«European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies Vol. 4, Issue 7, pp. 18-34, November 201 Published by European Centre for Research ...»
European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies
Vol. 4, Issue 7, pp. 18-34, November 201
Published by European Centre for Research Training and Development UK ( www.eajournals.org)
CARVING NEW WORLDS IN THE BORDERLAND AND JUGGLING
CULTURES IN SELECTIONS OF HAMMAD'S POETRY
Ph.D. Literature & Criticism
Amman Arab University
ABSTRACT: The borderland is a space Gloria Anzaldua, the Chicana feminist, reconfigures and establishes outside the borders of the mainstream. It embraces a culture of tolerance, acceptance, and solidarity as it welcomes difference and people of all kinds from all walks of life. It does not reject any possibilities, new ways of thinking, or being.
In fact, this space makes experimentation and self- discovery not only possible but a necessity crucial to the process of developing, recreating identities, and building connections with others. Writers inhabiting this space such as Anzaldua and Suheir Hammad work to resist oppression and silencing through solidarity and rewriting the stories of those whose histories have been erased. The purpose of this study is to explore the borderland within Hammad's poetry and the extent to which Hammad's poetry and the path she has taken on as a writer of the borderland contribute to the creation of a counter- narrative.
KEYWORDS: Anzaldua, borderland, counter- narrative, in- between space, Suheir Hammad Borders: arbitrary dividing lines that are simultaneously social, cultural and psychic; territories to be patrolled against those who they construct as outsiders, aliens, the Others … places where claims to ownership – claims to „mine‟, „yours‟ and „theirs‟ – are staked out, contested, defended, fought over.
(Brah, 2002, p.198)
INTRODUCTIONGloria Anzaldua, the Chicana feminist, is a prolific writer and influential theorist of the borderlands. Anzaldua's theory focuses on the physical and ideological borderlands used to create divisions among people and maintain difference within society which eventually became sites of struggle and resistance. Through her theory, Anzaldua helps the marginalized think and see the world beyond Western Eurocentric standards they have been made to believe as the only way to see the world and acquire knowledge. She creates an opportunity for the subjugated to reconstruct their identities and practice foreign ways of thinking outside colonially constructed binaries that even restricted the way they perceive themselves and everything around them. Through this process of selfliberation from the shackles the West has placed on "the other's" psyche and mindset, ISSN 2055-0138(Print), ISSN 2055-0146(Online) European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies
Published by European Centre for Research Training and Development UK ( www.eajournals.org) Anzaldua hopes they come out empowered and transformed agents of resistance who will never be silent or marginalized again by any force.
Anzaldua moves between multiple worlds and defies all the rigid categories used to define her as an individual and writer. In this study, Anzaldua's construction of the borderland and in- between space is used as the theoretical framework through which Suheir Hammad's poetry and work of resistance is examined. This study explores aspects of the borderland through the counter- narrative Hammad creates in her struggle of knowledge making and paradigm shifting. It discusses the parallels in the two writers' political visions that reveal themselves in their writing. Their connection to one another is often overlooked as Anzaldua's work has been mainly stressed in terms of its impact on the Chicano community, women in particular. Hammad is also usually placed and viewed within the Arab American context and representation. The two figures, however, find and situate themselves in a third space, apart from the mainstream and their cultural or ancestral roots, breaking social, political, cultural, and intellectual boundaries, and building bridges across transnational communities. They dedicate themselves to articulating the suffering of the oppressed and confronting the sources of their oppression. They both utilize their writing in general to educate, empower, and inspire new visions and conditions of existence.
Writers such as Anzaldua and Hammad write for a cause. As women of color, they do not enjoy white privilege or live in ivory towers and merely take pleasure in the practice of writing, but have taken on the mission of writing to record histories erased, fight misrepresentations, and bring back what has been distorted and ignored by the imperialist discourse. Anzaldua (1981) explains in her book This Bridge Called my Back, "I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you … And I will write about the unmentionables" (169).
In the borderlands, Anzaldua contributes to an oppositional culture in which the oppressed groups, as Mitchell and Feagin (1995) state, are not powerless and wounded souls victimized by circumstances and corrupt systems. They refuse to play such a defeatist role and rather become active and reflective agents that construct a reality in which they are able to survive (69). Anzaldua (1981) herself, as a woman of color, rejects the role of a victim who surrenders to repression and continuous silencing and chooses to
write as a form of resistance and empowerment. She asserts:
Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger… To discover myself. To preserve myself; to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy.
(This Bridge Called my Back, 1981, 169) Writing to Anzaldua is a survival strategy she adopts to help her cope with the disorder and convolution in the world. Anzaldua's dissatisfaction with the status quo and the world that exists with all its contradictions, chaos, and irrationality lead her to write so as to
Published by European Centre for Research Training and Development UK ( www.eajournals.org) make sense of everything and to remake herself. Through her writing, she is able to create order and an alternative reality she can comprehend and come to terms with.
Anzaldua's writing is an essential reminder of the importance of literature for democracy, as one of the roles poetry, in particular, has played throughout history has been speaking to power and exposing cruelties committed by oppressors (De Medeiros, 2013, p. 82).
U.S. feminists of color such as Anzaldua and Hammad have always recognized the value of writing in transforming a society, for it was their only outlet to speak up about the racism they faced and raise questions and awareness about social issues.
According to Patricia Arinto (1992), poets of the Third World play the role of the poetwarrior who takes on the responsibility of fighting for justice and liberation (65).
Similarly, Anzaldua and Hammad, in this context, are warriors because they fight not necessarily with weapons but with words that leave an impact on the public and urge them to take action against oppression. Amiri Baraka, the African American poet articulates what poetry means to activists such as himself and the way he views it as an instrument through which change and justice are possible. In “Black Art,” Baraka (1969) mentions he wants poetry that has a great influence on people, “poems that kill” and shoot guns (p. 116).
Clearly, Baraka, also as an in- betweener does not write poetry as an elitist who writes for the sake of it. He supports the notion of transformation and activism that can be sought and achieved through the powerful impact of poetry. He challenges hegemonic voices and dares to question authorities and policy makers through his poetry and Anzaldua's and Hammad's work of resistance represent the same beliefs.
Emma Perez writes in her (2005) article Anzaldua "forged a new territory” where intellectual and spiritual freedom, and the development of new psyches can be found and even celebrated (3). In this space, she deals with real problems of sexism, racism, and classism which touch the lives of so many across the globe (Perez, 2005, 3). She asserts that she will write about "the unmentionables" in the borderland because there is room for "the other" and a right to speak in this new territory. She adopts new symbols and taxonomies in her representations of such serious issues as she dismantles old myths and paradigms of oppression through her writing and the same can be said about Hammad.
In a 1996 interview, Hammad is asked about her reasons for writing to which she replies, she writes because her voice has been silenced too long" (p. ix). She writes because it is her goal to tackle issues such as women's suffering, hunger, slavery, and displacement. Hammad is determined to unsettle fixed systems and dogmas and expose the ills of society and evil of governments. She feels, as a writer in the borderlands, she has a moral obligation to use her gift of writing to reach out to those whose voices have been silenced too often to remember their right of freedom of speech and right for a decent life. She undermines the decisions made by governments that allow for oppression, poverty, and discrimination to continue in numerous poems.
She herself has experienced silencing but no longer tolerates submission or
Published by European Centre for Research Training and Development UK ( www.eajournals.org) voicelessness when she knows she has the power to be heard, make a difference through her writing, and contribute to the oppositional culture Anzaldua has created in the borderland. Reclaiming this intellectual, spiritual, and psychological space is important to Anzaldua and Hammad as they find it liberating and empowering. The borderland gives them the freedom to "construct new knowledge" as an act of opposition (Collins, 2000, pp. 284, 286).
Hammad's act of opposition manifests itself through her adoption of hip hop and the spoken word as a means to break away from traditional ways of thinking and communicating with the world. She also uses hip hop to express and expose the pain of those suffering around the world. She embraces "the other," African Americans, specifically, through the use and celebration of their music.
Hammad's contribution to the process of new knowledge construction takes the form of a counter- hegemonic narrative through which she rewrites stories about Palestinians, Mexicans, Blacks, or poor White kids who were erased from the history taught at school (Brown, 2006). So her decision to write came from her realization that she was only familiar with the dominant narrative that gave no voice to the marginalized and her sense of identification with the voiceless who are treated as invisible and sometimes nonexistent, and that is when her role took shape as a writer who writes for justice and transformation. In the poem "September 4, 2002," Hammad stresses the importance of all the lives, of the marginalized, that have been lost to oppression, murder, and exile. She notes that when the USA is looking for idols, it ought to know they are born and not produced, but it has killed, silenced, and exiled many of its own idols. She states, in America's search for idols, it ought to look through the writings of Malcolm X and June Jordan.
Hammad asks America to consider those it has silenced in the past because there is value in what they said or did, and the history they have rewritten as they saw their own being erased by hegemonic narratives. She wants the United States to acknowledge the wrongs it has committed against "the other" represented through Malcolm X and native nations.
She tells Americans, idols can be found among these societies they normally do not look up to and often oppress. She believes they ought to refer to narratives constructed by these groups in the search for truth and a reality hidden by dominant voices.
ANZALDUA & HAMMAD: THE IN- BETWEENERS
Gloria Anzaldua, the cultural theorist, experienced segregation when she was a child entering school in Texas. She was punished because she only spoke Spanish and this is a memory that stayed with her through adulthood. She was the only Chicana in advanced classes during high school and she wanted to become a writer at an early age. She also had to work at a young age to help the family and put herself through school and college (Keating, 2014). During her career, she was unhappy with the lack of publications by Chicanas and women of color that she can use in her classes and that is when she made the decision to edit a collection of feminist writings by women of color that address
Published by European Centre for Research Training and Development UK ( www.eajournals.org) White feminists' lack of awareness of the serious issues that concern women of color entitled This Bridge Called My Back (1981), and published Borderlands/La Frontera in 1987, and another edited collection Making Face, Making Soul in 1990. Anzaldua became well known for her feminist writings that represent women of color and her radical vision for transformation. She received many awards for her work, such as the National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award, Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, Lesbian Rights Award, and Sappho Award of Distinction among others (Keating, 2014).
Suheir Hammad is the daughter of immigrants from Palestine. She grew up in Brooklyn and developed an interest in writing at an early stage of her life. Once she started writing, she discovered she had a lot to say since her parents' story of exile and displacement was not the kind of narrative white teachers would expose students to at school and so she had to unveil some ignored truths in the mainstream. She published several books, Born Palestinian, Born Black (1996), Drops of This Story (1996), Zaatar Diva (2005). She performed her poetry all over the USA and received numerous awards including an Emerging Artist Award from the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Institute at New York University, the Morris Center for Healing Poetry Award, and the Audre Lorde Writing Award (Knopf- Newman, 2006, 71).