Monday, February 23, 2009

Tattooing the World

Tekoa Smith

The modern tattoo, especially in American culture has a lot to do with choice. Being able to choose practically any image to become a permanent part of yourself serves a great purpose in distinguishing identity. We can identify with a culture, group, religion, sexuality, niche, organization and the list goes on and on, from what we decided is most important to be tattooed. We have the choice to represent one part of our personality or all. To let every other person, who's on the outside, into who we want people to believe we really are. And with the case of tattooing you do represent who you are.

Traditional tatau and malu is not determined or chosen by the person getting tataued. The only choice available is whether you want a tatau or malu and which motifs are to be depicted. But tatau and malu is a representation of your lineage and the things that you have accomplished in your life so far. There is nothing about your personality that is left out.

In the story "Parker's Back", Parker choose any image that was appealing to him at the time he decided on another tattoo. Parker's reasons for the tattoos he bore where only because they were things he liked. Not many of them held particular meaning to him. And it seemed to me that Parker continued to get tattooed simply because he could and no one could tell him otherwise. Not even his wife, Sarah Ruth, we were appalled by the vanities of tattooing from the moment she met Parker. Instead of respecting Sarah Ruth's feelings about tattoos Parker, unsuccessfully tries to pull her into his choice by proclaiming the tattoo of God was for her, when it was really all about himself.

Deciding on a tattoo is probably the most difficult to do. Making that choice to ink anything into your skin is a great power. A power that only holds within yourself. No other person can choose a tattoo for you. The experience and the meaning wouldn't be the same if it were you're own choice. I believe this is why I don't have any tattoos. The topic has come to mind for years but every time I try to decide that, yes, this image will be the one I have second guesses. I've realized the second guesses are my consciences way of telling me that I don't really want that image to be a permanent part of who and what I am.

I've watched friends of mine decided through a plethora of images for one specific subject and then once they've found the exact one now they have to decided where on their body they want the image to be depicted. An interesting formula that can tell a complete story about a person. Having a tattoo of a butterfly on the small of your back reads a different message than having a lady bug tattooed on your foot. A person's name on the neck is a different circumstance than a person's name on the chest.

Choice is extremely important in tattooing the world. Individual choice in the modern tattoo and community choice to preserve tatau and malu in the original indigenous cultures.

Kimberly's Signifiers Blog on Tattoo in "Cross of Soot" and "Parker's Back"

Sometime around college age, so during my late teens, a number of friends and acquaintances began jumping on what I viewed as the trend wagon of tattoo in the U.S. At that time, in the early 90's, people didn't use computers much, other than occasionally as a word processor, and we really didn't have the sort of access to information, like we do today, at our fingertips. If you wanted to find out information about tattoos or see pictures, you would have likely needed to hit the library and started looking at the encyclopedia. My Sophomore year in college, most of the library's information was accessible on the computer, rather than going to the card catalog, but that was still slow going, and people tended to stick with what they knew from "Library Skills," a class which is likely part of history now, rather than actuality.

That noted about the archaic flow of information, many young adults were getting tattooed, because it was cool and trendy, rather than as a form of language the way tattoo has been illustrated in many of the readings we have encountered from Oceania. Lack of research led to lack of knowledge on tattoo. It seemed sort of like getting earrings, which for me at least, was not a huge expression of language or who I am or was, but because it just seemed like it was time. So really, no reason at all, except perhaps to fit in. It hurt a bit and wasn't a real necessity.

As Dr. Ellis notes in her book, Tattooing the World, "...DeMello concludes, and most scholars concur, that in the United States the meaning of the tattoo design is symbolic, readable only by the few or the one." (p. 197.) I found this statement largely true during my college years when I would ask a friend why he or she wanted to get a certain tattoo, or what it meant. Some would reply that it was a sorority or fraternity thing, almost in a way that seemed out of their control rather than a living part of them of which they felt proud. Others would say they just like cats, or stars, or roses, for instance, so they got one because they think tattoos look cool. Disappointingly, the deeper meaning or signifier of language through symbols was often missing.

The sense that I got from O.E.Parker's tattoos conveyed a similar feeling as what I described above; the feeling is mainly one of disappointment. It seemed that O.E., not unlike numerous others, thought that his tattoos would really sparkle and dazzle. However, in reality, the more tattoos he adorns himself with, the worse he feels they seem to appear. The tattoos don't seem to flow or tell a story or trace genealogy like a malu or tatau; O.E.'s tattoos don't even really compliment each other. O.E. Parker is looking to fulfill something and when he finally thinks he is going to please the character of his wife, who is nearly impossible to please, by getting an expensive tattoo of God on his back, he is let down again.

Poor O.E. Parker is the epitome of an uneducated man, both in the way he speaks, and the choices he personally makes, such as getting so many tattoos that displease him, and marrying a woman that displeases him. This is a far cry from the language of eloquence and sense of pride and belonging conveyed by tattoos of the Maori and Samoan people, for example.

Until more recent decades, many in the US may have speculated, correctly or not, that people such as O.E. Parker were the tattooing type. Dr. Ellis writes, "Outside the Pacific, she(DeMello) suggests, tattoo became associated with the working class; today many people acquire tattoo only after dissociating it from those connections." (p. 198.) We do not know where O.E.Parker is exactly, though it is likened to Birmingham, Alabama, but tattoo has certainly evolved to encompass a wider socio-economic clientele over the years.

On a very different note, Wendt writes a short story based on his only tattoo, or at least his only tattoo at the time of writing "Afterword:Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body." His story, "Cross of Soot," tells an enchanting tale of a boy becoming a man after sneaking into a prison and receiving a tattoo from an inmate there. The inmate, however, was unable to complete the tattoo, yet it still depicts an important and significant image of a cross, a universal symbol, which is at least recognized globally as something. What a cross is, is left to personal interpretation. Nevertheless, this tattoo, which was meant to be a star, is a symbol of pride and entry to manhood, not an unfinished emblem of shame.

It appeared to me that the old man who was tattooing the boy was going to leave the prison and be freed, exonerated, as his family had arrived. After reading Dr. Ellis's interpretation of the man being on death row and leaving to be executed, I was disappointed at the bleakness of the situation. Still, the man passed on something special to the boy, and that appeared positive nonetheless.

The story of Tyson and his tattoo made me think back to O.E.Parker. I felt somewhat saddened that our culture, or at least some people feel our culture in America, has stolen tattoo. As evidenced by the seemingly cavalier way a man got a tattoo of a Maori woman's moko put on his face in L.A., (p.198.) we can see why some people believe that their culture is being stolen and tarnished. That said, there are certainly many people who fully grasp the gravity of tattoo and carefully plan what they are having put on their body. It is an art form, and a language, to which anyone should be entitled, however, attention should be paid to the design being original as to not take something personal from another culture. Still, copying is a high form of flattery.

Parker's Back

Matt Bochniak
“Parker’s Back”
Signifier Analysis

As many of you know, I play hockey for Loyola College. I am one of the goaltenders for our roller hockey team. I don’t have any tattoos on my skin; however, when I play hockey I wear a temporary moko. It’s a tradition for goaltenders in hockey to have their masks painted. The colors used on the mask are normally the team colors, but the design doesn’t always match the team mascot.

Just as Parker jumps through life, going job to job, I jump from hockey teams. Unlike Parker, “Everywhere he went he picked up more tattoos” (p 428), I could never have one mask for each team I play with or have one mask with various multiple images that would keep on growing. I decided to have a mask painted with neutral colors and a design that reflexes me more then the team that I play for. I choose a Lacan design as opposed to a team design.

Most goaltenders will get their masks painted with some sort of design that is based off the teams’ mascot. So, if the team’s mascot is the Eagles, then more likely, goaltender would have an Eagle on their mask. I have a connection with music, and that was how I choose my current mask design. One of my older teams would come out before a game to a song by the band White Zombie. So, I based my “hockey moko” with the theme of zombies.

Parker decided to get a tattoo of God on his back, as I finally decided to get a zombie designed goalie mask. Parker’s decision was based off of Sarah Ruth and questioning what God would say about Parker’ life. “At the judgment seat of God, Jesus is going to say to, what you been doing all your life besides have pictures drawn all over your?” (p432) So as a way of defying, and maybe in some sort of way connecting, to Sarah Ruth, Parker had God tattooed on his back. I based my mask off zombies in a hockey graveyard. Parker’s tattoo was for Sarah Ruth. My mask was design to intimidate the other team.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Parker's Back

Cory Matheny
Prof. Ellis
Signifier Analysis
February 22, 2009

‘Why, what were you thinking?’ was all I could think. When, several weeks ago two of my students were comparing there recently inked tattoos. This was not a matter of hypocrisy, as I too have several tattoos, but an honest inquiry about the specific tattoos each had received. Again, I was in not surprised that a student might have a tattoo – as I have mentioned several weeks ago, in my school alone, in the short time I have taught there, I know of two students who have graduated from school and gone on to careers as tattooist – rather, I wanted to know, and was compelled to ask: “Why would you have your name tattooed across your back?”
My students are, for the most part, the children of farmers and middle class commuters. They are not, in others words, your stereotypical urban youth who are ‘seeking to look like Kanya West or Lebron James:’ they are middle-America, whether they like it or not. The fact that such students are motivated to get such tattoos is, admittedly, the consequence of numerous developments: social acceptance, family dynamics, economic position, morality etc. But, in the end, it is difficult not to see the tattoo, or at least this type of tattoo, as a connection between otherwise exclusive worlds. And, if one is willing to admit to such a connection, than one is also prompted to ask ‘why, what value does this act have, not for some youths, but, potentially, for all youths?’
Increasingly, it seems, students are receiving tattoos as markers of identification. Which, as professor Ellis notes in her book, has been the traditional function of the tattoo. Though, what is interesting about the tattoo as a modern medium is not that is signifies the individual as the member of a community – either as a positive or negative identification – rather, it permits the individual the opportunity to say, without saying anything, ‘I am.’ The individual is provided the opportunity to understand themselves, not necessarily as an individual member of a community, but as an individual: they are granted agency.
For many teenagers, the tattoo, no matter how insipid it may seem to adults, is a marker of identification for teenagers: they are permitted to say ‘I am this.’ Though, again, the need of such a declaration seems superfluous, the better question may be, what has brought the individual to such a point? I do not wish to dwell on the necessity of the tattoo has posited by Lacan – not yet – but as it is articulated by Flannery O’Connor.
In, “Parker’s Back,” O’Connor presents Parker as a transient individual in perpetual search of satisfaction. Parker floats from job to job, woman to woman, and promises ‘never to get himself tied up.” (p. 426) Over the course of his life Parker floated from place to place, both at home and, through the Navy, abroad, with no particular purpose. He had no particular attachment to anyone tattoo, they, like much of his life, were “haphazard:” “ everywhere he went he picked up more tattoos…he did not care much what the subject was so long as it was colorful.” (p. 428)
“Parker would be satisfied with each tattoo about a month, then something about it that had attracted him would wear off.” (p. 428) He was insatiable: always in search, always hungry. He lacked all ability to internalize his motivations and found himself lost in a world of immediacy: “Long views depressed Parker. You look out into space like that and you begin to feel as if someone were after you, the Navy or the Government or religion.” (p. 430) Parker was, as Dante may have understood him as one, ‘without hope, [who must] lives on in desire’.
When Parker is eventually motivated to have his back tattooed with ‘G-d,’ he chooses a face that aroused intense anxiety in him: “his heart began slowly to beat again as if it were being brought to life by a subtle power.” (p. 436) He found what might be described, as a design that projected an undeniable sense of the ‘Other,’ as described by Lacan. A design that, to Parker, would permit a connection between he and his wife – that would permit the two of them to share a common understanding of the world, or at least one another. Unfortunately for Parker, Sarah Ruth found herself easily and fully able to reject his tattoo and all that it may or may not have signified to/ for him.
Today’s students, seemingly, like Parker, are all slogging through the world without any discernable purpose or place: they are lost in their own desires. Ironically, perhaps, the emerging trend of teenage tattoos has less to do with an addiction to desire than a sincere search for identity. A search that, even if ended arbitrarily or easily (with nothing more than their name), provides the student with a first proclamation of identity, a first step into the world so to speak. This is a matter of orientation, or place, from which the student is able to begin to construct a coherent worldview and from which they can begin to convey their self to others. This trend, if conceived of in this manner, than is more emblematic of a larger social inability to constructively assimilate the youth as individuals, than an inherent deficiency of the youth.

Monday, February 16, 2009

They Who Do Not Grieve

Tekoa Smith

The ritual of tattoo in Samoan culture is a well known and scared practice. Both men and women become tattooed, on their thighs, and the entire experience has a deep relevance to the culture and history of Samoan people. In "The Who Do Not Grieve" the families of two women who were tattooed together are outlined. Lalolagi and Tausi decided to experience the tattoo ritual together because of friendship. Jealousy along with miraculous forces twists the expected outcome of the tattooing and shapes these women's lives dramatically.

Lalolagi becomes involved with the tufuga. Tausi jealous of this affair exposes her to the tufuga's wife. This results in Laloagi's attack from the wife as well as other women where she is brutally beaten, has her ear cut off and left without any help. Lalolagi's tattoo is unfinished because her body rejects the ink. After her beating she lives with the permanence of the tattoo that reminds her of the horrible experience and the decisions she chose to make. Lalolagi becomes exiled from the culture which results in the treatment and upbringing of her two daughters, Ela and Mary, and her granddaughter Malu. Mary was thought of as a prostitute and was well known among the people as such. Lalolagi has remorse from her actions as a young women and when Mary's name is mentioned, particularly by Malu, she becomes very emotional and resorts to violence and silence. She knows that the what Mary is accused of is the same as what brought a curse to Lalolagi's family.

In turn, Lalolagi places a curse on Tausi and her family for her betrayal. Tausi's granddaughter Alofa finds herself in an unfamiliar setting where she is plagued with actions of racism. And although Tausi wants to be forgiven of the betrayal she caused on Lalolagi she still passes and is buried in a place far from home. The very thing that she never wished. Alofa is left to grieve Tausi's death.

There seems to be nothing but grieve in these stories despite the title of the book. But specific grief of things that are out of the control of these women involved. The grievance comes from the permanence of the tattoo. The events surrounding the tattoo are forever etched in the thighs of these women. Even though they grieve they force themselves not be become permanent in it. "Don't grieve for the dead. If you do, dog-girl, who's going to wash the dishes?" (Figiel, 228). Reminding them of where they came and directing their off-spring into where they are headed.

I do not have any tattoos. There has never been any experience or tangible thing that I want to be reminded of at all times. That I want to be permanently apart of my body. I have heard and know of a few people who have tattoos that they are unfortunately to carry with them for the rest of their lives. Tattoo are a blatant reminder of the state of being you were in when the tattooing was done, the emotion you felt for the tattoo, the meaning of the person, place, thing that is to be represented on your body. Often people get tattoos and completely regret their decision of what the tattoo is, where the tattoo is on their bodies or just the act of getting it.

A friends boyfriend got his first tattoo a couple of years ago. Upon seeing the tattoo I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. It made no sense to me, at the time, it was very plain and in a very noticeable but unflattering spot on his upper arm. He says his reason for the tattoo was that he really wanted to be tattooed but didn't make a concrete decision about what he wanted. After reading "They Who Do Not Grieve" and reflecting of the importance and sometimes ambiguous concept of tattooing his tattoo reflects some of the regret or grieve associated. His tattoo is capital bold lettering simply states: MISTAKE.

They Who Do Not Grieve

Matt Bochniak
They Who Do Not Grieve
Lit. Analysis

This was a very interesting book to read. “They Who Do Not Grieve”, by Sia Figiel, was written in a very feminine point of view. The stories in this book revolve around Lalolagi and Tausi’s tattoo experience. Lalolagi’s tattoo was never finished due to her body rejecting the ink. Because of that, Lalolagi faces shame and grief throughout the book.

Both Tausi and Lalolagi, childhood friends, were going to have their thighs tattooed. “But unlike Tausi, who finished the operation, my grandmother woke up suddenly to find that the fish, the starfish, the spear, the centipede did not take to her flesh.” (p 6) The location of the tattoo was very interesting. In our American culture, getting your thigh tattooed is not common. The objects that they are getting tattooed are important parts of Samoan life and their natural surroundings.

In grieving, Lalolagi would see the ghost of her daughter Mary. “Each time Lalolagi saw Mary, she would be silent for days. Not eat her food. She would just sit in the middle of the house and look out to the sea.” (p 99) I feel that her grief is symbolic for her failure of getting a tattoo. Having a tattoo symbolizes their strong ties to Samoan culture. Having Lalolagi’s body reject the ink has to be linked with a rejection of one’s culture.

My feelings are sort of opposite to the feelings of Lalolagi. Most of my friends have tattoos. I personally have none. My friends have always questioned the fact why I don’t have any tattoos. I have toured with national metal acts (that all have tattoos), worked with professional football players (who all have tattoos), and play hockey (most hockey players have tattoos). The real reason is a fear of commitment. In Lalolagi’s case she wanted a tattoo, however I really don’t. She grieves and I’m happy with not having one.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

they Who Do Not Grieve

Cory Matheny
Prof. Ellis
First Signifiers
Feb. 15, 2009
Lit. Analysis
The use of the feminine perspective to tell “They Who Do Not Grieve” lends the story the authenticity of forced options and alienation that a masculine telling may not provide. Traditionally, woman have been asked to assume or understand those practices that men set in place, but they rarely are asked to establish or alter such practices themselves. Women, in this way, are the great cultural tag-along: always there, though, always in-toe. I do not mean to belittle women’s historic contributions, but I wish to convey the point that in a/ our patriarchal society the feminine is not the seat of power. Thus, when Malu, Lalolagi, Pisa, Alofa are cast-out, either by directed or voluntary exile, they tell both their own and a larger mythic story: male vs. female, society vs. nature.
In many Pacific tribal cultures tattoo’s are bestowed in stages – with age additional pieces are given. This process signifies, among other things, the growth of the individual. Interestingly, with age the individual is not necessarily granted distinction but belonging. The individual increasingly, and undeniably, becomes part of their surrounding culture. Each piece enmeshes the individual. Of-course, this also means that when the individual is denied their due tattoo they are exiled from the culture – they are no longer a member – proper member – of their tribe. This lends depth to the idea that “the female tattoo is my name: I am the fish, the starfish, the spear, the centipede that never was:” Lalolagi became the tribes-woman that never was when, in the course of events, she was denied her complete tattoo. (p. 7) She ceased to be a member of her tribe because she was not able to share in their/ the culture: she was stunted. She was a blight, an outcast – and she knew it: “Then when the plants were just big enough, that is, when the plants showed the slightest sign that they were springing buds that were about to bloom, she would weed them away. That became the cycle of her life. Every time she saw things growing – saw them blooming – she would destroy them.” (p. 103) She was, at once, both exiled from society thus forced to assume a more ‘natural’ position, and simultaneously set-against the very nature she was left to wallow in: in exile, she was set-against herself.
The members of the tribe are, to this extent, indebted to the tattoo artist who, alone, has the capacity to connect the individual, lost in themselves, to the culture they are particulars of. The tattoo is religious because it has the capacity to move the individual beyond himself or herself:
“Every action associated with the tattoo was a prayer. Is a prayer. The gathering of the materials and the act of tattooing itself, which I equate to a form of writing. Master tattooists are in this sense G-d’s medium on earth. Writing G-d’s truth, which is to be found in the starfish, the centipede, the canoe, the flying-fox, all the symbols of the tattoo, the elements of nature and of the universe that are mapped in memory, mapped on the thighs of our young women and the hips of our men. This is our payer. A prayer we carry with us. Always.” (p. 248)
The tribal tattoo thus mediates between the individual and society. It both signifies their membership and a means of existing beyond that membership. (The tattoo is a fetish item, in this way, it is an object the denotes membership, but also draws a line between one’s self and others and thus permits the identification of one’s self on either side of that line.)
Thus, when Lalolagi finally tells Malu the story of her tattoo – of her life – she is gravely concerned about the consequences of exposure: “Shhh… we have to keep the va. The space. Or the spaces in between. ‘Between her and me. The space that makes her say something like. ‘Do you want the whole universe to hear?’” (p. 235) But, of-course, this was her very concern: if the ‘Va’ – the space between one’s self and all other selves, one’s culture – is not properly maintained than the individual will be exiled, will be left alone. The Va was the very thing that was lost when the tattoo was left unfinished. And thus it was the loss of the Va that set Lalolagi and her descendents against nature, society, themselves, and, further, for fear of additional shame, left them to exile unable to ‘grieve’ for fear of a continued loss or corruption of the Va and the implications of such a deterioration.
On a personal level I can relate with Lalolagi. When I was twenty I purposefully left one of my tattoos unfinished. Through my twenties I continued to play Ultimate Frisbee and was thus continually asked by an older – forty-something teammate – ‘when you going to finish that thing,’ everyday. I am not bothered by the tattoo, as I said, it was purposefully left unfinished, I do however find it interesting that the piece bothered my teammate so thoroughly. It seems/ ed that the unfinished piece, perhaps any unfinished piece, left him unfinished. He seemed openly awkward around my leg, and forced to inquire about it. I do not know exactly what his motives were, but I do wonder if there is an innate human need for such a thing to exist as a completed work – a need that spans tribal and ‘modern’ cultural constructs.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Borderlands Presentation- Tekoa

Borderland/La Frontera is a wonderful depiction of another life and culture. The work is an intimate portrayal of a young women and her conclusion of identity during a time and place where identity was so vague and in most cases unaccepted. Anzaldua explains race, sexuality, religion, and language and the significance it has on oneself and other people. I believe the Anzaldua uses this book to educated and frustrate. With the mix of Spanish and English text she frustrates the non-bilingual reader because the meaning is not fully understood. This is to give the reader a sense of frustration that an entire group of people face everyday. The frustrations of not being understood and instead of acceptance are told to change.
This concept is apparent in any exclusion of people but a big example that we are faced with today is the acceptance of sexuality. The GLBT community lives within the borders of every other person but these people are alien within their own culture. They are not accepted and because they are different than others they are told they are wrong. How can a person’s identity be wrong? Anzaldua explains her sexual identity concluding that anything that puts you outside the border and constructs a borderland around you can be trying. GLBT people are currently in the biggest struggle ever. Some say that we are in the era of a GLBT civil rights movement. GLBT people want the same rights as others that they are entitled. But denying these rights are oppression that tries to get GLBT community to conform or even fade away. But there is no where for the GLBT community to go. Like the famous saying, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”.
The majority of the exclusion of the GLBT community is because of the vague border between church and state. Religious views of sexual identity are leaked into the governmental rights of the people. Religion and government are supposed to be separate operational organizations. However, the views of religious groups are now written into the constitution as a means of separating people. There is an irony in the conjoining of two different things to separate equal parts.
Just like the Chicanos and African-Americans, a GLBT movement is well deserved, especially now in the wake of the outcome of Proposition 8 in the 2008 election. There have been rallies, protest and seminars about what can be done to overturn the Prop 8 decision. The GLBT community shows that they will not comply with the standards that are set in place to dehumanize a large population. Just like Kolvenbach states, “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change”, positive mainstream views of homosexuality try to blur the boundaries within this culture. More and more homosexual artist, writers, such as memoirist Augusten Burroughs, and public figures are bringing GLBT issues to the forefront. Our culture can accept it or reject it but those who don’t accept don’t have the power to change.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Literary Analysis of Borderlands

Matt Bochniak
Literary Analysis

A border is a line that separates two objects. In “Borderlands”, by Gloria Anzaldua, she describes borders in a more personal approach. Anzaldua wrote a collection of tales describing her personal issues and conflicts with culture, religion, and sexuality.

Azaldua begins by saying, “Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them.” (p 25) I thought this was a great way to introduce the reader to the author’s use of symbolism. Throughout “Borderlands”, Anzaldua talks about her own personal cultural strife and how she “crossed” her symbolic border into the world that she lives now.

Being Chicano, Azaldua describes her cultural beliefs as male defined. “Culture is made by those in power-men. Males make the rules and laws; women transmit them.” (p38) She also talks about sexuality in culture, “If a women doesn’t renounce herself in favor of the male, she is selfish. If a woman remains a virgin until she marries, she is a good woman.” (p39) The culture Azaldua grew up with she ultimately rebels from by questioning the role of women in Chicano culture. The border is set in Chicano culture, but Azaldua crosses that border by rebelling and believing in her own role of women in her world.

Throughout “Borderlands” we get glimpses of Anzaldua’s spiritual beliefs. We do know that she was raised catholic (p 41). Anzaldua talks in detail on how the Aztec gods became a part of Roman Catholic religion in chapter 3. “The male-dominated Azteca-Mexica culture drove the powerful female deities underground by giving them monstrous attributes and by substituting male deities in their place, thus splitting the female Self and the female deities.” (p 49) Again, Anzaldua points out that just like culture, religion is male-dominated. Women were symbolized as serpents in Aztec religion. In Protestant and Catholic religion, a serpent is associated with evil. We get deeper insight on Anzaldua’s faith with this comment, “In my own life, the Catholic Church fails to give meaning to my daily acts, to my continuing encounters with the “other world”. It and other institutionalized religions impoverish all life, beauty, pleasure.” (p 59) I get the feeling that just like her culture, Azaldua crossed the border into a new world of spirituality.

Azaldua comes out and clearly states that she is a lesbian. She refers to her sexuality as “Intimate Terrorism”. She is rebelling against the male culture by using her sexuality as a weapon. “No, I do not buy all the myths of the tribes into which I was born.” (p 44) Anzaldua is building a new culture of her beliefs.

In Baltimore, I would make the connections of borders with opposite communities. Last semester, I did a project comparing the Penn Lucy and Guilford communities. These communities are only separated by 20 feet of pavement, but they are totally opposite. This comparison is very symbolic to Azaldua’s beliefs and the culture she grew up in. These are two different worlds. Penn Lucy is a community of poverty where as Guilford is a wealthy community full of Baltimore’s elite. Only a border of pavement separates these two neighborhoods.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Kimberly's Literary Analysis of Borderlands

Borderlands is a brave collection of various writings by Gloria Anzaldua which symbolize the hardships she has endured in her life, particularly in the area of Texas along the Rio Grande where she was raised. Throughout this book, Anzaldua condemns many aspects of her culture, including the sexism among the Chicano/as, as well as rape and violence among other aspects. She criticizes the acceptance of this darkness, in the form of silence, by the women in her culture, and emphasizes the point that she valiantly did not conform to her culture, and that she
"want(ed) the freedom to carve and chisel (my) own face." (p. 44)

Despite all that she condemns, Gloria Anzaldua strives to preserve her culture and her roots, including their various languages and the knowledge of their ancestry, including "Indians," by which she is referring to Native Americans in today's language. It almost appears hypocritical considering the poems and writings describing the pain and violence, sexism and racism and homophobia in the region between Mexico and the US. The ties that Gloria Anzaldua feels to her culture and her interest in preserving and educating about her culture are self-justified. Anzaldua writes, "I feel perfectly free to rebel and to rail against my culture. I fear no betrayal on my part, because, unlike Chicanas and other women of color who grew up white or who have only recently returned to their native cultural roots, I was totally immersed in mine." (p.43)

This is likely a familiar feeling to many- we can say something negative about ourselves like, "Wow, I sure have gotten plump after having some kids," but if an old friend from high school said the same, it would be received as rude or hurtful. Gloria Anzaldua feels so strongly tied to her culture, and clearly knows it so well as illustrated in her writing, that she is her culture and she can speak freely about herself.

Part of the freedom that she expresses in her writing is the style she uses. Jumping from Spanish to English is unique and not limited by borders such as chapters or specific poems. She intermingles tongues freely throughout the text and I wouldn't hesitate to assume it goes deeper than the two languages noted above. Though I am not familiar enough with the various dialects that Anzaldua associates herself with, (Standard English, working class and slang English, Standard Spanish, Standard Mexican Spanish, North Mexican Spanish dialect, Chicano Spanish, Tex-Mex, and Pachuco,) (p. 77)I would assume that they are all interspersed in her writing, as she is writing as she pleases, sans limitation. Anzaldua is writing honestly and openly about herself and her culture, and in that altering the cultural map while freeing herself.

An important theme which rises again and again throughout her writing is the abuse and the alteration of her cultural and geographic maps at the hand of Anglos/whites. She refers a few times to the unfounded cruelty inflicted on her and her classmates at the hand of white school teachers, and it is further evidence that the difficulties in her life extended far beyond the borders of the ranches where she lived, even into a school setting where teachers should be protecting and helping the children. Instead, the Chicanos/as are punished for being themselves, but clearly have not suppressed Anzaldua from growing into a woman who "survive(d) the borderlands" and "live(d) sin fronteras." (p.217) The reader is invited into the past, as well as the present, to see how Anzaldua has been harmed and how these serpents continue to re-visit her throughout her life; they are her. Nevertheless, she is going to draw attention to this culture in hopes of preserving it, but allow someone who is non conforming to it, such as herself, to be a part of it.

Recently, on the Baltimore news, there was a rally to stop the frequent murders in the city. Often young black men are the targets for the ruthless and mindless loss of life. Instead of drawing thousands, as was hoped, the rally drew dozens, hopefully not symbolizing that our local culture is not ready to join together to stop these horrid occurances.

Marvin "Doc" Cheatham has nearly quit being the leader of Baltimore's NAACP chapter. When one views the disappointment of such low attendance at a rally of such high importance on the local news, it is easy to see why the leader may be discouraged. However, he has not given up for his race, and he carries on with his mission. This reminded me of Anzaldua and how she carried on to preserve her culture, though there were many devastating aspects of it. She became a teacher to young Chicano/as, just as Cheatham tries to educate Baltimoreans.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Cory Matheny

First Signifier

Prof. Ellis

Feb 1, 2009

Signifier Analysis

Here, in Baltimore, the urban landscape generates its own environments and experiences separate from the larger, and perhaps more obvious geographical features of the mid-Atlantic. For all the ecological and political fuss – deserved fuss – that surrounds the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore is equally, if not more so, nationally known for its ‘concrete’ issues. The violence and decay of Baltimore city is not special – 40 years ago Jane Jacobs in “The Life and Death of Great American Cities” noted the progression of our nation-wide urban decline – though it (Baltimore’s) is perhaps better publicized than most. For fifty years Baltimore has climbed each indicators list and now resides near, though not at, the top (thank you Detroit) of every enviable list: murder rate, crime rate, poverty, education, drug and domestic abuse.

Some of Baltimore’s more notorious neighborhoods – Pen Lucy, Glenmont, Brooklyn, Cherry Hill, amongst others – are, for varying reasons, some of the worst neighborhoods in the United States. It is certainly easy to write-off Cherry Hill, for example, as the obvious consequence of entrenched socio-economic issues that cannot be resolved – not now. However, Cherry Hill is the product of a more purposeful and systemic problem: irrelevance. Manuel Aalbers, a leading sociologist on the causes and effects of social decline argues:

The socio-spatial approach…sees the conflict between ‘abstract space’ (how government and real estate actors think about space for political or economic gain) and ‘social space’ (how people think about the place where they live) as a central issue in urban research…We can apply these ideas to neighborhood decline. Neighborhoods may be ‘written off’ by banks or landlords (abstract space), but can be considered desirable living environments for others (social space). (p. 1064)

Thus: “real estate actors [bankers and politicians] do not simply limit their risk in low-income neighborhoods, but actively or passively structure the process of neighborhood decline.” (p. 1081) It is reasonable then to argue that such slum areas, such blights on the urban landscape as Cherry Hill, are, at least partially, made – they do not simply ‘happen.’

Gloria Anzaldua’s “Borderlands/ La Frontera” tells her story from childhood to womanhood and along the way details her problems of place and person – the same problems found amongst the youth who are raised on Baltimore’s streets. Anzaldua, like all Chicanos – her parallel – exist as a ‘ghost,’ as a ‘non-person,’ because she is never permitted to commune with her environment. The land of the southwestern United States – formally Native American, formally Mexican, formally independent – has been callously claimed and disregarded by the nation: “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abieta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.

The land has been disregarded as irrelevant, at best, a danger most other times. The borderlands – all borderlands, urban and rural – have been partitioned by the American public and left to atrophy. This, of course, is fantastically problematic for those who were born, raised, and continue to live on these lands: “only through the body, through the pulling of flesh, can the human soul be transformed. And for images, words, stories to have this transformative power, they must arise from the human body – flesh and bone – and form the Earth body – stone, sky, liquid, soil.” (p. 97) Anzaldua testifies that her existence has been made problematic because the connection between her and her land was severed. She, as a result, is unable to realize her self, she is unable to transcend her ‘condition.’

Anzaldua, it may be argued, is the victim of a ‘cultural redlining’ that creates/ permits the social and personal problems now inherent to her heritage: “There are many defense strategies that the self uses to escape the agony of inadequacy and I have used all of them. I have split from and disowned those parts of myself that others rejected.” (p. 67) She, more than any other problem, rails against the loss of language, the violence of language, enacted upon her and all Chicanos while attending school. The process planted the seed of doubt in her perspective of her heritage: “if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language” (p. 81) Of course the problem, which extends well beyond language, though language perhaps is the gateway to all such alienation, is that the individual is left without a cultural home to inhabit – without a historical self – without a self.

All such people are left with an inherent paradox: they wish to know, though are irrevocably scarred to acknowledge, their heritage and self. To do so, would be to accept the fundamental inadequacies and pain associated with it. (“ethnic identity and place identity are often the result of interaction between the self and external definition” (p. 1067)) Inadequacies and pain that are not the result of any internal insufficiency, but of perception thrust upon them by an uncaring and thus callous external force.