(In)between nation and diaspora: Performing Indigenous and African legacies in Chicana/o and Mexican cultural production
TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract iv Acknowledgements v Table of Contents vii Introduction 1 Chapter One: "Impossible Patriots:" The Exiled Queer Citizen in Cherrie Moraga's "The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea" and Adelina Anthony's "Mastering Sex and Tortillas" 21 Chapter Two: "Body as Codex-ized Word"/ Cuerpo Como Palabra (en-)Codice-ado:" Transnational Indigeneities in the Performance Work of Jesusa Rodriguez and Celia Herrera Rodriguez 62 Chapter Three: "Me Pongo y Me Quito:" Afro-Mexican and Afro-Chicana/o Musical Diasporic Aesthetics 102 Chapter Four: "With Coyolxauhqui in One Hand and Yemaya in the Other:" Invoking African Diasporic Histories in the Work of Gloria Anzaldua and Juana Alicia 162 Conclusion 202 Epilogue 205 Works Cited 207 viii
Introduction: 'Poniendo Puente a la Mar" and a maestra2 reminds me... that i am "sure-footed"... that the body remembers things... that the pitiful mind cannot... other ways of knowing... and i imagine how i want to move... how i need to find my medicine... in these piedras3... an embodied inscription... of an ancient conversation... across the atlantic... between antepasados4... from different continents... before 1492..,. pre-columbian transnationalism... transgressive transculturation... a conversation that is erased.. .5 diaspora from dia + sperein (to sow) dispersion, from diaspeirirein (to scatter) A: the breaking up and scattering of people. B: people settled far from their ancestral homelands. C: the place where these people live. -Front window display, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA. Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.6 -Benedict Anderson 1 This phrase is a variation from Son de Madera's "La Maria Terolerole," "ponerle puente a la mar" which translates to "placing a bridge over the ocean." Son de Madera, Son de Madera, Urtext, 1998. 2 This term identifies not only a teacher but also a mentor. 3 "Piedras" translates to "rocks." 4 "Antepasados" translates to "ancestors." 5 From "piedras confundidas: a brief intertextual meditation about an ancient conversation" by Micaela Diaz-Sanchez performed at the "(W)Rite to Remember: Performance and Chicana/Indigena Thought" Symposium, Stanford University, May 2005. The maestra I speak of is Cherrie Moraga and I thank her for reminding me that I could remember. 6 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso Books, 2006), 7. 1
By shifting the focus from written to embodied culture, from the discursive to the performatic, we need to shift our methodologies. Instead of focusing on patterns of cultural expression in terms of texts and narratives, we might think about them as scenarios that do not reduce gestures and embodied practices to narrative description. This shift necessarily alters what academic disciplines regard as appropriate canons, and might extend the traditional disciplinary boundaries to include practices previously outside their purview.7 - Diana Taylor The morning of May 21, 2006 the San Francisco Chronicle's front-page invoked the term "diaspora" to discuss the migration of Mexican immigrants to the United States. The first article began by stating, "The current migration of Mexicans and Central Americans to the United States is one of the largest diasporas in modern history, experts say."8 While I have always conceptualized Mexicans living outside of Mexico and Chicana/os as part of a diaspora myself, I have rarely witnessed this positing in critical or popular discourse.9 Who exactly constitutes this diaspora? Given contemporary immigration debates, what is the relationship between diaspora and nation? How do we discuss the colonial legacies of these diasporic subjects in the context of nation-building projects? In what ways do gender, race, sexuality and class inform these legacies? How do we account for disparate historical narratives in these diasporic imaginaries? This critical assemblage of inquiries propels my dissertation project. In order to facilitate responses, I employ performance as the critical lens through 7 Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 16-17. 8 Carolyn Lochhead, "Give and Take Across the Border I in 7 Mexican Migrates — Most Send Money Home," San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 2006. 9 While diaspora is not frequently invoked or extensively discussed in prominent Chicana/o Studies discourse, Chicana feminist scholars Emma Perez and Karen Mary Davalos engage with theoretical genealogies of diaspora in their work. See Perez's The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History and Davalos' Exhibiting Mestizaje: Mexican (American) Museums in the Diaspora. 2
which to explore these questions and position myself as both scholar and artist in the interrogations that follow. I examine the methodologies that contemporary Chicana/o and Mexican artists utilize in embodying and representing Indigenous and African diasporic legacies through cultural production ranging from visual art and dramatic texts to folkloric music and performance art. Each of the artists I critically engage with in this project negotiates multiple constructions and contestations of nation and diaspora in divergent aesthetic renderings. National (De)Constructions and Diasporic Imaginaries Prominent contemporary theorists conceptualize the "nation" with an emphasis on the notions of its boundaries. In Benedict Anderson's canonical discussion of the nation as "imagined community" he writes, "The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind."10 As Anderson analyzes the contemporary rise of nationalism he asserts the confluent circumstances that resist fixed constructions of the "nation." In his pronouncement of the imagined community's condition of being both finite and elastic, he insists that the nation is "a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogeneous, empty time."11 This notion of abstraction is central to Anderson's treatise about the invented character of these "communities." Anderson focuses on how the development of modern 10 Anderson (2006), 7. 11 Anderson (2006), 26. 3
national consciousness was mobilized, in large part, by the function of print media. By focusing on embodied practices in multiple forms, my project makes a critical departure from these dominant logocentric epistemologies of imagining community. Postcolonial scholar Homi K. Bhahba contests Anderson's notion by positing that constructions of nation are carefully negotiated through the relationship between an imposed narrative of "nation" by governmental forces and narratives of "nation" performed by its citizens. While Bhahba also resists the fixity of "nationality" he addresses the specific conditions of Third World nations, "Counter-narratives of the nation that continually evoke and erase its totalizing boundaries - both actual and conceptual - disturb those ideological manoeuvres through which 'imagined communities' are given essentialist identities."12 While the artists in my study work in different geographic localities, they each embody and inscribe these counter-narratives in multiple disciplines and sociopolitical contexts. Partha Chatterjee employs the history of Bengali nationalism in India to propose that nationalist movements in Africa and Asia have been "posited not on an identity but rather on a difference with the 'modular' forms of the national society propagated by the modern West."13 Challenging the hegemonic implications of these Eurocentric "modular forms" from which the rest of the world is to "choose their imagined community," Chatterjee asks, 12 Homi K. Bhabha, "DissemiNation: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation," in Nation and Narration, ed. Homi K. Bhabha (New York: Routledge, 1990), 300. 13 Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 5. 4
"what do they have left to imagine?"14 He laments this imposition as one that situates postcolonial societies as "perpetual consumers of modernity," which does not allow for alternative models of imagining nationalist projects. As cultural producers traverse these boundaries, both theoretical and geographic, they redefine and re-envision what it means to be given or denied citizenship in distinct national contexts or what Chatterjee identifies as "nationalist imaginations." While Anderson, Bhahba, and Chatterjee engage with the fixity of nationhood and the policing of citizenship with regard to specific colonial histories, the discourse of diaspora opens up alternative routes for subject- formation that materialize across national borders. While acknowledging the analogous approaches between the arguments by border theorists for the critical centrality of formerly marginal histories of crossing, James Clifford makes a distinction between the concept of border and the concept of diaspora. Marking a theoretical discrepancy between these migratory border contexts and diasporic paradigms he writes, But borderlands are distinct in that they presuppose a territory defined by a geopolitical line: two sides arbitrarily separated and policed, but also joined by legal and illegal practices of crossing and communication. Diasporas usually presuppose longer distances and a separation more like exile: a constitutive taboo on return, or its postponement to a remote future.15 Clifford's divergent reading of immigrant and diasporic conceptual frameworks is particularly interesting as he cites Roger Rouse's article, "Mexican Migration and the Social Space of Postmodernism" about the 14 Chatterjee (1993), 5. 15 James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 246. 5
circular migratory networks of Mexican immigrants published in the 1991 inaugural issue of the journal Diaspora. While I understand the critical distinction between the global dispersal and uncertain return to "homeland" by the original Jewish diaspora and other prevalently cited communities such as the Armenian and African diasporas; and Mexican immigrants in the United States who work and live on the same continent as their place of "origin," I would like to problematize this theoretical incongruence a bit more. In William Safran's article "Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return," he unilaterally excludes Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans from this theoretical dialogue. He declares, The Hispanic (or Latino) community in the United States has not generally been considered a diaspora. The Mexican Americans, the largest component of that community, are either descendents of those who had settled in what is now the United States before the arrival of the Anglos or (first- or second-generation) immigrants from Mexico who came in search of a better future. Although subject to periodic discrimination, they are assimilating at a steady pace. While they occasionally deplore the treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo under which, in 1848, Mexico was forced to cede territory to the United States, celebrate Mexican folk festivals, and maintain contact with relative behind, Mexican Americans do not cultivate a homeland myth- perhaps because the homeland cannot be easily idealized. The poverty and political corruption of Mexico (which is easy enough to observe, given the proximity of that country) stand in too sharp a contrast with conditions in the United States.16 Once again the geographic proximity to "homeland" of Mexican and Mexican American communities in the United States functions as their prominent point of exclusion from diaspora discourse by both Safran and Clifford. Safran's statement about assimilation "at a steady pace" is grossly general and could 16 William Safran, "Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return," Diaspora 1, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 90. The misspelling of "Guadalupe" is in the original version of the publication. 6
be applied to any immigrant or diasporic community in the United States. His declaration about Mexicans and Mexican Americans' experiences with "periodic discrimination" is severely erroneous given the escalation of violent enforcement along the Mexican/United States border and the increase in hate crimes against immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. When Safran claims, "Mexican Americans do not cultivate a homeland myth - perhaps because the homeland cannot be easily idealized," he fails to recognize an entire intellectual and cultural genealogy of Mexican American and Chicana/o theorizations of "homeland." In examining these disparate deployments of diasporic and border theories I recognize the positioning of the politically coerced (diaspora) versus economically propelled (immigrant) communities. These distinctions are impossible to maintain and police in examining the circuitous historical and contemporary contestations of "nation" in Mexican and Chicana/o diasporic cultural production. In his canonical text, Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies Jose David Saldfvar writes, "By examining the contact zones of the U.S.-Mexico border, the spaces where the nation ends or begins, we can begin to problematize the notion that the nation is 'naturally' there."17 By challenging "this stable, naturalized, and hegemonic status of the national,"18 the artists in this dissertation unsettle these discursive and material constructions. I align myself with Emma Perez's assertion that it is not a matter of replacing "border and borderland studies or immigrant studies with 17 Jose David Saldfvar, Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 14. 18 Jose David Saldfvar (1997), 14. 7
diaspora studies" but instead she suggests, "that an analysis of the diasporic may elicit different questions concerning the identities of these travelers / migrants."19 Returning to Clifford's insistence on the discrepancy of the theorizations of diasporic and borderlands theories, he goes on to recognize an emergent contemporary convergence. He writes, "The overlap of border and diaspora experiences in late-20th century everyday life suggests the difficulty of maintaining exclusivist paradigms in our attempts to account for transnational identity formations."20 These conceptualizations of transnational subjects operate as critical in the performative practices of the artists discussed in this dissertation. Diaspora studies is an expansive field that travels across disciplines as scholars deploy theories of global dispersals in manifold social and cultural articulations. More specifically, scholarship on the African diaspora has undergone escalated attention in the recent decades leading to the proliferation of academic departments, conferences, anthologies, journals and other publications. In their article, "Unfinished Migrations: Reflections on the African Diaspora and the Making of the Modern World," Tiffany Ruby Patterson and Robin D.G. Kelley address these discursive proliferations and urge for a critical framework that treats the African diaspora as "a unit of analysis." They argue that this approach, must emphasize the historical constructions of the African diaspora; the development of a diasporic identity and its social, cultural, and political 19 Emma Perez, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 77. 20 Clifford (1997), 247. 8
manifestations; the contributions of black migrant/ colonial intellectuals to rethinking the modern West; and the continual reinvention of Africa and the diaspora through cultural work, migrations, transformations in communications, as well as the globalization of capital.21 In interrogating how this diaspora is constructed in its multiple iterations and approaches, performance operates as a critical praxis of analysis that helps us think beyond the nation-state. As cultural producers negotiate the legacies of these diasporic histories they facilitate an embodied framework with which to examine individual self-inscriptions in the context of collective identifications. Through these aesthetic articulations they contest the temporal and territorial conventions of nationalist notions of "place." Among the most prominent articulations of the African diaspora is Paul Gilroy's theoretical formulation of the Black Atlantic with particular attention to how diasporic musicalities challenge discourses of authenticity, ethnocentrism, and nationalisms. Gilroy writes, the circulation and mutation of music across the black Atlantic explodes the dualistic structure which puts Africa, authenticity, purity, and origin in crude opposition to the Americas, hybridity, creolisation, and rootlessness. There has been (at least) a two-way traffic between African cultural forms and the political cultures of diaspora blacks over a long period.22 Gilroy challenges the uni-directional theorization of cultural production across the Black Atlantic and imbricates this "dualistic structure" in modernity's notions of temporality, "the line between the present and the past which constitutes it becomes an integral part of enlightenment understanding of 21 Tiffany Ruby Patterson and Robin D. G. Kelley, "Unfinished Migrations: Reflections on the African Diaspora and the Making of the Modern World," in African Studies Review, 43, no. 1 (April 2000): 13. 22 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 199. 9
progress and social development."23 He proposes the concept of diaspora "as a response to these promptings - a Utopian eruption of space into the linear temporal order of modern black politics which enforces the obligation that space and time must be considered relationally in their interarticulation with racialised being."24 As these alternative temporalities transgress linear concepts of time they allow for critical imaginings in the shaping of diasporas. While Gilroy very specifically roots his arguments in Anglophone legacies of Pan-Africanism and the Black Atlantic, my inquiries are driven by an expansion of these trangressions to re-examine how Chicana/o and Mexican performance practices operate as diasporic interventions. In accounting for broader historical and theoretical claims with regard to how transnational subjectivities are formed, Brent Hayes Edwards identifies "internationalism" in the shaping of black diasporic communities, cultures and black internationalism can be seen only in translation. It is not possible to take up the question of "diaspora" without taking account of the fact that the great majority of peoples of African descent do not write in English.. .ne can approach such a project only by attending to the ways that discourses of internationalism.. .are translated, disseminated, reformulated, and debated in transnational contexts marked by difference.25 Focusing on Afro-Francophone diasporic configurations, Edwards's analytic of "black internationalism" engages the narratives of difference in relation to linguistic paradigms. What is useful to my project, however, is Edwards's emphasis on the functions of these ideologies and thereby, how diasporic 23 Gilroy (1993), 198. 24 Gilroy (1993), 198. 25 Brent Hayes Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 7.
communities are continually in the process of resisting notions of fixed locations. While these foundational deployments of the diaspora as both a process and a condition continue to inform my queries, this dissertation is driven by several gaps. Canonical discourse of the African diaspora often focuses on Anglophone and Francophone communities in the Caribbean, the United States and Europe. Scholarship that does concentrate on the African diaspora in Latin America often excludes Mexico (except for an occasional footnote) and even less frequently includes a discussion of the Mexican and Chicana/o communities in the United States who are implicated in Mexico's African historical legacies. Driven by these absences I position this dissertation's mandate as a critical expansion of diaspora and Chicana/o studies. I interrogate the methodologies Chicana/o and Mexican artists employ to embody the translation, dissemination and reformulation of both nation and diaspora. In particular I work off of Josh Kun's discussion of cultural production as critical in articulating the historical, social and aesthetic relationships between "the extranational musical territory of the African diaspora of the black Atlantic and of the borderland between the United States and Mexico."26 I utilize the generative potential of these diasporic re-formulations as modes of analyses to examine multiple aesthetic renderings across disciplines and nationalist discourses. 26 Josh Kun, "Against Easy Listening: Audiotopic Readings and Transnational Soundings," in Every-night Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America, ed. Celeste Fraser Delgado & Jose Esteban Muftoz (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 288. 11
Beyond Mestizaje In the Chicana/o nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s, mestizaje was utilized to fortify a philosophy of self-determination for Chicana/o communities in the United States in the midst of vigorous civil rights struggles, el movimiento Chicano. Central to the mandate of the Chicana/o movement was an emphasis on the acknowledgement of pre-Columbian Indigenous histories and identities in Chicana/o communities as these narratives had been systematically denied in the context of Spain's colonial legacy. In the decades following the Chicana/o civil rights movement, representations of the Mesoamerican Indigenous iconographies and cosmologies in the Chicana/o imaginary proliferated in cultural production across aesthetic practices. In this context mestizaje was rooted in Chicano nationalist mandates and predominantly articulated through a masculinist and heteronormative lens.27 "El Plan Espiritual de Aztldn," a foundational document collectively written in 1969 at the First Chicano National Conference in Denver, Colorado, states, CULTURAL values of our people strengthen our identity and the moral backbone of the movement. Our culture unites and educates the family of La Raza towards liberation with one heart and our mind. We must insure that our writers, poets, musicians, and artists produce literature and art that is appealing to our people and relates to our revolutionary culture. Our cultural values of life, family, and home will serve as a 27 While throughout my dissertation I write "Chicana/o" as a feminist revision, in sections in which I critique these masculinist legacies I limit gendered signifiers and employ "Chicano." 12
powerful weapon to defeat the gringo dollar value system and encourage the process of love and brotherhood.28 Early renderings of Indigenous identities in the context of Chicana/o movement politics were dominated by images of Mexica29 cosmologies since artists, intellectuals and political leaders looked to these monumental Mesoamerican civilizations as central to ancestral lineages. The adoption of these spectacularized depictions were largely symbolic, as the Indigenous ancestral lineages of many Chicana/o communities in the United States were not situated in the central valley of Mexico. In decades that followed Chicana feminist scholarship and cultural production made fundamental departures from the masculinist enunciations of collective Chicana/o histories. These intellectuals and artists made critical interventions by offering feminist re-examinations, revisions, and rejections of dominant Chicano heteronormative patriarchal representations of Chicanas as mother, wife, sister, etc. Among these compelling visual, embodied, and literary manifestations were the radical invocations of female deities who had been excluded from Chicano nationalist depictions of Indigenous narratives. These contemporary feminist representations of Indigenous figures together with expansive research on their cosmological legacies continue to inform multiple iterations of Chicana identity politics and historical consciousness. 28 «Ei pjgj^ Egpjritual de Aztlan," in Aztldn: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya and Francisco Lomeli (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1989), 3. 29 Throughout this dissertation I use the word "Mexica" as opposed to "Aztec" because the latter term was introduced in the "nineteenth century by European and Anglo-American anthropologists and archaeologists; 'Mexica' probably more closely resembles the name by which the 'Aztecs' referred to themselves." Sheila Marie Contreras, Blood Lines: Myth, Indigenism, and Chicana/o Literature (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008), 168, n.5.
In Mexico, particularly in the years following the Mexican Revolution, mestizaje functioned as central in modernist ideologies of nation-building and the consolidation of ethnic and religious identities to establish and secure a sovereign state. With the defeat the Porfirio Diaz's oligarchy, governmental leaders and influential public intellectuals purported the rhetoric of mestizaje as a social project to amalgamate Mexico's citizens in the name of nationalist convergence. Maria Josefina Saldana-Portillo writes, The nineteenth-century discourse of mestizaje was perfectly adaptable to such twentieth-century revolutionary aspirations because it not only metaphorized national unity for Mexico through biological coordinates, but also interpellated subjects into a principle of citizenship based on a leaving behind of residual indigenous and imperial racial categories and cultures.30 While violently maintaining systemic discrimination against Indigenous communities and privileging of Europe's legacy in Mexico, political leaders purported a rhetoric of Mexico as a nation of mixed-raced citizens or mestizos. According to this nationalist discourse mestizaje, as Theresa Delgadillo writes, "repeatedly invokes the Spanish and Indian dyad at the heart of Mexican subjectivity."31 My research works to challenge this dyad by interrogating how African diasporic legacies are articulated through performance by both Chicana/o and Mexican cultural producers. Synthesizing performance theory and ethnographic fieldwork, I examine how these aesthetic renderings operate as performance practices that inform projects of historical recovery (personal and collective), political 30 Maria Josefina Saldana-Portillo, "In the Shadow of NAFTA: Y tu mama tambien Revisits the National Allegory of Mexican Sovereignty," American Quarterly 57, no. 3 (Sept 2005): 762. 31 Theresa Delgadillo, "Singing 'Angelitos Negros:' African Diaspora Meets Mestizaje in the Americas," in American Quarterly 58, no. 2 (2006): 414. 14