Diaz’s Golden Mongoose and the Rhetoric surrounding “Non-native” Species

I’ve consistently found that the study of transnational literature in this course has been the study of definitions. Not only those brought to us by Appadurai or Merriam Webster, but definitions of geographic boundaries, as well as conceptual understandings of genres, politics, nationality and race. I continually found myself looking for the “fine lines”, and trying to figure out what lay on this or that side of them – not necessarily to bolster these definitions (as I’m sure we would all sooner interrogate these concepts than reinforce them) – but to thin the lines further, and demonstrate their permeability.

I lead with a digression, primarily because another fine line has come to my attention: that between “Non-native species” and “Invasive species”. The former suggests the controlled introduction of an animal species to a certain area, most often with the intention of using said organism to favorably change the landscape, by eating pests or cultivating the habitat. The latter is the downside of the prior definition; a creature that after migrating to (or have been brought knowingly into) a new continent, becomes uncontrollable, spreading and damaging its surroundings.

The “golden” mongoose that shows up repeatedly in Diaz’s narrative, coming to the aid of Beli and Oscar in turn, performing what might be classified as a Zafa for them both, was once a innocent non-native species, but eventually came to be seen as invasive by farmer’s and average citizens alike. Originally from Asia, the mongoose was deliberately introduced in the 1800s into Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, West Indies and Hawaiian islands in an attempt to control rat populations in sugarcane fields. Since their introduction, they’ve expanded their populations, becoming agents of disease, and economic hindrances to poultry industries.

It is difficult to ignore the way that the language of invasive animal species can translate to the language of human foreignness; of immigration, of the slave trade, of any number of conflicts caused by ethnic and racial tensions that increased with the globalizing world. In truth, it saddens me how easily transferable this way of speaking is to the subject of humanity. What transnational movement itself exposes, in Diaz, in Bulawayo, in Hamid, in Larsen, in Didion and Bowles even, is how we prickle at the idea of the unfiltered flowing of people across borders and boundaries. Most notably, these works have revealed our short memories; how easily we can forget that the individuals now decried for residing in a certain region may once have been those introduced for the purposes of aiding that region. We might forget that they did their jobs well. We might only remember to see them as foreign, a slippery slope to the term “invasive”.

This picture has more or less been painted multiple times over, globally and historically. Yet the fine line between “native”, “non-native” and “invasive” in terms of human politics, continues to be utilized (although the language has transformed, or been bolstered or disguised) despite the fact that the rhetoric is hazy at best, and hateful at worst.

Tayryn Edwards

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