- Beyond Cultural Dialogues: Identities in the Interstices of Culture in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Martín and Meditations on the South Valley
- Western American Literature
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 1998
- pp. 153-177
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Be y o n d C u l t u r a l D ia l o g u e s : IDENTITIES IN THE INTERSTICES OF CULTURE IN JIMMY SANTIAGO BACA’S MARTÍN AND MEDITATIONS ON THE SOUTH VALLEY G e o r g e M o o r e J immy Santiago Baca has established himself as one of the lead ing Chicano poets of the American Southwest, in part, perhaps, by his willingness to continue the dialogue between the Spanish and Indian cultures that make up Chicano identity. “I dreamed my spirit was straw and mud,” he writes in an epic poem that captures the struggle of these voices, a pit dug down below my flesh to pray in, and I prayed on beads of blue corn kernels, slipped from thumb to earth while deerskinned drumhead of my heart gently pounded. . . . (Martin 17) In the lines of his poetry we find the doubled images of indigenous and westernized histories. The exchange is never settled, never fully unified, extending into the contemporary world like voices that haunt and inhabit the author’s own voice. But struggle, for Baca, has always been a defining element of his poetry. From his earliest efforts while in prison to his most recent poems and essays, we hear this contin gency and debate, an internalized flux of private and public selves that fight anew, each work, reestablishing struggle itself as the histo ry that informs his present culture. Martin and Meditations on the South Valley is really two poems that refuse to be separated, and in their conjunction as his second major collection, they form a cycle of contrasts and repetitions that empha size Baca’s central concern with dialogue. “Martin” presents us with a poetic journey through early life toward adulthood, but in such a way that the forces of difference at the heart of Martin’s New Mexican surroundings carry the young writer out and away from his homeland. Almost in counterpoint then, “Meditations on the South Valley” takes us back toward a reaffirmation of values with Martin’s return to Albuquerque. Through the process of these poems, Baca 1 5 4 WAL 3 3 ( 2 ) S u m m er 1 9 9 8 displays a vivid sense of the loss of individual, cultural authority and the establishment of his own identity in the very exchange of ideas that first carry him away and then return him to the site of his cultural past. This movement, and the struggle that characterizes Baca’s poetry, calls into question the subjectivity that he creates at the cen ter of the two poems. For the return is also a voyaging outward again, a fragmentation of the singular past into many possible present iden tities: “For hours I stood there / in silence,” he tells us at at the open ing of the second poem where a fire has destroyed the home he has only just rediscovered, and in this silence he hears “the end / of all the cities and peoples / I had become” (54). It would seem that we must suspend our desires for singularity, for an original self that wit nesses change but is never changed, if we are to read and believe the poetic necessities of this voice. In his recent work on postcolonial discourse, Homi Bhabha sug gests that identity today cannot be classified in simple terms of class or gender but must be understood as a dynamic movement in indi vidual and cultural production. We must “think beyond narratives of . . . initial subjectivities,” rejecting those notions of identity as something established and unchanging from the inception of the cul ture and, instead, “focus on those moments or processes that are pro duced in the articulation of cultural differences” (Bhabha 1). Here, under the postmodern assumption that difference lies at the heart of identity, Bhabha identifies the dynamic of cultural interaction as the location of identity. The same dynamic of cultural articulations must characterize the literature, which is always a primary source of cul tural identity. Baca’s Martin and Meditations on the South Valley might be read as such an articulation of identity through difference, for the poems continually address the...