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Gender/race in "La esclava de su amante"

In “Gender, Race, Raza�, Amy Kaminsky discusses the relationship between race and gender, and explores the ways in which gender, long accepted as a natural category, serves to legitimize and naturalize categories of race, “analyzing the instability of race itself and the part gender plays in naturalizing what gets called ‘race’ in and across cultures� (7).

Using an excerpt from Lazarillo de Tormes, Kaminsky demonstrates the ways in which language allows both difference and sameness to be articulated. Using this same idea, I would like to explore how language in “La esclava de su amante� allows Isabel/Zelima to move between the fixed “racial� categories of cristiana/mora, as well as the ways in which “rules of behavior can be transgressed. When they are, authority takes care that the transgressor is either punished or pardoned, so that through its intervention the fundamental structures of racially or gender-appropriate behavior can be recovered� (9-10).

Isabel, a Christian (unmarked) female (marked), uses language to change her identity. Naming herself Zelima and pronouncing her Moorish identity, Isabel embodies that identity, in effect becoming Zelima. In this way, she is using language not as a marker of sameness, but rather a marker of difference; she is not a Christian, she is a Moor. In the context of seventeenth-century Spain, it seems almost inconceivable that any Christian would want to call herself/himself a Moor; in this way, no one questions Zelima’s “mora� identity. Of course, her robe and the sign of “esclavo� on her forehead help to strengthen her pronounced identity.

On the other hand, Zaida, a mora (marked racially/marked because of gender), cannot as easily use language to transgress her racial category (that is, she cannot use it to incorporate herself into the unmarked racial group). Here we see the influence of the state in maintaining racial/gender identities. Zaida, desiring to marry Don Manuel, knows that she must “officially� become Christian—she cannot merely pronounce herself Christian, as Isabel pronounced herself Moor. As Zayas reveals, Zaida has to lie in order to be able to get permission to travel with Don Manuel, “since without that the Moors cannot go from one place to another� (189). Here we see a possible intersection gender and race, but more importantly, an example of the state regulation of those categories.

I haven’t thought through all this enough; I’m sure there are holes in it, so please point them out!