Border Identity and Performance


In this section of “Border Rhetorics”, authors Kimberlee Perez and Dustin Bradley Goltz discuss the contradictory nature of identifying with the border, and the acts of bordering. The full chapter, comprised of three parts is titled “Borders without Bodies – Affect, Proximity, and Utopian Imaginaries through ‘Lines in the Sand’”. Throughout Goltz and Perez discuss the performance of acting toward the identities associated with the border – a subject that literary scholar Judith Butler and Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldua also visit.

In her most famous essay “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” from her book Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua discusses performing to how she believes she will be interpreted and taken by other Chicanas and how this relates to her identity. Answering Goltz’s and Perez’s questions of “how does the story of my understanding of immigrants and border rhetoric change in relation to us?… does it bring us closer together in identification or pull us apart?” (Goltz and Perez 101). In Anzaldua’s case, it tears Chicanas apart. Anzaldua’s upbringing planted the idea in her mind that “speaking Chicano Spanish…[was] poor Spanish [that] It [was] illegitimate, a bastard language.” Instead of bringing the Chicana culture together it “has been used against us by the dominant culture [and has us using] …our language difference against each other.” Instead of communicating effectively “Chicana feminist often skirt around each other with suspicion and hesitation” (Anzaldua 80). Chicana Spanish, Spanglish and any variation that is not either Spanish or English was seen as a bastardization and tore Chicanos apart by the belief that they had to conform to one or the other end of their identity spectrum.

Judith Butler explains that this is all a part of cultural upbringings and conformity. Her essay “Performative Acts and Gender constitution” discusses how gender is a learned theatrical trick and how cultural effects social behavior. Although her main focus is on gender fluidity and performance she discusses key topics on how performance is taught by cultural settings. She states that “the existence facticity of the material or natural dimensions of the body are not denied, but reconceived as distinct from the process by which the body comes to bear cultural meanings.” She continues to describe how “the body is understood to be an active process of embodying certain cultural historical possibilities” (Butler 901). Through our perceived actions of how we are supposed to act, supposed to speak and conform, the body and in this case, our language conform to the messy identity politics and the contradictions within those constraints.

While Goltz and Perez explore the topics of border identities throughout their essay and chapter, an important they discuss is how the perceived act of grouping people together actually tears them apart. They extrapolate that “derailed… border rhetorics work to distance us from one another rather than bring us closer…” Their defining statement is:

Rather than position us collectively in reflection of our similarities and differences, we retreat from one another through identity politics. These uncomplicated claims that position us closer to or farther away from the border simultaneously reify and substantiate OUR distance from the border. It positions us on either side of a line. It’s a tension we interrogate through performance. (110)

In theory, border studies should bring Chicanos, Americans, and different cultures together, but as Goltz and Perez explore, in application it turns those bodies in the cultures against each other to see who can ‘outperform’ the other.


Anzaldúa, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue – Linguistic Terrorism.” Borderlands = La Frontera. 4th ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999. 80-81. Print.

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” Literary Theory, an Anthology. By Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 900-11. Print.

Goltz, Dustin B., and Kimberlee Perez. “Affect, Proximity, and Utopian Imaginaries through “Lines in the Sand”” Border Rhetorics: Citizenship and Identity on the US-Mexico Frontier (2012): 101-16. Web.




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