Transnational Identity and Diasporic Language in Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao”

Term Paper, 2020

17 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Transnationalism in The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao
2.1. The Curse Fuku
2.2. Trujillo’s influence on the characters, regarding the curse
2.3. Transnational Identity

3. Language of Diaspora in The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

4. Conclusion

5. References

1. Introduction

“You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest” (Diaz 22).

Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, concentrates on the hard lives of those who leave and those who were left behind. Many immigrants must face a difficult life, far away from their motherland. Junot Diaz, who was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, presents a story of a “smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. “getto” (22), who struggles with his transnational identity. If we talk about transnational identity or transnational people, it refers to people who identify themselves with more than one country (Mayer 18). What determines our nationality? Our skin color? Our language? Our appearance? Is it, at all, important which nationality we have for our personality? Or do people with a migration background have a harder time finding their identity or do they just make life difficult for themselves? Diaz addresses these kinds of questions in his book “The Brief Wonderous Life od Oscar Wao”, by creating a story in which transnationalism and the New World is strongly represented. As a second-generation point of view, with immigrated parents, these questions and topics have a huge impact on my everyday life and many other transnational individuum’s. With themes like curses, identity, and dictatorship, but also language and stereotypes, the novel is inked in Magic Realism, which has a long and complex history in Latin- American literature.

It appears that “The Brief Wonderous Life od Oscar Wao” covers all these topics, which also play a major role today. In this literary paper, I will focus on the transnational processes which affect the protagonist Oscar de Leon and his family. This means I will first have a closer look at how the curse fuku shapes the transnational lives of the people in the story. In fact, in this first part of the paper, we will see that the curse not only influences the specific characters in the book, but also the whole Dominican nation. Furthermore, I will analyze the development of Oscar’s, Lola’s and Yunior’s transnational identity, regarding to the question how difficult it is to accept a hybrid identity. In addition, the Trujillo regime play a major role in dealing with a transnational identity, which I will exemplify in this literary paper, as well. At the end I will focus on

Diaz’s language use and how the language of diaspora influences the reader. By doing that, I will focus on the influence of Junot Diaz’ s life as an immigrant in the United States.

2. Transnationalism in The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

2.1. The Curse Fuku

Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the dictator of the Dominican Republic, had a huge influence on the transnational processes of his country, as well as the huge immigration wave to the US. Trujillo as one of the twentieth century’s most infamous dictators, ruled the DR between 1930-1961 with an implacable ruthless brutality (2-3). He started the ideology that every Dominican should not be black (3). Therefore, he started a genocide against the Haitian and Haitian-Dominican population. This ideology was supported by most of the non-black Dominican population and led to discrimination and violence in the beginning years of his leadership (3). The text extensively deals with the period of dictatorship of General Trujillo. The novel proceeds to concentrate on the fact that his presidency was backed by the United States and reflects on the terror regime that caused a flood of refugees into the United States (3). Trujillo also plays a major role in regard to the curse, which I will clarify in my next section. Diaz story is supported by pseudoacademic footnotes, which are used to read as commentary rather than academic information. These footnotes show the brutality of Trujillo’s regime by looking at the effects on Dominican cultural and social institutions (2-3). They also introduce important administration figures, who do not play a major role in the novel’s story.

More than over 400 years ago the curse “Fuku Americanus” (fuku) was established, by the “arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola” (1) and the beginning of the slave trade. Fuku comes from a long line of traditions and consist of a perfect mix of bad luck and chaos. According to Diaz, the curse was brought with the Europeans (Christopher Columbus) by their influence in Africa (1). After their arrival to the Dominican Republic, it was embraced and widely used by its people, until today. Curses usually serve as a means of retribution or even sin (Gonzalez 51). Fuku originates from a Eurocentrism that has sought to obliterate all vestiges of Africa throughout the Caribbean society, as José David Saldivar claims: (Gonzalez 51)

Yunior’s theorizing of the fuku americanus in his novel’s prologue allows his readers to comprehend the constitutive relationship between the historical a priori of Eurocentric genocide and its hegemonic history of offshore activities. His remarkable framing of the fuku americanus as an alternative unit of analysis beyond the unit of the nation-state further allows him to think through the US and Eurocentric structures of hegemonic thought and representation that continue to dominate the globe today. It signals, too, the planetary networks within which fuku Americanity, globalization (capitalism), and modernity themselves all became possible (Saldivar 133).

Yunior, the narrator and roommate of Oscar, states in footnote twenty-nine, “The Europeans were the original fuku, no stopping them” (244). The fact that Dominicans deny their African ancestry, and rather want to represent a European ancestry, is in a broader sense, a curse (Gonzalez 51). Fuku is demonstrated as a transnational phenomenon which came to the continent from Africa, “in the screams of the enslaved” (1), as a part of the cultural flows. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao illustrates a perfect fuku story. By passing an oral story down from generation to generation, the people grow up with the curse. At the very beginning, Yunior, who does not really believe in the fuku, tries to provide the proof in the prologue:

You want a final conclusive answer to the Warren Commission’s question, who killed JFK? Let me, your humble Watcher, reveal once and for all the God’s Honest Truth: It wasn’t the mob or LBJ or the ghost of Marilyn Fucking Monroe. It wasn’t aliens or the KGB or a lone gunman. It wasn’t the Hunt Brothers of Texas or Lee Harvey or the Trilateral Commission. It was Trujillo; it was the fuku. Where in conazo do you think the so-called Curse of the Kennedys comes from? How about Vietnam? Why do you think the greatest power in the world lost its first war to a Third World country like Vietnam? I mean, Negro, please (4).

Through this attempt, Diaz ensures that the reader also thinks about the curse and maybe even believes it. As the narrator Yunior also says, at the beginning, “fuku believes in you” (5).

2.2 Trujillo’s influence on the characters, regarding the CURSE

In the Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz illustrates how Trujillo influences the lives of the people in the Dominican Republic. As a starting point, Diaz uses Abelard Luis de Cabral, Oscar's grandfather, who belongs to the first generation affected by Trujillo’s dictatorship. Although his professional title as a medical physician is respected, he cannot represent any kind of authorial control in his own family, as well as in society. Even though we get to know that Albert is a perfect father to his two daughters, he cannot protect the women against the Trujillo Regime. Rafael Trujillo permits himself to have any women, regardless of age, class, legal status, or race, that he desires (213). By hiding her and “locking her up”, Abelard tries to protect her from the regime, but at the end he fails. Thereby, the Trujillo regime took the family’s liberties away (Heredia 213). The family is cursed from the moment, when Trujillo realizes that the daughter becomes his object of desire. Therefore, the family’s destiny is sealed. The dictator Trujillo slowly starts to exterminate the Cabral family, by imprison Abelard and killing the two daughters. The mother, Socorro, gives birth to a third daughter, Hypatia Belicia Cabral. She is the only one in the family who survived and ends growing up with her aunt, La Inca. Thereby, Beli represents the symbol of survival of the Cabral family’s honor (Heredia 213). Rafael Trujillo, the murderous dictator of the DR, brings a fuku on the people who live in the Dominican Republic, including Belicia, after she got involved with the Trujillo Regime, in her teenage years (Ziarkowska 138). The only option, for Belicia to survive, is to leave Santo Domingo and start a new live in “Nueva York”. She leaves behind her whole life and turns her back to the city which “foiled her at every turn” (163). By fleeing, Belicia tries to escape the family curse, fuku, which she believes is caused by the dictator Trujillo and tries to start a safe and stable life in the United States. The Cabral Family was often victimized by violence through the regime, and Belicia’s experience led to her exile in the US and her transnational life.

In the chapter, “The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral, 1955-1962,” Belicia represents a transnational generation as a Dominican immigrant in the United States. It is quite interesting that Diaz devotes a section of the novel exclusively to this character. Her story serves as an evidence for the crucial experiences, women had to face in the Dominican Republic (Heredia 211). However, her wish to live a good life, cannot be fulfilled because the past of her cursed family still weighs on her. Therefore, her naivety and romantic desire led to her three loves which ended as quickly as they began. Belicia was never the “perfect Dominican woman” because of her difficult love life. At an early age she started a sexual relationship with a boy in her school. Losing her virginity at this young age represents shame on the family’s reputation. Thereupon, La Inca places Beli in a nun school, which taught her to be a decent lady. This experience affected Beli in her adult years, especially with the upbringing of her daughter Lola. Belicia, however, did not learn from her mistakes regarding men. She falls in love with the gangster, Trujillo’s brother-in-law. By doing this, she enters dangerous waters and gets to feel this in the end. Trujillo’s sister “la feat”, finds out about the affair and threatens Belicia with the help of her brother’s companions. One day, she gets kidnapped by Trujillo’s helper and got beaten up. Diaz wants to illustrate with this brutality “the lack of protective laws for disempowered women of color on the island” (Heredia 215). To escape from the curse and the Trujillo regime, La Inca helps Beli to immigrate to the United States, more specifically to “Nueva York, a city so foreign she herself had never had the ovaries to visit” (159). At some point, the narrator foresees her future, “What she doesn’t yet know: the cold, the backbreaking drudgery of the factorias, the loneliness of Diaspora, that she will never again live in Santo Domingo, her own heart.. .her third and final heartbreak, and she would never love again” (164).

In this case the narrator talks about her husband who left her with their children to find something better. Therefore, Belicia must face the “loneliness of Diaspora” alone as a single mother who has to live in a working-class neighborhood with many Latinos, in New Jersey. As a black female immigrant in the United States, with a lack of the English language it is very hard to succeed. Through all these factors, chasing the famous “American Dream” is very difficult and almost impossible. This kind of dream is the reason many people want to go to the United States. However, many transnational people fail in the US and must return to their home country.

Being born, as a second Generation, into a Dominican family, the curse automatically swipes over to Oscar, the protagonist. He grows up with the belief in the curse, which is established by the constant stories, which he gets told by his parents, neighbors, and friends. Diaz uses different subtitles to separate the book in different chapters. The first chapter is called “Golden Age” which describes Oscar’s “perfect” Dominican life until he turns seven. By using this term Diaz refers to the time where Oscar lives the perfect life as a ‘macho’. For the reader it seems like, Oscar started to realize, after he turned seven years old, what the curse is about and that after having a “ménage â trois, the curse was “activated”. He starts gaining weight and establishes a passion for science-fiction and Elvish. He is unlike any character in all Latino literature. His appearance as well as his interests do not fit into the category of a Dominican male. Throughout the whole novel Oscar tries to bypass the curse. Moreover, he claims that everything bad that happens to him is due to the curse (194) Just like in his college years, where he tried to kill himself and justified his action with the curse, “It was the curse that made me do it, you know” (194). He reasons his decision to die with fuku, and thus proves that the curse also influences his own decisions and actions. Another important example, in this context, is his constant problem with women. Yunior describes Oscar as an “un-Dominican” (11) boy, who never had much luck with women. Oscar believes that thus unluck has to be caused by the fuku. By struggling his whole life to find a woman, it appears as if Oscar loses himself more and more. The reader gets the impression, that his whole life is circle by the desire to find a woman and then be accepted by the Dominican society. For me it even seems like, the fuku does not even want Oscar to be any Dominican at all (21). For the Dominican society it is very important to have a kind of success with women and to live the typical Dominican life. Oscar on the other side had always bad luck with women and fears of never finding one, as he confesses to Yunior. “I have heard from a reliable source that no Dominican male has ever died a virgin. [...] O, it’s against the laws of nature for a Dominican to die without fucking at least once.” (174). It is quite interesting that Yunior compares, losing your virginity, with “the laws of nature”. He claims that every Dominican must lose their virginity to be a full Dominican male. In this case, Oscar is presented as “unnormal”, which has a huge impact on his character and identity.


Excerpt out of 17 pages


Transnational Identity and Diasporic Language in Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao”
University of Mannheim
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
English literature, Oscar Wao, Literature, Caribbean Litertaure, Trujillo, Dominican Republic, Englisch
Quote paper
Zoe Benia (Author), 2020, Transnational Identity and Diasporic Language in Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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