Is It Your Border or Mine? Linguistic Borders, Identity, and Subjectivity, in Mexican, Mexican-American

and Dominican Fiction and Film

Patricia Vilches

Lawrence University


Gloria Anzaldúa states that "borderlands are physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy" (Preface to Borderlands). Hence, the notion of a "border" that separates the Anglo world from the Hispanic/Latino (1) world is conceived from a Cultural Studies perspective as a physical, as well as a metaphysical place. That is, on the one hand we can deconstruct Latino subjectivity through a physical delineation of the frontier that separates the United States and Hispanic countries, such as the physical parameters that separate Ciudad Juárez from El Paso, Texas. At the same time, there exists a metaphysical concept of the border, as perceived by Latinos, in which a slow deterioration or break down of identify, a loss of memory or cultural amnesia, as well as an existential desire to fit into the Anglo culture, are part of Hispanic’s everyday life.

In Border Matters (1997), José Saldívar attempts to comprehend the metaphysical journey experienced by his grandparents when, from one day to the next, the land in which they lived was no longer Mexico, but instead part of their neighboring country, the United States of America. Saldívar states that he often wonders how life must have been for Reyes and Carmelita Saldívar,

my great-great-grandparents, to have been almost overnight ‘incorporated into the Union of the United States’ (Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, article 9). I try to imagine what it must have been like for them to improvise a new kind of cultural citizenship in the face of a hyperauthoritative treaty —a text— U.S. empire, especially in justifying federal, state, and corporate ownership of former Nuevo Santander and Mexican lands (18).

From a postmodern perspective of disintegration of meaning and identities, in this essay I will examine how border consciousness asserts itself precisely at the crux of the dissolution of a consolidated sense of being. Because of a desire to improve their material and spiritual lives, Latin American immigrants leave their native (first) land for the United States. In their journey, usually as mojados, they begin a metaphysical journey, one that leads them toward an undesired isolation, sense of cultural Otherness, and inferior status. That is, poor farmers or working-class Latinos remove themselves from their lands to become, among other identities, buss boys or seamstresses at sweatshops. That is, the border turns Latinos into "aliens, mojados, wetbacks, welfare-parasites" and spics in America (Ruiz 357).

As stated by Delberto Dario Ruiz, the linguistic border "cut[s] tongues … [and] contributes to the displacement of a people, their cultures and languages" (356). For this reason, and as a result of border crossing, I will examine linguistic dysfunctions between English and Spanish. My study includes "Matorrales," a short-story by Mexican writer Carlos von Son. This story presents two mojados that live on the physical and metaphysical linguistic border of their own existences, which underscores the endless identity journey of poor immigrants in the United States. At the same time, I will zero in on the linguistic disabilities of the transculturized García sisters in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1992), by Dominican American prose writer and poet Julia Álvarez. Concurrently, I will analyze current Mexican and Mexican-American cinema that depicts linguistic border identities. The films El jardín del Edén (2001), by Mexican director María Novaro, El Norte (1983), and Mi familia (1995), both by Mexican-American director Gregory Nava, will inform the various ways in which Latino subjectivity confronts the Anglo culture of the United States. Moreover, this study aims to highlight the "crossing over" of thinking and ideas. These include the intricate relationship between social class and education, as well as views about identity. For instance, in the works studied, the protagonists differ in social class and educational backgrounds, a fact which may separate their individual experiences in some respects; however, all the characters analyzed in this study share in and of themselves a sense of a breaking down in identity. From this perspective, in uncovering linguistic borders I wish to bring forth "a cultural unconscious common to [the protagonists’] historical community" (Leitch 95).

J. Douglas Canfield asserts in his research on border studies that his work Mavericks on the Border (2001), does not attempt solely to portray the marginal, or the "liminal space for Chicanos" (7), but to analyze the various venues of border subjectivities. In doing that, he offers space to Anglo authors who have written about the border, specifically, authors who deal with the American Southwest. Following these lines, in this study of film and fiction, I have extended linguistic border subjectivities to a narration that includes political immigration —because of a severe right-wing military regime — from the Dominican Republic to the United States. For this reason, it is my intention to analyze multinational vignettes of linguistic border issues, concentrating on how the two languages, English and Spanish, interact with each other, the latter being a linguistic inferior, a mojado, but one that, nonetheless, refuses to disappear.

By focusing on the binary opposition that juxtaposes a Capitalist, dominant society with a perceivable inferior culture, my study follows very closely the work of Anzaldúa and Saldívar (and in this respect it departs from Canfield’s objectives). In fact Fredric Jameson affirms that, even though postmodernism has blended "the relative autonomy" of culture, it does not necessary imply "its disappearance or extinction" (48). Hence, I reckon that an individual’s first culture lives somewhat differently in each individual that crosses the border into the United States. In fact, as Amaryll Chanady proclaims in Latin American Identity and Constructions of Difference, postmodernism practices have debunked notions of "monolithic and exclusionary nationalist models in Latin America" (xli), making it problematic to unite the experience of Guatemalans, Mexican, Mexican-American and Dominicans. Nonetheless, I hope to demonstrate in my analysis that to an extent, border crossing —in order to escape poverty or political strife in one’s first country— constitutes a common experience for Hispanics because it entails a permanent psychological disengagement with one’s first culture and the foreign culture.

In Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), Anzaldúa states that "The U.S. Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country— a border culture. Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them … It is in a constant state of transition" (25). Hence, for Latinos living on the border, the use of English —the dominant language— and Spanish, becomes a coping mechanism, a tool for appropriating an intertwined lexica that becomes the individuals’ mode of expressing their diferencia. From this perspective, von Son, Mexican critic and author, constructs and discusses border culture in Qué de qué y otros cuentos [What’s Up and Other Tales], (2001). Specifically in "Matorrales," the Mexican author describes "a metaphor of the bushes that grow close to the river; these are bushes that have lost their roots. It is also a tribute to the heroic epic of immigrants" (Interview. Translation mine). (2) In his narration, von Son not only relates through language a break in identity experienced by individuals in a constant influx between the Mexican and U.S. border, but he also underscores via linguistic codes the various degrees to which we can distance ourselves from our first ethnic roots. In "Matorrales," two relatives meet at an unmentioned place, signaling the universal immigrant experience of the two men. Even though we know that we are somewhere around the U.S.-Mexican border, we are not told where specifically the narration takes place. This fact underscores the communal experience of the cousins and makes us see how they react and confront their harsh daily circumstances. One of the cousins has been on the U.S. side for a longer time, whereas the other has recently made the crossing:

Que pasó, carnal, te andaba yo buscando. Ambeces me parece que te traga la tierra.
Hierba mala nunca muere. Aquí ando, men. He andado ocupado en el jale, hay que hacer billete. ¿Pa’ qué soy bueno?
Pos es que ya junté algunos dolaritos y no sé cómo mandarlos pa’ mi pueblo. Mi vieja ha de estar urgida de centavos. Ya sabes, la cosa por allá anda del carajo.
No guorris, may frien, ahorita los mandamos. ¿Cuánto juntaste? ¿Para que valga la pena, men. Sino te va salir caro.
Ah qué curioso. Pos son apenas doscientos, pero pal’ frijol y la tortilla son buenos. Allá sí le van a rendir.
Oquey, vamos pues. Es aquí a la otra cuadra. ¡Cómon!
Orale, y gracias, mano
Ya estuvo, may frien. Vamos a la licuor por unas frías y nos las echamos en la esquina esa del parque. Total, allá no nos ve la patrulla, parecemos matorrales escondidos tras los matorrales. O qué, ¿te vas a ‘pretar?
Lo que pasa es que no traigo ya feria, ¿no estás viendo que ya mandé lo que tenía?
Ai trit yu, man.
Chale, carnal, pos no te entiendo. Háblame en español.
… Ya vele entendiendo al inglés, mano …
¿Una qué?
Una aplicación, güey, una solicitud de empleo, tú sabes, como allá en México. Eso es todo.
Pos es que la neta a veces nomás no te entiendo, mano, que la marqueta, que la aseguranza, que la carpeta, ¡que la chingada!
Ora, pues, pues qué quieres, aquí el español se está americanizando. Tienes que aprender, mano, no van a cambiar solo pa’ que tú les entiendas, pos qué crees. (3) (von Son Qué de qué 111-116).

In the exchange between the two cousins, we learn that the apochado, rejected by both the Mexican and Anglo world, has found a much needed niche in the culture of the border, reflected in the fact that he speaks Spanglish to his newly arrived relative. In the narration, there is no true communication between the two individuals because the newly arrived relative has not mastered basic concepts in English, one of the key ingredients for understanding Spanglish. In fact, the newly arrived individual becomes acutely bothered by the constant usage of English expressions on the part of his cousin, signaling frustration and perhaps a sense of insecurity for his own future. The mojado attacks his cousin where it hurts the most; he calls him "pocho." In this respect, the linguistic disconnections and tensions relate to the two cousins on various levels. Firstly, for the exclusively Spanish-speaking individual, crossing the English barrier not only signifies a betrayal of one’s culture, but it also signals a brutal necessity. On the other hand, the "pocho" represents the transnational Hispanic self that lives precisely between the double-crossing of two cultures, speaking and intertwining two languages, without expressing him/herself entirely well in either of them.

In von Son’s "Matorrales," the "pocho" cousin, by asserting his subjectivity through the intertwining of English and Spanish, becomes a Chicano, which according to Jim Fogelquist, is a loaded term that has "cultural and ideological implications, which originate in ethnic, linguistic, educational and economic characteristics perceived by the members of the community which it is intended to signify" (35). On the other hand, the term itself can be perceived by groups outside of the Latino and Mexican American community as a "signifier of cultural identity" viewed in crisis (Fogelquist 35). That is, if Chicanos are not truly Mexican (Hispanic) because they don’t speak Spanish well, how could they be American if they conduct themselves in a way rejected by Anglo identity and subjectivity? For this reason, the term itself is preferred by Chicano academicians, who assert Chicano identity just at the crossing of Anglo and Hispanic world "by conscious choice" (Fogelquist 35). Of course, there is no universal agreement among Chicanos about being called Chicanos. One of the most well-known cases of a Chicano who rejects the term is Richard Rodríguez, who has been called "the Brown Uncle Tom" (cited in Fogelquist 35). (4)

Because of political turmoil in Latin America, many Hispanics brave the harsh crossing between Mexico and the U.S.A. border. These individuals attempt to find a better life in the U.S.A., sometimes through Church or government sponsorships, but, most frequently, by hiring coyotes that will cross them into America illegally. In an ironic turn of events, by supporting Latin American gorilla governments, the U.S.A and its policies have made poor Latin Americans abandon their first land to come to the U.S.A Jameson refers to this phenomenon as "the ideology of the market" (260), which relates to the materialistic results of late Capitalism in which an imperialist culture determines and dictates the outcome of third world societies. Jameson declares: "Exchange value, or, more precisely, the money system, is … the system of freedom and equality" (261). From this perspective, Gregory Nava, screenwriter and director of the film El Norte, portrays the lives of Enrique (David Villalpando) and Rosa (Zaide Gutierrez), two Guatemalan young people who are forced to flee their country because of political unrest. Their father has been killed by a repressive government and their mother has been made to disappear, symbolizing the thousands of politically disappeared in Latin America. After finding an old acquaintance of their father, the two siblings decide that the only way to remain alive is if they go to El Norte. According to Dennis West, "El Norte was the first U.S. feature in the 1980s to portray believable and well-rounded Latin American characters attempting to take charge of their own troubled lives in the United States" ("Filming"). The film is divided into three parts: "Arturo Xuncax," which takes place in San Pedro, Guatemala, "El Coyote," which features Tijuana, and "El Norte, in which Nava highlights the myth of the Promised Land.

It is not enough for Rosa and Enrique to speak Spanish and Maya. They must confront various situations in which they do not share others’ linguistic codes. Indeed, the dominant blabber-mouth coyote, who severely underestimates the siblings’ resilience and thirst for survival, unwittingly tests Enrique and Rosa’s ability to understand the language he speaks.

It is at the precise physical and linguistic demarcation, at the border between Mexico and the United States, that the three characters, one Mexican and two Guatemalans, realize that they do not necessarily understand each other. This linguistic confusion, then, becomes a metaphor for the metaphysical border that builds between the coyote and the siblings, the former who earns a living by tricking "pollos," and the latter who slowly realize that crossing the border has forever changed their lives.

Once they have crossed the border, the coyote and brother and sister are suddenly interrupted by the noise of two immigration patrols creaking leaves and bushes as they get near the threesome. For the coyote, that is a very familiar sound and, just like an animal in danger, he runs for cover. Enrique and Rosa, though, are not familiar with the ins and outs of the border, and they become easy prey for the two officers. As a segue, the next scene presents the two siblings in an immigration office, being interrogated by one of the officers, who laconically types the information provided by Rosa and Enrique. As they had been advised by an elderly man before leaving Guatemala, it is best for them to dissemble and, thus, affirm a Mexican identity. Nonetheless, they are not believed by one of the immigration officers, who proceeds to talk to his partner.

I think these kids might not be from Mexico. I think they might be from Central America.
How do we find out, genius?
I’ve got a system. First, we ask them if they can read and write. Then, we ask them to sing the Mexican national anthem.
Well, if they can’t sing it, then, we know that they didn’t learn how to read or write in Mexican schools (El Norte).

The suspicious immigration officer turns to Enrique and Rosa and asks in Spanish: "¿Saben leer y escribir?" Because they don’t understand English, the siblings do not know what the officer is up to, but, nonetheless, they grow even more suspicious when the agent addresses them in Spanish; hence, they confide with each other in Maya. They say to each other that they are not sure how to respond to the police officer. But, because of their precarious situation, they decide that they must continue concealing the truth about their real background so that they are "only" deported back to Tijuana. While Enrique and Rosa are pondering how best to deal with their situation, the two officers have their own exchange: "What are they saying?" wonders the monolingual officer, "I don’t know. They are not speaking Spanish. They must be speaking some Indian language," responds the bilingual officer. Puzzled, the first officer responds in a terse way, signaling his frustration when realizing that his partner has been linguistically defeated: "Well, what the fuck good are you?" The bilingual officer, going for his final shot to determine that Enrique and Rosa are not Mexican, extends out a map on the table and asserts: "Señalen exactamente de dónde son." Enrique, when confronted with being deported to Guatemala, and not Tijuana, responds with confidence in "Mexican:"

Qué chingados, pues. ¿Qué es esta chingadera que me estás enseñando, pues? Yo no sé qué chingadas me estás diciendo.
I don’t know [says the monolingual officer]. It sounds like Mexican to me.
Oh, hell. I can’t pin them down. Send them back to Tijuana. Who cares? (El Norte)

¿Por qué no? (Why not?) is the emblematic question posed by Tijuanenses regarding the existence of Tijuana (Davis 26). According to Mike Davis, "Tijuana seems to defy the ordinary laws of gravity" (26). In 2001, it had approximately 1.5 million inhabitants, more than its "rich twin" San Diego, "yet its formal economy and public budget are barely sufficient for a city one-third its size" (Davis 26). In El Norte, Nava depicts Tijuana as a place without law and private property. Indeed, nobody has set roots in Tijuana because it is nobody’s final destination; it is the launching pad for crossing to El Norte, to manicured lawns and dreams of prosperity, as they are portrayed in the film. At the same time, and since Enrique and Rosa represent the more than 300 million people who cross the border each year, in the film, the U.S. Border Patrol plays a prominent role in Tijuana’s identity. Rosa and Enrique, after being deported back to Tijuana finally meet Raimundo Gutiérrez (Abel Franco), the good coyote that had been recommended by the elderly neighbor in Guatemala, and embark on their second chance to cross the border into the United States.

El Norte represents a crude border reality lived daily by Latinos. As it is stated in LearMedia, "this movie puts a face to those people and their day-to-day struggles here in this country. It’s not always a pretty picture."

Nava was honored with an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay in a foreign film. In this respect, we must highlight the fact that the Regents of the Academy Awards designated El Norte as a foreign film. Hence, for the Academy, the depictions of Hispanic subjectivity within the United States was not considered an American reality, but a foreign one, an "other." In fact, Nava’s El Norte is neither foreign nor American, it is a border film, depicting individuals who live at the border of two subjectivities. Because of Nava’s desire to deconstruct social and political realities of Latinos who cross and live in the border, the director’s more recent film, Mi familia, has been called the first Hispanic-American family saga, a Latino Godfather.

Anya Peterson Royce describes ethnic identity as values, symbols, and common histories that identify members of a group as belonging to a specific racial and cultural category (1-3). She adds that "everyone in a subordinate position is potentially an ethnic, it being the privilege of the dominant group to assign roles and lay down rules. Dominant groups rarely define themselves as ethnics" (3). Concurrently, in María Novaros film, El jardín del Edén (The Garden of Eden), she presents the stories of three women: Serena, Jeanie, and Liz. Of all the characters, Liz, La Chicana, embodies dispersed and displaced feminine ethnic identities in search of subjectivity, within the ironic landscape of Tijuana, in which "the interlocking of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality shifts the focus of investigation from one aimed at explicating these elements to one whose goal is to determine what the connections are among these systems" (Miranne and Young 8-9). It is precisely in Tijuana where Liz, la Chicana, is on a quest to find herself, in a border city typified by "property enclosure .. [a] preference for enclosed spaces" that started with Spanish settlements during the colonial era and is still "strongly identified with Mexican and Mexican-American housescapes" (Arreola & Curtis 166). That is, a place closed from within, but, yet, open, or rather abandoned, as it was exemplified by Nava’s El Norte, to all cultural and human expressions.

La Chicana Liz is criticized by Juana and other Tijuanenses because of her misunderstanding of Spanish, and worse, her mispronunciation of her daughter’s name Guadalupe, which is a reflection in the mirror —just like the interviewed Chicana— of her shattered sense of identity. Royce argues that progress stands in the way of ethnicity; that is, it is viewed as "transitional and will disappear with industrialization" (100). In this respect, we must assume that it was not Liz herself who willingly abandoned her Hispanic roots to better establish herself in the United States, but that perhaps it was her grandparents or parents who, in attempting to fit in within the dominant culture, chose to forgo their linguistic codes in Spanish in order to embrace the preferred dominant English codes. As a result, Liz crosses the border with "Guadelupee" in the opposite direction of her ancestors in order to search for an identity. Hence, while Serena –a Mexican--, Jeanie –a Gringa-- and Liz share some commonalities that include challenging the patriarchal discourse, the "national discourse," Liz must also contend with the fact that she is not perceived as having a true nationality. That is, "for the Chicana, her national identity is often challenged" (Sandoval 213).

Liz’ linguistic travails make us realize that "speaking and writing are discourses that orient and manipulate social interaction" (Ruiz 360). Anzaldúa declares that she has been confronted about her linguistic inabilities in Spanish. She declares:

Pocho, cultural traitor, you’re speaking the oppressor’s language by speaking English, you’re ruining the Spanish language … [but] Chicano Spanish is not incorrect, it is a living language … for a people who live in a country in which English is the reigning tongue but who are not Anglo; for a people who cannot entirely identify with either standard … Spanish nor standard English, what recourse is left to them but to create their own language? (77).

Concurrently, in asserting her Chicana identity, Anzaldúa expresses that hers,

is grounded in the Indian woman’s history of resistance. The Aztec female rites of mourning were rites of defiance protesting the cultural changes which disrupted the equality and balance between female and male … unlike Chicanas and other women of color who grew up white or who have only recently returned to their native cultural roots, I was totally immersed in mine (42).

In Liz’s case, the Chicana of El Jardín del Edén, by settling in Tijuana with her daughter, she is confronting her roots in a nostalgic attempt to apprehend the "impact of one dominant culture over another … allowing us to witness the resistance, transactions and assimilation, which are indispensable for one subaltern culture to adapt and survive within the dominant one" (Hernández Mora 195).

Border subjectivities reflect the transculturation of individuals who attempt to find a better niche in the U.S. after enduring political turmoil in their countries. In How the García Girls Lost their Accents (1992), Dominican-American writer and poet Julia Álvarez deconstructs Dominican identity and subjectivity from the perspective of the García family, especially the four García sisters, who initiate a process of transculturation the moment they are forced to leave their native land. The women of the text narrate and express their anxiety when they find themselves within the border of two cultures which "is focused repeatedly in the possibility of violence on the feminine body, in Santo Domingo (their place of origin, reneging and nostalgia), as well as in New York, a city where they arrive as confused immigrants" (Vilches 100). One of the main difficulties that the García family encounters when uprooting themselves from the Dominican Republic is adjusting to their xenophobic neighbors, who do not accept the idea of having their space invaded by non-Anglos:

The old woman from the apartment below, who had a helmet of beauty parlor blue hair, had been complaining to the super since the day the family moved in a few months ago. The Garcías should be evicted. Their food smelled. They spoke too loudly and not in English. The kids sounded like a herd of wild burros. The Puerto Rican super, Alfredo, came to their door almost daily. Could Mrs. García turn the radio down? Could Mrs. García maybe keep the girls more in line? The neighbor downstairs had been awakened by the clatter of their shoes on the floor … [Sandi. One of the García sisters] did not like Alfredo [the super]; something about the man’s overfriendliness and his speaking to them in English even though they all knew Spanish made her feel uneasy (Álvarez 170-171).

Royce states that "languages often become the symbolic focus of conflict" (157) signaling a fragmentation of ethnic diversity that is reflected in the adoption of a dominant language by an immigrant. In the García Girls, Carla, the older of the García sisters is not only teased at school for being a spic, but, she is humiliated by her lack of language abilities when telling the police about an incident with a flasher. Mamy, the one who speaks better English, feels that it is her duty to report the incident to the police, but has a difficult time conveying to her shy oldest daughter that she must tell authorities about the flasher. After she has finally convinced Carla to speak to the police, we are told that two Anglo-looking policemen arrive at the García household and, after a brief introduction, proceed to question Carla about her confrontation with the flasher. Unfortunately, in trying to dutifully reply, Carla realizes that she is at a loss for words, or rather, the precise vocabulary:

Carla thought hard for what could be the name of a man’s genitals. They had come to this country before she had reached puberty in Spanish, so a lot of the key words she would have been picking up in the last year, she had missed. Now, she was learning English in a Catholic classroom, where no nun had ever mentioned the words she was needing. ‘he had a string around his waist,’ Carla explained … and it came up to the front’—she showed on herself—‘and here it was tied in a— ’ She held up her fingers and made the sign for zero. ‘A noose?’ the gentle cop offered (Álvarez 163).

Unable to transmit an accurate message to the "gentle cop," Carla finds herself in a linguistic border in which neither Spanish nor English comes to her aide. She cannot communicate with others; Carla cannot relate to the "gentle cops" what she has been subjected to by the flasher not only because she does not posses the linguistic codes in either of the two languages, but also because, by being a "spic" in an almost all white school, Carla has been ostracized and has not made the necessary ties with other teenagers.

The very title of Álvarez’ most famous novel reflects the author’s obsession with the ramifications of adapting to the dominant culture through loss of identity via linguistic assimilation. By losing their Spanish accents when speaking English, the García sisters experience life through binary linguistic oppositions, in which English slowly takes away the place of their native tongue, eroding their linguistic cultural space. Hence, they find themselves in New York, the new spicks on the block, not loved by their neighbors and without the ability to put down roots, always longing and, at the same time, rejecting the island that saw them grow (Vilches 108-109).

Yo, the true protagonist of The García Girls, is constantly underscoring the complex relationship of the linguistic mojado, who is not quite sure whether he/she understands what it is being said around him/herself. Yo, in being called "vivacious", has to consult the dictionary and upon learning the word’s meaning in Spanish "[I] was relieved to find out it didn’t mean I had problems. English was then still a party favor for me—crack open the dictionary, find out if I’d just been insulted, praised, admonished, criticized" (Álvarez 87). At the same time, Yo comes to terms with and philosophizes about the linguistic decisions made by bilingual individuals in acute social situations. Indeed, she and her sister must constantly choose between one linguistic code or another. Yo, whose birth name is Yolanda, metamorphoses in New York city into Yo, Joe,etc., while striving to find a niche in American society.

According to Álvarez’ narration, the García girls arrived in the United States while young; therefore, they were able to cross the linguistic bilinguilism threshold. Then, as Yo’s friend poet desires to know, does Yo have the capacity to revert to her mother’s tongue in a moment of acute emotion? But, is Spanish her mother tongue? Or, does she now possess two languages (two parents)? Spanish as the mother and English as the macho, overprotective, father. From a strictly linguistic viewpoint, bilingual children go from one linguistic code to the next, in a rather unconscious fashion, which, for adults it implies a failure to maintain linguistic separation (Malakoff and Hakuta 146). However, for Yo we cannot speak of either linguistic code because she first learnt Spanish in order to abandon it for English in New York. That is, Yo, and her three sisters, in wanting to possess the codes of Anglo society, destroy the little that they have left of their island memories. For this reason, they find themselves in a position in which code switching signals "the disintegration of Hispanic language and culture" (Malakoff and Hakuta 146).

Ruiz states that the phrase "Speak English, you are in America now!" has been forever ingrained in his psyche (355). By "cutting" tongues, as Ruiz explicitly calls it, the enforcement and acquisition of the dominant language contributes to the "emergence of alternative identities and practices" (361). In this study, I believe that through the framework of Mexican and Dominican literary texts, and Mexican and Latino border films, I have been able to present a glimpse of the linguistic border that presents itself physically as well as metaphysically, "wherever two or more cultures edge each other … where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy" (Anzaldúa).




(1). Much debate has been triggered by the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino." Darryl Fears, staff writer for the Washington Post ponders the various views held by prominent Latinos about both terms. For instance, Sandra Cisneros rejects the term and calls it a "slave name" because it links Latinos to Spanish colonial subjugation. On the other hand, there are other Hispanics who feel that the term recognizes the eternal link with Spain ("Latinos or Hispanics?"). In this essay, both terms will be used alternatively in order to emphasize a sense of border subjectivity even in the terms "Latino" and "Hispanic."

(2). "Matorrales" es la metáfora de los matorrales al lado del río que pierden sus raíces y un tributo a la heroica épica de los imigrantes.

(3). What’s up, mano, I was looking for you. Sometimes it seems as if I can never find you / Bad herb never dies. Here I am, man. I’ve been busy with work. One must make money. What do you need? / It’s that I’ve got some dollars together and I don’t know how to send them to my town. My old lady must be really needing for some dough. You know, things are not good down there. / Don’t worries (worry), my friend, we will send the money now. How much did you manage to save? It’d better be a lot ‘cause it’s gonna cost you / What do you care? Well, no more than two hundred, but they are good for frijoles and tortillas. They will be good down there. / Okay, let’s go, then. It’s on the next block. Come on! / Orale, and thank you, man./ Don’t worry, may frien (my friend). Let’s go to the liquor store for some brews and we can drink them in the corner in the park. That way, the patrol cannot see us, we will look like matorrales (bushes), hidden behind matorrales. Or, what, you are not gonna offer? / The thing is that I don’t have any more money. Can’t you see that I already sent what I had? / Ai trit yu, man (I will treat you, man) / Come on, carnal, speak to me in Spanish / … It’s about time you understand English … / … You said you were going to get a grin car (green card) and your social security. What happened? / Here they are / Let me see. Orray (All right). They almost look real. Jau mach? (How much?) / Ninety for the two of them. But, speak to me in Spanish, mano. You are apochado (culturally Americanized). You are gonna forget Spanish if you continue talking like this. Give me a brew. / Tomorrow I’ll go talk to that Chicano that hires us to work in construction. He’s a bit of a pain because he thinks he is better than us because he was born on this side … Don’t laugh when he speaks to you, because if you think I’m a pocho, wait ‘til you hear him. He says everything backwards, and he says things like he is speaking to your back instead of saying that he will call you back. But, if you laugh, he gets mad. But don’t pay attention to him, you just do your job well and with deaf ears. Overall, what’s important is that you can’t be on the street corner at four in the morning looking for a job to see if you get one. And, scared about the migra. Here at least you know that the job is sure, and I think that they are looking for somebody that knows how to pour cement and work the brick. You can do those things, no? / Say, are still staying in that little house? / Yes, man, but every time it smells worse. Last week we were only four and now we are seven. At night time it reeks. Imagine, after eating burritos for dinner, man. And there are some who don’t bathe often. We can’t fit in that house. And then the heat, it’s like a smelly oven. The truth is that it’s for the chingada. But now with Negro and Carasucia we want to rent a little place. That’s why I need a job. I don’t want to end up sleeping in the green house, like those guys. /

(4). Scott London, in an interview with Richard Rodriguez asserts that The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982), "was a searching account of his journey from being a ‘socially disadvantaged child’ to a fully assimilated American, from the Spanish-speaking world of his family to the wider, presumably freer, public life promised him by English" ("Crossing Borders"). Indeed, Rodriguez felt that in order to adapt to the United States, he had to let go of "his past, his family, and his culture." Only by doing that he could become a new person, an American. Indeed, in his quest to detach himself from his own roots, he finds in American culture the perfect milieu to devoid himself of la familia. Rodriguez states: "Americans like to talk about the importance of family values. But America isn’t a country of family values; Mexico is a country of family values. This is a country of people who leave home" ("Crossing Borders").
Scott also affirms: "While [The Hunger of Memory] generated widespread critical acclaim and won several literary awards, it also stirred up resentment among those offended by Rodriguez’s strong stand against bilingual education and affirmative action. Some Mexican-Americans called him pocho -- traitor -- accusing him of betraying himself and his people. Others called him a ‘coconut’ - brown on the outside, white on the inside. He calls himself ‘a comic victim of two cultures’" ("Crossing Borders").

Works Cited

Álvarez, Julia. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Plume Contemporary Fiction, 1992.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999.

Arreola, Daniel D. & Janes R. Curtis. The Mexican Border Cities: Landscape, Anatomy, and Place Personality. Tucson & London: The University of Arizona Press, 1993.

Burke, John Francis. "U.S. Hispanic Theology and the politics of Border Crossings" ‘We Hold These Truths’ from the Frontera." The Review of Politics 60 (1998): 108. Accessed January 28, 2004. 36 paragraphs.

Canfield, J. Douglas. Mavericks on the Border: The Early Southwest in Historical Fiction and Film. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

Chanady, Amaryll. Latin American Identities and Constructions of Difference. Amaryll Chanady, ed. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Davis, Mike. Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City. London & New York: Verso, 2001.

Fears, Darryl. "Latinos or Hispanics? A Debate About Identity". August 25, 2003. Accessed February 5, 2004

Mi familia
. Director Gregory Nava. Screenplay Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas, 1995.

Fogelquist, Jim. "Ethnicity, Sexuality and Identity in the Autobiographies of Richard Rodriguez." Double Crossings. EntreCruzamientos. Edited by Mario Martín Flores and Carlos von Son. New Jersey: Ediciones Nuevo Espacio, 2001.

Hernández Mora, Judith. "La cultura chicana: Más allá del inglés y del español." Double Crossings. EntreCruzamientos. Edited by Mario Martín Flores and Carlos von Son. New Jersey: Ediciones Nuevo Espacio, 2001.

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism: Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1994.

El Jardín del Edén
. Director María Novaro. Screenplay María Novaro and Beatriz Novaro, 1994.

LearMedia. El Norte. Accessed March 24, 2004

Leitch, Vincent B. Theory Matters. New York: Routledge, 2003.

London, Scott. "Crossing Borders: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez". Accessed March 16, 2004

Malakoff, Marguerite and Kenji Hakuta. "Translation Skills and Metalinguistic Awareness in Bilinguals." Language Processing in Bilingual Children. Ellen Bialystok, Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Miranne, Kristine B. And Alma H. Young. Editors. Gendering the City: Women, Boundaries, and Visions of Urban Life. London & Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000.

El Norte
. Director Gregory Nava. Screenplay Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas, 1983.

Rosario-Sievert, Heather. "Conversation with Julia Álvarez." Review: Latin American Literature and Arts 54 (1997): 31-37.

Royce, Anya Peterson. Ethnic Identity: Strategies of Diversity. Blomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Ruiz, Delberto Dario. "Teki Lenguas del Yollotzín (Cut tongues from the Heart): Colonialims, Borders, and the Politics of Space." Decolonial Voices: Chicana and Chicano Cultural Studies in the 21st Century Edited by Arturo J. Aldama and Naomi H. Quiñonez. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

Saldívar, José. Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Sandoval, Anna M. "Unir los lazos: Braiding Chicana and Mexicana Subjectivities." Decolonial Voices: Chicana and Chicano Cultural Studies in the 21st Century Edited by Arturo J. Aldama and Naomi H. Quiñonez. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

Vilches, Patricia. "La violencia pública/íntima hacia la subjetividad del cuerpo femenino en Julia Álvarez y Rosario Ferré." Taller de Letras 32 (2003): 99-112.

Von Son, Carlos. Qué de que y otros cuentos. Salta Editorial Argentina, 2001.

_____________. Interview: "Los cuentos de Qué de qué". E-mail sent to Patricia Vilches on Thursday, February 20, 2003.

West, Dennis. "Filming the Chicano Family Saga: Interview with Director Gregory Nava." Cineaste Volume 21, n 4 Fall, (1995): 26. Accessed January 28, 2004. 3 pages.