Social Consciousness Within American Mythologies

Gloria Anzaldua’s piece, “To Live in the Borderlands”, is hauntingly striking because it speaks to the darker aspects of the double consciousness (as coined by W.E.B. Du Bois) present in the United States. This visual narrative is beautiful and honest because it accurately depicts the complexities of intersecting identities. While I am not mixed-race, I certainly identify with the feeling described in the line “In the Borderlands . . . you are at home, a stranger.” Since my dad immigrated to the United States from Singapore, the impact of growing up in a predominately white suburb makes it difficult to balance my Chinese heritage with “American” culture. It raises questions surrounding authenticity, cultural responsibility, and personal choice, and it frustratingly feels like there’s never a right answer. But in finding my truth, which involves some combination of Hainanese chicken rice for breakfast and avocado toast for dinner, I realize I can live with not knowing, and slowly define it for myself. Anzaldua exemplifies this ideal in the stanza,

“To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
to be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;”

where everything might be perceived as alien or inauthentic, including yourself. This is what I admired about Quetzal, where they honor the struggles and efforts of past movements and use that to inform their musical perspective. Even further, the idea that the music “expresses the political and social struggle for self-determination and self-representation, which ultimately is a struggle for dignity,” is immensely validating in coalition movements. These single motivations are reflective of feelings expressed across the world, and inspire the need for people of color to stand in solidarity. This intricacy of immigration and identity reminded me of the song “America” from West Side Story, where the musical sequence critiques the perception of Puerto Ricans and other people of color in America, which is countered by the idea of opportunity and freedom in the American Dream. I think an interesting exploration of this idea and socially conscious messages in general is “New Americana” by Halsey, which fights for that self-representation in this song about class. As a publicly bi-racial and bi-sexual artist, Halsey never explicitly writes about her racial identity in her song lyrics, but instead uses music videos as the storytelling medium, which show themes surrounding colonialism, gender, and independence.

 

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