Literary translations : telenovelas in contemporary Chicana literature
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Chicana literature is often discussed in relation to broad literary or theoretical movements (post-modernism, magic realism, or feminism) but these approaches often fail to account for or even consider other culturally derived sources of critical interrogation. For example, Chicana authors, through direct references or allusions, demonstrate that Spanish-language soap operas, known as telenovelas, have a cultural currency that can bridge people across generations, nationalities, and class differences. Telenovelas also have theoretical value, for these productions often feature stories that address issues of race, class, gender, nationality, language, and violence. Reading contemporary Chicana literature through the lens of the telenovela, including its history and status as a cultural form, reveals the ways in which Chicana authors not only rely on but also revise the form. They disrupt the rigid Manichean world view present in telenovelas by challenging heteronormative romance and traditional gender roles to allow for alternate stories, where endings are not always tidy or happy. Drawing on recent ethnographic research in communication studies, I examine the history of Spanish-language television within the U.S. to substantiate the cultural currency of and show how the telenovela permeates and informs Mexican-American identity. Relying on the work of Jesús Martín-Barbero, I trace the development of the melodrama and romance genres out of which telenovelas emerge, evolving from newspaper serials, radionovelas, fotonovelas, to comic strip novels or libros semanales. I focus on the literary roots of the telenovela genre (with its origins in 19th century European serialized fiction) in relation to early Mexican-American historical romance narratives (María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Jovita González, and Eve Raleigh). Based on Gustavo Aprea and Rolando C. Martínez Mendoza's definition of the telenovela genre, I examine how contemporary Chicana fiction (Denise Chávez, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, and Nina Marie Martínez) both conforms to and deviates from the generic conventions. I provide a culturally based critical strategy for offering alternate readings of Chicana literature to show how these authors use the popularity of the telenovela form to reach a specific audience and lend new insight into how viewers, familiar with the genre conventions, are comparable to literary critics.