Srđan Tunić

art historian, freelance curator, cultural manager and researcher

Walking Trees: Gloria Anzaldúa as an inspirational vortex of change (2016)

Firstly, I would like to thank editors and professors Nina Höchtl, Rían Lozano, and Coco Gutiérrez-Magallanes for allowing the opportunity – and thus support – for this text to be created. Unfortunately, the long planned publication haven’t materialized, but nevertheless I decided to publish it, being in favor of the idea that texts should not be left in drawers, rather “live” and be available.

The following text is integral to the course Cultura visual y género: TRADUCCIONES DESCOLONIZADORAS I, o ¿cómo crear una lengua tercera, una lengua puente?, which took place in autumn 2015 as part of UNAM’s (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) Campus Expandido, in Mexico City. The course served as a testing ground and trigger for a research, somewhat inspired by Gloria Anzaldúa’s book Borderlands: La frontera, The New Mestiza. It is one of most hybrid essays I’ve done, constantly going between academic literature, popular culture and personal experience. As such, it might be one of the most personal takes on theory and social questions that still occupy me, such as feminism, racism, nationalism, interculturalism and politics of location. Thus, I’m not sure how relatable it might be to other readers, but nevertheless is stands as an example of an attempt to contextualize an intercultural challenge and professional ideals.

 

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Walking Trees:

Gloria Anzaldúa as an inspirational vortex of change

 

Introduction

 

I don’t believe that there is any thought that is not based on personal experience. All thinking is Nachdenken (after-thinking), thinking after the experience. Is it not? (Arendt 2015)[1]

 

Cultural, context, or personal experience translation, takes place vividly when a person physically moves to another country, learning a new language and trying to integrate oneself into a new society. Where you are from and how to pronounce your name become standard questions. What you had taken for granted might change and you feel a need to compare “before, there” and “now, here”. Speaking a non-mother tongue – or several, in fact – on a daily basis also comes charged with learning (again) how to express yourself socially and intellectually in everyday life.

 

Triggered by my moving to Mexico City in spring 2015 after living and working in Serbia since I was born, with a short staying in the US, a newly achieved distance provided grounds for introspection and questioning my own identity and previous practices. Thanks to course Cultura visual y género: TRADUCCIONES DESCOLONIZADORAS I, o ¿cómo crear una lengua tercera, una lengua puente?,[2] I have decided to use this background as a testing ground for a research, somewhat inspired by Gloria Anzaldúa’s book Borderlands: La frontera, The New Mestiza. Her book both served as a “melem za ranu”[3] and as a way to poke that wound all together.

 

I need to note that this is not a systematic overview of theories, rather an attempt of using them as a echo, association, in comparison with my own experiences, constantly in reflection, with a need to understand, through writing. The quotes rather back-up the though process or emphasize a point of discussion, rather than providing an in-depth analysis in question. In the same key science-fiction, fantasy and music references operate, playing back and forth with academic format.

 

More specifically, this essay is trying to face personal frustrations which translate into an accumulated self-exploration, with a hope that it could resonate with the experience of others. Arendt’s “thinking after the experience” seems closely related to Anzaldúa’s overall approach to tie personal history with wider social challenges, reflecting it partially in the academic manner, in the style of creative writing. This approach also greatly influenced this text.

 

Путовања нас уче да нисмо једини и најбољи (Travels are teaching us that we are not sole and the best), Klub Prozor, Belgrade 2014.

 

First things first:

How to translate nepantlismo?

 

Or, how to translate Gloria Anzaldúa’s research to someone coming from a different context? Many references, such as geographical (the border between the US and Mexico), cultural (ancient Mexican indigenous gods and customs) and gender (lesbian, queer) are conditioned in her work. Nevertheless, I would argue that translating and interpreting Anzaldúa is both possible and enabled by her insistence on “hybrid consciousness”[4], used responsibly and with a heavy dose of reflection. Therefore, I am proposing five methods and theoretical approaches: appropriation vs proliferation, inter/trans- culturalism, nepantla (as a form of cultural translation), vulnerable observer and politics of location.

 

In the arts, appropriation as a method seems to be used with less negative baggage than in other fields, like sociology. Besides defining level of appropriation of a specific element in an artwork (James O. Young), or level of exploitation and/or exchange (Richard A. Rogers), researcher Drew Beck targets the notion of “outside-ness”[5] which primarily reveals the figure of an appropriator:

 

An outside-ness seems to be a prerequisite for the act of appropriation – we don’t call it cultural appropriation if someone uses their own culture. The particular ways in which this quality is constructed prove crucial, however, to understanding why a particular culture is appropriated. (Beck 2003: 33)

 

Beck also says that appropriation requires the appropriators to live and experience the the contact with the other; if not, it disables potentials of exchange and re-imagining/re-positioning the starting position, which is dissatisfied “outside-ness”. On the contrary, distancing herself altogether from complex notion of appropriation (mostly seen in the US as exploiting the minorities or non-white cultures), Anzaldúa proposes to use the term proliferation. According to her: “the difference between appropriation and proliferation is that the first steals and harms; the second helps heal breaches of knowledge.”[6]

 

Whose Culture, from the exhibition “Entre palabra y imagen: galería de pensamiento de Gloria Anzaldúa”, Casa de la Cultura Uamex, Tlalpan, Mexico City, March 2016.

 

In line with her thought, there are two medidas to avoid exploitation and raising the conscious use of cultural exchange/translation. One is the notion of nepantla, “in-between-ness” of people in a liminal space, translating different realities and cultures (Anzaldúa 2015: Las nepantleras: alternative sense of selves, pp. 81-85). This living between cultures, originally situated between the US and Mexico, I will use to describe my position of being, mentally and physically, in between Serbia (my country of origin) and Mexico. On the other hand, the starting point for allowing this exchange and identity challenge is deeply tied to intercultural sensitivity (Bennett 2004). Acknowledging, accepting and directly exchanging with people from other cultures (and, in this case, ideas) goes both ways. And than it might give grounds to transculturalism, as a hybrid and new path that, according to Richard Slimbach, “…entail(s) cultural experimentation and appreciation, as well as critical evaluation.“ (Slimbach 2005)

 

What originally started as a journey outwards, quickly returns as an exploration inwards. Closely connected with intercultural sensitivity is also a notion of a “vulnerable observer” (Rolnik 2006, Höchtl 2012: pp. xx-xxvi), where, forging art and ethnography in research, it permits possibilities of pain, not-knowing, mistakes, and transformation, avoiding the power assumptions of a researcher who knows everything and erasing the personal from the research itself. It also replaces the position of the observer with the one of affective participant. For understanding the researcher’s position and all the privileges s/he possesses, which also requires understanding one’s own entanglements in a whole network of actors and contexts, I’ve found particularly important the feminist notion of “politics of location” (originally conceived by Adrienne Rich):

 

…the importance of rigorous self-reflection on the part of the researcher in order to avoid essentializing others and to clarify her own motives, desires, and interests. We also understand that to some extent these will always remain unconscious and unknowable. However, neutrality and objectivity are also myths that mask the power relations always present in research endeavors. (Kirsch & Ritchie 1995: p. 23)

 

 

“Where’re you from?”

Or, how much we identify with countries, nations and collective identities

 

How does one hate a country, or love one? (…) I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession…

Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (Le Guin 1976: 104)

 

It was mid December 2012, a huge hotel on the Asian side of Istanbul, with no beach access and delicious food. I was surrounded by about 100 young people from all over the Mediterranean and very nervous. It was my first international conference/training, as part of Cultural Innovators Network[7], where beforehand I knew just one person – not surprisingly, the only other participant from Serbia. In the first days, facilitators had one of the ice-breaking activities, more than needed when you are creating a temporary international collective with a limited time on your hands.

 

One needed to take one’s country’s flag and make an approximated geographical map in the middle of the room. I was nervous, I didn’t wanted to hold the national flag, but Vladimir was nowhere to be seen. Around me a group of other Balkan countries started to join into a group (all ex-Yugoslavian countries, including Kosovo, plus Albania), followed by other neighboring countries’ “representatives”. I jumped in immediately. One of the facilitators raised an eyebrow on us and told everyone to continue the activity, by making a new, imaginary map, based on our goals – without national borders and the Mediterranean sea as an obstacle, rather as an bridge. I was relieved.

 

Why I was feeling uncomfortable holding a nationalistic symbol, which represents my country of origin? Am I not a Serb?

 

Although the exercise used flags and countries just as a starting point to embody a collective agreement and encourage people to meet, both of them were provoking in me a sense of distrust. Or, at lest, troublesome identification. Yes, I am a Serb, and not an unusual one – born in the capital, white, middle class, baptized Orthodox Christian, with a surname on “ić”. A matter of pre-determined context. However, as a matter of choice, I found it hard to identify with a nationalistic collective identity out of several reasons.

 

On one hand, there were transitory factors which disabled me to grow accustomed to a “tradition”. Specially when your own country changes its name, size and political ideology several times from late 80’s. Anthems, passports, flags, and other visual material included. Administratively, I was born in one Yugoslavia, went in primary and high school in the other, studied in Serbia and Montenegro, and worked in the Republic of Serbia, without even leaving Belgrade. The schizophrenic aspect was fueled mostly by political ideologies, changing from communism-inspired socialism, nationalistic-inspired socialism, to forms of mutated democracy and very right nationalism back again.

 

On other hand, this never-ending transition disillusionment goes side by side with a strong disenchantment with nationalistic ideology and identity, mostly due to the civil war in Yugoslavia. Additionally, it is a discomforting feeling to be on a see-saw: part of a national majority, but at the same time a minority – opposing to the very nationalistic rhetorics. Am I an antinationalist?[8] Most likely, due to all this baggage.

 

On the more general side, it is easy to criticize nationalism everywhere as an outdated 19th century construction, with an impossible claim that one nation/culture lives in one nation-state. These imaginary nationalistic communities[9], often grounded in murky traditions, proved to be a good excuse for wars of “reuniting” the territories, being slave to the past, as well as dangerously erasing or limiting all the minorities or “others” that are not fitting well into the nationalistic frame.

 

If “where you’re from?” goes the path of nationalistic stereotypes, people are not addressed as individuals, rather as “representatives” of that identity of their country. How can one, in a todays globalized world – united both in good and bad – stay entrenched in these concepts?

 

Anzaldúa’s nepantla concept both negates the imposed (or constructed) national borders and situates itself in a region with a specific cultural heritage, which she re-writes physically and spiritually, through creative writing:

 

They refuse to turn left onto the nationalistic-isolationism path demanding that we preserve our ethnic cultural integrity. Instead, las nepantleras construct alternative roads, creating new topographies and geographies of hybrid selves who transcend binaries and de-polarize potential allies. Nepantleras are not constrained by one culture or world but experience multiple realities. (Anzaldúa 2015: 82)

 

Another writer, Taiye Selasi in her TED talk “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m a local”, offers another solution. Instead of categorization according and giving primacy to countries and national identities, constantly changing and sometimes multiple, she offers a more local perspective. A person could claim it’s local identity according to experience – rituals, relationships, and restrictions.

 

In creative writing, locality bespeaks humanity. The more we know about where a story is set, the more local color and texture, the more human the characters start to feel, the more relatable, not less. The myth of national identity and the vocabulary of coming from confuses us into placing ourselves into mutually exclusive categories. In fact, all of us are multi — multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgement of this complexity brings us closer together, I think, not further apart. (Selasi 2014)

 

Calle Belgrado, Mexico City 2015.

 

Terminology trouble

white as White?

 

Continuing with a similar tread, if one groups all individuals under a certain identity/category, it serves the purpose of a differentiation, but a blurring and biased one.

 

Actual or past political regimes or events become identified with the whole country itself, sometimes even seemingly permanent and never-changing, while not acknowledging the complexity underlying any society. For example, it is fairly easy to equate the whole US with e.g. capitalism or American exceptionalism, while negating the presence of many groups – social, cultural, political, etc. – which strongly oppose it or offer alternatives which co-exist. Donald Trump and the Occupy Movement are such an example. Another example is referring to the WWII Nazis simply as “Germans” or Ottoman Empire’s inhabitants as “Turks”, suggesting that “now” and “then” are relative categories, but highly problematical. Same goes for equating all Serbians with a war that took place some 20 years ago or Mexicans with narcoviolence.[10]

 

It seems to me that same applies to any terminology we use – in everyday conversation and in the academia – which obscures the context of its use and becomes widely accepted. Another example I would like to address here is: when speaking about racism, the most common designations are based on color of one’s skin. White thus represents people with Caucasian/European ancestry, while Black people with African ancestry. The terms are so accepted, that nobody talks about the fact that Whites are not white – rather a mix of ocher, yellow and pink – and Blacks are not black – more a different shades of brown, to be blatantly literal. And why the term “colored people” – are the whites transparent?

 

It seems beneficial for me to clarify the situational context before using a term – to have an agreement about the term itself, since many authors use the same words with different meanings and discussions in mind, which just adds up to the confusion. Another solution might be to oppose using terms we do not agree with. And than maybe we could go beyond the given unsatisfactory term itself.

 

Therefore, regarding races (and racism), it is useful to reconsider how much the very idea of human races seems widely accepted, manipulated with, and easily deconstructed when considering its maybe less cultural, and more economical aspects. As Chilean artist Katia Sepúlveda states in an interview, “I do not believe (ST emphasis) in the concept of race. Race does not exist; it is a colonial invention, hence identities can never be decided by the individual, they are established by the white society…”.[11] To further dismantle the “white society”, I would add that it equals white supremacy, as racist political ideology, and whiteness, as a “social construction… (and) ideology tied to social status”.[12] Noting that it is not exclusive to e.g. the US context – it was expanded together with colonialism and now globalization, because problem of white racial privilege transcends the nation state (Leonardo 2002).

 

Therefore, race is a political category, and it enables us to understand that “ ‘White’ identity was born out of the establishment and maintenance of privilege” (Adair & Howell 1989, p. 2). By targeting it with more contextual basis and clarity, it makes what we are against more concrete. And, on a personal level, it enables tools for (self)descolonización and resisting from within.[13]

 

“Not All White People Are Bad, But Whiteness Surely Is” (Utt 2014).

 

Bob Marley stencil: Boja nečije kože važna je koliko i boja nečijih očiju (The color of someone’s skin is as important as color of someone’s eyes), Belgade 2014.

 

Double edged swords

And mental drawers

 

Civilization is the way one’s own people live. Savagery is the way foreigners live.(Butler 1980: 70)

 

Much of the terminology holds a specific history of use (and sometimes misuse), and if used conscientiously, it reveals the author’s attitude. Moreover, I would argue that many authors position themselves towards one’s work – objects or subjects, entering into a Us-Them, We-Others differentiation. A researcher inevitably takes a position, consciously or not, rooted in the very privilege of the research itself (Kirsch & Ritchie 1995). Therefore, we need to consider “the interrelatedness of who, what, when, where and how naming takes place.” (Höchtl 2012: xix)

 

The crucial question that arises here is who are those people labeled as “we”?[14] It seems that “we” is a collective identification that could be arbitrary rooted in many parts of our identities, equally a safety-net when approaching diversity or other. Therefore, its construction depends more on the observer’s gaze and difference from that specific other.

 

Anzaldúa introduces the term nos/otras, maintaining the term’s multiple meanings in Spanish, questioning binary positions such as insider/outsider, us/them. Nos/otrix, as identity narrative of nepantlerix (my addition of -ix), according to her, could overturn otherness and strengthen points of accommodating change and connectedness in a multicultural society. “The future belongs to those who cultivate cultural sensitivities to differences and who use these abilities to forge a hybrid consciousness that transcends the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality… We are nos/otras”. (Anzaldúa 2015: 81)

 

“Us-them” is a powerful collective – and mostly fictional – construction, like nationalism, which, as nationalism, lies in very human roots. While nationalism is based on the notion that a person needs a (homogeneous) society to identify with, us-them is grounded in a physiological process of differentiation. However, both can expand and disentangle enormously from it starting points. Racism – based on skin color, genetics, and an allegedly superiority of one race of humans over the other – is an example of differentiation based – while obscuring its roots – in economic exploitation, expansionism, imperialism, colonialism, etc, proving to be a cultural construct, and not a pre-given, biological trait.

 

The “Other”- be it in the form of a dark mirror, a noble savage or a white saviour- should be a thing of the past. The challenges that we are faced with- climate change, economic crisis, wars- are global ones. Our worldview should be equally global. (Kapp 2015)

 

The need to categorize is a way to understand better the world, although it proves to be unstable on a long run, but equally necessary. “Mental drawers” both help and constrain us to think out of the box. Categories tend to seem fixed, not changing; a committed researcher will notice how different perspectives and ways of categorization come into play depending on a given context – researcher’s and researched ones.[15]

 

One cannot escape the fact that any category has a historical, political, cultural weight and makes a great part of person’s identity. An approach that could liberate ourselves from being a slave to any tags and categories, stereotypes and prejudices, is to loosen them up, re-name them according to our proper experience and practice. After all, it means acknowledging that every identity is both imposed and built (individually and jointly).

 

Chicano mural, Balmy Alley, San Francisco 2014.

 

The way out seems to be trying to use new terms which are site-, time- and/or person- specific. Gloria Anzaldúa did it by writing about and living nepantlera, Mundo Zurdo, and nos/otras, among others. In that manner, an author defines the terms according to his/hers experience, and context of use. It may seem too individualistic and narrow at first glance. If it resonates with other people and contexts, than it could “grow” – be shared and distributed further. Of course, new interpretations could add layers of meaning or modifications, which ask for creative appropriation/proliferation or, if the term becomes too constrictive, an invention of a new one.

 

Somewhere in the Left Hand of Darkness, in a conversation where Genly Ai is trying to explain his mission to Estraven, there is a wonderful re-positioning that can help us to avoid the traps: “Not We and They; not I and It; but I and Thou”.[16]

 

 

Let’s talk about gender baby,

Let’s talk about you and me, you and me… (Planningtorock)[17]

 

Art historian, art critic and curator Amelia Jones, in a book Critical Terms of Art History, dissects the philosophical and aesthetic baggage of the allegedly universal, objective and neutral interpreter (“disinterested”). She does it so by confronting with the formalistic critique (in her case, art critic Clement Greenberg) and applying it to the body – of the artist, of the content of the artwork, and of the viewer. In brief, she argues how detaching the mind from the body, following the Cartesian heritage in the West, ironically and simply emphasized the body in the arts, as well as obscured the subjectivity of the body (Jones 2003).

 

To continue with this thread, in a patchwork-like sense, another feminist reference could be made. In her Speaking in Tongues speech, Anzaldúa urges the readers to “write from the body”, stating how connecting bodies can create a community of embodied people.[18] Acknowledging a body’s role thus provides the starting point to introduce sexuality and a potential solidarity based on it.

 

Would it sound too weird to mention that my perceptions – personal and theoretical – of sex and gender initially came from Women’s studies, feminist and queer interpretations of art?

 

For a long time I have been both tempted by and reluctant to accept “queer” as a category and a tag. And I am not talking about its original derogatory connotation or the fact that it was introduced in the academia mostly by the US scholars and activists (therefore, appropriated by everybody else). It bears some similarities with the “alternative genre” in popular music, covering diverse styles under an ambiguous umbrella term. The question is: Alternative to what? Queer according to whom? The denomination reveals a suspicions default “center”, perspective taken as granted, unfolding as a power position of an imaginary denominator.

 

Judith Butler stencil: Rod je izbor, rod je uloga, rod je konstrukcija koju stavljamo na sebe kao što stavljamo odeću na sebe ujutru (Gender is a choice, gender is a role, gender is a construction that one puts on, as one puts on clothes in the morning), Belgrade 2014.

 

Apart from accepting queer as a potential sexual identity, I see it more as a partially conflictive term that tries to cover diverse practices under its scope. A term to resist, for gaps. An attitude that questions categories, and provides a ground to think and act out of the box. And, most importantly, a term that also has its political edge against any type of imposed (and violent) normativity (hetero-, or homo-). “Potencialidades (de) queer (son) su posibilidad de desestabilización de identidades, su acción de búsqueda de cambio social o su ruptura con patrones normativos.“ (Vidal-Ortiz, Viteri & Serrano Amaya 2014: 186)

 

 

Floating identities

Constantly on the move…

 

La identidad acontece en tanto que siempre se somete a un proceso de metamorfosis, que responde al movimiento interno y externo de la forma de socialidad. La identidad es en situación, existe en el riesgo constante de dejar de ser ella misma y por tanto de renovarse para seguir siendo de manera siempre actualizada. La identidad se constituye en la interacción con múltiples identidades, presentes y pretéritas. (Inclán, Millán, Linsalata 2012: 25)

 

“Tagging” a person depends on a variety of factors, from a micro to a macro plane, formal to more personal aspects. Acknowledging them permits a more complex overview, as well as enables us to see potential points of connection. And one can arrive to an understanding of a person with multiple, parallel roles. It is almost like an identity puzzle, with one part set, the other in constant matching. Differently structured and emphasized during time, in a given surrounding.

 

What García Canclini calls “hibridismo cultural”, Anzaldúa “nueva mestiza” and “nepantlera”, Deleuze and Guattari “assemblage”, “ch’ixi” of Rivera Cusicanqui, or Puar’s understanding of “intersectionality”, all are possible ways we could deal theoretically with these identity fluctuations.[19] At least, we could admit that changes are inevitable and identities necessary constructed.

 

I am advocating that one of the productive ways to question one’s identity is to be exposed to diversity and develop intercultural sensitivity. Not in a us/them fashion, rather understanding a complexity that we are a part of, more directly or indirectly. As Cusicanqui said in a recent lecture in Mexico City’s UNAM, it is a process where we need to convivir y contener el otro (Rivera Cusicanqui 2015). The whole challenge emphasizes a need to cross borders – physical and mental ones. Eventually, it makes us detach from our own position and consider different perspectives, before coming back, hopefully changed. And be aware of what writer Chimamanda Adichie calls “the danger of a single story” (Adichie 2009), the danger of one authoritative, excluding interpretation or “truth”. This process gives us opportunities to try to see ourselves – our own culture, society, profession, etc – through questioning, by becoming “estranged” and allowing the sense of wonder. I strongly believe that marginal positions – often entangled in queer and subaltern theories and identities – have the power to provide this viewpoint to the constructed “center” position.

 

#AbolishColumbusDay, #IndigenousPeoplesDay, Washington DC 2014.

 

Why these non-normative or non-mainstream perspectives have such a potential? In our daily lives, entangled in so many activities and thoughts, it is hard to see clearly our own surroundings. That is probably the reason why when getting introduced to some new theories and experiences, they seems like coming from another world. Distance and reflection requires time, peace and dokolica (leisure), which are so precious in the world where we are literally surrounded by technological means (and need) of communication. It is hard to see underlying borders and concepts, specially when everything seems to has its already established and unquestionable place, da se podrazumeva.

 

What is generally accepted is generally (still not 100%) accepted in this time and space, by a specific group in a society. What comes as “dobar dan”, “normal” in Belgrade, or Mexico City, is similar, slightly different or not alike at all in Algiers or Berkeley. By acquiring this questioning of our own position, being armed with a critical mind, we could start to compare practices and theories, geographically, culturally different, or distanced in time. And, as a consequence, one is also armed with the understanding of one’s own position, not as an universal researcher, but more likely entangled in a network of relations which permit (or not) our mobility and work.

 

 

Name of the game,

Or, how do we resist it

 

Da bi se pojedinac raspoznavao od drugih individua na osnovu vlastitih svojstava koje je sam negovao, potrebno je da učini napor da uspostavi refleksivni samostalni odnos prema svojoj kulturi: prvo, upoznajući samog sebe i svoje dispozicije i potrebe, i drugo, postavljajući pitanje da li data kultura odgovara na njegove/njene lične težnje u cilju autonomne izgradnje sopstvenog „ja“… Onaj pojedinac koji prođe kroz taj mučni proces oslobađanja od „autoritarne kulture“, postaje ličnost (emphasis ST).[20]

Zagorka Golubović (on personalism; Golubović 2012: 208)

 

Theory is not possible without the body. “La encarnación o ‘corporización’ de la ‘teoría’“, as Sylvia Marcos simply puts it, is necessary to act out one’s ideas. Or, as Zagorka Golubović, echoing Descartes, says “mislim, delam, postojim” (I think, I do, I exist).[21] Hacer-pensar, doing and thinking, praxis enables a dynamic process of inter-exchange.

 

Applying a given theory in our practice and life should go together with knowing the history of its development, as well as context of personal appropriation. Nevertheless, it opens many challenges, among others:

·       Is it applied in a more artificial, or hegemonic way, from “above”, or

·       More organically, with bottom-up procedures, and exchanges with already existing practices and ideas?

 

Concrete examples could be how feminism or queer theories are implemented in societies different than the ones of its origin. If no exchanges possible, any theory could be an “import” with a hegemonic potential. Moreover, what seems to me to be a core question is how much are we living those ideas, theories? Are we an affected, connected participant, or a distanced observer? And, are we reacting against something, or acting on our own, por nuestra cuenta?

 

The last question mainly targets two tendencies I see as negative. First, that many critiques seem utterly distanced from its object of attention, offering a “objective” interpretation. Like many ethnologists and anthropologists in the XX century have demonstrated us, an objective distance is impossible, and we are both personally involved and making cultural translations. Second, that our action is more of a reaction, triggered by a frustration or disagreement. In that light, we find ourselves in a situation where there needs to be an outside push or a provocation.

 

Anzaldúa in Borderlands: La frontera, The New Mestiza discusses that we are acting against something we find as imposed, limiting, aggressive towards us, whether is it culture, society or certain norms and beliefs. The challenge is how to act productively and constructively, not against, but for, how to exit the negative game we can get entangled in. Here I would also voice out the fear that action-reaction – although a simple biological and everyday reaction – bears the potential to wrap us into its own binary world. Again, we-them. Right-wrong. It is not safe from polarizations and categorizations, which are exclusive and artificial. We might construct our own enemies, and they could do the same to us, while not seeing any perspective outside of that power game.

 

Seeing Anzaldúa’s personal example and echoing Golubović’s quote, one of the pathways is to actively re-program, build one’s own identity by accepting or rejecting certain cultural or social traits, literally constructing one’s own world – physically and spiritually. And then we could honestly and clearly understand and position ourselves in a given context. Responding to 9/11 terrorist attacks, Anzaldúa creatively said:

 

My job as an artist is to bear witness to what haunts us, to step back and attempt to see the pattern in these events (personal and societal), and how we can repair el daño (the damage) by using the imagination and its visions. (Anzaldúa 2015: 10)

 

Blooming from struggle, Ciudad Universitaria, Reserva ecológica del Pedregal, UNAM, Mexico City 2015.

 

 

Ambiguous conclusions:

Crossroads

 

The re-programing process goes together with facing and taming our own “shadow beasts”, as Anzaldúa calls them – the other inside of us, unconscious, desconocimientos: numbness, anger, and disillusionment. In her short text Let Us Be The Healing of the Wound: The Coyolxauhqui Imperative – la sombra y el sueño, she states that in dealing with her own personal shadow, she also needed to confront “the shadow in the psyches of my culture and nation—we always inherit the past problems of family, community, and nation.” (Anzaldúa 2015: pp. 9-22) This not so welcomed, but important growth-wise process, enabling us to further ground our own fears, frustrations, and powerlessness.

 

In the time of writings this essay, after reading about “shadow beasts”, I could not but think about refugee “crisis” in Europe[22], many colleagues involved in citizen solidarity actions and trying to defend a worldview which is not entrenched in xenophobia, racism and nationalisms. Or, recent terrorist attacks by the Islamic State in Beirut, Paris and… many other places that do not get wide media coverage, neither a solidarity grievance. Like my dislocated position gave grounds to read and know more about what is happening with the region I left. It also provided a seemingly never-ending question of – what can I do?  Whatever the answer might be – partial and according to a specific situation – a general “cleanup” of mental drawers was fostered by this very acrobatic situation, with one leg in Europe, and other in Mexico City.

 

“Translating” in Serbian is “prevoditi”, which could also mean going across water, adding a metaphorical element, but also a physical process. In my case, it could be imagined as going back and forth the Atlantic ocean between Europe and Mexico.

 

Since coming to DF, I have become a European – a tag nobody really mentions until you find yourself outside of Europe, in a country that is big almost as Europe itself. Feeling like a stranger is fueled by the sense of being in a new place, for a short time, and not rooted – something like a walking tree. A couple of times I was called güero, which can easily bring race and class in mind, something that was not poking out in Belgrade. Inevitably one can hear my Serbian accent in Spanish, and a mixed US one in English – that’s not the problem, as juggling with three languages sometimes daily. Philologists are right saying that you are changing your personality when speaking a different language.

 

The amount of these uncertainties and acknowledging how relative many meanings could be, for someone might sound like a perfect receipt for a chaos. Rather than that, I see it as a need to understand, face changes in order to work with them. Is it difficult – yes, but rewarding on a long run. It is also a path from ethnocentric to ethnorelative views, as defined by the Bennett scale (Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, DMIS), towards acceptance, adaptation and integration of difference.[23] A transcultural journey.

 

A compañera suggested that I am a nepantlero, following the borderland identity created by Anzaldúa. The first thing that came to my mind was – as a temporal or longer-term identity? I have not found the Serbian version of nepantlero (still). And I am not sure is this challenging life fostered by available mobility opportunities beginning of series of moves or am I still standing on a crossroads. One thing is for sure – this deshacerse, autoconstrucción process was the best way to deal with and respond to challenges.

 

Standing at the point

The road it cross you down

What is at your back

Which way do you turn

Who will come to find you first

Your devils or your gods.

Tracy Chapman, Crossroads[24]

 

 

14th April 2016, Mexico City

All photos: Srđan Tunić.

 

Inspiration

This list grew spontaneously, covering many (cis) women and feminist authors that I had been reading recently. Rather that “appropriating” feminism, my intention was to use its findings as an inspiration to reflect and act.

 

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (2009) The danger of a single story, TEDGlobal, http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)

Anzaldúa, Gloria (1987) Borderlands: La frontera, The New Mestiza, San Francisco: Aunt Lute books.

Butler, Octavia E. (1980) Wild Seed, New York: Doubleday & Company.

Goldberg, Susan B, and Levin, Cameron (2009) Towards a Radical White Identity, as part of AWARE points of unity (reviewed 31st Jan 2013), https://awarela.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/aware_chapter_packet1.pdf (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)

Golubović, Zagorka (2012) Moji horizonti: Mislim, delam, postojim, Novi Sad: Artprint.

hooks, bell (1992) Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance, in: Black Looks: Race and Representation, New York: Routledge, https://aboutabicycle.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/bell-hooks-black-looks-race-and-representation.pdf (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)

Le Guin, Ursula K. (1976) The Left Hand of Darkness, New York: Ace Books.

Marcos, Sylvia (2013) Descolonizando el feminismo: la insurrección epistemológica de la diferencia, in: Senti-pensar el género: perspectivas desde los pueblos originarios, Méndez, G, López, J, Marcos, S, Osorio Hernández, C. (eds), Guadalajara: Red-IINPIM, A.C.

Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia (2015) Micropolítica y autonomía, lecture given at auditorio Ricardo Flores Magón, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, Ciudad Universitaria, UNAM, Mexico City, on 22nd Oct 2015.

Selasi, Taiye (2014) Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m a local, TEDGlobal, http://www.ted.com/talks/taiye_selasi_don_t_ask_where_i_m_from_ask_where_i_m_a_local (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)

Ugrešić, Dubravka (2008) Muzej bezuvjetne predaje, Beograd: Fabrika knjiga.

 

Bibliography:

Adair, Margo, and Howell, Sharon (1989) The Wonder-breading of Our Country, excerpted from Subjective Side of Politics, Tools for Change:  http://toolsforchange.org/resources/ (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)

Anderson, Benedict (2006) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London/New York: Verso books.

Anzaldúa, Gloria (2015) Light in the dark / Luz en lo oscuro, rewriting identity, spirituality, reality (ed. Keating, A.), Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Arendth, Hannah (2015) Maternji jezik (from Hanna Arendt’s interview with Günter Gaus, TV show Zur Person, 28th October 1964), Peščanik, published on 10th Nov 2015, http://pescanik.net/maternji-jezik (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)

Beck, Drew (2003) Understanding cultural appropriation, Amherst: Hampshire College.

Bennett, M. J. (2004) Becoming interculturally competent, in: Toward multiculturalism: A reader in multicultural education, Wurzel, J. S. (ed), Newton, MA: Intercultural Resource Corporation.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (2015) The Meaning of “We”, in: The Challenge of Minority Integration, Kraus, P. A. and Kivisto, P. (eds) De Gruyter Open.

García Canclini, Néstor (1989) Culturas Híbridas: Estrategias para entrar y salir de la Modernidad, México DF: Grijalbo.

Höchtl, Nina (2012) If Only For The Length Of A Lucha: Queer/ing, Mask/ing, Gender/ing And Gesture In Lucha Libre, Goldsmiths University of London.

Höchtl, Nina, and Sepúlveda, Katia (2015) To Think With the Whole Body, in: Pink Labor on Golden Streets: Queer Art Practices, Erharter, C, Schwärtzer, D, Sircar, R, and Scheirl, H. (eds), Berlin: Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Sternberg Press.

Inclán, Daniel, Millán, Márgara, and Linsalata, Lucia (2012) Apuesta por el “valor de uso”: aproximación a la arquitectónica del pensamiento de Bolívar Echeverría, in: Íconos #42, revista e ciencias sociales, Quito: Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales-Sede Académica de Ecuador.

Jansen, Stef (2005) Antinacionalizam: Etnografija otpora u Beogradu i Zagrebu, Beograd: XX vek.

Jones, Amelia (2003) Body, in: Critical Terms for Art History, Nelson, R. S, Shiff, R. (eds), Chicago: The University of Chicago Press books.

Kapp, Caram (2015) Dialogue starts with a hack- Graffiti artivism in “Homeland” series, interview for SEEcult web portal, published on 8th Nov 2015, https://srdjantunic.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/dijalog-pocinje-hakovanjem-slucaj-domovina-intervju-sa-karamom-kapom-dialogue-starts-with-a-hack-homeland-case-an-interview-with-caram-kapp/ (retrieved 15th March 2016)

Kirsch, Gesa E. and Ritchie, Joy S. (1995) Beyond the Personal: Theorizing a Politics of Location in Composition Research, in: College Composition and Communication, Vol. 46, No. 1, Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English.

Leonardo, Zeus (2002) The Souls of White Folk: critical pedagogy, whiteness studies, and globalization discourse, in: Race, Ethnicity and Education, Vol. 5, No. 1, Taylor & Francis.

Martinas, Sharon (1998) Shining the light on white, in: Challenging White Supremacy: A Workshop for Activists and Organizers excerpted from Exercise Manual Fall, Tools for Change: http://toolsforchange.org/resources/ (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)

Puar, Jasbir (2011) ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’, Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics, European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, published on January 2011, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0811/puar/en (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)

Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia (2010) Ch’ixinakax utxiwa: una reflexión sobre prácticas y discursos descolonizadores, Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón.

Rogers, Richard A. (2006) From cultural exchange to transculturation: a review and reconceptualization of cultural appropriation, in: Communication theory 16, Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University.

Rolnik, Suely (2006) The Geopolitics of Pimping, EIPCP: European institute for progressive cultural policies, http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/1106/rolnik/en#redir (retrieved 16th March 2016)

Slimbach, Richard (2005) Transcultural Journey, in: Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad #11, Carlisle: Frontiers Journal.

Utt, Jamie (2014) Holding the Tension: Whiteness vs. European Cultural Identity, Everyday Feminism magazine, published on 3rd April 2014, http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/04/holding-the-tension/ (retrieved 28th Nov 2015)

Vidal-Ortiz, Salvador, Viteri, María Amelia, and Serrano Amaya, José Fernando (2014) Resignificaciones, prácticas y políticas queer en América Latina: otra agenda de cambio social, in: Nómadas #41, trayectos y posibilidades en ciencias sociales, Olaya, V, Rojas, S. M, Valderrama, C. E. (eds), Bogotá: Instituto de Estudios Sociales Contemporáneos – Iesco, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Humanidades y Arte, Universidad Central.

 

Music:

Halka, albums Halka and O ljubavi, Gramofon, 2013 and 2014 (CD).

Planningtorock, album All love’s legal, Human Level, 2014 (CD).

Tracy Chapman, album Crossroads, Elektra, 1989 (CD).

 

Internet sources:

everydayfeminism.com

academia.edu

toolsforchange.org

pescanik.net

ted.com

wikipedia.org

[1]     In Serbian: „Nema mišljenja bez ličnog iskustva. Svo mišljenje je naknadno promišljanje o stvarima, zar ne?“ (source: http://pescanik.net/maternji-jezik/). In German: “Ich glaube nicht, daß es irgendeinen Denkvorgang gibt, der ohne persönliche Erfahrung möglich ist. Alles Denken ist Nachdenken, der Sache nachdenken. Nicht?” (source: http://www.rbb-online.de/zurperson/interview_archiv/arendt_hannah.html) English translation thanks to Michael Giebl (retrieved 12th Nov 2015).
[2]     http://historiarte.esteticas.unam.mx/sites/default/files/files/Dra_%20Rian%20Lozano%281%29.pdf (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)
[3]     An expression in Serbian meaning “a balm for a wound”, often used metaphorically.
[4]     Anzaldúa 2015: chapter Self/other: The slash in nos/otras, pp. 79-81. For a “hybrid” example from Ukraine, see: Majewska, Ewa (2011) La Mestiza from Ukraine? Border Crossing with Gloria Anzaldúa, in: Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 37, no. 1. The University of Chicago.
[5]     Beck’s research targets the (liberal) whites in the US appropriating Afro-American culture.
[6]     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appropriation_%28sociology%29 (retrieved 16th March 2016), Anzaldúa, Gloria (1990) Haciendo cara, una entrada, in: Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color, ed. Gloria Anzaldúa. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, p.xxi.
[7]     http://www.culturalinnovators.org/ (retrieved 12th Nov 2015)
[8]     See: Jansen 2005.
[9]     Benedict Anderson describes nations as imagined political communities which are both limited and sovereign. More in: Anderson 2006, chapter “Concepts and definitions”, pp. 5-7.
[10]   My intention here is not to delineate the responsability of various social groups and states in participating in these events, rather noting how they can become a part of a projected and submerging identity.
[11]   Höchtl & Sepúlveda 2015: 71.
[12]   Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_supremacy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiteness_studies (retrieved 28th Nov 2015), Martinas 1998, Leonardo 2002.
[13]   More in: Goldberg & Levin 2009.
[14]   Further problematized in: Eriksen 2015.
[15]   As an example, Edward Said analyzed the way theories change from their source to acceptance, interpretation and implementation, in: Said, Edward W. (2004) El mundo, el texto y el crítico (translation Ricardo García Pérez), Barcelona: Debate, pp. 303-330.
[16]   Le Guin 1976: p. 127. In Serbian “It” was replaced with “Them”: “Ne Mi i Oni; ne Ja i Oni; već Ja i Ti”. From: Legvin, U. (1991) Leva ruka tame, Beograd: Polaris, str. 199.
[17]   From the song Let’s talk about gender baby by Planningtorock, album All love’s legal, Human Level, 2014 (CD).
[18]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speaking_in_Tongues_%28speech%29 (retrieved 7th Dec 2015)
[19]   García Canclini 1989; Anzaldúa 1987; Deleuze & Guattari wikis.la.utexas.edu/theory/page/assemblage-theory (retrieved 7th Dec 2015); Rivera Cusicanqui 2010; Puar 2011.
[20]   In English: “In order to differentiate an individual from other individuals based on nurtured personal features, an effort is needed to establish an independent reflexive attitude towards one’s own culture: first, by knowing oneself, one’s own dispositions and needs, and second, planting a question is the given culture responsive to one’s personal aspirations, aimed to construct an autonomous ‘I’… The individual who manages to pass through this painful process of liberation from ‘authoritarian culture’, becomes a person…”.
[21]   Marcos 2013: p. 156; Golubović 2012.
[22]   Quotation marks, because the issue has been going on for many years and it seems to be more of a crisis in European Union’s values and historical responsibility of it’s colonial heritage triggered by recent migrations from many Middle-Eastern and African countries. For more, see http://pescanik.net/migranti-ljudi-koji-hodaju/ (Serbian), http://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/refugee-crisis-in-europe (English) (retrieved 7th Dec 2015), and http://nearfuturesonline.org/europecrisis-new-keywords-of-crisis-in-and-of-europe/ (retrieved 14th April 2016)
[23]   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bennett_scale (retrieved 7th Dec 2015) and Bennett 2004.
[24]   Tracy Chapman, Crossroads, Elektra, 1989 (CD). Lyrics source: http://www.azlyrics.com

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