Rocky Mountain Review 
of Language and Literature


SPECIAL ISSUE ~ Summer 2012 ~ "Border Crossing"

Guest Editor: Feroza Jussawalla, University of New Mexico


Chicano and Latino

Chicana Belonging in Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street

Regina M. Betz 
Monmouth University

Much of the literary studies which delve into Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street neglect to consider discourse on the language used within the novel. Through the scope of a psychoanalytical-linguistic approach, readers will discover the rationale behind Cisneros' choice of mixed languages within the text. The vignettes are told mostly in English, but the novel can be categorized as a "Spanglish" one for its Spanish inclusions. This hybridity reveals both the insecurities and desires of Cisneros' Mexican-American narrator, Esperanza Cordero. Through the study of language, Esperanza's rejection of her Chicana Chicago community pertains to her need to establish her own identity. Linguistic studies -- such as Howard Giles' "divergence" research -- indicate that speakers will move away from ethnic communities to a more popular or favored one outside of the native community. For a young, aspiring, and ethnic writer like Esperanza, her physical and linguistic escape is necessary for her to flourish beyond her Spanish-speaking community in the United States.

Revising How the West Was Won in Emma Pérez's Forgetting the Alamo, or, Blood Memory

Karen Allison Fielder
City University of New York

Emma Pérez's novel Forgetting the Alamo, or, Blood Memory (2008), includes the female masculine subject in historical revisioning, focusing on the diasporic realities and interstitial resistance found in the borderlands before the establishment of the state of Texas in 1845. An intersectional approach here combines queer theory and Chicana feminist theory, in particular Pérez's own theoretical work, The Decolonial Imaginary, in which she argues for the inclusion of gender and sex in the revision and liberation of historical narratives. Gloria Anzaldúa's scholarship on the in-between space of nepantla can be an invaluable lens through which to read queer typologies of the female masculine subject. In Forgetting, the novel's heroine, Micaela, performs transgressions against both hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic nationalism, particularly during her "coming-of-age moment" when she resolves to cross-dress, take up arms, and avenge the death of her father. Pérez's narrative makes clear that while feminine women become the symbolic, maternal foundation of national identity for both the U.S. and Mexico, female masculine women experience rejection and victimization under the homogenizing law. However, rather than creating a protagonist who is a victim, she complicates the victim/oppressor dichotomy by demonstrating how these terms continually slide together in revisionist history. In the conclusion, Pérez suggests the possibility of complex, local, and transnational third-space feminist resistance that has yet to become reality in many global locations. Recovered narratives of women's resistance emerge as integral, not peripheral, to the unhomely reality of all national projects, past and present. As the diasporic intermixing found on the border before the establishment of what we know as the West was forgotten in favor of a racist, nationalist fantasy, all varieties of difference were silenced.

Norma Elia Cantú's Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera

Melissa D. Birkhofer 
University of North Dakota

Norma Elia Cantú recreates the south Texas borderlands as a new center in her novel Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera. Although many Chicana authors discuss the border as a metaphorical construct, Cantú treats the border as a concrete barrier between two cultures and one extended family. Her work begins with a map of the U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande/Río Bravo. Cantú's protagonist is able to cross and re-cross this border and her fictional, though historically accurate story is told through photographs and accompanying vignettes about her family. These photographs are explained and embellished through the vignettes, and, at times the photographs do not match the story being told. While border crossing is not exclusively the realm of Chicanas/os, crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as a Chicana is a specific experience and one that Cantú captures in Canícula.

South Asia and South Asian Diaspora

The (Dis)Position of Immigrants in the 1960s London of Anita Desai's Bye-Bye Blackbird

Bojana Gledic 
University of Belgrade

Anita Desai's 1971 novel Bye-Bye Blackbird concerns an episode in the life of two friends from India living in the London of the 1960s. The two men are first-generation immigrants and the work depict their (dis)position in the decade that witnessed the founding of the first large immigrant communities in Great Britain. The identity of the characters is difficult to define as they undergo the same turbulent changes as the decade in which they are placed. The article suggests that the vertical history of immigrant communities has affected the desired development of multiculturalism. Crossing actual borders is not always accompanied by crossing the inner borders of the self, and this may be one of the possible reasons why today the idea of multiculturalism is being brought into question.

The Quest for an Identity in Shani Mootoo's Valmiki's Daughter

Sissy Helff 
University of Darmstadt 
Sanghamitra Dalal 
Goethe University

A reading of Shani Mootoo's latest novel Valmiki's Daughter (2008) addresses the complex issues of homoerotic love, alternative identity formation, and unconventional yet possible ways of being in the world. In Mootoo's fictional construction of transcultural spaces, human beings can search, fashion, and negotiate different perceptions and expressions of their unique identities. Mootoo imagines an alternative literary cartography outside the normative order and crafts out a place of belonging that embraces love and humanity irrespective of traditional gender constructs.

The Transnational Cartography of Agha Shahid Ali's Poetry

Nida Sajid 
Rutgers University

This article explores the transnational imagery of Agha Shahid Ali's poetry in order to understand the relationship between an émigré poet and his homeland, Kashmir. It examines the role of borderlands in mapping a poetic subjectivity and imagining a world of fluid and permeable cultural boundaries. By locating history and poetry in the liminality of the border, Ali challenges political and aesthetic boundaries that imprison marginal identities within hegemonic and homogenic discourses of nationalism. Ali intentionally constructs the volatile borders of Kashmir as an imaginary map for a "border culture" which accommodates and rehabilitates private memories as an archive. This poetic cartography restores the importance of suffering as an indispensible experience of limit and allows the individual "I" to bear witness of collective trauma and loss.

Reading Women's Journey through the Debris of Indian Partition in the "Charnel Ground of History"

Anuparna Mukherjee 
English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad

"Exile," says the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, "is not an easy art to master," but ironically exile has always provided creative impetus to great many writers and has produced a prolific corpus of literature worldwide. The article focuses on such literatures of exile consequent to India's Partition in 1947. The post-independence fictional and non-fictional works of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have revisited this violence of Partition and cross-border exodus with specific attention to the abduction, rape, and mutilation of women's bodies on which the signs of Partition were most brutally etched out. This coerced migration and the drive it gave to communal ideology have been examined by the revisionist historians, social scientists, and more recently, by interventionist scholars with a desire to reinstate women's agency at the center of the third-world history responding to those several decades of somnolence and neglect during which their existence was implicitly negated. However, while the abject victimization of women during the Partition violence had garnered much critical attention in recent times, much more could be said about those refugee women who took up the Herculean challenge of rebuilding from the shreds of their broken selves a new life in the hostile environment. Stymied by poverty, they emerged in the public domain in pursuit of education and employment and played a substantive role as bread-earners of their impoverished families. Their determination served as a role-model for the confident "New Woman" of the succeeding generation. In light of these issues the article charts the trajectory of women's negotiation with the complex agencies of loss in an epoch of madness and thus trace their journey from the initial position of powerlessness to the gradual ascendance in their alienated topography of exile.

Ethnographic Poetry in North-East India and Southwest China

Mark Bender 
The Ohio State University

The area of the eastern Himalayas, now called "Zomia" by some geographers and historians, is the site of intense poetic production rooted in the land and traditions the local poets call home. Poets of North-East India such as Temsula Ao, Desmond Kharmawphlang, Mamang Dai, and Mona Zote draw heavily on imagery of vernacular culture, oral performance, folk ideas, places, and the environment to engage the dynamics of cultural change among ethnic groups that include the Naga, Khasi, Adi, and Mizo. In southwest China, poems and prose pieces by poets including Aku Wuwu, Jidi Majia, Lu Juan, and Burao Yilu engage similar aspects of tradition and the environment in relation to life experiences of Yi and Wa cultures. Employing folkloristic and eco-critical theory to discuss the "ethnographic" poetry of the two regions, the article examines poems embedded in the varied dynamics of change and the strategies poets have chosen, often as extensions of their respective groups, to express feelings over shifts in culture and the environment. These marginal regions of India and China are linked by geography, ancient migrations, and folklore although state politics have made interaction within the region difficult and though producing similar bodies of poetry, there is little awareness between poets of what is happening in just across the geographical and political borders. This article seeks to engage poems from the respective areas, realizing that one must be conversant in "local knowledge" in approaching and interpreting highly contextualized poems within transnational conversations of these border homelands.

North Africa

The Mimetic Discourse in Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North

Wisam Khalid Abdul Jabbar 
University of Alberta

The article argues that Mustafa's sexual exploits in England do not reflect a vindictive attitude from a colonized subject, who seeks to castigate the British colonizer, as generally assumed. Drawing on Homi Bhabha's conceptualization of the ambivalence of colonial mimicry as a mode that disrupts authority, Mustafa's violent acts mark his latent desire to be completely westernized as he considers aggression to be part of the colonizer's constituent identity. His aim is not, as often assumed, to retaliate against the colonizer but to seamlessly assimilate with the western world through mimesis, which he manifests as his fellow students call him the "Black Englishman." By examining his education and life through the eyes of others who have known him well and by setting him as the foil of the unnamed narrator, Mustafa comes to represent a slippage in the mimetic discourse of colonial mimicry, a puppet in the hands of English puppeteers.


Cultural Identity and Liminal Places in Contemporary Literature of Hawai'i

Rebecca Hogue 
Georgetown University

Kaui Hart Hemmings' The Descendants and Tara Bray Smith's West of Then explore themes of cultural hybridity as the protagonists reexamine their individual identities as products of the collective social landscape in Hawai'i well after annexation. In a place with a dwindling indigenous population and an ever-growing array of immigrants, "local" identity remains disputed and residents struggle to define their cultural relationships with their heritage. This article addresses the setting of the Hawaiian Islands as a symbol of liminality within the context of its contemporary literature and how each author's narrative techniques illuminate the socio-cultural and geographic tensions that contribute to the unsettled identity for the inhabitants of Hawai'i, specifically in relation to settler-colonizer and indigenous relationships with the land.

How the Jin Loyalists Made a New Home in the South

Michelle Low 
University of Northern Colorado

The events of the transition from the Western Jin (265-316) to Eastern Jin dynasties (317-420) at the turn of the fourth century affected not only the people and history of that era, but also the development of China and Chinese culture today. The uneasy state of mind of the Western Jin (265-316) literati at the start of the fourth century in China grew out of a very tangible fear of the imminent demise of the ancient civilization with which they identified. Although the Jin would survive the internecine warfare and ethnic rebellions, the successors of the Western Jin would be forever affected by the revolutionary events of the turn of the fourth century. This era, with its political chaos and ethnic rebellions, and particularly with the fall of Luoyang into the non-Chinese Xiongnu hands in 311, marked the end of an era not only for the literati and aristocracy of the Jin, but also for the people of the Central States. The change in location forced the people of the Central States to question the future of their civilization and their own identities, and to seek ways to maintain their ties to their homes through creative means. The literature that remains from this period of transition tells the story of the literati's struggle to make sense of the shocking events that heralded the end of the Western Jin and their consequent attempt to set order to the chaos and regain control of their world. While the state fought to survive the events, the individuals caught between warring factions and ethnic rebellions recorded their fears and hopes in public and private poems, fu rhapsodies, letters, travelogues, and memorials. Throughout their literature, the history of their civilization was foremost in their minds, as was geography and the significance placed on location. Their individual and shared cultural memories and their interpretations of history heavily influenced their literature and the reformation of the Eastern Jin (317-420) state in the south. This article briefly examine fu rhapsodies written by two fourth-century refugees and discusses how these survivors represented themselves, their experiences, as well as the history of their civilization through the fu in an attempt to preserve their civilization and to recreate a new state in the south.

Exploring Diasporic Identities in Selected Plays by Contemporary American Minority Playwrights

Safi Mahmoud Mahfouz 
UNRWA University

This study aims at shedding light on the rhetoric of ethnic self-expression which contemporary American minority playwrights use to explore their diasporic identities and empower their ethnic communities. It also explores the nature of contemporary ethnic theaters and the function they serve in assimilating people of diverse ethnic backgrounds into the American mainstream culture. A diverse selection of ethnic theaters in the United States is tackled with the aim of crystallizing a new understanding of ethnicities and the rhetoric they use to stress their wish to melt into America's or to preserve their own ethnic identities. The underrepresented American plays discussed in this article include the Chinese-American David Henry Hwang's F.O.B. (2000), that depicts the social dilemmas of Chinese immigrants, and M. Butterfly (1988), that has problematized the entire notion of ethnicity and has revealed the distorted stereotypical images of oriental cultures as perceived by the West; the Korean-American playwrights Julia Cho's The Architecture of Loss (2004), and Philip Kan Gotanda's Day Standing on its Head (1994); the African-American Pearl Cleage's Flyin' West (1995), which portrays from a feminist perspective the Blacks' Great Migration; Hispanic theater represented by Milcha Sánchez-Scott's Latina (1980), and Silvia Gonzalez' The Migrant Farmworker's Son (1994). Though classified as marginal in the dramatic rung, these plays achieved renowned positions not only in ethnic theaters throughout the United States but also claimed a notorious position in American mainstream theater. The plays contain themes that range from displacement or diaspora, to exile, migration, border-crossing to create new worlds, nationhood, belonging, cultural hybridity, and even invisibility. Although it should be noted that a minority text is not essentially representative of its race, the playwrights' rhetoric of ethnic self-expression is articulated in their plays.