Anzaldúa, “Entering Into the Serpent”

[a] Pages 47-61, Chapter 3: “Entering Into the Serpent”

[b] Anzaldúa begins this chapter with a discussion of serpents/snakes, and how, as a child, she was told they were dangerous, would enter her vagina and suck on her breats (47). She describes a time when, as a child, she was bitten by a snake; it was then that “The serpent, [became] mi tono, my animal counterpart. I was immune to its venom. Forever immune” (48).

Anzaldúa gives a history of the goddesses of Mexican and Chicano cultures. She describes how pre-Aztec imperialism, many Indian groups in the area had goddesses that venerated the feminine, the wild, the beast within us. Much tribal leadership was either female or feminized, and descent was Matrilineal for the Toltecs (55). Aztec rulers changed things, though, by destroying documents, rewriting mythology, validating wars and conquest (54). The Aztecs “darkened” the strong female goddesses, like Coatlalopeuh, “giving them monstrous attributes and…substituting male deities in their place, thus splitting the female Self and the female deities” (49). While the common myth is that the Aztecs fell to the Spanish because of Malinali (la Chingada) slept with Cortez and helped him, in actuality, it was the Aztecs that had driveen apart people: men and women, elite and common (56).

The Spanish co-opted Coatlaopeuh and replaced her with Guadalupe; however, they also de-sexed her, taking the serpent/sexuality out of her (49). Today, Mexican culture reveres La Virgen de Guadaloupe more than Jesus or God because she “is the symbol of our rebellion against the rich, upper and middleclass; against their subjugation of the poor and the indio” (52). Anzaldúa traces three mother/goddess figures for mexicanas: “Guadalupe, the virgin mother who has not abandoned us, la Chingada (Malinche), the raped mother whom we have abandoned, and la Llorona, the mother who seeks her lost children and is a combination of the other two” (52). The Church has subverted the meaning of these three, enforcing a “virgen/puta (whore) dichotomy” (53).

Western culture has also devalued the spiritual in us, causing us to believe that we are and should be “objective.” This causes us a people/things dichotomy, where we have lost “touch” with our surroundings and other people. Anzaldúa places this dichotomy as “the root of all violence” (59). We’re told to forget that we have spirituality inside us, and are instead told that it is above us, separate from us, in a God (58). We are told in Western culture to value the Head and not the Body, but Anzaldúa believes “the body is smart. It does not discern between external stimuli and stimuli from teh imagination. It reacts equally viscerally to events from the imagination as it does to ‘real’ events” (59-60).

Lastly in this chapter, Anzaldúa discusses what she terms La facultad, “the capacity to see in surface phenomena the meaning of deeper realities, to seep the deep structure below the surface” (60). Those of us forced from the dominant paradigm, who “do not feel psychologically or physically safe int he world are more apt to develop this sense” (60). Anzaldúa links this to her spirituality, knowing when she walks inot a room whether it’s occupied or not; la facultad is developed by fear, but while something is gained, “We lose something in this mode of initiation, something is taken from us: our innocence, our unknowing ways, our safe and easy ingorance” (61).

[c] I got a lot of questions answered about the originality of the deities that Anzaldúa discusses earlier in her book, which was great. I really like how Anzaldúa follows the change in the deities, letting me know how the Aztecs and the Spanish changed the gods in order to reinforce a patriarchal, woman-Othering system.

What I really liked as a reader, though, was Anzaldúa’s discussion of her spirituality and of her take on Western objectivity. I agree with the feminist persepctive that by removing ourselves from the “object” we have created a false dichotomy. We should be one with our surroundings, and while able to analyze it, also being a part of it. I think Anzaldúa is right that this dichotomy has led to violence (though “all” violence I might still question): the alienation of ourselves from the land has led to violence on our environment; the separation of ourselves from each other allows us to do violence to each other. When I realize you are part of me, I cannot harm you, or I am harming myself.

I also am drawn to Anzaldúa’s understanding of la facultad, and am trying to struggle with how much I agree with it. When I walk into a room, the fear that I have grown up with (being not a “man,” the scrawny one, the queer one, the faggot) has led me to walk into rooms and immediately know that I was unsafe; but when I say know, is this knowledge out of paranoia or out of some sensitivity or some la facultad? As a man with working class, when walking into a nice middle class home, my nerves tense up and I feel unsafe, unwanted, unwelcome, unclean.

I am also struggling with Anzaldúa’s spirituality. The Western ethos of “objectivity” is so ingrained in me that my initial reactions are negation (I don’t believe it) and Othering (woah, this is cool and exotic). I do not want to react this way. I believe, in a sense, that spirituality is inside us, and I definitely believe that it is not in some removed God figure. But being psychic goes so against my this culture’s grain that it is hard to accept. I think an ability to accept this can come from my acceptance to trust my body (instead of so often trusting my mind): When my body knows or says something, I should pay attention. The “objective” outside is as valid as the “imagined” inside, and vice versa, and my body is a clue as to how to negotiate those, understand those.

[d] Is Anzaldúa going to eplain la facultad in more detail? Will she explain more? How do I further overcome the myth of empiricism (objectivity)? If Anzaldúa asks cada vez que miro una culebra le pregunto ¿Qué traes conmigo? / every time I see a snake I ask it, ¿Where are you bringing me? (58), I must ask Anzaldúa, the serpent of this book, where is she bringing me? What journey am I going on in this book?

[e] Once again, we are shown in this chapter institutional power and oppression by men, who have devalued the body and overvalued the objective. We see that those who are not in power must find ways to negotiate, described in Anzaldúa’s concept of la facultad, which allows them to perceive what others cannot perceive, allows them to decenter reality, and allows them to sense safety. We also see horizontal hostility when we see the group of Indians who turned against the Aztecs to fight with the Spanish, who would oppress both of them. This might not be horizontal hositlity yet (as the Spanish did not yet have institutional power), but it is definitely a case of replacing one oppressive system with another (and being a tool of that change).

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands: La Frontera. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999.

This entry was posted in Philosophy 599 Ethics of Diversity (Spring 2006). Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Anzaldúa, “Entering Into the Serpent”

  1. sara says:

    this is the stupidest most ideotic story i had ever read in my whole entire life.

  2. Michael says:

    Would you care to explain your reaction, Sara? It seems that if it were important enough to post here, it must be important enough to expand on.

  3. monica says:

    sara is right
    this story blows

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