Telenovelas are such a powerful cultural product that they are watched by millions of people daily and represent the largest export commodity in all of Latin America. So, why are U.S. Latina/o writers critiqued for incorporating this distinctly “Hispanic cultural referent” in their narratives? When might one of the most denigrated forms of cultural expression become a catalyst for female empowerment and solidarity? Under what conditions can the “dirty discourse of gossip,” as Robert C. Allen has termed it, forge a common ground or bridge amongst women on both sides of the North and South American borders? Should novels meant to literarily represent the daily lives and struggles of Mexican migrants, Cuban exiles, Dominican immigrants and Puerto Rican transnationals in the U.S. ignore the one cultural product which these otherwise diverse groups share?
This dissertation attempts to answer these questions. The motivation behind this investigation lies primarily in the tensions between the increasing presence of telenovelas in contemporary U.S. Latina/o literature and the adamant criticism of scholars directed at fiction writers who incorporate serialized narrative content and other melodramatic forms in their works. This project offers a new analytical approach to examine melodrama’s subversive potential within U.S. Latina/o literature by adapting recent scholarship on serialized melodrama and feminist theory to discussions of the Latin American telenovelas and U.S. Latina/o literature.
This dissertation is primarily a literary study that draws from media studies scholarship to explore: (1) why Latina/o fiction writers accentuate the role of telenovelas in women?s daily lives and; (2) how writers? preoccupations with the most underappreciated Latin American mass-mediated product adds a level of complexity to a set of narratives already rich in representations of Latina/o heterogeneous subjectivity and discussions of transnationalism. Here, I explore U.S. Latina/o fiction’s fascination with telenovelas a narrative foil, as topic of women?s gossip, or as a structural model adopted to create a hybrid genre, the “novela telenovelizada”: a text that concurrently reads as both a novel and a telenovelas.