- The U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Write Back: Cross-Cultural Transnationalism in Contemporary U.S. Women of Color Fiction
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 57, Number 1, Spring 2001
- pp. 91-112
- View Citation
- Additional Information
CLAUDIA SADOWSKI-SMITH The U-S.-Mexico Borderlands Write Back: Cross-Cultural Transnationalism in Contemporary U.S. Women of Color Fiction In Africa and in the Americas too, the giant snakes, Damballah and Quetzalcoatl, have returned to the people. . . . The snakes say this: From out of the south the people are coming, like a great river flowing restless with the spirits of the dead who have been reborn again and again all over Africa and the Americas, reborn each generation mote fierce and more numerous. Millions will move instinctively; unarmed and unguarded , they begin walking steadily north. Leslie Silko, Almanac of the Dead, 735 Across the border they had a name for such types: they would call him a performance artist. . . . Well, he didn't know it yet but that's whete he was going: North. . . . Chilam Quetzal, he called himself. . . . He predicted doomsday based on the ancient belief that doom comes in fifty-two year cycles. Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange, 48. As these two speculative texts about the U.S-Mexico borderlands vividly evoke the diasporic displacements of the "people of the south" in terms of prophetic, apocalyptic dreams, they suggest new, comparative ways of reading reconfigured socio-ethnic divisions in the Americas. In their creative use of Mesoamerican myths, these works recapitulate hemisphetic migration as a nostalgic return to precolonial times. Thus, not only do they critique the deployment of precolonial Arizona Quarterly Volume ^7, Number 1, Spring 2001 Copyright © 200 1 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 6 10 92Claudia Sadowski-Smith narratives in the formation of U.S. cultutal nationalist movements but, mote importantly, they create new modes of cross-cultural and transnational mythmaking that respond to recent transformations in the U.S.Mexico borderlands. In Almanac of the Dead (1991) and Tropic of Orange (1997), Native American novelist Leslie Silko and Japanese Ametican writer Karen Tei Yamashita emphasize that Mesoamerican mythologies, which have generally been identified with cultural productions and the cultutal nationalism of Chicana/os, travel well among othet U.S. subaltern groups.' Moreover, the two novels contextualize Aztec myths within a larger pre-Cortésian Mesoamerica that, among others, also includes classic era Maya and the struggles of theit contemporary descendants in Chiapas, Mexico. In their attempts to think globally, the two authors strategically employ precolonial narratives as terms of translation for a community -building that is meaningfully interconnected with othet transnational phenomena, such as hemispheric trade and migration. Theit mythmaking actoss geopolitical borders and across various U.S. ethnic cultures effectively intervenes in the entrent theoretical emphasis on the almost magical "dissolution" of U.S. state-boundaries by free ttade and transnational cultures. A whole academic industry gearing up around the idea of "postnationalism" has stressed intensified flows of capital, culture, and people across U.S. borders. It has argued that subsequently emerging transnational ethnic cultures, such as those of Latina/o-'LatiiV Americans, demonstrate the U.S. nation-state's weakened ability to control its own borders and to perpetually reinforce its myth of national belonging.2 This re-focusing beyond the borders of the U.S. nation-state expands upon the challenges that various U.S. cultural nationalisms have historically posed to the concept of a homogeneous U.S. nation. Reptessed precisely during the years of nation-building and state-consolidation , diverse ethnic groups have forged alternative representations of belonging to mobilize theit constituents in civil rights sttuggles. The pethaps most powerful of those emetgcd in Chicana/o cultural nationalism 's appropriation of the myth of Aztlán.' In poet Alurista's version of Chicanismo, this Náhuatl myth of a tetutn to the place from which the Mesoamerican Aztecs migrated to today's Mexico became a source of resistant cultural identity-formation. It combined Chicano civil rights sttuggles with the histories of colonization in the U.S. Southwest. AIurista dtew on Mexico's post-revolutionary nationalism which declared The U.S. -Mexico Borderlands Write Back93 mestizos to be the main component of the Mexican population and affirmed theit indigenous origins.4 He defined Chicana/os as genetic heirs of the Mesoamerican Aztecs and rethought the territory ceded by Mexico to the U.S. in 1848...