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         PUERTO RICAN LITERATURE IN THE UNITED STATES        
LITERATURA PUERTORRIQUEÑA EN ESTADOS UNIDOS

Aurora Levins Morales

Principal Arriba

Latina Women Writers in the United States               -                    U.S. Latino/a Literature

 


 

Aurora Levins Morales (1954-) was born in Indiera, Puerto Rico, to a U.S.-born Puerto Rican mother and a Jewish father. In 1967 they went to the United States.  She has lived in Chicago, Minneapolis and Berkeley.  She is a lecturer and a social activist deeply concerned with issues affecting third world people and most especially women.  As a Puerto Rican writer Levins Morales deals with her Puerto Rican identity from a global perspective.  She is a member of the Latina Feminist Group and she collaborated in the group’s project Telling To Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (2001). Recurrent themes in her works and essays are sexual abuse, racial discrimination but also ecology and social justice. She shares with many other US women writers of color her use of hybrid forms (prose and poetry), mixture of personal and collective voices and the importance of a female ethnic heritage in the development of a female voice.

Her first and most acclaimed work, Getting Home Alive (1986), was written in collaboration with her mother, Rosario Morales.  It is a common project where both women pay homage to a multiple heritage where they find solace and refuge against discrimination and oppression.  Important themes in Getting Home Alive are female Puerto Rican identity, third world and working-class feminism, women’s relationships, Puerto Rican multiple identity (Latin American, African, Jewish, North American), memory as a means of recovering a past heritage and writing as a means of self-discovery.  Getting Home Alive is a hybrid collection of stories, poems and personal essays where their Puerto Rican identity is formally described as a mestiza identity, a crossroad of many diasporas. This collage of elements formally and symbolically represent a multiple identity which is perfectly defined in poems like “Child of the Américas”:

I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.

I am not taína. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.

I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.

I am new. History made me. My first language was spanglish.

I was born at the crossroads

And I am whole. (50)

For Aurora and her mother diversity is a source of power and home is everywhere.  Hybridity is described as a multiple heritage recovered by means of stories of female ancestors, of island landscapes, sounds and smells, and it is also described formally through the mixture of voices and of genres, prose and poetry.  For both women living in the borderlands describes the richness of a culturally diverse heritage.

More recent works by Aurora Levins Morales are Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas (1998) y Medicine Stories: History, Culture and the Politics of Integrity (1998).  Remedios is a fascinating collection of prose and poetry with retells the history of Puerto Rican people through the lives of Puerto Rican women’s ancestors from the old and the new world.  Comments on healing herbs are accompanied by stories who rewrite History telling the lives of a long line of women who have been silenced for centuries.  Some of the stories tell about pain, suffering abuse but most of them recover female figures who transmit strength and resistance.

Medicine Stories is a collection of personal essays grouped in five sections. The section Historian as Curandera” deals with history and the struggle over who has the authority to tell the story of other people; “Speaking in Tongues” concentrate on the power of language and how privilege language is used to silence other people’s authentic stories; “Raíces” explores with the realities and myths of identity politics and the complexity of Puerto Rican identity; “Privilege and loss” discusses different aspects of privilege and the costs of accepting it and the final section, “Integrity,” is about living a politics of integrity, about commitment, activism and the integration of collective and individual liberation. The whole collection calls for a revision of painful personal and collective memories and history as a way to heal all wounds.

Aurora Levins Morales’ poem on September 11 events, “Shema,” has been widely spread on the Internet as her most recent acclaimed piece of work.

 

Works Cited

Levins Morales, Aurora and Rosario Morales.  Getting Home Alive.  New York: Firebrand Books, 1986

Levins Morales, Aurora.  Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.

------.  Medicine Stories: History, Culture and the Politics of Integrity.  Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1998.

 

 Antonia Domínguez Miguela

University of Huelva, Spain

Getting Home Alive (1986) Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas (1998) Medicine Stories: History, Culture and the Politics of Integrity (1998)

 

Further Reading /Works about the author:

 
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Benmayor, Rina. "Getting Home Alive: The Politics of Multiple Identity." The Americas Review 17.3-4: 71-77.

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Doughty, Julia.  “Testimonies of Survival: Notes from an Interview with Aurora Levins Morales.”  Standards 5.1 (1995): Online http://www.colorado.edu/journals/standards/V5N1/essays/morales_int.html

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Flys Junquera, Carmen.  "Geography and Identity in Rosario Morales and Aurora Levisn Morales's Getting Home Alive."  Moncada, Junquera y Gurpegui 1992, 141-53.n In Alberto Moncada,  Carmen Flys Junquera and Jose Antonio Gurpegui Palacios eds.  El poder hispano: Actas del V congreso de culturas hispanas en los Estados Unidos.  Alcala: universidad de Alcala, 1992.

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García, Elisabeth.  “The Making of a Curandera Historian: Aurora Levins Morales.”  Centro Journal 17.1 (2005): 184-201.

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Lindhe, Laura . "Turning the Page on History." Golden Gater Online March 26, (1996): Online http://www.journalism.sfsu.edu/www/pubs/gater/spring96/mar26/04.html

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López Sprinfield, Consuelo.  “Mestizaje in the Mother-Daughter Autobiography of Rosario Morales and Aurora Levins Morales.” A/b: Auto/biography Studies ?: 303-15.

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McCracken, Ellen. New Latina Narrative: The Feminine Space of Postmodern Ethnicity.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1999.

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Rivera, Carmen S. Chapter 3: “The Fluid Identity of Rosario Morales and Aurora Levins Morales in Getting Home Alive” Kissing the Mango Tree: Puerto Rican Women Rewriting American Literatura.  Houston: Arte Público Press, 2002.

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Rojas, Lourdes. "Latinas at the Crossroads: An Affirmation of Life in Rosario Morales and Aurora Levins Morales's Getting Home Alive." In Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Reading, edited by A. Horno-Delgado, E. Ortega, N. Scott, and N. Saporta-Sternbach.. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989, 166-77.

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Schulz, Diane R.  “Remedies for an Ailing World. A Book review of Remedios by Aurora Levins Morales. “ Awakened Woman: The Journal of Women’s Spirituality Summer 2002. Online http://www.awakenedwoman.com/br_remedios.htm

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Stefanko, Jacqueline.  "New Ways of Telling: Latinas' Narratives of Exile and Return."  Frontiers May- August 1996, V. 17, no. 2, 50-69.

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Wadman, Monika. "Multiculturalism and Nonbelonging: Construction and Collapse of the Multicultural Self in Rosario and Aurora Levins Morales’s Getting Home Alive.”  LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory 11.2 (2000): 219-237.

 

 

MY ARTICLES:

bullet My entry on Aurora Levins Morales for the forthcoming  Hispanic American Literature, by Facts on File
bullet---.  "Múltiples geografías de una identidad fluida: Getting Home Alive de Aurora Levins Morales y Rosario Morales" en Pasajes de ida y vuelta: La narrativa puertorriqueña en Estados Unidos. Huelva: Servicio de publicaciones de la Universidad de Huelva, 2005.

 

LINKS:

bullet Short notes on her work
bulletAudio Clip of Aurora Levins Morales
bulletTestimonies to Survival: An Interview with Aurora Levins Morales“ © 1993, 1995 by Aurora Levins Morales and the STANDARDS Editorial Collective. Interview by Julia Doughty
http://www.colorado.edu/journals/standards/V5N1/essays/morales_int_3.html
bulletThis site explores the style, themes, comparisons and issues within Aurora Levins Morales's work and offers discussion questions.
http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/heath/syllabuild/iguide/morales.html
bulletHeath Anthology of American Literature: Aurora Levins Morales ...
http://college.hmco.com/english/lauter/heath/4e/students/author_pages/contemporary/morales_au.html
bulletSpanish-American Voices in American Poetry. Different types of poetry (Spanish-American and Nuyorican), highlighting works by Morales as examples
http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1991/4/91.04.02.x.html
bulletA book review of Morales' Remedios by Diane R. Schulz
http://www.awakenedwoman.com/br_remedios.htm
bulletSummary and comments on Medicine Stories, by Aurora Levins Morales
http://www.southendpress.org/books/medicine.shtml
bulletAurora Levins Morales- Página Centra: Education, family, works, links and bibliography. The original site is in Spanish, the translated page is rough translations but offers valuable information.
http://www.castilleja.org/faculty/flaurie_imberman/mundo/levinsmoralesa/levinsmoralesah.html
bulletPoetrymagazine.com Information on Aurora Levins Morales. Picture, biography and selected poems.
http://www.poetrymagazine.com/archives/2004/Spring004/Features/moralesa.htm
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Aurora Levins Morales was born in Indiera, Puerto Rico, on February 24, 1954, to a Puerto Rican mother and a Jewish father. She came to the United States with her family in 1967, and lived in Chicago and New Hampshire. She presently works in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has resided since 1976. Her short stories have appeared in This Bridge Called My Back, Cuentos: Stories by Latinas, and in Revista Chicano-Riqueña. In 1986 she published Getting Home Alive, a collection of short stories, essays, prose poems, and poetry in English authored in collaboration with her mother, Rosario Morales.

Levins Morales does not belong to the group of writers who were brought up in New York City and whose works deal with life in El Barrio. Her experiences have taken her, instead, from the urban world of Chicago, to the rural quiet of New Hampshire, and to the pluralistic and politically radical culture of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her writing has been profoundly influenced by two major literary streams: first, by North American feminists like Adrienne Rich, Susan Griffin, and in particular by Alice Walker. She has also read extensively the works of major Latin American writers such as Pablo Neruda and Eduardo Galeano. Her Puerto Rican–Jewish heritage has also been an important source of creativity. Her search for a language that will express a Latina woman’s experience and struggle identifies her with the body of literature produced by US women of color, and closely connects her with the work of contemporary Chicana writers.

She tries to define her mestiza and female identity through an analysis and critique of her two cultures. While considering herself “a child of the Americas,” and not just Puerto Rican, Aurora employs in her writings the cultural symbols of her country, and her childhood memories of the Puerto Rican countryside. A unique element of Getting Home Alive is the generational dialogue and “cross-fertilization,” as she describes it, between her mother’s voice and her own. Along with Víctor Hernández Cruz, Levíns Morales illustrates the gradual diversification that is taking place in United States Puerto Rican literature. Following a first moment of protest which denounced the social and economic conditions of the puertorriqueños in the Bronx and El Barrio, younger Puerto Rican writers are exploring other issues, such as language, multiple subjectivities, international politics, class, feminism, and transnational identities. Their denunciations are not expressed directly but are embedded in a more lyrical and individual poetic language. Writers like Cruz and Morales exemplify a synthesis between the North American literary tradition and a broad Latin American culture. As Puerto Ricans have moved away from New York City and settled in other urban centers throughout the United States, their life experiences have varied, and the emerging writings are thus characterized by a greater diversity of voices.
Frances R. Aparicio
University of Illinois at Chicago

 

 

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© Antonia Domínguez Miguela. Site last updated: 3 March 2007