115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

"And the Cloth Remembers as Well": Knots and Gaps in Caramelo

Sarah George-Waterfield, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo, the rebozo takes on this complicated status as it moves through generations and across borders, becoming saturated with the memory of production and labor, the stuffness of the humans who interact with it, and the stories and histories that happen around it. 

Proposal: 

The materiality of material and fabric merges the tactile with the visual through textiles, creating a complexity of cloth and a tenuous conversation of individual and cultural bodies. Intimately related to the idea of clothing and fabric as conduits for memory is the designation of textile as a material object. In much of the work that discusses the material culture of textiles, the arguments pivot around the ability of cloth and clothing to become imbued in their very stuffness with the presence of another. This oscillation between visual medium, tactile object, and symbolic marker gives fabric a complicated place in the world of material culture and makes it ripe for considering the specific interaction of the human with the object. In Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo, the rebozo takes on this complicated status as it moves through generations and across borders, becoming saturated with the memory of production and labor, the stuffness of the humans who interact with it, and the stories and histories that happen around it. At its core, this project takes as its starting point Daniel Miller’s and Susanne Kuchler’s argument in Clothing as Material Culture that “the key attribute of cloth is its connectivity not its setting apart. Clothing is the carapace that often conducts and connects rather than separates our sense of what is within and outside ourselves” (6). As Cisneros’ characters in Caramelo think through their complicated connections to each other through generations, the specific history of the rebozo on both a global and familial scale pivots the novel to one that is written on, by, and about the garment that the Reyes women inherit, generation after generation, even as the specific knowledge of labor and craft is lost. The threads are there, but it is the space between that suggests possibility, that begs to be filled: “All she had was the caramel rebozo, whose fringe she plaited and unplaited, which was a kind of language” (158). The rebozo, always already unfinished by the beginning of the novel, mirrors the structure of the story through the woven threads of its production and structures the story by way of its circulation through time, space, and familial hands. In this paper, I argue that the Cisneros' rebozo as object contains the history of a family's relationships, loves, losses, and movements. Further, however, the rebozo knits together and further complicates the already tenuous line between sight and touch, linguistic symbol and object, becoming a visible/invisible trace of a family.