Migrant melodrama and Elvira Arellano

Research paper by Ana Elena Puga

Indexed on: 26 Sep '12Published on: 26 Sep '12Published in: Latino Studies


This article trains a theater/performance studies lens on the struggle to control public perception of Elvira Arellano and coins the term “migrant melodrama” to describe how key media coverage, cultural production and social performance in Arellano's case recycled nineteenth-century melodramatic tropes. Elements of the nineteenth-century sub-genres known as domestic melodrama, sensation melodrama and race melodrama were recycled and deployed by both supporters and detractors of the single mother who sought sanctuary in a Chicago church together with her US-born son, and even by Arellano herself. The result was a kind of casting competition that sought to impose moral clarity and resolution on a complicated, fraught issue that in fact remains far from resolved. On the one hand, melodramatic spectacles of suffering insist on a common humanity and make ethical claims for inclusion into an imagined community that may extend across national borders. Yet on the other hand, they can also backfire by unintentionally setting the price of inclusion at an impossibly high level of virtue.