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Diacritics 30.4 (2000) 102-122

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How To Tell a Mestizo from an Enchirito®
Colonialism and National Culture in the Borderlands

Michael Hames-garcia

I began to think, "Yes, I'm a chicana but that's not all I am. Yes, I'm a woman but that's not all I am. Yes, I'm a dyke but that doesn't define all of me. Yes, I come from working class origins, but I'm no longer working class. Yes, I come from a mestizaje, but which parts of that mestizaje get privileged? Only the Spanish, not the Indian or black." I started to think in terms of mestiza consciousness. What happens to people like me who are in between all of these different categories? What does that do to one's concept of nationalism, of race, ethnicity, and even gender? I was trying to articulate and create a theory of a Borderlands existence. . . . I had to, for myself, figure out some other term that would describe a more porous nationalism, opened up to other categories of identity.

—Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Interviews

One of the most crucial questions facing leftist activists and intellectuals today is the question of nationalism and its relation to liberation struggles. 1 A century ago, the period [End Page 102] of nation-state consolidation in Europe seemed to come to an end with the unification of Germany and Italy. European leftists of the era tended to address "the national question" primarily with regard to those European nations that were shut out or suppressed by nation-state formation. Debates about national culture resurfaced in a revolutionary context when independence movements swept Africa and Asia during and after World War II, and a substantial body of literature attempting to integrate anticolonial struggle, national liberation, and socialism arose from the capitalist "periphery." Much of this literature, and the wars for independence out of which it grew, adapted the language of nationalism to its own purposes. These movements gave new hope that national liberation struggles would prove compatible with greater human freedom and equality. Despite that hope, the destructive effects of nationalism are today visible everywhere: for example, the devastating wars in the Balkans, the repression of indigenous peoples by national bourgeoisie throughout the Americas, religious-national strife between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka, the vertiginous intensification of national chauvinism in the United States, Western Europe, and Australia. Simultaneously, and in the context of feminist criticisms of nationalism [see, for example, Chatterjee, Nation; Lutz et al.; Mosse], attempts to unite the struggle to liberate "the nation" from colonial or neocolonial domination with progressive struggles against capitalist exploitation and against sexual- and gender-based domination continue [see, for example, Trask]. In Latin America, anticapitalist struggles lauded by Western socialists regularly take the form of national liberation struggles, such as the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional [Zapatist National Liberation Army]) in Mexico and the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional [Sandinist National Liberation Front]) in Nicaragua. Additionally, lesbian and gay activists and theorists in the United States have frequently sought to appropriate nationalist rhetoric even as black and Chicano nationalist movements have been on the decline [see, for example, Berlant and Freeman; Moraga 145-74].

Debates about anticolonial struggle and "Third World" nationalism may seem at first to be an odd context into which to introduce the work of Gloria Anzaldúa. Critical writing on Anzaldúa's work has tended not to consider its relevance to debates on the relations among capitalism, colonialism, and national culture. 2 Instead, her major work, Borderlands/La Frontera, is usually discussed (or, more often than not, simply cited) as a contribution to feminist and antiracist discussions about the construction of the self within multiple contexts of domination and about that self's resistance to oppression and struggle for recognition. 3 While acknowledging the importance of Anzaldúa's contributions to these discussions, this essay examines Borderlands as offering a forward-looking alternative to nationalism, specifically, to Chicano cultural nationalist positions articulated during the...