Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tongues that are Untamable

"Identity is the essential core of who we are as individuals, the conscious experience of the self inside."

This is a quote by Kaufman, an American psychologist who, I admit, I know next to nothing about. But I found this saying while reading Gloria Anzaldua's "How to Tame a Wild Tongue."

"How to Tame a Wild Tongue" is a chapter from Anzaldua's book Borderland/La Frontera, the New Mestiza. While I don't agree with all of Anzaldua's sentiments, I do think that this is a very valid piece of literature to discuss some of my themes and ideas about multiple identities reconciling into one online. For Anzaldua, identity is very closely tied with language. I love some of the passion in her writing... "How do you tame a wild tongue, train it to be quiet, how do you bridle and saddle it? How do you make it lie down?" Anzaldua grew up in the Tex-Mex culture of the borderlands, a place where identity is defined as being blurred between spaces. As a Chicana, Anzaldua grew up with a multiplicity of languages, a multiplicity of identities. She learned standard English, slang English, standard Spanish, Mexican Spanish, North Mexican Spanish dialect, many regional versions of Chicano Spanish, Tex-Mex, and Pachuco (which is sort of a rebellious spanish-like language that came about in the 1930s and 40s).

That's a lot of languages. A lot of identities. But Anzaldua does argue that this multiplicity of languages can be used to find a singular identity. She says that
for a people who cannot entirely identify with either standard (formal, Castilian) Spanish nor standard English, what recourse is left to them but to create their own language? A language which they can connect their identity to, one capable of communicating the realities and values true to themselves--a language with terms that are neither espanol ni ingles, but both.
I like that word "create"... I think it works in really well with what I am thinking about identity online. We create our own identities. We see the multiplicity, and, just as a Chicano language was "created," we create a singular identity that contains multiplicity.

Like I said, I don't agree with everything Anzaldua claims. But I really like parts of this text. I guess I'm interested because my mom is an elementary school teacher in Arizona, my beautiful home state, for kids who do not test proficient in English. She has about twenty of the most adorable Hispanic kiddos you've ever seen. I also love this text simply because I love language. Many times, Anzaldua uses Spanish in her text. The first time I read it, I was able to use my high school AP skills to understand most of it. The rest was translated for me by Greg, the very cute boy I am dating who returned in December from an LDS mission to Madrid. Sometimes he would pause and crinkle his eyebrows, and then shrug. "I don't know that word," he'd whisper at the library table in Periodicals. "Must be a Mexican word. They've come up with their own little things to say."

We all come up with our own little things to say, our own little things to do. We make our identity out of all these little things together. Wonderful, isn't it?


  1. Heather! I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think you're a genius! My favorite sentence (which I admit I read 3 times because it just delighted me!) was "We create a singular identity that contains multiplicity." Excellent point to make! Just as we have one body with multiple parts to make the whole (here I go with my science analogies again)I think this could be comparable to the internet which is one "whole" with multiple facets where we can express our multiple identities. Keep going in that vein...include James' Caucajewmexdian as I think even the title reveals a lot about what he's going for with that blog!

  2. Becca's right, that's a great insight. And language is certainly one of the major ways identity is mediated, as is ethnicity.

    I was doing some research online with respect to identity and my interest in Avatar. Turns out there is a good book on this topic that I think you would find relevant: Zach Waggoner's My avatar, my self : identity in video role-playing games. Google it (it's previewed in Google Books) and check out chapter two in particular. It gives a good theoretical background regarding the general issue of identity and connects it to its relevance in the new media. Clearly, identity is an issue that comes to the fore in video gaming, and more generally online with the issue of authentication and security. The Waggoner gives more of the theoretical underpinnings and is worth a look.