are themselves getting older.[6]  Finally, the idea of el retorno is not a unique characteristic pertaining only to Latino literary aesthetics; European immigrants, certainly the first generation, dreamed of returning to the homeland, but the opportunities of the New World forestalled the return, as much as two world wars and the dominance of the Iron Curtain, so that the desire for the return to the European homeland is now experienced by Americans only vaguely aware of their European roots and who “return” to Europe as a tourist during a week-long vacation.

A similar attempt at listing attributes of Latino aesthetics may be found in a 2002 anthology of contemporary Latino works, Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States.  In his introduction Nicolás Kanellos declares that

Hispanic literature of the United States is transnational in nature; it emerges from and remains intimately related to the crossing of political, geographic, cultural, linguistic, and racial boundaries [….] Our paradigm of native, immigrant, and exile cultures and literatures is meant to be dynamic: It allows for the ebbs and flows of new cultural inputs and for culture change from one generation to another.  (29-30)

The summary idea of this passage must also be relegated as just another tenet which matches the European-American experience.  The terms offered in the listing could apply equally to British, German, and Greek immigrants as they can to any Hispanic ones.

Finally, in his 2008 introduction to a recent collection of Tato Laviera’s poems, William Luis writes that

Whereas “hispano” emphasized the Hispanic language, culture, and traditions, “Latino” is a communal acceptance of the adopted environment that produces a new and hybrid culture, based on the coming together of differences.  (“Tato” xv)

This attempt at definition of the Latino literary experience is just as ordinary as the ones above.  The stipulative definition in the dependent clause and the formal definition of the independent clause apply to European immigrants as much as any other ethnic group.  Thus, the rhetorical effect between the two categories is one of comparison, not contrast.  In fact, Latino culture may be at the point of hybridization that most European immigrant populations were in the 1930s.

After considering these sources for contemporary Latino literary aesthetics, what can be said about the three major works examined here?  The rhetorical argument could be made that these works demonstrate a shift in the Latino attitude toward abortion, a transformation that is most welcome as a response to the high abortion rate in that community.  What is the poem “Jesús Papote” vis-à-vis the topic of abortion if not a documentation of American society’s attempt to affect the Latina mother in the most desperate way possible, to encourage her to abort her child?  Similarly, what is the short story “Silent Dancing” if not an illustration that American society succeeded in affecting the Latina mother so that she aborted her child?  Finally, but most encouragingly, what is Bella if not the Latina response to American society, a clear si to la vida and no to aborto?

Whatever the current literature shows, an abortion rate twice that of white mothers “will out”—will need to be documented in literature, whether written or visual, to satisfy the basic need of catharsis.  Mothers cannot live with abortion in their history; such a disruption of the maternal instinct has been documented well by commentators in literatures of other ethnic groups.[7]  Now that Latinos are the dominant minority in the United States, and now that Latinos are becoming much more integrated into American society, as the twentieth-century European immigrants did before them, one can expect a deluge of narratives on the first life issue of abortion.  Moreover, as Latinos become further integrated into American society, their exposure to the remaining two life issues (infanticide and euthanasia) could follow the sociological trend of other ethnic groups which—secularized, focused on material comforts, and bereft of their ethnic identities—adopted infanticide and euthanasia positions contrary to those of their cultural and religious heritages.  Alternatively, if Latinos retain their positive and life-affirming values, then the anti-life philosophy which seems ascendant in American society may find a worthy adversary in a culture that has promoted respect for family and life for the past five hundred years and has shown no inclination yet to abandon those values.

Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria. “La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New

Consciousness.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 1850-8. Print. N.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

The Cider House Rules. Dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Perf. Tobey Maguire, Charlize

Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd, and Michael Caine. 1999. DVD.

Miramax, 1999.

Cumpiano, Ina. “Metonymies.” The Floating Borderlands: Twenty-Five

Years of U.S. Hispanic Literature. Ed. Lauro Flores. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1998. 390-1. Print.

Franco Migues, Darwin. “Ciudadanos de Ficción: Discursos y Derechos

Ciudadanos en las Telenovelas Mexicanas. El Caso Alma de Hierro.” Comunicación y Sociedad (2012): 41-71. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

Hurtado, Aida. “Feminism and Feminisms.” The Reader’s Companion to

U.S. Women’s History. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

Kanellos, Nicolás. Introduction. Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic

Literature of the United States. Oxford: Oxford U P, 2002.1-32. Print.

Laviera, Tato. “a message to our unwed women.” La Carreta made a U-

          Turn. Houston: Arte Público P, 1992. Print.

—. “jesús papote.” Enclave. Houston: Arte Público P, 1985. Print.

Luis, William. “Tato Laviera: Mix(ing) t(hro)u(gh)ou(t).” Mixturao and Other

Poems. Houston: Arte Público P, 2008. ix-xxi. Print.

The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Gen. ed. Ilan Stavans. New York:

          W. W. Norton, 2011. Print.

Ortiz Cofer, Judith. Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto

Rican Childhood. 2nd ed. Houston: Arte Público, 1991. Print.

Patriarchy in Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Social Issues

in Literature. Claudia Durst Johnson, ed. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2010. Print.

Samson, Lisa. Bella: A Novelization of the Award-Winning Movie. Nashville:

Thomas Nelson, 2008. Print.

[1]  However, see footnote seven regarding Ina Cumpiano’s poem “Yo, La Malinche.”

[2]  Excerpts from these texts, which were incorporated into the presentations at last year’s conferences, are replicated here because I think that the works need to be disseminated much more than they have been.  As every public speaker knows, the demo- and psychographics of an audience depend on the knowledge and attitudes that persons have of the subject matter.  Before almost every academic presentation, therefore, I ask my audience if anyone has heard of this author or that work.  If the audience is familiar with the person or material, then the presentation from the speaking copy can be adjusted accordingly.  However, if the audience is unfamiliar with the author or his or her material, then I must supply ad hoc appositions or clarifications throughout the presentation.  What struck me at all three conferences (it must be remembered that one was international in focus, and two others largely transcontinental) was that, with the exception of a few people who recognized Judith Ortiz Cofer and one other person aware of Gloria Anzaldúa, virtually no one even heard of the works I would discuss.  I trust that my effort to highlight the controversial passages in the authors’ material will encourage my colleagues and their students to become closely familiar with these works.

[3]  Although beyond the scope of this paper, since the focus is on American (as in US) Latino literature, Darwin Franco Migues’ critique of a popular Mexican soap opera indicates the degree to which scholarship serves a political agenda.  Having a character exclaim “Abortemos la Ley, no la Vida” is, apparently, evidence for Franco Migues that “based on an analysis that followed the representation of abortion and alternative family formations in the soap opera Alma de Hierro, this paper argues that telenovelas’ engagement with the public domain may hinder civil rights and the actors who pursue them” (41).

[4]  The mother in another Laviera poem is not as silent as the mother here.  In “a message to our unwed women”, the mother carrying an unplanned child affirms her decision to give birth unequivocally:

“i am now a true woman

my child will not be called


this act was done with love

with passion

my feelings cannot be planned

i will not let their innocence

affect me

i will have him, coño,

because i want him


to give birth A LA RAZA

is the ultimate that i can

ever give.”  (37)

[5] Still Photo from the Image Gallery of Bella (, accessed 10 February 2013).

[6]  I commend our colleagues Cheryl Carpenter and Charlotte Teague of Alabama A&M University, who not only discussed patriarchal oppression, but also said something about how to stop it.  They discussed “sass” as a rhetorical strategy in Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use” to fight such oppression in their presentation (session 162).

[7]  A gap in the literary criticism would be filled by a detailed study of Ina Cumpiano’s poetry would be interesting.  While one of the sections of “Yo, La Malinche” discusses infanticide, another poem (“Metonymies”) sounds odd to the trained academic ear, aware that the connotations of some words automatically suggest abortion imagery.  The matter of authorial intent, therefore, would be a significant aspect to determine in future research aiming to explicate her work.

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