Double Margins: Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel Discusses LGTBQ Hispanic Caribbean Lit

In her talk, “Families of Desire: Migration and Sexuality in New York’s Caribbean Enclaves,” Yolanda
Martinez-San Miguel explored the representation of same-sex affective and sexual relationships in
the works of one lesbian and two gay Hispanic Caribbean authors, all of whom migrated to New
York from their island of origin and who portray this Diasporic experience in their writing. Her presentation
forms part of a broader, book-length project on cultural representations of migration among
Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and New York, including literature, popular music,
graffiti, and photography.
In this paper, Martinez-San Miguel is principally concerned with how articulations of national
discourse are questioned and destabilized by the double marginality of the literary characters she
explores, as “outsiders” to the nation on the basis of their sexual orientation and migratory
displacement. Her project, she says, is to “examine a series of stories in which homosexual desire,
framed by migrations, becomes a motive for rethinking relationships to national space.”
In her analysis of two stories by the Cuban-born Sonia Rivera Valdez from her prize-winning
volume Las historias prohibidas de Marta Veneranda (1997), Martinez-San Miguel explores the ways in
which lesbian relationships between exiled and island-based
women can serve to bridge the national divide imposed by
political circumstance and also challenge dominant, masculine
conceptions of Cubanness. Both stories have New Yo r k – b a s e d
protagonists who move away from normative, heterosexual
relationships and choose, instead, to engage in lesbian couplings
that help them come to terms with their feelings of nostalgia and
displacement. The second story, “La mas prohibida de todas,”
actually has the protagonist return to her country of origin to
pursue her erotic quest, one which is portrayed as emulating and
improving on traditional male discourses of desire.
Martinez-San Miguel then moves on to analyze several
short stories from the volume Viaje a la Habana: novela en viajes
(1990) by Cuban-born author Reinaldo Arenas. She focuses
especially on the story “Viaje a la Habana,” which tells of an
exiled Cuban male who had left the island because of
accusations of homosexuality and returns, 15 years later, to visit
his wife and now fully-grown son. While in Havana, the
protagonist meets and has sex with a young man who wishes to
leave Cuba, and who turns out to be his own son, Ismaelito.
Martinez-San Miguel sees this story of frustrated romance and
incest as a crucial destabilization of patriarchal authority and an
ironic critique of the possibilities of return and conciliation with
the country of origin.