Friday, September 25, 2009

La Nueva Mestiza

According to the OED, a “mestiza” is a person of mixed origin. Originally this term referred in particular to a female with a Spanish father and an American Indian mother. As Anzaldua begins to sketch her "new mestiza," this more specific definition of a Chicano daughter of mixed heritage begins to blur and we are introduced to a women who's mixed cultural, sexual, and historical understandings of self compose a more fluid "mestiza" identity that is not just a reference to mixed race.
In her initial recounting of Chicano history, Anzaldua initially refers to the masculine "mestizos...genetically equipped t survive" the diseases carried by 16th century colonists into Mexico (27). During this historical narrative, she seems to proudly identify with the mestizos who explored and conquered most of the southwest and explains how the "continual intermarriage between Mexican and American Indians and Spaniards formed an even greater mestizaje" of mixed blood (27). But in chapter 2, she moves from a nostalgic recollection of cultural heritage into a description of the "cultural tyranny" that she feels, not only Anglos, but mestizos themselves impose upon mixed-heritage, Chicana women like herself -- mestizas.
These mestizas are feared as "carnal, animal, and closer to the undivine" (39) by the men in their cultures who chose to "protect" them rather than let them guide their culture. In the author's cuture, "men make the rules and laws; women transmit them" (38). A lingering tribal value of welfare of the community over the individual (40) makes standing out against accepted cultural norms and gender roles nearly impossible as one who "get above themselves" is labeled selfish or envidiosa (40).
But the "superhuman" in every new mestiza cannot truly be confined. Anzaldua begins to show us this new "mixed-woman" through the metaphor of "the Shadow-beast" who is, fundamentally, a rebel. Not only does she rebel against misogynistic culture, however, she rebels against her own self-limitations and the "absolute despot duality that says we are able to be only one of the other" (41). The Shadow-Beast in the new mestiza is "a part [of me] that refuses to take orders from outside authorities. It refuses to take orders from my conscious is the part [of me] that hates constraints of any kind, even those self imposed" (41).
For the author, "the ultimate rebellion" the new mestiza "can make against her native culture is through her sexual behavior" (41). Whether straying from normal heterosexual constructs or farther into the "prohibited" homosexuality, this rebel can embrace multiple sexual identities as well as multiple cultural identifications.
Regardless of the specific norms or dualities that the new mestiza represents, defines, or breaks forcefully, she is a product of a false border. She defies the "borders that are et up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them" (25). As she boldly claims the various identities which she herself discovers, she moves form the "vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary" (25). By challenging "the confines of the normal" the nueva mestiza embraces the borders that formed her and surpasses their limitations, actively engaging in and transforming her culture and claiming the heritage she calls her own.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, Maggie. I love that you decided to focus on the "Shadow Beast," such an evocative image and idea in the text and one that we hadn't talked about much in class. It seems to encapsulate her personality in a way. I think, for example, that Bryce brought up a great point when he talked about how, especially in the first pages, she just seems so contrary and oppositional. When we learn about the Shadow-Beast, though, we kind of get a sense of why. She's not the type of person who's going to stand around silently when she sees or hears of injustice. We see that again in the poetry, in "El Sonovabiche" in particular.