by Clarice A. Blanco, University of Texas at Austin
I am Mexican, Cuban, and
American… but what does that
The reality: I am a product of a
White, supremacist, patriarchal,
dominant system that attempts to
devalue and eradicate difference
I am a Woman of Color academic…
Does that mean my life is going to be
Does that make me a diversity
I am Brown…
Does that make me a minority?
I am /KLA-ris/…
That means I am whoever and whatever the fuck I want to be.
I must fight against the rigid expectations of the assumed identidad the dominant cultural hegemony has crafted to make my voice heard, to take up space, and to have power.
In this article, I explore my bordered identity as a 2.5 generation Latina living in the United States. Using the autoethnography method or, as Rebecca Jackson and Jackie Grutsch McKinney indicate, the “first-person scholarship” (11) that “aims to tell the story of culture through the eyes of the researcher” (5), I analyze my identity formation through a naming interaction to uncover larger cultural implications and narratives on borders, names, and reclamation with attention to space, voice, and power. As a result of the In-Between, a social phenomenon I’ve theorized throughout my academic career, this article reveals my interactions with naming. Through my rhetorical survival movida of BENDing between ethnic and American, I attempt to understand the complexities and deep connections between these identities.
I am not pura Mexicana ni Cubana ni Americana. Soy una mezcla de los tres. I am, as Gloria Anzaldúa describes, a “half-breed / caught in the crossfire” (Borderlands 216). Finding a balance is crucial to my identity because I am a product of colonization: a mixture of three (if not more) different cultures. Deviation by nature.
Within & Without,
Domestic & Foreign,
a permanent resident of the In-Between—the space between two worlds; étnico y White; “Una lucha de fronteras/A Struggle of Borders” (Anzaldúa Borderlands 99). A borderland.
Una vida dividida.
The In-Between reminds me that I don’t belong
To neither American nor (my) Ethnic Worlds.
I am plagued with guilt
To conform and preserve.
“Borders are set up … to distinguish us from them” (Anzaldúa Borderlands 25); “to instill English as a form of social control” (Leyva 6). Borders work to forget the language of our “souls” (Baca 192). The borders that surround and suffocate Latinas/os/es are meant to keep them in “their place,” to keep them from achieving their potential, to keep them from reclaiming space, voice, and power, to keep them from overtaking their oppressors.
I am Ethnic and Colonized—if not double-colonized by the American tycoons and Spanish conquistadores. My family also derives from the European colonizers and the indigenous people of Mesoamerica, the Caribbean, and Africa, though I rarely relay that information. It’s easier to say, “Mexicana y Cubana.”
I am American by birthright, Mexicana y Cubana de sangre. I wear my ethnicities on my sleeve. Literally with my tatuajes, cultural celebrations of my heritage. But, I feel forced to ignore my ethnicities in public. Shamed into hiding them. My gold Mexican bracelet, gold hoops, and red lipstick speak of my Latina heritage. As Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez valiantly explains, red lipstick is my “war paint,” my armor against people who violently devalue me “simply because I am Latina” (59-60).
But, my clothes scream American—p r i v i l e g e.
My curves and morena body say Latina—different.
My tatuajes also mark me as Other.
Tattoos are the embodied expressions of the self and identity that permanently decorate one’s body. But because of racial borders that racialize the Latina/o/e body as chola/o/e, pinta/o/e, and other criminal and degenerate labels, I am forced to hide my tatuajes (Rojas 124; Santos 91). I am gatekept on cultural and gender levels through traditional ideals of marianismo. As Theresa N. Rojas explains, “the Latina body as a canvas” is devalued because it “must be kept natural to avoid stigma [which] help[s] illustrate the kind of social hierarchy that at once values and devalues the female body” (127).
However, there is a sense of autonomy with tatuajes.
As one Chicana client explained in Xuan Santos’s ethnography,
“My body is sacred
and I celebrate who I am by decorating it […]
my arte tells others about who I am and where I come from”
(qtd. in Santos “Chicana Canvas” 91; emphasis added).
My tatuajes are symbols of pride; they are a resistance against the alienation and inequality that construct rigid expectations of my Latina body and identidad.
My Border Story illustrates one perspective on identity formation and maintenance for a 2.5 generation Latina living in the United States. Border Stories like mine are evocative, controversial, deeply personal, and necessary because they question dominant American society by arguing through storytelling that “liberty” and “freedom” are illusory ideals for most of us living in the US. A Border Story is a genre, not a method/ology. It is what I write, not how I write. This is my Border Story.
Border Stories disrupt dominant cultural narratives—unmarked norms that dictate society. It is a genre that centers marginalized voices and experiences, as Sandra L. Osorio explains, by connecting the personal with the cultural through “experiential knowledge” that is usually ignored or forgotten by society; it is a “form of counternarrative” (102). Oftentimes, Border Stories discuss the us versus them ideology, voces perdidas and voces de poder, as well as interrogate and explore the self (Rohrer; Noe). Border Stories, as Mark Noe writes, “serve less to fix identity than to locate identity in, and between, cultural discourses” by employing qualitative methods like autoethnography, testimonio, and counterstory (91). Border Stories fuse research and reflection to purposefully disrupt the norm and invite the reader—the new Other—to engage with the experiential knowledge of the author. In the words of Cherríe Moraga’s “Theory in the Flesh,” this article serves to use my “flesh and blood experiences to concretize a vision” to form another stepping stone in the path to heal racist and sexist assumptions about Latinas in the United States (19).
Therefore, I employ autoethnography as my “qualitative research method” (Jackson and Grutsch McKinney 7) to give researchers the opportunity to explore and acknowledge researcher “biases and effects” rather than writing objectively about their observations (4). This method—a way to write—invites readers into the lives and lived experiences of researchers and is becoming more prominent in Rhetoric and Composition. Further, it gives the researcher the opportunity to challenge canonical ways of research, writing, and living in the world by highlighting people’s unique lived experiences (7). Autoethnography allows me to reflect on how my life experiences challenge rigid racial and ethnic identity frameworks posited by larger, normative cultural narratives.
Furthermore, this article is a deviation from analytic autoethnography which takes its roots in the social sciences, usually using the IMRAD structure. Instead, my work takes the form of an evocative autoethnography which typically fuses stories with literary art (Jackson and Grutsch McKinney 8). To be more specific, the evocative comes from the critical autoethnography that, as Robin M. Boylorn and Mark P. Orbe explain, is a narrative that examines the interpersonal and cultural experiences but maintains awareness of the “privileges we experience alongside marginalization,” encouraging the researcher to “write as an Other, and for an Other” (15). Therefore, this fusion of evocative and critical—story merged with awareness—allows me to intervene in this conversation of lived experiences of systemic inequalities. The critical is the direction in which I intervene. So, I follow Noe’s lead in that my “autoethnography emphasizes rather than disguises difference” by assertively and unapologetically centering my experiences as the marginalized Other (97). The autoethnography method helps me construct stories like these which guide my identity formation process. I learn as I write.
My Border Story interacts with the In-Between. As I suggest, it is less of a physical space and more of a theorized metaphysical state of existence. It is an inhabited space I recognize as vital for navigating, decision-making, and ultimately surviving the everyday. The In-Between is a balancing act that theorizes methods for negotiating numerous social phenomena that focus on shifting between conforming to the dominant American culture and preserving ethnic heritage. It is a life-long battle for people of ethnic heritage—those considered Other, different from the cultural hegemony—of maintaining balance between domestic and foreign. American society maintains racist hierarchies, as Natalia Molina asserts, for the purposes of “fuel[ing] the political economy” (29), “to meet the low-wage labor needs of the expanding U.S. economy” (49) that reinforces the notion of a “[White] racial homogeneity of the nation” (34) that continues to view Latinas/os/es as “outsiders” (15). This racial hierarchy that American society not only embodies but perpetuates insists that La Raza will always be the Other, the marginalized, the Different. The In-Between helps challenge this ongoing systemic inequality, as articulated in this Border Story.
Similar to the concept of nepantla, “a Nahuatl word for the space between two bodies of water, the space between two worlds” (Anzaldúa Borderlands 276) that conjures ideas of blending and mixing, the In-Between is a liminal space where Latinas/os/es are involuntarily placed when living in the United States (citizen and non-citizen alike) that, unlike nepantla, is an uncomfortable and frustrating balance.
In line with brujería, the In-Between seeks a balance like those of the natural and supernatural worlds: life and death, light and dark, good and bad. It seeks a middle ground to live contently with ethnic culture in American society. This theory engages other Latina/o/e scholarship on borders and stems from my attempt to understand and navigate my identity as a Latina living in predominantly White spaces. However, the In-Between is also a rhetorical movida. To borrow from Chicana feminists, a movida, as María Cotera, Maylei Blackwell, and Dionne Espinoza describe, is a “strategic and tactical” maneuver that is also “the undercover, the dissident, the illicit—that which is not part of approved and publicly acknowledged political strategies, histories, and economic and social relations” (2). A movida is my survival strategy. The In-Between, as a rhetorical movida, allows me to bend into my multiple identidades at whichever moments I so choose. It is my opportunity of choice. In fact, the In-Between forms the foundation of this piece as it further explores the physical and emotional (dis)connections I, and other Latinas/os/es, experience in everyday life.
Stylistically, this Border Story dips into Spanish at appropriate moments to reflect my language. Spanish is not italicized nor translated because it reflects my reality in the In-Between: BENDing entre dos culturas, mundos, y fronteras. This practice counters the academy’s investment in English-only standards. Oftentimes those who speak “foreign languages” are compelled to translate and speak perfect English while in academia and other systems; multilingual speakers are otherwise maltratados. This refusal to translate is an act that disrupts y empodera al Otro to use languages beyond the standard, academic American English. Additionally, this piece uses poetic stylistic choices such as spacing, italics, bold face, and capitalization to mimic the variations of language I employ with Spanish and English and the way I would recite it. Bold face provides a heavy emphasis, like I’m reciting in a tone that lingers like dead air; italics offer a gentle emphasis, a reminder of important points, and also highlight theories, thoughts, and titles; capitalization mimics screaming, words that are too painful and prideful to deliver at a normal volume.
It is said that parents don’t choose children’s names because they know who they will become; rather, children grow into their names. But just as children become their names, they can sometimes be pushed out of their names—interrupting their identity formation because they are renamed, denamed, or misnamed. This process, as Mary Bucholtz explains, is known as “indexical bleaching,” the “technique of deracialization, or the stripping of contextually marked ethnoracial meaning from an indexical form … in ways that reduce ethnoracial specificity” (275). As a result, individuals lose agency and the rights to their own names because of indexical bleaching, better known as cultural ignorance, racism, and exclusion. Therefore, names, in and of themselves, are border spaces in which individuals negotiate identity construction which can drive reasoning to change names or purposefully give children names that are easily pronounceable, digestible, acceptable, deracialized, or anglicized when living in the United States to avoid discrimination. At a low point, I considered changing my name.
When people read my name, they often think exotic, Latin, spicy.
They assume I fit the stereotypes of the curvaceous and hypersexualized Latina that the media exploits through celebrities like Mexican actress Salma Hayek and Latina superstar Jennifer Lopez (J. Lo), a notable Nuyorican from the Bronx (Blanco). Latina superstars are often read as monoliths, something I’ve noticed reflected in my own racialization because people translate me racially as la mexicana, excluding my Caribbean heritage and generating negative cultural stereotypes that “Mexican” stirs in this country.
When I tell people my name, using the best güera accent I can muster, they think it sounds like Claire.
When I tell people my name using a Spanish accent—the proper way to pronounce my name—they think come again?
A person’s name is the SINGLE-MOST FOUNDATIONAL PART of a person’s identity. “Naming calls into being” (Rowland 100); names are identity markers. As Allison Rowland clarifies, “naming is not only one of the first acts that inaugurates a newborn into society … [it] is one of the central social acts of language” (89-90). Names turn people into subjects and not objects. It is part of the human experience. We even give names to our pets.
We are bestowed a name from our parents or choose a more appropriate name later in life. Names are indexical; they are dependent on context and can “index such sociocultural positionalities as gender, generation, ethnicity, religion, region, class, kinship, and more” (Bucholtz 274). It is the connection to our identity and individuality.
Denaming, renaming, and misnaming is a colonial and imperial power. There are countless instances of denaming, renaming, and misnaming people, cities, landmarks, bodies of water, and more in American history by conquerors disguised as explorers. Stealing the language of ethnic groups to usurp power and ensure the erasure of non-White cultures, histories, and narratives is no secret.
In fact, it was/is a common occurrence.
Eradicating ethnic languages is an imperial practice used to make culturally and linguistically diverse people conform to Americanization and Whiteness—the conquerors. Countless immigrant families are baptized with a new name when they immigrate to the United States. When my bisabuelos immigrated to this country, they changed their names to conform to American society: Enneris became Mike, Evelia became Eve. Although it can be argued that they chose to change their names, their choice was a necessary evil, a way to avoid discrimination and blend in.
Present-day colonial American society does not respect or value la Latina.
Ever since the explosive Trump administration made hateful and harmful rhetoric more acceptable to publicly denounce minoritized groups in the United States, supporters, such as voces de poder, of such messages have publicly branded Latinas/os/es as puros Mexicanos, “criminals,” “rapists,” dangerous cultural parasites.
American politicians and media outlets like Fox News—an example of voces de poder—neglect to value the diversity of Latinas/os/es de nuestras etnicidades, culturas, e idiomas; they purposefully leave out our valuable contributions to society and refuse to acknowledge us as actually being
Our worth as a people is diminished to what many consider menial jobs. We are the gardeners, the construction workers, the fruit pickers, the border jumpers.
Our worth is based on labor.
Anti-Latina/o/e bigotry has been ingrained in US American culture from the beginning. Latin American labor and raw materials were viewed as cheap and valuable resources, respectively. As Laura E. Gómez highlights,
whether in order to extend the country to the Pacific (Mexico), to extract resources like coffee, sugar, or bananas (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica), to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Panama, Nicaragua), to achieve America’s “manifest destiny” in the hemisphere (all), or to provide access to an exploitable labor force (all), the United States has invaded, annexed, and covertly and overtly interfered, and governed its way across Latin America. (24)
Latinoamérica es una tierra rica y abundantemente llena de recursos naturales that are highly valuable and threatening to countries whose main exports are systems that are tyrannical and imperial. Why do you think the Old World sent explorers to the New World? It’s not because they were bored.
We ARE a hardworking people, but we are more than our contributions to a labor market.
To the voces de poder, however, Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and any Brown or Spanish-speaking people are racialized “as criminal, a social burden, diseased, and inassimilable” (Molina 21). We are the defective.
We are a cause for their social, cultural, political, and economic “troubles.” Luchamos por nuestros derechos so that voces de poder, in the matter of Derrick Bell’s theory on the interest-convergence dilemma, grant us small pieces of the privileges and immunities we are worthy of (Bell 523). Pedacitos so as not to give us el poder que necesitamos to overtake them.
We ARE a hardworking people.
After the Dred Scott Supreme Court loss, Molina argues “the decision equated citizenship, and in the process American identity, with whiteness” (72), indicating that “whiteness afford[s] rights” (60). Therefore, those branded as Other,
who physically fail Whiteness,
are outcast because they threaten the aesthetic of the American White Empire in which the voces de poder have bestowed upon White citizens not only privileges and immunities (as laid out in the Bill of Rights)
but also equate Whiteness with Power.
When I introduce myself to new people, I automatically default to a güera accent, ignoring my heritage and family’s sacrifices.
I am plagued with guilt
to conform and preserve.
I am forced to engage in “linguistic violence” to my own name to be heard, denying my right to reclamation in a particular voice and space (Bucholtz 283). Therefore, my identity is reformed in the eyes and words of the one who misnamed, denamed, or renamed me, quitándome el poder. Names as border spaces further complicate identity formation, yet they are the first and most important part of an individual’s identity.
My name makes me noticeably different for anyone who meets me. I don’t have an easy-to-pronounce name. When I introduce myself with a Spanish accent, most non-Spanish speakers have to repeat my name a few times to ensure they are pronouncing and understanding it correctly. Others don’t take the time or energy to do so. For instance, every time a new teacher called my name for attendance, I always rolled my eyes because they never got it right, sometimes even after I corrected them. After enduring mispronunciation and renaming for years, I stopped trying. I succumbed to the anglicized form of my name. I adopted it out of annoyance and lack of a fight; my flame blew out. I accepted a name given to me by a community that does not culturally or ethnically reflect me. Sometimes, instead of giving my real name, I used pseudonyms…. I actually still use pseudonyms. Renuncié el poder. So when I introduced myself to a new coworker, I was taken aback by his response.
“Hi! I’m /Klair-EEs/,” I spoke the dull, under-enunciated, hyperanglicized vowel sounds in a güera accent, just as I always do.
“Wait, that’s how you pronounce your name?” he asked, judgement dripping from the tip of every word.
“Uh, yeah?” I pushed back. But then I thought, wow, someone actually knows how to pronounce my name? Someone is calling me out? “I mean, it’s actually /KLA-ris/,” I spoke in the properly vowel-enunciated Spanish accent that I never use. Why don’t I use it? Is it because of the annoyingly confused faces and angled ears that rush into my face every time I introduce myself with a Spanish accent? Is it the vergüenza for having a non-American name? Is it the pena for speaking Spanish in America?
He kept his eyes locked on mine and said, “You shouldn’t have to sound like a güera to introduce yourself.” This came from a man who had a fLuId name—easy to pronounce in both Spanish and English—a native Spanish speaker who came from a Spanish-speaking/Latina/o/e-dominant community in South Texas. I, a Latina from San Diego, raised in White, suburban Austin, am used to being surrounded by güeros—people who don’t reflect my culture. I am so accustomed to speaking to güeros that I forgot what it was like to interact and speak with people who culturally reflect me and my background. I simply forgot.
The difficulty US society has with accepting cultural difference has, thus, affected my presentation of self. I forgot what it was like to embrace my Latina identidad because I’ve rarely had the opportunity to do so. Even after acknowledging mi cultura y herencia a través de mis idiomas, apariencia física, trabajo académico, y más,
I forgot to embrace it.
Tengo que luchar por ello.
I am twenty-two years old when my coworker gives me this realization. It took a fellow Latino, a member de mi comunidad y raza, to tell me that I shouldn’t have to hide who I am.
Rather than being called out of my name,
like I had been for years,
my coworker called me into my name, culture, and skin.
It was the wake-up call I needed.
He showed me that I’m still hiding, desapareciendo en la cultura americana dominante for fear of judgement.
I have always and probably will continue to struggle with understanding and accepting my ethnic identity in this hypercritical world because you can’t escape the In-Between—
you can’t deny your roots,
you can’t hide from them either.
I tried and failed, injuring myself and mi identidad.
I continue to nurture and negotiate my relationship con mis identidades by maintaining cultural practices such as food, music, dance, holidays and traditions, and language, because
It is ever-growing. A process that doesn’t stop.
No one can tell me what the balance between ethnic and American must look like in the In-Between.
At least, I should get to decide what it looks like, what it feels like, but oftentimes I don’t get the chance. Instead, I must constantly grapple with balancing my identities and code-meshing— Vershawn Ashanti Young identifies this as “the new code switching; it’s multidialectalism and pluralingualism in one speech act” (114). I can’t be “too American” to fellow Latinas/os/es, and I can’t be “too Other” to fellow Americans.
Tengo que luchar por el espacio, la voz, y el poder in this cultureless hegemony. These struggles of reclamation are political: voces de poder keep us poor, Othered, and deploy tactics that make people perceive us as cultural parasites. I “rebel and rail” against that (Anzaldúa Borderlands 43). I have to.
It’s as if in order to conform and BLEND into American society, I have to lose my heritage and culture. I fail to preserve my family’s cultural ways. I tarnish and butcher my own name for fear of not fitting in.
I am plagued with guilt.
Language is a distinguishing factor of cultural loyalty. To speak Spanish often means to be less American, and to speak English is to bring shame to my family’s sacrifices because it shows a willingness to assimilate. However, Isabel Baca teaches me that both languages “should be valued and practiced. Both contribute to our identities … [and] growth […]. So, it’s not a matter of English or Español; it is a practice of both languages, de los dos” (Baca 191).
“Language is a homeland,” Anzaldúa once wrote (Borderlands 77). It speaks of our familias, our culturas, our tradiciones, our gente. Mis idiomas remind me of when my ma woke up early on the weekends, blasted cumbias and pop urbano, and cleaned. She moved across the floor with the same movimientos suaves as the music. Mis idiomas remind me of when my padre speaks to his parents in a California Spanglish. A rhythmic, linguistic dance that sways.
My first language was Spanish. For fear of the bullying that my parents received growing up, they taught my sisters and me English at a young age. We became an English-only household—though music, dance, food, and some television were the exception.
It pains me to write that their plan didn’t work. I was bullied… for being the Brown Latina who can’t speak Spanish. The American Way is a cruel and vicious system. I wasn’t Other enough for them.
I am torn
By a system
Their matrix is torn
Their illusion is broken
I exist in the In-Between, a space that is constantly seeking balance; therefore, my languages reflect this tension. Though I hide it most of the time, my languages BEND into one another. It is a “border tongue … one capable of communicating the realities and values true to [myself]” (Anzaldúa Borderlands 77). My languages reflect my colonizer heritage through the use of English and Spanish—el español is also a colonizer language. My languages battle in my brain as I fight to use both or either one at specific moments. It’s like a stutter, a short circuit in my brain. I silence myself, unable to communicate because of this bordered tension.
My Spanish-BENDed English is uncommon in most spaces in the US. My language mimics the same movimientos suaves as my ma when she dances across the floor and when my padre’s words turn and dip in Spanglish. My language is like a wave that moves with the wind, an “embodied dance” as Alejandra I. Ramírez and Ruben Zecena describe, that exudes “e/motion” (19). Reflejo a mis padres.
Let me make one thing clear: Spanish-BENDed English is not Spanglish. It is when my English se sumerge en español every now and then. I do not speak Spanglish—that is a language that requires linguistic finesse that I do not possess. I simply use Spanish to add drama, emphasis, or porque simplemente no puedo encontrar las palabras. English is a limited language.
My lacking Spanish skills plague me because me desconectan de La Raza.
Oftentimes my English-speaking mind interferes with my ability to speak Spanish because I can’t turn it off,
thereby allowing English grammar to correct my Spanish.
As Dolores Delgado-Bernal indicates, “Bilingualism is often seen as un-American and is considered a deficit and an obstacle to learning” (562) because bilingüe Spanish-speaking people sound como “los del rancho,” “the language of the uneducated” (@JoseMedinaJr89). I’ve internalized this American ideal that “English is the native language” and to be successful, “reward[ed] liberally [with] prestige and money,” I must be proficient in American English (Members of the 1958 Conference 1). Therefore, the standard American English that las voces de poder enforce devalues my Spanish and, in turn, forces me to view Spanish as something that
will hold me back.
I am plagued with guilt.
For instance, I mostly speak in English with my extended family in San Diego because they came to this country and taught their kids that we are in America, we speak English—that’s internalized racism. So the cousins and grandkids and great-grandkids don’t know a lick of Spanish unless they choose to pursue it, but by that point it’s almost too late or it’s too hard to learn because English is so ingrained in our brains that we can’t not think in English.
That’s why I’m only collegiately fluent.
That’s why my language BENDS.
I’ve been forced to leverage my linguistic repertoire to make sense of the world I live in—the In-Between. I feel inclined to reclaim the languages that were stolen from my people in culturally and linguistically oppressive spaces like the US schooling system. My linguistic privilege, knowing English well enough, allows me to do so.
It’s crushing me.
Me duele el alma.
BLENDing and passing are the final stages of assimilation. Most im/migrants attempt to achieve this, but it’s different for the minoritized. The minoritized, similar to the im/migrant, are never fully accepted in a majority-dominant society. As Victor Villanueva describes, im/migrants and the minoritized are governed by the simple fact of “immigration and colonization,” where “the immigrant enters; the minority is entered upon”; yet, both are conquered (Villanueva 29). Both constantly struggle to reclaim space, voice, and power.
I am called a minority:
Shaped and judged by the color of my skin
My identity is translated as Other,
My body is judged for Difference.
I live at the “border of contradiction.”
The “minority,” people like me, will continue to fight a losing battle because they will never be accepted in American society, even with forfeiting their cultural roots—which sometimes is not enough. The “minority” didn’t have a choice. And yet, American society seems to think that they did have a choice, that they can “run back to Mexico,” even though most second and third generations don’t have any ties to México—disregarding the insulting assumption that all Latinas/os/es are Mexicanos.
It begs the question: should Latinas/os/es want to be accepted in American society when it has historically engaged in imperial, colonial, racist, enslaving, genocidal practices?
I must fight to survive.
But I am not alone. Latina/o/e writers fuel my fight against the cultural hegemony because they provide validation and solace. Richard Rodriguez’s words remind me that I am of a “blood that is blended” (Rodriguez xi) because “we were here when here was there” (109). Latina/o/e writers give me words for my anger y frustración; an understanding and pridefulness that “what makes me brown is that I am made of the conquistador and the Indian. My brown is a reminder of conflict” (Rodriguez xii).
My mezcla is an act of defiance.
Gloria Anzaldúa, who exudes the complexities of identity and (dis)connections created by borderlands, explains “we do not make full use [of our potentials;]” instead, “we abnegate. And there in front of us is the crossroads and choice: to feel a victim … or to feel strong, and, for the most part, in control” (Borderlands 43). She writes we can choose to fall to the power of the system that works against us by suppressing and demoralizing us,
we can rise, “rebel and rail” against our oppressors (43). Her words give me a sense of empoderamiento to reclaim my voice and power and a reason to take back spaces.
Latina/o/e académicas/os/es como Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Victor Villanueva, Lorgia García Peña, Dolores Delgado-Bernal, Isabel Baca, Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Ana Milena Ribero, Sonia C. Arellano, Aja Y. Martinez y más produce scholarship que me hace sentir orgullosa of where I come from and where my family comes from and the sacrifices they’ve had to make—escaping Cuba and leaving family behind in México—to make it to a country that will give them better opportunities despite the illusions of the American Dream, liberty, and freedom. Because even though they got some of those opportunities, the road to achieving their goals was de la chingada.
It’s not a matter of
I made a legacy or I created/invented something.
It’s a matter of
“I made it through, I survived, I did it!” (Miranda).
I learn to reclaim my space just as Yolanda Chávez Leyva argues, “[t]his is my story as well … because generations of my people’s bones lie buried in this earth, I am grounded to this place, the border, as a fronteriza” (2). We are bordered people. This is our space and our right to tell our stories, not just to embrace our identidades but to tell our forgotten and, oftentimes, ignored experiences. We speak to remind others we are still here; we are still strong.
Somos de la frontera.
Este es nuestro hogar.
I learn to reclaim power by valuing my origins, making an homage to my families’ sacrifices. I carry a guilt, a weight to make my family proud, to honor their sacrifices. But I don’t view it as a burden.
It is a spark!
It is the drive that propels me forward.
Mi gente me apoya y los apoyo.
Es una conexión profunda that surpasses language, skin color, and geographic origin.
Es una conexión mística, del alma.
I remind the public of WHERE I am from and that I am PROUD of my HERITAGE and my ROOTS and my family’s SACRIFICES to give me a LIFE FULL OF OPPORTUNITIES—a life they were never bestowed on a silver platter like others were given.
Sometimes, I can’t find the energy “to rebel and rail” (Anzaldúa Borderlands 43). Like I said, it’s a lifelong battle. Never ending.
E t e r n a l l y trapped.
I’ve been denying myself the opportunity to embrace my full identity and my full potential.
But did I deny myself this, or did the violent, exclusionary, colonizing American system institutionalize the normality of internalized rejection of ethnic identity?
Since public, hateful rhetoric against minoritized people erupted during the Trump administration, I have struggled to connect with the United States. I don’t want to be associated with hate and discrimination. It is an absolute privilege to live here and have citizenship here, but, as J. Lo said recently, “I was living in a United States that I didn’t recognize” (Halftime). I am living in a country, and am part of a country, that values hate over love.
A country that prides itself on being the land of the free—full of endless possibilities and opportunities, open to all.
A country built by immigrants and the enslaved.
And yet, it is all an i l l u s i o n.
There is a sense of political control with names, identity development, and borders. Not the obvious politicization of the US-México borderland but the hidden microaggression of being pushed out of your name by the dominant culture. This control is also called “political subordination” (Bucholtz 277). Identity manipulation through cultural misunderstandings like stereotypes and prejudices is a way to control the masses, to give them someone to hate and blame for “taking their jobs,” as is often claimed.
Mexicans and Mexican Americans, as Molina explains, “were needed as laborers but not fully accepted socially or culturally” (16). Brown, Spanish-speaking people were viewed as an “inferior race” (21).
They were exploited. Used and thrown away.
This political and colonial hierarchy has been in place since this land was invaded and stolen in 1492 by the Spanish and other Europeans and 1607 by, what became, Americans.
There is a reason ethnic people struggle to find a balance between their ethnic heritage and American roots. It’s not because we’re lazy, we stole all the jobs, or because we’re cultural parasites.
It’s because this country has never appreciated or valued the ethnic Other—
the one who is different.
We are not your diversity tokens.
I’ve witnessed, firsthand, what it is like to be wholly accepted, to be called into my being. My coworker did that for me, and I didn’t even know him well. He merely gave me a moment, one that I will cherish. Because even though I am American, and am proud to be one, I am also Latina. I am of Mexican and Cuban and Indigenous descent. I am colonizer and colonized. Soy orgullosa de ser una mezcla de Americana y Latina.
And that is why the In-Between is a crucial rhetorical movida, because it allows me to BEND between my identidades to survive a world where hatred is made public, where it is morally acceptable to discriminate, where families are ripped apart, where people are prohibited from seeking the American Dream. It is a safe haven, one where I can thrive.
The In-Between and this Border Story are the beginning stages of winning the war to finding a balance in a hate-filled world.
 A label that means I have a foreign-born parent and a US born parent. It also indicates “bicultural adaptation,” “bicultural competence,” and “bicultural identity” (Dennis et al.).
 I use “Latina/o/e” in this article to represent the community of people who live in or are descended from the Latin American region as well as gender inclusivity as reflected in the Spanish language and pronunciation.
 I refer to voces de poder, developed by Cristobal Salinas Jr., to represent those who possess and abuse power for the benefit of a specific group of people and voces perdidas to signify those who are “forgotten and rejected by a system” (747).
 In terms of American nationality.
 A Latina feminist spirituality that reclaims power by connecting el cuerpo y la alma to supernatural worlds and concepts of being as spiritual guidance “to deal with political and personal problems” (Anzaldúa this bridge we call home 570).
 Here I refer to “colonial” and “imperial” as voces de poder. See third endnote.
 According to Molina, the 1857 Supreme Court case of Dred Scott v Sandford was a landmark case that denied citizenship to all Black and African American people, whether free or enslaved (71). The case involved Dred Scott, an enslaved person, who was moved across state lines from a slave state to a free state where slavery was prohibited and therefore enslaved people were freed. The Supreme Court judge ruled that enslaved people are not citizens and therefore cannot sue in court.
 Though this is the British English spelling, it is reflective of my linguistic background in which I grew up with my padre using some British English because of influences from Formula 1, a global racing circuit. It is also indicative of how I write in English: like the Spanish language, I sound out every letter, even though that is not how the English language is spoken/written.
 According to Milton Gordon’s Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origin, which claims that full conformity was a desirable and necessary outcome.
 (Rodriguez xi). My languages and body express ethnic and American.
 Here I use scare quotes to reference the binary of majority vs. minority that voces de poder utilize. However, the more appropriate term that I use in this article is “minoritized” or “marginalized” to indicate that voces de poder have pushed POC to the margins of society, placing the blame on voces de poder for their actions.
 “The minority, even when accepting the culture of the majority, is never wholly accepted. There is always a distance” (Villanueva 23).
 As a rhetorical move to oppose the power hierarchy that academia perpetuates with White epistemic entitlement to know and to claim, I employ a feminist, anti-racist citational practice of using “In Conversation With” instead of the historical “Works Cited” to refuse the hierarchy and instead highlight the scholars I want to be in conversation with, not that I have to be in conversation with. This new approach was coined by my colleague, Jade Shiva Edward.
In Conversation With
@JoseMedinaJr89. “Let us not be linguistic oppressors! ALL language is beautiful and has value!” Twitter, 15 Oct. 2020, 8:11 p.m., https://twitter.com/josemedinajr89/status/1316909552168849410?lang=en.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books, 2012.
—. “now let us shift… the path of conocimiento… inner work, public acts.” this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation, edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating, Routledge, 2002, pp. 540-78.
Baca, Isabel. “English, Español, or Los Dos.” Bordered Writers: Latinx Identities and Literacy Practices at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, edited by Isabel Baca et al., SUNY Press, 2019, pp. 189-92.
Bell, Derrick A. “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 93, no. 3, 1980, pp. 518-33. JSTOR, https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/10.2307/1340546.
Blanco, Clarice A. “The Marginalized Other: Distortions and Limitations in the Representations of Latina Women in American Media.” Poster presented at the International Research Conference for Graduate Students, Texas State University, 2021, https://digital.library.txstate.edu/handle/10877/13411.
Boylorn, Robin M. and Mark P. Orbe. “Introduction: Critical Autoethnography as Method of Choice.” Critical Autoethnography: Intersecting Cultural Identities in Everyday Life, edited by Robin M. Boylorn and Mark P. Orbe, Left Coast Press, 2014, pp. 13-26.
Bucholtz, Mary. “On Being Called Out of One’s Name.” Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race, edited by H. Samy Alim et al., Oxford UP, 2016, pp. 273-89.
Cotera, María, Maylei Blackwell, and Dionne Espinoza. “Introduction: Movements, Movimientos, and Movida.” Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era, edited by Dionne Espinoza, María Cotera, and Maylei Blackwell, U Texas P, 2018.
Delgado Bernal, Dolores. “Using a Chicana Feminist Epistemology in Educational Research.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 68, no. 4, 1998, pp. 555-82.
Dennis, Jessica M., et al. “Bicultural Competence and the Latino 2.5 Generation: The Acculturative Advantages and Challenges of Having One Foreign-Born and One U.S.-Born Parent.” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 341-59. EBSCOhost, https://doi.org/10.1177/0739986316653594.
Gómez, Laura E. Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism, The New York Press, 2020.
Halftime. Directed by Amanda Micheli, performances by Jennifer Lopez, Netflix, 2022.
Jackson, Rebecca and Jackie Grutsch McKinney. Self + Culture +Writing: Autoethnography for/as Writing Studies. Utah State UP, 2021.
Leyva, Yolanda Chávez. “‘There is great good in returning’: A Testimonio from the Borderlands.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 24, no. 2/3, University of Nebraska Press, 2003, pp. 1-9. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3347343.
Members of the 1958 Conference. “The Basic Issues in the Teaching of English.” PMLA, vol. 74, no. 4, 1959, pp. 1–12. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2699245.
Miranda, Lin-Manuela, lyricist. “Paciencia y Fe.” In The Heights, performed by Olga Merediz, 5000 Broadway Productions / Barrio Grrrl! Productions / Likely Story / SGS Pictures / Endeavor Content, 2021.
Mojica Rodríguez, Prisca Dorcas. For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color. Seal Press, 2021.
Molina, Natalia. How Race is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts. University of California Press, 2014.
Mora, G. Cristina, Reuben Perez, and Nicholas Vargas. “Who Identifies as ‘Latinx’? The Generational Politics of Ethnoracial Labels.” Social Forces, vol. 100, no. 3, 2022, pp. 1170-94. Project Muse, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/850398.
Moraga, Cherríe. “Entering the Lives of Others: Theory in the Flesh.” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, SUNY Press, 2015, p. 19.
Noe, Mark. “Autoethnography and Assimilation: Composing Border Stories.” The Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning, vol. 21, 2016, pp. 86-99, https://trace.tennessee.edu/jaepl/vol21/iss1/10/.
Osorio, Sandra L. “Border Stories: Using Critical Race and Latino Critical Theories to Understand the Experience of Latino/a Children.” Race, Ethnicity and Education, vol. 21, no. 1, 2018, pp. 94-104, https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2016.1195351.
Partner, Featured. “AOC Defends her Latina Heritage, Calls Republicans’ Obsession with Her ‘Weird.’” DiversityInc, 22 March 2019, https://www.diversityinc.com/aoc-defends-her-latina-heritage-calls-republicans-obsession-with-her-weird/.
Ramírez, Alejandra I. and Ruben Zecena. “‘The Dirt Under My Mom’s Fingernails’: Queer Retellings and Migrant Sensualities.” Constellations: A Cultural Rhetorics Publishing Space, vol. 2, 2019, https://constell8cr.com/issue-2/the-dirt-under-my- moms-fingernails-queer-retellings-and-migrant-sensualities/.
Rodriguez, Richard. Brown: The Last Discovery of America. Viking, 2002.
Rohrer, Judy. “Eres Mi Otro Yo: Storytelling from the Borderlands.” Rejoinder, vol. 1, no. 5, 2020, https://irw.rutgers.edu/rejoinder-webjournal/issue-5-storytelling-for-social-change/477-eres-mi-otro-yo-storytelling-from-the-borderlands.
Rojas, Theresa N. “Illuminated Bodies: Kat Von D and the Borderlands of Tattoo Culture.” Latinos and Narrative Media: Participation and Portrayal, edited by Frederick Luis Aldama, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 117-28.
Rowland, Allison L. Zoetropes and the Politics of Humanhood. Ohio UP, 2020.
Salinas, Cristobal Jr. “Transforming Academic and Theorizing Spaces for Latinx in Higher Education: voces perdidas and voces de poder.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 30, no. 8, 2017, pp. 746-58, https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2017.1350295.
Santos, Xuan. “The Chicana Canvas: Doing Class, Gender, Race, and Sexuality through Tattooing in East Los Angeles.” NWSA Journal, vol. 21, no. 3, 2009, pp. 91-120. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/chicana-canvas-doing-class-gender-race-sexuality/docview/233233209/se-2.
Villanueva, Victor Jr. Bootstraps: From an American Academic of Color. NCTE, 1993.
Young, Vershawn Ashanti. “Should Writers Use They Own English?” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 110-8, https://doi.org/10.17077/2168-569X.1095.
I’d like to thank Dr. Alexis McGee and Dr. Alexandra Hidalgo for their amazing support and advice during the publication process. I would also like to thank my amazing mentors (Ruben Zecena, Rebecca Jackson, Eric Leake) for their support from the very beginning of this piece. Muchísmas gracias a todos en constellations.
About the Author
Clarice A. Blanco (she/her/ella) is a doctoral student in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a Borders Rhetorician, whose scholarship focuses on the rhetorical studies of metaphysical borders such as language, culture, identity, education, and more.
About the Mentor
Alexis McGee is an Assistant Professor of Research at the University of British Columbia. She received her Ph.D. (with two certificates of concentration in linguistics as well as rhetoric & composition) from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research interests include Black feminist (rhetorical) theory; Black rhetorics; language, and literacies; sound studies as well as rhetoric and composition theory and history. She is the past recipient of NCTE’s Early Educator of Color Leadership and Cultivating New Voices awards. Her work has been published in a number of journals. Her most recently publication, “Rereading Sor Juana’s Rhetorics: The Intersectional, Cultural Rhetorician” was published in Rhetoric Review. Her monograph From Blues to Beyoncé: A Century of Black Women’s Generational Sonic Rhetorics, published with SUNY Press, is set to release February 2024.
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