Term Paper: Treatment of Women in Mexican

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[. . .] During the entire Conquest, their relationship was monogamous.

Octavio Paz and Being Mestizo

Paz is one of the writers and thinkers most responsible for helping Mexicans come to an understanding of their own place in the world, and the relationship between "Mexicanness" and mestizo-ness. Through his writings he has helped both Mexicans and everyone else come to understand that the mixed heritage of the people of Mexico is not something that should be attempted to be overcome but is rather something that should be celebrated.

Paz writes about his own struggle to understand what it means to be Mexican on a personal basis - a struggle that he would come to understand was not in fact a personal one at all but that was in fact the struggle of every Mexican. He would also come to understand that his struggles and those of other Mexicans, while based in the realities of political, economic and cultural history, could also be understood not only through an exploration of the realities of their lives but also of the symbols that Mexicans have traditionally used to understand their place in the world - among them La Malinche and her alternate, the good Mexican woman, the Virgen of Guadaloupe.

We could not alter these realities by contemplation, only by plunging ourselves into them. We could distinguish ourselves from other peoples by our creations rather than the dubious originality of our character, which was the result, perhaps, of constantly changing circumstances. I believed that a work of art or a concrete action would do more to define the Mexican - not only to express him but also, in the process, to create him - than the most penetrating description.

What Paz comes to realize, however, that the nature of Mexican creativeness, the essence of what Mexicans have created through their history, is in fact fundamentally connected to their characters,

Much of what Paz writes about is the idea of mestizo-ness, that essential mixing of both DNA and heritage, that blending of the indigenous and the overlaid that has come to be Mexico, that is the Mexican. And yet, despite the obvious importance of a mixed-race heritage to modern Mexico, for centuries the value of mestizo blood was downplayed, was reviled in precisely the same way that La Malinche was reviled.

Paz explores this idea, looking at mestizo as a social category that has traditionally in Mexico been seen as the negation of "whiteness" or European-ness. The people who are darkest in skin color and are therefore more closely genetically related to the Spanish colonizers of Mexico than to the native people are less "mestizo" but more "negro" - but neither quality has traditionally brought with it any sense of high self-worth..

In fact in Mexico, as Paz explores his own heritage, it has long been the case that race has relatively little to do with genetics and less to do with skin color. While someone with red hair, very pale skin and green eyes would be unlikely to be called either "mestizo" or "negro," almost anyone else might be because the term is used as a way of designating power relationships between and among people more than it is as a way of saying anything about a person's ancestry.

Ironically, who are the most clearly non-negro in some sense - those who are most purely indigenous looking in appearance - are generally not considered to be "negro." This makes sense to an American, because Indian and black are not the same categories in the United States, but this adds an additional complex dimension to the use of identiy in Mexico where the term generally equates to non-white and poor. Indians are both non-white and poor, and yet do not usually possess mestizo-ness.

Those who are clearly white (like that redhead) or clearly (in their physiognomy, culture and dress) native are not mestizo and so are not subject to designations of true mestizo or Mexianness most of the time unless such a label is applied in irony or joking or as a unmitigated attempt to designate power.

Constructed identity" is perhaps the most important phrase in coming to understand Mexican society as Paz presents it to us, for the world of Mexican cultural norms and personal identity that he reveals is one in which identity is immensely fluid, changing far more rapidly over time than Americans are used to having their own identities change. The most interesting aspect of this book is how Paz describes the ways in which people's sense of self - including their sense of their own race - are constantly shifting.

These shifts can in many ways be chronicled by the ways in which Mexicans identify with or refute certain cultural icons such as La Malinche.

While it is no doubt true that for people in every culture on earth their sense of identity shifts at least slightly given the social milieu that they are in (for identity is of course shaped by those that we are with), the shifts that occur in Mexicans seem to be strikingly great.

It is difficult to understand from the outside how such constantly negotiated and renegotiated definitions of self can be maintained without psychological damage, and indeed Paz's descriptions of the Mexicans and Mexico that he knows suggest that they do suffer from having, time and time again, define who it is that they are in terms of gender identity as well as race - two relatively fixed points of identity for Americans.

Reclaiming a Heroine, Reclaiming Themselves

At some level, it would be easy to dismiss the importance of La Malinche. While undoubtedly a real historical personage, in the 21st century she exists far more as legend and as symbol than anything else. There is very little there about her - if we are referring only to the "reality" of history.

But of course history is not only about what actually happened, to the extent that we can determine such things. It is also about how we perceive what happened. The figure of La Malinche is a symbol to many Mexicans about what happened to their once great empires, about how they fell from the heights of world civilization to being a poor neighbor of the United States.

But just as La Malinche has been for centuries seen as a symbol of that fall, she has also more recently been seen as a symbol not of the defeat of the Aztecs but as a sign of the endurance of the Mexican people. She has been reclaimed, redeemed, given back her voice by a generation of Mexican women artists and scholars who see her reputation not only as a terrible emblem of mestizo self-hatred but also of misogyny.

Such a rehabilitation provides justice both for contemporary Mexicans but also for La Malinche herself:

Perhaps the greatest injustice done to this woman is that historians fail to give her credit for saving the lives of thousands of Indians by enabling Cortes to negotiate rather than wage total war, killing all who opposed him and destroying their cities. There is ample evidence that Cortes was not out to destroy the Aztec Empire. To the very end, he sought to forge a treaty between Moctezuma and the Spanish crown which would have insured a steady flow of gold to the Spanish treasury. Equally important to him was conversion to Christianity and the end of human sacrifice.

But while such revisionism is important to all Mexicans, it is especially important to Mexican women:

Mexican, Mexican-American and Chicana/o communities have traditionally used the nationalistic symbol of La Malinche to polarize the lives of woman by attempting to control and visualize us. The term Malinchista is often used to describe a woman who acts out against pre-established rules and norms of her community and/or her man. The myth of La Malinche has been used to control women from being traitors to her race and/or her man, whether it be her father, husband, boyfriend, lover, or son. Over the past twenty years many Chicana feminist theorists have rewritten the Malinche myth in order to understand Malintzin in a more realistic context.

Writer Sandra Cisneros is one of the most important "redeemers" of La Malinche. In the same way that Paz has worked to redeem "mestizo-ness" and "Mexican-ness," Cisneros is worked to redeem chicana and latina identity, and using images of La Malinche as well as the Virgen of Guadalooupe to do so:

Cisneros is not the first writer to acknowledge the difficulties in dealing with this duality nor the cultural archetypes upon which it is based. As Luis Leal observes, "the characterization of women throughout Mexican literature has been profoundly influenced by two archetypes present in the Mexican psyche: that of the woman who has kept her virginity and that of the one who has lost it."

These archetypes, embodied in the stories of la Malinche, the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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