On mestizaje and border thinking

Someone in another department e-mailed to ask about a reading list and this was my quick answer:

On the recommended list, all are respected / standard, but the one I’ve actually read is the Anzaldua. It’s set in the Southwest and is about living on the borders of several cultures and in multiple kinds of margins. Anzaldua is beloved in US Chican@ and LGBT circles for her revindication of brownness. She has a “radical” *identity* in the US because Chicana, lesbian, Spanish speaking, from agricultural working class; I may be missing something but don’t know that she actually has what I’d call radical *politics*.

From my research point of view she is problematic since the Latin American theories of mestizaje from which she draws her ideas actually correspond to conservative politics and mestizo-criollo (i.e. white) hegemony, not the indio-cholo position she wants to support. For theoretical work on this I am a lot more interested in Walter Mignolo’s idea of “border thinking” http://press.princeton.edu/titles/6736.html, or this *brilliant* book on Bolivian literature and painting I just read, J. Sanjines’ Mestizaje Upside Down: http://www.upress.pitt.edu/bookdetails.aspx?bookid=35495. Neither of these books are about the Southwest but Sanjines’ is about Indianness and really shows how complicated the concept of mestizaje is.

But Anzaldua’s text is lyrical and suggestive, and does talk about landscape and space. When I teach her I see she is very challenging to Anglo identities and views, and so I defend the book. She was absolutely de rigueur reading during the 1990s, when identity politics was so big.

I have decided – in part based on peoples’ reactions to the book – that its best feature is being written in 2 languages, without being always a bilingual book, with the same text in 2 languages on facing pages. To understand every word you have to be bilingual, and this really irritates monolingual people, who invariably say “this author is excluding me” and “she is keeping things from me” or “she is putting up barriers.” This I would say is actually the point – it means the text is a certain kind of landscape and if you will, a certain kind of building. The way in which the text gives us this experience is, I think, more interesting than its affirmations about the virtues of the mestizo, the gay, etc., which I think she essentializes or even fetishizes.

I have a manuscript on her languishing, and that I should update and send out again. My ideas on her are controversial in US since they are the kinds of things a Latin Americanist would say, and not necessarily that a US Ethnic Literature person would say.

This entry was posted in Créolité, Feminism, Identity, Modernities, Poetics, Postmodernism, Primitivisms, Race, Subject Theory. Bookmark the permalink.

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