By Rodolfo Centeno
In March of 1969, during the First National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver, Colorado, Chicano poet and activist Alurista drafted what is perhaps the foundational manifesto of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Drawing inspiration from the Black Nationalist Movement which had culminated a little less than a year prior with the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and disconcerted with the then still developing Delano Grape Strike, lead by Chicano labor activist Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers Union, Alurista resolutely declaimed in “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán”,
In the Spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its proud historical heritage but also of the brutal ‘gringo’ invasions of our territories, we, the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlán from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun…declare the Independence of our Mestizo Nation…before all of North America, before all our brothers in the bronze continent, we are a nation, we are a union of free pueblos, we are Aztlán.
That this radical proclamation of Chicano nationhood represented a preeminent threat to national security was clearly the position of the United States federal government, which subsequently initiated an extensive campaign of surveillance and suppression against the Chicano Nationalists. Indeed, as Ernesto Vigil recounts in his seminal work of historical criticism, The Crusade for Justice, Alurista’s declamation of the Plan de Aztlán at the First National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference “proved to be of special interest to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which had monitored the conference’s progress since Gonzales first proposed a national Latino gathering in Chicago in 1967” (92), and “resulted in a separate, ongoing FBI Internal Security file on that and subsequent Denver youth conferences” that was part of a larger agenda (related by the FBI headquarters in a report to a field office in Albany, Georgia) “to expose, disrupt, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of…nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, memberships, and supporters” (93). This sustained effort by the FBI to suppress the literature and activities of Chicano Nationalists throughout the sixties and seventies is a clear indicator that the conventional precepts of North American historiography and epistemology are not sufficient to comprehend the full scope of what Alurista’s Plan de Aztlán intends to signify, as the ultimate agenda of Chicano nationalism, as expressed in its literature, was not to depose the U.S. government, as was the conviction of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, but was rather, as Alurista contends in his essay “Cultural Nationalism and Chicano Literature during the Decade of 1965-1975,” to “search for the historical self which had predated the onslaught of the European colonizers of this continent,” which would function to “unify the heterogeneous Xicano population in the United States” (23).
This mandate to search for a pre-colonial and simultaneously prelapsarian historical identity through cultural nationalism adds an overlooked layer of complexity to Alurista’s Plan Espiritual de Aztlán by placing its discourse squarely in the tradition of Postcolonialism by espousing the establishment of a new awareness and consciousness among U.S. Chicano as a colonized people, and seemingly circumventing any notions of inciting insurrection. Nonetheless, Alurista’s call for the mobilization of the New Chicano Nation christened as “Aztlán” requires in its insistence of the postcolonial character of the United States Southwest not only a wholesale reevaluation of the most fundamental axioms of historiography and epistemology inherent in Western socio-historical thought, but also a challenge to the most deep-seated and longstanding historical narratives surrounding the U.S. acquisition and settlement of the American Southwest; both epistemological and historical precepts must be reconsidered in order to deconstruct and comprehend the essential meaning of Alurista’s radical declamation.
Nevertheless, the entirety of the Chicano Movement and its literature would be beset by controversies over the implementation of the ideology of ethnic nationalism and its relation to Chicano identity and subjectivity. That such controversies over nationalism’s relationship to identity beleaguered the Chicano Movement are unsurprising as a critical examination of the political prose and poetry of Alurista, Rodolfo Gonzales, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Cherrie Moraga reveals that at the heart of radical Chicano literature is a preeminent concern for the nature of Chicano identity and subjectivity. However, Alurista and Gonzales would espouse conceptualizations of the Chicano Nation distinct from those of Anzaldúa and Moraga. Drawing inspiration from Post-Revolution Mexican Nationalism which sought to consolidate a new Mexican-nation state by promoting a mythohistorical national narrative of mestizaje, a postracial political ideology originating in revolutionary Mexico which “promoted racial and cultural intermixture as the only way to create homogeneity out of heterogeneity,”, Alurista and Gonzales similarly constructed alternative epistemologies in historical discourse as a way to consolidate a unified Chicano Nation from a heterogeneous Chicano populace through the construction of a common ethnic and historical mission (Alonso 462). The key figures for achieving this Chicano unification were embodied in the mythohistoric construction of Aztlán, the mythic homeland of the Aztecs whose prototypical citizen was encapsulated in the Mestizo, once a member of the lowly interracial caste in colonial Spanish America transformed into a hybridized postcolonial figure that envisioned a new teleology of American history that progressed history to an ultimate surmounting of the colonial condition.
However, third wave feminist Chicanas Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga were not satisfied with the Chicano status quo which aimed to achieve “homogeneity out of heterogeneity,” and instead posited alternative queer significations for both “Aztlán” and the mestizo which allowed for multiple Chicano subjectivities to emerge and challenged “the myth of the autonomous, coherent, and stable subject—a subject who is able to occupy fully a single unproblematic category” (Beltran 597).
Part I: Myth, History, and Nationalism in the Works of Alurista and Rodolfo Gonzales
The Chicano Nation, as formulated and imagined by Alurista in his Plan Espiritual de Aztlán and later reaffirmed by Gonzales in his political prose and poetry, is a nation that arises from a historical narrative rooted in preconceptions of history antithetical to western conceptions of time and historical development as a progressive teleological process. Specifically, when considering what is signified by the terms “mestizo nation,” “bronze continent,” and the term “Aztlán” (the mythic homeland of the Aztec Nation) itself, Alurista’s Plan Espiritual de Aztlán represents a sacred historical narrative, that is, a historical narrative that conflates elements of myth and history to formulate an “intentional history” which contains “elements of subjective and conscious self-categorization” and reveals a “past told as a particular groups’ understanding of its place and importance in the known world” (Dillery 507). This conflation of myth and history, or perhaps more saliently put, this strategically constructed mythohistory is the distinguishing feature of Alurista’s call for political unity among U.S. Chicanos. More importantly, it represents an alternative epistemology in historiography, that is, an alternative way of knowing and understanding historical phenomena distinct from traditional precepts of objectivity and empiricism characteristic of North American historiography. Alurista’s sacred historical narrative centered on the concept of “Aztlán” and the “mestizo nation” would inspire the political literature of numerous Chicano writers thereafter and would define the cultural character of the Chicano Movement itself, becoming the prevailing narrative that sustained its political actions. However, before the full implications of the alternative epistemology represented in Alurista’s Plan Espiritual de Aztlán for Chicano Literature can be assessed, its origins in the political literature of post-Revolution Mexico, specifically Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos’ seminal work of revolutionary political theory The Cosmic Race is in order, as its conceptions of historiography, and its culturally specific formulations of the meaning of the “mestizo nation” and “bronze continent” that are fundamental to Alurista’s conception of the Chicano Nation find their origin in this literature, which represent its greatest textual informant.
Perhaps the most influential feature of José Vasconcelos’ The Cosmic Race, in relation to Alurista’s Plan Espiritual de Aztlán and other radical Chicano literature, are its conceptions of history and time. Critical of the scientifically objective approach to socio-historic analysis in the Western tradition, Vasconcelos decisively asserts,
Empirical history, suffering from myopia, loses itself in details, but it cannot determine a single antecedent for historical times. It flees from general conclusions, from transcendental hypothesis to fall into puerility of the descriptions of…minutiae that lack importance when seen apart from a vast and comprehensive theory. Only a leap of spirit, nourished with facts, can give us a vision that will lift us above the micro-ideology of the specialist. Then we can dive deeply into the mass of events in order to discover a direction, a rhythm, and a purpose. (8)
By condemning empirical analyses of socio-historical phenomena as ultimately myopic in scope, and by proposing a historiography with a “vast and comprehensive theory” akin to a “vision” as its end-goal, Vasconcelos propounds a historiography that operates through prophetic revelation in which past events reveal “ a direction, a rhythm, and a purpose,” for the future. This prophetic approach to history, which epistemologically privileges the imaginative capacities of human consciousness to interpret the significance of past events over the production of an objective account of the past, and is temporally oriented to the advent of a predestined and ultimate eschatological event, is completely at odds with Western conceptions of history and time, which emphasize an empirical approach to the analysis of past events and proffer a teleological historical narrative which culminates with the eventual surmounting of the human condition. The prophetic qualities of Vasconcelos’ historiography are largely dismissed as myth by establishment historians, and consequently deemed not to constitute a legitimate history because, as history theorist Peter Heehs observes in his essay “Myth, History, and Theory,” the word “myth” signifies for many historians “an interpretation that is considered blatantly false” (2).
That history is “true” and that myths are “false,” and furthermore that history is based in “reason” and myth based in “imagination” and represent fundamentally oppositional mental activities, have for centuries been the prevailing epistemological attitude of most historians. But now, many contemporary theorists of history are beginning to reconsider the utility of truth-value in historical analysis. Phenomenologist Hisashi Nasu deconstructs the epistemologically hegemonic notion of the imaginative capacities of consciousness as being in fundamental opposition to the capacity of reason by reaffirming the value of imagination in both the empirical and social sciences. Although imagination and myth are “assumed to refer not to reality but to fiction,” nonetheless,
The scientific process does not consist only of observing objects, collecting data, and deducing theory from them. One can observe the objects seriously, in detail, and for years without producing any insights of scientific interest…scientific insights cannot be drawn from the data without interpretation of them, and the data, in turn, can be interpreted not by observing the literalized data strictly and precisely as ‘figures of ink on the sheet, ‘not by scrutinizing them as ‘letters or numerals written,” but by considering them through imagination as something transcending themselves and referring to other terms. (Nasu 51)
Nasu’s observations that the formulations of scientific theories are fundamentally dependent on the imaginative capacities of consciousness, and furthermore, that both the empirical and social sciences involve subjective interpretation provides the groundwork for which history and myth can be assessed as mutually constructive rather than oppositional discourses as conventionally understood. Specifically, that history and myth both involve acts of subjective interpretation to produce a narrative, whose objectivity is now being questioned by many theorists of history, has generated a postmodern approach to myth and history that seeks to “dissolve the distinction between realistic and fictional discourses on the presumption of an ontological difference between their referents, real or imaginary, in favor of stressing their common aspect as semiological apparatuses” (Heehs 5).
Understanding myth and history as more fundamentally connected than opposed is key to understanding the cultural, political, and aesthetic value of Vasconcelos’ mythohistorical narrative, especially considering that myth and history’s mutual function as a community’s self-affirming narrative, as well as the culturally conditioned filters which are inherent in all historical analysis and narratives that make it so that “there is no way for a scholar to demonstrate a ‘historical’ explanation of events generally taken to be factual is any better than a fictional (mythical) explanation” (Heehs 15). This methodology of privileging rather than eschewing the imaginative capacities of consciousness when interpreting past events is central not only to Vasconcelos’ historiography but is also an essential feature of radical Chicano literature and creative political prose that has enhanced Vasconcelos’ work. By supplementing Vasconcelos’ mythohistory through “rhetorical devices such as metaphor, symbolism, and allegory” that create a distinct historic aesthetic and narrative surrounding the concept of the “mestizo” and “Aztlán” “that is more meaningful to many people than a critical assemblage of facts,” Chicano Literature inspired contemporary political action through the development of a radical postcolonial consciousness rooted in the mythic past and driven by prophetic impetus (Heehs 18).
Before delving into a discussion of how Chicano writers and poets supplement and aestheticize Vasconcelos’ historical narrative to create a distinct postcolonial political consciousness, a delineation and critical understanding of that narrative is necessary and within reach now that Vasconcelos’ historiographical methodologies have been explicated. Perhaps the distinctive feature of the mythohistorical narrative of Vasconcelos is the prediction of the advent of a “cosmic race” that will lead humanity into a utopian era. Specifically, Vasconcelos prophesies,
In Spanish America, Nature will no longer repeat one of her partial attempts. This time, the race that will come out of the forgotten Atlantis will no longer be a race of a single color or of particular features. The future race will not be a fifth, or a sixth race, destined to prevail over its ancestors. What is going to emerge out there is the definitive race, the synthetical race, the integral race, made up of the genius and the blood of all peoples and, for that reason, more capable of true brotherhood and of a truly universal vision. (20)
Vasconcelos’ primary concern with race, particularly the advent of the predominance of racial mixture as the central catalyst of the teleological progression of history, may strike many scholars of the North American tradition as ostensibly racist or, at the very least, rather disquieting. To be sure, as Vasconcelos’ narrative of the Cosmic Race develops, one may observe various racially problematic details and assumptions. However, understanding the text in the political climate of post-Revolution Mexico reveals the salient postcolonial and anti-imperialist qualities of Vasconcelos’ mythohistorical vision for the development of the new Mexican nation that emerged from the conflict. As Ana María Alonso notes in “Conforming Disconformity,” directly before the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz the “belief in the presumed superiority of the European impacted Liberal and Porfirian projects of nation-state formation, resulting in efforts to ‘whiten’ Mexico’s population through immigration and to incorporate the Indian into the nation through a model of development that resulted in the agrarian dispossession of rural communities” (461). The sustained marginalization of both indigenous and mestizo, (a term from the Spanish colonial period signifying mixed Amerindian and European ancestry), people by the Mexican national government prior to the revolution informs Vasconcelos’ mythohistorical narrative. His prophetic vision of the advent of a mixed-blood, or mestizo Cosmic Race that will initiate the teleological end of history not only undermines Anglo-American and eugenic notions of the degeneracy of racial mixture but also reflects Vasconcelos’ postcolonial vision for the newly emerging post-revolution Mexican nation. In this nation, the revaluing of racial and cultural mixture in positive terms would unify the racially and culturally heterogeneous and fragmented population under a singular national culture, with the mestizo emerging as a national symbol of Mexico’s hybrid cultural identity.
This mystique of the mestizo as a symbol of postcolonial hybridity in the cultural politics of post-Revolution Mexico also signified a staunchly anti-colonial national mission to overcome the injustices of Mexico’s Spanish colonial past from within and to resist the encroachment of U.S. imperialism from without. Consider for example Vasconcelos’ lamentation that,
Ideologically, the Anglos continue to conquer us. The greatest battle was lost on the day that each one of the Iberian republics went forth alone, to live her own life apart from her sisters, concerting treaties and receiving false benefits, without tending to the common interest of the race…The unfurling of our twenty banners at the Pan American Union in Washington, should be seen as a joke played by skillful enemies. (11)
Vasconcelos’ disdain for “the unfurling of our twenty banners at the Pan American Union in Washington” alludes to a sustained history of U.S. intervention in Latin America which often resulted in divisive civil conflict. But more revealing, perhaps, is Vasconcelos’ condemnation of the multitudinous Latin American nations for overlooking “the common interest of the race.” By this point, it should be clear that “the race” signifies the aestheticized postcolonial ideal of the mestizo as a messianic figure destined to initiate the end of teleological history. Thus, Vasconcelos’ vexation with the shortsightedness of the Latin American republics to not recognize a common national and ethnic mission, or “the common interest of the race,” is tantamount to a disaffection with the maintenance of the contradictions of coloniality in which culturally and racially heterogeneous populations within the nation remain alienated from one another, an alienation which post-revolutionary and postracial politics attempted to resolve under the banner of a common ethnic mission through the figure of the mestizo. Although ostensibly problematic in several ways, both Vasconcelos’ conception of the mestizo as a postcolonial symbol of cultural hybridity that would initiate the advent of a new teleology as well as the trope of Aztlán, the mythic homeland of the Aztec Nation proposed to be located in the U.S. southwest, would become the two most fundamental mythohistorical narratives of the Chicano Nationalist Movement in the U.S. that aestheticized these two prominent mythohistoric tropes in its prose, poetry, and fictions to produce a literature that challenged structural inequality through the development of a postcolonial consciousness rooted in a mythic and aestheticized ancient past.
With an improved sense of how a mythic engagement with historiography informs the writings of radical Chicano writers, the ways in which Alurista’s Plan Espiritual de Aztlán represents a complete re-orientation of American history and utilizes the aestheticized political motifs of the cosmic Mestizo and the mythic land of Aztlán to create a Chicano nation through the establishment of an imagined community based on mythohistoric tropes can be properly delineated. Anyone reading Alurista’s radical declamation can get a sense that Alurista appreciated the fact that national consciousness is fundamentally a mythic construction, and furthermore “imagination and myth play in the development of the self-image that precedes nation-creation” (Fernandez 24). The theory that all nations are essentially imagined communities was perhaps most saliently developed by political scientist Benedict Anderson who claimed all nations are imagined communities since “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in the mind of each lives the image of the community” (qtd. In Fernandez 24). Not surprisingly, Anderson posits that the collective image of the nation is the most salient feature of the imagined nation and its principle cohesive force. Furthermore, Anderson argues that this collective image of the nation is inevitably aestheticized through cultural precepts and as a result fundamentally “depends for its existence on an apparatus in which literature plays a decisive role” (qtd. in Fernandez 24). Thus, aesthetic constructions of the nation reinforce it. But what the aestheticized collective image of the Chicano nation exactly is, remains an open question. As noted earlier, Alurista begins El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán by proclaiming “we the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlán from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun, declare the call of our blood is our power, our responsibility, our inevitable destiny.” In this instance, the motif of Aztlán as the mythohistoric origin place in the north from whence the Aztecs set out on a two hundred year long pilgrimage to eventually establish their nation in the valley of Mexico is key. Not only does the reconfiguration of the U.S. Southwest as Aztlán undermine hegemonic notion of Chicanos as “aliens,” but the Aztec’s plight to establish a nation reflects Alurista’s own concern with establishing a Chicano nation, and thus also acts as “a contemporary metaphor for a nation in the making” (Fernandez 25). In addition, the project of building a nation that restores a mythic Aztec past which is described as “our inevitable destiny,” establishes a reconception of the teleology of history rooted in an ancient indigenous past and culminating in the surmounting of the colonial condition represented by the “gringo invasion of our territories.” This much is reaffirmed by the Plan’s conclusion which declares “the independence of our mestizo nation.” This “mestizo nation” that Alurista establishes is ostensibly an extension of Vasconcelos’ vision, and consequently signifies a revaluing of cultural hybridity as the foundational tenant of the postcolonial Chicano nation. Thus, Alurista’s Chicano nation is a nation rooted in an ancient indigenous past, endowed with a prophetic and providentially driven sense of history.
Perhaps no other poet in the early Chicano nationalist movement embodied the sense of sacred history and postcolonial identity rooted in the mystique of the cosmic mestizo quite like Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. Anyone can appreciate this fact given the sweeping historical scope of Gonzales’ seminal epic poem “I am Joaquín,” which ambitiously attempts to delineate the totality of the Chicano historic experience from ancient Mesoamerica to the barrios of the contemporary Southwestern United States. However, the Chicano historical narrative delineated in “ I am Joaquín” is highly aestheticized. As opposed to the traditional textbook, which recounts an historic event through a chronological relation, one reads and interprets history in “I am Joaquín” by piecing together fragmentary imagery that evokes popular tropes and symbols of Post-Revolutionary Mexican nationalism. This collage of nationalist imagery that constitutes the aestheticized Chicano historical narrative in the poem recalls in its fragmented and visually rich artistic style, as well as in its overwhelming historic scope, works of post-revolutionary Mexican muralist Diego Rivera who is mentioned in the epic poem.
The stylistic similarities between Diego Rivera’s seminal mural The History of Mexico and Gonzales’ “I am Joaquín” are unmistakable, so much so that “I am Joaquín” can be assessed as a textual translation of Rivera’s nationalist murals. Consider for example Gonzales’ declamation in the poem, “ I am Cuauhtémoc, / Proud and Noble, / Leader of men, / King of an empire, / Civilized beyond the dreams/ of the Gachupín Cortez. / Who is also the blood/ the image of myself. / I am the Maya Prince. / I am Nezahualcóyotl, / Great leader of the Chichimecas. / I am the sword and flame of Cortez/ the despot. / And/ I am the Eagle and Serpent of/ the Aztec civilization” (17), and compare it to Leonard Folgarait’s description of a portion of The History of Mexico in his book of artistic criticism Mural Painting and Social Revolution in Mexico relating, “Cortés is the major figure on horseback in the center of the bottom level…Above Cortés, in an eagle costume and about to swing a stone from a leather thong is Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor, disbeliever of the Quetzalcóatl/Cortés myth and leader of the final armed resistance” (90-91). Both Rivera’s The History of Mexico and Gonzales’ “I am Joaquín” utilize the same nationalist tropes and images of post-revolutionary Mexico to create an aestheticized historic narrative, particularly the image of Cuauhtémoc, the last emperor of the Aztecs who is transformed into the symbol of the first defender of Mexican nationhood against foreign invasion within both works, as well as the image of Conquistador Hernán Cortés who is vilified in both works as the embodiment of colonial despotism and political tyranny. These symbolic transformations undergone by both historic figures are expressed directly by Gonzales who explicitly refers to Cortés as a “despot” and Cuauhtémoc as “Proud and Noble,” and is implied in Rivera’s mural through Cuauhtémoc’s superior and antagonistic position to Cortés in the space of the mural.
To delineate all the imagistic similarities between Rivera’s The History of Mexico and Gonzales’ “I am Joaquín” would be a considerable project that goes beyond the scope of this essay given that the imagistic complexity of both works replete with nationalistic Mexican symbols merits a study all of its own. However, the common thematic concerns of both works of art reveal a common ideological impetus. Ostensibly, Rivera’s The History of Mexico, like much of the cultural production in Mexico in the decade following the revolution, had at its core a concern for the consolidation of the new Mexican nation-state through the construction of a common national identity. As Horacio Legrás argues in “Walter Benjamin and the Mexican Revolution”, Diego Rivera seemed to understand that “the political legitimacy of the post-revolutionary government was not backed by any consistent narrative” and furthermore that “the solution to this predicament came from the most unlikely place: culture” (79). Rivera’s response to the vacuum of a legitimizing historical narrative for the Mexican revolution was to construct an aestheticized mythohistorical narrative in The History of Mexico, which conflates Indigenous and Iberian iconography to promote “cultural mixture as the only way to create homogeneity out of heterogeneity…a strong nation that could withstand the internal menace of its own failure to overcome the injustices of its colonial past” (Alonso 462), as well as to create a new teleology of Mexican history that located the beginning of Mexican history in its ancient indigenous past rather than its Spanish colonial past, thus orienting the end of Mexican history in the populist triumph over imperialism and capitalism. The trope of a hybridized figure advancing the progress of history once again recalls the ever-present postcolonial motif of the cosmic mestizo. Thus, Rivera’s The History of Mexico not only re-orients the directionality of Mexican history but also promotes Vasconcelos’ ethnic mission of surmounting the legacies of colonialism through racial and cultural hybridization.
Like Rivera, Corky Gonzales is also concerned with the consolidation of a Chicano nation, but perhaps even more pressing is Gonzales’ concern with the creation of the essential identity of this Chicano nation first articulated in Alurista’s Plan Espiritual de Aztlán. Indeed, once his poem had gained national notoriety Gonzales himself noted in the introduction of the 1972 Bantam edition of “I am Joaquín” that “writing I am Joaquín was a journey back through history, a painful self-evaluation, and wandering search for my peoples and, most of all, for my own identity;” in addition, he claimed that “I am Joaquín became a historical essay, a social statement, a conclusion of our mestisaje, a welding of the oppressor (Spaniard) and the oppressed (Indian)” (1). For Gonzales, at the core of the Chicano experience is a crisis of identity arising from the mixed racial and cultural legacy of Spanish colonialism in which the cultural contradictions of Spanish and Indigenous worldviews precariously exist synchronously in a fragmented Chicano psyche in a state of constant tension.
This much is evident in Gonzales’ identification with both the colonizer and the colonized, for he states, “I owned the land as far as the eye/ could see under the Crown of Spain, / and I toiled on my earth/ and gave my Indian sweat and blood/ for the Spanish master” (17). The implications of this dual identification on both sides of the axis of colonial power relations are just as contradictory as Gonzales relates in regards to the expulsion of the Peninsular Spaniards from Mexico in the aftermath of the Mexican War for Independence “I sentenced him/ who was me. / I excommunicated him my blood. /I drove him from the pulpit to lead/ a bloody revolution for him and me…/I killed him. /His head, /which is mine and all of those/ who have come this way, /I placed on the fortress wall/ to wait for independence” (18). Within this excerpt in particular, there is an unresolved crisis of identity emerging from a colonial ambiguity. By asserting “ I sentenced him/ who was me,” and “I excommunicated him my blood” Gonzales blurs the distinction between colonizer and colonized by assuming the identity of both. This identification with both the colonizer and the colonized is particularly problematic for conventional Postcolonial theory, which often constructs a fundamental binary of power and identity between the colonizer and the colonized. This premise of the oppositional relationship between the colonizer and the colonized in Postcolonial theory is meticulously articulated by Postcolonial theorist Albert Memmi who asserts in his foundation work of Postcolonialism The Colonizer and the Colonized that the colonizer,
… finds himself on one side of the scale, the other side of which bears the colonized man. If his living standards are high, it is because those of the colonized are low; if he can benefit from plentiful and undemanding labor and servants, it is because the colonized can be exploited at will and are not protected by the laws of the colony…the more freely he breathes, the more the colonized are choked. (52)
For Memmi, the axis of power between the colonizer and the colonized must be fundamentally diametric in order to maintain the privilege of the colonizer. This diametrical axis of power between the colonizer and the colonized however is dissolved in “I am Joaquín” as the protagonist, in a crisis of identity, cannot determine whether he is the colonizer or the colonized. Ultimately, this liminal zone of power and identification emerging from the contradictions of embodying both the colonizer and the colonized is the crux of the Chicano experience for Corky Gonzales. This crisis of identity must be resolved in order to facilitate the construction of a cohesive Chicano nation united against American oppression, and Gonzales achieves this new national identity through the mythohistorical narrative of the cosmic mestizo. Through this mythohistorical narrative, the contradictions of power within this liminal zone of identity between colonizer and colonized, embodied in the mestizo, become transformed into a source of radical political transformation and unity with the advent of postraciality. Consider for examples Gonzales’ declamation “The priests/ both good and bad/ took. / But/ gave a lasting truth that/ Spaniard, / Indian, /Mestizo/Were all God’s children/ And/ From these words grew men/ who prayed and fought/ for/ their own worth as human beings, / for/that/GOLDEN MOMENT/of/ FREEDOM” (18). For Gonzales, postracial politics initiates the primary impetus toward social justice as the dissolution of the racial caste system which stratified Spanish colonial society into unequal castes of “Spaniard, /Indian, /Mestizo” gives way to “a lasting truth” of the equality of all human beings, with this new postracial consciousness catalyzing Mexico’s independence movement described as a “GOLDEN MOMENT/of/ FREEDOM.”
The implications of this revolutionary postracial consciousness for mestizo consciousness in the poem are ostensibly paradigm shifting when Gonzales relates, “Part of the blood that runs deep in me/ Could not be vanquished by the Moors. / I defeated them after five hundred years, / and I endured. / The part of blood that is mine/ has labored endlessly five-hundred/ years under the heel of lustful/ Europeans/ I am still here!” (28). This excerpt stands in stark contrast to the aforementioned fragment, “I excommunicated him my blood,” as the confluence of Iberian and Indigenous historic experiences embodied in the Gonzales’ mestizo no longer represent opposing forces on an unequal colonial axis of power as articulated by Memmi. Rather, the shared experience of colonization between the two becomes a source of resilience, resolving the identity crisis of the mestizo from moving away from psychic fragmentation toward psychic synchronization. This postracial synchronization transforms the image of the mestizo from a symbol of colonial contradiction to a symbol of postcolonial hybridity. Ultimately, Gonzales concludes his mythohistoric epic of the Chicano by proclaiming,
And now the trumpet sounds, / the music of the people stirs the/Revolution, / Like a sleeping giant it slowly/ rears its head/ to the sound of/ Tramping feet/ Clamoring voices/ Mariachi strains/ Fiery tequila explosions…I am the masses of my people and/ I refuse to be absorbed. / I am Joaquín/ the odds are great/ but my spirit is strong/ my faith unbreakable/My blood is pure/I am Aztec Prince and Christian Christ/ I SHALL ENDURE! / I WILL ENDURE! (28-29)
Unsurprisingly, the figure of the mestizo who embodies the synchronization of “Aztec Prince and Christian Christ” progresses the rhythm of history away from colonialism toward an ultimate eschatological moment of social revolution culminating in the popular clamor of “Mariachi strains/ Fiery tequila explosions.” Thus, Gonzales constructs the Chicano nation within the parameters of Vasconcelos’ mythohistorical vision of the advent of the cosmic mestizo, circumscribing the Chicano nation within a specific historical narrative that roots contemporary political activism which an aestheticized ancient indigenous past whose prophetic historic drive is oriented toward the surmounting of the colonial condition.
Part II: The Epistemological Challenge: Chicanas Respond to History and Chicano Nationalism
Politically and socially, the mythohistorical narratives of Aztlán and the Cosmic Mestizo established by Chicano poets and activists such as Alurista and Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales proved to be a powerful metaphor and tool for Chicano unity during the seminal decades of the Chicano movement. Within the narrative of an ancient and promised Indigenous homeland in the Southwest destined to be returned to its Mestizo inhabitants who embodied a postcolonial historical consciousness oriented toward a final eschatological moment of revolution, U.S. Chicanos found the two most essential features requisite of any nation—“an ancestral territory and a common destiny” (Beltran 601). However, this mythohistorical narrative of the Chicano nation, while particularly successful at consolidating a heterogeneous Chicano population in the U.S. oriented toward political action under the guise of a common ethnic and historical mission, was not without its problematic elements. As cultural analyst Cristina Beltran argues in her essay “Patrolling Borders,” the figure of a cosmic mestizo who is imagined as the archetypal citizen of the Chicano Nation through the embodiment of a hybrid identity that contests the imposed colonial identities of both Spanish Imperialism and U.S. hegemony, is ultimately unsuccessful at challenging racial essentialism and the belief in an unified subjectivity as, “Hybridity becomes a kind of foundational or ‘fixed’ identity that forecloses more creative and productively defiant approaches to identity and subjectivity. Rather than risking a radical reconception of subjectivity that calls existing categories into questions, theorists of mestizaje too often reproduce already existing narratives of romantic identification and exclusion” (596). Thus, for Beltran, the figure of the cosmic mestizo reproduces the very racial essentialism and exclusionary politics it aims to challenge by circumscribing the figure of the mestizo in a fixed racialized narrative of colonial miscegenation consummating the inception of a postcolonial consciousness.
Furthermore, the historiography of the Chicano Nation inherited by Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos, which engaged in a teleological analysis of socio-historical phenomena that prophesied the advent of a final mestizo race that would catalyze history to its inevitable postcolonial stage, was found equally problematic in an ostensibly empirical discourse such as history, as many scholars of history argued “Teleological statements and explanations imply the endorsement of unverifiable theological or metaphysical doctrines in science” (Mayr 122). The exclusion of metaphysical considerations from socio-historic analysis due to a lack of empiricism is a hotly contested issue in the field of historiography. In his essay “Teleology Beyond Metaphysics,” phenomenologist and philosopher Timo Miettinen argues that teleological historical thinking has played an essential role in the theorizing of the modern world, stating, “From Kant’s cosmopolitanism to Hegel’s philosophy of history and Marxist views of ‘historical stages,’ … the historical thinking of modernity is still haunted by the idea of an end, which would bring historical progress to its completion” (276). Furthermore, in response to teleology’s invalidation by establishment historians as ultimately counterintuitive to the empirical methodologies of historical analysis due to its unverifiable theses, Miettinen contends that historians’ interpretations of teleology as merely denoting historical determinism is limited, pointing out that Edmund Husserl’s philosophical approach to teleology reveals that,
The teleological horizon of the past was not called upon in order to reconcile empirical history with the ‘transcendental’ idea of world-historical teleology—to see the present as a result of a necessary development—but, instead, the very notion of teleology was employed in order to demand a creative transformation of the present state of affairs. For Husserl, teleology became ultimately a critical requisite of thinking—both philosophical and societal—that does not merely confine itself to the present moment…but aims at showing their necessary finitude and incompleteness in regard to infinite horizons of ideas. (281)
By viewing teleology not as strict historical determinism in the most literal sense, but rather as a tool for “creative transformation of the present state of affairs’” as Miettinen suggests, the ways in which Chicana writers and activists Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga utilize teleology in their own mythohistorical narratives to continue to challenge not only the dominant Anglo-nationalist narrative of Manifest Destiny in North American historical discourse but also the limited racially exclusive Nationalism of the early Chicano movement, become clear. In their genre-busting works of creative political prose, both Anzaldúa and Moraga delineate an alternative teleological historical narrative to both Chicano Nationalism’s cosmic mestizo and North American historiography’s progressivism in order “to demand a creative transformation of the present state of affairs” from both ideological institutions. Alienated from the racially exclusive politics of both Chicano Nationalism and North American historiography, Anzaldúa and Moraga utilize teleology in their creative political prose as an apparatus of critique of both Anglo historiography and Chicano mythohistory, thereby creating an alternative epistemology in American historiography, that is, an alternative way of knowing and understanding socio-historical phenomena that contests the imposed identities of both radical Chicanismo and Anglo-American historiography.
Gloria Anzaldúa’s teleological vision of Chicano history is perhaps best expressed in her magnum opus of Chicano/a theory Borderlands/La Frontera. Much like Gonzales’ “I am Joaquín,” the first chapter of Borderlands attempts another ambitious delineation of Chicano history from an ancient indigenous past to the contemporary barrios of the Southwest, but unlike Gonzales, Anzaldúa’s epic historical narrative is not presented in the aestheticized form of poetry, but rather is constructed as an academic relation. Although seemingly trivial, this distinction of format proves to be critical to the respective objectives of the two writers. By conflating elements of myth and history and incorporating both to her academic relation of Chicano history, Anzaldúa’s Borderlands represents a much more direct challenge to the legitimized establishments of North American academia than Gonzales’ “I am Joaquin.” Anzaldúa contests what counts as “history” through a conscious defiance of one of the most fundamental precepts of North American historiography—namely, the fundamental separation between the discourses of myth and history in the critical analysis of socio-historical phenomena.
Anzaldúa begins her ambitious mythohistorical delineation of Chicano history with a quote from Native American historian and anthropologist Jack D. Forbes which states “The Aztecas del norte…compose the largest single tribe or nation of Anishinabeg (Indians) found in the United States today…Some call themselves Chicanos and see themselves as people whose true homeland is Aztlán (the U.S. Southwest)” (23). Through an evocation of the image of Aztlán as an ancient Aztec and Chicano homeland, the reader already gets the sense of the ways in which the text is attempting not only to posit mythic tropes for serious historical consideration, but also to reorient the history of the Southwest itself by locating its historical inception not in thirteen colonies, Plymouth rock, or even the Mexican-American war, but rather in an indigenous past looking south toward Mexico and the rest of the American continent for its point of origin as opposed to the eastern seaboard. Anzaldúa continues her mythohistorical narrative of the Chicano nation by relating that after the Spanish conquest,
Our Spanish, Indian, and Mestizo ancestors explored and settled parts of the U.S. southwest as early as the sixteenth century. For every gold-hungry conquistador and soul-hungry missionary who came north from Mexico, ten to twenty Indians and mestizos went along as porters or in other capacities. For Indians, this constituted the place of origin, Aztlán, thus making Chicanos originally and secondarily indigenous to the Southwest,
and that subsequently “In the 1800s, Anglos migrated illegally into Texas, which was then part of Mexico…Their illegal invasion forced Mexico to fight a war to keep its Texas territory” (27-28). This relation of the Mexican settlement and loss of the Southwest completely reverses the conventional perceptions of the historic roles played by both Mexicans and Americans in the formation of what is currently the U.S. southwest by framing Mexicans as its original settlers and portraying Anglo-American expansion into the Southwest as an illegal migration, directly challenging the notion of Chicano inhabitants of the Southwest as “alien.”
Anzaldúa then begins to conclude her epic mythohistorical narrative of the Chicano nation by continuing the theme of Chicano migration, resolutely asserting
We have a tradition of migration, a tradition of long walks. Today we are witnessing la migración de los pueblos mexicanos, the return odyssey to the historical/mythological Aztlán… El retorno to the promised land first began with the Indians from the interior of Mexico and the mestizos that came with the conquistadores in the 1500s. Immigration continued in the next three centuries, and, in this century, it continued with braceros who helped to build our railroads and who picked our fruit…ten million people without documents have returned to the southwest” (33).
The concept of a Chicano return from Latin America to the U.S. Southwest in the guise of Aztlán is the crux of Anzaldúa’s teleological historic vision. By attributing the U.S. Southwest to Aztlán, the mythological homeland of the Aztecs, (and by extension the mythological homeland of Chicanos who identify with an indigenous past), Anzaldúa constructs a sacred historical narrative in which U.S. Chicanos originate in the Southwest as Indians who later migrate south to establish Tenochtitlán as the center of their empire only to return to the Southwest as mestizos, transformed both by Spanish colonialism and Anglo-American capitalism.
This sacred historical narrative of the Chicano return to Aztlán represents a fundamental challenge to dominant Anglo-American institutions and historiographies in several ways. First off, by consistently emphasizing that Chicanos “have returned to the southwest” as opposed to having immigrated to the Southwest, Anzaldúa subverts the dominant historical narrative of Chicanos being the product of relatively recent immigration by stressing their indigeneity, providing an alternative epistemology for understanding the Chicano experience in the Southwest. In addition, in Anzaldúa’s narrative of the Chicano return to the Southwest, the image of the mestizo as a historical force remains prominent, consequently reproducing the trope of the cosmic mestizo as a catalyst of history that originated in the philosophical writings of José Vasconcelos. As Anzaldúa has clearly delineated, it is the mestizo who originally settled the southwest, and it is the mestizo who has returned to initiate the Chicano return to Aztlán. She implies that the same hybridized figure initiates the progress of the history of the Southwest to its inevitable destiny, which for Anzaldúa is the return of the Southwest to a prelapsarian indigenous state. This imagined transformation of the U.S. Southwest back into an indigenous nation-state is the endpoint which concludes the progress of Chicano history in Anzaldúa’s teleological historic vision, which is reaffirmed when Anzaldúa concludes the book itself stating “This land was Mexican once/ was Indian always/ and is/ And will be again” (113). Anzaldúa’s Chicano teleology which envisions the endpoint of the progress of the history of the Southwest as a return to indigeneity initiated by cosmic mestizo migrants acts as a direct challenge to the dominant narrative of manifest destiny which resolutely stipulated “The Anglo-American race are destined to be forever the proprietors of this land of promise and fulfillment, ” and characterized the Mexican southwest as “a howling wilderness trod only by savages…benighted by the ignorance and superstition…of Mexican misrule” (Anzaldúa 29). Thus, Anzaldúa’s mythohistorical teleology of Chicano history acts as a mode of Chicano liberation from dominant North American institutions and historiography by contesting its most fundamental historical narratives by re-orienting the position of Chicano people in the history of the American Southwest from “aliens” to proactive catalysts of its historical progression toward an inevitable return to indigeneity and triumph over colonialism.
However, Anzaldúa’s Chicano teleology which envisions a restoration of the Indigenous Southwest initiated by a Chicano peregrination back to a mythohistoric point of origin seems to uncritically reproduce the narrative of the Chicano Nation posited by both Alurista and Corky Gonzales, particularly in its insistence of a postcolonial hybridized figure that triggers the end of history. As such, Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera shares many of the same criticisms of both Alurista’s El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán and Rodolfo Gonzales’ “I Am Joaquín” by postcolonial scholars, namely that the imagined prototypical citizen of the Chicano Nation embodied in the figure of the cosmic mestizo who catalyzes history to an inevitable postcoloniality through hybridization does not, in fact, challenge the racial essentialism inherent to colonialism, but rather reproduces it. As Chicana cultural scholar Cristina Beltran argues in her essay “Patrolling Borders: Hybrids, Hierarchies, and the Challenge of Mestizaje,” the ideology of mestizaje that represents a central motif in radical Chicano literature which “has been hailed as an anti-essentialist approach to identity…that takes experience into account but celebrates multiplicity and fluidity over stability and singularity” fails to truly challenge racial essentialism as “Hybridity become as kind of foundational ‘fixed’ identity,” and furthermore, “Instead of highlighting the contradictory and incomplete nature of subjectivity, contemporary theorists of hybridity continue to evoke the category of experience as a fundamental precondition for political agency and knowledge” (596). Thus, for Beltran, that a shared experience of postcolonial hybridity becomes the definitive feature of citizenship of the Chicano Nation evokes a dangerous essentialist impulse in that “it treats some citizens as inherently incapable of the shared understanding necessary for turning strangers into democratic interlocutors” (595), leading to exclusionary politics in which those without a prescribed set of experiences as determined by the cultural establishment are relegated to a subjectivity that is fundamentally outside the nation. Beltran’s critique of Chicano Nationalism’s construction of its prototypical cosmic mestizo citizen as reproducing essentialist and exclusionary politics surely is not without cause as Alurista’s aforementioned foundational declamation of the Chicano Nation El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán concludes with the adage “Por la Raza todo. Fuera de la Raza nada,” or “Everything for the race. Nothing outside the race,” which circumscribes the figure of the mestizo, (although perceived as a hybridized figure with postcolonial consciousness), within the limited and essentialist parameters of an unambiguous Chicano race, interpellating a hybrid figure into a homogenous racial framework.
Although Beltran rightly notes the racially essentialist impulses of early Chicano literature, there are several fundamental reconceptualizations of the motifs of “Aztlán” and the “mestizo” present in Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera that distinguish her Chicano teleology from that of both Alurista and Rodolfo Gonzales and eschew the racially essentialist impulse of early Chicanismo. Perhaps most notable is Anzaldúa’s reconceptualization of Aztlán not as a Chicano homeland, but rather, as the borderlands of liminal and multitudinous subjectivities. In Alurista’s Plan Espiritual de Aztlán in which the poet resolutely proclaims “we declare the independence of our mestizo nation…before all our brothers in the bronze continent, we are a nation, we are a union of free pueblos, we are Aztlán,”—Aztlán is unambiguously the birthright of the cosmic mestizo whose “struggles against the foreigner ‘gabacho’ who exploits our riches and destroys our culture” delineates him within a postcolonial consciousness and teleology oriented toward the advent of the surmounting of the colonial condition. In contrast, for Anzaldúa, Aztlán is not an independent Chicano Nation, but rather the borderlands, a place where there are “two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture,” that constitutes,
…a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants. Los atravesados live here: the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulatto, the half-breed, the half-dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the ‘normal. (25)
Anzaldúa’s resignification of Aztlán as a “place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary…in a state of constant transition,” inhabited by “those who cross over…the confines of the normal,” transforms Aztlán from a utopian Chicano homeland whose inhabitants are characterized by postcolonial hybridity, into a liminal zone of identity where the contradictions of straddling an “unnatural boundary” produce an ambivalent and ambiguous ontological experience whose “constant state of transition” challenges the notion of singular or stable subjectivity, and whose inhabitants are characterized by their queerness, or deviation from normalcy.
This resignification of Aztlán as a liminal zone of subjectivity is further reaffirmed by the poetry that supplements the political prose of the text of Borderlands/La Frontera. Consider for example the poem “To live on the Borderlands means you” in which Anzaldúa constructs the fundamental character of Chicano borderlands ontology asserting “To live in the Borderlands means to/ put chile in the borscht, / eat whole wheat tortillas/ speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent; / be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints” (216). Clearly, for Anzaldúa the borderlands signify a place of gaudy cultural hybridity marked by intercultural transactions embodied by the linguistic and culinary synchronizations of speaking “Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent” and putting “chile in the borscht.” As such the border itself becomes an arbitrary and porous delineation which cuts through an aggregation of culturally consistent communities characterized by cultural hybridization and transnational movement.
But perhaps more importantly, although the borderlands represent a space of cultural hybridization and synchronization, they also represent a space in which the contradictions of hybridity are a source of internal tension. In Anzaldúa’s words “To live on the borderlands means you/ are neither hispana india negra española / ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed/ caught in the crossfire between camps / while carrying all five races on your back / not knowing which side to turn to, run from.” And furthermore “Cuando vives en la frontera/ people walk through you, the wind steals your voice, / you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,/ forerunner of a new race, / half and half” (216). Unlike Gonzales’ cosmic mestizo figure in his epic poem “I am Joaquín,” who resolves the tension arising from the mixed racial and cultural legacy of Spanish colonialism through a dual identification with both colonizer and colonized, creating psychic synchronization out of fragmentation, Anzaldúa does not readily resolve the tensions of cultural hybridization by moving toward synchronization. Rather, Anzaldúa’s mestiza cannot easily identify with any of “the five races on your back” and as a result, her racial loyalties are “caught in the crossfire between camps,” emphasizing “the contradictory and incomplete nature of subjectivity” (Beltran 596). In addition, Anzaldúa’s assertion that to live in the borderlands means you are “…a new race, / half and half—both woman and man, neither—a new gender,” in its ambiguous and fluid racial and gender identification represents a radical pluralism in racial and gender identity which “challenges the myth of the autonomous, coherent, and stable subject—a subject who is able to occupy fully a single, unproblematic category” (Beltran 597). As such, Anzaldúa reconceptualizes Aztlán from a Chicano Nation inhabited by hybridized yet homogenous figure into a liminal zone of identity in which a multiplicity of contradictory and ambivalent subject positions can emerge.
Anzaldúa’s challenge to the limiting and essentialized notions of racial and gender identity of early Chicano Nationalism and North American epistemology is further compounded by her reconceptualization of the figure of the mestizo itself. At the core of Anzaldúa’s reconfiguration of the mestizo is the construction of her “new mestiza” consciousness, which is fundamentally engaged with a deconstruction of ontological duality. For Anzaldúa, a fundamental ontological separation between the mental faculties of reason and imagination in western thought represents limiting dichotomous view of consciousness as she bemoans,
White anthropologists claim the Indians have ‘primitive’ and therefore deficient minds, that we cannot think in the higher mode of consciousness—rationality. They are fascinated by what they call the ‘magical ‘ mind, and the ‘savage’ mind, the participation mystique of the mind that says the world of the imagination—the world of the soul—and of the spirit is just as real as physical reality. In trying to become ‘objective,’ Western culture made ‘objects’ of things and people when it distanced itself from them, thereby losing ‘touch’ with them. This dichotomy is the root of all violence. Not only was the brain split into two functions but so was reality. Thus people who inhabit both realities are forced to interface between the two. (59)
According to Anzaldúa ontological duality becomes the “root of all violence” by alienating two mutually constructive mental faculties from one another and by perpetuating an epistemological imperialism in which the faculties of consciousness itself are circumscribed into a dichotomous relationship in which imagination is aligned with primitiveness, and rationality is aligned with civilization.
Correspondingly, Anzaldúa asserts that mestiza consciousness necessarily contests the ontological duality characteristic of North American epistemology, contending,
The work of mestiza consciousness is to break-down the subject-object duality that keeps her prisoner and to show in flesh and through the images of her work how duality is transcended…A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war. (102)
This deconstruction of a fundamental ontological separation between “subject-object,” creates a Chicano subjectivity in which the ambivalence and contradictions of hybridizing Chicano and Western epistemologies allow for a complex multiplicity of identity since by converging “analytical reasoning that tends to use rationality toward a single goal (a western mode),” with “divergent thinking, characterized by movement away from set patterns and goals and toward a more whole perspective,” creates a consciousness by which “the new mestiza copes by developing tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity,” and consequently, “She has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode” (Anzaldúa 101). Thus, Anzaldúa’s mestiza contests dominant Western ontology by positing a relational way of being that works against notions of duality, and simultaneously challenges the unitary subjectivity of early Chicanismo’s cosmic mestizo by developing a Chicano consciousness in which multitudinous subject positions materialize.
Similarly to Anzaldúa, Chicana activist and writer Cherrie Moraga develops an alternative teleology of the Chicano Nation in her seminal anthology of radical political prose and essays The Last Generation in order to contest both the ideological institutions of Western Historiography and Radical Chicano Nationalism. In the creative essay “Codex Xerí: El Momento Histórico,” Moraga utilizes Mayan eschatological prophecies as the locus theologicus of sacred Chicano history as opposed to the myth of Aztlán. Through her unconventional adoption of the Mesoamerican codex as the primary mode to engage with Chicano history, Moraga constructs a Chicano historical consciousness in which cycles of destruction and regeneration culminate in the advent of a revealed eschatological event that subverts the hegemony and impositions of Western civilization via a mystical participation in its destruction. By analyzing historical phenomena through Mesoamerican standards in which “a date is not a beginning but the culmination of history in all its totality” (Moraga 185), Moraga makes her rejection of normative Western conceptions of historiography in which time and history progress through a linear series of teleological conflicts which culminates in ultimate rationalization clear by proffering a new teleology of Chicano history based in Mesoamerican conceptions of history, in which time progresses through an eternal cycle of cosmological and eschatological events.
This much is clear when considering Moraga’s reflection of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, as she states, “It is 1992 and Los Angeles is on fire. Half a millennium ago after the arrival of Columbus, the Mesoamerican prophecies are being fulfilled. The enslaved have taken the streets, burning down the conqueror’s golden cities” (185). For Moraga, the 1992 L.A. riots represent an eschatological event in which history and time are beginning to progress into their predetermined cycle of destruction that reaffirms the legitimacy of “the Mesoamerican prophecies” that have already divined that “this era—El Quinto Sol—will be destroyed” (186). Thus the myth of the destruction of El Quinto Sol functions as the primary myth through which Moraga constructs an eschatological Chicano consciousness that contests the normative teleologically progressive vision of Western history. As the essay develops, Moraga observes “Urban warriors emerge on L.A. streetscapes. ‘Every empire falls,’ says the homeboy. ‘ The Romans fell, The Egyptians fell. (The Aztecs fell). This empire’s gonna go too” (191). It is clear through the clairvoyance with which “the homeboy” divines the apocalyptic end of the American Empire that Moraga reinforces the idea propounded by both Vasconcelos and Anzaldúa that the Chicano, in the aspect of the cosmic mestizo, will initiate the end of history and inaugurate a postcolonial historical era.
Although Cherrie Moraga may share a similar ideological impulse in her Chicano mythohistory with the Chicanismo of Alurista and Rodolfo Gonzales who similarly posit a postcolonial teleology for the Chicano Nation, Moraga nevertheless challenges some of the most fundamental ideological precepts of Chicano nationalism in her essay “Queer Aztlán: The Reformation of the Chicano Tribe,” in which Moraga conducts a complete resignification of the image of Aztlán essential to Chicano Nationalism. Moraga begins the essay by commenting on the mixed ideological legacies of Chicano Nationalism, noting,
What was right about Chicano Nationalism was its commitment to preserving the integrity of the Chicano people. A generation ago, there were cultural economic, and political programs to develop Chicano consciousness, autonomy, and self-determination. What was wrong about Chicano Nationalism was its institutionalized heterosexism, its inbred machismo, and its lack of cohesive national political strategy. (148-149)
For Moraga, not only must the homophobia and heterosexism of Chicano Nationalism be resolved, but indeed nationalism as a political ideology itself proves to be problematic by reproducing exclusionary and racially essentialist politics, as Moraga affirms, “I recognize the dangers of nationalism as a strategy for political change. Its tendency toward separatism can run dangerously close to biological determinism and a kind of fascism” (149). For Moraga, the clear solution to resolving the problematically essentialist politics of Chicano Nationalism is to “queer” Aztlán, to open it to unstable and contradictory subjectivities that deviate from normalcy and “insist that identity is plural, multiple, shifting, and fluid” (Accomando 116). At the heart of the project of “queering” Aztlán is the reconfiguration of Aztlán from “nation” to “tribe.” Although Moraga concedes the complexity of Native American tribal structures she derives inspiration from, she nonetheless argues that “the tribal model is a form of community building that can accommodate socialism, feminism, and environmental protection…’Familia’ is not dependent upon male-dominance or heterosexual coupling. Elders are respected, and women’s leadership is fostered, not feared” (166-167). For Moraga, the transition from Chicano Nation to Chicano Tribe not only eschews the essentialist impulse of Nationalism which “requires an unambiguous allegiance to singular identity,” but also authentically addresses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality (Accomando 116). The image of the Chicano tribe represents for Moraga the ideal model for a new queer Chicano nationalism as it “decolonizes the brown and female earth. It is a new nationalism in which la Chicana Indígena stands at center, and heterosexism and homophobia are no longer the cultural order of the day” (Moraga 150). Ultimately, by “queering” Aztlán and reconfiguring it from “nation” to “tribe,’ Moraga resignifies Aztlán as a space of ambiguity and ambivalence where multiple Chicano subjectivities unproblematically emerge.
As has been delineated thus far, the fundamental nature of Chicano subjectivity has been a matter of the most preeminent contestation within Chicano literature. Emerging from the Chicano Movement’s inception in the tumultuous sixties, Alurista and Gonzales constructed a postcolonial Chicano Nation which circumscribed Chicano history in an alternative teleology of historic development, which demarcated the beginnings of Chicano history in an aestheticized indigenous past and prophesied the advent of a hybridized mestizo figure that would progress Chicano history toward a foretold and inevitable surmounting of imperialism. Although third wave feminists Anzaldúa and Moraga espoused similarly Chicano historical teleologies that located the end of Chicano historical development with the surmounting of the colonial condition, both Anzaldúa and Moraga resented the limitations of Alurista and Gonzales’ historical mediator—the cosmic mestizo, which aimed to create a hybridized yet homogenous Chicano Nation under the auspices of postcolonial consciousness. Rather, Anzaldúa and Moraga conducted a queer resignification of both the notions of Aztlán and the mestizo as developed by Alurista and Gonzales in order to transform Aztlán into a zone of fluid and liminal identity, allowing for multiple and diverse Chicano subjectivities to emerge. However, despite their fundamental differences on the nature of Chicano subjectivity and history, all of these Chicano writers utilized literature as a way to create alternative epistemologies of American historiography that conflated elements of both myth and history to challenge hegemonic historical narratives that marginalized Chicano people.
The value of these Chicano writers’ alternative socio-historical epistemologies cannot be underappreciated. These Chicano writers’ approach to history which considers both factual and mythic elements in the analysis of socio-historical phenomena is at the forefront of propagating a postmodern approach to history in which history and myth are no longer antithetical modes of discourse that base themselves in the oppositional terms of fact and fiction respectively, but rather are discourses that are mutually constructive since “the best historians can do is to try to attain a better historiographical balance between truths and myth,” as “facts that can be established beyond all reasonable doubt remain trivial in the sense that they do not, in and of themselves, give meaning or intelligibility to the record of the past” (Heehs 4). By pointing out that history is ultimately a matter of perspective open to interpretation, this postmodern sense of history, espoused by the alternative epistemologies of radical Chicano literature, is an indispensable contribution to the field of historiography
The necessity to re-approach history from a postmodern sensibility in which multitudinous perspectives mediate and contest hegemonic narratives couldn’t be more evident given the contemporary controversies regarding Latino history and identity in American public schools. Most notable is the case of Arizona House Bill 2281, which banned Chicano studies from all Arizona public high schools and dismantled Tucson Unified School District’s much acclaimed Mexican-American studies program. Arizona House Bill 2281 argued that Chicano Studies would promote the overthrow of the United States government, and as a result discontinued the teaching of Chicano studies in the state’s public schools and banned major works by Chicano intellectuals from the classroom such as Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña, and even an anthology of the works of Gonzales titled Message to Aztlán which included his seminal epic poem “I am Joaquín.” The Arizona legislature’s suspicion and suppression of Chicano literature villainized as seditious disconcertingly echoing the FBI’s concern in 1969 that the Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in its espousal of the new Chicano Nation of Aztlán represented a threat to national security, and the FBI’s efforts “to expose, disrupt, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities …nationalist, hate-type organizations” (Vigil 93) is once again reflected in the Arizona legislature’s war against Chicano literature. Of course, the preeminent purpose of Chicano studies in Arizona’s public schools was not to disseminate sedition, but rather, as J. Weston Phippen of the Atlantic argues, to teach students “to view history not just through the lens of Manifest Destiny and the nation’s conquering heroes, but also through the eyes of the displaced and conquered.” This approach to history which allows for diverse and multitudinous perspectives not only maintains the postmodern conviction that history is ultimately “an historiographical balance between truths and myths,” but also decreases the alienation of Chicano students who felt that their perspectives were systematically eradicated by the public school system (Heehs 4). Indeed, according to a study conducted by the University of Arizona and published in the article “How One Law Banning Ethnic Studies Led to its Rise” by J Weston Phippen “Mexican-American studies increased graduation rates, grades, and college enrollment” among Chicano students. However, with the 2010 ban on Chicano studies in Arizona public schools still in effect, it is clear that Chicano identity and liberation will continue to be stunted by a conservative status quo in the Southwest that insists on maintaining its epistemological hegemony over the interpretation of history itself through force of law if necessary.
Accomando, Christina. “All its people, including its jotería: Rewriting Nationalism in Cherrie Moraga’s Queer Aztlán.” Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, vol. 31, no.1, 2008, pp.111-124. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/23262809. Accessed 23 November
Alonso, Ana Maria. “Conforming Disconformity: Mestizaje, Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 19, no.4, 2004, pp.459-490. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/3651588. Accessed 4 November 2016.
Alurista. “Cultural Nationalism and Xicano Literature during the Decade of 1965-1975.” MELUS, vol. 8, no.2, 1981, pp. 22-34. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/467145. Accessed 3 November 2016.
Alurista. “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán.” MEChA, umich.edu/~mechaum/Aztlan.html. Accessed 3 November 2016.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/ La Frontera. Aunt Lute Books, 1999.
Beltran, Cristina. “Patrolling Borders: Hybrids, Hierarchies, and the Challenge of Mestizaje.” Political Research Quarterly, vol. 57, no.4, 2004, pp.595-607. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/3219821. Accessed 23 November 2016.
Dillery, John. “Greek Sacred History.” The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 126, no.4, 2005, pp.505-526. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/3804873. Accessed 14 March
Fernandez, Roberta. “Abriendo caminos in the Brotherland: Chicana Writers Respond to the Ideology of Literary Nationalism.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, vol.14, no.2, 1994, pp.23-50. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/3346623. Accessed 15 November 2016.
Folgarait, Leonard. Mural Painting and Social Revolution in Mexico, 1920-1940. Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Gonzales, Rodolfo. “I am Joaquín.” Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings, edited by Antonio Esquibel, Arte Público Press, 2001, pp. 16-29.
Gonzales, Rodolfo. “Introduction.” I am Joaquín/Yo Soy Joaquín. Bantam Books, 1972.
Heehs, Peter. “Myth, History, and Theory.” History and Theory, vol. 33, no.1, 1994, pp.1-19. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/2505649. Accessed 3 November 2016.
Legrás, Horacio. “Walter Benjamin and the Mexican Revolution: A Meditation on the ‘Theses of History ‘and Diego Rivera’s Murals.” Discourse, vol. 32, no.1, 2010, pp.66. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/41389831. Accessed 4 November 2016.
Mayr, Ernst. “The Idea of Teleology.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 53, no.1, 1992, pp.117-135. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/2709913. Accessed 25 November 2016.
Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Earthscan Publications, 2003.
Miettinen, Timo. “Teleology Beyond Metaphysics: Husserlian Phenomenology and the Historical Consciousness of Modernity.” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 28, no.3, 2014, pp.273-283. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/jspecphil.28.3.0273. Accessed 25 November 2016.
Moraga, Cherrie. The Last Generation. South End Press, 1993.
Nasu, Hisashi. “Imagination and the Social Sciences.” The Interrelation of Phenomenology, Social Sciences, and the Arts, edited by Michael Barber and Jochen Dreher, Springer, 2014, pp. 51-66.
Phippen, J. Weston. “How One Law Banning Ethnic Studies Led to its Rise.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 19 July 2015, theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/07/how-one-law-banning-ethnicstudies-led-to-rise/398885/. Accessed 13 December 2017.
Vasconcelos, José. The Cosmic Race. Translated by Didier T. Jaén, Johns Hopkins Press, 1997.
Vigil, Ernesto. The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government’s war on Dissent. University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.