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Linguistic Formations of Race

While reading "Gender, Race, Raza," Antonio de Nebriya's line "Language has always been the companion of empire," (14) immediately brought me back to the Benegas poem, "She arises soaked in autumn":

About the date plums called "caquis," that she does not recall having seen on the branch. Perhaps someone showed her one, making it turn in her hand? She suspects that as was usual with her--she was a pianist--the word "caqui" entered through her ear, in a colonial uniform, beige color, excursions by jeep in the desert and concave hat with the hero looking through a spy glass." (83)

Benegas' use of the word "caqui" to illustrate how language is always already infused with historical connotations and cultural ideology closely connects to Kaminsky's argument that race is unstable, relational, and context specific.

These are questions I was considering early on in the semester both through Belli's The Inhabited Woman and Zayas' Her Lover's Slave precisely because of my lack of familiarity with specific markers of race and class hierarchy in Spain and Nicaragua. As Daniela points out, while Belli outlines Lavinia's physical features as a way of marking her as mestizaje, Belli's use of clothing to position Lavinia in a certain race and class was unreadable to me. That is, while certain words ("pedigree," "white skin and dark hair") signify Lavinia's race/class to an extent, without a grounded knowledge of site-specific historical/cultural conditions I was left with only a vague understanding of how Belli intended Lavinia's body to signify. This was also the case for me with Her Lover's Slave, in which Zayas uses Dona Isabel's transformation to Zelima to signify how Isabel's performance as a Moor destabilizes notions of the fixedness/naturalness of race and class. It was not until the readings and class discussion that I was able to more fully "read" Zayas' intentional positioning of Isabel in her work (and specifically the close connections between race and religion in Spain at this time).

The use of language to construct, deconstruct, and interrogate racial formations in both of these texts serves to illustrate the instability and historical/contextual "nature" of constructions of race--constructions that are laden with contradictions that always threaten to expose such racial fictions. This, in part, is what June Jordan's "Report from the Bahamas" seeks to explore as Jordan is constantly resituating/positioning herself and her perspectives based on the context specific ways formulations of race/class/gender manifest themselves in her roles as professor and tourist. Indeed, these contradicitons and the needing to "make sense of" are also at the heart of the Williams' piece in which Williams, despite asking her mother's cousin (her godmother?) for "The truth, the truth," finally surrenders herself to "the voracity of her amnesia" (17), a historical silencing that closely connects to the Hirsch/Smith and Franco pieces we read for our week on memory. Indeed, Williams' identifies Marjorie as "a storyteller," which has strong resonances with Hirsch and Smith's call for counternarratives that challenge hegemonic accounts of history. While the Hirsch/Smith is mostly focused on gender, when read in dialogue with the readings for this week, we can see how gender/race/class/religion are always already bound into such historical retellings.