Entering El Valle de la Paz

Winds of the spirit blew soothingly late this morning through Valle de la Paz cemetery in Hargill, Texas.

Spirit, in biblical Hebrew, is ruah, the identical word to wind. Both are unseen entities with enormous power.

I do not know what has guided me here over the past few years or over the course of life, but I had never made a gravesite pilgrimage until I went today to see the place of interment of Gloria Anzaldúa, the Chicana author and borderlands theorist who died in 2004.

No doubt there are many such diary entries in the vast digital repository, in multiple languages, about visits to the Anzaldúan homeland. This is one more for the genre.

The previous night, I had dreamed about trying to find the gravesite. Within the dream I entered what was an aquatic-themed pavilion and, while my anxiety built about not being able to find Anzaldúa’s tomb, I saw displays related to her theoretical perspectives. The displays were arrayed beside ramps for disabled access. Couples milled about, parents with their children. I was alone. The dream segued into other psychobiographical material, and I never found Anzaldúa’s grave for communing.

This has been a fearful period of my life.

Thankfully the reality this afternoon was different. A U.S. flag snapped at the cemetery entrance, located at the intersection of two rural roads in Hidalgo County. About 20 miles from the U.S.-México border, Hargill has a population of 877 and, beginning in her childhood, was a vital stop in Anzaldúa’s voyaging life. Without the rootedness evident among the family gravesites, without the existence of a community like this one, it’s doubtful that Anzaldúa could have done what she did, or written what she wrote.

Gloria Anzaldúa is buried next to her parents, and there are other Anzaldúas here, along with Cantús, Dávilas, Domínguezes, Garcías, Treviños, and so on. The stone carvers do not seem to make diacritical marks, or it’s not important to them, or it’s too expensive to do so.

One notable thing about Anzaldúa’s tombstone is that it seeks an audience. It reaches out, like one of my earlier academic advisers had said about the best dissertations that try to write “out,” to a community, to a public, rather than inwardly to a dissertation committee. Both the front and back of the stone bear messages, and the back speaks to me most immediately and individually (reshaping words of Antonio Machado): “Camina[n]te, no hay puentes. Se hace puentes al andar,” addressing the fantasy that bridges will appear miraculously to allay all fears, to cure the “hunger, pain, and war” that the stone mentions above.

I am joined by a statuesque, bounding black Great Dane mix, who sidles beside my hand as I lay a stone, in the Jewish tradition, on the Anzaldúan grave. I continue to think of the aside that she makes in Borderlands/La Frontera about the necessity of migration in this land: “We have a tradition of migration, a tradition of long walks.”

In this sojourning week I ask the Anzaldúan spirit to guide me toward checking of white male privilege, toward respectful listening, and toward valuing others’ roots as well as my own. I think, in this remote space, of those who truly knew and worked alongside Gloria Anzaldúa, about their own stops at this potent place of replenishment and how they must feel to see her grave, blandished with wreaths and the snakes and supernatural beings that populate her poetry and theory.

The key reminder about checking privilege had come Saturday from the final day of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in San Antonio. The Tucson writer Sarah Gonzales mentioned the need to share a stage with others, after she had read from a poem, “Liberation,” in which the title word is transformed into “berating” (“the Border Patrol berating their own morals”) to represent the violence of these days.

Border action and literature were central to the AWP event, and speakers confessed to feeling tired from having been at battle with a president and administration whose name was only invoked once, in a poetic line, in the panel sessions that I attended. Marisol Baca, English professor at Fresno City College in California, spoke directly about “fighting exhaustion.”

At a panel supporting student activism in opposition to a presidential rally in El Paso in February 2019, one of the El Paso Community College professors alluded to “silences that are becoming very dense” among those who consider it safer to lay low in a region as contested as the border. But Anzaldúan energies are still available within the solidarity witnessed to by Poets Against Walls. The grouping of Texas poet laureate Emmy Pérez, Carolina Monsiváis, César De León, Nayelly Barrios and Celina Gómez showed off their black “Resistencia” T-shirts and shared videos of standing with backs to the border wall, slamming poetry and remembering the names of oppressed and murdered migrants and the environmental cost of dividing an area never meant to be divided.

More than one spoke about the rasguache (or improvisational, do-it-yourself) nature of the protests, and De León coined the phrase “rasguache aesthetics” in one of his poems, “Finding Rasguache.”

Perhaps more than when she was alive, the breath of Anzaldúa that still stirs the mesquite patches is being harnessed. Monsiváis reduces the need for Anzaldúan courage to a handy mantra: write blunt works and show up.

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