Queering the Borderlands: The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard
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Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 24.2&3 (2003) 122-131

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Queering the Borderlands
The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard

Emma Pérez

I begin with a passage from my novel in progress titled Forgetting the Alamo, Or Blood Memory. I write fiction not only because I have a passion for literature, but also because I am frustrated with history's texts and archives. I've always wanted to find in the archives a queer vaquera from the mid-nineteenth century whose adventures include fighting Anglo squatters and seducing willing señoritas. Impatience led me to create a tejana baby butch, named Micaela Campos, who must avenge her father's death at the battle of San Jacinto, just a month after the fall of the Alamo:

By dusk she came upon the ranch and the land that her father had settled. Eleven sitios. Nearly forty-nine thousand acres. A lot of land for a young boy whose people had inched their way up the valley two centuries prior, moving slowly at first from the central valley then north each time the rivers shifted, each time they shifted further north to boundless prairies crossing rivers and streams. Monclova had been home for awhile, two hundred years felt like plenty of time, so they picked up and moved north crossing el Rio Bravo, traveled some more, and stopped and settled in for what they thought would be another two hundred. They came in groups. Tlascaletecas and Otomi with the Spanish and the Spanish with the Mexicans and the Mexicans with Apache, mixing into a brown race journeying through land expansive with blood-red horizons, until they stopped and looked around and settled into what was already in their blood. Movement. Settlement and movement. Back and forth they trekked, rivers and streams blending and inter-breeding with tribes and making families and villages from beginning to end of deserts and plains and groves. Tribes of families and villages of mud-huts sank into the landscape where buried vessels and bones became the soil and the clay and the water. 1

I began with this passage in order to inscribe a gaze on the borderlands that is geographic and spatial, mobile and impermanent. The borderlands have been [End Page 122] imprinted by bodies that traverse the region, just as bodies have been transformed by the laws and customs in the regions we call borderlands. In the History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault challenges us to look closely at bodies and how they are engraved and transformed through laws, customs, and moralities imposed upon them through centuries. 2 He is not as direct about coloniality, but we can still borrow from a critique that exemplifies how land is imprinted and policed by those traversing and claiming it as they would claim a body—both becoming property for the colonizers. Native Americans became as much the property of the Spanish as did the land that came to be known as the Spanish borderlands.

To unravel colonialist ideology, I put forth my notion of decolonizing history embedded in a theoretical construct that I name the decolonial imaginary. This new category can help us rethink history in a way that makes agency for those on the margins transformative. Colonial, for my purposes here, can be defined simply as the rulers versus the ruled, without forgetting that those colonized may also become like the rulers and assimilate into a colonial mind-set. This colonial mind-set believes in a normative language, race, culture, gender, class, and sexuality. The colonial imaginary is a way of thinking about national histories and identities that must be disputed if contradictions are ever to be understood, much less resolved. When conceptualized in certain ways, the naming of things already leaves something out, leaves something unsaid, leaves silences and gaps that must be uncovered. The history of the United States has been circumscribed by an imagination steeped in unchallenged notions. This means that even the most radical of histories are influenced by the very colonial imaginary against which they rebel...