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  • Gloria Anzaldúa and the Problem of Violence against Women
  • John Kaiser Ortiz

“It seems like one of my functions is to go in and out of various worlds.”

—Gloria Anzaldúa (2009, 105)

In Interviews/Entrevistas, Gloria Anzaldúa relates the story of her brother who had returned “half dead and unrecognizable” from Vietnam, weighing “only 87 pounds,” after ending up “in the bottom of a foxhole,” where he was drowning in the blood of his fellow platoon members, “which is what saved him” (Anzaldúa 2000, 44). As an example of Anzaldúa’s sense that philosophical dialogue carries with it possibilities of conf lict mediation, this war story stretches the familiar claim in Borderlands/La Frontera that “the U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta [is an open wound] where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds” (Anzaldúa 1999, 25). Of significance here is not only the disturbing idea that this moral hemorrhaging promises to save both nations and their relationship, even though Anzaldúa’s notion that moral crises bleed onto and into still other problems clearly approximates a sorely lacking critique of the extreme violence marring life in and between the United States and Mexico. More importantly, the act of retelling someone else’s survival of traumatic experience intimates a way of publicly raising problems of violence in terms that expressly engage the issue of how such conf licts might be tackled. [End Page 195]

Anzaldúa’s reiteration of her brother’s uncommon survival in warfare calls attention to her abiding concerns with how one is humanized by thinking, talking, and writing about moral crises. Attending philosophically to the problem of violence against women in particular, Anzaldúa’s thought shows us how the ways in which we discuss the trauma or human rights abuses of others discloses our proximity and also distance (and so our relevance) to these issues, thereby showing us how we might act in terms of getting closer to these issues in order to effectively challenge them. I argue that Anzaldúa’s thought maps out a moral geography that identifies key moments where a normative view of how to address violence begins to appear.

I draw on Anzaldúa to argue for what I call a normative view of philosophical practice as conflict mediation. By this I mean a mapping of moral conflict that normatively gestures toward practical ways of ending the many forms of violence faced by women on the border. The philosophical challenge in mediating violence is to stretch our thinking about and acting upon (through talking about and writing on) the ways in which given forms of violence relate visibly and directly to other moral crises, especially in terms of our own personal witness. But acts intended to mediate violence produce the realization that in order to staunch any one form or instance of violence one must also draw real, felt, and personal connections to these and all other existing forms of violence (often at the same time). This essay attempts to delineate my own sense of how philosophy serves to mediate conflict when seen next to Anzaldúa’s model for what it means to write and talk about violence, moral crises, and human rights abuses. That my own spiritual activism leads me to think of Anzaldúa’s writings and interviews as theorizing models of peacemaking and healing explains why I invoke metaphors of bleeding and bruising throughout this essay. References to bleeding and bruising should be seen as an attempt to visualize and dramatize my own personal relation to the realities of femicide and other human rights abuses along the U.S.-Mexico border. Mapping out moral conflict in this distinctly Anzaldúan sense means seeing the diverse persons and places who share this planet together as members of equal standing in terms of both a shared geography and a collective normative cartography.

Importantly, my approach to philosophical dialogue as conflict mediation resolves what I call the problem of distance. The problem of distance refers to the problem of motivating others to care about and act upon violence suffered by people who live in parts of...


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pp. 195-213
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