Blaxicana Futures, Part 1
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Blaxicana Futures, Part 1

Blaxicana Futures, Part 1

Blaxicana Futures, Part 1

Photo of altar with a candle, blue cornmeal and red corn

LIKE THE NEW MESTIZA in Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, La Blaxicana is both personal and collective. The testimonio is mine but may also be yours.

Beginnings

You want to start with the future, but ancestors call you back. As a Blaxicana from Tejas, your ancestors know the West Texas desert and the East Texas pinelands. Your people were earthworkers. They were enslaved Africans. They were the descendants of enslaved Africans. They were African-American farmers and, later, gardeners and landscapers. They were Tejanxs who worked on ranchitos and, later, on farms in Wisconsin, in fabricas in California, and in oilfields in Texas. 

Your “people” come from space: wide skies, farm fields, and ranch lands.

And while your mother is white and Xicana, the white ancestors feel distant. For now, you name them, but your African-American and Xicanx ancestors are the ones who call you. Claim you. Maybe because their stories can tell you something about surviving la nepantla/the in-between as a Black woman. Como una Blaxicana.

Reading Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera, you resonate with The New Mestiza, who may “choose to cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory.” In this territory, The New Mestiza occupies herself. Territory is reimagined, loosened from its colonial roots. Knowing that resistance all day, every day, is unsustainable and threatens her survival, she turns inward. She gathers herself. The borderlands within (and without) nourish her. She knows this is enough. She knows by existing, she resists.

La Blaxicana no es “La New Mestiza,” pero son hermanas. 

The Blaxicana is not "The New Mestiza," but they are sisters.

As La Blaxicana, you resonate but choose to thrive from another space, one that is often erased or denied in still other ways. Your existence recalls a long history of Blackness in Mexico that is largely unacknowledged, even in Anzaldúa’s classic work.* While Anzaldúa’s writing inspires you, you also love yourself.

Seeking

When you are just beginning to love yourself, you seek your story in-between Black and Xicana feminism.

You savor conversations between bell hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains. You relish the book Homegrown, in which they respectively bring Black/African-American and Chicanx histories, lives, and movements into relationship. In your favorite chapter, Mesa-Bains honors Chicanx altars and altarmaking, and hooks recalls the altars Black folks make in the Deep South.

You savor writing that brings Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde into conversation, mapping linkages between Xicana and Black feminism through their shared attention to spirit and ancestors and mythmaking.

You savor these, but you still seek.

You seek where Blackness and Xicanidad meet. Where Blackness and Xicanidad inhabit each other. Where La Blaxicana and her kin—La Afromexicana, La Afro-Tejana, La Afro-Indígena, for example—are expected to exist because they have for centuries. You seek places where, even if people do not identify with any of these labels, the history of afrodescendientes in Mexico is still named.

You turn to history, or rather to what history you can find:

The first enslaved Africans arrived in Mexico as early as 1519 with Spanish conquistadores. Afrodescendientes “outnumbered” Spanish settlers in New Spain from 1570 until 1810. Their lives were deeply interconnected with Indigenous/Native, Spanish, and other communities (or castas/castes in colonial terms). During the Mexican Inquisition, Afromexicanas (Afromexican women) were questioned for healing with herbs, speaking to ravens, and talking to the sea . . .

Here, you pause, Blaxicana. As a Black woman, you know the magic stereotype well. You know how old ways, Indigenous ways that honor all our relations, can be misread. You know how Black healing ways have been stigmatized. And you know, in your huesos, your bones, the language La Afromexicana may have been speaking. You know from reclaiming old ways. From reconnecting with the sacredness of the sea. From ancestral migrations across the same Atlantic Ocean. Tu sabes la frontera, y sabes bien el mar. You know the borderlands, and you also know the sea.

Crossings

Photo of a collage with red corn kernels on a blue background

La Blaxicana no es la Afromexicana, pero son hermanas. 

The Blaxicana is not the Afromexicana, but they are sisters.

As una Blaxicana, you know this truth from traveling to Veracruz, Mexico, where, for the first time, people assume you are mexicana. Where, for the first time, people expect you to speak Spanish. Where Afro-Mexicans tell you “no se pagan los negros” (they don’t pay Black folks) who cut caña, or sugar cane, in nearby fields. This is partly why they cross the border: to make a living. To send money back. To live, not just survive.

Like what you’re reading?

La Blaxicana knows migration, but not this migration.

In 2007 and again in 2008, you travel across the border between Mexico and the United States with ease. (One time, when you’re returning to the United States, airport authorities run after you—literally run—and ask for your passport again. Otherwise, ease.) You witness the border from the plane. From the window, you see the Rio Grande etched into the desert. The river turned territorial boundary is narrow and turquoise.

A twisting of the stomach, a jump in the breath, a pause in the heartbeat, and you know that in your search for comunidad, you assumed too much. In your search for community with other folks of Black and Mexican descent, you disregarded privilege. You disregarded power. You cross with ease, while Afromexicanxs you interviewed will risk their lives to make the journey. 

You take a twelve-year pause from traveling across la frontera, back into Mexico. You name reasons for the pause: cartel violence, lack of funds, desire to travel with others, need to find so-and-so’s number, and now, Covid-19. The truth? You have inner work to do. You remember Anzaldúa’s words: “The struggle is inner, and is played out on outer terrains.” By avoiding the crossing, you avoid discomfort. You avoid the feeling, the knowing, that you survive the crossing, when others may not. Do not.

You don’t yet have the rituals and tools and language to hold all you’re feeling. To be honest and tender with yourself al mismo tiempo, at the same time.

Return

Photo of a collage with red corn and milagros on blue

Now the future calls and the ancestors call you forth. You spent so many years seeking yourself in other people’s stories, Blaxicana, that you did not see the poder, the power, of your own. You begin to bear witness. You gather corn kernels and cornmeal, findings from the sea, and flower petals. You begin to make art. You remember ritual. The more you do, the more you feel into your presence. You hear the mensajes: Your being is the thing. Your aliveness is the thing. Your thriving is the thing.

You begin to know—to know—what Anzaldúa means by choosing the borderlands. By unapologetically claiming la nepantla. When you do, you are not in-between at all. You can meet La Afromexicana and kin with awareness. You can practice solidarity from deep grounding.

And because your existence continues to be una sorpresa, you exist in a kind of other time where anything is indeed possible. What will you dream?

[To be continued . . .]

Notes

*Anzaldúa draws on La Raza Cosmica/The Cosmic Race by José Vasconcelos, which acknowledges the presence of Afrodescendants in Mexico but also envisions their eventual disappearance if the nation is to evolve. 

Also, visit Madeline Cahaus, “Interrogating Absences in Latinx Theory and Placing Blackness in Latinx Geographical Thought: A Critical Reflection” (Society + Space, 2019).  https://www.societyandspace.org/articles/interrogating-absences-in-latinx-theory-and-placing-blackness-in-latinx-geographical-thought-a-critical-reflection

†I drew historical details from several sources: Bobby Vaughn, https://afromexico.com/historical-sketch/; Joan Cameron Bristol, Christians, Blasphemers, and Witches: Afro-Mexican Ritual Practice in the Seventeenth Century (University of New Mexico Press, 2007); R. Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994).

Notes

*Anzaldúa draws on La Raza Cosmica/The Cosmic Race by José Vasconcelos, which acknowledges the presence of Afrodescendants in Mexico but also envisions their eventual disappearance if the nation is to evolve. 

Also, visit Madeline Cahaus, “Interrogating Absences in Latinx Theory and Placing Blackness in Latinx Geographical Thought: A Critical Reflection” (Society + Space, 2019).  https://www.societyandspace.org/articles/interrogating-absences-in-latinx-theory-and-placing-blackness-in-latinx-geographical-thought-a-critical-reflection

†I drew historical details from several sources: Bobby Vaughn, https://afromexico.com/historical-sketch/; Joan Cameron Bristol, Christians, Blasphemers, and Witches: Afro-Mexican Ritual Practice in the Seventeenth Century (University of New Mexico Press, 2007); R. Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994).

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