Disrupting Savagism: Intersecting Chicana/o, Mexican Immigrant, and Native American Struggles for Self-Representation [NOOK Book]


Colonial discourse in the United States has tended to criminalize, pathologize, and depict as savage not only Native Americans but Mexican immigrants, indigenous peoples in Mexico, and Chicanas/os as well. While postcolonial studies of the past few decades have focused on how these ethnicities have been constructed by others, Disrupting Savagism reveals how each group, in turn, has actively attempted to create for itself a social and textual space in which certain negative ...
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Disrupting Savagism: Intersecting Chicana/o, Mexican Immigrant, and Native American Struggles for Self-Representation

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Colonial discourse in the United States has tended to criminalize, pathologize, and depict as savage not only Native Americans but Mexican immigrants, indigenous peoples in Mexico, and Chicanas/os as well. While postcolonial studies of the past few decades have focused on how these ethnicities have been constructed by others, Disrupting Savagism reveals how each group, in turn, has actively attempted to create for itself a social and textual space in which certain negative prevailing discourses are neutralized and rendered ineffective.
Arturo J. Aldama begins by presenting a genealogy of the term “savage,” looking in particular at the work of American ethnologist Lewis Henry Morgan and a sixteenth-century debate between Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and Bartolomé de las Casas. Aldama then turns to more contemporary narratives, examining ethnography, fiction, autobiography, and film to illuminate the historical ideologies and ethnic perspectives that contributed to identity formation over the centuries. These works include anthropologist Manuel Gamio’s The Mexican Immigrant: His Life Story, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, and Miguel Arteta’s film Star Maps. By using these varied genres to investigate the complex politics of racialized, subaltern, feminist, and diasporic identities, Aldama reveals the unique epistemic logic of hybrid and mestiza/o cultural productions.
The transcultural perspective of Disrupting Savagism will interest scholars of feminist postcolonial processes in the United States, as well as students of Latin American, Native American, and literary studies.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Disrupting Savagism offers a theoretically nuanced reading of the struggles over representation that have been waged by marginalized inhabitants of the United States-Mexican border zone. With its remarkable breadth of examples, the book carefully unfolds the thoroughgoing legacy of racial violence in the colonized Southwest.”—Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, author of Rethinking the Borderlands: Between Chicano Culture and Legal Discourse

“The ‘savage’ speaks, gains voice, and articulates resistance to the forces of oppression in Aldama’s Disrupting Savagism. It is relentless in its rigor and perspicacious in its investigation as it dismantles the social discourses that ascribe Native Americans and mixed bloods ‘savage.’ Aldama’s efforts allow the Mestizo and Native American to take hold of the apparatus of representation and affirm self-identity. Disrupting Savagism is an important work, long needed to fill the gap in our collective understanding, a work that will have broad and long-lasting impact. I can think of no other work that addresses this material so capably and so thoroughly. An intelligent and powerful work.”—Alfred Arteaga, author of Chicano Poetics: Heterotexts and Hybridities

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822380016
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 11/2/2001
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Arturo J. Aldama is Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies at Arizona State University.

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Read an Excerpt


Intersecting Chicana/o, Mexican Immigrant, and Native American Struggles for Self-Representation
By Arturo J. Aldama


Copyright © 2001 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-2751-6

Chapter One

The Chicana/o and the Native American "Other" Talk Back: Theories of the Speaking Subject in a (Post?) Colonial Context

In 1508 Puerto Rican Indians decided to determine whether Spaniards were mortal or not, by holding them under water to see whether they could be drowned. -Lewis Hanke, Aristotle and the American Indians

In the actual era of postmodern neocolonial social relations, the issues of identity are urgent ones for peoples positioned as "Others" or subalterns by the violent histories of colonialism. In the case of Chicanas/os and Native Americans, we cannot discuss who "we are now" without understanding the continued legacy of imperial violence and our strategic and spontaneous resistance to the forces of material and discursive colonialism. In Abya Yala, renamed the Americas, we have the diverse nations of indigenous peoples renamed "Indians" through a geographical error and imagined and treated as savages (noble and fierce) by thecolonizing cultures. On a material level, looking back over five hundred years of history, we see full-scale invasions, genocide, rapes, usurpation of lands, broken treaties, and our stratification as social and cultural inferiors to the civilizing culture. On a level of discourse, we challenge the violent practices of representation that reify our positions as barbarians, exotics, illegal aliens, addicts, primitives, criminals, and sexual deviants; the essentialist ways we are invented, simulated, consumed, vanished, and rendered invisible by the dominant culture; as well as the insidious processes of internalized colonialism in our understanding of ourselves and of others.

October 12, 1992, marked the quincentenary of the "discovery" of Abya Yala, renamed the Americas. In San Francisco, however, there was a series of events that held the quincentenary accountable to five hundred years of colonial genocide in the Americas. Marches, tribunals, testimonies, and ceremonies, broadly named Resistance 500, transformed San Francisco and other cities in the Americas into an urban center of resistance and renewal for native peoples of the Americas, whatever their "Indian" blood quantum. The events testified to and called for retribution for the physical acts of violence on native peoples, and, further, they provided opportunities to learn from each other's diverse histories and to form oppositional alliances across the differences as people(s) of the Americas affected by imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism.

My participation in these social reclamations of decolonial space inspires the ways I understand, live, and theorize resistance, borders and borderland cultural productions, as well as the ways I analyze, practice, and celebrate the possibilities of new and old oppositional alliances between indigenous and decolonizing mestiza/o peoples across the Americas. The liberatory possibilities of anticolonial alliances profoundly shape the methods and goals of my work to understand how Chicanas/os, Mexicanas/os, and Native Americans engage in strategies of resistance, opposition, and decolonization to colonialist practices of imperial patriarchal subjection.

Reports in the Real: Five Hundred Years of Resistance and Beyond

The 1992 Tribunal for Columbus was staged to hold accountable the legacy of colonialism and violence in the Americas. Diverse grassroots groups were present, such as The Chicano Moratorium Coalition and the Mexican labor solidarity group Regeneracíon, which called for the dismantling of the U.S./Mexico border and recited a litany of treaty violations in Aztlán-the U.S./Mexico borderland that includes Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Hawaiian anticolonialists formed coalitions with Puerto Rican nationalists, African American and American Indian activists, as well as Latin American groups fighting for self-determination against CIA- and multinational-backed oppressive regimes.

On October 5, 1992, the Chasqui (a Peruvian Quechua word meaning "messenger" or "prophet") March and Rally started at Dolores Park and ended at La Raza Park in the Mission barrio in San Francisco. The march was led by teenagers from such diverse tribal affiliations as California Pomo, Lakota Sioux, Chippewa, and Nez Perce, and was followed by the Gay and Lesbian Native American Alliance (People of Two Spirits), the Chicano Moratorium, and El Grupo Maya, among many others. Along the way, the parade stopped at several street corners, parks, and schools where performance art events, ceremonies, and dances were performed.

One particular installation took place on 24th Street near the Church of St. Peter, the central street of the Mission barrio, a predominantly Latino and Mexicano neighborhood. Performance artist Gerardo Navarro and mission activist and poet Katia Aparicio along with several others ritualized the conquest, colonialism, and struggle for liberation in the Americas. Katia Aparicio, dressed in chains and burlap covered with clay, screamed "I am the Americas," while Gerardo, wrapped in tubing and wires with a white death-face mask, created a cacophony by reciting in a rapidly spoken combination of Spanish and English a litany of the atrocities of the conquest throughout the Americas: the rapes, the murders, the deceits, the broken treaties, the destruction of the rain forests, and the construction of nuclear power plants on tribal lands in New Mexico and Nevada.

This performance was a postcontact anticolonial exorcism where historicized bodies mark ideological spaces; an event that dramatizes the original colonial assaults on indigenous sovereignties, indigenous women, and the resource-rich continent. Navarro's fluid use of Spanish, English, and Caló and the wrapping of wires and tubing across his body metaphorizes, speaks to, and forebodes how NAFTA, neoliberalism, and globalization has further eroded the land and human rights of indigenous peoples, especially women, in Mexico and the Americas.

The installation drew many onlookers from the busy street, and the shift in consciousness caused by the event was palpable. People from the barrio, Latinas/os, Chicanas/os, Filipinas/os, and street people cried out chanting "she's right, she's right, she's right." The passing parade merged with the onlookers near the installation. During a momentary reflection of shared historical space, a Lakota warrior, a Chicana feminist, a young Cherokee woman, and a middle-aged Latina with her shopping cart cried and acknowledged our diversity, our overlaps, our affiliations, and our alliances in opposition to the forces of colonialism. We entered a liminal zone: Our borders crossed into each other.

The Resistance 500 events culminated on October 12, 1992, in a march that went from Aquatic Park to Civic Center. This march, with its event-high number of participants (4,800), was comprised of coalitions of Chicanos and tribal peoples from every region of the Americas, including Bolivians, Filipinos, African Americans, Chicanos, Brazilians, and African Caribbeans, as well as Anglo-based solidarity groups of political persuasions ranging from militant Maoists to nonaffiliated anarchists. This post-modern anticolonial microcosm of the mestizaje of the Americas marched in oppositional alliance.

The rally following the march became a site where the monologues and master-narratives of history were disrupted: No, the Indian wars are not over! No, we Indians, the fierce and noble savages of your colonial imagination, have not succumbed to the inevitable march of civilization! And no, we have not vanished! On the stage, various representatives testified to the struggles of their tribal nations, their political coalitions, their raza, and their countries. Dolores Huerta addressed the struggles for worker, human, and health rights for the Mexican campesinos (farm workers), as well as the lack of educational opportunities for migrant children. The stories of the Navajo elders of Big Mountain made the listeners feel the high-intensity intimidation of U.S. army helicopters flying in the late night and early morning-their deafening noises, shredding windstorms, and blinding floodlights-and the slaughter of their sheep. Reports were read aloud about the run to the Valley of Teotihuacan where Inuits from what is now called Alaska met tribal peoples from Peru or Ecuador for the first time. Tribal representatives from Ecuador and Oaxaca, Mexico, testified to their fights against the federal appropriation of their ancestral lands, the auctioning off of timber and mineral interests, and the systematic murders of their tribal leaders and activists. Puerto Rican nationalists condemned the false imprisonment of their leaders, and the litany of testimonies continued. On a macro level, the unifying theme of resistance temporarily disrupted the borders between the diverse peoples of the Americas who share a history of resistance and survival against colonial violence. These contemporary events highlight how the diverse peoples of the Americas-the descendants of original inhabitants and those transported by force and slavery-have survived and resisted the genocidal onslaught of the colonial invasion of the Americas. They (we/I) have formed alliances across difference. These alliances of difference attest to the vitality of tribalized and detribalized peoples. They affirm and reaffirm communitas, a coming together of peoples who as individuals or in their respective families, tribes, and nations are challenging attacks that threaten their material existence. Their very presence and testimonies disrupt the master-narratives that guided the official celebrations of Columbus as the "discoverer" of America and herald of "civilization" and "progress" to the savages, whether fierce or noble.

Interestingly, a parade of Maoists and revolutionary anarchists, dressed in hooded black robes and cassocks with white-painted, expressionless faces, resembling in their austerity the parade of priests that would announce the Inquisition trials of the sixteenth century, broke off at a key intersection and headed toward the North Beach neighborhood. The official parade celebrating the discovery of America by Columbus marched on Broadway Avenue, passing a quixotic combination of Italian pizzerias, Chinese restaurants, blues bars, and pornographic sex palaces. There the participants physically clashed with Italian Americans celebrating their cultural hero, Cristobal Colón. Their banners struck each other: "Columbus: the genocidal rapist of the Americas, imperialist, and herald of capitalism" smashed against "Columbus: the great explorer and herald of civilization, science, and progress." This almost comical semiviolent clash symbolizes the conflict between the master- and discounted minor-narratives of history; it illustrates how historical figures are used for opposing agendas-the hero and the scapegoat. Unfortunately, the brief violence of the clash was the only report of Resistance 500 events presented by the mainstream media-it received a thirty-second sound bite in the evening news.

Peoples "subjectified" by colonialism in all its phases, from contact to the complicated social situation of these new millenia, have resisted the hegemony of imperialism. We have survived colonialism, and, in the instance of Resistance 500, we created unity, learning though our diversity and our commonalties. Through recognition of shared historical roots of struggle, this event became a zone of inclusiveness that challenged the imposed divisions of nation-states and the alienation of capitalism. There was a type of "political spirituality"-a feeling of "how-mi-tak-y-san" (the Lakota concept of "all of my relations")-that reinforced the sense of connectedness and community without homogenizing difference. This palpable feeling of connectedness inspired people to cross the borders of nations, language, and ethnicities to enter a shared historical space of resistance; a space where an Ecuadorian activista gives a Chatina activista from Oaxaca, Mexico, a cigarette, an orange, and words of recognition and encouragement to continue the struggle against the dispossession of neo-colonialism. The ancestors were present.

Transdisciplinary Methodologies: Tracing the Savage in the Colonial Imaginary

Inspired by social events of resistance and public expressions of oppositional alliances, my aim is to analyze the forces that form colonized subjects in general and Chicanas/os and Native Americans in particular, as well as to examine the strategies of resistance to these colonialist forces of subjection. Siting Translation (1992) by Tejaswini Niranjana, a critic of colonial discourse, summarizes the need for interdisciplinary approaches to understand and counter the intersection of power and violence in the formation of colonial discourse: "Since the practices of subjection/ subjectification implicit in the colonial enterprise operate not merely through the coercive machinery of the imperial state but also through the discourses of philosophy, history, anthropology, philology, linguistics and literary interpretation, the colonial 'subject'-constructed through technologies or practices of power/knowledge-is brought into being within multiple discourses and multiple sites" (1). Instead of working along a predetermined interrogative telos, my interdisciplinary and comparative approach culls together a constellation of critical terms and their genealogies that shapes and informs the generative dialectic of this project: How are subjects formed in colonial discourse? How do subaltern subjects resist their subjection to enunciate themselves in textual and social space?

Teaching the Postmodern (1992) by Brenda Marshall offers a creative and generous approach to my critical project. Marshall sprinkles in an uneven pattern on page 1 such key referents to postmodern discourse as historiography, genealogy, context, Althusser, and ideology and argues for a way to write that allows critical interventions into localized power relations of textual and social space. Marshall's description of the "postmodern moment" informs my critical enterprise to cross the borders of disciplines and genres to analyze the lived, the spoken, and the written in their full and unwieldy selves: "The postmodern moment is not something that is to be defined chronologically; rather it is a rupture in our consciousness. Its definition lies in change and chance, but it has everything to do with how we read the present, as well as how we read the past. It is of this world and thus political" (5). Key elements that "shuffle un-comfortably in a shared space" for this particular postmodern intervention into my analysis of colonial subjection and decolonial resistance may be different from Marshall's; other elements are shared with her. The critical terms that I bring into the zone of the disruptive with a sense of "the limited, local, provisional, and always critical. Self Critical" (2) are thrown into the mezcla, or mix seen in figure 1.

Following these methodological cues coupled with Foucauldian prerogatives (1972) to uncover the intersection of power and knowledge in discourses normalized through colonial dominance, I attempt to trace here how the genealogy of colonialist discourse in the Americas has spoken and speaks and has represented and represents indigenous peoples in terms that inferiorize, infantilize, criminalize, and savagize their diverse subjectivities. As "The Other Question" (1994) by Homi Bhabha reminds us, "the objective of colonial discourse is to construe the colonized as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction" (70).


Excerpted from DISRUPTING SAVAGISM by Arturo J. Aldama Copyright © 2001 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Mapping Subalternity in the U.S./M6xico Borderlands

1. The Chicana/o and the Native American "Other" Talk
Back: Theories of the Speaking Subject in a (Post?)
Colonial Context, 3

2. When Mexicans Talk, Who Listens? The Crisis of
Ethnography in Situating Early Voices from the U.S./
Mexico Borderlands, 35

Narrative Disruptions: Decolonization, Dangerous
Bodies, and the Politics of Space

3. Counting Coup: Narrative Acts of (Re)Claiming Identity
in Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, 7I

4. Toward a Hermeneutics of Decolonization: Reading
Radical Subjectivities in Borderlands/La Frontera:
The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldfia, 95

5. A Border Coda: Dangerous Bodies,
Liminality, and the Reclamation of Space in
Star Maps by Miguel Arteta, I29

Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:
Mexican Americans Mexican-American Border Region Ethnic identity,
Indians of North America Mexican-American Border Region Ethnic identity,
Mestizos Mexican-American Border Region Ethnic identity,
Mexican Americans in literature, Indians in literature,
Mestizaje in literature, Ethnicity in literature,
Decolonization in literature, Mexican-American Border Region In literature,
Mexican-American Border Region Ethnic relations
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