Hybridity in Rudolfo Anayas Bless Me Ultima

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0 (A)

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Conventionally, literary criticism considers hybridity alongside ethnicity as one of the constitutive ingredients of ethnic American literatures and thus Chicano fiction, one of its canonized genres.[1] Rudolfo Anaya's Bildungsroman Bless Me, Ultima figures prominently within the latter as a text on hybridity, embodied in the story's protagonist. The novel's first-person narrator, Antonio Juan Márez y Luna, recounts in a first-person retrospect his mental and spiritual development, from approximately his sixth to his eighth year, in the US Southwest around the end of the Second World War. The different forms of his development are best illustrated with two sociological concepts, enculturation and acculturation.[2] Enculturation (or ethnic socialization) is an individual's internalization of cultural knowledge obtained within one's ethnic group from other co-ethnics such as family, relatives and peers. Acculturation (or cultural assimilation[3] ), on the other hand, describes the ethnic individual's encounter and engagement with the culture of the dominating majority group.

Along these lines, Antonio's acculturation clearly occurs in the context of his parallel entry into the Anglo-American school system and into the Catholic church, both charged with his cultural assimilation to the dominant group. This initial acculturation is accompanied by an unprecedented or secondary enculturation into the practice of curanderismo[4] and into pantheism (the Golden Carp legend) by Ultima and Cico respectively. Antonio's first socialization in a peer in-group, the school gang, is another part of this acculturation. His primary enculturation, which both precedes and parallels the secondary one, consists of the adoption of parts of chicanismo[5] and the acquaintance with the tenets of Catholic orthodoxy and cosmology. Since in Chicano culture the mother is considered "the source and transmitter of cultural knowledge and traditions"[6] and since Antonio's pre-school indoctrination with Catholicism is exercised predominantly by his mother, the primary enculturation is largely maternal. Antonio's ethnicity is therefore influenced by three sources: the limited enculturation by his mother, the expanded enculturation by mainly Ultima and the first phase of his acculturation.

Ethnicity, in the case of Bless Me, Ultima chicanismo, and hybridity are interdependent concepts. An ethnic group, the collective realization of ethnicity, has been defined as "a collectivity within a larger society having real or putative common ancestry, memories of a shared historical past, and a cultural focus on one or more symbolic elements defined as the epitome of their peoplehood."[7] Ethnic identity, the realization of individual ethnicity, has been described as a "construct or set of self-ideas about one's own ethnic group membership".[8] In the case of hybridity, individual and collective realizations of two or more ethnicities combine. With reference to Antonio, the moot point is whether this combination is a cultural fusion, "a confluence of different traditions which are homogenized into a new culture", often termed syncretism, or a hybridization process, "an uneasy and agonistic self-splitting", with its inherent unstableness and mutability.[9]

Literary critics and the general reading public frequently adopt the former view, which is based on Antonio's crucial conversation with his father Gabriel at the end of the novel, in which Antonio discovers the possibility of combining opposites in himself: "Then maybe I do not have to be just Márez, or Luna, perhaps I can be both –"[10]. On the same page, he then encourages himself to "take the llano […], the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp – and make something new –". These examples are evidence enough for some critics to contend that Antonio is a hybrid figure in which "contending religious beliefs and lifestyles are reconciled and synthesized"[11] and that his development leads to the "Formulierung […] einer ethnischen Neubestimmung"[12]. Yet Antonio's mental and spiritual development does not portray the formation of an ethnic syncretism made up of either paternal and maternal or Mexican- and Anglo-American features. Instead, his initial acculturation, the encounter with two hegemonic institutions, the school and church, paralleled by an expanded enculturation, mainly through Ultima, initiate him into a hybridization process with its intrinsic ambiguities and ambivalence.

First, it will be shown that the Márez-Luna binarism does not refer to ethnic categories but to basic human dichotomies, which are accepted rather than fused. Second, ethnicity itself is contextualized within the novel's story. Third, the notion that Antonio attains ethnic hybridity will be countered by a discussion of hybridity already present and inherent in chicanismo. Finally, an examination of his acculturation and dual enculturation will reveal their respective effects on Antonio's ethnicity at the end of the story and in its imagined future.

The apprehension of both Antonio's mother and father about the perpetuation of their respective lifestyles through their children does not represent an ethnic group's anxiety about its survival. When investigated more closely, the descriptions of their respective familial cultures form perfect binary oppositions that stand for archetypes and fundamental human traits rather than ethnic markers[13]. The Márez people exemplify the idealistic and mobile conquistadores with their propensity for open and wide spaces such as the sea or the llano. They are nomadic, dynamic, progressive, active, extroverted, heterodox, individualistic, cosmopolitan, violent and sexual. The Luna people personify instead the realism and stasis of the colonizadores with their preference for the shelter of the valley, also connoted by the toponym El Puerto, the port or haven. They are, by contrast, settled, constant, traditional, passive, introverted, orthodox, communitarian, parochial, peaceful and chaste.[14]

Since the fusion of these binarisms would entail their mutual neutralisation, and as a result their disappearance, Antonio is forced to accept the dichotomous traits he inherits from his parents. He realizes that, although contradictions and competing forces in an individual's life, they inevitably depend on each and on their equilibration. This contradictoriness and its compromise are prefigured in the story's spatial setting. Despite the fertility of the nearby river-banks, the family acquiesces in the father's wish to live near the beginning of the llano where the land is almost barren, yet where Maria Luna can still breath urban air.[15] In a conversation with Ultima, Antonio underscores his own affection for the llano and the river without feeling fully at home in either (44). He is intrigued with the contradictory but harmonic coexistence of the above archetypes in the shape of his parents' marriage (31). Their necessary mutuality is later symbolized by the circulation of the moon- and sea-waters in nature, and in Antonio's veins (126).

Therefore, neither individual nor collective ethnicity and their external threats in Bless Me, Ultima are located within these binarisms. The real ethnic threats stem both historically and in the novel from the intrusion of the dominant Anglo-American system on the ethnic community and its involvement in global conflicts. There are several instances of this intrusion in the first chapters, where even Antonio perceives urban and Anglo-American influences crossing the river (16), while his father complains about the cultivation, and thus appropriation of the virgin llano by the tejano (57). On a supraregional level, US participation in the Second World War conscripted a significant number of Chicano males, resulting in an unprecedented transformation of the Chicano population and posing another threat to its coherence as a consequence.[16] Likewise, the three oldest males of the Márez family serve in the US Army, which, in sociological terms, is an uncompromising acculturation machine, responsible for their abandonment of the ethnic community after the war (75). Antonio is subject to a similarly efficient acculturation through school and especially through the church and its mechanical catechism. Physical destruction of ethnicity in the war is accompanied by psychological degeneration in the form of traumas, which after the war continue the physical destruction of ethnicity within the group. An instance of this is Lupito's shooting the town sheriff in chapter two. Even Antonio, the protagonist and perpetuator of ethnicity in the novel, confronts ethnic annihilation twice when Tenorio tries to shoot him (177/273).

Threats of ethnic or cultural extinction are opposed by strategies of ethnic perpetuation. In Antonio's second dream, his brothers cross the river with the intent of building a castle on the opposite river-bank, symbolically fortifying the family’s ethnicity against Anglo-American intrusions (27-28). Even though the Márez-Luna philosophies are not per se ethnic, their survival is considered of paramount importance. The Lunas' hopes on perpetuating their culture are pinned on Antonio (52), who is requested to spend a summer at El Puerto in order to acquire their lifestyle (148/263-65).

Unfortunately, attempts at perpetuating the cultural and ethnic group are precluded by differences in ethnic awareness and ethnic loyalty within Antonio's family. Maria Luna aims at counteracting her three sons' deliberate individualization and urbanization by promoting Antonio's acculturation, thus preparing him for the office of priest in the Luna community (57). Her intent is based on the positive correlation between education and upward mobility, yet she ignores that again both these factors positively correlate with the degree of a person's cultural assimilation.[17] Consequently, her method of preserving the Luna group is counterproductive, revealing cultural misconceptions and a false ethnic awareness. Similarly, her eagerness to foster Antonio's knowledge of English (188), which together with his schooling is criticized by Gabriel (57), affects ethnicity no less than the the older sons' betrayal of their parents' respective plans (75).

The prospect of the aforementioned transformations of culture and ethnicity is not the creative context for a new hybrid form. Instead, chicanismo with its obvious hybrid structure and symbolism is present throughout the novel, forming the backdrop for Antonio's development. Even before his acquisition of English at school and before his socialization in the gang, Antonio is in linguistic terms a Chicano in an Chicano environment since code-mixing and code-switching at home are nothing extraordinary. The family even used to live in the bilingual town of Guadalupe before moving to the llano (26). Antonio's sister Deborah speaks only English at home (12), teaching her sister Theresa to do the same. Most probably, the three oldest brothers also learned English at school before being conscripted (10).

More important than bilingualism are recurring images of female icons familiar to Chicanos. These represent the "epitome of their peoplehood"[18] and exhibit the inherent hybridity of chicanismo. Although the quasi-historical figure of La Chingada ("the fucked one") is not directly mentioned, she is nevertheless invoked by the gang members' frequent usage of the interjection "¡chingada!", which expresses surprise and amazement. The semi-mythical Aztec figure of La Malinche (La Chingada) and her sexual intercourse with Hernán Cortés (El Chingón, "the fucker"), for whom she worked as a translator, are considered the origins of mestizaje or Hispano-Indian racial mixing. Chicanos identify with la raza[19] which traces its genesis back to the son from this sexual encounter, who is the prototype of biological hybridity in Meso-America.[20] Mexicans, including Chicanos, regard themselves as hijos de la chingada, the sons of La Chingada.[21] Two other female figures are La Llorona and La Virgen de Guadalupe, which both pervade the novel as leitmotifs. The mythical La Llorona, the wailing woman, is considered by some the haunted soul of La Malinche, who betrayed her people as La Llorona betrayed her family by abandoning her illegitimate children. Because of this, she is denied access to heaven and eternally condemned to wander the earth, search for her children and seduce men on her way.[22]

La Virgen de Guadalupe (47/196), on the other hand, is the Mexican version of the Virgin Mary, herself a Europeanized Semite from the Levant. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th commemorates the apparition of the Virgin Mary to the Indian Juan Diego near Mexico City. According to the legend, she spoke Nahuatl, his native language, and bore dark complexion.[23] She is the chaste and loyal foil for the sexualized traitresses mentioned before and clearly represents a hybrid figure with Indian, European and Semitic features.

Ultima, Antonio's mentor and the initiator of his expanded enculturation, is despite her femininity the androgynous and asexual reconciliation of the above motives. She is "at once comforting and courageous, surrogate mother and father; […] curandera and bruja; spirit and person, human and animal; mortal and immortal, revered and feared"[24]. This ambivalence is mentioned right at the beginning of the novel when Ultima is introduced: "And because a curandera had this power she was misunderstood and often suspected of practising witchcraft herself."(4) During her stay at El Puerto, where she exorcizes a cursed Luna relative, the villagers alternately call her curandera, hechicera ("magician") and bruja ("witch") (109).

Apart from this female symbolism, Chicano ethnicity imagines and manifests itself as a culturally multilayered palimpsest[25]. Its fictitious genealogy or "putative common ancestry"[26] is alluded to during one of Antonio's llano excursions with Ultima. She speaks of "ancient medicines of […] the Aztecas, Mayas, and even of those in the old, old country, the Moors."(45) The reduplication at the end implies that there is also an old and a present country. The latter refers of course to the southwestern territories of the present United States. The old country connotes both the concept of Aztlán[27], the mythical Chicano homeland which roughly comprises the former Mexican territories annexed by the US, and present-day Mexico, from where the bulk of Hispanics in the Southwest immigrated.[28] Through the concept of Aztlán, Chicanos claim descent from the Aztecs and other indigenous tribes once in the area. Yet "the old, old country" evokes Spain with its deep cultural and linguistic impact on Central America by Cortés' conquest and his legendary relationship with La Malinche.

Spain's discovery and subsequent conquest and colonization of Central and South America would not have been possible without her previous defeat and expulsion of the Moors (Arabs) from the "old, old country", which adds yet another layer to Chicano genealogy. Their 781-year long presence on the Iberian Peninsula is to this day discernible, not least in Spanish and Spain's toponomy, which were both exported to the New World. The name of Antonio's home town, evocative of both La Virgen de Guadalupe and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo[29] that sanctioned US annexation of former Mexican territories, is a Hispanicized arabism. Its first part "Guad-", derived from Arabic wādi ("valley, river") is contained in other place-names such as Guadalajara, the valley of stones (idjārawādī h) or Guadalquivir, the big river (al-wādī al-kabīr).[30] Albuquerque, Rudolfo Anaya's place of residence, directly derives from ’abū l-qurq, denoting a place full of cork oaks. Etymologically, even the term Chicano, a shortening of mexicano, dates back to this early period when the letter x was pronounced approximately [š], still existent in some archaic pronunciations of Don Quixote.[31] The letter x was adopted by Arabic mathematicians in Spain and originally stood for shay’ ("thing, something"). It entered Spanish orthography as a non-mathematical letter but retained the [š]-sound of the original meaning.

The above examples amply illustrate that the concept of chicansimo is informed by a strong degree of hybridity with its Moorish, Hispanic, Aztec, Mexican and Anglo-American layers. As a result, Chicano hybridity is not created through Antonio because historically it already exists. Antonio is merely familiarized with it and its historical depth by Ultima's expanded enculturation.

The initiation into curanderismo and into the mystery of the Golden Carp are the main sources for Antonio's expanded enculturation. He directly witnesses Ultima's exorcism of Lucas, one of his uncles in El Puerto, and of the Téllez' property, which both reveal to him the curative deficiencies of Catholicism and of Western medicine (103/239). Samuel is the first one to introduce Antonio to the legend of the Golden Carp and simultaneously to the blasphemous plural form "gods" (83-85/123). All of a sudden, the monotheistic dogma internalized by Antonio is challenged by a pantheistic view of nature. Allegorically, his initiation into the arcane world of the Golden Carp is completed by his Adamic fall in Narciso's Edenic garden, where he tastes of the golden carrot (114). Thus endowed with an esoteric cognition, he experiences the "appearance of a pagan god" (119).

Antonio's expanded enculturation signifies the mystification of nature, demystified by Western rationalism[32], and the rationalization of the formerly irrational. On Ultima's arrival, he notices "for the first time the wild beauty of [the] hills and the magic of the green river." (12) He is also for the first time able to locate himself on the plain once the "four directions of the llano"(13) converge in him. Beside this self-location, he acquires the ability to orientate himself in the llano, where he used to feel lost (43), and even feels he is "a very important part of the teeming life of the llano and the river."(44) In addition, he loses his fear of the "presence of the river" (45), thus integrating into the harmonic symbiosis of the natural world. Furthermore, in trying to fathom the carp mystery, he develops a logic different from the Catholic cosmology: "It was unbelievable, and yet it made a wild kind of sense!"(124) As pointed out above, Ultima enhances his historical awareness of Chicano genealogy, not least through oral history (45/128).

Beside this expanded enculturation, the acculturation in the Anglo-American school system and at the Catholic church have the strongest impact on Antonio's mental development. He anxiously awaits the beginning of school and the catechism lessons at the respective institutions, whose claim to cultural and spiritual hegemony over Guadalupe is materialized in their architectural conspicuousness (7/25). Their acculturation and "civilization" of children is prefigured and symbolized by Antonio's novel experience of putting on shoes after walking around barefooted for seven years (56). His fascination with learning "the magic of the letters"(61) at school and his enthusiasm for the dull repetitiveness of catechism (200) portray the ease with which both church and school inscribe their ideologies on his mind.

Antonio undergoes another less institutional, yet by no means less effective form of acculturation in the gang he joins (41). The socialization in this peer group ends after the gang's schism, leaving Antonio outside of the newly formed groups (235).

If the expanded enculturation above entails the mystification of what used to be demystified, then the various forms of Antonio's acculturation demystify the formerly mystified. The mysteriousness of school and writing are demystified by the church and her catechizing indoctrination (200/215), before being herself demystified. Antonio's first doubts as to God's omnipotence and benevolence appear right after the traumatizing experience of Lupito's murder, whose blood desanctifies the river (24). Antonio witnesses the first desanctification and therefore demystification of the church immediately after his acceptance into the gang, when he watches one of the members urinate at the church wall (41). The acquaintance with the mystery of the Golden Carp and with the concept of pantheism lead him to question the Christian trinity and the Virgin Mary (85). The Christian god's excessive vindictiveness, contrasted by the Virgin of Guadalupe's forgiveness and mercy, alienate Antonio from the patriarchal centre of Catholicism (181-82). Because of this lack of compassion, he even subverts God's male nature with the comment that "the best god would be like a woman"(143). His whole reasoning culminates in the fundamental question of why God allows evil in the world (201).

Antonio's final alienation from Catholicism is brought about by his deception with the uninspiring ritual of the First Communion. He initially expects all his spiritual questions to be answered in this long-awaited ritual but, unfortunately, he mistakes Communion for communication (250). After the spellbinding transubstantiation of the Eucharist, the entire mystery is shattered by liturgical procedures, which stand in stark contrast to the timelessness of the Carp mystery (233). He tries repeatedly to establish communication with God and finally seeks advice with the more responsive Virgen de Guadalupe, who had also appeared to "the little Indian boy in Mexico"(47) and communicated with him in Nahuatl.

Antonio's acculturation and especially his interrogation of different aspects of Catholicism reveal some of their absurdity and thus irrationalize the formerly rational. This becomes most clearly visible to Antonio in the Christmas play they perform at school and in its gradual degeneration into buffoonery (159-66). The absurdity of Confession, one of Christianity's core rituals, is also unmasked as soon as he is made aware of the potential absolution of repeated sinning (202-03). This paradox is again ridiculed in the gang's impromptu confession game in which Antonio acts the priest and is beaten up by the gang for shriving Florence. Finally, during the enactment of Christ's passion before Easter, he strongly sympathizes with the crucified Christ (219), forsaken by a supposedly anthropomorphic God. By contrasts, the Carp god voluntarily chose his piscine shape in order to be close to his people and look after them (84). On a less ritual level, Florence's arguments cast some doubts on one of Christianity's unshakeable dogmas, the Immaculate Conception because of its biological impossibility (159/217). God's cruelty towards Florence, whose parents both died and whose sisters prostitute themselves (206), raises further questions in Antonio's mind about God's mercy and his connivance with evil in the world (208). Florence argues that whoever consciously disbelieves and chooses to remain outside of the religious system will not face its punishments (205). As a result, Florence does not have any sins to confess since it was God who sinned against him (224). In spite of all these indications of Christianity's absurdness, Antonio does not renounce God. Instead, he reflects upon a deistic view of the world in which God is absent and substituted by La Virgen de Guadalupe and the Carp (208).

Such considerations only appear as "blasphemy" (208) to him against the backdrop of his maternal enculturation. His mother indoctrinates him with all aspects of Catholic orthodoxy, including her own perverted version of the original sin. She intimidates her son with the "sin" of growing up and with the consequent destruction of his "pureness" (33). Therefore, she decides he will become a priest so as not to lose all of his childish innocence and purity. Paradoxically, she also familiarizes her son with the canonical idea of the original sin, which is not purged until after baptism, Confirmation and First Communion have been performed. Religious instruction at school is preceded by his study of the Ten Commandments, two of which he recites defensively when entrusted with the blasphemy of the Golden Carp (112). Maria Luna even encourages her son to recite the English version of catechism despite her utter ignorance of the language and Antonio's partial comprehension (188). In addition, he accompanies his mother on the yearly "pilgrimage to El Puerto"(46), where the Luna philosophy is instilled into him and where he even spends an entire summer in order to fully internalize their lifestyle (259).

The expanded enculturation and acculturation outlined above affect Antonio's primary enculturation in multiple ways. First of all, he acquires new knowledge through his enhanced awareness of his ethnicity and self-location. This results in an immense thirst for further knowledge (36/77). Secondly, his new consciousness forces him to deal with and accept the bitter realities of life such as its mutability (149), the loneliness of the human being and "la tristesa de la vida" (62) when he is marginalized on his first school day. This first experience of insecurity and absence of maternal protection (54) is further intensified by an alienation from Catholic cosmology, the former guarantor of rational stability. Interestingly, after witnessing the drowning of Florence in the Carp river, he also alienates himself from the newly adopted teachings of pantheism since, in his tenth dream, he realizes that everything he once believed in is destroyed (258). Antonio thus enters a world of chaos, deracination and insecurity.

Unlike the isolated world of maternal protection with its Catholic order and stability, this new world is dominated by ambiguity and ambivalence, in short anti-essentialism[33]. Antonio encounters various forms of contradictions in life which he must acknowledge. As mentioned above on page 4, he learns from Ultima in his sixth dream that rain and freshwater, associated with the Lunas, and saltwater, associated with the Márez, form part of one and the same circulation of waters out in nature (126). Consequently, his choice is not to be either essentially Luna or essentially Márez, as suggested by these respective families, but instead to accept that both these elements circulate inside him. Likewise, he must acknowledge that the two gods he is now familiar with, the Catholic one and the Golden Carp, exercise two fundamentally different forms of punishment (143). In this context, the most painful insight is into the presence of evil in the world and, most importantly, into its relativity (262). Neither evil nor good are essential anymore, but dependent upon the circumstances and knowledge of the person interpreting them.

The pure essentialism of his maternal enculturation is further contaminated by Antonio's developing awareness of societal hypocrisy, human sexuality and interpersonal violence, including murder. He is disappointed with Tenorio's acquittal for murdering Narciso (185) and questions the town's jurisdiction (196). When Narciso passes by Rosie's, the town brothel, to warn Antonio's brother Andrew of Tenorio's upcoming revenge against Ultima, the madam denies him access because only "gentlemen" frequent her establishment (171). The exclusiveness of the brothel is on the other hand demoted by one of the gang members, who claims that simply "Everybody in town goes to Rosie's"(151). In Antonio's fifth dream, his brothers even try to lure him into the brothel, informing him that no man – not even a priest – can live without sexual intercourse. This scene is preceded by an experience of animal sexuality when he watches a bull violently mate with his family's cow (72). This same powerfulness of sexuality becomes apparent to him in the aforementioned scene, where Narciso cannot persuade Andrew to leave the brothel and prevent Tenorio's revenge (173).

By digesting all these impressions, Antonio undoubtedly becomes conscious of the animal aspect in human beings, which refutes the Catholic dichotomy between humans and animals. Lupito and León, another brother of his, are both traumatized by their war experiences and manifest their animal traits when the former is chased (19) and the latter tormented by nightmares (69).

The concept of sexual penetration and its associated violence is broadened to include the penetration of the peaceful llano by the dominant group. Antonio's father remembers nostalgically the time when "The llano was still a virgin" until it was penetrated by the tejano (57), expelling the llano people and forcing them to migrate (131).

Finally, Antonio experiences the death of Florence alongside the murder of Lupito, Narciso, Tenorio and Ultima. Narciso dies in Antonio's arms, his blood staining the boy's hands and also desecrating the once "holy and pure" llano (176). This final desecration only succeeds the desecration of Guadalupe when the sheriff is murdered (18) and the desanctification of "the holy water of the river" with Lupito's blood (175).

The image of the bloody river evokes the metaphorical imagination of the Rio Grande by some Chicano writers as "una herida abierta" ("an open wound")[34]. It connotes the cultural and economic clash of the third world (Mexico) with the first (the US). In her book Borderlands: La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa expands this image to describe a wound that never heals and consequently an ongoing mixing of both Mexican and US bloods, which create "a third country – a border culture"[35]. Ironically, this suggests that the encounter is productive despite its violence. When Antonio asks in his tenth dream why he was exposed to all the violence, a voice likewise responds that "The germ of creation lies in violence"(257).

Therefore, the wound that was opened up inside Antonio is equally painful and productive, initiating him into the experience of the "borderlands"[36]. The borderlands are both the topographical frontier space across the US-Mexican border and Antonio's psychocultural state at the end of Bless Me, Ultima. They are a "narrow zone of intense ambiguity"[37], in which every essentialism is deconstructed and where, as a result, ambivalence is the norm. This condition precludes the either-or choices imposed upon Antonio towards the end of the story. Cico incites Antonio to "choose between the god of the church, or the beauty that is here and now"(251), while both his father and Ultima claim that "the greater immortality is in the freedom of man"(242), which is immediately refuted by the distress of his itinerant brothers in his ninth dream (249).

Antonio's final conversation with his father nonetheless provides him with the pertinent advice for his future in the borderlands. When Antonio notices the inescapability of his past experiences, his father responds that "every generation, every man is a part of his past. He cannot escape it, but he may reform the old materials, make something new –"(261). Antonio will have to assimilate and transform his cultural experiences without neglecting either one of them. The resulting challenge opens up the process of Antonio's hybridization, whose processuality is variously hinted at in the course of the story. Ultima explains to him that finding oneself takes time (44) and that he should gain strength through life (261). His father Gabriel underscores her remarks by stating that "Understanding comes with life"(262) and his brothers, catapulted in the war from adolescence to adulthood, warn him of growing up too quickly (77).

Finally, Antonio's experience of hybridity resembles the redefinition this concept has undergone in post-colonial criticism, most notably in the work of Homi Bhabha and Robert Young.[38] Bhabha suggests that "Hybridity is the sign of the productivity of colonial powers"[39], which echoes Gabriel's aphorism that "The germ of creation lies in violence"(257). Yet even among Chicano critics there is disagreement over the type of colonialism the Chicano community has faced or still faces. While the Chicano movement has been called a "decolonization movement"[40], the present Chicano condition is also termed "internal colonialism"[41], a condition in which the colonizer (the Anglo-American system) never leaves the colony. Be that as it may, the Chicano experience is undoubtely affected by some sort of colonialism. After suggesting that hybridization occurs in a "Third Space", Bhabha argues that "the productive capacities of this Third Space have a colonial or postcolonial provenance."[42] This "Third Space" aptly illustrates Antonio's condition since both are characterized by "difference and sameness in an apparently impossible simultaneity."[43] Therefore, Antonio's hybridization process in Bless Me, Ultima should also be read in the context of colonialism and postcolonial literary theory.


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Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands: La Frontera. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Ann Lute, 1999.

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[1] Helen Grice, Candida Hepworth, Maria Lauret and Martin Padget, Beginning Ethnic American Literatures (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2001) pp. 1-9.

[2] Martha E. Bernal and George P. Knight, eds., Ethnic Identity: Formation and Transmission among Hispanics and Other Minorities (Albany: State U of New York P, 1993) p. 3.

[3] Sharon Elise, "Assimilation: Cultural and Structural,"Racial and Ethnic Relations in America (Pasadena: Salem Press, 2000) p.128.

[4] curanderismo refers to folk medicine practised by a curandero/-a.

[5] chicanismo refers to Chicano ethnicity.

[6] Carlos E. Córtes, "Mexicans,"Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1980) p. 715.

[7] R.A. Schermerhorn, Comparative Ethnic Relations: A Framework for Theory and Research (Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1978) p. 12.

[8] Bernal, Knight p. 33.

[9] Monika Fludernik, "The Constitution of Hybridity: Postcolonial Interventions,"Hybridity and Post-Colonialism (Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 1998) pp. 19-21.

[10] Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima (New York: Warner, 1999) p.261.

[11] Grice et al. p. 223.

[12] Walter Piller, Der Chicano Roman: Stufen seiner Entwicklung (Bern: Lang, 1991) p. 143.

[13] Ethnic markers refer to all traits distinguishing one ethnic group from another.

[14] Their respective idealism / realism is illustrated in Bless Me, Ultima on pp. 54-55: "In California, they say, the land flows with milk and honey – ", to which Maria Luna replies: "Any land will flow with milk and honey if it is worked with honest hands!"

[15] Anaya pp. 11/26. All subsequent references are inserted parenthetically into the text.

[16] Cortés pp. 711-12.

[17] Susan E. Keefe and Amado M. Padilla, Chicano Ethnicity, 3rd ed. (Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1990) pp. 119-127.

[18] See the definition of "ethnic group" in the introduction on p. 2.

[19] Allan Engelkirk and Marguerite Marín, "Mexican-American,"Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America (Detroit: Gale, 1995) p. 912.

[20] Karin Ikas, Chicana Literatur: Eine interkulturelle Untersuchung (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 2000) p. 147.

[21] Alfred Arteaga, Chicano poetics: Heterotexts and Hybridities (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997) pp. 24-26.

[22] Irene Thelen-Schaefer, Mythos und Realität der Chicanos (Wien: Österreichischer Kunst- und Kulturverlag, 1996) pp .123-24.

[23] Engelkirk, Marín p. 926.

[24] Robert Gish, "Chicano Vistas,"Beyond Bounds: Cross-Cultural Essays on Anglo, American Indian, & Chicano Literature (Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1996) pp. 119/130.

[25] Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Hellen Tiffin, Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies (London: Routledge, 1998) pp. 174-76.

[26] See the definition of "ethnic group" in the introduction on p. 2.

[27] Arteaga p.9.

[28] Engelkirk, Marín p. 911.

[29] Cortés p. 701.

[30] Emilio Nieto Ballester, Breve dicionario de topónimos españoles (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1997)

[31] Ikas p. 4.

[32] Dietrich Schwanitz suggests that nature underwent a "dis-enchantment" (Entzauberung) in the Renaissance, whose burgeoning arts produced the "re-entchantment" (Wiederverzauberung).

Dietrich Schwanitz, Englische Kulturgeschichte 1 (Tübingen: Francke, 1995) p. 22.

[33] Anti-essentialism is the opposite of essentialism as defined in Ashcroft, Gareth, Triffin pp. 77-80.

[34] qtd. in Arteaga pp. 8/15.

[35] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands: La Frontera (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999) p. 25.

[36] Arteaga p. 92.

[37] qtd. in Gish p. 111.

[38] Fludernik pp. 19-20.

[39] qtd. in Jeremy Hawthorn, A Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford UP, 2000) p. 159.

[40] Edward Murguía, Assimilation, Colonialism and the Mexican American People (Lanham: UP of America, 1989) p. 101.

[41] Arteaga pp .76-77.

[42] Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994) p. 38.

[43] Robert J.C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995) p. 26.

16 of 16 pages


Hybridity in Rudolfo Anayas Bless Me Ultima
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David Jan Slavicek (Author), 2002, Hybridity in Rudolfo Anayas Bless Me Ultima, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/109091


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