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Theatre Journal 52.1 (2000) 23-49

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Mythical Performativity:
Relocating Aztlán in Chicana Feminist Cultural Productions

Alicia Arrizón


The term "Aztlán" redefines space. Its discursive configurations, ranging from ancient mythology to land annexation, are engaged repeatedly in Chicano cultural studies and Chicana feminist practices. From the "manifesto" of the nationalist Chicano movement to the radical feminist perspectives in Cherríe Moraga's queer configurations of space and bodies, 1 the genealogy of Aztlán affects cultural identity, shaping the ongoing modifications--and sometimes, commodifications--of the collectivity. According to myth, Aztlán is the ancestral homeland in the north that the Aztecs left in 1168 when they journeyed southward to found the promised land, Tenochtitlán (Mexico City), in 1325.

Many Chicanas and Chicanos, in locating the US Southwest as the geographical site of this pre-Hispanic homeland, claim that they are descendents of Ollin Tonatiuh (the Nahuatl name for the Fifth Sun). As Armando B. Rendón explains, the Fifth Sun "is the very foundation of life, of spirituality, not in the restricted sense of an organized religion but in the nature of a common bond among all soul creatures." 2 Aztlán thus represents the spiritual power of unity among a people who see in their common pre-Hispanic heritage and indigenous past a source of cultural affirmation in the present. For Chicano nationalists, Aztlán's spiritual reality helps combat racism and exploitation, while its physical reality justifies contemporary efforts to reclaim this lost land. Gloria Anzaldúa conceptualizes Aztlán in more complex terms as an in-between place, coinciding with the physical and metaphysical space of the US-Mexico border. The border is the place where the First and Third Worlds meet in a head-on confrontation: it is "where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds." 3 [End Page 23]

This study begins with a brief analysis of Aztlán's historical conception as the Chicano homeland. In the second section of my study, I look at the possibilities of visual and performance art, discussing the way in which mestizaje is intertwined with Aztlán's geopolitical origin and the "native" body. This shifting conceptual framework moves Aztlán's spatiality and mythical subjectivity beyond Chicano nationalism into a more liberated realm in which the Chicana-mestiza body functions as the central structure. Generally speaking, I discuss the work of Chicana artists and scholars dealing with the idea of mestizaje and the intercultural body. In the last part, I examine Cherríe Moraga's configuration of queer Aztlán, including analytical commentaries of her play The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea (1999). 4 Theoretically, as my title suggests, I aim to relocate the myth of Aztlán. My main objective is to mark the transitions through which Chicana feminism has resituated Aztlán within revealing geographies, bodies, and knowledges. By using the theoretical notion of performativity, I explore Aztlán as an allegorical and mythological figure of speech and at the same time expose the ways in which Aztlán secures the formation of identity in the gap between the real and the representational. I examine the material practices of Chicana performance and their relation to a cultural feminism inevitably inscribed in the desire for critical agency. My analysis of specific examples of Chicana visual and performance art opens possibilities for understanding mestizaje as a form of transculturation. As understood by many cultural critics the term "transculturation" applies to cultures modified, altered, or influenced through their contact with another culture. 5 For the purpose of this study, the term's definition enacts the complexity of power relations embodied in Aztlán itself.

Aztlán: The Chicano Territory and National Anthem

From the rise of the Mexican American consciousness in the 1930s, to the self-affirmation of the Chicano experience in the 1960s, to the ongoing processes of Mexican immigration, the cultural identity of Mexicans in the United States is as diverse as the Latino population itself. 6 Chicano, a term honed in oppositional critical thought during the upheavals of...


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