The Other amongst the others.


Something that I’ve always been intrigued and interested by is how people of color come to, in a way, escape their perceived cultural outposts. For non-POC folks being “strange & different” is seen as plain eccentricity while doing the same while being a POC is seen as pure deviance. We are maligned by both the “dominant” culture and our “traditional” culture. As  noted in such films such as AfroPunk, we exist somewhere neither here nor there (but maybe everywhere?)

Although this existential malaise is common to the experience  of the Chican@, it only becomes more acutely raised when we not only choose to go beyond  our prescribed norms but seek to be essentially human; and no longer a walking stereotype.

In youth this extrañeza can be easily arisen. As a teenage punk I was maligned by my classmates for not being macho, racist, sexist, and interested in normality. I was called a”Satanist” because I professed my un-belief in God (although, this un-belief would logically lead to Satan too).  Preferring red wine over bottles of Corona was a sure act of race betrayal: every choice imbued with the notion of acceptance or rejection of our cultura.

“Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit.” – T.S. Eliot

I  quickly then rejected identity politics wholesale: they were too interested in binary oppositions, us vs. them, oppressor vs. oppressed. The nuance of discourse is abandoned to make emotive arguments that may touch on one’s experience but ultimatley are a dead-end. Seeing culture as static and not dynamic; as though any relevant reflections on life had ended 500 years ago; perfection in self need only be found in the past and not created in the present.

This is not a diatribe  against all tradition, but an argument for the free expression of all regardless of  background. Since it is difficult to be anti-tradition  when  I have not  experienced, directly, a concerted effort  to efface my identity as many peoples  around the world have felt. What I see is a confluence of directions where all possibilities are left on the table. Where my being  a citizen of the Eastside of Los Angeles could define me as much as it creates unique, yet infinite possibilities for human experience.

Truly one can only be human and nothing else. You can truly no more be a Chicano than one can be a chair because you were not born a Chicano but made into one.


Case in point: Miklo in “Blood  In, Blood Out” had the experience of being born into whiteness but he chose to make himself into a Chicano.

Bienvenidos al mundo topsy-turvy de la realidad tal como es.

13 thoughts on “The Other amongst the others.

  1. Miklo is my patron saint.

    Excellent, thoughtful post!

    In my Chicano Studies Contemporary Issues class at ELAC last week, we had a really intense discussion about exactly these issues, in the context of Chicana/o art, specifically, the Phantom Sightings show as well as the conflict/dialogue between old school muralists and new tagger style muralists. we got deep into notions of art as pure individual expression (a Euro, Romanticist construct) versus communal art integrated into everyday life (e.g., indigenous American notions of art), and the struggle for Chicana/o artists operating locally but at the same time, trying to effectively participate in the larger global, international stream of art and intellectual and cultural production–this sense of being caught between potential provincialism on one hand, and washed out “universalist” (Euro) absorption into a globalized, flattened out equation of all differences into sameness on the other.

    Part of the key in navigating this is to maybe always to function from the awareness that our local history is part of a globalized experience of imperialist colonization and decolonial international resistance and cultural expression in response, and to keep the theory grounded in real world action and interaction. everybody really got into trying to untangle all the issues and forces involved here–how some distance themselves from identifciation with what they feel is perceived as a hardline nationalism and purely politics-based art that is limiting; how others see this as selling out; how through dialogue maybe we can struggle through to some third way.

    In my other Chicano Studies history class at ELAC last week, we also looked at these issues, only more in terms of how our participation in history shapes our sense of cultural identity through the circumstances around us and the choices we make in response to them. The final essay for the class is on looking at the film Walkout and analyzing it in terms of Stuart Hall’s notions of cultural identity as being a thing of “becoming” and process rather than a static “being” (along the lines of what you’re saying here), and in terms of Marx’s statement that “Men make their own history… but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

    I think that there is a way of working through identity politics but at the same time, being aware of how it is always a construct in flux, as you propose here. some people find that really scary and unacceptable, all wishy washy, unable to provide a real basis for effective action. I think it all involves some kind of self-conscious performance, so that you never let yourself get caught up in any one way or ways of thinking, being, and seeing yourself and the world. The overriding need for a foundational, solid sense of identity and thinking in order to take “real” action, often leads to pre-scripted decisions and behaviors that end up being ineffective, and that lead to stagnation, paralysis, and cynicism. On the other hand, getting caught up in solipsistic theory divorced from real action and connection to material experience can also lead to the same results.

  2. I have often heard the notion that not being a Chicna@ nationalist makes one a sellout: a very WESTERN-BINARY argument from avowed non/anti-Occidentals. It’s a strawman argument that doesn’t hold up.

    Almost as though because I have absorbed & digested current discourse on identity makes me less of a “revolutionary.” Are those that call others “sellout” more interested in in-group mentality than really creating a powerful discourse that leads beyond and not just within? I think so.

    People that fear not having identity politics are systematizers; the same people, as Julio Cortázar said, that need lines on paper to write. They are more interested in creating NEW constructs than deconstructing the current ones. The notion that one needs a COHESIVE theory to create any action is a Marxist-hangnail that we need to do away with. Look at any real action, happening now, and you see that people are acting on how they feel and not on pure dialectic theory. This is why State-Communists never understand the nature and power of riots(because they are not party “sanctioned”).

    Start doing, and from there theory will naturally arise. (And thanks for adding to this dialogue!)

  3. yup, exactly. that’s exactly where I’m coming from too. but the Marxists will say that deconstructing and developing consciousness is useless unless people are provided some kind of plan in order to know what to do about it (cuz apparently they are too dumb to figure it out themselves), because once you’ve deconstructed, and once you’ve developed some consciousness, then what? they see it as all a bunch of silly play that doesn’t lead anywhere toward real action and change because all the social relations and modes of productions are left intact, etc.

    but you’re exactly right, the plan and theory emerge–ephemerally, contingently, and situationally–from opening up the space of possibility through action and dialogue and deconstruction, not the other way around. otherwise, you just replace one system with another.

    in other academic settings, I’ve spent the last semester doing battle with grad school dialectic-worshipping Hegelian Marxist armchair revolutionaries. the bigger problem I’ve run into is how to tangle with them and address their points and make my own points but not get caught up in their antagonistic-oriented conflict mode of binary dialectics, and not just be totally dismissed by their condescending poo-pooing of sophist, deconstructive, anarchistic approaches. again, survival seems to involve performance and play, something I’m still working on. it’s hard, especially when they’re so hostile and violent.

  4. after reading this post, comments and chewing on the fat for a good 20 minutes, I can’t help feel like this whole conversation just went over my head. However, I realized half way through reading it for the 3rd time what you are REALLY saying and basically how I’m going through that right now !! I can’t really explain how because the closest I’ve gotten to reading about identity politics is Peter Parker debating whether he wants to be Spider-man and suffer for the rest of his life for being a working class superhero or be Peter Parker, another random person making his way in the world. It’s like a fire got lit in my head when I really started reading what you wrote. I guess what I’m trying to say is that because I haven’t started reading about this stuff until earlier this year and looking at at critically, I’ve been holding back less I make a fool of myself. Keep it coming 🙂

  5. In the beginning, identifying and defining Chican@ was a great dialogue of creative and learned minds—-all valid, all important to the process of expressing what we felt as “other”. Not one exact definition was ever reached, giving this identity a fluidity that encompasses many views of the same experience (as mentioned in this dialogue). It is not strange then, that there is room for the dogmatic, the avant garde and all the levels in between within this same identity. Each one equally important to this fluidity of this dialogue—each one ‘my other me’. Can one choose to be just “human” without the entrapment of experience, culture and that point of reference—–or is embracing all that we have experienced through culture, physical appearance, political identity the exact whole point of our present manifestation? Being extrañ@ is the fodder that should fuel us, not to retreat back into the herd, but to redefine ourselves as one of the parts. Funny point of reference Blood In, Blood Out–the film (I feel) that has so many ridiculous Chican@ stereotypes in it—stereotypes you speak of breaking away from. (btw RM, creating Chican@ art is not a choice of being local or global— but a reaction to not having a choice. Many unheard Chican@ artistic voices have fallen to create the path for those who now feel “phantom”.) Shakespeare wrote “to thine own self be true”–timeless advice that is the best sword to carry in any armchair revolutionary fight.

  6. Victoria: firstly I know that “Blood In…” is FILLED with stereotypes; it’s almost as though they took the concept of the Chicano and ran wild with it.

    What I am trying to illuminate is the confusion that a “Chican@” is a state of definition not a state of being. I see a profound difference. From this confusion comes the idea that one can be a “sell-out” since you are literally “selling” your being (when you’re in reality you’re revoking an identity). So to be “human” is not to reject anything but to embrace all that is “Chican@” y beyond.

    I think I must not be that abreast of the current dialogue on Chicano-ness, since most of what I have encountered in Chicano Identity Politics has been a rather dogmatic set of prescriptions.

    And being that I’ve read to much philosophy, I ultimately feel that identity & the self is nothing but a construct to wrap our consciousness around, by way of the ego. There is no self.

    (And thanks for spurring along this discussion even further!)

  7. J, the ideal is to one day just be self and egoless—but (in the now) the world beats you down— back into your safe place of identity and your own justification of that identity. Somedays are less filled with ego than others—you live to do it better the next day (hopefully)–mastering the ego enough to where you empathisize with the one that calls you vendido—realizing that this is their rite of passage towards egolessness too. Wondering how many times you said something that made others feel like the words ‘sell out’ now affect you. Truth revealing itself each time you think the question. The universe yells ‘sell out’ to you–not because it is true, but as a reminder of something you must overcome on your life’s journey. In the Autobiography of Malcolm X, after all the phases of his life from a pimp and a gangster to a zealous religious leader, he discovers that he is one with all humanity in peace and with love in his heart for all. This happens only when he is away from all the entrapments that kept him identifying with his exterior. Finding the true self takes a life time of mostly difficult experiences.

  8. it’s definitely important to keep in mind the fluidity of the definitions of terms like “chicana/o” between both generations and individuals. to some a “normal” chicano appears to be the cholo stereotype, to others it’s a term spelled with an “x” instead of a “ch” and applies solely to those who embrace a life-view based on indigenous philsophies and practices, and to others still it’s a term to identify (to paraphrase another writer) those who live “on the hyphen” between mexican and american — ni de aqui, ni de alla. i think ultimately, the decision rests solely with how YOU identify yourself — if i wanna define myself as a chicano, punk, or japanese shinto-jewish pirate, who has the right to tell me i’m not? is there a special board one has to go before to get a green light and a membership card?

    i would postulate that “chicana/o” is more accurately an attempt to define a state of being, and is a highly personalized endeavor. to me, i could be no less a “chicano” than i could be a punk, or a male, or left-handed. these are terms that define my state of being. you, she or they might not agree, but only i get to choose. shit, wasn’t that the point to adopting terms like “chicano” and/or “punk” in the first place? to thine own self be true, indeed, or as stiff little fingers once sang, “be what you are.”

  9. Victoria: I really like your second response to Julio, about egolessness. Very compassionate and loving enlightened approach. Hard for me to maintain in the face of violence and hostility and “haters” who just want to pounce on anything you say b/c all they’re interested in is picking a fight, dragging out an old beef, reacting from ego positions/identities, and not interested in real dialogue. I like the way you put it, that that is part of their own journey, and it’s good to understand that. But, we still have to defend ourselves, no, even as we empathize? Fight for social justice? Address oppressive violence–effectively? Or no? Or how does it work, sincerely? Because that’s always the hard part I have with Buddhism and Buddhist-like approaches–feeling the need to address the politics and social justice versus this sense of how getting caught up in that stuff is an oppositional binary trap in the bigger picture of self and enlightenment, and also, not wanting to get caught up in the violence and binary conflict of others, but then it seems unavoidable because like you say, they beat you down with it. How do you approach it?

  10. RM, in Buddhism perfect love is like that of a mother for her child. She will attend to her child immediately without a decision making process—she reacts through love without hesitation, with no questions asked, without ego, selflessly. We are encouraged to experience that perfect love by defending those who are treated unjustly in the world. Does one have to react violently towards violence? Gandhi showed us how to be an activist and be non-violent. It takes more strength to react in a peaceful way, than in a reactionary and violent way. There will always be haters and aggression, the world is one of duality. Just as violence is contagious to everyone around it, non-violence is also contagious. The Zapatistas say that each one of us can do one thing to create change in the world. Changing ourselves is at the same time simple and profound.

  11. It is great to read these types of threads where one is asked to include LA Eastside with the rest of the world and humanity instead of isolating it to a preordained listening to oneself speak. This reminds me of the notion that when the student is ready the teacher will come. This is a natural growth of how things work.

  12. J, kids are cruel to other kids and will pick on anything or anyone they can get away with it. Doesn’t matter if you were punk, rock a billy, cholo, cha cha, Chicano, Hispanic, American, whatever. Those identities, like all identities, are adopted and disposable as we choose to make them.

    Most of us have an inner life and a life we choose to share with other as we make our way. I am a time, space and dimension crossing god in my head and dreams. Outside I am a Chicano. I agree with Victoria that we have a lot of versions of what a Chicano is and they all add to it in the end.

    I’m the type of Chicano that in his head is a time, space and dimension crossing god. How I got to this point is all mixed up with what I have gone through. In other words what else could I be but a sum of my experiences?

    In terms of action. Buddhism speaks of the small boat where you get yourself to Nirvana and the big boat where you try to help others get to Nirvana by ‘being an example, teaching, serving’ etc.

    In this day and age where the binary constructs are falling:
    black and white is forced to make room for brown and yellow, which they can’t ignore no more;
    its not one super power vs super power, its an all out global race for power and resources;
    where 1+1=3 (a kid, overpopulation in some regions)
    and where 1+1=0 where couples can’t pay enough to get pregnant in other regions, we are surely getting ready to move onto something new, the best path seems to be to save your own butt.

    Sounds messed up but like Victoria said we are all on our own path of evolution.
    So, all is as at should be.
    The work is within.
    Play outside.

  13. I didn’t read all the responses that this thread had (cuz I got little time to use the net, and with that time choose to come to this blog, damn, right?), but I read the main piece. Chicano, Punk, cholo, thug, whatever path you choose to live: the main issue will not come with all this “Who Am I” bs. But It all comes down to the simple way of a person acts. People of color are not anywhere they don’t want to be, who would say this :

    “in a way, escape their perceived cultural outposts. For non-POC folks being “strange & different” is seen as plain eccentricity while doing the same while being a POC is seen as pure deviance. We are maligned by both the “dominant” culture and our “traditional” culture.”

    Who the F**k would say that? and why would anyone be around someone would think some ignorant ish like that, obliviously if someone feels that

    “while doing the same while being a POC is seen as pure deviance”

    they are not with the program, so why would it matter what they think anyway, I know its wrong for people to have bad images of those things, but serious g, that will only side track you. Here in south LA, well I cant generalize, at least with me; I am who I am no matter what anyone thinks. Example: Miklo wasn’t born into whiteness, if anything he was born a working class-south sider. In “real life;” if he were to hit the county, he would be of use and of the politics in county. He would roll south side, not wood. why? not because he chooses to be Chicano, because he lives Chicano and lives that 3ce lifestyle, him looking white doesn’t mean he is not Chicano, if I remember his mother was Latina, correct? and unless you from a hood or at least know what the program is and are mexican and only mexican, unless you lie, all yall are going to roll paisa, and that is wack, your the infantry, first to go last to know! Miklo had it correct. He wasnt going to let no one tell him who he was, and that shit is gangsta! that’s strength, determination! To me chicano, gangster, punk, hippie, politician, teacher, whatever: its an attitude, a lifestyle, that whole package. The anti-spam word on here is cholo, I had to type that word in to respond, and my whole family are cholos, as Im soooooo suuuure that yours are too, and this is the least cholo blog in the world, if anything it looks like the blog just uses the whole cholo thing to be more east los’d out. I would like to see this blog, which I enjoy very much so please don’t be offended, not use any more cholo references just because its an east la blog, ya feel me. It seems as if it capitalizes on it for credibility. Im not hating Im from south la, I can think of a whooooole heep of things to bring up to make me more credible, but that would be cheesy and lame.

    But in all Julio, your a good writer G!
    “In youth this extrañeza can be easily arisen. As a teenage punk I was maligned by my classmates for not being macho, racist, sexist, and interested in……
    I quickly then rejected identity politics wholesale: they were too interested in binary oppositions, us vs. them, oppressor vs. oppressed. The nuance of discourse is abandoned to make emotive arguments that may touch on one’s experience but ultimately are a dead-end.”

    I liked this a lot, you get down homie, I hope I offered insight and not just a bunch of bs, I’m not that smart like all: throwing out them Guy Debord quotes and ish, but thanks for handling such a dope website!

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