Friday, May 20, 2011

Presenting Guest Blogger Marissa M. Juárez

A Chicana Feminist Reflection on What it Means to be Pocha

by Marissa M. Juárez

I am a woman with a foot in both worlds; and I refuse the split. I feel the necessity for dialogue.” –Cherríe Moraga

The first time I ever heard the term pocho, it was in an undergraduate Chicano/a Lit class at the University of New Mexico. We were reading José Antonio Villarreal’s creative exploration of that word, and although I could be wrong, I do not remember discussing pocho in positive terms. (I am pretty sure we never discussed it in feminine—or feminist—terms, as pocha, either.) In fact, I am pretty sure that Richard Rubio, to many in the class, era un vendido—a punk-ass-sell-out who was too cowardly and ignorant to assert any pride in his Mexican heritage. I remember feeling embarrassed because I understood and empathized with Richard’s plight to find his identity between conflicting Mexican and American values. I kept silent, afraid that if I gave voice to this empathy, my classmates might find out my secret, might see me as less of a Chicana because of it.

But that secret has since been exposed, gracias a las feministas Chicanas. These women helped me to find strength in my mismatched upbringing; they helped me to name my experience. It all happened the first time I read Gloria Anzaldúa’s theory of mestiza consciousness. At the time, I was an MA student in Rhetoric and Writing Studies at UNM. I had grown up in New Mexico, identified as a Chicana, and felt the push and pull of conflicting identities for all my life. And for most of my life, that experience remained unnamed, bottled up, aching for confluence. For me, the struggle to name myself was, as Anzaldúa describes, an embodied (lived) experience: I was born into a Mexican family to a single mother who met and married my dad when I was six. The only dad I know, my adoptive dad, has blond hair, blue eyes, and rosy skin, and he was the first Anglo I had ever really known. Growing up within and between two cultures—one biologically inherited, the other inherited by chance—I lived (still do) the world of la mestiza. So when I read Anzaldúa for the first time, something awakened in me—an intrinsic knowing, a sense of belonging, a validation.
Because for most of my life I have lived entre dos mundos, literalmente.  I have mi familia Mexicana and my Anglo family. And in more ways than one, these families are worlds apart.  One night it was carne guisada with arroz and frijoles and fresh-off-the-comal tortillas at my Mexican grandparents’ house, and the next it was baked chicken and fondue at my Anglo grandparents’ house. Growing up, I was constantly shifting back and forth between locations, cultures, and values.  We never talked about race in either location. It was as if race didn’t exist. But as mis hermanas Chicanas helped me to understand, you don’t have to be Cornel West to know that race matters.
(note: photo after marriage, but since divorced)
Like Cherríe Moraga, having a white father provided me with access to white cultural capital.  After my parents were married, my mom and I moved from the cramped house we shared with mis abuelos, mi tía, and six or seven of mi primos and into a three-bedroom that allowed me the newfound luxury of having my own room with my own toys.  I changed schools. I got a pet Cocker Spaniel that my dad named—predictably—Duchess. A couple of years later, we moved to the country. There were almost no Mexicans in the country. Even though I was one of about four or five Mexican kids in my grade at College Lane Elementary (in the country), and despite being called “beaner” and “burnt tortilla” at recess, I excelled in school. I became friends with white kids. I was quickly learning the social codes of white culture.
 (Abuelos Juárez y Marissa)
But unlike Moraga, I could never pass as white, and the way I experienced the world was radically different from someone who could. 
I have been the brown (and unwed) pregnant body.
I have been the brown woman on welfare.
I have been the only brown body in a graduate seminar.
I have been the angry brown mother at the PTA meeting.
My point is, I know what it’s like to feel like my brown body is being read and signified by people who have no idea what it means to live in a brown body. So I have come to understand my Chicana identity as something that is embodied and bodily—that is, both my brown body and my experiences within multiple locations (Mexican, Anglo, and in between) have shaped who I am: A person some might call pocha. But one does not have to give up one culture in order to enter another. When I was adopted into my white family, I did not stop being Mexican. Instead, I learned to sit astride the plurality, and though that seat wasn’t always comfortable, I held on and adapted. (And in case you’re wondering, adaptation is not a code word for assimilation.) Yes, there were times when I was confused, when I felt out of place. But I held on.

From a Chicana feminist perspective, pocha might be better understood as one instantiation of mestizaje. In theorizing a mestiza consciousness, Anzaldúa recalls being accused of being a “cultural traitor” for speaking Chicano Spanish, “a language with terms that are neither español ni ingles, but both” (77).  As Anzaldúa perceptively notes, the “linguistic terrorism” enacted upon Chicanos/as who speak a border tongue results in a fear to speak that creates distrust: Will we be censured for our speech? Probably. Chicanos/as are, according to Anzaldúa, our language; thus attempts to discipline and domesticate our language are also attempts to discipline and domesticate our brown bodies. 

When people use pocha as solely a derogatory marker of identity, they become complicit in the systems of domination that have historically served to marginalize and to Other the brown body.  People who equate pocha with punk-ass-sell-out reproduce the kind of discourse that for centuries has equated Malintzín with La Malinche. I’d be remiss to say that these discursive moves are exact parallels given the history surrounding Malintzín’s so-called “fall from grace”; I mean instead to imply that the regimes of power inherent in these discourses are fortified. The result is self-inflicted historical erasure; people forget their own lived oppressions.  As Moraga puts it, “oppressed groups are forgetting all the time” because “to remember may mean giving up whatever privileges we have managed to squeeze out of this society by virtue of our gender, race, class, or sexuality” (27). It’s even worse when a pocha starts to believe (as I once did) that she is somehow at fault, somehow less of a person, for not fitting in neatly within any one culture. When a pocha starts internalizing her oppression, what can she do but strive to forget? What can she feel but shame?

(Juárez family reunion)

Chicana feminist sister Cindy Cruz has contended that “the contemplation of the body…is essential in the development and evaluation of an epistemology of Chicana thought and culture” (61).  Reflecting on the concept of pocha got me thinking about my own experiences—those that are archived within my brown body—because I see pocha as a label that is inscribed upon bodies that fail to perform a Latinonormative identity. In that sense, I understand pocha as a performance of identity that disrupts unwavering assumptions about what it means to be Latina/Mexicana/Chicana. Pocha is a reminder that “there is no one Chicana experience” (Anzaldúa 80).

Pocha conjures a set of memories that are felt and lived. If being pocha reckons experience, then it becomes all the more important to document these experiences, especially for Chicana scholars whose reclamation work reminds us that we stand to gain as much in sharing our personal histories as we do in recovering our collective ones. Yet how we interpret these experiences is up to us. We can sit back while others infuse this term with assimilationist ideologies (and in so doing participate in the construction of normative ideals surrounding Latinidad), or we can broaden our interpretations of pocha to challenge assimilationist ideologies (and in so doing include multiple constructions of Latina/Mexicana/Chicana identity). In sharing this partial personal history, I aim toward the latter. I remember (and rearticulate) my pocha identity to value lived experience in the production of knowledge. I remember to celebrate my brown body. I remember to nurture la mestiza with multiple voices, with multiple selves—para mantenerme en solidaridad con mis hermanas Chicanas, mi familia, y mi comunidad.  Recuerdo por el bien de mi cultura.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Controversy over Navy's Plan to Honor Chavez

Intolerance and Non-Violence 

It's no surprise Republican congressman Duncan Hunter is complaining about naming a Navy ship after Cesar Chavez, claiming the decision is "more about making a political statement than upholding the Navy's history and tradition." Political-correctness is one of those ideographs with negative connotations attached to it which conservatives euphemistically deploy to cover intolerance to racial diversity.

 However, I'm not sure I much support Chavez' name being used on a Navy cargo ship either. Chavez is known for his non-violent practices, such as his hunger strike and boycott of grapes, so it doesn't seem fitting to name a vessel used for military use to bear his name. I tend to agree with Randy Shaw from the article who says "Chavez's "absolute core beliefs was nonviolence." Shaw goes on to speculate that Chavez probably wouldn't have wanted a military vessel named after him."

You can read the story about the controversy over naming a Navy ship after Ceser Chavez here:

On Tex[t]-Mex: Al Madrigal

Can't Help Re-Posting Humorous &Poignant Latino Daily Show Correspondent
 Mucho respeto to Bill Nericcio for posting this--watched it, tweeted the Daily Show clip and had to re-post. Tex[t]-Mex shouted out, so I will do the same.

There's a great dig on the Daily Show clip when Madrigal comments that Obama is pandering to the Latino vote in much the same way that certain Cable Shows pander by just now hiring a Latino correspondent.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Santana Uses Celebrity for Good

Atlanta/Arizona Civil Rights Baseball Game as Moment of Kairos

While honored with the "Beacon of Change" award, Carlos Santana criticizes recent Atlanta immigration bill passed similar to Arizona's SB 1070. Seizing the moment, during which he was honored for his contributions to civil rights, Santana attacked the bill for its lack of humanity. I have yet to read/watch any cable news interpretations of Santana practicing what he was being awarded for, but I am familiar with the irony of people who respond that they do not want think critically about politics during a sporting event, even when the sporting event is played in commemoration of civil rights.

 (photo by Curtis Compton of AJC)

 In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Santana is quoted:

“This is about fear, that people are going to steal my job,” Santana said of the law. “No we ain’t. You don’t clean toilets and clean sheets, stop shucking and jiving.”
Santana referenced his 1960s rock-n-roll background and said he is an artist unafraid to speak out.
"It’s an anti-American law. It’s a cruel law, actually," Santana said. "If you all remember what it was like here with Martin Luther King and the dogs and the hoses, it’s the same thing, only it’s high tech. So let’s change it.”

Read more of the story at:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tucson Writes Night Feedback

Tucson High Writing Center Blog

I just recently have gotten through the end of the semester and have had a quick moment to visit the Tucson High Writing Center's blog and I got the photo of your truly speaking below:
It was a really great opportunity not just to speak, but to hear all of the great writing coming from the writers at Tucson High.
Below is a screenshot of the Tucson High Blog and I'm going to contact the Writing Center to see if they're planning to post any of the writing on their site. In which case, I will be sure to provide a link.

Check out the blog at:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tonight at the UA Poetry Center

Cruz Medina Speaks at Tucson Writes Night

Former Gabby Gifford intern Daniel Hernandez Jr speaking... 
From Tucson Writes Night website:
"Tucson Writes Night is an event-concept proposed by a group of student tutors (we prefer the term “peer mentors”) at the Tucson High Magnet School Writing Center.  We coordinate an event that brings together students, their families, teachers, and community members to celebrate the work of our Writing Center and to showcase examples of excellent student writing.

Tucson Writes Night 2011

Tuesday, May 3rd
@UA Poetry Center"

The event will run from 5:00-7:00pm on Tuesday, May 3rd.  Activities include guest speakers, a brief introduction to the THMS Writing Center through a student-directed multimedia piece, and the reading of selected student writings.

It's tough to make out on the image above, but I'm one of the invited speakers along with journalist Kirsten Boeles who will be kicking the night off, talking about writing.

See more at Tucson Writes Night website:

Or at UA News:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tucson High Grad & Current UA Student Speaks Out

Eliza Meza Comments on New American Media

I read this article because I am acquainted with Eliza and she expressed her disappointment with how this piece was attacked as propaganda. After I read her piece, I scrolled through the comments, which were posted, and in many cases re-posted. All of the posts attacking Ms. Meza were signed anonymous and seemed to take the space and anonymity to go on anti-liberal/anti-undocumented diatribes.

Hopefully these are a vocal minority, although they still indicate the presence of discriminatory sentiment and discourse in the collective conscious. Those posting would not feel they should post unless they knew they represented more than their own voice and flawed logic.

New American Media frames the Ethnic Studies Program as "popular" even though it is successful in raising test scores, graduation rates and rates of students continuing on to college.