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Ideology, Place, and People without Culture

Author(s): Renato Rosaldo

Reviewed work(s):
Source: Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 1, Place and Voice in Anthropological Theory (Feb.,
1988), pp. 77-87
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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Ideology, Place, and People without

Renato Rosaldo
Departmentof Anthropology

When I was a graduatestudentcontemplatingfieldworkin the Philippines,

one of my professorswarnedme thatFilipinos have "no culture." Meaningto be
helpful, he suggested fieldworkin Madagascarinstead. In the end, I ignoredhis
When I arrivedin Manila, his prophecy appearedto be confirmedby the
standardFilipino half-joke that they were "people without culture." Unlike Indonesia, they explained, the Philippinesnever had Hindu-Buddhisttemples and
othersigns of ancestralhigh culture. What, they addedwith a twinkle, could one
expect from people who had spent three hundredyears in a monastery(Spanish
colonial rule) and a half centuryin Hollywood (Americancolonial rule)?
WhenI reachedthe Ilongots in the hills of northernLuzon, Philippines,they
appearedto be "people withoutculture";they lacked the ethnographicstaplesof
the day: lineages, villages, men's houses, elaboraterituals, not to mentionmatrilateralcross-cousinmarriage.Even at the beginningof our second periodof field
research,Michelle Rosaldo wrote in her field journal that we both felt "sad and
nervousbecause there's no hint that we'll find more 'culture' than last time and
every reason to think that there'll be less" (M. Rosaldo 1974). The following
passagefrom her field journalcommentson the impossibilityof arrivingat a culturalunderstandingof the drastic culturalchanges broughtby settlers and missionaries:
Some good things are sure to come out of this . . . but the overwhelmingfact that

thingsarechangingso quickly,settlersimpinging,choicesbeingmadebetweenpossiblelowlandallies,padifieldsbeingbuiltwhichdon'twork,peoplerejectingtheir
ideaof religion-all thatis somethingI haveabsolutelyno
pastfor a polyanna-ish
senseof howto understand.
butwhenI thinkaboutit, all I've
(Ithasto be interesting
got areboring,depressingthoughts.)[M. Rosaldo1974]
Evidently, the concept of culturecould barely describe, let alone analyze, flux,
improvisation,andheterogeneity.Weren'tthese changes simply robbingIlongots
of their culture?What was so cultural anyway about an apparentlytransparent
brutalprocess of landgrabbingand "incorporation"into the nation-state?


Cultural Visibility and Invisibility

Arguably, anthropologistshold contradictorynotions of culture. The discipline's official view holds thatall humanconduct is culturallymediated.In other
words, people act in relation,not to brutereality, but to culture-specificmodes of
perceivingand organizingthe world. Thus, in principle, the processes Ilongots
were undergoingshouldbe as amenableto culturaldescriptionas a kinshipsystem
or an initiationritual. No domain of culture is more or less culturallymediated
thanany other. Indeed, the quantitativenotion of "more" or "less" cultureappears to be a throwbackto the days when "high culture" was (and, in certain
sectorsof the academy, still is) measuredin termsof operahouses, museums, and
If the official view holds thatall culturesareequal, an informalfiling system,
moreoften found in corridortalk thanin publishedwritings, classifies culturesin
quantitativeterms, from a lot to a little, from thick to thin, and from elaborateto
simple. Such variables as ritual elaboration,cosmological reticulation,kinship
intricacy,and institutionalcomplexitydefine greaterand lesser "degrees" of culture.
Culturein this view is definedby difference. Difference both makes culture
visible to observersand makes it relativelyeasy to separatenaturefrom nurture.
Culturalsimilaritiescould be biologically based, but differencesrequirecultural
explanation.Thus fieldworkersgo half-way aroundthe world to reporton having
found culturalworlds that are closed, coherent, and differentfrom ours. In their
moregrouchymoods, ethnographersgrumblethatthey did not risk dysenteryand
malariaonly to discover thatTahitiand Des Moines are, in certainrespects, quite
alike. To pursuea cultureis to seek out its differences, and then to show how it
makes sense, as they say, in its own terms.
Whatfollows pursuesthe informalview and mapszones of culturalvisibility
and invisibilityonto the spatialorganizationwithin and between nations, particularlyMexico, the Philippines,and the United States. In "our" own eyes, "we"
appearto be "people withoutculture." By courtesy, "we" extend this postculturalstatusto people who resemble "us." Whatare the consequencesof making
"our" culturalselves invisible? What culturalpolitics erase the "self" only to
highlightthe "other"? What is the ideological fallout from this play of cultural
visibility and invisibility?
The preceding and what follows deliberatelyuse caricatureto bring once
prevalentdisciplinarynormsinto high relief. Althoughthese normshave become
particularlyvisible because they are losing theirgrip, they continueto exercise a
certainhold and thereforerequirecritical scrutiny. By exploring an absencezones of culturalinvisibility-I hope to makepresentthe need to continuerevising
the discipline's concept of culture.
Zones of Cultural Visibility and Invisibility
Let me begin with a truism:differentplaces aredifferent.Imaginetakingthis
truisma giant step furtherand devising a Handbookfor YoungAnthropologists


that advises: go to India for hierarchy,New Guinea for pollution, Oceania for
adoption, Africa for unilineal descent, and so on across the globe. Conversely,
those interestedin the unilinealdescent groupshould steerclearof the Philippines
wherethey'll only be afflictedby the cognatic problem.
This imaginaryhandbookcould even advise membersof theoreticalschools
about their preferredplaces. During my graduateschool days in the 1960s, for
example, we all knew that smartstructuralanthropologistscould best find what
they were looking for either in easternIndonesiaor among Brazil's Ge-speaking
peoples whose dual organizationswere strikinglyvisible in aerialphotographsof
their villages. Ethnoscientists,on the other hand, prosperedmost in the Philippines or in the highlandsof Chiapas,Mexico, where people seemed to care about
nothingso much as namingplants.
The fact that differentplaces are differentdoes not derive simply from stereotypes about what's typical of India, New Guinea, or anywhereelse. Nor are
these differencesmerely an artifactof the territorialclaims of differentschools of
metropolitantheory. There really is something-call it a sizable grainof truthto informalprofessionalperceptions.The questionis one of limits:wheredo these
typificationsyield insight? How do they exclude certain problems from ethnographicstudy?To what extent can they be understoodas ideology?
The problemjust raised brings to mind the story told by a noted Spanish
philologist about his German colleague who rejected most of his Galician linguistic informantsbecause they did not speak the "pure" dialect of Gallego-Portugues. Ratherlike touristswho seek out the exotic and call it typically Galician,
the philologist found that only a tiny minorityof the region's inhabitantsspoke
their "true" dialect. In his view, the speech of most Galicianshad been linguistically "corrupted"by Castilian, leaving them withoutan authenticlanguageand
Whatconcernsme in the following areprecisely the culturalphenomenathat
escape analysisbecause they fail to conformwith standardexpectationsaboutthe
typicalandthe authentic.Cultureareascontainzones, indeedarelaced with pockets and eruptions,where anthropologicaland other typificationsfail. Ambitious
young anthropologistswould be well advised to avoid such zones, pockets, and
eruptionsbecause they are inhabitedby "people without culture." Perhapsbecause my dissertationno longer is on the line, I will suggest in what follows that
zones of culturalinvisibility now pose compelling, as yet unresolved, issues for
The Postcultural Top and the Precultural Bottom
Withinparticularnations, those who most nearlyresemble "ourselves" appearto be "people withoutculture." In Mexico, Indianshave cultureand "ladinos" do not. In the Philippines,hill tribesor culturalminoritieshave cultureand
lowlandersdo not. Ladinos and lowlandersare full citizens of the nation-state.
They havejobs, and are regardedas rational,not cultural.People in metropolitan
centersclassify them as civilized, in contrastwith Indiansandculturalminorities.


To the ethnographicgaze, these civilized people appeartoo transparentfor study;

they seemjust like us: materialistic,greedy, andprejudiced.Because theirworlds
areso downto earthandpractical,ourcommonsensecategoriesapparentlysuffice
for makingsense of theirlives.
This analysiscan be complicatedby furtherspatialization.In Mexico, Indians inhabitwhat the Mexican anthropologistAguirre Beltran has called refuge
regions. The people with culture, in the anthropologicalsense, have either remainedon or been forced onto marginallands. Their culturaldistinctivenessderives from the inheritedremnantsof indigenous civilizations. Their quaint customs signal isolation, insulation,and subordinationwithin the nation-state.
In the Philippinecase, the "people withoutculture"occupy both ends of the
social hierarchy.Roughly speaking, Negrito hunter-gatherersare on the bottom
and lowlandersare on top. The differencebetween the two ends of the spectrum
is thatthe Negritos are preculturaland the lowlandersare postcultural.
The Philippine case differs from the Mexican one above all in its overall
explicitness. Schemas crystalizedduringthe Americancolonial era and still currentin Philippinepopularcultureorderthe nation'speoples along a scale arranged
from lesser to greater:Negritos, hunter-horticulturalists,
dry rice cultivators,wet
rice cultivators,and lowlanders (see R. Rosaldo 1978, 1982). In spatial terms,
Negritosoccupy the most marginallands;dry rice and wet rice cultivatorstend to
be upland, upriver,or in the interior;lowlanders, as their name suggests, reside
in the valleys. In this pseudo-evolutionaryladder, people begin withoutculture,
andgrow increasinglycultureduntil they reachthatpostculturalpoint where they
become transparentto "us."
Degrees of mobility differentiatepeople "with" and "without" culture.
"People with culture" appearsedentaryandrootedin theirparticularniches. Negritos, on the otherhand, often are idealized as nomadic, rootless, and absolutely
mobile. Althoughthey arelinkedto nationaleducationalandpoliticalinstitutions,
lowlanderscomprise a (formally)mobile labor force that makes rationalchoices
to go where the jobs are.
Not unlike the !Kung, Negritos are often representedas if they were raw
primalhumanity,the famous missing link; they supposedlycan tell us-if only
we listen with care-about the essence of humannature.In ethnographicterms,
they appearideally suited for ecological studies, but of little interestto students
of kinshipand symbolism. They have not achieved thatpeculiarhybridstatus, at
once ecological and symbolic, of the Australianaborigines.Nor do they have the
more visible forms of social organizationand ritual activity enjoyed by other
groupsof northernLuzon. As wet rice cultivators, Ifugao settlers, for example,
often boasted that they were culturallysuperiorto the hunter-horticulturalist
I1ongots whose land they were taking. The Ifugaos measuredtheir greaterdegree
of culture,not in operahouses, but in elaboraterituals, materialculture, and terracedwet rice agriculture.
Filipino lowlanders,on the other hand, more nearlyresemble Americansin
being posthistoricaland postcultural.They have been educated;they make decisions aboutwage laborin accordwith an economicallyrationalcalculus. Not un-


like Mexican ladinos, lowland Filipinos appearto have been assimilated into a
system that "we" understandbecause it is "our" own advancedcapitalism. Evidentlylowlandersaretransparentto "us" becauseof theircolonial heritage.First
they were evangelized under the Spaniards,and then they were educated under
the Americans.Like "us," they have undergonean educationalprocess that has
disciplinedthem and made them fit to live in a city, work in a factory, serve in a
penitentiary,or undergoconfinementin an asylum.
Immigration as Cultural Stripping Away
If a social hierarchy'stop and bottom appearto be zones of "zero degree"
culture, so too is the zone of immigration,or the site where individuals move
between two nationalspaces. Ideally, that is, from the dominantsociety's point
of view, immigrantsare strippedof their formercultures, enabling them to become Americancitizens, transparent,just like you and me, "people withoutculture." In ethnographicterms, so-called acculturationis probablybetterdescribed
as deculturation,or the productionof postculturalcitizens.
The myth of immigrationas a cultural strippingaway recently appeared,
amongotherplaces, in a New YorkTimesstoryaboutso-called illegal aliens. Published shortlyafterCongresspassed the new immigrationbill, the story begins by
depictingremarkablediversity among the undocumented:
Theirstoriesareas diverseas America.Someenteredthiscountryswimmingnaked
throughtheRioGrande,otherswithticketsaboardjet liners.Theyarelaborers,classical pianists,secretaries,dishwashers,restaurant
owners,high school students.
The writergoes on, however, to celebratethe essential unity underlyingthis apparentculturaldiversity:
Theycome fromalmosteveryconceivablecountry-Mexico,El Salvador,Japan,
Vietnam,Korea,Haiti,Ethiopia,Iran,Poland,New Zealand.Forall theircultural
differences,theyhaveshareda semi-secretlife in theirchosenland,forminga kind
of shadoweconomyandculturein whichanydaycouldendin arrestanddeportation.
In the writer'sview, the sharedexperience of living the "same" secret lives has
been the brew in the GreatAmericanMelting Pot. As a resocializing medium, it
has producedhomogenizationand createda new group of "people without culture." Verbally, at least, the undocumentedhave been assimilatedinto the mainstream.
Apparently,images of "illegal aliens" have been manufacturedfor the consumptionof North American readers who at once see themselves as culturally
transparentand feel threatenedby differences of class and culture. Indeed, metropolitanportraitsof Mexican ladinos, Filipino Negritos, Filipino lowlanders,
andthe vast arrayof immigrantsto the UnitedStates strangelyresemblethe North
Americansportrayedin FrancesFitzgerald'sCities on a Hill. Her book describes


subculturesthathave found ways to live out a numberof versions of the "Americandream."'For all theirdifferences, they shareutopianfantasiesof makingnew
beginningsand living in a world withoutprecedents.
The retirementvillage of Sun City, for example, appearsextraordinary,not
because its local melting pot has succeeded in amalgamatingdiversity, but rather
becauseof its residents'past and presenthomogeneity:
SunCitiansarea remarkably
thosewho live in
group;in particular,
SunCityproperoccupya far narrower
bandon the spectrumof Americansociety

than economics would dictate . . . the men are by and large retired professionals. .... Most of the women were housewives .... Most Sun Citians are Protestants. ... Politically, they are conservative and vote Republican. [Fitzgerald


Yet this uniformityremainslargelyinvisible to Sun Citians.One Sun City couple,

for example, affablyremarkedon how its residentslive in the presentand appear
to have erasedtheirpasts:
"Noonegivesa hangherewhatyoudidorwhereyoucamefrom,"Mrs.Smithsaid.

"It's what you are now thatmatters." Later, in a differentcontext, her husbandsaid
much the same thing, addingthatthe colonels refusedto be called "Colonel." [Fitzgerald 1986:219]

Phenotypeaside, Sun Citians appearto themselves as 20th-centuryversions of

nomadic, rootless PhilippineNegritos. In remarkingon the absolute irrelevance
of social origins, however, the Smiths failed to notice the striking absence of
blacks, Chicanos, PuertoRicans, and Native Americansin Sun City. For the social constructionof distinctivelyNorthAmericanrootless utopias, some pasts evidentlymattermore thanothers.
Assimilation as a Model of Cross-Cultural Understanding
The model for cross-culturalunderstandingthat producesimmigrationas a
site of culturalstrippingaway is the academicversion of the melting pot: theories
of acculturationand assimilation. In this view, immigrants,or at any rate their
childrenand grandchildren,are absorbedinto the nationalculture. Above all, the
process involves the loss of one's past-autobiography, history, heritage, language, and all the rest of the so-called culturalbaggage. Where Jose Rizal and
GregorioCortes once stood, there shall be George Washingtonand the Texas
Rangers.The theory of assimilationappearsto have the inevitabilityof a law of
history. If it doesn't catch up with you this generation,it will in the next.
In this view, social mobility and acculturationusually go hand-in-hand,for
to become middle-class in North America is purportedlyto become part of the
mainstream.Indeed, this notion suggests thatthe Philippinesocial hierarchywith
its degrees of cultureowes much to assimilationtheory. Those most down and
out, such as PhilippineNegritos and the urbanNorthAmericanunderclasses,appearto lack culture. Social mobility from the "bottom" bringspeople into zones


where cultureflourishes, such as Mexican refuge regions, Philippineuplandand

upriverareas, and North Americanethnic neighborhoods,barrios, and ghettos.
Social mobility closer to the "top," however, reverses the process and begins a
culturalstrippingaway in which Mexican Indiansand Filipino culturalminorities
become peasantsand workers, and NorthAmericanfarmersand workersbecome
membersof the urbanmiddle class.
Professionalanthropologistscan probablydismiss the views just outlined as
somebodyelse's ideology, a datedtheory, a bit of popularculture, or merejournalism. We would do well, however, to remind ourselves that assimilationand
resocializationas models of cross-culturalunderstandingimplicitly informmuch
North Americanfield research. How often does one hear fieldworkers(implausibly) compare their fluency in non-Westernlanguages with that of indigenous
children?At any rate, in my own experience of learning Ilongot culture in the
PhilippinesI constantlycomparedmyself with a child. My firsttranscriptionsof
Ilongottexts were writtenin awkward,large, bold script, peculiarlylike my first
grade son's efforts to squeeze the "b" or the "p" between the wide lines. His
teachertells me that Manny's trouble is small motor coordination,but I don't
know quite how to describe my own problemwhile initiatingethnographicfieldwork. Perhapsvoluntaryinfantilizationwill do.
Learninga second cultureapparentlyshould replicatelearningthe firstone,
hencethe processof reinfantilization,andthe peculiarlyNorthAmericanequation
of the fieldworkerwith a child (for a revealingcontrastwith Frenchanthropology,
see Clifford 1983). Perhapsthis process of reinfantilizationinformsthe myth of
fieldworkas rebirthand initiation.
In any case, the fieldworker'stask as a version of early childhoodenculturation and socializationseemed so naturalto me that I eagerly endowed Ilongots
with the same perception. When Ilongots decided to teach us their language, I
imaginedthatthey did so by commanding(tuydek)us to get things, much as they
did with theirown children(for an extended treatmentof tuydeksee M. Rosaldo
1982). In so doing, I conflatedmy perceptionwith theirs. Altogethertoo unconsciously, not to mentionmistakenly,I acted on an implicit culturaluniversal:it is
only naturalto imagine thatlearninga second cultureresembleslearningthe first
Anthropologistsoften talk about the seeing things from the native point of
view. We invoke nativeviews in discussionsof such culturallydistinctivenotions
as honor, shame, the person, marriage,the family, kinship, hierarchy,and even
history. Yet we have given little thoughtto how membersof other culturesconceive the translationof cultures. How do they go about understandingcultural
difference,whetherin theirneighbors,theirethnographers,or theirmissionaries?
Consider, for example, an Ilongot life history that I recordedfrom a man
namedTukbaw(R. Rosaldo 1976). Tukbawand I at the time conceived our task
as linguistic. He was tryingto teach me his language, and I was tryingto learnit.
His firsttext begins as follows:
We aremakinga house,a new house.Comehere,we aregoingto cut downsome
trees.Now we aregoingto putit intothe ground.I amgoingto cutandscrapethe

earthcleanandwe will see if we do notputup the housetomorrow.Raiseup the
houseposts.Go andget somepeople.Go andget somerattanthatwe can use for
tyingit together.Also, get somegrassfortheroof.
Reading this text today, I find myself puzzled about Tukbaw's conception of
cross-culturalunderstanding.His narrativecontains multiple commands, but he
clearly did not think (as, at the time, I imagined)that I was like an Ilongot child
who was learningthe meaningof words by following adult commands(tuydek).
His words are spoken more man to man than man to child. In fact, the task he
imaginesthat we are aboutto begin, tying knots on houses, is a skill so difficult
to achieve that Ilongots regardit as one of the primaryindicationsthat a boy has
achieved the status of adult manhood. Tukbaw's other early texts similarly describesuch otheradultactivities as visiting, fishing, hunting, and drinking.
Just how Ilongots "put themselves in somebody else's shoes," or "see
things from the native point of view," or whethersuch terms for cross-cultural
understandingeven make sense to them remainsunclearto me. They do not suppose, for example, thatthey can know what is in anotherperson's heart. Insofar
as I graspit, theirnotion is thatthey achieve cross-culturalunderstandingby successfully following anotherperson's directions(by knowing how, as the philosopherssay, ratherthanby knowing that). Surely, however, reinfantilizationdoes
not begin to describeIlongot notions of cross-culturalunderstanding.
Unassimilable Cultures
Perhapswe should returnto the New YorkTimes story and listen for a moment to the "illegal aliens," poised as they are on the brinkof North American
citizenship. Resocialized by their shared secret lives, they supposedly have alreadybecome "people withoutculture." It is temptingto assume thatmonopoly
capitalisminexorablycommodifies people, turningthem into so many rational
decision-makingindividuals. Yet a certain irresistiblesomething about the "illegal aliens" bubblesover the rim of the melting pot:
[LanThietLu, fromNorthVietnam]:"I feel I belonghere.I wantto belonghere,
especiallybecauseI don'thavemycountryanymore."
he hasnotdecided
Japan,playingwitha symphonyorchestra]:
if he will seekAmericancitizenship."I justdon'tknowyet," he said. "It's notall
[Mexican,MarcelinoCastro]:He haslearneda passableversionof Englishandexhibitsa certainfatalismabouthis life. "Ni modo,"he says,roughly"whatcouldI
do?" when describinghis troubles .... Now he wants to starthis own business and

citizen.Healreadyownstwocolortelevisionsetsanda cordless
telephoneandis a ferventDallasCowboysfan. [Reinhold1986:10B]

The undocumentedspeak with a measureof irony. They simultaneouslyaccede

to and resist their culturalhomogenization.Even as they move towardco-optation, they prove unassimilable.


The writerhimself manifests a significantfactor (or barrier)in this contradictoryprocess, for he cannotresist indulginghis prejudices:his Vietnameseappears inscrutable, his Japanese successful, and his Mexican fatalistic-"ni
modo." In response to the writer's stereotypes, the undocumentedboth comply
and deviate, bobbing and weaving between assimilationand resistance. The Vietnamesewoman feels she belongs here, but notes that she has no choice because
her native countryhas vanished;the Japanesemusicianfinds possible citizenship
so unrealthat he can't decide whetheror not even to apply; the Mexican has a
cordless telephone and roots for the Dallas Cowboys, but speaks only passable
English, spiced with "ni modo." The writer'sprejudiceand the resistanceof the
undocumentedcombine to muddy the clear waters of compliance and assimilation.
Border Zones
The complex case of the undocumentedsuggests the need for a notion of the
border,conceived as a zone between stable places. The site of the implosion of
the ThirdWorldinto the first, the borderhas been portrayed,amongotherplaces,
in the populartelevision series, Miami Vice. Much as the right so often, at least
in recentyears, masqueradesas the left, Miami Vice disguises itself as affirmative
actionheaven, with blacks, Latinos, and whites all playing cops and robbers,vibrantlypolicing and traffickingdrugstogether. Yet the 1984-86 seasons involve
a play of racial dominationmore subtle than the Lone Ranger and Tonto. The
blackcop Tubbsconsistentlyacts overly emotional(irrational)andhas to be cared
for by his white partnerCrockett.During the 1986-87 season, Tubbs often nurtureshis slightly crazedpartnerin a displacedversion of the relationshipbetween
a nannyand her master.
Stereotypic Latino figures-flamboyant, slimy, lazy, cowardly-pervade
the episodes, as Americanviewing audiencesreinforceor learnformsof prejudice
that probablywill prove useful during the coming decade. Official pronouncementsaboutthe "Decade of the Hispanic" barelyconceal diffuse anxieties about
the impendingimpactof demographicprojectionsfor Latinosin the UnitedStates.
Strangelyenough, a frontpage story from the San Jose MercuryNews suggests thatlife underadvancedcapitalismat times almost imitatestelevision art:
A massivecocaine-selling
ringuncoveredin FosterCitylast weekwas a modelof
commonin Southern
centlysurfacingon sucha largescalein theBayArea.
Somebelievethiswholesalingof cocaine,alreadyfirmlyestablishedin Southern
California,is movingnorth.
In a typicalscenario,some inconspicuous,very middle-class-looking
women-move intoa comfortable
a condominium
by puttingdowna heftydeposit.
But inside the condos they are guardinghuge amountsof cocaine. [Bailey


White zoot suits, high tension mood music, and carefully chosen pastels (especially duringthe 1984-86 seasons) may make the blood run faster, but socially
invisible Colombians,perhapsliving next door, striketerrorin suburbansouls.
Not unlike "illegal aliens," Colombian cocaine peddlers cannot be containedwithin the dominantsociety's vision of citizenship and assimilation. Evidently, drabreality at once has been informedby, and appearsmore threatening
than, television fantasy:
to thestereotype
depictedin televisionshowslike "MiamiVice," thesuspectsin manycasesdrivenewbutnotflashycarsandrefrainfromdisplaysof weaponry,exoticorotherwise.[Bailey1986:6B]
The immigrantswho most appearto fit right in-Foster City's cocaine trafficker's-are in fact the most alien.
The story involves a play of spatial stereotypes, the South is invading the
North,Los Angeles is infiltratingthe Bay Area, andLatinococaine traffickersare
infesting middle-class neighborhoods.This racial nightmareof the imagination
has a venerablegenealogy, most recently invoked by Ronald Reagan when he
spoke aboutNicaragua'sproximityto south Texas; it gave the new immigration
bill a boost; it assisted California's overwhelmingpassage of the English-only
initiative;it informsMiami Vice.
Just as Ilongots have a distinctive conception of cross-culturalunderstanding, andthe undocumenteddescribetheir "assimilation" in peculiartones, so too
Latinozoot suitersenjoy an alternativeview of their own culturalflamboyance.
Take, for example, a representativepassage from Jose Montoya's "El Louie,"
an early 1970s evocation of a "pachuco" from the late 1950s:
En Sanjoyou'd see him
sportinga darktopcoat
playing in his fantasy
the role of Bogart, Cagney
or Raft.


melodramaticmusic, like in the mono-tan tan taran!-Cruz

Diablo, El CharroNegro! Bogart
smile (his smile as deadly as

his vaisas!)He dugroles,man,andnames-like "Blackie,""LittleLouie..."

Ese, Louie . . .
Chale, man, call me "Diamonds!" [Montoya 1972]

People have often interpretedthis poem with too much solemnity. PerhapsEl
Louie inhabitsthe drabworld of the lumpenproletariat,but he's also a ludic figure, playing the role, the cat role, just plain playing. He seeks out incongruity,
unlikelyjuxtapositions:Cagney, El CharroNegro; Bogart, Cruz Diablo. "Postmoder" before its time, the poem celebratespolyphonyin its polyglot text, and
heterogeneityin making Anglo, Chicano, and Mexican elements move together
in the dance of life. It epitomizes the borderas a culturallydistinctive space.


The Play of Cultural Practices

The view of an authentic culture as an autonomous internally coherent universe no longer seems tenable in a postcolonial world. Neither "we" nor "they"
are as self-contained and homogeneous as we/they once appeared. All of us inhabit an interdependent late 20th-century world, which is at once marked by borrowing and lending across porous cultural boundaries, and saturated with inequality, power, and domination.
Most metropolitan typifications suppress, exclude, even repress border
zones. What the San Jose Mercury News and Miami Vice see as threatening can
be seen as ludic. Perhaps we-El Louie, myself, and others---can serve as reminders that space is neither necessarily coherent nor always homogeneous. Nor
need it parce neatly into zones: precultural, cultural, and postcultural. It just could
be, more often than we usually like to think, criss-crossed by border zones, pockets, and eruptions of all kinds. These border zones, pockets, and eruptions, along
with our supposedly transparent cultural selves, are as profoundly cultural as anything else.

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