The Construction of Diasporic Identity in Literary Discourse: The Jewish Gaucho

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Book Chapter

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Identity and the Arts in Diaspora Communities


International and area studies cannot afford to ignore the critical insights offered by an inquiry into the aesthetic dimensions of social life. Artistic production is the crafted representation of self and environment, and it has enormous capacity to encode articulations of identity and create a strategic space in the social arena from which to speak. The construction and positing of identity through art, which may lead to participation in social debate, is a political act that is an especially viable tactic for those members of society speaking on behalf of marginalized groups with limited access to the debate. By representing themselves, their communities, and their circumstances through art, the disenfranchised can often begin a dialogue with the greater society. This strategic use of artistic discourse is particularly suitable to diasporic communities because of their unique relationship both to their host countries and to their homelands. Diasporic communities attempting to assert themselves in host country politics negotiate the delicate balance between assimilation to the host country and preservation of homeland tradition. Due to its unique polyvalence, art enables the diasporic community to construct and articulate its identity without completely upsetting this balance. This chapter explores the literary work of Alberto Gerchunoff, an Argentine Jew, in this diasporic context. Gerchunoff''s first collection of stories, Los gauchos judios (The Jewish Gauchos), was published in 1910 as part of the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of Argentine independence. The book is currently regarded as a classic of Argentine literature and is one of the first Spanish-language literary works written in the modern period by a Jew. Gerchunoff' s work provides an example of how diasporic identity is often constructed at the flexible intersection of art and politics. His articulation of Jewish identity demonstrates the ways in which the historic and socio-political context of the host country can influence diasporic discourse.


Published as:
Bartosik-Vélez, Elise. "The Construction of Diasporic Identity in Literary Discourse: The Jewish Gaucho." In Identity and the Arts in Diaspora Communities, edited by Thomas Turino and James Lea, 61-8. Warren, Michigan: Harmonie Park Press, 2004.

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