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Autobiography and National Identity in the Americas

Steven V. Hunsaker

BUY Cloth · 148 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813918440 · $60.00 · Mar 1999
BUY Paper · 148 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813918457 · $22.50 · Mar 1999

AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND NATIONAL IDENTITY in the Americas puts texts from English and French Canada, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Bolivia, and the United States into a hemispheric dialogue on national and ethnic identity. Drawing on such materials as journals, personal essays, autobiography, and the testimonio, this ambitious book is as comprehensive in its treatment of autobiographical writing as in its geographical coverage.

Departing from Benedict Anderson's hopeful premise that the "imagined community" is fundamentally inclusive, Steven V. Hunsaker maintains that national identity is more idiosyncratic, complex, and divisive than Anderson's model suggests. The fact that potential compatriots create the nation by seeing themselves as a community means that there can be no guarantee of uniformly imagined identity. Hunsaker uses works by such authors as Rigoberta Menchú, Carolina Maria de Jesus, Pierre Vallières, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Richard Rodriguez to illustrate how different populations within a single nation—children, women, indigenous groups, and minority groups—challenge established collective identities and create their own senses of community.

Bringing into play elements of genre studies and regional studies, the book illustrates the liberating potential of seeing a nation as the product of its citizens, but also the instability inherent in national communities imagined across race, class, ethnicity, and gender.


This book makes a significant contribution to autobiographical writing in the Americas. It presents carefully and methodically the human drama of identity as a difficult and telling negotiation. Hunsaker has chosen many well-known books, as well as some lesser-known ones, bringing them all into a discussion of common themes and problems that include language, nationalism, gender, and migration.

Román de la Campa, Stony Brook University, State University of New York

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