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The Process of Othering in The Voices of the Strait and Letters From Alou

Simpice Boyogueno

This essay will use various theorists’ (Michel de Montaigne, Michel de Certeau and others) postulates about the othering to analyze Las voces del estrecho (The Voices of the Strait) - by Andrés Sorel and Las cartas de Alou (Letters from Alou) - by Montxo Armendáriz. The texts involved in this analysis, as well as its very topic are part of my research project on contemporary transatlantic migration. In this project I study the on-going population movement across the Atlantic as it is seen in Hispanic novels and films. Both the film and the novel object of this analysis make a good account of the relationship between contemporary African immigrants in Spain and Spanish society.

Film and novel are some of the modern text types that best frame societal phenomena in general and the migration issue in particular. According to Mikhail Bakhtin, the novel is the literary genre of the dialogue not only between its different fictional human representations, but also between these and the reader. Martha Wolfenstein characterizes the cinema almost with the same terms. For her, film plots are embedded within specific cultural contexts. The role of the reader/analyst, as she explains, is to relate the film plot with its cultural context. This essay will analyze the relationships among different social representations in the multicultural context generated by the migration phenomenon.

In The Voices of the Strait, the ghosts of dead African immigrants come back to consciousness
and recount the raison d’etre of their presence in Spain, the conditions in which they died, the reasons for the attempt to emigrate and their subsequent death, and also their condition as victims of xenophobia on the part of Spaniards, Spanish Guardia Civil and politicians. In this novel I will be looking at the process of othering through the relationship between African immigrants and Spanish society. In Letters from Alou, the Senegalese protagonist gets into a canoe in the African cost of the Atlantic determined to join his friend. In Barcelona, his friend’s couple moves to another apartment soon after his arrival.

After loosing his new apartment mate, Alou relocates in the tunnel where most of African immigrants live. On his way to the farms a bartender refuses to serve him a coke. Another bartender opposes Alou’s relationship with his daughter, despite his kindness to African harvesters. This love story will not prevent Alou from being deported, ironically in front of the hotel where Carmen (his lover) and himself accustomed to hide their relationship. How do these scenes and others connect with the othering process?

In Heterologies, De Certeau analyzes Montaigne’s celebrated work “Of Cannibals”:The savage “I.” Montaigne’s voyage in this work is similar to and recalls some historical voyages of Spanish explorers (Marco Polo’s, Christopher Columbus’s, Amerigo Vespucci’s) and conquerors (Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, Pedro de Mendoza). African immigration to Spain is the modern version of historical voyages. It corresponds to the third step of Montaigne’s voyage: the return trip. Through fictional text, the savage/cannibal irrupts and fills with his presence the exclusivist language and land. From that moment the text has to report not only European words but also the immigrant’s. This essay contends that textual discourse is twined with a figurative meaning that sustains a permanent exclusion of the difference. But the difference has to impose itself not only physically but by creating new forms of discourse that also play a certain hegemonic role. This is made possible by and shows the understanding by the other of the discursive process excluding him.

Thus, the new discourse developed by the “other” re-writes history: by redefining the historical stereotype playing against him, and by redefining space, time and new forms of human relations.

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