Epistemologies of the Wound: Anzaldúan Theories and Sociological Research on Incest in Mexican Society

Article excerpt

Abstract: In this article, I revisit my marginalized and silent intellectual relationship with Gloria E. Anzaldúa's work, my personal experiences as a Mexican immigrant woman in academia, and my incorporation and discussion of Anzaldúan theorizing in my qualitative research on incest in Mexican society. I examine the ways in which Anzaldúan theories and concepts inform the early stages of my sociological study of adults' histories of intra-familial sexual experiences (mainly coercive and abusive) during childhood and adolescence. Some of these concepts include nepantla, conocimiento, spiritual activism, la facultad, and Coyolxauhqui. "Epistemologies of the wound" is a concept I use to identify the multidimensional state of consciousness I have discovered and explored at the core of the mutually interconnected intellectual, emotional, and spiritual processes I have experienced while conducting my in-depth individual interviews with my informants. My sample includes a total of 60 adult women and men with histories of coercive sexual experiences within the context of the family, and who live in four urbanized locations in Mexico (Ciudad Juárez, Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey). I offer my early reflections on the theoretical and methodological implications of Anzaldúan epistemologies for the sociological research of sensitive topics.

The healing of our wounds results in transformation and transformation results in the healing of our wounds.

-Gloria E. Anzaldúa, "Let Us Be the Healing of the Wound," 2002

I am a sociologist, and also a couple and family therapist by training who used to conduct clinical work with Latin American immigrant families and women with histories of all forms of violence and abuse. As an academic, I specialize in sexuality and gender studies with populations of Mexican origin. The honest voices of Mexicans surviving on the edges of marginality and inequality in the city of Los Angeles have offered me generous amounts of ethnographic data that I have used to write a book, articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries about gender, Mexican immigrants, and their sex lives. As I have immersed myself in this demanding academic journey, Gloria Anzaldúa's work has always been by my side but never included. I developed a relationship with her work but always in silence.

Anzaldúa's writings were briefly incorporated in my academic training and when I discovered her work, it became my cup of tea, my "don't-read-after-you're-done-with-your-truly-academic" reading. Her intellectual contributions gave so much joy to my heart. Her ideas organized and explained my life as a human being, an immigrant, and a graduate student. Her words became the work that I would read for pleasure, not as an obligation like those books by Durkheim, Weber, Habermas, or Lacan.

As a highly motivated graduate student, I became an active listener in class. I always had many ideas in my mind, but I also felt intimidated and lonely. I was afraid of my Mexican-accented and mispronounced English; I had to engage in exhausting emotional and intellectual labor in my mind before I opened my mouth in class discussions. I was fearful of my immigrant tongue, I was afraid it would betray me. I became a wounded observer of academic conversations and institutions. Many times, I just wanted to quit. Alone in my small apartment in Los Angeles, I would grab La Frontera and hold it close to my heart, but I would put it back in the borderlands of my own bookshelves.

I learned to survive but I was not alone. From my few mentors and other students-in-struggle, I gradually learned to explore ways to decipher and challenge mainstream academia. And while back in my own marginality, I developed insight and strength. I was subversively happy in my own silence; in my loneliness, I enjoyed thinking about how to resist. Anzaldúa's words best capture my experience, "Aquí en la soledad prospera su rebeldía. En la soledad Ella prospera. …