Thursday, April 18, 2013


The most interesting thing about Anzaldua's story was living in society that doesn't accept every part of you, or all of you. I have a lot of gay friends, and coming to terms with that aspect of the world is hard for some of them to take, especially when people that you're really connected to don't accept you. The feminist aspect was also refreshing; I'm pretty outspoken and try to be as independent as possible, so I can't imagine what it'd be like to live in a culture, or multiple, where women are treated so drastically different and expected to fill a traditional lifestyle. I'd definitely be combative and not deal with that, which means I'd probably be a disappointment or looked down upon. Gender issues fascinate me. Her point of view was very straightforward and honest, and that made it very enjoyable to read.

Jen's story was infuriating to read on a lot of levels. The racist comments bothered me a lot at first, but I realized that people that emigrated to the U.S. don't understand everything about or culture. They see things in more black and white terms, and the more I read, the more I really enjoyed the mother. I also think this means that they can see through the bull in American culture, and that's awesome. I couldn't stand reading about her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. I can't stand children that are disrespectful with no manners, and I absolutely can't handle people that can't control their lives or parents that have no clue how to be. A lot of people think they should be parents, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it's not for you, so don't. I think this was a compelling story of what's wrong with our culture when it comes to family dynamics, how we see immigrants, and respect in general.

King's story was one that I didn't enjoy too much. I understand wanting to be true to who you are and your heritage, but when you have a son to take care of, and pride starts getting in the way of his welfare, that's a problem. Sleeping in a car for multiple nights because you're digging your heels in on something that in the grand scheme o things doesn't matter is selfish to me. Granted, I was never treated unjustly like this woman must have been, so it's a bit one-sided to look at the situation from that point, and I do understand standing up for what you believe in, especially against those that don't understand, but this situation just seemed so small compared to others that could be protested. Also, the one comment about not wanting to look like Americans when they went over the border bothered me just as much as Jen's story. I can see both sides to this situation, and while I think the mother is a strong woman, I think when you have I take care of someone else, you have to take that into account.

Being a "Me" While Embracing a World of "You's"

The most important observation I made In Jasmine was Jasmine was, in a full package of mind, body, and spirit, at home with herself.  I admired her way of letting America be whatever it wanted, depending on where she was and what kind of people she was with.  Throughout the course of her experiences and struggles and triumphs with adapting to her surroundings, I found that she had a remarkable way of being herself, without feeling defeated, all while soaking up and experimenting with different viewpoints, personalities, and ways of life.

Throughout this course I have felt more inclined to question the meaning of home.  I have realized that while, in the case of perhaps important relationships with others forming throughout my life, "home" will often choose me, but I have also realized that I can act very intentionally and choose my home or homes.  Potiki was the first book that really struck me.  I thought about the acts of the Maori people--and by acts I mean to give new definition to their actions and movements through life.  The intention with which they gave the land and the family unit meaning was incredible.  I hope that in even the most seemingly mundane of situations when I'm at home (literally) with family or friends, I may recognize life and beauty and define things as more than just objects or "assigned roles" that may often be taken for granted.  I also think about Rushdie and the Auction of the Ruby Slippers made me confront the proposed irksome world in which everything is for sale.  I was completely struck, especially as a Philosophy major who is most certainly a big-picture thinker, by Rushdie's analysis of the idea of an identity that is for sale.  But at the same time I was not struck, because it is a very visible phenomenon is today's society.  I felt empowered by Rushdie's essays to explore identity and homeland as something for which we can advocate an protect.

Lastly, reading Anzaldua has really helped me to answer the question "What do I do now?" and apply what I've learned throughout this class in some way.  I loved her idea in the preface of writing as opening the locked places in oneself.  I hope that I can utilize my love of writing to write about identity/home (which I wish was always written this way, because this class has helped me to see it as a single entity) in a way that is meaningful and expressive of myself.

homelands post

In Anzaladua’s "Altravesando Fronteras", the most important thing I noted was the emphasis on identity as a “state of perpetual transition”(100). She does not allow one culture to define who she is, but rather searches for a balance while in motion.

In King’s “Borders”, I found it very powerful that the mother continues to identify herself as “Blackfoot”. Also, despite the negative stigma that surrounds it, her son is willing to accept his mother’s identity.

In Gish Jen’s “Who’s Irish” , she depicts a story in which a cultural barrier is unable to be punctured; the grandmother is unable to share her culture (Chinese) with Sophie.

On Four Transitional Homeland Accounts

Gloria Anzaldua's essay, Atravesando Fronteras, was probably my favorite thing we've read in throughout this course.  The Preface was both clarifying but also made me feel a bit lukewarm as I wondered if Anzaldua felt as though she had to justify or over-explain her identity as "a border women."  I loved to let the essay speak for itself.  But regardless, I found the most important part of the preface to be when she discussed the idea of writing and literature: "Books saved my sanity, knowledge opened the locked places in me and taught me first how to survive and then how to soar."  This reminded me of our last class and our little discussion surrounding the Examen as we pinpointed the act of writing as a state of "home."  The Preface tells me that by writing this collection of essays, Anzaldua achieved a profound sense of home and identity.

In Atravesando Fronteras, Anzaldua confront identity as something that is not simply "The Self," but a shared state that is constantly in some sort of motion or transfer.  She seems to describe identity as the embodiment or the abstract state of ideas transferred from one culture, one life station or position, to another.  She also proposes new, fuller, less narrowed-in definitions for identities, like "masculinity," that adhere to cultural transfer and pull concepts from more than just a dominant source or widely accepted view.

Thomas King's Borderlands seems to really serve an anecdotal purpose.  While the short story may not have been especially brilliant from a literary standpoint, it certainly made a profound point about identity and home.  The part that was very striking to me was the narrator's acceptance of his mother's somewhat extremely frustrating inability to identify as anything other than "Blackfoot."  He does not question nor challenge her, but fully accepts the identity that she puts forth, waiting with remarkable patience as she perseveres to be accepted, literally let past a border, as who she really is.

Gish Jen's Who's Irish takes on the voice of a generation that often doesn't get a voice.  I have only really read stories by the next generation--immigrant children or grandchildren.  Like Anzaldua's narrator, this narrator is straddling borders, but is resilient to not step too far into the American life style.   Throughout her struggle with self-identity, she projects her inner battle onto her granddaughter, Sophie, who is not "a good little Chinese girl," but is in fact "wild."  I believe the best part to be when the narrator thinks about Sophie's "wild" way of expressing love: "Sophie like to grab my hair, a fistful in each hand, and then kiss me smack on the nose.  I never see any other child kiss that way" (15).  She seems to get close to accepting Sophie as a good, yet wild little girl.  The narrator experiences home through Sophie, not always acting perfectly, but then as she sees her tactics were not always the best, she makes a conscious choice to adopt the American/Irish way of using words with swiftness and intention.

The Unique Position of Borderlands

--“Borders,” Thomas King
As the narrator of the story and his mother sit beneath the evening stars and she recounts the folk tales told to her by her grandmother, I was struck with a heartbreaking understanding of the disintegration of the collective of identity of the Native American community. It seems like King uses his characters to illustrate the disconnect between each passing generation and the traditions that are lost between parent and child. There is the narrator’s mother who passionately identifies her Blackfoot tradition, followed by his older sister Laetitia who rejects her Blackfoot culture in favor of the “excitement” of her father’s American tradition and Salt Lake City, and, finally, the narrator himself who naïvely disregards his mother’s attempt to pass on the folk stories “as if she expected [him] to remember each one” (King 144).

--“Preface,” Gloria Anzaldua
I was fascinated by Anzaldua’s description of her borderland identity in her preface.
Much like Jasmine, she acknowledges that change is synonymous with pain, but it can also generate positivity. Despite conflicting facets of a borderland community, she notes such a community’s unique ability to not only unite these conflictions, but also personalize them. Similar to the argument made by Rushdie in “Imaginary Homelands,” she celebrates a borderland individual’s ability to experience “an exhilaration in being a participant in the further evolution of humankind, in being “worked on” (Anzaldua).

--“La conciencia de la mestiza/ Towards a New Consciousness,” Gloria Anzaldua
Throughout this essay Anzaldua stresses the unique leadership position the mestiza woman has in generating social change, but I was particularly impressed her final reiteration of this point when she returns to her hometown along the border of Mexico and Texas. Referring to the roses kept by her mother, grandmother, and many of her forewomen she says, “the chicano and chicana have always taken care of growing things in the land” (Anzaldua 113). This symbolic message emphasizes the importance of her role not only in her community, but also the world. Thus, the chicana/mestiza has always fostered agricultural growth, but in today’s world she has the opportunity to implement something far more profound: the realization of social equality.

--“Who’s Irish?” Gish Jen
From this article, I was most struck the concept of teaching people, not only children, how to “use their words.” The narrator is a strong, independent, capable woman whose determination has brought her financial and personal security. However, her strict … her traditional sense of duty isolates her from her daughter, granddaughter, and in-laws. Furthermore, her obsession with exterior image (Sophie’s ‘brown’ skin, John’s depression/unemployment, etc.) leads to her neglect of her interior: of her emotions. Consequently, she can not comprehend why she needs to discipline Sophie “with words,” and she in unable to understand American words such as ‘supportive’ and ‘creative.’ Yet, I don’t hold her responsible for her rigidity, for she never has the opportunity to learn the power of words until John’s mother refers her to as a “permanent resident” Jen 15). The moment she understands compassion and acceptance demonstrated towards her by Bess is the same moment when she realizes the significance of “using one’s words.” 

Love, Balance, Courage

In Who’s Irish, I found it somewhat upsetting that there is such a disconnect between the mother’s life and the daughter’s, as if nothing she learned as a child transferred to adulthood so she could pass it on to her wild daughter.  When the daughter comments that she has “no one to turn to,” I found I was angry, for at least she had a mother who was physically there to help her. The unsuccessful transfer of culture sometimes morphs families into split and unrecognizable entities.  Despite this, the mother never ceases to comment on the beauty of her daughter, hinting that there is something stronger than culture that holds people together.

Anzaldúa is searching for balance in Borderlands. She alternates between English and Spanish and conveys that she is, in fact, a whole, just a whole of different parts.  She finds herself at many borders and crossroads that seem to define her, but she refuses to let them fissure who she is.

            In Borders, the mother’s determination, pride and unwillingness to lose her identity actually becomes quite annoying and I feel slightly ashamed in feeling that. But, by the close of the short passage, I found myself saying that this lady was right; she shouldn’t abandon who she is because she has met a physical border.  It requires courage to retain your identity when you may be considered different, or not American, or not Canadian. This woman considered her Blackfoot identity as a vital part of herself and what would happen if she gave that up? What would her son think of their identity if she had chosen to give that up?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Who's Conscious of the Border, a King I Guess"

Anzaldua in her “Preface,” does a terrific job illustrating a language without borders; most interestingly her concept of “cross-pollinating,” the use of multiple Spanish dialects and English combine for a rich writing style.
She achieves greater heights in “Towards a New Consciousness,” most notably the idea of a tolerance for ambiguity; this concept allows for an inclusive, whole, and flexible perspective.
Gish Jen accomplishes a moving homeland in the sense of identity, from a Chinese perspective we witness the staying power of the Irish; Jen ends the story with an idea of honorary members and permanent residences outside of our hereditary homelands.
Thomas King subtly depicts driving away from borders and their property to disappear, maybe offering an insight to the overall approach to the negative differences that are defined by ‘geographic’ borders by turning them into something positive.

Sensing a pattern

            Borders bring to mind such physical things.  They divide land, they keep things out, and they keep things in.  I never realized that we have borders that are less tangible too.  In King’s Borders, the mother draws a line between herself and Canada and America by declaring herself Blackfoot.  Well maybe I want to be Blackfoot, too.  Sorry, can’t do it.  It’s like Lester says about the Temple in Salt Lake City—you need a pass to get in.  The only difference between the building of the Temple and the Temple of man is that one of them is accessible; the other is closed at birth.

            Borderlands caused me to rethink Borders almost as soon as I started reading.  While Borders was all about identifying with one singular race/people/place, Borderlands presents the issue that people face when they do not have a singular home.  What if you cannot declare yourself Blackfoot?  What if you have to choose to be Irish because you have red hair and freckles or to be German because there’s technically about 60% of Frankfurt in your veins?  How technical can you be about who you are before you’ve become absurd?  The borderlands are the no-man’s-lands between and within us.  Except they are not really “no” man’s lands—they are one man’s lands (if you say it fast enough, it sounds like woman’s lands…just saying).

            I’m starting to sense a pattern, here.  In Who’s Irish?, the question of inside and outside and sides is presented in little Sophie Shea, the Chinese-Irish nudist.  Her outside is beautiful Chinese, but her inside is wild Irish.  How do our heritages factor into our selves?  Can a child that young already have the weight of two cultures around her shoulders?  Is it possible that we can be everything and nothing of these cultures at once?  

Just when we thought Liz Gilbert was the only one who liked the phrase "Let's Cross Over"...

I love how Gloria Anzaldúa incorporated Spanish words, poems, and phrases throughout “Borderlands”.  I thought the mixture of languages accentuated her cross-cultural message.  I especially liked the poem on page 107, which to my understanding, roughly translates to something like: “There are borders that exist/ that divide people/ but for each border/ there is a bridge.”  I think this poem is a beautiful representation of the passage’s theme.  Though the human race is divided by difference, life is full of chances to overcome and accept it . 

The mother’s stubbornness in Thomas King’s “Borders”, though somewhat annoying, is also inspiring.  She refused to see herself as anything other than Blackfoot.  I can’t imagine needing to deny my own heritage or nationality; but this story made me think about those who might need to do so on a regular basis, some for their own safety or survival.  

Gish Jen’s “Who’s Irish” was probably my favorite story out of the three.  I appreciated the narrator’s humor and deeply rooted sense of self.  She reminded me of my own grandmother, who also used to take care of me when I was little.  It upset me that the grandmother in this story couldn’t share her Chinese culture with little Sophie, since my favorite thing when I was little was when my grandma would tell me stories about Hungary.   

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


The most important observation I made about the second half of Jasmine was that it is up to an individual to define one’s own identity.
When I initially registered to take this class, I was unsure if I would like the subject matter of the texts that were required for the course. However, my upper classmen friends assured me that, “any class with Dr. Ellis was amazing”; luckily they were right! The first novel that we read gave me quite a scare—when reading Things Fall Apart as a ninth grader in high school I was not a fan. Although hesitant at first, I decided to give it a second chance, and read Achebe’s text with an open mind. To my surprise, I really enjoyed reading it the second time around—it was as if I was reading a completely different book. The content of the book remained unchanged, so I immediately knew that there was something special about Homelands that sparked my interest. I attribute my newfound love for the book to not only to having a great instructor (yes, you Dr. Ellis!), but also a great class. In-class discussion among classmates has been the most exciting part about our class! I was so surprised at how easily my classmates and I were able to open up about personal stories relating back to the texts. Everyone in our class adds something very special to each discussion, and it has been my pleasure getting to know each and every one them. While in the classroom, I feel like we have created yet another variation of home. Our Homelands class has been a transformative experience for me, and it is something I will treasure forever.