HW # 3 ~ 9/23/2014
“Arts of the Contact Zone” by Mary Louise Pratt
As I read these articles, I am usually trying to make the connection to my students. For me, this essay explained the concept of the ‘contact zone’ and its importance to classroom cultural interaction. In turn, the contact zone allows an atmosphere for students of various ethnicities and cultures to effectively communicate; sharing their thoughts and ideas in an environment which allows examination of culture without the prejudices that can sometimes influence the discussion. Overall, the benefit of establishing a cooperative network where individuals can assess “autoethnography, transculturation, critique…vernacular expression” (all sensitive topics), is an important tool, as well as, an environment to cultivate when teaching a classroom with a diverse student population.
“Borderlands” by Gloria Anzaldua
This article explored cultural feminism, using the Chicana female heritage in its examination of gender biases. From the first chapter ‘The Homeland’ which considers the “topography of displacement”, the unfamiliar environment and historical backgrounds of various cultures, I was engaged. For me, chapter two “Rebellious Movements and Traitorous Cultures” touched upon the male-dominated setting I grew up in with my Portuguese father. It considered the historically established social norms expected by gender; “traditional culture works against women” and designating females as the “lesser” gender in contrast to the male members of the family.
While reading the essay, I found it interesting that within the Chicana culture the female deity known for “presiding over women in childbirth” was originally known as virgin, but later described as whore and “transformed into a woman who murders children rather than one who guides them into life”. This change demonstrates the hierarchy of a patriarchal society, which prevented the influence of strong female deity to guide or influence expected gender roles; feminism prevention.
Overall, I found this essay truly engaging. Although it focused on Chicano culture, some of its detriments are followed in other patriarchal societies. In my life, there were rules that had to be followed, which benefited the males in my family. For example, the females cooked and the men ate first shift. Once both genders ate, the kitchen was cleaned by the females. In turn, women’s work was always done by the female with little or no assistance from the younger males in the family. This behavior and mannerism was influenced by previous generation’s culture norms and was expected to be followed. In the end, it also demonstrated feminists frustration, as my parents divorced after ten years.
James F. Blandino - 9/23/14, Cultural Rhetoric, Critical Response #3
The work of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, author of The First New Chronicle and Good Government (written in Peru in the year 1613) has much in common with the work of modern writer Gloria Anzaldua, author of Borderlands La Frontera (published in 1987). Both works are written from geographical areas that Mary Louise Pratt would term “contact zones”. Which she describes as, “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today.” Today, the majority of the globe can be considered a contact zone. We, living in the United States, certainly are a mash up of perspectives, languages and culture. Both these works are written in multiple languages, that of the imperial power and that of the colonized, that of the oppressor and that of the oppressed. I have never been exposed to a text written in multiple languages in a classroom setting. I feel that the rigidity of the traditional education has a hard time making room for authentic voices from the contact zone. Looking back on my public education in history and literature, I realize that I have been cheated, denied a side of history that is being reclaimed and retold by the voices that were previously marginalized by the white, Eurocentric authority. I always had a sense that I wasn’t getting the “whole story” in my history courses when it came to the colonization of the Americas.
Both texts are attempts to create a new representation of history, culture, and language from the perspective of the people within the oppressed society to replace the representations presented by the imperial or colonizing power. So often, we look to ethnography for a version of history to be taught in schools. I’ve come to understand ethnography to be a history or anthropology written and defined by a voice from the conquering power (usually European). Ethnography is just one side of a multifaceted experience; therefore, ethnography is limited in scope. It is a strange paradox that the people of a lost or stolen tongue must use the language of their oppressor in order to reclaim their own history and culture. Assimilation is a brutal process, what is lost can never be fully restored. I would describe Guaman Poma’s and Anzaldua’s writing to be autoethnographic. Pratt defines this term as, “representations that the so defined others construct in response to or in dialogue with those (ethnographic) texts . . . they involve a selective collaboration with and appropriation of idioms of the metropolis of the conqueror . . . Autoethnographic texts are often addressed to metropolitan audiences and the speaker’s own community (this is evident in both works discussed here in that they utilize multiple languages) . . . such texts often constitute a marginalized groups point of entry into the dominant circuits of print culture.” This reminds me of the point James Clifford makes on new cultural perspectives emerging in popular discourse as the marginalized voices can no longer be “held at a distance” by the Western ethnographers. I am grateful that there is new space in the cultural rhetoric for these emerging perspectives to find a path to print, to exhibition, and to production. I consider our classroom to be a “contact zone” where these perspectives can mingle, share a common respect of one another, and learn from our wide spectrum of experiences.
I found Gloria Anzaldua’s style of writing to be amazing. I would like to write my own language and culture autobiography with the style of “Borderlands, La Frontera” in mind. I have never read a text that jumps from poetry, to memoir, to historical and cultural account, to linguistics, without ever losing focus of narrative. A particular section resonated deeply with my own experiences. I found some comfort that Anzaldua (a Chicana and a lesbian) and myself (a heterosexual white male) share a common sense that a new “borderland” has been established by the authority between the imagined spiritual world and the rational, waking world. Her struggles with the Catholic Church are similar to those of my agnostic parents (their turning from organized religion allowed me the space to explore a truer spirituality that brings meaning to my daily life). Her ideas of “la facultad”, a sixth sense, “latent in all of us”, dulled by hundreds of years of organized religion, are concepts that I have vaguely felt and understood since childhood. It is a shame that it took me 33 years to find this amazing writer with whom I can relate so well with despite our cultural and linguistic divides. I wi
“Arts of the Contact Zone”
“Borderlands – La Frontera”
Mary Louise Pratt, in the book Arts of the Contact Zone, defines in a short but very clear way what she meant by “contact zones”. She states that contact zones “refer to social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today”. These contact zones allow cultures to interact and influence one another, basically changing the way see/perceive each other. She gives the example of the 1200 page letter form an Andean called Guaman Poma to the King of Spain, Philip III. This manuscript was written in a mix of Quechua and Spanish and pictured the story of a culture dominated by the Spanish and reveals a much darker story than the one everyone knows about the Spanish conquests. She also gives the example a class she had in which the students were from very different backgrounds and that created a contact zone where different points of view and ideas were shared for the enrichment of all of them. These examples may lead one to think that the contact zones in which cultures interact, share and exchange knowledge have both positive and negative outcomes.
In the preface of Borderlands – La frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa states that the borderlands she will address in the book are physical (Texas/Mexican border), psychological, sexual, and spiritual and she does that by writing in her own English/Spanish mixture. This book is a very interesting look in the life and struggles of identity of someone in a borderland where “hatred, anger and exploitation” are common features. One aspect that was very interesting, related to the struggle of identity, is that being different and any attempt to divert from pre-established rules and behaviors were condemned as stated in this quote: "The queer are the mirror reflecting the heterosexual tribe's fear: being different, being other and therefore lesser, therefore sub-human, in-human, non-human." It is difficult to disassociate the author’s own experiences and identity struggles from the book’s narration. She moved back and forth from Spanish to English highlighting therefore her cultural identity split between American and Mexican.
The article Arts of the Contact Zone is about cultural exchange/imposition and diversity. The author Mary Pratt tries to show the reader how the “eyes or books of an outsider” may describe a community, even though sometimes the described community sees itself differently. She gives the example of Guaman Poma, representing the Andrean people, and the Spanish who ended up being the “conquerors” of the Andrean people. They were supposed to exchange culture, to give something to one another, but according to Guaman Poma the Spanish did not have nothing to share with them and were only interested in exploring them (explore their gold, silver, etc.). The article then goes on explaining how the idea of “homogeneity” inside a community/country is mistaken. The history of a country is usually presented as being only one, without diversity, flaws, and controversies, although its own members may have a different saying in the matter. “Many of those who govern us display…their interest in a …ignorant, manipulable electorate…the concept of an enlightened citizenry seems to have disappeared from the national imaginary…” (p.39). According to the book, the contact zone is supposed to be a place where cultures and people come together and share their history, legacy, fears and accomplishments without being oppressed. But it seems as if you already have a script to follow, and the people in power want you to be empty, with no “thinking” of your own, so that they can tell you who you are and make you become a mere ordinary character in the books they write without your “consent”.
The Book Boarderlands La Frontera,by Gloria Anzaldua, is a cry for justice and equality. It starts with an introduction written by Sonia Hull overviewing the different passages from the book. Then it moves to the preface where Gloria talks about borderlands. The borders are not just those that physically separate countries but also those that separate people because of their options, like sexual or political, or even the things they did not have an option such as social class and race. Because she lived in the border between two countries, which somehow turned her into a new “breed” with a “different” language, habits, and personality that is visible throughout the book, which was not considered “normal” by the ones at the “prettier” side of the border. Gloria talks about “historical facts” (like the North Americans stealing the lands from the Mexicans and abusing them), while mixing them with her own personal history like where she was born and how rebel and “different” she is. The book shows how poorly men treat women, but as a “fierce” Chicana and a lesbian, she defends diversity and the right everyone has to choose his/her own path in life.
In “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Mary Louise Pratt coins the term autoethnographic text which differs from traditional ethnography in one very important way. While ethnographic texts are constructed from the point of view of the researcher studying the subject(s), autoethnographic texts are, as Pratt describes them, texts “in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations other have made of them.” And, when these described “others” have preconceived notions of a certain group of people, it is often an already marginalized group whose cultural traditions may be at risk.
Pratt further defines the term autoethnographic text by stating that marginalized people compose autoethnographic texts by “using the conqueror’s language to construct a parodic, oppositional representation of the conquerors own speech” (35). One classic example, is seems, is the recreation and retelling of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis. And autoethnography does not have to be restricted to one form of communication -- it can even been seen in picture representations; for example, in which indigenous people present themselves to European colonizers and the pictures often resemble the colonizer to be larger, and fall into more stereotypical views of masculinity.
Autoethnography is very closely related to, or identical to what Anzaldua calls autohistoria in “Borderlands.” This “new genre,” (2) tells of how “indigenous icons, traditions, and rituals replace post-Cortesian, Catholic customs. A prime example of this would be the Virgin Guaadalupe ‘s alternative Coatlicue, “the Aztec divine mother (2). It is a very unique way for a marginalized group to engage with the colonizing group because, while marginalized groups may not be able to resist invading influences, the groups still give rise to an alternative narrative. And, on top of alternative narratives, Anzaldua “is strategically reclaiming a ground for female historical prescence” (6). She unapologetically rewrites history by adding a previously unheard voice to her people’s history.
Another essential element required to explain the importance of Pratt’s “Borderlands” is her literally definition of the term itself, or more specifically of the word “border.” She defines border “as an “unnatural boundary” and hence “posits a destabilizing potential in the late twentieth century Chicana cartography” (2). It is here, on the boarder, that Anzaldua claims an entire new culture arises. She believes that “borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them” (25).
It’s undeniable to see the legitimacy of believing how borders creates a culture that has a very clear, physical representation of the “haves” and “have nots.” A border is that dividing line, that very physical statement that fuels negative discourse and (possibly) gives rise to the way marginalized groups practice autoethnography to explain themselves in the context of those who are dominant and in power.
This week’s reading was familiar for me, which I appreciated seeing as how I am joining this class a little late. It is always nice to know or at least recognize an article you have read before; it means not having to worry about being on the same page as the rest of the class. I had read “Borderlands” and “Arts of the Contact Zone” before for different classes, but it wasn’t until this time around that I was able to have more of an understanding of what a writer like Gloria Anzaldua was trying to say. I credit a previous class I took with Dr. Anderson, Language and Power, for allowing me to better understand the power of language, as well as broadening my own knowledge of cultural issues.
What stood out to me during one of the readings was the mention that Anzaldua made to feeling homeless while also having to carry her home, or cultural traditions like a turtle. She writes, “Yet in leaving home I did not lose touch with my origins because lo mexicano is in my system. I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry “home” on my back” (Anzaldua 45). This image struck me, because prior to making this comparison, Anzaldua describes herself as being without a home; she places herself between the borders, because her identity is multifaceted. The borders become a place where all kinds of different people and ideas meet and come together; and she uses the imagery of the border to situate herself in order to bring attention that in her case, along with many others, identity is made up of so many different components.
When I read “Borderlands”, I can not help but think of Anzaldua’s call for a new Mestiza, an understanding that people who lived on the borders, between cultures, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, do in fact exist. The importance of such an article is that it makes us aware of who else is out there. I have always had an interest in the other and the ethical relationship between the self and the other. I mention the self and the other because of my philosophical interest into the works of Emmanuel Levinas who posits the idea that ethics is a responsibility for the other, and that before one can recognize their own sense of self, the humanity of the other must first be acknowledged. I further think of Levinas and his idea of the home. For him the home was the space of the same, it was a place in which the self and the other did not meet. Therefore, to have that encounter with the other so that there could be an understanding of their humanity and worth as a person, one had to leave the same, there thus had to be a break from the home. When I think of the image of Anzaldua as being without home and on the border of life, I see this as a challenge to myself. It reminds me that I too must venture outside of my comfort zone, in order to better learn what else is out there.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.