One of my not-so-secret addictions is the Postsecret site where you can see postcards that others have sent in about their secrets. Frank, the guy who started the whole phenomenon, has now published four books that collect all the secrets he receives.
I *love* these postcards. I am fascinated by their double-speak, the way they announce secrets at the same time that they preserve anonymity. Some secrets are funny, some are tender, and some are heartbreaking. Many, many, many deal with brown in that way that I talk about in my ‘about’ page: “a metaphor that starts in lo Latino–and in my particular mix of Mexican and American–but then also moves into considering and dismantling reified American identity politics.”
I can relate to this anxiety of reproduction–of wanting your children to feel more ‘at home’ than you did. I certainly had to defend my Latina identity during high school and college. I made sure I learned Spanish well in part as a defensive move. (“See! I AM Latina!”) Of course, this also has a lot to do with not feeling perfectly “white,” either (whatever whiteness means). So the postcard writer signals her own painful past, of not fitting in to her family/community the way she wanted to. And she passes that anxiety on to her imagined children. ‘Cause living in a borderlands feels hard enough without having your children go through the same identity confusion.
Interesting, too, that the picture the writer chooses is that of an apparently white baby. Of course, the baby might have Hispanic/Latino roots, but they are not visible/legible on his/her body. She/he is not phenotypically—stereotypically— Latino.
When I teach Latino Studies, I always try to help students get past the idea that Latinos all look a certain way. The expectation of the cloned body politic so easily bleeds into their expectations that all Latinos talk the same, think the same, feel the same.
So I want to tell that postcard writer that it’s ok. That Latinidad comes in a lot of different shapes and colors.
But I understand her. Because when you look like what your community expects, you belong more easily. When you don’t, you have to fight to belong.
As Gloria Anzaldúa says in her classic Borderlands/La Frontera:
Because I, a mestiza,
continually walk out of one culture
and into another.
because I am in all cultures at the same time,
alma entre dos mundos, tres, cuatro,
me zumba la cabeza con lo contradictorio.
Estoy norteada por todos las voces que me hablan
The ambivalence from the clash of voices results in mental and emotional states of perplexity. Internal strife results in insecurity and indecisiveness. The mestiza’s dual or multiple personality is plagued by psychic restlessness.
What’s funny, when you think about it in historical terms, is that the postcard writer is striving towards brownness. Assimilation into whiteness is no longer desireable, as we might see in literature about passing of the early 20th century. Instead, the writer strives to assimilate, marry into brownness, into a cultural identity felt inside but invisible outside. The postcard suggests the dream of marrying a Latino man and having a Latino child; with that Latino family she will then feel less marginalized by her people.