|Healing the Wounds of Conquest: Engaging in Decolonial Politics to Subvert and Recreate Chicano Masculinity
By: Zach Serrano
When considering the issues of patriarchy and male dominance I often find myself asking numerous questions. As men, are we inherently oppressive? Does our mere presence bear the ugliness of dominance? Can we transcend or do we have the ability to exist outside the confines of our oppressive nature? Can we express our masculinity in a way that is not patriarchal? And if so, how can we go about doing that?
Masculinity, as it exists today, is not biological or genetic; it is not natural. It is constructed socially just as race and gender are constructed. Masculinity is a performance, a role that men in our society play. And because it is only a social construction and a not a scientific reality, masculinity can be changed. The definition can be redefined. The guidelines governing what masculinity looks like can be redrawn. The masculine identity can be recreated.
I do not mean to suggest that all things masculine are inherently evil. There are many aspects of masculinity that are positive and should be embraced. However much of the masculine identity as it is constructed by the current definition today inhabits an oppressive space of domination. This aspect of masculinity is violently used to create fear within women and assert man as being powerful and dominant. These are the attributes of masculinity with which I take issue. It is here where I offer my critique as a Chicano feminist. I believe it is crucial to identify those aspects of masculinity that inhabit this space of dominance; aspects that must be transformed such that a redefinition of what it means to be a man can occur. It begs the question of what qualifies as appropriate and inappropriate aspects of masculinity so that we might move beyond an ambiguous understanding of how being a man is constructed.
Gloria Anzaldúa in her book Borderlands/La Frontera, describes this place of ambiguity, a space she calls nepantla, as an occupation of an in-between state. She sees this as a space where personal growth, transition, and transformation can occur. This process of change is facilitated through the experience of what she identifies as the “Coatlicue State.” The inherent nature of nepantla is to cause within us a sense of confusion, doubt, and fear. As we occupy this in-between state of nepantla, Anzaldúa proposes that we are pushed into a place of deep self-reflection, a place where we investigate and learn to negotiate the seemingly conflicting elements of our identities. This is not a joyous or beautiful place. It is dark and cold, often times producing a sense of depression within us. Coatlicue, a Mexica/Aztec representation of our mother earth, “opens and swallows us, plunging us into the underworld where the soul resides, allowing us to dwell into darkness” (Anzaldúa 46). Forced to confront our inner self/soul, this “Coatlicue State” can be scary. It requires us to look deep within ourselves to resolve and find answers to the conflicts in our lives. It is from this place of inner conflict that I write this essay.
Within the Chicano community today, there exists a masculine identity that Chicano men believe they must adopt and live up to if they are to be “real” men. Many people have come to understand this concept of masculinity as machismo. Although there are good and positive elements of machismo, much of this masculinity inhabits an oppressive space that promotes male domination over women. I would like to note that by calling the idea of Chicano masculinity machismo, I am not saying that it is unique to Chicano or Latino men. Machismo is simply the Spanish word used to describe masculinity. It is not entirely positive or negative, and just because it is written in Spanish does not mean that it is particular to Spanish speaking communities. Men from other races or ethnicities also practice machismo. But where did this idea of masculinity come from? And has it always manifested as patriarchal oppression? For Chicano men, much of the negative aspects of masculinity, or machismo, can be directly attributed to the conquest and subsequent colonization of our indigenous ancestors. As a result of the process of European colonization and conquest, a legacy of patriarchy and male dominance have come to define gender relations within the Chicano community, whose members are themselves the oppressed and marginalized victims of post and present colonialism. It is by engaging in a process of decolonization that the colonized can seek empowerment and work to redefine and recreate the masculine identity, resulting in progressive social change.
The Wounds of Conquest
In order to identify the roots of oppressive Chicano masculinity, it is important that we look to the structuring of society in Mesoamerica prior to conquest. For the purposes of this essay, I will concentrate on the Mexica or Aztec peoples. The Aztec Cosmo vision was rooted in a concept of duality that permeated all aspects of society. Inherent in this concept was the equal status of both the masculine and the feminine. Women and men in traditional Aztec society were seen as equals, and women were honored and revered. Women were seen as great sources of power, for they possess the ability to create life. They ensured the renewal of the society, and “[w]hen they were with child it was said that they held within their wombs a ‘precious feather, a precious jade.’ What they held was the jewel of life and renewal for their people, their lineage, sprouted from the seed of their ancestors” (Knab 44).
Bearing children was given the same status as going to war. “For the Aztec woman, the glories of battle were to be found in the renewal of life” (Knab 43). Giving life had the same significance as taking a captive on the battlefield, and women who died during childbirth were afforded the same honors as any warrior who died in battle. Mocihuaquetzque, warrior women, these were the women who died while giving birth. It was seen as a great honor to be awarded this title in traditional Mexica society. The family cried and mourned the loss of their daughter, sister, wife, but this tragedy was also greeted with happiness as well because it was said that “she is not going to Mictlan [the place of the dead], that she is going to heaven, the House of the Sun” (Knab 143).
In terms of traditional Mexica spirituality and “religion,” there was a harmonious coexistence between the male and female deities. I use the terms god and goddess, but in reality, the Mexica people were atheists. They did not believe in gods, but rather they believed that there were essences or energies that governed the cycles permitting the continuation of life on this planet. These energies possessed a dual nature, that of the masculine and feminine. But there was no distinction in significance between the masculine and feminine energies. The Aztecs believed in a concept of duality, that inherent in the structure of the universe was a dual union that could be described as the feminine and the masculine, order and chaos.
This concept of duality was radically different from the patriarchal, monotheistic Cosmo vision of the invading Spaniards. The consequence was holocaustal. Our lands, our bodies, our minds and our spirits were assaulted. The imposition of Spanish domination crippled by their narrow-mindedness resulted in religious, philosophical and cultural genocide that allowed the Spanish to justify the brutal killing of our leaders, teachers and our tlamatinmeh who possessed the great ancestral wisdom. The Spaniards came and destroyed that which was different from them, that which they feared. They burned our libraries and books containing the huehuetlatolli, the ancient wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors. They systematically destroyed our traditional ways of thinking and living. The roles of women and men were no longer seen in equal relation to one another. And as European faces became more prominent and visible in our world, patriarchy and the idea of male dominance began to permeate into the structuring of our societies.
One powerful force in the conquest of our peoples was the Catholic Church. The imposition of Christianity onto native peoples has always resulted in a loss and destruction of culture and traditional forms of prayer. The Catholic Church accompanied the swords of the conquistadors, but the wound it inflicted was deeper and more destructive than any other weapon of conquest. The objective of the Church was to wipe out any form of indigenous spirituality supplanting it with Christian dogma/doctrine.
Ignoring the harmonious duality concept of Aztec belief, the Spanish introduced and forced it upon the people they encountered a male dominated religion. God was gendered and masculine, and mankind was created in the image of God. The Christian God omnipotent, all-powerful and dominating, fiercely ruled the universe. Women were expected to continue to fulfill their roles as renewers of life and care takers. But no longer were those roles given the same significance as the roles men played in society. As Catholic priests documented the history of ancient México in an attempt to facilitate their indoctrination process, they recorded the details of indigenous social structures including the intricate spiritual practices. They did this “through decidedly Christian conceptualizations. This is one of the mechanisms for splitting the unified duality of Aztec deities into conflicting pairs with dominant male and subordinate female characteristics” (Torres 26).
Women were now subservient to men, and the Church used images such as the Virgin Mary to reinforce this belief. The Virgin Mary teaches that women are to be silent, submissive, and gratefully accepting of their devalued status in society. Most importantly, she exemplifies the idea that women are not to be sexual or have a sense of sexuality. The Immaculate Conception allowed her to produce and give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, all without ever becoming “tainted.” She remained pure; she remained virgin as was the expectation of all good Christian women. Catholic images such as these imposed the mentality of the colonizer onto the Aztec people, and began to introduce an oppressive and patriarchal element to the masculinity construct of the Aztec people.
The ideas of war and empire held by the Spanish invaders were far different from those of the Mexica people. In A Scattering of Jades, edited by Dr. T.J. Knab, the story of a noble named Ahuelitoctzin is told. In the story, the noble attempts to provide Hernán Cortés with some clarity about what war meant to his people. In an attempt to save his people from the inevitable destruction they would face at the hands of the conquistadors, he tried to help them see what wealth and conquest meant to the Mexica people. He said that gold wasn’t what made a person wealthy; jade and quetzal feathers were given much more value in their society. Ahuelitoctzin told Cortés that when the Aztecs conquered a people they did not stay and occupy their land. They left and those people would pay tribute to them in the form of jades, feathers, gold, etc. The Aztec’s goal of empire was not one of establishing domination over another tribe or occupying their land, and killing someone in battle. It was more impressive to capture an opponent so that he could die with honor in a ceremony where he could serve as a messenger of the people. The conquest of the Europeans removed this traditional concept of war and replaced it with the understanding of empire as an exercise of domination. New hierarchies were created with the intent to secure that domination while subjugating those who were conquered.
A manifestation of this dominance that the Spanish exercised over the Aztecs was the devaluation of Indigenous women through rape and sexual bondage. Unlike the invaders of what is now considered North America, the Spanish were not afraid to produce offspring with the indigenous peoples that they attempted to conquer. Often times, they took these native women as prizes in their imperial pursuit of conquest and domination and forcefully got what they wanted from them. The rape of these women is most notably recalled in the story of Malintzin, more commonly known as Malinche. Forced to serve as the interpreter of Cortés as he proceeded in his conquest of ancient México, Malintzin was also used as his sex slave. Raped by this ruthless conqueror of her people, Malintzin becomes the metaphoric mother to a new race of people. This rape produced a mestizaje of blood and culture, a mixing that can now be seen in present day Mexicanas/os and Chicanas/os. We are the sons and daughters of la chingada, the fucked one. We are the product of this rape, victims of this conquest, and we still carry those wounds to this day…those wounds of conquest and colonization.
Edén Torres, a Chicana feminist scholar, reminds us in her book, Chicana Without Apology, that we continue to carry the legacy of our ancestor’s suffering on our hearts, souls, and spirits. She goes a step further, and argues that not only do we carry those wounds of conquest, but that they continue to manifest themselves physically into the present day. Her work can be used to understand the oppressive nature of Chicano masculinity as a wound of conquest that has yet to be healed. In chapter one, “Anguished Past, Troubled Present,” Torres speaks about and delineates the physical reality of the historical legacy of conquest and colonization that continues to scar the hearts and souls of our people. She provides a new perspective to the way that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) plays a role in the lives of people who have a history of colonization. Torres argues that the insidious trauma of the conquest is inherited and passed on from generation to generation in the Chicano community. This historical susto or “soul-loss” manifests itself physically in the lives of Chicana/o people in myriad ways. One such manifestation is visible in the exhibiting of symptoms for PTSD, addictive behavior, violence, self-destructiveness, etc. Torres maintains that there is a reason why so many Chicanas/os show the symptoms for PTSD—their history of savage European colonization and brutal conquest.
She does not excuse the destructive behavior by simply claiming that it is a result of historical trauma, rather she attempts to find the source of the problem so that action can be taken to correct the issues that are plaguing the Chicano community. She holds those victims of a colonial past responsible for participating in the healing of these five hundred year old wounds that continue to have an affect on us today. Torres explains that it is because we have not had the time to mourn, to cry, to acknowledge the wounds that they still persist into the present. While this history of the destruction and massacre of our indigenous grandfathers and grandmothers brings with it feelings of intense anger and resentment, Torres urges us to use that anger in away that can lead to healing rather than further destruction.
“We have the right to be angry,” says Torres. But instead of taking that anger and internalizing it or directing towards her own people, she uses it to fuel her writing and her activism so that change and healing can occur. In terms of the colonial legacy of patriarchy in Chicano men, Torres encourages us to confront those historical wounds and recreate our own masculine identities. “Chicano men who have felt emasculated by the mechanisms of conquest, colonization, continual racism, and the ensuing shame these processes entail need to reconstruct communal definitions of manhood rather than reifying European concepts of masculinity” (Torres 25).
Chicana/Third World Feminist Theory: Confronting Our Wounds
“To this day, although lip service is given to ‘gender issues’ in academic and political circles, no serious examination of male supremacy within the Chicano community has taken place among heterosexual men” (Moraga 264). I believe that one way for us as Chicano men to examine our assigned superiority and to reconstruct our definitions of manhood is by engaging with and operating within a space that incorporates Chicana and Third World feminisms into our intellectual and ideological frameworks. Feminism is the avenue through which Chicano men can make revolutionary social change; begin to decolonize our minds, bodies, and spirits; and begin to confront and reform the oppressive nature of male dominance and patriarchy that currently defines our masculine identities. But it is vital that we take on this task from a perspective of Chicana or Third World feminisms.
Many Third World feminists of color have developed theories and methodologies that we can use to decolonize and adopt oppositional identities with which to challenge and resist the hegemonic colonial powers of patriarchy and domination. The space from which these women operate is much different than the space of white, Western feminists. This space of Third World feminism is crucial to our abilities as people of color to resist the many oppressions that we face. In her book, Feminism Without Borders, Chandra Talpade Mohanty outlines and explains the limitations of Women’s Movement in regards to the full participation of women of color. She asserts that this movement and white women’s feminism is a continuation and reinscription of the colonial model. Mohanty establishes how problematic it is to apply Western feminisms to women of the Third World. Western feminist discourse does not allow for women of color to exist outside the role of the victim. These women are defined as victims in their traditionally patriarchal and oppressive societies. “Defining women as archetypal victims freezes them into ‘objects-who-defend-themselves,’ men into ‘subjects-who-perpetuate-violence,’ and (every) society in powerless (read: women) and powerful (read: men) groups of people” (Mohanty 24). This victimization of women of color denies them the agency for attaining empowerment, and by categorizing the oppressed as victims prior to analysis denies and ignores the historical legacies that have lead to the subordinate position of women in our societies. This denial of the history of the construction of oppressive hierarchies impedes any efforts to subvert, challenge, or resist the ideologies and structures that are perpetuated through oppressive social constructions, and thus freezes the oppressed into the role of the passive victim.
Another aspect of the colonization of Western feminism on Third World women is the embodiment of racism and white supremacy in the Western feminist movement. There is a tendency for Western feminists to practice cultural reductionism and place all Third World women into on homogenous categorization. Reducing Third World women to a homogenous grouping based on the assumption that they all share similar interests and goals denies racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity among Third World women and is thus an act of colonization. “Women are constituted as women through the complex interaction between class, culture, religion, and other ideological institutions and frameworks. They are not ‘women’—a coherent group—solely on the basis of a particular economic system or policy” (Mohanty 30). By not realizing this fact, the cultural reductionism of Western Feminists allows them to establish their superiority to Third World women. “The application of the notion of women as a homogenous category to women in the Third World colonizes and appropriates the pluralities of the simultaneous location of different groups of women in social class and ethnic frameworks; [and] in doing so it ultimately robs them of their historical and political agency” (Mohanty 39).
Mohanty argues that the victimization and cultural reductionism inherent to Western Feminist discourse allows for the “maintenance of strong sexual and racial boundaries” which she sees as an essential element to the colonization of the Third World (Mohanty 60). This colonial model is what molds and creates the relations of rule in a society and allows for one group to dominate over all others. Mohanty does not feel that resistance to the ruling class is impossible, “but to fully appreciate and mobilize against the oppressive rule of [the] state, the relations of rule of the state must be understood and analyzed in terms of gender, class, and sexual as well as racial formation” (Mohanty 65). Once this has been done, an oppositional political identity can be formed and adopted, and resistance to oppression can be realized.
Feeling silenced by their exclusion from the Women’s Movement, women of color began to reconceptualize what feminism meant and looked like for women of color. These are the theories and methodologies with which I construct the framework of decolonial politics for Chicano men to resist, reject, and recreate traditional masculinity. “U.S. third world feminism rose out of the matrix of the very discourses denying, permitting, and producing difference” (Sandoval 43). This new feminism allows for the creation of “another model for the self-conscious production of resistance” (Sandoval 43).
For Chela Sandoval, this means adopting what she calls a “differential form of consciousness.” Her theory highlights the need for diversity and difference as we engage in our politics of decolonization. We cannot resist hegemony when we reinforce it by forcing ourselves to operate from a rigid space defined in terms of binaries. Dichotomizing the spaces in which we exist will only work to impede any true revolutionary force of resistance. It is important to allow space for difference so that we can move fluidly and adopt multiple oppositional consciousnesses simultaneously. This will allow us to reclaim the idea of inherent duality and multiplicity apparent in traditional Aztec societies. By reclaiming the duality of the past, we can move beyond gender relations that are defined in terms of dominant male and subordinate female. By using Sandoval’s theory of the “differential,” masculinity and femininity can inhabit the same space at the same time and coexist outside the confines of domination and subordination. Finding that harmonious coexistence will be fundamental in our recreation of Chicano masculinity.
Other prominent Chicana and Third World feminists such as Emma Pérez, Cherríe Moraga, and bell hooks outline theories of decolonization that involve (re)membering and reclaiming the past so that it can be used to conceptualize and understand our present situations in hopes that we will be able to transcend the past and occupy a more equitable and less oppressive future. Pérez maintains that, “the historian’s political project…is to write a history that decolonizes otherness” (Pérez 408). Her theory of the “decolonial imaginary” is what she proposes is needed to write that decolonial history. She says, “the decolonial imaginary is enacted as hope, as love, transcending all that has come before, all that has been inherited only to damage daughters and sons who have fallen heir to a history of conquest, of colonization, of hatred between brown and white” (Pérez 413). The “decolonial imaginary” is a process of “reinscribing the old with the new,” and by invoking it, we agree to remake our history thus transcend an anguished and troubled past (Pérez 413).
Both hooks and Moraga identify the importance of returning to more indigenous ways of life by (re)membering and reclaiming the “native” within us. In an essay addressing the often times long forgotten connection between black and red peoples, hooks attempts to (re)member the past and give words to a history that has been silenced and erased. hooks observes that the erasure of this history is in response to a fear that a white supremacist society has when black and red communities engage in political solidarity. The very essence and fabric of that society is threatened when the enslaved and the conquered join together in resistance of the hegemonic colonial powers that have desecrated their peoples.
Throughout the essay, hooks speaks about the connection between red and black nations that she hopes will never be completely forgotten or erased. She encourages us to look to the spirits of the ancestors so that we do not become consumed by a white supremacist construction of OUR histories. Her words provide the black and red minds a model for decolonization. She asserts, “it is a gesture of resistance to the dominant culture’s way of thinking about history, identity, and community for us to decolonize our minds, reclaim the word that is our history as it was told to us by our ancestors, not as it has been interpreted by the colonizer” (hooks 184). We must (re)member ourselves and our histories. To decolonize we must give ourselves back memory. “Within changing worlds, black and red people look once again to the spirit of our ancestors, recovering worldviews and life-sustaining values that renew our spirit and restore in us the will to resist domination” (hooks 194).
Cherríe Moraga adds to this theory of hooks by claiming that decolonizing our minds and bodies can only happen through a decolonization of our spirit as well. Moraga calls for a return to our traditional and indigenous forms of prayer and spirituality. Returning to our culture’s traditional native spirituality can be used to “find concrete solutions for the myriad problems confronting us, from the toxic dump sites in our neighborhoods to rape” (Moraga 268). She also sees potential power of indigenous spirituality to specifically address the patriarchy of Chicano men. “Native religions have traditionally honored the female alongside the male. Religions that grow exclusively from the patriarchal capitalist imagination, instead of the requirements of nature, enslave the female body” (Moraga 271). Reclaiming our spirits by beginning to relearn the ways of our ancestors will enable us to build a Chicano Nation that is not governed by patriarchy, male dominance, or heterosexism.
Reclaiming the Past to Create Change in the Future: Spirituality as Resistance
The decolonial politics with which I choose to engage is rooted in the native spirituality of my ancestors, the Mexica peoples. I believe that adopting a more indigenous Cosmo vision and reclaiming our spiritual origins is necessary to any process of decolonization that attempts to resist, subvert, and recreate Chicano masculinity. By invoking the “decolonial imaginary” or operating from a “differential consciousness,” we can (re)member and reclaim the past to create something new for our present realities. I do not intend to simply assert that we must return to the old and traditional ways of our peoples and live in the ways that our ancestors lived. That is impossible and naïve. Our world is not the same as it was 500 years ago and it never will be, but that does not mean that we should forgo the values of our ancestors. We need to incorporate the values and beliefs of our ancestors as a foundation upon which to rebuild. Incorporating traditional Mexica belief and thought to the way we perceive the world around us will allow us to adopt an oppositional and indigenous consciousness that can be used to challenge and heal the wounds of conquest that still affect us as Chicanas/os living in contemporary society.
To operate from a more indigenous worldview, Chicanas/os must first reclaim the duality from our traditional societies and bring back the harmonious coexistence between all of the energies governing the continuation of the cycles of life and death on earth. The concept of duality was central to the organization of traditional Mexica civilization. Within everything there existed forces that were “simultaneously opposed and complementary” (Ortiz 37). According to the creation stories, humans were conceived with both celestial matter (representing the masculine) and earthly matter (representing the feminine). All living creatures contain this never ending duality, and we as Chicano men have the responsibility to restore the harmony of the masculine and feminine that is contained within us.
One way in which this is possible is by recreating and retelling the myths of our history that have been used to define the existence of women in our societies. Malintzin needs to be seen not as the traitor to her people that assisted Cortés in his conquest, but as the raped mother who gave birth to our raza mestiza. La Llorona is not the wailing crazy woman who wanders riverbanks in search of the bodies of her children that she has killed. La Llorona is the woman oppressed by a patriarchal and homophobic society who is crying out for justice and change.
There is one other mother of the Chicana/o whose story must be retold, La Virgen de Guadalupe. Many Chicana/o scholars have contributed to the retelling of this story. The many articles that appear in Goddess of the Americas, an anthology edited by Ana Castillo, attempt to redefine this image of femininity from a more indigenous perspective. In her article “Coatlalopeuh, She Who Has Dominion Over Serpents,” Gloria Anzaldúa speaks about the patriarchal standards that have been imposed upon the image of la Virgen de Guadalupe (and thus all Chicana women). Many of the indigenous female deities worshiped prior to 1429 were embodied by la Virgen de Guadalupe when she appeared to Juan Diego in December of 1531. Thus, it is no surprise that as Mexican Indigenous peoples return to their native roots they begin to reclaim the Indian within la Virgen de Guadalupe-Coatlalopeuh-Tonantzin-Coatlicue-Tlazoteotl.
During the cultural genocide of the conquest, the indigenous representations of female deities were replaced by la Virgen de Guadalupe. The indigenous deities were dismembered and Christianized. This removed and destroyed the harmonious duality that once existed and imposed certain characteristics and standards upon la Virgencita. “They desexed Guadalupe, taking Coatlalopeuh, the serpent/sexuality out of her” (53). They made “la Virgen de Guadalupe/Virgen Maria into chaste virgins and Tlazoteotl/Coatlicue/la Chingada into putas” (53). Through the people’s reclaiming of la Virgen, they have been able to reinvent her image and demonstrate her resistance and rebellion to the imposition of patriarchal ideals within the Chicano community. Guadalupe, through her transformation, has been able to reclaim the Tlazoteotl, Coatlicue, Tonantzin, the Indian contained within her that was repressed and kept from her by the Catholic Church. As she reclaims and celebrates her own femininity, she inherently gives all Chicanas the courage to do the same, empowering them and giving them hope.
Sandra Cisneros is another author in the anthology that writes about the transformation of Guadalupe, a transformation reclaiming the feminine face of God and empowering Chicana women. Her essay, “Guadalupe the Sex Goddess” is a commentary on how la Virgen de Guadalupe has aided in the reclaiming of women’s sexuality. As she transforms, Guadalupe goes back to her indigenous roots and reclaims la india within her, and in doing this, she embraces what those traditional deities represented. One of the identities that la Virgen has reclaimed is that of Tlazoteotl, the filth eater. She is a representation of our Madre Tierra, Mother Earth, and also a duality of maternity and sexuality. The presence of Tlazoteotl in la Virgen de Guadalupe challenges the idea of the virgin/whore dichotomy. Tlazoteotl makes it evident that one can be sexual and a mother, that it is okay to embrace and celebrate one’s sexuality. And since Tlazoteotl and la Virgen are one in the same, Cisneros states that, “she is Guadalupe the sex goddess, a goddess who makes me feel good about my sexual power, my sexual energy” (49). Chicana and Mexican Indigenous women no longer need to feel the shame, la vergüenza of being sexual, of acknowledging their sexualities. La Virgen de Guadalupe stands with them in their resistance and struggle against patriarchy and male dominance. As Cisneros puts it, la Guadalupe es “cabrona, not silent and passive, but silently gathering force” (50).
By transforming and reclaiming the feminine face of God, la Virgen de Guadalupe is regarded as a goddess. She is more than the mother of una gente mestiza. She is more than the mother of God. She is God…she is Goddess. In two essays, one written by Jeanette Rodriguez and the other by Luis J. Rodríguez, the idea of la Virgen as Goddess is explained. In her article, Jeanette Rodriguez identifies various characteristics that are embodied by Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. “She evokes an unconditional love, solidarity, and a never-failing presence at the affective level” (26). By engendering these qualities, Guadalupe is seen as the feminine face of God. However, Rodriguez argues that by assigning them to Guadalupe as the Virgen Mary, “we inaccurately remove these attributes from where they rightly belong: to God” (26). Thus, since these attributes are represented and embodied in the la Virgen de Guadalupe, she must be God. She must be Goddess.
Luis Rodríguez identifies another aspect that establishes Guadalupe as Goddess. He speaks to the pre-conquest beliefs of duality held by the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, specifically the Aztecs. Ometeotl is the ultimate representation of duality. Ometeotl is the supreme being or energy in Aztec/Mexica belief. Ome means two and teotl means essence or energy. This is an obvious representation of the duality that composes the universe in which we live. The Aztec peoples “saw the Duality as one person, one God, but it was male and female” (131). Ometeotl is both masculine and feminine, male and female.
The Catholic Church following in the wake of the Spanish Conquest, with its Christian ideologies attempted to destroy this duality. The white European Christian God was a man. There was no room for the Duality once revered by the Aztecs. But la Virgen, la morenita couldn’t allow her people to be stripped of the feminine half of the Duality so she appeared to Juan Diego in a way that the Catholic Church would accept. With the appearance of la Virgen de Guadalupe, the Duality was brought back and incorporated into the Christian beliefs of the Church. There is no God without Guadalupe. There is no God without Goddess. Ometeotl lives on through Nuestra Virgencita, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Through the retelling of her story and the returning of the indígena she has lost, we enact the indigenous spirituality of our ancestors in an attempt to decolonize and restore the harmony inherent in the duality of life.
I no longer see masculinity and femininity as opposing forces that are in conflict within me. Successful negotiation of the two shows that they compliment each other. It is only when we subscribe to the colonial imposition of the hierarchical concept of domination and subordination that they become opposing and that the male is granted a position of superiority. Using spirituality as a means of decolonization and resistance, we can work to maintain the harmony of our ancestors’ world, thus allowing for masculinity to transcend its current positioning within a space of dominance and oppression so that it can come to inhabit a space of harmonious and complementary coexistence with femininity. We can ensure that the cycles of life will continue in a good way, but we must never forget the strength in our spirits and the power of our spiritualities.
It is said that a nation is never conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. I must say that I agree, although I would add another element to this statement. A nation with the hearts and spirits of its women on the ground has truly been conquered for to conquer a people, you must break and conquer their spirits. The missionaries building churches and forcing Christianity on the native people is a clear example of the European attempts to do just that.
Our ancestors were strong, however, and resisted their oppression and colonization. They continued to practice their traditional ways of life. Their resistance allowed for the spirit of the people to survive as a small flame in hopes that one day it would be rekindled into a wild fire. I argue that not only is rewriting and (re)membering history an act of decolonization but so is reclaiming the traditional spirit of the people. This is one of the most powerful things any progressive, revolutionary, activist, seeker of social justice can do. Without our spirit and our spirituality, we as Indigenous people do not have the means to resist our oppression. Without our spirit we are but vacant vessels traversing troubled waters without direction.
Thus, I believe that the best way to restore a people that have gone through the process of conquest and colonization is to reclaim the spirit and spirituality of their predecessors. By doing this, there is a framework and foundation upon which to rebuild. Reclaiming the spirit will give the people focus and the strength to survive and struggle against their oppression. By rooting a people in spirit and spirituality, it is possible to take action, resist further colonization, and ensure the survival of the environment and the next seven generations.
Practicing our native spiritualities is an act of resistance and decolonization. Walking the Red Road is revolutionary. It is our responsibility and duty to remember and honor nuestros antepasados by reclaiming our spirituality that they fought so hard to preserve and entrust to their descendants. Any social movement of oppressed and colonized peoples must be rooted in spirituality in order for there to be success or for change to be achieved. Our resistance and challenge to the colonial powers has always been rooted in spirituality, and we would be naïve to think that it should be any different today. Reclaiming our spiritualities makes us revolutionary spirits of resistance, capable of enduring and subverting the violent oppression imposed upon us. As we fight for change, justice, and equality, it is important that we remember that there is no revolution with out spirituality.
And although they were able to manipulate and restructure our spirituality, the colonizer has never been able to completely eradicate or conquer our indigenous spirit. That spirit is present in every Chicana/o, we just have to look for it. The legacy of colonization and conquest have hidden that spirit from many of us and caused us to live in a disharmony with the world around us. We have lost our connection to Tonantzin, Mother Earth. Once we locate and reclaim that hidden spirit, though, we unleash the incredible power of our ancestors’ resistance that resides in our native spirits. Not only did we inherit their wounds of conquest, but also their spirit to resist. By reclaiming that spirit we can decolonize our minds, challenge the Christian perversions and manipulations of our spirituality, adopt an oppositional consciousness to the hegemonic colonial powers, and heal our wounds of conquest.
It is possible to move past what Rudolfo Anaya calls the “dysfunctional macho.” He asserts that to be macho we “need not be all male, puro hombre” (Anaya 73). He encourages Chicano men to listen to the collective memory of our past so that we can begin to describe new ways of expressing masculinity. “The essence of maleness doesn’t have to die, it merely has to be understood and created anew…We need to find balance and give harmony to the deep currents of our nature” (Anaya 73). Reconstructing a non-oppressive Chicano masculinity will require a return to the values and beliefs of our ancestors, incorporating indigenous spirituality, and embracing feminist concepts that value men and women as two parts of a complete whole. Only then can the patriarchal paradigm of oppression and dominance be replaced with a harmonious natural way of life that is respectful and worthy of embracing.
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