This week we discussed activism, language, and pedagogy in relation to Gloria Anzaldúa’s and Cherríe Moraga’s feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color and Candace Zepeda’s chapter “Chicana Feminism” from Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies. These works both discuss identity politics and intersectionality, while also tackling concepts like racism, sexism, and homophobia in academia and larger society. The readings focus specifically on Chicana identities/feminisms, marking them as distinct from Latina, Mexicana, or American identities/feminisms. Chicana/o identity formation began with the rise of the United Farm Workers and other civil rights protests in the 1960s and 1970s. This identity marker delineated not only heritage and ethnicity, as it is typically used to describe those living in the United States with Mexican heritage, but also a political identity that is aligned with civil disobedience and social justice. Towards the end of the Second Wave of US feminism in the early 1980s, Chicana feminists began forming coalitions that addressed the racist and homophobic policies and actions of more mainstream, white feminists. This Chicana identity, one that is uniquely ethnic and political, is what bound Moraga and Anzaldúa together to begin compiling the anthology that would drastically change the course of feminist theory.
Many class members commented on the importance of Moraga and Anzaldúa’s anthology, not only for academic discourse, but for pedagogy. We discussed the chapters that are typically used in classroom settings, and began to explore what it means that particular literature, like This Bridge Called My Back, usually finds itself stuck in disciplinary silos. We brainstormed solutions to this issue, offering effort and awareness as two important first steps to integrating more texts by women of color and spreading them beyond the ‘ethnic/women studies section’ (this is the terminology used on the back of the book by the publisher for organizational purposes, not how we as a class decided to classify the book). Classmates also contemplated the boundaries of allyship in this situation, asserting that white scholars must take responsibility for lacking diversity in professional institutions and take informed steps to expand what scholarship is accepted as canonical. We discussed what Zepeda calls the “Third Space,” for Chicanx students, emphasizing the importance of pedagogies of the home, Moraga’s theory of the flesh, and Chicana feminisms ideology of ‘the personal as political.' These three theories focus on the importance and value of student knowledge, grounding pedagogical practice in an ethics that promotes success for groups traditionally punished in hegemonic educational institutions, like Chicanx students. Class discussion dove into the complications of a Third Space, debating the merits of plural Third Spaces in order to expand post-colonial, flexible pedagogical forms.
This week we were also able to host Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the founder and executive director of the activist group Voces de la Frontera, as a class guest. She spoke about the accomplishments and direct action strategies of Voces, but class discussion further revealed the importance of rhetoric in the movement and for the organization. It is interesting to note that Voces has been using the Latinx distinction since 2016 as a measure for inclusivity, which harkens back to our earliest class conversations about the term’s merit within the community. As a class, we explored the use of ‘movement rhetoric,’ and its repeated presence in Voces through protest signs, letters written to government officials, and educational materials circulated in the community. We also considered the use of ‘family rhetoric’ when advocating for immigrant and civil rights issues. Most of the imagery and language adopted to rally support for Voces’ causes centers on kinship ties and the sanctity of family life. This rhetoric is purposefully chosen to reclaim the humanity so often stripped from immigrants and Latinxs in public discourse. Voces de la Frontera will be hosting their second Dia sin Latinxs & Immigrantes on May 1st, 2018, at 10AM in Waukesha, one of the most conservative and anti-immigrant areas in Wisconsin.
This week we attempted to make our way through Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera. It was mostly agreed that Borderlands is an important text and that it’s conceptual and linguistic complexity asks for more time than one week to work through. We still had an interesting and productive conversation about the text and our experiences with it.
Personally I have now read Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera twice and have in both cases found it to be a spiritual experience. Never have I found a text that so closely mirrors my experiences, wounds and internal questions. I felt very lucky when I found this text because it has helped me recognize feelings and thoughts that I have always possessed but lacked the language to articulate. Reading Borderlands is an experience in pain, healing, acceptance and empowerment. I think this speaks to the importance of teaching the text, especially in communities with large Latinx presences.
Many of my classmates spoke of Borderlands from the experience of having taught sections of it in their courses. This experience usually centered around the difficulty students had reading the text as well as to the students’ realization that reading Borderlands created for them an experience similar to that of the Chicano community and immigrant community. How have you reacted to this text?
Because I, a mestiza,
continually walk out of one culture,
and into another,
because I am in all cultures at the same time,
alma entre dos mundos, tres, cuatro,
me zumba la cabeza con lo contradictorio.
Estoy norteada por todas las voces que me hablan
Anzaldúa speaks about the concept of Mestiza consciousness; a description for those torn between two ways. Mestiza consciousness is a dual consciousness that straddles on the borderlands of multiple cultures and in turn multiple frames of reference or ways of seeing the world. These frames of reference do not always coexist in harmony within someone’s mind. La mestiza carries the pain of cultural collisions and copes with the contradiction of them by adopting a lack of rigidity in thought. With this fluidity they develop a tolerance for contradiction and ambiguity. Bearing this plural personality and fluid thought process, la mestiza is able to throw away oppressive traditions in their cultures, reinterpret history and adopt new perspectives.
Being so emotionally attached to Borderlands, I was at first resistant to the texts that we read critiquing the concept of Mestizaje. Gabriela Raquel Rios has a chapter called Mestizaje in the book Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies that brought up some pretty relevant points on the subject though. She describes mestizofilia as a method used to find value in Mexico’s mixed race majority, but only by viewing the mixed race as superior to the indigenous one. She describes that this ideology is what justified putting indigenos into ejidos (reservations). What I found to be undeniable was her description of ethnographic entrapment as what occurs when indigenos are seen as historical objects of knowledge rather than empowered individuals. The indigenos, their culture and customs are referred to in past tense and only the customs that the mestizo has kept are allowed access to the present and future tense. Anzaldua makes reference to this phenomenon when she describes the spirituality of objects. She gives the example of how an indigenous piece of art that had spiritual connotations in it’s community, is dead when on display in a museum. While Anzaldúa’s description of mestizaje lifts up and finds empowerment in lo indigeno, it still does not acknowledge a future to indigenous culture. Indigenous culture is treated as an additive. While Borderlands still is a revolutionary text, it is important to acknowledge it’s shortcomings. What ideas did you glean as empowering or problematic within this text?