Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/LaFrontera: The New Mestiza. 3rd. ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 2007. (258 pages)
The Homeland, Atlán
Borderland becomes almost like a guiding principle throughout Anzaldúa’s books; defined, “a borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition” (25). The borderland refers to both the physical, material spaces involved in the inhabitation and displacement of people within the lands as well as a mental and rhetorical space of identity and worldviews. To demonstrate these twin perspectives, Anzaldúa writes of the displacement of Indians and Mexicans from land “while their feet were still rooted in it…we were jerked out by the roots, truncated, disemboweled, dispossessed, and separated from the our identity and our history” (30). As she notes, identity is closely tied to land and its history; the displacement from it prompts a moment of transition away from home physically yet culturally still present. Movement, migration becomes a tradition of her people.
Movimientos de rebeldía y las culturas que traicionan
She often employs land metaphors to discuss identity: she notes she was the first to leave her homeland, “but I didn’t leave all the parts of me. I kept the ground of my own being. On it I walked away, taking with me the land, the Valley, Texas” (38). Such metaphors align well with Burke’s idea of consubstantiality: a person becomes consubstantial when ‘standing’ atop similar ground. In this way, we might also see Anzaldúa’s consubstantiation with the inhabitants as well as materials of her homeland. As she later writes, “I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back” (43).
She also confronts culture formation: she notes, “culture forms our beliefs. We perceive the version of reality that it communicates” and yet “Culture is made by those in power—men. Males make the rules and laws: women transmit them” (38). This observation allows her to explain how women internalize and perform the culture that men have created to subjugate and undermine women in these cultures. Anzaldúa goes as far as to equate culture and male figures (39).
She goes further though with mita’ y mita’ or half and half, describing her hybrid gender role as a lesbian woman. “What we are suffering from is an absolute despot duality that says we are able to be only one or the other. It claims that human nature is limited is limited and cannot evolve into something better. But I, like other queer people, am two in one body, both male and female…the coming together of opposite qualities within” (41). We might draw a line here to Haraway’s concept of cyborg—a hybrid identity.
She then offers a discussion of homophobia as a way to promote a “fear of going home. And of not being taken in” (42). Such fear of rejection prompts some to “conform to values of the culture, push the unacceptable parts into the shadows” so as not to be abandoned by the one’s we love, the one’s who perform the male-constructed, male-dominated culture (she specifically notes her mother).
As this section makes clear, she is confronting the ways people of difference internalize wider structures of oppression such as culture. In this way, “the Indian woman in us is the betrayer. We, indias y mestizas, police the Indian in us, brutalize and condemn her. Male culture has done a good job on us” (44).
Entering into the Serpent
Anzaldúa reaffirms the interface between the psychic, spiritual world and the physical, material world. She points to white rationality, which denies the spiritual, “other world” and recognizes only rational, observable reality: “in trying to become ‘objective,’ Western culture made ‘objects’ of things and people when it distanced itself from them, thereby losing ‘touch’ with them. This dichotomy is the root of all violence” (59). We might again draw a line here to Haraway’s cyborg and companion species. Anzaldúa then notes the participation mystique of the mind: “the world of the imagination—the world of the soul—and of the spirit is just as real as the physical reality” (59). She continues, “the body is smart. It does not discern between external stimuli and stimuli from the imagination. It reacts equally viscerally to events from the imagination as it does to ‘real’ events” (60).
She offers the concept of la facultad: “the capacity to see in surface phenomena the meaning or deeper realities, to see the deep structure below the surface. It is an instant ‘sensing,’ a quick perfection arrived at without conscious reasoning. It is an acute awareness mediated by the part of the psyche that does not speak, that communicates in images and symbols which are the faces of feelings, that is, behind which feelings reside/hide” (60). Anzaldúa argues that those who live in the borderlands, those pushed out of their tribes for being different are especially sensitive with this faculty, acting as a kind of defense mechanism to sense when something breaks the everyday experience.
The Coatlicue State
Here, Anzaldúa makes a particularly interesting claim about knowledge and self. She fashions the increments of learning or knowing as a “crossing”: “I am again an alien in a new territory. And again, and again. But if I escape conscious awareness, escape ‘knowing,’ I won’t be moving. Knowledge makes me more aware, it makes me more conscious. ‘Knowing’ is painful because after ‘it’ happens I can’t staying the same place and be comfortable. I am no longer the same person I was before” (70). In this sense, “making sense” of one’s position in the world is something akin to a violent act. She writes, “she has to ‘cross over,’ kicking a hole out of the old boundaries of the self and slipping under or over, dragging the old skin along, stumbling over it. It hampers her movement in the new territory, dragging the ghost of the past with her” (71). As she writes in the earlier referenced quote, ‘knowing’ and consciousness are synonymous; thus, she finds power, also, in the inner, unconscious self: “the entity that is the sum totally of all my reincarnations, the godwoman in me…When to bow down to Her and when to allow the limited conscious mind to take over—that is the problem” (72).
How to Tame a Wild Tongue
Anzaldúa asks the question, “how do you tame a wild tongue?” and responds, “Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out” (76). A key aspect of her theory of discourse centers on the idea that “language is a male discourse” (76). Because of this, she finds herself needing a language that connects to her identity and the identity of the mestizos: “we need a language with which we could communicate with ourselves, a secret language. For some of us, language is a homeland closer than the Southwest—for many Chicanos today live in the Midwest and the East” (77). But also, tying language and identity so closely to the self, she notes that “if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language” (81).
But also (as in previous chapters), Anzaldúa seems to align language and identify with the land: much like Burke’s consubstantiation, Anzaldúa appears to make the argument that language creates consubstantiation in the absence of actual substance to stand beneath (i.e. land). Further, she appears to also mention the ways identification—read: consubstantiation—is developed through the forms of images and emotions: language, alone, appears to include also the images and emotions that carry memories of place and localities that build an affective bond. In fact, as she writes, “being Mexican has nothing to do with which country one lives in. Being Mexican is a state of soul—not one of mind, not one of citizenship” (84). In a departure from others like Lyons who champion the need for citizenship and sovereignty, Anzaldúa takes a different approach: her identity among her peers is spiritual which is essentially antithetical to Western rational culture.
The Path of the Red and Black Ink
Anzaldúa discusses writing with a mestiza, Chicano, native perspective. She champions the structure of assemblage, but her concept of assemblage is very spiritual: “the whole thing has had a mind of its own, escaping me and instating on putting together the pieces of its own puzzle with minimal direction from my will…for me it is alive, infused with spirit. I talk to it; it talks to me” (88-9). This lends her to a new materialist perspective on objects and writing: “the object/event is ‘present’: that is, enacted, it is both a physical thing and the power that infuses it. It is metaphysical in that it ‘spins its energies between gods and humans’ and its task is to move the gods” (89). What’s interesting about this quote is the way she sees “medium” in a spiritual sense: texts mediate between physical reality and spiritual reality. It has agency and energy; a living thing with a stake in creating meaning.
As she notes, this is antithetical to Western understanding of objects. In tribal cultures, “the works are treated not just as objects, but also as persons” (90). In this way, “Ethnocentrism is the tyranny of the Western aesthetics. An Indian mask in an American museum is transposed into an alien aesthetic system where what is missing is the presence of power invoked through the performance ritual. It has become a conquered thing, a dead ‘thing’ separated from nature and, therefore, its power” (90). Anzaldúa takes Walter Benjamin’s discuss of aura a bit further: where Benjamin sees the presence of the object in physical space as retaining its aura, Anzaldúa sees the performance ritual of the object being stripped—thus a kind of aura is stripped—when transposed in a context its not meant to be in. “White America has only attended to the body of the earth in order to exploit it, never to succor it or be nurtured in it” (90).
She moves her attention, then, to images and knowledge: “an image is a bridge between evoked emotion and conscious knowledge; words are the cables that hold up the bridge. Images are more direct, more immediate than words, and closer to the unconscious” (91). Using images and words to make meaning from memories or the unconscious, thus, creates a trauma while also creating a kind of therapeutic release.
Towards a New Consciousness
Here, Anzaldúa charts out a new mestiza consciousness, “a product of the transfer of cultural and spiritual values of one group to another…in a state of perpetual transition” (100). In this way, the mestiza “copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity” (101). She points to the breaking down of the subject-object distinction (much like Haraway), but also defines this ambiguity she personally feels in this in between space. While as a mestiza, her country has cast her out yet she embraces a solidarity among women across borders. She is also culture-less because she challenges the male-designed culture that contains her; yet she is the participant of new cultural practices. She both breaks down exclusive boundaries while simultaneously building, uniting, and joining.
She shifts gears a bit confronts the “machismo” of the mestizo: while such machismo equates to strength, the mestizo is constantly humiliated, self-effaced, and shamed linguistically and culturally in other spheres of their life. Because of this, this shame rematerializes in a way to brutalize women, creating the contradiction of “devoted son, macho pig” (105).