Neither from Here nor There: A Transfiguring American Genre

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"I am the link between the shores, […] I am what joins your left hand to your right.
I join the world of the living and the world of the spirits. 
I join the past with the present."

—Ella from Free Enterprise by Michelle Cliff

In a patriarchal society regardless of race, culture and language women inhabit a borderland. So that not only is it an act of transgression to cross its boundaries but simply to be female is a transgression itself: “Not only do women ‘transgress’ when they transport themselves ‘across’ patriarchally—determined boundaries, their very existence is oftentimes regarded as itself being transgressive”[1]. Therefore, simply due to their being female, women have been (and still are in many sectors) marginalized, paid less for doing the same jobs, sexually exploited, physically abused and discriminated against by employers, private clubs and educational institutions. It must be emphasized however that this treatment concerning “sexual difference is the product of – not the basis of – women’s oppression. Women exist as a political category (and a class) because of patriarchy”[2].

So, “those who have crossed borderlines are ambivalent persons, developing a sense for complexity, dismissing rigid black-and-white patterns and clear-cut polarizations of values. Transition is an exposed, particularly fragile and risky state […]”[3]. As such, groups that belong to these categories live lives that are more intricate and possess broader levels of awareness due to their multifaceted experiences. This is clearly reflected in the literature such groups produce like Nuyorican Literature: a borderland literature. A type of literature that is a hybrid text, it often includes (but does not have to include) different languages or hybrid languages composed for example, of English and Spanish and/or Spanglish. When written by women, borderland literature constitutes a feminine discourse and displays the ways in which women’s lives are simultaneously intricate, ambivalent, complex, oppressed and constantly shifting by demand.

The American way of life has been the product of capitalism and patriarchy, of what Sylvia Walby refers to as “dual systems theory based upon an analysis of Western society in which capitalism and patriarchy exist as two independent but interacting systems”[4]. These systems are what have historically and politically shaped American culture and literature. However, with the advent of political uprising and change for women, for persons of color in general, and with some acceptance of homosexuality, the door has been cracked open and a current of variation has slowly but steadily gained entrance into the mainstream of American life. These changes from the latter half of the 20th century into the 21st century: social, technological, economic and political in combination with women’s participation, has hastened the creation of platforms on which women writers have arrived to tell their stories. Being listened to, read and published as a female writer is valued by a wider audience that includes men, in a (still) male dominated American capitalist industry. Thus, struggles in the US as seen in the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the overall social and political changes of the 1960’s, today’s globalization and the technological age, has been pivotal in opening doors for women to increasingly effect change and for their writing to find its way into the American literary cannon.

In the feminine discourse contained in this half of Nuyorican Women Writers: The Millennials, including Myrna Nieves’ essay, the complexities, and intricacies of various worlds is no less evident than in the latter half of this anthology. Although code switching of languages (English and Spanish) is employed less, the text remains a hybrid one for a host of other reasons. Dual or multifaceted cultures that treat themes of love, economic disparity, family dynamics, race, death, tributes to those who’ve come before and spirituality is the foundation of hybridity. Additionally, the advent and importance of technology, the ecological crises and those returning from new wars also become central in these women’s lives. As with those in the first half of this work these poets also live between worlds. They are from neither one nor the other but from both effectively creating a new world in their literature; a world within the borderland, a hybridized world.

Moreover, new groups of writers and performers, who label themselves and their work as Nuyorican: a borderland literature, have also emerged. These groups such as The Welfare Poets, El Grito de Poetas, Capicu Culture and The Machete Movement among others, may have originated anywhere: New York, Chicago or Alaska and whether they’ve read at the Nuyorican Poets’ Café or not, they consider themselves and their work to be heavily influenced by or to be Nuyorican. Composed predominantly of new but also of some established writers, these groups claim (in one form or another) the Nuyorican name. They and their work is Nuyorican because they share a particular way of life regardless of where they reside and in the end, regardless of where they are from. They claim the borderland transforming it into a new world and a new home. No longer are these women, transgressors. They (along with their male counterparts) are creators who configure their worlds and their selves. They are shape shifters.

[1] Ghosh-Schellhorn, Martina, ed. Writing Women Across Borders And Categories. Hamburg: LIT VERLAG, 2000. 7-8, 37-38.

[2] Jackson, Stevi, ed. Women’s Studies: Essential Readings. New York: New York U P, 1993. 4-5.

[3] Assman, Aleida, “Space, Place, Land: changing concepts of territory in English and American fiction.” Women’s Studies: Essential Readings. Jackson, Stevi, ed. New York: New York U P, 1993. 65.

[4] Jackson, Stevi, ed. Women’s Studies: Essential Readings. New York: New York U P, 1993. 4-5.

© Nancy Mercado. Published by permission in Centro Voices on 24 April 2015.

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.