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The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader
By GLORIA E. ANZALDÚA
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One Part One
I am a wind-swayed bridge, a crossroads inhabited by whirlwinds. Gloria, the facilitator, Gloria, the mediator, straddling the walls between abysses. "Your allegiance is to La Raza, the Chicano movement," say the members of my race. "Your allegiance is to the third world," say my Black and Asian friends. "Your allegiance is to your gender, to women," say the feminists. Then there's my allegiance to the gay movement, to the socialist revolution, to the new Age, to magic and the occult. And there's my affinity to literature, to the world of the artist. What am I? A third world lesbian feminist with Marxist and mystic leanings. They would chop me up into little fragments and tag each piece with a label. You say my name is ambivalence? Think of me as Shiva, a many-armed and -legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man's world, the women's, one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds. A sort of spider woman hanging by one thin strand of web. Who, me, confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me. -From "La prieta"
This poem, written in 1974 and published in 1976 in Tejidos, a literary journal, was Anzaldúa's first publication. Adopting the voice of an Aztec ceremonial knife, Anzaldúa explores issues that recur throughout her work. Significantly, Anzaldúa included this poem in her poetry manuscript version of Borderlands (1985) and titled the manuscript's first section "Tihueque / now let us go."
One year in a distant century during Teoteco, The 12th month of the solar year Five Rabbit, in the reign of the Four-Water Sun, I carved 12,000 hearts in honor of Huitziltopochtli, God of War, who made the sun rise each morning. In each succeeding year thereafter ceremonial drunkenness robbed me as many hearts embraced the furnace sacrifice. Only the hearts of the finest Náhuatl braves and luckiest prisoners and warriors ate the sacred flesh. Today I lie in a musty museum and register 5.5 on Mohs scale. But my origin, volcanic obsidian, hard as granite comes in good stead. In my childhood I was a mirror. I threw a vitreous luster, dark-green. But now the iron oxide running in my veins dulls my edge and the air bubbles trapped in me reflect my age. Time passes. I rest and await the flesh.
In this poem, written in 1974 and never before published, Anzaldúa draws from and reflects on her experiences teaching in the south Texas public school system.
To Delia, Who Failed on Principles
Because of four lousy points Delia, a senior, repeating A sophomore course Failed. Short of hair, cow-eyed, humble-proud From cooking class brought me cookies From Oregon, an apple. But I stuck to My principles. In arbitrary tests the high score Of momentarily memorized words and facts I passed, but you Didn't graduate. I stuck to my principles And for a week couldn't sleep The following year I passed all repeaters who tried On principle.
Written in 1974, this previously unpublished poem resonates strongly with sections of Borderlands/La Frontera and "The New Mestiza nation," indicating that even in the early 1970s, Anzaldúa defined herself in terms of multiplicity and transformation.
I slithered shedding my self on the path then looked back and contemplated the husk and wondered which me I had discarded and was it the second or the two thousand and thirty-second and how many me's would I slough off before voiding the core if ever
June 20, 1974 South Bend, IN
Anzaldúa often included this never before published poem, written in the mid-1970s, in her poetry readings during the early 1980s. Titled in earlier drafts "One of us" and "possession," this short poem illustrates Anzaldúa's challenges to conventional concepts of identity and relationships.
I wake one morning to his body filling mine I watch him crowd my entrails out through my navel His head's too snug in mine the pressure's making my skull plate flap like the cover of a boiling kettle A cock's growing out of my cunt I'm getting hair on my chest I'm for sharing but this is absurd One of us has got to go One of us is going to occupy the other to death One of us is going to emerge sobbing with sorrow from the bloody remnant of the other.
This previously unpublished poem, written in 1974, was one that Anzaldúa sometimes read at poetry readings during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In its expression of a desire to be radically transformed and inspired, the poem offers interesting insights into her aesthetics. (Note the connections with "speaking in tongues," also included in part 1.)
I Want To Be Shocked Shitless
I'm afraid, I told them, that you will open no gates for me, that neither one of you will floor me. I fear that the hooks in your words will not grip me that I will vanish into that inner terrain where none follow. I fear you will bore me. I know you will call me on the awkward line, the hollow word. But the truths I don't uncover, the visions I don't aim toward, don't reach, will you- I don't want to be told what to write I can excavate my own content I want to be pushed into digging deep wells in unheard of lands. I want you to give me eyes in in the back of my head. Be a thunder clap and rouse me. Be an earthquake make me tremble Be a river raging rampant in my veins. Shock me shitless.
This previously unpublished poem, written in the mid-1970s, offers insight into Anzaldúa's poetics and her beliefs about language, inspiration, and poets' roles in society. "The new speakers" also seems to hint at some of Anzaldúa's own writerly desires.
The New Speakers
Words are our trade we speak them soft we speak them hard we do not push the hand that writes, the times do that. We are our age's mouthpiece. There is no need for words to fester in our minds they germinate in the open mouth of the barefoot child, in the midst of restive crowds. They wither in ivory towers and are dissected in college classes. Words. Some come trippingly on the palate. Some come laboriously. Some are quickened by friends, some prompted by passersby. Critics label the speakers: male, female. They assign genitals to our words but we're not just penises or vaginas nor are our words easy to classify Some of us are still hung- Up on the art-for-art trip and feel that the poet is forever alone. Separate. More sensitive. An outcast. That suffering is a way of life, that suffering is a virtue that suffering is the price we pay for seeing the future. Some of us are still hung up substituting words for relationships substituting writing for living. But what we want -what we presume to want- is to see our words engraved on the people's faces, feel our words catalyze emotions in their lives. What we want is to become part of the common consumption like coffee with morning paper. We don't want to be Stars but parts of constellations.
This epistolary essay, which Anzaldúa began drafting in 1979, was published in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981). Here Anzaldúa offers one of her most sustained discussions of writing and illustrates her career-long belief in the power of the written word.
Speaking in Tongues A Letter to Third World Women Writers
21 mayo 80
Dear mujeres de color, companions in writing- I sit here naked in the sun, typewriter against my knee, trying to visualize you. Black woman huddles over a desk in the fifth floor of some New York tenement. Sitting on a porch in south Texas, a Chicana fanning away mosquitos and the hot air, trying to arouse the smouldering embers of writing. Indian woman walking to school or work, lamenting the lack of time to weave writing into your life. Asian American, lesbian, single mother, tugged in all directions by children, lover, or ex-husband, and the writing.
It is not easy writing this letter. It began as a poem, a long poem. I tried to turn it into an essay but the result was wooden, cold. I have not yet unlearned the esoteric bullshit and pseudo-intellectualizing that school brainwashed into my writing.
How to begin again. How to approximate the intimacy and immediacy I want. What form? A letter, of course.
My dear hermanas, the dangers we face as women writers of color are not the same as those of white women, though we have many in common. We don't have as much to lose-we never had any privileges. I wanted to call the dangers "obstacles," but that would be a kind of lying. We can't transcend the dangers, can't rise above them. We must go through them and hope we won't have to repeat the performance.
Unlikely to be friends of people in high literary places, the beginning woman of color is invisible both in the white male mainstream world and in the white women's feminist world, though in the latter this is gradually changing. The lesbian of color is not only invisible, she doesn't even exist. Our speech, too, is inaudible. We speak in tongues like the outcast and the insane.
Because white eyes do not want to know us, they do not bother to learn our language, the language which reflects us, our culture, our spirit. The schools we attended or didn't attend did not give us the skills for writing nor the confidence that we were correct in using our class and ethnic languages. I, for one, became adept at, and majored in, English to spite, to show up, the arrogant racist teachers who thought all Chicano children were dumb and dirty. And Spanish was not taught in grade school. And Spanish was not required in high school. And though now I write my poems in Spanish as well as English I feel the rip-off of my native tongue.
I lack imagination you say No. I lack language. The language to clarify my resistance to the literate. Words are a war to me. They threaten my family. To gain the word to describe the loss I risk losing everything. I may create a monster the word's length and body swelling up colorful and thrilling looming over my mother, characterized. Her voice in the distance unintelligible illiterate. These are the monster's words. -CHERRIE MORAGA
Who gave us permission to perform the act of writing? Why does writing seem so unnatural for me? I'll do anything to postpone it-empty the trash, answer the telephone. The voice recurs in me: Who am I, a poor Chicanita from the sticks, to think I could write? How dare I even considered becoming a writer as I stooped over the tomato fields bending, bending under the hot sun, hands broadened and calloused, not fit to hold the quill, numbed into an animal stupor by the heat.
How hard it is for us to think we can choose to become writers, much less feel and believe that we can. What have we to contribute, to give? Our own expectations condition us. Does not our class, our culture as well as the white man tell us writing is not for women such as us?
The white man speaks: Perhaps if you scrape the dark off of your face. Maybe f you bleach your bones. Stop speaking in tongues, stop writing left-handed. Don't cultivate your colored skins nor tongues of fire if you want to make it in a right-handed world.
"Man, like all the other animals, fears and is repelled by that which he does not understand, and mere difference is apt to connote something malign."-ALICE WALKER
I think, yes, perhaps if we go to the university. Perhaps if we become male-women or as middleclass as we can. Perhaps if we give up loving women, we will be worthy of having something to say worth saying. They convince us that we must cultivate art for art's sake. Bow down to the sacred bull, form. Put frames and metaframes around the writing. Achieve distance in order to win the coveted title "literary writer" or "professional writer." Above all do not be simple, direct, nor immediate.
Why do they fight us? Because they think we are dangerous beasts? Why are we dangerous beasts? Because we shake and often break the whites' comfortable stereotypic images they have of us: the Black domestic, the lumbering nanny with twelve babies sucking her tits, the-slant-eyed Chinese with her expert hand-"They know how to treat a man in bed," the flat-faced Chicana or Indian, passively lying on her back, being fucked by the Man a la La Chingada.
The Third World woman revolts: We revoke, we erase your white male imprint. When you come knocking on our doors with your rubber stamps to brand our faces with DUMB, HYSTERICAL, PASSIVE PUTA, PERVERT, when you come with your branding irons to burn MY PROPERTY on our buttocks, we will vomit the guilt, self-denial, and race-hatred you have force-fed into us right back into your mouth. We are done being cushions for your projected fears. We are tired of being your sacrificial lambs and scapegoats.
I can write this, and yet I realize that many of us women of color who have strung degrees, credentials, and published books around our necks like pearls that we hang onto for dear life are in danger of contributing to the invisibility of our sister-writers. "La Vendida," the sell-out.
The danger of selling out one's own ideologies. For the Third World woman who has, at best, one foot in the feminist literary world, the temptation is great to adopt the current feeling fads and theory fads, the latest half truths in political thought, the half-digested new age psychological axioms that are preached by the white feminist establishment. Its followers are notorious for "adopting" women of color as their "cause" while still expecting us to adapt to their expectations and their language.
How dare we get out of our colored faces. How dare we reveal the human flesh underneath and bleed red blood like the white folks. It takes tremendous energy and courage not to acquiesce, not to capitulate to a definition of feminism that still renders most of us invisible. Even as I write this I am disturbed that I am the only Third World woman writer in this handbook. Over and over I have found myself to be the only Third World woman at readings, workshops, and meetings.
We cannot allow ourselves to be tokenized. We must make our own writing and that of Third World women the first priority. We cannot educate white women and take them by the hand. Most of us are willing to help, but we can't do the white woman's homework for her. That's an energy drain. More times than she cares to remember, Nellie Wong, Asian American feminist writer, has been called by white women wanting a list of Asian American women who can give readings or workshops. We are in danger of being reduced to purveyors of resource lists.
Coming face to face with one's limitations. There are only so many things I can do in one day. Luisah Teish, addressing a group of predominantly white feminist writers, had this to say of Third World women's experience:
If you are not caught in the maze that [we] are in, it's very difficult to explain to you the hours in the day we do not have. And the hours that we do not have are hours that are translated into survival skills and money. And when one of those hours is taken away it means an hour that we don't have to lie back and stare at the ceiling or an hour that we don't have to talk to a friend. For me it's a loaf of bread.
Excerpted from The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader by GLORIA E. ANZALDÚA Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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