Formwalt, Jennifer Margaret
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In In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), Nuestra señora de la noche (2006), and La Hija de Cuba (2006), authors Julia Alvarez, Mayra Santos-Febres, and María Elena Cruz Varela recuperate the lives and biographies of historical women from their respective national contexts (the Dominican Mirabal sisters, Puerto Rican Isabel Luberza, and Cuban Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda) and rewrite them in dialogue with their own experiences and perspectives in order to speak out against the dehumanizing distortion of race, class, and gender differences with the discourses of national identity in their respective contexts and to speak up from a discursive position that has been silenced by cultural representations that reify such distortions through the appropriation and exclusion of counter-hegemonic voices. Drawing on the pedagogy of Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed 1970), the postcolonial literary criticism of Edward Said, the feminist theorizing of Audre Lorde, and the theoretical moorings of Third World feminists Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Trin T. Minh-ha, and others, these novels are analyzed as models of a transformational identity politics that rejects essentialized elements of identity and culture imposed externally in favor of self-definition through writing. Alvarez, Santos-Febres, and Cruz Varela contribute to Third World feminist struggles for decolonization that reclaim writing as a means of defining identity and culture outside of hegemonic discourses by weaving the voices of these historical women and their own into a feminist genealogy of resistance to oppression. This study proposes that Alvarez, Santos-Febres, and Cruz Varela engage writing as praxis by recuperating these historical women as leaders of social change and establishing themselves as facilitators of liberatory dialogues with their readership. Freire’s model of liberating consciousness through dialogue is manifested within the narrative among narrative voices from different race, class, and gender locations and beyond the text as an open-ended process that begins with the dialogic nature of the initial research process, which is recreated through writing the text and subsequently bringing the knowledge and understanding gained into dialogue with the readers presented with the critical insight that it provides regarding the lives and work of these women.