Metaphors of a Mestiza Consciousness: Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera

By Aigner-Varoz, Erika | MELUS, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Metaphors of a Mestiza Consciousness: Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera


Aigner-Varoz, Erika, MELUS


In her seminal text Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua constructs a mestiza consciousness as a dynamic "new mythos" capable of breaking down dualistic hegemonic paradigms. Anzaldua targets paradigms representing culturally determined roles imposed on individuals and peoples from the outside. Failure to conform to such paradigms, Anzaldua argues, results in the social ostracism of the "transgressors." In constructing her compelling argument in Borderlands, Anzaldua creates a "mythos" of Mestizaje to explore and explode the ways in which socially enforced paradigms arc established through surface and conceptual metaphors as well as the ways in which these paradigms seem to label people as acceptable or unacceptable. Anzaldua asserts in her text that because metaphor has the power to restructure the collective unconscious through both linguistic and visual means, it is therefore possible for her to alter the unconscious of the reading masses with her own metaphorical constructions. Anzaldua's position is thus one of both appropriation and resistance.

Combating and incorporating the metaphors and archetypes, particularly serpents that are indigenous to her southwestern homeland as well as her race and her culture/religion, Anzaldua engages in a dialectical process in order to transcend imposed conceptual boundaries that have made her an outcast. Because many of the metaphors and archetypes she cites are cross-cultural and inter-referential, Anzaldua's text necessarily embraces and validates experiences of people from varied cultures, races, classes, and sexual orientations. As a mestiza (a woman of "white, Mexican [and] Indian" descent), and a lesbian and feminist, Anzaldua redefines Mestizaje through what she calls a mestiza consciousness: "a new value system with images and symbols" that may serve to heal the split between "white ... and colored, ... male and female" and the hegemonically differentiated "us" and "them" (Borderlands 80, 3).

Far beyond figures of speech, metaphors in Borderlands serve, in Anzaldua's words, as "dominant paradigms ... [that] are transmitted to us through the culture made by those in power--men" (16). Metaphors, according to theorists Lakoff and Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, play "a central role in defining our everyday realities" by structuring the way we think, perceive, and socialize (3). Metaphor in this way redefines our individual realities and "helps form social reality" (Wilson 883, my emphasis). For example, in an essay published after the appearance of Borderlands, Anzaldua analyzes images contained in border art and hypothesizes about the cause and pervasive effect of the evolution of patriarchal metaphors: "Through the centuries a culture touches and influences another, passing on its metaphors and its gods before it dies. Metaphors are gods. The new culture adopts, modifies, and enriches these images, and it, in turn, passes them on changed. The process is repeated until the original meanings of images are pushed into the unconscious" ("Chicana Artists" 39). Her distinction between metaphors/archetypes/images and their "original meanings" implies two levels of metaphor: surface and conceptual.

The surface level of metaphor is the named, exterior comparison, while the conceptual level is a more fundamental and less obvious comparison upon which the surface metaphor is built. In More Than Cool Reason, Lakoff and Turner have identified a list of what they call "basic conceptual metaphors," those structurally systematic conventions upon which the interpretations of many other expressions and idioms depend (51), including "GOOD IS WHITE, BAD IS BLACK/DARK," both of which are seen emerging from the serpent metaphors that Anzaldua describes.

As Anzaldua intentionally unveils the "original meaning[s]" of surface metaphors, including the serpents outlining her "new value system," she, perhaps unconsciously, exposes the two "basic conceptual metaphors" about colors/coloring listed by Lakoff and Turner. …

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