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Heroes, victims or villains? Irish Presentations and Representations in Latin America and the Caribbean

Morelia, Mexico, 15-18 July 2009

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Mujer de la Casa/ Béan a Tí; a comparative study of Irish and Puerto Rican women's migrant narratives

O'Brien, Sarah (Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick)

Drawing on links between modern Latin and Irish migrant experiences, this paper will offer a comparative study of the oral testimonies of Irish and Puerto Rican women who emigrated in the 1950s and 1960s to Britain and Chicago respectively . Irish and Puerto Rican emigration was driven by economic crises in the immediate post-war years and significantly, both contexts featured a mass migration of women. Consequently, the oral testimonies of Irish and Puerto Rican women make for an interesting comparison. The narratives analysed in this study, recorded by the author between 2005 and 2008, highlight the following issues: the struggle to balance a Catholic, nationalist and class identity; the effort to satisfy both the demands of the homeland and the expectations of the host society; as well as an inherent sense of alienation from the host community. Most pertinently, textual analysis of these oral testimonies reveal the degree to which Irish and Puerto Rican women's experience of migration was profoundly influenced by their gender and status as mothers, daughters and wives. The terms mujer de la casa and Béan a Tí (translating in English as 'woman of the house') were nationally accepted terms in Puerto Rico and Ireland in the twentieth century that meaningfully reinforced the overarching duty of the woman to the domestic sphere. Within this context, reading Irish and Puerto Rican women's testimonies in parallel, illuminates, in human detail, the common Diasporic experience of both groups. Thus, this paper will not only present a comparison of Irish and Puerto Rican women's narratives, but will also assert the necessity of oral history in modern academia, as a tool that enables us to understand processes of migrant-identity reconfiguration in a global setting.


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

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