In his 2008 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz uncovers the ways in which blackness has been repressed and denigrated in the Dominican Republic. He critiques this pervasive Negrophobia through two central characters, Oscar and his mother, Belí, both of whom are marginalized because of their African phenotypes. Díaz underscores Oscar and Belí's link to Africa through the recurring figure of the mongoose, which appears at crucial moments in the novel and whose journey parallels the trek of Africans to the Americas as early as the 15th century. The mongoose higlights the ways in which Oscar and Belí (and all Dominicans) are children of the African Diaspora. Intertwined with this recovery of blackness in the novel is its redefinition. Díaz writes against a collective tendency in the United States to see “Black” and “Latino” as two mutually exclusive identities, borrowing from Latin American constructions of race as a fluid identity. In particular, Díaz' use of specifically Dominican racialized terms to describe characters and his narrator's frequent use of the word “nigger” juxtapose two different understandings of race in general and blackness in particular. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao not only lays bare how, as Silvio Torres-Saillant asserts, “Dominican society is the cradle of blackness in the Americas,” but it also demonstrates the heterogeneous, dynamic, and contingent nature of blackness itself.
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Research Article| January 01 2018
Recovering and Redefining Blackness in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Ethnic Studies Review (2018) 39-40 (1): 1–18.
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Sarita Nyasha Cannon; Recovering and Redefining Blackness in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Ethnic Studies Review 1 January 2018; 39-40 (1): 1–18. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/esr.2018.39-40.1.1
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