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Cultural Alienation And Colonial Desire In "Alienacion" By Julio Ramon Ribeyro.

Enviado por   •  15 de Julio de 2011  •  3.106 Palabras (13 Páginas)  •  1.490 Visitas

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Cultural alienation and colonial desire in "Alienacion" by Julio Ramon Ribeyro.

DESPITE its political independence that dates back to the early 19th century, Latin America has been the subject in one way or another of overt or inconspicuous forms of neo-colonial domination exercised by the United States. The US's imperialist discourse--now disseminated with even greater efficiency under the guise of neo-liberalism and globalization--reproduces itself in different sites of the colonized, becoming visible in such aspects as race, ethnicity, difference, representation, migration, and imperial suppression. This essay proposes a postcolonial reading of the short story "Alienacion" by the Peruvian author Julio Ramon Ribeyro, in order to shed light on how the metropolitan modes of representation are received and appropriated by the periphery, as the story's protagonist plays out the politics of the imperial, meaning North American, paradigm. (1) I will also argue that the text dismantles colonial discourse by highlighting its unsuitability within Peruvian/Latin American context and by exposing the false promise of the metropolitan project. 

Ribeyro, the recipient of the highly regarded 1994 Premio de Literatura Juan Rulfo, echoes the Mexican literary icon in his exquisitely concise prose, which relies on a strong emotional charge that transpires through his realistic texts, and in his concern for the lives of the wretched. In the same vein, Ribeyro exhibits a strong interest in every aspect of the experience of marginalization, be it spatial (as in living on the border, or markedly outside the metropolis), physical (concerning one's appearance, which inevitably encompasses social and cultural limitations as well), and finally existential, oftentimes being the result of one's inability (contested or not) to interiorize predominant cultural norms. This disorienting paradox of 'otherness,' of feeling foreign within the realm of the familiar, while at the same time sensing sameness in a territory of difference, shows in the story "Alienacion" the effects of what Roberto Fernandez Retamar terms the infection with the ideology of the enemy, where the Latin American subject is "but a distorted echo of what occurs elsewhere" (3). The story offers an ironic and ultimately tragic insight into the life of Roberto, a mixed-race limeno, whose dream is to become a white American from the United States. As part of this frustrated project of assimilation, he strives to transform himself physically, dresses like a US tourist, and seeks to learn English. He eventually relocates to New York, where after months of poverty he enlists in the US Army, where things end tragically. 

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The very first sentence of the story encapsulates the protagonist's multi-layered marginalization within Lima's society. Roberto is a zambo--which implies his social inferiority--and his name, Lopez, locates him within the most common and the lowest sector of a society whose elite traditionally boasts foreign-sounding last names. While Roberto looks like a zaguero de Alianza Lima, a football club traditionally associated with blacks and mulattos, he aspires to resemble a blond futbolista from Philadelphia. This dissonance between Roberto's appearance and his projected fantasy of origin and identity reveals that he has been afflicted by what Homi Bhabha would call "political and psychic violence within civic virtue" (43), a self-hatred in this case disseminated by the racist discourse of North American imperialism and interiorized by its colonial subjects. The signs of Roberto's marginalization in relation to the other actors of the story reach further, since he lives on the very edge of his generally white neighborhood, in "el ultimo callejon que quedaba en el barrio" (262), thus physically occupying a peripheral space as well. In sum, Roberto's looks, his origin, and his economic status marked by his modest living quarters and his mother's lowly profession of washerwoman place him at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. This markedly inferior status complicates the development of his bodily schema, where instead of seeing himself for what he is, he begins to evaluate himself in terms of what he is not. Such a disturbance of his own frame of reference caused by desiring to be the idealized Other, while at the same time perceiving himself as a non-identity, shatters Roberto's very essence as an individual or, as Bhabha observed when examining the same phenomenon described in Franz Fanon's writing, 

What these repeated negations of identity dramatize, in their elision of the seeing eye that must contemplate what is missing or invisible, is the impossibility of claiming an origin for the Self (or Other) within a tradition of representation that conceives of identity as the satisfaction of a totalizing, plenitudinous object of vision. (46) 

Roberto's desire to move beyond his subaltern position reaches new levels when he suffers his first adolescent heartbreak. Like the wealthy boys from the neighborhood, he frequents the plaza Bolognesi to stare at Queca, a local beauty. Even though, as the narrator stresses, the girl does not exactly fit into the privileged community, since her father is "un empleadito que iba a trabajar en omnibus" and her house is adorned with geraniums rather than the more prestigious roses (263), the boys, blinded by Queca's unquestionably good looks, choose to ignore her lower status and court her, hoping in vain that she will finally grace them with her attention. One day Roberto gets a one-time opportunity to return to her a runaway ball, and this brief contact between them irreparably deepens his inferiority complex and his immeasurable desire to become the hegemonic Other. It is so because Queca's gaze has long absorbed the attitude of the colonialist Self who objectifies and negates the worth of the colonized. Sensing that her own higher social status is tantamount to her proximity to the whiter, and thus more prosperous, class in Lima's hierarchy, she violently rejects Roberto's attempts to befriend her: 

Queca, que estiraba ya las manos, parecio cambiar de lente, observar algo que nunca habia mirado, un ser retaco, oscuro,


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