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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
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Using the Video


Video Activities
Activities connecting this video episode to the Guiding Questions for this Unit.

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Video Authors:
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Americo Paredes, Gloria Anzaldúa

Who's Interviewed:
Gloria Anzaldúa, author; Juan Bruce-Novoa, professor of Spanish and Portuguese (University of California, Irvine); Maria Herrera-Sobek, professor of Chicana studies (University of California, Santa Barbara); Sonia Saldívar-Hull, professor of English (University of Texas, San Antonio); Elliot Young, assistant professor of English (Lewis and Clark College)

Points Covered:
• The U.S./Mexico border region is an area with a long and complex history of challenging racial, political, cultural, and geographical boundaries. Contemporary Chicano/a literature and culture arise out of a literary history that begins with the narratives of Spanish exploration. Spaniards Bernal Díaz del Castillo and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca were eyewitnesses to the vibrant pre-Conquest indigenous cultures that existed in the area, as well as to the brutal realities of the sixteenth-century Spanish conquest that devastated it. These writers helped begin a uniquely Latino and American literary tradition. After centuries of cultural and racial integration, twentieth-century critics and creative writers Americo Paredes and Gloria Anzaldúa have re-examined the history of the borderlands from the perspective of the mestizo/a.

• Bernal Díaz del Castillo served as a footsoldier in Hernán Cortés's campaign to conquer Mexico between 1519 and 1521. Many years later, he wrote about his unique perspective on the Conquest in his True History of the Conquest of New Spain. His narrative was one of the first accounts of Doña Marina, or La Malinche, the native woman who served as Cortés's translator, negotiator, and mistress. Doña Marina is a conflicted and contradictory figure within the tradition of Chicano/a literature: some see her as a traitor who sold out her own people to the Spanish, while others argue that she is better understood as an effective mediator between cultures.

• Cabeza de Vaca sailed to the New World in 1527 as part of a Spanish expedition to Florida. After being shipwrecked, he wandered for nine years among the Indians of the present-day U.S. Southwest before finding his way back to a Spanish settlement. In the process he became acculturated to Native American practices and learned Native American languages, thus becoming the first cultural mestizo in the region.

• Three hundred years after Cabeza de Vaca, Americo Paredes committed himself to studying and celebrating the legacy of mestizo culture in the border region. He collected and recorded the Chicano musical tradition of the corridos, subversive songs that narrate the struggles of Mexican heroes against Anglo oppression. His novel, George Washington Gomez, tells the story of a Chicano coming of age in the borderlands.

• Gloria Anzaldúa built on Paredes's legacy of Chicano activism to empower Chicana and mestiza women. Her 1987 book, Borderlands/La Frontera, gives voice to women of mixed identity and challenges traditional racial, cultural, linguistic, and gender boundaries. She has been part of the movement to recuperate and redefine Doña Marina as a heroine and inspiration to Chicanas.


Preview
• Preview the video: Home to pre-Conquest indigenous peoples, European conquistadors, and mestizos of mixed racial and cultural background, the U.S./Mexico border region has long been a site of contact, conflict, and new beginnings. It is a place where geographical, cultural, political, and racial boundaries are challenged and restructured. Contemporary Chicano literature and culture arises out of a literary history that begins with the narratives of Spanish exploration. In the sixteenth century, Bernal Díaz del Castillo served as a footsoldier in the army of conquistadors that devastated the Aztec Empire in central Mexico. Much later, as an old man, he wrote about his experiences and offered insights into the Conquest from the perspective of a humble soldier. His narrative provides one of the earliest accounts of the controversial figure of Doña Marina, or La Malinche, the native woman who served as Cortés's mistress, interpreter, and negotiator. Doña Marina became a key symbol in the oral and literary traditions of later generations of Chicanos. Another Spanish soldier of the sixteenth century, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, had a very different experience in the New World. Sailing to the Americas in 1527 as part of a Spanish expedition to Florida, he was shipwrecked off the coast of Texas. During his nine years in the border region, Cabeza de Vaca evolved into what some critics have called "the first cultural mestizo" and hence the first writer of Chicano literature. By learning the languages and becoming familiar with the culture of the many Native American tribes among which he moved, he constructed a mixed identity for himself. Centuries later, that mixed identity has become common in the border region. By the late twentieth century, people of mixed Spanish/Anglo/Indian/African blood who lived in this region began protesting the extent to which their culture had been marginalized by dominant Anglo society. Americo Paredes contributed to this movement by collecting and recording the musical border ballad tradition of the corridos, subversive songs about Chicano heroes who resist Anglo oppression. Building on Paredes's legacy, contemporary writer Gloria Anzaldúa explores the positive, inclusive possibilities that a mixed background offers to mestizos and mestizas. Protesting oppression based on race, class, and gender, she has given a voice to mestiza women inhabiting the borderlands and redefined the role of women as envisioned by Bernal Díaz del Castillo and other earlier writers.

• What to think about while watching: How has the southwestern border region changed over time? What political and social issues have shaped the literature of the borderlands? What is the relationship between the conquerors and conquered? How do these writers articulate an ideal of a mixed and inclusive identity? How does the Chicano notion of "historia" complicate traditional Anglo ideas about the distinction between history and fiction? What traditional stereotypes have been applied to mestiza women? How have women restructured and redefined the identities open to them in the borderlands?

• Tying the video to the unit content: Unit 2 expands on the issues discussed in the video to further explore the complex contact and conflict between different groups in different geographical border regions and contact zones. The curriculum materials offer background on Spanish, French, Dutch, and English writers and texts not featured in the video. The unit offers contextual background to expand on the video's introduction to the political issues, historical events, and literary styles that shaped the literature created in the borderlands.




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