2003 volume 21(4) pages 461 – 477
doi:10.1068/d366

Cite as:
Sugg K, 2003, "Migratory sexualities, diasporic histories, and memory in queer Cuban-American cultural production" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 21(4) 461 – 477

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Migratory sexualities, diasporic histories, and memory in queer Cuban-American cultural production

Katherine Sugg

Received 13 January 2002; in revised form 29 July 2002

Abstract. Interrogations of diasporic relations between place, subjectivity, and sexuality have transformed representational practices and paradigms of both Cuban and Cuban-American identity on multiple fronts. Through a consideration of two texts representing the Cuban diaspora -- Achy Obejas's 1996 novel Memory Mambo and Carmelita Tropicana's performance piece "Milk of amnesia/Leche de amnesia", first developed in 1994 -- I explore the centrality of sexuality in constructions of self, community, and nation. These works effectively `queer' notions of immigrant belonging and Cuban diasporic consciousness, particularly in the sense of exploring the spatial imaginary of diaspora to expose and question the heteropatriarchal, and hence nationalist, underpinnings of more dominant models of diaspora. In their work, Obejas and Tropicana indicate the spatial dimensions of cultural memory and the imbrication of diasporic politics and sexualities. Attending to differences in genre, each work mines a crucial interplay between diasporic and sexual histories. In Tropicana's performance piece she uses a parodic sensibility and the broad humor enabled by the stage to engage, in a new register, with the politics of memory and the uses of place and sexuality, both in relation to Cuba and to the United States. Obejas works through and against the conventions of the contemporary novel (both immigrant and lesbian coming-of-age stories, in particular) to undo many of the assumptions regarding memory, sexuality, and cultural nostalgia as they are represented in her narrative. Both Obejas and Tropicana assert an imbrication of histories of colonialism, migration, and national attachment with experiences and practices of sexuality and gender in ways that underscore the importance of space and place in the constitution of collective memories.

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