WGST 194.03 - W.O.C. Feminism // Third Wave Feminism : Theory, Practice + Activism

Friday, September 23, 2005

“Chicana’s Feminist Literature: A Re-Vision Through Malintzin / or Malintzin: Putting Flesh Back on the Object”
-by Norma Alarcon (the last o has an accent which I don’t know how to do on a computer)

In this piece, Alarcon writes about the contemporary importance of the myth of the woman Malintzin. Malintzin was alive when Cortes landed in what is now Mexico at the inception of the Spanish conquest of the Western Hemisphere. Malintzin and Cortes became lovers, and Malintzin offered Cortes tactical advice as well as translation, thus aiding in the process of colonization and enslavement of the Aztec population by the white foreigners.

Norma Alarcon writes about the importance of the myth in current forms of subjugation of women within Chicano/a communities. “The pervasiveness of the myth is unfathomable, often permeating and suffusing our being without conscious awareness.” (p. 184)

In her explanation of the life of Malintzin, Alarcon explains that Malintzen was sold into slavery by her parents so as to increase the social status of her brother. Her apparent complicity with Cortes was the result of trying to survive, psychologically adapting to a new form of subjugation. In adapting to the mindset of a slave after formerly being royalty, she “substitutes devotion for obedience...to persuade herself that she is doing voluntarily the very things that she is forced to do.” (p. 186)

In present Chicano/a communities, when women are disobedient, Alarcon explains that they are considered undevout, and seen as betraying their men, families and culture and are compared with Malintzen. When Chicana women seek feminism, they are charged with betrayal and are compared to Malintzen. Thus, she explains, the myth serves a purpose to reaffirm the power exercised by men over women in a patriarchal society.

I just want to write that I always feel a little bit nervous when I attempt to represent or summarize the words of someone like Norma Alarcon, a chicana woman writing from a subject location so different from mine. I feel self-conscious that in some way I am misrepresenting it, not emphasizing the right things, and in the process representing the ideas on this page as coming from her when they are really coming from me. I focused on reading very closely, more closely than I ordinarily would for a class, so as to summarize in a way that is respectful...but, if you want to hear her words you should read this chapter and don’t take anything I say as her words.

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