"I see a mosaic pattern (Aztec-like) emerging, a weaving pattern, thin here, thick there . . . This almost finished product seems an assemblage, a montage...now appearing, now disappearing in a crazy dance. The whole thing has a mind of its own, escaping me and insisting on putting together the pieces of its own puzzle with minimal direction from my will." – Gloria Anzaldua.
English 380A, Winter 2011
Professor Deborah Miranda

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Art of Declamacion

In the story title “Declamacion” in Canicula, Cantu describes a scene during class where Nena, in the teacher’s opinion, over-dramatizes the reading and is consequently forced “to imitate the bland reading” (62) of her other classmates. Cantu describes the extra gestures she accompanies with the recitation as “the art of ‘declamacion’” (63).

Since I had no clue what Cantu was referring to, I turned to Wikipedia to give me a basic definition. By translating the Spanish page for “declamacion,” it is describe as a form of recitation that “seeks to captivate the viewer... with the sound and meaning of words, accentuated by the gesture and movement [of the performer].” Interestingly enough, all the definitions of the English equivalent, “declamation,” do not included the use of gestures/visual aid from the performer.

In this story, Cantu relates a concept that loses something vital in the meaning during translation from Spanish to English. Declamacion, by engaging another sense besides hearing, is a form of storytelling that engrosses the reader in a more engaging manner so that the emotion of the text can be relayed.

On a more subtle note, Norma Cantu fleshes this concept out throughout the entire book of Canicula with her choice of structure. Not only does she limit herself mere words on a page, but she brings in pictures from her and her family’s past to more fully engage the reader. Cantu brings the concept of declamacion to life through the written word and not just the spoken word. The reader is engaged visually, and as Cantu unfolds a story around each visual, I was reminded of a person sitting next to me, showing me pictures, and orally describing each one and the accompanying story. This effect ultimately makes the book so powerful. The characters become three-dimensional, their struggles and lives become real, and no matter who you are as a reader, you feel like an old friend sitting with the narrator looking at her photographers.


  1. Cantu's use of images to aid in the story telling has an interesting way of forcing the reader to accept the way she lived events. At the same time, I found myself mentally flipping through pictures and memories. Instead of putting my own concepts into the characters I found that it was much easier to find small parallels in my experiences. It really does feel like the reader is looking over the narrator's shoulder as they randomly pull out photographs and explain the significance of each one. The photos compliment the stories because they add a sense of reality to every story and, in fact, make it possible to tell those stories without the reader doubting their authenticity.

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