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Identity, Myth, and Power in América Chávez and Anzaldúa's Narratives

This article presents a comparative study between America: The Life and Times of America Chavez 2017 and two autobiographical works by Gloria Anzaldúa: Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality 2015 and Borderlands/La Frontera. The New Mestiza 1987. Prior to America: The Life and Times of America Chavez, written by Gabby Rivera and illustrated by Joe Quinones, America was always depicted within other narratives until this first debut, which opened a portal for readers to explore her personal narrative closer. In her initial appearances in the Marvel Universe, such as Loki: Agent of Asgard 2011, her personality is somewhat intangible. This repetition continues in her collaborations with other superheroes until her solo series, where she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, initiating her own search for identity through self-contemplation and growth. On her new path, America finds her own place for the first time, experiencing a sense of full protagonism as a leader. However, certain deficiencies in her life are narrated. She was forced to leave her planet following the deaths of her two mothers. This automatically turned her into a nomad, detached from her culture and family. She was adopted by several foster families in the Bronx and later on in Cartagena, Colombia (America #3, page 46), and although she felt she was treated with love, she abandoned that familiar space in search of a sense of belonging, which she at first tried to fill with her ability to open star gates, creating bridges in spacetime that traverse her entire universe.




captain-america-wonder-woman-artwork
Figure 1: Captain America-Wonder Woman. (Fox, n.d)



The second case under study is Anzaldúa's exercise of autofiction, constructing narratives based on autobiographical elements to overcome the trauma she experienced throughout her life by living under the labels that categorize her, a corset to which she was subjected. As a Chicana, she lived under pressure to assimilate into American culture and felt anxiety about simple things, such as choosing a language to communicate. Her insurrection represents nothing more than a response to a reality that has proven insufficient to fulfil an urgent need for belonging. For the purpose of analyzing this, Michel Foucault's concept of power in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison 1975 will be examined since both cases represent individuals who do not fit the norm and attempt a process of "normalization." Following this process, language has the potential to exclude people and create power relations between controllers and the controlled since those in control may erect obstacles that limit nonconformists to standardization. Therefore, the linguistic alternation between English and Spanish will also be examined as a distinguishing element in personality conformation. It will analyze their sense of belonging, search for identity, and the need to find other elements, such as enrolling at university and relying on other female figures as emotional support.


With the aim of determining the feasibility of this proposal, the textual and comparative analysis of the aforementioned graphic novel and Anzaldúa's two works will be used as the method, aiming to identify the resolution of the trauma of feeling estrangement through the Aztec myth. Therefore, this article argues that she initiated a process of resistance and discourse reconstruction through the myth of Coyolxauqhi. Hence, Anzaldúa positions herself as a border subject who needs to make her voice and other silenced voices visible, resorting to the myth of Coyolxauqhi to address the deficiencies constructed within her narrative voice, aiming to produce a message of disobedience. Anzaldúa manages her trauma explicitly, unloading her memories into the myth and developing her own epistemology. The treatment of the possible relationship between the myth and the narration of America's life is an implicit interpretation sought by this study to articulate its hypothesis. This analysis proposes that America represents the epistemological culmination of the theoretical model presented by Anzaldúa with the imperative of Coyolxauqhi.


This suggests that managing traumatic situations requires the articulation of the myth in a personal narrative. Coyolxauqhi, the goddess of the moon, was fragmented into pieces for challenging the established social order. Adopting this myth requires a persistent and ongoing effort to recover from incidents that sever, dissect, or profoundly affect the self in spiritual, emotional, and psychological dimensions. This requires a careful examination of the wounds, an understanding of the self's fragmentation, and a subsequent revitalization or reconfiguration of the self in a transformative way. Anzaldúa argues that individuals must reenact their trauma to reintegrate themselves in a new form, fostering a healing process of rebirth or reconstruction.




coyolxauhqui
Figure 2: . Coyolxauhqui. (Jarvis, 2016).


The sociocultural background of the analyzed works merge in their struggle for representation. Thus, both narratives address trauma by reinventing their personal narratives, which represent some disadvantages commonly experienced by the Latinx population in North America. This position will be analyzed through Michael Foucault's concept of the "norm," a device that forces individuals into forced assimilation, rendering anyone outside the norm as a displaced being who tries to fit in but ultimately coexists both within and outside the system, under the perpetual gaze of social control—a diffuse network that regulates social practices and customs. From this perspective, the process of normalization governs individuals and masses to conform to the norm. Faced with this differentiation, the cases under study seek references to find a sense of belonging, both by pursuing higher education and relying on female figures.


Anzaldúa describes growing up in an ambivalent position. Under a yoke, the pressure to fit in made her experience conflicting feelings, even about her tastes and interests, due to the fear of negative discrimination based on racial or cultural factors. She believed that accepting her Mexican roots risked social ostracism:


I grew up feeling ambivalent about our music. Country-western and rock-and-roll had more status. In the 50s and 60s, for the slightly educated and agringado Chicanos, there existed a sense of shame at being caught listening to our music. Yet I couldn´t stop my feet from thumping to the music, could not stop humming the words, nor hide from myself the exhilaration I felt when I heard it. ( (Anzaldúa, 1987, p.83)


black-and-white-photo-of-a-man-in-traditional-clothes
Figure 3: Black and White Photo of a Man in Traditional Costume for Dia De Los Muertos. (Martinez, 2022).


In this stage, her skepticism and mocking abilities increased: "Back then, I, an unbeliever, scoffed at these Mexican superstitions as I was taught in Anglo school" (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 58). This denial of the superstitions she felt within herself created a void that could be filled by the use of the Mexican myth, which can be considered a strategy for confronting fears and overcoming the distancing from her cultural roots. Anzaldúa is a subject who feels she does not fit into her cultural and social reality, which is why this is considered the system from which marginal identities are constructed and analyzed. Therefore, this study asserts that in both works, entering the University represents a window to cultural change and an extension towards self-discovery, entering formal education while maintaining the original culture. Social institutions are key in the formation of individuals, as they produce docile bodies that self-govern. This shows how the play of power is successfully internalized by individuals under the constant possibility of observation. Consequently, seeking a solution within the system is also not enough. Under the gaze of institutions, individuals find a constant fear of being seen or judged. Anzaldúa is aware of this construction:


Formal education enhances some aspects of awareness and gives access to certain kinds of knowledge. Decolonizing reality consists of unlearning consensual "reality", of seeing through reality's roles and descriptions by what Don Juan calls acts of not-doing. (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 43)

red-opened-books-illustration
Figure 4: Red Opened Books Illustration. (2016)


However, Anzaldúa affirms the relevance of academic education in providing the tools to question reality in order to find answers to a factual reality that seems to be not sufficient. In another universe, América embarks on her own path of discovery at Sotomayor University. In her first assigned task: a research on past revolutionaries, hoping to reach the utopian parallel to see her mothers, she was convinced that her plan would unquestionably succeed. America pondered how she could have possibly devoted more mental effort to the intertwining of mothers and utopian parallels. (América #1, Page 19) Although América does not reach her intended destination, she gets closer to the place she subconsciously wants to reach. This first journey opens the path to her search for identity. Under the pretext of showing interest in historical references, she seems to be once again seeking new adventures, but ultimately, it is not so. In a parallel universe, Anzaldúa states that academic education allows her generation to question the system:


Unlike previous generations of Raza, our academic knowledge and language give us both the vocabulary to look at our own cultures and dominant cultures in new ways and the tools to interrogate them. We notice the breaches in feminism, the rifts in Raza studies, the breaks in our disciplines, the splits in this country. These cracks show the flaws in our cultures, the faults in our pictures of reality. (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 84)



Anzaldúa responds accordingly to the "power-knowledge" coalition and uses it for her own purposes. In the previous quote, she suggests that academic knowledge can interrogate the system. In addition to seeking answers in university education, both characters seek support from female figures as cornerstones of support. In Anzaldúa's case, her chosen family are her comadres. She describes how her friends would try to comfort her when she felt anxious about performing or experiencing creative blocks. (Anzaldúa, 2015, p, 112). Alternately, América Chávez is highly popular among the youth, yet she still harbors an interest in joining a college sisterhood, which demonstrates her ongoing search for a female community. X'andria, the leader of the sorority, recognizes América as the leader of the Ultimates and proposes to include her in the group, stating, "Today we recruit new 'primas' to our tribe." X'andria describes her sorority as a place where "Blowouts, Doobie wraps, little baby twists prepping to be senators, engineers, and biologists" (América #1, Page 13). X'andria's description of their professional prospects and future plans aligns with Anzaldúa's portrayal of the potential for acquiring academic knowledge.


Despite both characters seeking support from female figures, they represent themselves differently. América enjoys attention and recognition, which is evident when she arrives at the university. She references the use of the social media platform Beamz and enjoys having visibility online. (América #1, page 6). América doesn't feel that being Latina or homosexual poses a barrier. On the contrary, she blends in with her surroundings like a chameleon, seemingly unaffected by gender or racial norms on the surface. In contrast, Anzaldúa struggles with expressing her sexuality, and the linguistic alternation from English to Spanish becomes a stigma in her life, whereas América feels comfortable doing so naturally.


america-chavez
Figure 5: Marvel - Marvel Rising America Chavez Transparent. (Emiliano, n.d)


The formation of peripheral subjects has been analyzed thus far considering Michel Foucault's power analysis. Foucault argues that language has the power to control as it can exclude individuals from the social matrix. According to his perspective, this creates power structures that always have two extremes: those who control and those who are controlled. The side in control of language creates a barrier that restricts those who do not conform to the norm. Anzaldúa is aware of this implicit power structure, as she states, "The Anglo with the innocent face ripped our tongue out. Wild tongues can't be tamed, they can only be cut out" (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 76). This quote aligns with Foucault's perspective that language disciplines and produces individuals inclined toward its norm. Consequently, the use of language could undoubtedly be considered a marker of power for foreigners in the United States.


The alternation between Spanish and English can represent an identity marker, which functions in both cases under study as a performative act that creates identification within the Latina community. Anzaldúa believes that language alternation is a crucial element in the formation of an identity. From her viewpoint, linguistic identity is fundamental to her personality: "So, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language" ( (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 81). Anzaldúa recalls episodes of pressure within her family as she fought against her mother's aspirations, who believed that speaking English without an accent was a conditioning factor for effective social interaction. The pressure from her mother to assimilate the language and speak it flawlessly became an internal frustration. (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 75). The fear of social exclusion created a sense of self-censorship out of the fear of being called a "pocho" or a cultural traitor for speaking the oppressor's language ( Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 77).


welcome-to-america-poster
Figure 6: Welcome to America, indeed. (CGP Grey , 2010)


This fear might represent how language has been used against the Chicano community by the dominant culture. For América, this power mechanism is not a source of indecision. She addresses people as "chico or chica," which is a central element of her personality that provides her with confidence. Therefore, it could be argued that they have different ways of representing themselves socially, and a further distinction has been highlighted—their differing approaches to the alternation between English and Spanish. This supports the premise of this analysis that América breaks down the barriers and fears that Anzaldúa presented."Mestizas" are individuals trapped between borders, which can become conflict-ridden spaces as they may lead to the risk of being lost, being merely "other-siders" without a place of their own, without social inclusion in the end. Breaking down borders is a change that needs to come from within and outside the system to move away from a position of ostracism. Being simultaneously "insiders and outsiders" seems to be the way to navigate oppressive contexts. Anzaldúa argues that hybrid beings are like chameleons who need to change color to blend in, always on the margins, constantly inside and outside, and that identity is mutable according to the habitat:


Identity is relational. Who and what we are depends on those surrounding us, a mix of our interactions with our surroundings/environments, with new and old narratives. Identity is multilayered, stretching in all directions, from past to present, vertically and horizontally, chronologically and spatially (Anzaldúa, 2015, p, 69).

This notion aligns with Foucault's critique of knowledge as a social construction that molds identities. According to Foucault, power and knowledge are tightly interconnected, with power generating the knowledge needed to uphold disciplinary norms and produce individuals. This reciprocal relationship implies that power relations depend on knowledge, and knowledge, in turn, relies on power. Foucault emphasizes the role of norms, beliefs, and social customs in differentiating, hierarchizing, homogenizing, and excluding individuals. (Foucault, 1975, p.184). He states that: "We should admit rather that power produces knowledge. . . power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations. (Foucault, 1975, p. 27)


Understanding this interplay between power, knowledge, and societal structures is essential when considering Anzaldua's rebellious response to the construction of identity. This interplay highlights the complex dynamics at play, where power and knowledge intersect, shaping and influencing the formation of identity and it explains Anzaldúa´s claim of why Mestizas can not fit into the norm. As a consequence, she renders that depending on the degree of cultural hybridization, they are caught between cultures and can simultaneously be insiders, outsiders, and other-siders (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 71).

Therefore, this research has aimed to develop the idea that both Anzaldúa's narrative voice and América Chávez only come close to self-realization by managing their conflicts through myth. Only by breaking free like Coyolxauhqui can they construct the foundations of their identity to question the norm, using the same borders that once excluded them culturally. As discussed thus far, power relationships are commonly shared and form the basis of knowledge creation. It could be argued that both analyzed cases live in physical and psychological borders, which, by attempting to sever them, cause them to wander in perpetual movement, unable to find a stable place.


wooden-ruler
Figure 7: Ruler - Wooden; Why no "Inches" label?. (Oregon, 2006)

Conclusions:


The combined analysis of the provided texts leads to several significant conclusions. Firstly, the utilization of myth as a mechanism for resolving unresolved processes demonstrates its potential to create a space for reflection and self-definition for individuals who do not conform to societal norms. By embracing a third space beyond binary or exclusionary thinking, these individuals can explore new representations of themselves and challenge the limitations imposed by a lack of belonging. The inclusion of myth in this process serves as a catalyst for introspection and personal growth. This myth represents a transgression of boundaries, leaving behind comfort and stable zones in the past in order to open windows to more satisfying forms of representation. For América, negotiating with borders entails embracing the ancestry she has sought. In both cases under study, the incorporation of this myth in personal narrative holds the promise of confronting certain moments of crisis that occur in specific stages of life. This action creates a space for engaging with old beliefs, gaining the ability to open new perspectives and shift the outlooks related to various forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, or classism, whether manifest or concealed.


América's journey through parallel universes and her eventual self-reconstruction highlight the transformative power of self-discovery. As she grapples with her identity and confronts the loss of her mothers, América experiences a profound emotional struggle, ultimately leading to her reintegration and psychological stability. This narrative arc echoes the quest for self-realization emphasized by Anzaldúa, as both América and the author strive to navigate the complexities of their identities and carve out spaces of authenticity and empowerment. Their journeys exemplify the need to transcend societal expectations and embrace personal agency in the formation of one's identity.


Lastly, the examination of power structures, as conceptualized by Foucault, sheds light on the political subjectivity present in Anzaldúa's writings and América's representation as a powerful heroine. América's defiance of established norms and her unapologetic self-expression challenge dominant power structures, echoing Anzaldúa's fervent pursuit of social justice. Through their narratives, both América and Anzaldúa disrupt traditional notions of power, interrogate societal boundaries, and advocate for the creation of new narratives that better represent the experiences of marginalized groups. In doing so, they inspire a reimagining of identity and empower others to resist oppressive systems and foster social change.



Bibliographical References

Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. First Edition, San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Luke Book Company.


Anzaldúa, G. (2015). Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Durham and London: Duke University Press.


J. Dragotta, C. (2012). "Vengeance. " Vol #1-6., New York: Marvel


Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison. Alan Sheridan, Trans. London: Penguin Books.


Rivera, G. (2017). "America: The Life and Times of America Chavez." Vol. 1., New York, NY : Marvel Worldwide, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC.


Zalvide Rodríguez, C. (2018). La «nueva mestiza» en la cultura popular: el concepto de

frontera y la construcción de la identidad a través de America Chavez, en Anales de Historia del Arte nº 28 (2018), 247-262.

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Daniela Sandoval

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