ImageKandiyoti, Dalia. “Consuming Nostalgia: Nostalgia and the Marketplace in Cristina Garcia and Ana Menendez.” MELUS 31.1 (Spring 2006): 81-97. JSTOR. Web. 12 June 2013.

Begins with bell hooks quote: “Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture” (hooks 21 qtd. in Kandiyoti 81). While majority culture makes marginalized culture a commodity, Kandiyoti asks, what happens when marginalized culture commodities itself? The key to selling Cuban-American culture is nostalgia. She claims that nostalgia plays a major role in the Perez-Firmat’s 1.5 generation.

Kandiyoti states that most scholars critique nostalgia for idealizing a conservative vision of the past. This past used for sale is manufactured (the simulacra—a past based on a non-existent idealized past). Other scholars (Mariyln Halter) suggest that identity is purchased through commodities (this idea runs through Fight Club: purchase identity: what couch defines me as a person? Baudrillard notes this problem early in his career; one buys a rolex watch not to keep time but to make a statement about who he is as a person). Nostalgia sells collective history, life, community, heritage that can be purchased—the consumer’s return to that idealized past (82). Nostalgia implies this analysis: nostos (return home)- algia (pain). Kandiyoti states that a return to home is unlikely if not impossible; “As a result, the need for strong cultural identities is fulfilled through the purchase of foods, clothes, crafts, travels et al., which are marketed through nostalgic discourse” (82).

Kandiyoti argues that Garcia and Menendez critically examine nostalgia consumerism, not dismissing it. These authors look at the original meaning of nostalgia as a painful return home. While rejecting the commodified, politicized and marketed nostalgia, “they [the characters] cannot help but be enveloped by the nostalgic link to the past” (83). Kandiyoti states that these characters cannot free themselves from the pain of their stories of longing. These characters move between identities of “ethnicity, consumerism, and personal history.” (83)

In Menendez, nostalgia is seen through the gaze of the other—the tourist observing the old men playing domino. ((While in Garcia, the exiles themselves market nostalgia: Constancia’s creams)).  The dominant Cuban nostalgia revolves around the same idealized version of pre-revolutionary Cuba without Castro. Constancia, Kandiyoti argues, is different in politics, averse to nostalgia because her mother abandoned her and returned with Reina. Constancia does not have the usual happy memories of the past in Cuba; rather her past is full of (personal not political) pain. The first look at nostalgia is the sister’s grandfather nostalgia for the Spain he left behind. Later, Constancia suffers culture shock but refuses (because of her painful past) to engage nostalgia in Miami. Yes, Constancia cries when she leaves little Habana and is angry her sister kept all their father’s things—she, Kandiyoti argues, hates exilic nostalgia but can’t “separate herself completely from it” (85). She later becomes a seller of the past.

Constancia sells cosmetics that really depend on selling the past and the ideal image of Cuban Woman. The image of Constancia’s mom sells the image of a past unaffected by time, from pre-Castro 40’s, and image of home/land. The products are a simulacrum of Cubanness. Constancia is affected by the letters she reads from customers who thank her for giving them a piece of the past so that “Her feelings about the past are shaped by the interaction of marketplace identities and her own history” (87). Riena does not engage in selling the past the way Constancia does. For Reina, the past and wanting to stay young is gibberish. The two split where Reina wants to protect her mother’s image against Constancia’s commodification.

The resolution reflects the algia (pain) of return—nostalgia. Since one cannot ever return (nostos), the nostalgic attempts “to reconstruct, resurrect, and recover” the past, but Constancia will learn that the past is a lie. The father’s notebook reveals the lies he built the past on. The lies of Constancia’s past mirror the lie of the past she sells in her cosmetics. However, now that she knows, Constancia, unlike the other exiles and their nostalgia, can leave the past behind. The past, itself, comes in multiple versions. (author, sisters, and father).

Menendez’s characters also struggle with the past, with nostalgia as presented in the dominant Cuban-American discourse. In Menendez, the Cubans participate in their own commodification—in past that are constructed and consumed by both Anglos and Cubans. However, I argue that they are victims of Miami politics selling an image that then becomes the reality. Again, a simulacrum—a hyper-reality: more real than reality.

Kaniyoti states that the main story is about loss—but I argue that yes, about loss but not a nostalgic loss of place. The story is about emotions—about the loss of family, community, and connection. The people who stare at the domino players are staring at people who have lost community. — (page89) Maximo sees his dead wife and is nostalgic about all things pertaining to his dead wife—not to loss homeland or yearning for return home. Kandiyoti looks at the stories of nostalgia and how “the narrative itself oscillates between Maximo’s anguish in the present and his exilic history” (90) –((because his exilic history has his wife))—Kandiyoti looks at the stories that the men tell that begin in happy reminiscences but that turn dark. ((because the stories are based on a reality that does not exist and lead to the end where he no longer has his wife)). She states that “nostalgia becomes a disturning rather than a soothing, pleasant, or identity-reinforcing link to the past” (90)—Nostalgia becomes an emotional reminder of the lost place in the world while also reminding Maximo of a past he shared with his wife that is no longer there. Kandiyoti aptly points out that “ But for Maximo, the positive elements of the past do not coexist with the painful memories as separate entities—the remembered positive aspects of the past in particular produce suffering” (90)– a number of problems with this observation: of course, as with any exile—as this very essay points out that nostalgia is pain and return—Maximo’s thoughts on the past lead to pain. The positive past only reinforces the painful present. If the past was great and is gone, then of course remembering how great things were will be painful. Doubly so for Maximo who lost his wife: when he thinks of happy times with her, he will be in pain through the positive. This point seems obvious—a painful past will be remembered happily if it is left behind.

Kandiyoti claims that the Cuban’s nostalgia, replayed over in songs, writing, politics, and products for sale, give “outsiders” a view of “Miami Cubans” that have solidified. She cites 8th street as a place for Cubans and tourist. She points out the story’s opening on the park rather than the characters. Kaniyoti cites the Dominicans as Menendez’s way to show that Miami is a center for many Latinos, highlights “cultural practices” with Caribbean cultures, and to show how Cuban’s discourse affects others, as seen in Antonio’s response to Raul’s musings on the women that pass by.

A look at how tourist consume the Cuban other, which irritates Maximo. Then she analyzes the jokes. She says “This final joke is a caricature of the manufactured grandiose past, It validates Antonio’s and other’s impatience with the exiles’ nostalgia. At the same time as it undermines dominant Cuban nostalgia and tourists’ vicarious experience, Menendez’s story also reinforces Maximo’s non-commodifiable suffering” (94). Ok… first, that is ONE reading of the joke. Yes, we can see the joke in this manner, but that misses all the nuance of the joke. The joke reflects a past in which a poor exile had everything (was a German Sheperd) to where he has nothing (mutt). She states that the last joke leaves Maximo in tears because he wonders what he is able to salvage from the past—but could it be that he is in tears because he remembers his wife? Kandiyoti goes on to suggest that Menendez (herself?) suggest that nostalgia is a spent discourse because the joke is a repetition not an original the way Maximo thought.

These characters (in both stories) both participate in selling nostalgia and an image of Cuba (although neither really falls under Perez-Firmat’s 1.5 definitions since they both came over much too old. Their kids are 1.5, who came over in adolescences) and dissent from it.

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