Friday, November 12, 2010

Healing the Rift in Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera

I just picked up Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera again and realized how much of what I am doing now is directly related to the first time that I read her book. The rift of the border though the book, geography, peoples and her psyche and the resulting ambiguous identity that she believes define Chicana/os resonated with me, as did her call for healing. The reading series that I curate and the collection of shorts that I am writing I wouldn’t have begun if not for reading Borderlands/La Frontera.

 The U.S.-Mexican border winds its way through Borderlands/La Frontera, a sort of auto-history, in which she “puts history through a sieve, winnows out the lies,” (104). In winnowing out the lies, Anzalúa, establishes Aztlán as ancestoral homeland, reclaims powerful females in history, reinstates the creative power of female gods, pushes the mestiza towards a new consciousness and sets out the potential for  a new culture. This new culture comes by way of balancing cultural dualities (male/female, Spanish/English, Mexican/white/Indian, rational/intuitive) through—not the uneasy juxtaposition of two parts—but a powerful synthesis of cultures into something whole and new. To Anzaldúa’s thinking, the conflicting dualities of Mexican-U.S. border culture creates an unhealed wound across the land, an open wound replicated in the psyche of the people who live on or are affected by the geo-political border: Chicanos.
Anzaldúa makes the case that being constantly tugged at by opposing cultures and principles, by living straddling the border, understanding both sides, but never knowing which one to choose, is the psychic equivalent of the rift that is the border, the un-natural divide forged through war, sustained by violence and subterfuge, continued through the “constant state of mental nepantilism” (100), the divide that occurs when people are caught between ways of being.
At the heart of Borderlands/ La Frontera, Anzaldúa looks to mend these rifts, “the agony of inadequacy” (67) that plagues the Chicano community and the individuals that make it up. She isolates and then deals with each aspect of Chicano culture that affects the feelings of inadequacy in each chapter in the prose section of Borderlands.. In drawing out the many contradictions within Chicano culture, and then resituating them, Anzaldúa sets up the potential for the new mestiza consciousness that she is after.
Ambiguity and duality are central characteristics of borderland culture, as conflicting cultural expectations, norms and languages pull at people in opposing directions, causing physic rifts.  Anzaldúa proposes synthesis for healing these rifts, a melding of two wholes into something entirely new and integral. Within Borderlands/ La Frontera, Anzaldúa employs many of the characteristics of borderland rifts—ambiguity, duality, and contradictions of language—in her writing, to create the essence of the borderlands and prove the possibility of her argument: that opposing sides of a border can seamlessly synthesize into something else entirely.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sueños quebrados:…y no se lo trago la tierra

Con el Tratado de Guadalupe-Hildalgo en 1848 la gente vivía en Texas se convertiaron de mexicanos hasta mexican-americanos, pero no tuvieron el bienvenido en los Estados Unidos. Aún asi que ellos ambos vivían en las tierras de Texas, California y New Mexico antes del tratado y que, con el tratado, se convirtieron en ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos, los gringos (uso gringo en esta esayo por los estadounidenses quienes son blancos y quienes tienen el poder en el libro) los trataron como ellos fueran imigrantes ilegales. Después del tratado, hay muchas leyes en Texas que hizaron facil que los gringos pudieron arrebetar las tierras de los Mexican-americanos. De repente, los campesinos Mexican-americanos se convertieron de nuevo, hasta migrantes que tuvieran mudarse con las cosechas, sigiendo trabajo. Sus vidas eran sin riquesas, vivido debajo de los gringos. Contra esta fondación, Tomás Rivera pone su coleción de cuentas, dicho de la perspective de un niño. Rivera pone sus cuentas en la frontera, donde las relaciónes entre gringos, mexican-americans y los migrantes mexicanas eran más complicadas y conflictadas, especialmente con las vidas migrantes de las mexican-americanos.
Las vidas en la colección son llena solamente con esperanza y sueños de una vida mejor. Con …y no se lo tragó le tierra, Tomás Rivera hace el mundo de la frontera uno en que la realidad brutal quebra todos los sueños que traen la gente. Con “Los quemaditos,” Rivera realiza el tema de los quebrados por medio del maltratamiento de los gringos.

The Border Fence, Tijuana, MX

Avenida Internaciónal become Calle Al Aereopuerto west of el centro de Tijuana in its run along the south side of the border. It passes the airport and continues east towards Tecate.

I wanted to return to a particular section of the border fence, just behind the airport. I’d seen it yesterday while Oscar Ortega was driving me over to the site of his newest sculpture.

The border fence stands more prominent in the lives of people who live south of it. In the U.S., cities stop well north of the border, far enough away that the border fence remains out of sight unless you go looking for it. I stand on a hill in Colonia Reynosa, and look west, the fence continuing out into the Pacific, rising and falling with the desert hills. On the U.S. side, all I see are hills spotted with low desert shrubs; on the Mexican side, urban landscape continues right up to the wall. On the southern side, cities roll right up and crash into the border. In Colonia Federale, I have seen garden plots cultivated in the shadow of the fence, vines growing up the fence itself.

People have draped and decorated the fence with their prayers and fears and criticisms, with wood and paint and cloth, with sculpture and words and image, turning it into a veritable alter.

At this particular point, a series of artworks cascade into each other. An anonymous photographer has captured images relative to the border, to Tijuana, and transferred them to cloth, which s/he then draped over the fence for nearly a half mile.

The images are all black and white, and repeated several times before the next print begins its run. The images reveal many perspectives of the fence in haunting simplicity. The back of a woman and her children, sitting on a hill that overlooks the border fence accompanied by the sunburst aura of Guadalupe, empty space where the saint herself would normally be. A collection of silver jewelry against black velvet. A man climbing over the fence. Shadows of people waiting. Men in cowboy boots and hats in an airport, looking overwhelmed and confused.

One after another the images line the fence itself, giving depth to what the fence is, what it means in people’s lives. The printed cloth blows in the wind, and will hang there until the weather tatters it and it falls off.
Further west, but beginning just where the prints end (or begin), simple wooden crosses hang. They have been painted white, and assembled with the crosspiece not always at right angles. In black paint, names of people who have died crossing the border have been painted on the crosses, and desconoscido for those who died anonymously and were discovered anonymously.

These desconoscidos make me think, more than the named crosses, of who it was that found the body and who waits, at some point south, for contact, reassurance, a note, a postcard, something, anything, from this person? It is those crosses desconosidos that make me painfully aware of the webbed links of each person’s life, of how many people, however far away they are, the fence has affected.

In seeing the border itself, it is difficult to understand what it stands for, but these two installations make the human implications of the fence painfully clear.