University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Contact Zones in Chicano Culture
Meeting someone from another culture expands your knowledge of the world. As you receive new information, you are giving some of your own. The experience of two different people meeting is far less than the experience of two different cultures of people meeting. The most common outcome of these meeting is one culture dominates over the other. This domination eventually leads to hatred towards the oppressors, until the dominated are free. Over many years, the dominated population has integrated their culture with the dominant one but there is still conflict.
In “Arts of a Contact Zone” Mary Louise Pratt writes about the effects of a contact zone, when two different cultures meet and interact, and why it is good. Contact zones bring people together to share ideas and cultures but it can also lead to slavery and conquest . We will focus on one effect: literate arts. Some of the literate arts are autoethnography, transculturation, bilingualism, critique, and denunciation. These literate arts are ways people use language to express a clash of two cultures.
An “autoethnographic text”, a text that a writer uses to respond to the way other people sees their ethnic group, uses things familiar with a dominant race to make a point. Pratt gave us an example of “autoethnographic text” called New Chronicle and Good Government by Guaman Poma. The title New Chronicle comes from the name of the apparatus used by the Spanish to present their American Conquests to themselves. Poma uses this to create a new picture of the world by rewriting the Christian history with the Andeans at the center of the religion.
The new “Christian-Inca” history resembled European manners and custom descriptions but included the meticulous details of information stored in the Inca societies. Poma used this manner to write his letter to make a parody the Europeans could understand. Gloria’s Anzaldua essays “Entering into the Serpent” and “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” are examples of an “autoethnographic text. ” She uses her essays to destroy some of the stereotypes readers have before they read her essays. Some of the stereotypes of Chicano are they are hated by the US and Latinos and have a conflicted identity.
The idea that Americans and Latinos hate Chicanos comes from the belief that they cannot identify with Standard English or Standard Spanish cultures. Since the Chicanos are born in the United States but are ethnically Mexican, they do not “belong” in the United States or Mexico. The hatred of Americans and Latinos caused the unknown identity of Chicanos. Transculturation occurs when two groups of people integrate different aspects of a culture with each other. An example of transculturation is Poma’s illustrations in New Chronicle and Good Government.
The pictures had a European genre but they used Andean systems of spatial symbolism to express values and aspirations. In Anzaldua’s essays, we see transculturation in the religion. “My family, like most Chicanos, did not practice Roman Catholicism but a folk Catholicism with many pagan elements” (Anzaldua 73). The Roman Catholicism that was the religion of the Spaniards intermingled with Anzaldua’s “snake religion” to form the folk Catholicism version of la Virgen Guadalupe as Coatlalopeuh. Transculturation and autoethnography both manipulate language.
Anzaldua wrote the essays in English and Spanish to identify herself with the Chicano and show us her experience with English speaking people. Poma’s wrote his letter in Quechua and Spanish so both cultures could understand the main points of the letter. In childhood we were told that our language is wrong. Repeated attacks at our native tongue diminish our sense of self. The attacks continue throughout our lives. Chicanas feel uncomfortable talking in Spanish to Latinas, afraid of their censure. Their language was not outlawed in their countries. But for a language to remain alive, it must be used.
By the end of this century English, and not Spanish, will be the mother tongue of most Chicanos and Latinos (Anzaldua 89) The language of a culture identifies a person. If someone’s language is banned it makes the person feel unwelcome so to fit in they speak the main language but wonder what is wrong with their own language. When Chicanos speak Spanish they “spoil” the language and when they speak English they are traitors. This idea of having a wrong language causes confusion and shame, which will lead to not a Chicano identity but an American identity. By identifying with her culture, she creates a known identity for her people.
Chicano Spanish is unlike English or Spanish but a combination of both, which results in bilingualism. Anzaldua’s first essay shows us what her religion meant to her, and she blames and criticizes the Catholics for taking away her sexual identity. Before the Spaniards conquest, the male dominated Azteca-Mexica culture had replaced all the female deities with male ones. This replacement split the female deities and the female self. If there were no female (spirit) deities then there was no female identity, according to Anzaldua. After the Conquest, Guadalupe became a virgin and all the other female deities (snake goddesses) were whores.
The change in identity of these female deities encourages the virgin/whore dichotomy. This separation of mind and body made it hard for her to find her sexual identity. Pratt’s definition of a contact zone makes it a wonderful and horrible place to be but Anzaldua seems to disagree. Anzaldua’s experience with Catholic people seemed to be the worst thing that happened to her. These chapters from her book Borderlands/La frontera only show one type of opinion with no other positive outlooks. Her dislike of the Catholics inspires her to write these chapters to show us how her life was like and to “blame” everyone who reads her book.
She was not able to have a true contact zone through her experience so she is unwilling to understand the Catholic religion. Anzaldua’s essays are another example for Pratt to use in her essay. The concept of literate arts is present throughout. The essays mainly show the bad parts of Anzaldu’s contact zones but that is the main result of contact zones with a dominant culture. Even though Anzaldua may not agree this is a contact zone. Her bias shows the readers the horrors of her cultures past to encourage a response.