The opposite of racial purity is inclusive mestizaje. This creates a certain tolerance for ambiguity that breaks down the subject/object duality. Added to this is a queer possibility to transcend. Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.
This final section speaks to the imaginative, transformative power of unknown possibility. Beyond what is known, is what is felt–Here lies our ability to change the shape of the world.
This chapter is a meta cognitive exercise on the writer and her craft via ethnopoetics and performance of the Shaman
This practice does not split artistic/functional, sacred/secular, art/everyday. Religious social and aesthetic purposes of art are all intertwined. The writer, as shape-changer, is a nahual, a shaman.
Anzaldua calls ethnocentrism the tyranny of western aesthetics. There art is removed from its context, sanitized, anointed in the silent halls of the museum where it is guarded and reserved for the upper class. Conversely, art in a non-western context is witnessed, participatory, transformative, and in some senses transfigured. It is treated as living–more like a person than an object. Aztecs, through metaphor and symbol (by poetry and truth) communicate with the divine.
Arguably the most read and anthologized section of this book, How to Tame a Wild Tongue, performs an analysis of language as identity. Anzaldua discusses/challenges her own memories as well as prevailing thoughts on accents, English, and the tradition of silence. She marks language (both English and Spanish) as male discourse, but calls Chicano Spanish a living language and embraces her code switching abilities.
Language serves as one of the markers of identity. Identity is thus formed as racial, linguistic, geographic, and historical.
To colonize and alter or demand alteration to language is tantamount to linguistic terrorism.
Beginning with the mirror, we see ourselves being seen. The mirror enables the seeing and being seen, the subject and the object, and the I and the She. These simultaneous multitudes are reminiscent of Coatlicue–simultaneously mother, grandmother, snake woman, and earth. We are drawn to her cavernous womb in union with the Shadow Beast. Anzaldua encourages an embrace (without fear) of that which makes her alien and different.
The three mothers of Chicana culture in the US:
- La Virgen de Guadalupe
- La Chingada (La Malinche)
- La llorona
These figures are mediators of culture and the white world. Each tells a different story of our place in the world. La Virgen is the virgin mother–unwavering, steadfast, brown-faced, but a reminder of the white world which has subsumed ours. La Chingada is the fucked one–she is the traitor and the puta–the raped woman who we have demonized and abandoned. La Llorona combines the first two figures–the mother seeking her lost children.
The wailing of La Llorona is a vestige of pre-conquest Aztec rule. The feminist and indigenous resistance to patriarchal violence.
She may also represent the serpent woman: the vagina dentata of dangerous earth-based femininity. Anzaldúa shares her first encounter with this story as a warning told to young girls in South Texas: Don’t go out at night, a snake will slither into you, bite you, suck at you. You will be lured into the water and drowned. Yet one bite inoculates rather than kills–transforms a fear of the female body into personal/transformational bodily knowledge.
To divide the divine feminine knowledge into the saint/whore dichotomy is to divide the mind and the body. To divide is to bury La Facultad and psychic consciousness. To divide is to make easily conquerable.
Movements of rebellion
Cultures that betray
Anzaldúa works to explicate the specific condition of Mexican women. Expected to be strong but subservient, they are not supposed to rebel. Anzaldúa recalls her own memories and formations as a queer woman of color who did rebel.
Anzaldúa locates the strength of the feminine in her patriarchal/cultural construction as dangerous, sexual, unknown, and undivine. To tap into this power is to pursue the “Shadow Beast” within women that steers them to rebel against their natural roles as saints (wives/mothers/nuns) or whores. The patriarchal culture teaches that women must be protected from themselves (through clothing, social structures, etc.) in order to prevent backsliding. *It is important to note that a fourth option emerges through education, but women must then contend with being alienated and alien.
The “Shadow Beast” turns out to be less of an inner demon and more of a true self. Anzaldúa pursues her own Shadow Beast and finds comfort. As a queer woman she sees herself as half and half (mita’ a mita’)–the coming together of opposites. Located within this work of locating the self, Anzaldúa also finds a fear of returning home. Though she loves her family/home/culture, she refuses the parts that oppress her.
Woman (especially mestiza women) lives in the interstices–the space between worlds, the borderlands. The indian woman’s protest is wailing–La Llorona. Thought the India-Mestiza is wounded (La Malinche/La Chingada) she refuses to admit culpability in the subjugation of her people. Instead, she finds that they (patriarchal culture) have sold her out. Yet she waits. In silence, in solitude her rebellion grows.
This chapter presents the historical (pre and post Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo) and cultural formation of the US-Mexico border and the people who inhabit/compose it. The chapter relies upon repeating imagery of traversing, breaking, forging, and scraping against harsh and indeterminate borders. La Mar delights in breaching/soaking and erasing man-made borders. On land, between the places/spaces/nations/peoples the friction ruptures and the land bleeds. The bodies of los atravesados bleed too. The border, the barbed wire, forged into their spines, hearts, brains.
Shifting borders, trans-national movements, and porous subjectivities (beginning as long ago as the Bering Straits migration) are fundamentally altered by patriarchal power constructions–from Aztecs to Conquistadors to US Gringos. Rhetorical constructions of those in power work to keep the status quo. Suddenly Mexicanos y Tejanos are traitors of the Alamo, English is the official language of law and culture, landowners and fifth generation Americans are illegal, and all are silenced by white superiority.
Crossing back, returning, entering for the first time and again, the mestizos are re-composed again as cucarachas, illegals, mojados, refugees, yet they are also pilgrims in the tradition of the odyssey to Aztlán. Returning to the ancestral homeland–but this is not the land of milk and honey. This is the frontline of Reagan’s unending war on drugs. The battle is a marathon–over the border and through the cultural/political mine field.
The Mexican woman is especially vulnerable. In Mexico they are fodder for the capitalist maquiladoras. On the border, smuggled into cities they are prostitutes and maids. The Mexican women faces a double threat. Like all women, she is prey–vulnerable to sexual violence. Yet she is also vulnerable to the political, social, and cultural realities of an undocumented refugee. Her home is the thin edge of barbed wire–the place between.
Between violence and possibility.