Chicanos are Aztecs, Anglos are Spaniards

Chicanos are Aztecs, Anglos are Spaniards:
between Colonial America and the work of Gloria Anzaldúa

With the conquista of America by Spain a clash of historic proportions took place between European economic forces –with their superior technology and driven by the need of mercantilism to find sources for trade– and a Mesoamerica establishment led by the Aztecs and their vast empire of subjugated nations. The debacle of the indigenous peoples was total. Most of them were annihilated either by disease, war, or poverty. The Spanish conqueror did not colonize the New World as the British, in family settlements, far away from the local population. He needed that population to work for him. Furthermore, the vast majority of Spaniards were males. Thus, “the small numbers of female Iberian migrants affected the patterns of sexual selection in the colonial period.”[1] It was just a matter of time until a new group emerged, the mestizos, the sons and daughters of españoles or criollos and indios, sharing the characteristics of both conquerors and conquered. The mestizo carries then features so inherently contradictory they hardly can coexist. This translates into the contradictory behavior of the new man of America. And this is the legacy for the next generations. As such, Gloria Anzaldúa was a true mestiza, because as part of the people of the border she herself was a recreation of the conquista.[2] Only that the relation was with a new and different group. Then it was the azteca and the español. Now, the Chicana and the Anglo. Anzaldúa is the end product. Even if she says that “nothing in my culture approved of me,”[3] she is intimately related to the five hundred years history of her lineage. She is wholly aware of herself, both in her assimilation and in her rejection of the white people’s culture.

This relation exists in all aspects of social life. Until 1776’s  Real Pragmática edict dictated by the Spanish Crown was published, the Catholic Church solely administered the institution of marriage, the control of the social unit called family, and its ramification: divorce; out of wedlock births and their legitimization; procreation; the status of women. It did so by governing sexual life and with the confession as main instrument, in an inquisitorial, obsessive, and often obscene insight into the most intimate, detailed facts of private life. As Gruzinski put it, confession was one of the main instruments of conquest, as it “breaks down the ancient solidarity and social networks.”[4] Confession’s intention was “to penetrate into thoughts and into the most intimate and subjective experiences, with special predilection for sexual fantasies.”[5] This control continued, and Anzaldúa states that “the culture and the Church insist that women are subservient to males.”[6]

From the Pragmática on, the State competed in the manipulation of that control, by conditioning the validity of marriage, not to the mutual consent of the couple as was ratified by the 1545-1563 Council of Trent,[7] but to that of the fathers. For Anzaldúa, marriage is just an imposition of control. So when asked when she is marrying, she replies that if she did it, it would not be with a man.[8]

Control of the family was achieved through control of sexual behavior, which was done by a thorough classification of the sins: fornication, adultery, incest, rape, abduction, sins against nature, and sacrilege.[9] Marriage was –and is- preceded by the palabra de casamiento which enabled semi legal pre marital sex.[10]

The Church control was long lasting and extended to images and symbols. For Anzaldúa, the Virgen de Guadalupe is a local icon, a manifestation of the indigenous people spirituality. For the Catholic Church, tough, it was a way of further controlling their flocks in Mesoamerica by co-opting the local’s beliefs and traditions. In Gloria Anzaldúa’s time, the guadalupana was turned, first, into a nationalistic element for Mexicans, and then, into a symbol of self-organization by the field workers of Cesar Chavez.

Control was achieved also with ideological creations of attributes as honor and reputation, translated from the aristocrat world in Europe. According to Twinam, the “Latin American concept of honor” put whites on top of privileges which had to be defended and protected. Those “in the upper strata had to prove their ancestors had not been Moors, Jews, or heretics or, in the colonies, Indians or blacks,”[11] a feature we reviewed with primary sources in class. Finally, any resistance by women would have to adopt novel strategies and was severely repressed by characterizing it as witchcraft.[12]

Anzaldúa is intimately related to all this, through her ethnicity and her sexuality. There she goes “against two moral prohibitions: sexuality and homosexuality. Being lesbian and raised Catholic, indoctrinated as straight…”[13]

This link to the culture created by the conquistador is not restricted to Anzaldúa. Even Soledad Fuentes, a realistic figure in Oscar J. Martinez’s text[14] is a daughter of the conquista. She, a prostitute whose daughter was taken from her, a person in the lowest echelon of Mexican society, a woman with no honor, refers to the time when she lost her virginity –to a married man- as “dishonored.”[15] And when two Americans who kidnapped her demand oral sex, she says that if she did not give it to Mexicans, why to whites? Anzaldúa too differentiates between white and Mexican men: “I’ll defend my race and culture when they are attacked by non-mexicanos”, and yet “I abhor some of my culture’s ways, how it cripples its women, como burras.”[16] And again, she asserts that a macho in her culture is a male that works and cares for his family, because “the modern meaning of the word ‘machismo’ as well as the concept is actually an Anglo invention.”[17]

Anzaldúa makes a full circle when she claims the invisible, supernatural world so typical of pre Columbian Mesoamerica as hers, and it “in fact exists” despite “the whites are so adamant in denying.”[18] The language is a link to the past and to the future. Chicanos retain archaisms, “words that are no longer in the Spanish language”[19] as Indians kept their own languages.

Finally, a parallel is established. Even though she does not use this language, it is as Anzaldúa compares Chicanos to ancient Aztecs and Anglo Americans to Spaniard conquerors.

There is then a link, sometimes evident, another invisible, that relates the past with the present, and Anzaldúa, obviously a revolutionary woman who defied her own society by choosing to be a lesbian in a profoundly patriarchal society, cannot escape it. On the contrary, she embraces this link and owns it:

Ya no solo paso toda mi vida botando las costumbres y los valores de mi cultura que me traicionan. También recojo las costumbres que por el tiempo se han probado y  las costumbres de respeto a las mujeres.[20]

In her longing for a long lost past she points to a point in a distant future where her own characteristics will no longer be an anathema, a contradiction.

My paper was related –although obliquely- to this subject because it analyzed how, in traditional Latin American societies trying to achieve social liberation and economic development like Nicaragua and El Salvador. There, militant organizations preached equality for women. But even they could not ignore the rules and facts of the society in which they struggled for change, and the position of women inside those groups was far from equal.

[1] Asunción Lavrín. “Introduction: The Scenario, the Actors, and the Issues”, Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America. Asunción Lavrin, ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989, p 3.

[2] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands. La Frontera. The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987.

[3] Anzaldúa, 38.

[4] Serge Gruzinski, “Individualization and Acculturation: Confession among the Nahuas of Mexico from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century”. Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America. Asunción Lavrin, ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989, p 99.

[5] Gruzinski, 101.

[6] Anzaldúa, 39.

[7] Lavrin, “Introduction” 7.

[8] Anzaldúa, 56.

[9] Asunción Lavrín: “Sexuality in Colonial Mexico: A Church Dilemma.” Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America. Asunción Lavrin, ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989, p 50-51.

[9] Lavrin, “Introduction”, 7.

[10] Lavrín, “Sexuality”, 61.

[11] Ann Twinam, “Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America. Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America. Asunción Lavrin, ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989, pp 122-123.

[12] Ruth Behar. Sexual Witchcraft, Colonialism, and Women’s Powers: Views from the Mexican Inquisition. Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America. Asunción Lavrin, ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989, p 178-206…

[13] Anzaldúa, 41.

[14] Oscar J. Martínez. “Soledad Fuentes.” The Human Tradition in Latin America: The Twentieth Century William H. Beezley and Judith Ewell, ed. Lanham: SR Books pp 195-206.

[15] Martínez, 201.

[16] Anzaldúa, 43.

[17] Id. 105.

[18] Id. 60.

[19] Id. 79.

[20] Id. 37.