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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   



2. Exploring
Borderlands


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Gloria
Anzaldúa
- Bartolomé
de las Casas
- Bernal Díaz
del Castillo
- Samuel
de Champlain
- Christopher
Columbus
- Adriaen
Van der Donck
- Americo
Paredes
- John Smith
- Álvar Núñez
Cabeza de Vaca
- Garcilaso
de la Vega
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Suggested Author Pairings

Christopher Columbus and John Smith
Both Columbus and Smith wrote not only in order to promote colonization of the New World but also to celebrate their own accomplishments and solidify their position as leaders and even legends. While they had extremely different ideas about the kinds of labor and commodity extraction that should characterize their respective colonies, they had many personal qualities in common. Domineering and stubborn men, they were both controversial and sometimes decidedly unpopular figures within the colonies that they helped to found. At the close of their careers, both were frustrated by what they perceived as the lack of appreciation, respect, and financial compensation they had received from the monarchies and companies that had supported their expeditions. It might be useful to compare the defensive, frustrated tone of their later writings, and to explore the reasons why, despite their disappointments, neither ever completely gave up on the potential of the New World. Significantly, both have been presented in subsequent literature, art, and popular culture as archetypal American men who exemplify a particular kind of American heroism and masculinity.

Bartolomé de la Casas and Bernal Díaz
Casas and Díaz both wrote narratives designed to serve as revisionist histories to other conquistadors' accounts of the Conquest of Mexico. Both narratives offer horrifying descriptions of the brutality and violence that characterized the Spanish Conquest, but to different ends. While Casas intended his descriptions to serve as protests and to incite reform, Bernal Díaz seems matter-of-fact about the necessity of violently quelling native opposition and condemns what he saw as the inherent savagery already within Aztec culture. Despite their different attitudes toward the Indians, both Casas and Díaz record important insights into pre-Conquest indigenous culture.

Álvar Cabeza de Vaca and Garcilaso de la Vega
Cabeza de Vaca and de la Vega have been described as among the earliest mestizo writers. While Cabeza de Vaca was more a "cultural" mestizo, because he was not actually of mixed racial background, de la Vega was the child of an interracial marriage and was raised biculturally. Both writers lay claim to the authority of native views and knowledge, and both were interested in the role of the "white captive" who is at least partially acculturated into native society. They both left the Americas and spent their later years in Europe and, in Cabeza de Vaca's case, in North Africa. Despite their physical distance from the New World, they wrote extensively about the effects of colonization and tried to serve as advocates for the native populations which were being exploited and destroyed.

Samuel Champlain and Adriaen Van der Donck
Champlain and Van der Donck offer insight into the colonial practices of France and Holland during the age of exploration and colonization. Their accounts of the importance of fur and lumber provide an interesting counterpoint to the Spanish interest in gold, slaves, and spices. While Champlain was a well-respected governor and important leader in his colony, Van der Donck occupied a more tenuous position among his countrymen, a distinction that colors their narratives. You may want to guide students toward a discussion of why the Spanish American and British American colonies, rather than French or Dutch, have been seen as having a greater impact on the shape of American culture. Is such a view justified or does it merely reflect regional bias?

Americo Paredes and Gloria Anzaldúa
Paredes and Anzaldúa represent the twentieth-century Chicano/a and mestizo/a movements to celebrate the geographical and cultural heritage of the borderlands between the United States. and Mexico. Both express the plurality of their mixed identity by working in multiple genres-Paredes in musicology, fiction, and cultural criticism and Anzaldúa in poetry, memoir, political theory, and cultural criticism. Anzaldúa offers a feminist and queer reworking of the concerns that occupied Paredes and other early Chicano activists. Her work is dedicated to providing a voice to oppressed women of color in the border regions and to exploring the role of queers in Chicano/a culture and in the construction of America more broadly.



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