Patricia's integration into the closed patriarchal order is sealed through her daughter's baptism.

In the last establishing shot of Santa Eulalia, it is summer again, with the light now shining brightly on the town’s future.

Milady’s costume, like a second skin, signals her rejection of Cuban socialism, underscores her narrative role as a consumer object, and serves as a visual cue to the extra-filmic context of contemporary capital flows and mass migrations.

The mother in law’s framing here, in a superimposition over Patricia, underscores her narrative role as the more powerful of the two.

Facilitated by their shared and visually underscored Christianity, Patricia and her mother in law bury their differences at the local cemetery.

Milady in Valencia: Her boundless energy and desire for freedom exceeds the limits of Santa Eulalia and of the frame.

Milady ingeniously approaches Carmelo after a night out.

Carmelo beats Milady to the ground.

Alfonso protects Milady — for now.

Milady looks at herself (and at the viewer) in a mirror, one of the few times the film positions Milady as a subject.

Damián’s violence against Patricia stops short of physical contact.

In Milady's welcome to Santa Eulalia, Aurora watches with suspicion, the men with desire, and Patricia’s daughter with sympathy, from a position outside the bar’s monocultural space.

Patricia's fertility is signaled by her silhouette and the color of her dress.

Earlier in the narrative, a picture on the bedroom wall commemorates the nuclear family.

Now, the family picture incorporates the mother in law and Patricia's friends into an extended family, in a visual and narrative logic that points towards the incorporation of ‘good’ immigrants like Patricia into the national family.





Transatlantic dreams

From a strictly synchronic perspective, the presence of Caribbean women of color in Flowers from Another World is tied, like the out-migration from Santa Eulalia, to the logic of corporate globalization, one of whose salient features is the mass movement of peoples. During the last fifteen years, for example, the number of migrants from poorer countries to richer ones more than tripled – from an estimated 30 million in 1990 to more than 75 million in 1997 and to over 115 million by 2005.[1][open notes in new window] These migrations are directly linked to labor routes created by the logic of capital-intensive economies that now depend on a large supply of a cheap, mostly undocumented labor force to sustain their agricultural, manufacturing and service sectors.

At the same time, however, these migrations are inextricably linked to the legacy of unequal commercial and cultural ties that past European and Euro-American colonizations have left in their wake. In most cases, that is, mass migrations will remit us to specific national-imperial colonizations in the distant and not-so-distant past. Because of this legacy, the representation of Caribbean women of color in the film remits the viewer to the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the slave trade that sustained it, as much as to a history that is still being written today: that of Spanish neocolonization of Latin America.

In the 1990s, to be more exact, foreign direct investment by Spanish transnationals in Latin America jumped from 35 billion pesetas in 1990, to over 150 billion pesetas by 1998. Most of this capital came not directly from Spain, but by way of mutual funds in the United States. The reason for this peculiar flow of capital is that a critical mass of managers of mutual funds in the United States decided in the early 1990s that Spanish transnationals, because of their cultural links with Latin America, were more effective exploiters of Latin American resources and markets than U.S. transnationals. Hence the phenomenon, throughout the 1990s, of entities such as Banco Santander Central Hispano, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya and even Telefónica de España gobbling up their newly privatized counterparts in Latin America, often through highly publicized deals characterized by corruption and bribery.

One direct consequence of this influx of "Spanish" capital to Latin America has been the displacement of workers in Latin America and the corresponding increase in the number of migrants from Latin American countries to Spain, from roughly 60,000 in 1990, to about 150,000 in 1999, and to over 225,000 in 2006.[2] In short, Spanish capital has chosen Latin America as a privileged site of investment because of the cultural and economic ties already in place as a result of three centuries of previous colonization. At the same time, Latin Americans are increasingly migrating to Spain because their cultural and economic ties to Spain make them an ideal labor pool from which Spain can draw, and in fact does draw, in its ongoing transformation into a capital-intensive, service-oriented economy that now depends on the ready availability of cheap labor.[3]

Many viewers will note the irony that in the birthplace of modern racism, where the notion of pureza de sangre (purity of blood) was institutionalized five centuries ago, that in that very country, where birthrates and marriages are plummeting, the mixed blood marriage between Damián and Patricia represents the future of the nation, insofar as it makes possible the town's reproduction and continuity. In this regard, the film functions as a palliative to the growing xenophobia and racism that has recently plagued Spain, as the country becomes an immigrant receiving nation for the first time since the Conquest of the Americas.

One particular character in the film, Damián's mother, shows how much can be gained by giving up on acculturating the Other. When Damián and Patricia get married, Damián brings her to live to the same house he had been living in with his mother. The domestic scenes get progressively worse as the mother clings to her monoculturalism and tries to mold Patricia into a culturally Spanish wife. First it's Patricia's food that's not up to the mother's acculturating standards. Then the mother announces that Milady, the young woman from Cuba, is no longer welcome in the house. And when Patricia's relatives visit from Madrid, the mother interrupts their get-together, claiming that Patricia didn't let her know of the visit in advance, when in fact Patricia had told her more than once.

In keeping with the melodramatic formula that there be “violent and overt changes of emotional attitudes” (Bordwell 1985, 71), the conflict between Patricia and her mother-in-law is suddenly resolved as the two are tending the grave of the mother's dead husband. Patricia, noticing how much the mother misses her deceased husband, asks her tenderly if she loved him. The mother answers that he was a good man and always treated her well. Patricia then says, "Like Damián," and here the mother finally realizes that they have much more in common than just Damián. The resulting shift in consciousness, whereby the mother sees Patricia as an extension of her Self – that is, as a struggling woman, and as a woman who loves Damián as she once loved her own husband – ends up saving the family's structure. Throughout these and other conflicts, the film’s redundant communication of Patricia’s emotions serves to “wring every emotional drop” (Bordwell 1985, 71) out of the character and our identification with her situation. The result is that we, as spectators, become much more heavily invested in her outcome than in the outcomes of Marirrosi, Milady, or their partners, whose emotions, motivations and situations are never explored to such depths, and whose situations, as we will see, are regularly made light of by the use of comic or excessively melodramatic narrative turns.

Peninsular nightmares

Patricia's bumpy road to integration ends with all sides gaining something. Patricia finds a stable home for her two kids, a husband who loves her and whom she loves, and acceptance into the larger community. Damián, on the other hand, finds a hard-working wife who helps both outside and inside the house, and who brings pleasure and even joy to an otherwise monotonous existence. Finally, the mother gains two grandchildren who love her, plus a respectful daughter-in-law who will very likely be the one who looks after her when she gets older and less able to fend for herself. This reading of the film privileges the point of view of the receptive community, while simultaneously showing a tolerant and open Spain that gains from the process of interculturation, or the dynamics of exchange between two or more cultures (in this case between immigrant and receiving communities). However, the film’s celebration of tolerance and openness, allegorically linked to the geopolitical dream of a transatlantic union between Spain and its former colonies under the aegis of a benevolent Spain, becomes highly qualified, and in fact reveals itself as a series of peninsular nightmares, when we pause to consider the point of view of the immigrants, and more specifically, when we pause to consider the question of how gender, race, and sexuality contribute to a fuller understanding of the dynamics between the female protagonists, their partners, and the town at large.

A gendered reading of the film, for example, reveals first and foremost the fact that the three female protagonists – Marirrosi, Milady and Patricia – are commodities in the eyes of their male suitors. From the very beginning of the film this is made clear: it is the men who invite the women to come to town to conduct what may be considered a commercial transaction, the men who parade them as if they were cows at a country fair, and more importantly, the men who have the power to dispose of them if they don't like the product. The case of Milady is most pronounced in this respect. Carmelo parades her like a sexual object as if she were a trophy from a hunt overseas, and when Milady displays her independence by spending a night dancing in Valencia, he lashes back by beating her in full public view.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Marirrosi, who is economically independent. Yet, even Marirrosi cannot break Alfonso's insistence that it is she who must sacrifice herself by moving in with him. The narrative has Marirrosi at least weigh the option of moving in with Alfonso (again, lack of information here works against the viewer’s greater identification with Marirrosi’s situation), but Alfonso never seriously considers the equally difficult option of moving with her to Bilbao.

Finally, Patricia’s situation vis-à-vis her partner occupies a center position and therefore what may be seen as the virtuous mean between the vices represented by the other two couples. However, even in her relationship with Damián, Patricia is an object that can be disposed of and dispensed with, as in fact Damián does when, upon learning of her marriage in the Dominican Republic, he feels his position as patriarch called into question.

If we consider how race and sexuality enter into the film's narrative, the picture becomes even more complex. That is, if we consider the body as cultural signifier, we can develop a sense of the racial and sexual hierarchies at play in the film. None of the characters, for example, questions the fair-skinned Marirrosi's motives in going out with Alfonso. It is taken for granted that they are in love and trying to make things work out for themselves. This is certainly not the case with either Patricia or Milady, as evidenced by the following comments made by Aurora, the town's bar owner, immediately following Milady's arrival into town:

"Mother of God! That's all we needed!... Let's see how long this one lasts here.... [They're] all looking for the same thing, money and residency papers, and as soon as they have those, they're gone. I have nothing against those people. I'm just saying, to each his own, and everyone in his own home."

Aurora's racism, xenophobia and class prejudices rule out the possibility of a productive female-based solidarity, the sort of solidarity that Damián's mother developed with Patricia after many trials and errors, and the sort of solidarity that progressive feminists struggle to build across racial and class lines. Her character’s attitude is typical of a conservative mindset that has fueled much of the resurgence of Spanish nationalism over the last decade. This resurgence has taken many forms, ranging from the seemingly harmless comments made by the character Aurora, to Spain's harsher immigration and deportation laws, to, in the worst of cases, the lynching of immigrants and the destruction of their homes, as occurred in the Spanish town of El Ejido in February 2000.[4]

Aurora’s attitude, however, is nuanced by the film’s handling of the ideology of miscegenation. If we read bodies as cultural signifiers, that is, we realize that the fact that Patricia is mulatta, as opposed to black, signals a higher likelihood of her integration. Integration is a loaded yet ambiguous term used widely in Spain today. Ideologically, it fits somewhere between the kind of monoculturalism linked to policies of acculturation, Melville Herskovits’ term used to prescribe the assimilation of minority cultures into the U.S. mainstream (Herskovits, 1938), and the kind of multiculturalism linked to policies of coexistence, Américo Castro’s term used to describe conflictive yet nonviolent group relations between discrete populations of Muslims, Christians and Jews in Medieval Spain (Castro 1983). More concretely, to speak of integration in the context of contemporary Spain is to speak of the immigrant subject’s occupying an existing space within the structure of the host culture, without transforming the structure of the host culture, but without abandoning the immigrant’s original culture either.

For example, one of the main reasons why Patricia is poised to succeed at integration is because of her Catholicism. When her daughter has her first communion, her Spanish family, her Dominican family and the whole town come together in a communal act of initiation made possible by a shared patriarchal structure born of the evangelization that accompanied the Conquest and subsequent colonization of the Americas. It is this legacy of forced conversion that gives Patricia entry to the mainstream community and “saves” her children from an otherwise uncertain future. In short, because Patricia is a good Catholic mother, she gains the right to stay there as an active member of the community, and the community also gains in its ability to reproduce itself culturally, if not racially. Finally, Patricia's integration into the larger community is aided by the fact that as a good Catholic mother, her sexuality is seen as properly domesticated. All these narrative developments come together visually in the baptism sequence, for example through the frontal close up of a smiling yet static Patricia, hair pulled back, inside the church, and again afterwards, through a freeze-frame of a family-album photograph that connotes domestic bliss for Patricia as much as the triumph of the patriarchal family structure.

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