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Intertwined Threads

pbernal's picture

Intertwined Threads


Mexican-American, I’m both, not one stepping over the other. My skin radiates historical adventures that trace back beyond what my spoken memories can share. My speaking tongue and my perking ears can understand both sides of the spectrum as I walk on the land of the free, America the brave. I walk each step with fluidity and flexibility, making sure I don’t get too tight on one niche. As a Mexican-American, I carry both threads in me, I’m “heterogeneous and a complex network of entities.” I’m absorptive of both cultures and my existence as a whole is porous and permeable, for both cultures to flow in and out of me but never dissipate.

I have the privilege of being able to jump from one niche to the other. The access and ability I have to be flexible between both worlds is undeniably one of the best advantages of growing up in two different cultures, two different homes fostering me into a young woman with insights in both worlds.

When I was first asked to write about home, I wrote about a place, a school that sheltered me and offered me the landscape to feel safe and free of judgment. But after analyzing the works of Yinka Shonibare’s Magical Ladders and the reading article by Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans- Corporeality, my thoughts on home have altered. My home, my environment, my ecosystem is the intertwined threads of my identification as a Mexican- American.

I am a product of clashing cultures. The identification label of Mexican- American doesn’t even begin to cover all of what I am. Just by the color of my skin one can attest my Mexican pores go deeper than where my origin believes to begin. In Porous Bodies and Trans- Corporeality, “90% of the cells that compose our bodies are not ‘ours’ at all, but are in fact composed of microorganisms.” Before being clashed with American culture, before I was even the size of an apple seed growing inside of a Mexican woman, my mother, my genes carried proof of history. Spanish blood runs through me as well as the native indigenous Mexican blood pulsating through my veins. I am living and physical proof of colonialism and like Shonibare, I don’t feel comfortable chained to choose one origin to call home, to settle down and let it become my full identity. I refuse to commit to one niche; I am nature, part of the wilderness and like Stacey Alama states, “Cultures are of the wilderness.”

Shonibare’s works are a reflection of his home, both of London and Nigeria. I’d like to believe we both are afraid of commitment and settling. We walk with pride and create with our intertwined threads. His creations provoke thoughts of race, class status, politics and history. He challenges the ideas most are afraid to question without feeling chained to have to defend one over the other because he belongs to both.

Shonibare’s creations, being the entities, “are transformed as they pass through the body becoming something else and taking on a new organization.” His works are a representation of the embodying of his nature flexibility and porousness as he shows the ability of deconstructing vital issues in both cultures he belongs to, Nigerian an African community and London, a white man’s controlled territory.

Sticking to one identity, niche, environment, community, limits the ability of other cultures to immerse themselves in diversity and awareness of issues like those that Shonibare persists to demonstrate through his work like identity and colonialism. We must create permeable membranes, “a porosity that allows the outer world to flow through them.” The more porous we become, the more open and diverse we become and the more communities can influence and learn from each other.

“Bodies like a city, for example, need all sorts of flows passing through them to continue existing.” When explorers began to sail across the seas during the 15th century and landed in the Americas, they were open and permeable to what the native people had and soon enough the foods and spices found in the Americas influenced the living ways of the explorers. Once they were taken back home, the native’s style of living spread throughout Europe and attracted more and more individuals. This moment in history led to bigger and more permanent styles of living. Cultures were introduced and became intertwined all because of influence and the porosity of flow. A lot of the foods and spices we consume in our everyday lives, such as corn, wouldn’t have ever been introduced in our lives if it weren’t for permeable membranes, especially those of individual’s to let themselves be influenced by the ways of other cultures.

Without constant flow, human existence would be questionable. We survive off of each other in some ways more than we like to think. Most of our goods are available through trade. We are able to trade with other countries thanks to the connections and relationships we form with other individuals from other cultures, which would not be possible if we weren’t flexible and intertwined. Trade is an example of how we flow all together, globally.

We live in a symbiotic world, where we all benefit from each other someway somehow, benefiting from what we give off and receive. Shonibare also demonstrates this through his use of African fabric, which he uses to dress a lot of his mannequins and dolls. The patterns and vibrant colors on the clothing material are meant to be a reflection of the African culture, but the fabric is actually Dutch fabricated to signify how he views culture, a cross bed cultural background.

There will be no social or economic progress if we choose to live in a fixed, rigid, and inflexible environment. We need to be porous, spongy, and malleable to benefit globally not only economically but for the sake of keeping cultures alive and rich. I am Mexican American, and I refuse to untangle my intertwined threads. 


Anne Dalke's picture power?

Last month, you wrote about finding a safe home @ school. This time ‘round, you redefine home, not as a place, but as an intersectional identity: Mexican-American, Spanish-Mexican. And we could add many, many more “intertwined threads of identification” (racial, religious, gendered, classed) to those you have begun to untangle/refuse to untangle.

Your essay is a celebration of this complexity, of “not getting too tight in one niche,” of being “absorptive, porous and permeable,” of “the privilege of being able to jump,” the “advantage of having insights in both worlds.” Do you know the work of Gloria Anzaldua? Her Borderlands/La Frontera is a marvelous rendition of precisely what you here describe—check it out!

Where I want to ask you to slow down, and to interrogate what you here celebrate, is when you move from the personal to the political, from the individual to the historical. You say, “ I am living, physical proof of colonialism,” and you compare your own complex history to that of Shonibare (I’m so glad that @ least one of you wrote about that amazing exhibit of his work @ the Barnes Foundation!). But once you begin to describe the flow of trade, the ways in which we “survive off of each other,” in a “symbiotic world, where we all benefit from each other someway somehow…” I begin to have questions. Power is inequitably distributed, in this world. Some of us may be “afraid of commitment,” for example, while others of us may be forced into cohabitation.

It may well be true, as you say, that “there will be no social or economic progress if we choose to live in a fixed, rigid, and inflexible environment.” But porosity is also no guarantee that the exchange will be an equitable one. How to layer and complexify your understanding of porousness with an understanding of the difference that power and privilege play in the sort of “trade” Shonibare documents and you describe? It’s often not (to quote from your last essay) not @ all “quid pro quo.”