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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318


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​Diana I. Bowen, University of Houston - Clear Lake

As I see it from here, which is to say, from within an intimate relation to one archive, scholars of persuasive speech have not yet begun robustly to engage the entailments of the archive’s irreducible undecidability even though we are uniquely positioned to do so, given that the deconstruction of “fact” or of referential plentitude does not reduce the contents of the archive to “mere” literature or fiction (this is the most common and silliest of mistakes) but delivers that content over to us as the elements of rhetoric. Indeed, from the historicity of the archive, rhetorics; out of the deconstruction of the material presence of the past and, thus, in relation to what the archive cannot authenticate absolutely but can (be made to) authorize nonetheless, issues an invitation to write rhetorical histories of archives, which is to say, critical histories of the situated and strategic uses to which archives have been put. (Biesecker, 2006, p. 130)

In this essay, I examine Gloria Anzaldúa’s archive, housed at The University of Texas at Austin in the Nettie Lee Latin American Collection.[1] Specifically, my study considers Anzaldúa’s birth certificate and its series of changes, and juxtaposes it with a short then-unpublished story, “Her Name Never Got Called.”[2] I show that these documents are not static representations, but generative artifacts, that they work to develop Anzaldúa’s theory of social change. To do this, I develop here a rhetorical method from existing theoretical concepts that are flexible enough to analyze her archive, embrace the tensions implicit in her work, and support an inclusive theory “from below.” Performance critic Diana Taylor’s (2003) call for a “hemispheric” perspective (p. xvii) is ideal for these purposes. Her concepts of the archive (exemplified by official documents) and repertoire (pertaining to embodied performances) allow for a method that clarifies Anzaldúa’s theory. The archive is static and unchanging, and the repertoire is open to new interpretations. I argue that Anzaldúa’s work oscillates in the liminal space between official texts in her archive and unofficial performative space of the repertoire.


The Borderlands

Anzaldúa’s writings on exile, homeland, feminism, and queer theory mark the entrance of Chicanas into the literature of communication studies. Her work offers a connection between culture, everyday acts of resistance, and larger structural change. Hence, Anzaldúa’s work has made rhetoricians and social movement scholars more sensitive to the struggles of and implicit theorization by people of color, especially women and queer folks.[3] Critics have already implied the generative nature of Anzaldúa’s theories since they can be used to research other geographic regions, texts, and experiences.

Much attention has focused on her concept of the Borderlands, which serves “as a larger metaphor for biculturalism or the recognition and performance of identities that are informed by both Mexico and the United States” (Calafell, 2004, p. 182). However, at times a rigid emphasis on the Borderlands leaves  “‘blank spots’ that prevent us from grasping the radical nature of her vision for social change and the crucial ways her theories have developed since the 1987 publication of Borderlands” (Keating, 2008, p. 4). Therefore, here I do not examine concepts found in Anzaldúa’s writing, but instead focus on her writing itself as a generative method that transforms her archive into a space of cultural performance and revolutionary potential. As a result, I argue that we must develop theories of writing that highlight performativity and can fully contend with the interactions between different materials found in her archive. We do not engage all texts in the same way; therefore, a method is needed that can put these various elements into conversation. Here I offer one such method.

Most readers know Anzaldúa’s contributions to Chicana feminist rhetoric, but she also brings to the table insights into how different genres can work jointly as a multimodal rhetoric that foregrounds questions about citizenship and belonging. The seemingly unrelated texts in her archive illustrate multimodality, “how multiple modes operate together in a single rhetorical act and how extended chains of modal transformations may be linked in a rhetorical trajectory” (Prior et. al. 2007, p. 23). Research on multimodality demands that we recognize the public nature of composition (Sheridan, Ridolfo, & Michel, 2005), imagine textuality beyond alphabetical texts (Yancey, 2004), and not limit notions of multimodality solely to web or new media texts (Wysocki, 2004; Prior, 2004; Prior, et. al. 2007; Shipka, 2009, p. W347). In this essay, I want to extend research on multimodality by focusing on intertextual interactions between texts from different genres. I believe that the concepts of the archive and repertoire, as theorized by Taylor, can help us build an approach that explains Anzaldúa’s multimodality as potent theory-in-praxis. Typically, the archive is viewed as static and unchanging, while the repertoire is open to new interpretations. In my analysis, the archive is exemplified by the “official” archival (or material) documents, while the repertoire pertains to the cultural performances enacted by these texts. I suggest that the archival-repertoire interactions between the examined texts reveal them to be not static and unchanging but dynamic and contestatory acts.

For me, a central purpose of analyzing Anzaldúa’s work in this way is to address the absence of voices of women of color in rhetorical archival history. How do Anzaldúa’s theories emerge? What do reworkings and circulations of official and unofficial documents explain about the performative practice of coming to theory? Her archive helps answer these questions: it provides a rich body of work - official documents, writings, correspondence, art, a birth certificate, and fiction - that together unmask ideologies of citizenship and immigration politics in the United States. A reworking of Taylor’s concepts exposes the ideologies that led to Anzaldúa’s theories.


Archival Communication Studies     

Typically, archives conjure images of inaccessible objects behind locked doors, and yet they exhibit certain elements: a public nature, a recordkeeping function, and an ability to maintain power (Taylor, p. 19). Archives house historical documents and texts (Connors, 1992; Taylor, 2003), prompt interaction with and evaluation of objects (Finnegan, 2006), and involve making powerful rhetorical choices (Chang, 2010; Morris, “Forum,” 2006). In other words, they are complex ideological entities, as corroborated by studies about presidential libraries (Houck, 2006), queer historical voices (Morris, “Archival queer,” 2006), signatures on the Declaration of Independence (Lauer, 2007); Patty Hearst (Hall, 2006), and Hugo Black (Carcasson & Aune, 2003), to name a few. Nonetheless, more archival research is needed about people of color since our lack of representation perpetuates the erasure of our experiences. Archives by, for, and about people of color can help us theorize such gaps. This study highlights ways in which people of color speak back to dominant discourses and create agency within an official narrative and how much of that work is multimodal.

Taylor’s (2003) theories about archive and repertoire explain how expressive behavior transmits cultural memory and identity. The archive is synonymous with static official texts such as “documents, maps, literary texts, letters, archaeological remains, bones, videos, films, CDs, all those items supposedly resistant to change” (p. 19). It is an unquestioned site of objectivity and preserves documents that tell an official story. In contrast, the repertoire is experiential.

The repertoire…enacts embodied memory: performances, gestures, orality, movement, dance, singing - in short, all those acts usually thought of as ephemeral, nonreproducible knowledge. Repertoire, etymologically “a treasury, an inventory,” allows for individual agency, referring also to “the finder, discovered,” and meaning “to find out.” The repertoire requires presence: people participate in the production and reproduction of knowledge by “being there,” being a part of the transmission. (p. 20)​

The repertoire is irreproducible - every performance is different. Members of marginalized communities, for example, take an object from the archive and perform oppositional experiences. Despite the “clean distinctions” perpetuated between archive and repertoire, the two interact (Gunn, 2004, p. 93). The oscillation between the archive and repertoire create spaces of agency.


The Archive: “Official Records” in the Anzaldúa Papers

My goal in this project is to develop a rhetorical method that explains how the archive behaves in official and unofficial ways, how we can look for what is missing in official texts, and how a rhetor makes sense of these erasures. Using documents that are official in the everyday sense, I suggest that Anzaldúa employs the methodology of repertoire to work through the impact of the archive on her life by keeping records of changes to her birth certificate. She also does so when she writes about a child’s first day of school in an unpublished short story, “Her Name Never Got Called,” reworking its meaning by adding concluding paragraphs where she theorizes the experience.[4]

The first item that I examined in Anzaldúa’s archive was her official birth certificate (Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, Box 1), which is composed of multiple records, one labeled “birth certificate” and another labeled “birth certificate with corrections."[5] Other available materials include Anzaldúa’s driver’s license, passport, voter registration card, student and faculty identification cards, and library cards from different states. These documents retain a bureaucratic, static dimension, but her interactions with them add layers of movement and meaning.

Anzaldúa’s original birth certificate is rife with errors. It gives a different spelling of Anzaldúa’s name. Whether this was the name her mother chose or a clerical error is unclear. Instead of Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa, her name reads as “Eve Angeline Anzaldua."[6] There is no street or number listed in the section designated for the mother’s residence; it notes only that her mother resided in Hargill, Hidalgo County, Texas. The response to the question “Legitimate?” is “YES.” Her parents’ genders are reversed on the document, and their names are misspelled. Instead of Urbano, the certificate reads “URBANA.” Likewise, her mother’s full maiden name reads “AMALIO ANZALDUA.” Not only is her mother’s name misspelled—it should be correctly spelled “Amalia”—her maiden name was not Anzaldúa. At Gloria’s birth, her father was twenty-three and her mother was sixteen. Anzaldúa was born in Raymondville, Texas, and the Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics received the document on November 4, 1942.

Despite the many errors, what most struck me was how Gloria’s name had been misspelled on a document that would follow her throughout her life. I wondered how many Latina/os have misspelled names on their birth certificates. Olga Herrera (2008) explains that this was common due to language barriers, deeming the confusion “symptomatic of a racist culture where Spanish-speakers were often dismissed” (p. 2). Government workers’ inability to collect basic data effectively erases people’s communal- and self-definition.

In 1972, Anzaldúa’s name was corrected to reflect its proper spelling. The name was changed from “Eve Angeline” to “Gloria Evangelina.” However, it includes all capital letters, missing the accent mark in her last name. The reader of the birth certificate lacks cues as for how to say her last name properly. The timing of the correction to Anzaldúa’s original birth certificate is relevant; it took place when she was thirty. Thus, for the first thirty years of her life, Anzaldúa’s birth certificate misspelled her name. One can imagine the trouble caused by presenting a birth certificate with an incorrect name, not to mention the psychological impact of having this name on a public document. Unsurprisingly, Anzaldúa’s name is misspelled repeatedly on her passport and several other documents.

Anzaldúa’s grandmother made changes to the official paperwork; she corrected the name, but she also altered the race category from “Mexican” to “white” (Herrera, 2008, p. 2). The change exposes a common difficulty in identification for Mexican-Americans and other Latinas/os in the United States. Even as recently as 2010, the census made it difficult for multiracial people to acknowledge different parts of their ethnicity. Anzaldúa’s grandmother may have been trying to protect Gloria from racism in designating her as white; however, she erases the complex identity that Anzaldúa will later articulate in Borderlands. “Mexican” is a complicated designation related to citizenship, meaning it might mistakenly imply that a U.S.-born person was born in Mexico.

Also, it might reinforce how Anzaldúa’s racialized body equates to “immigrant” and even “foreigner.” “White,” on the other hand, erases Anzaldúa’s relationship with her Mexican and Indigenous ancestors while seemingly granting some degree of protection and privilege. This rhetorical maneuver is nothing new. In the 1890s, European immigrants asserted citizenship by claiming whiteness (Roediger 2005, p. 3) - similar to Anzaldúa’s case.[7] The change in the birth certificate explores the internal conflict of life on the border, providing a vivid example of Anzaldúa’s theory of the Borderlands. It embodies her theory of how categories of identification contend with each other. This is the space of invention that Anzaldúa writes about - the contentious place that is home.

Anzaldúa kept all versions of the birth certificate, creating her own personal archive. Together they create a new text that performs outside the role of official documentation, serving to bring together aspects of her identity across time and space. Love and Kohn (2001) state that sometimes objects can “function as something more: a catalyst, a facilitator, a fetish, a thing with a mind of its own; a piece of an Other, a different time, or a faraway place that, when re-placed in the here and now of today, can ennoble and empower us” (p. 47). While Love and Kohn specifically address souvenirs, the multi-document birth certificate provides an image of life on the Borderlands that is created multimodally through objects, texts, and experience. However, as I examined the documents, I felt that Anzaldúa’s voice was “missing.” She did not go in and fix the errors; her grandmother made the changes. Although each birth certificate can be analyzed in isolation, I argue that it is necessary to examine the interplay between archive and repertoire to more fully understand the ideologies at play and come closer to understanding Anzaldúa’s method-as-theory.

The history of birth certificates is highly ideological. Amaya (2013) explains that Latina/os experience contradictory effects of citizenship (p. 16). In 1848, The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the governing document allowing the United States to annex half of Mexico, resulted in U.S. citizenship for about 120,000 Mexican citizens; however, since slavery was still the law of the land for Black Americans, citizenship was restricted to whites, and Mexicans were classified as white (Amaya, 2013, p. 16 in reference to Carbado, 2005, p. 637). Citizenship, however, did not result in equal rights. Amaya (2013) notes, “the great majority of Mexicans did not enjoy the social and legal benefits of whiteness and instead suffered from the systematic erosion of all rights, including property rights, originally drawn in Mexican law, as well as political and linguistic rights” (p.16). Why did these new citizens not gain rights? First, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was drafted by U.S. lawmakers and only included “one provision the Mexican legislature was able to negotiate, the granting of U.S. citizenship to Mexican residents” (p. 18). In addition, states retained the right to disenfranchise Latina/os using their own local laws. These legal and political ramifications regarding citizenship echo throughout my observations in the archive. A formal analysis of Anzaldúa’s birth certificate might end here, highlighting the effects of institutional racism and citizenship on people’s experiences. However, taking a multimodal rhetorical approach, the critic can dig deeper into the archive to find more personal evidence of how people’s experiences are affected by such official documents.


An Exercise in Voice through the Repertoire

The official archive provides insights into Anzaldúa’s theory of the Borderlands; however, when studied in relation to her repertoire, it provides a deeper understanding of Anzaldúa’s cultural work as theorist. I identify the repertoire as those “unofficial” texts found in her papers, including journal entries, drawings, and fictional stories, such as the short story I examine here, “Her Name Never Got Called.” Herrera (2008) comments that she made a similar connection between the issues found in the birth certificate(s) upon finding the short story (p. 2). The story depicts the conflict the protagonist, a little girl nicknamed Prieta, experiences when her teacher calls her by another name, her “real” name. AnaLouise Keating (2009) explains that Anzaldúa worked through her philosophical concepts in her fiction (p. 7). I suggest that drafts of this story reveal this aspect of Anzaldúa’s thought process.

A major consideration revealed by the process of my finding “Her Name Never Got Called” is an important feature of the official archive: access. I found the finished draft, but it was unavailable for research at the time. It is difficult to move beyond the archive and locate the repertoire if the interpretive and personal texts are hidden. I did not want to write about Anzaldúa’s voice without quoting her work of fiction/autohistoria/autohisteoría.[8] In later boxes, I found drafts of the work, adding to the understanding of official documents. One copy had no writing on it; other drafts had feedback from editors. The selections were mostly identical with very few, although significant, changes, providing intimate insights into Anzaldúa’s experience and theory-building process.

“Her Name Never Got Called” explores Anglo teachers’ “lack of understanding” and its consequences on students (Herrera, 2008, p. 3). This story of discrimination explains how Anzaldúa and other Chicanx children experienced childhood in South Texas. Other Chicanx authors have also addressed the first day of school as a racialized rite of passage, one that highlights “feelings of inadequacy, manifested in [students’] interaction with [their] teacher” (Flores, 1996, p.142) and leads to theorizing of identity and belonging. Prieta is uncomfortable at school, and she experiences something similar to the protagonist in Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, who, as Lisa Flores (1996) states, “experiences an awareness of her differences, in culture and class, from those around her, and a sense of how her displacement is evident in spatial relations” (p.142). Herrera (2008) notes that Anzaldúa’s story showcases how shame is internalized and possibly prompts her grandmother’s change to the birth certificate “in the hopes of giving her Prietita…an advantage in a white world,” (Herrera, 2008, p. 3). However, modifying the ethnicity on the birth certificate does not alter the way people discriminate against Prieta/Anzaldúa.

In “Her Name Never Got Called,” the protagonist, Prieta, faces a common rite of passage: her first day of school.[9] Prieta’s experience is intensified as she finds herself in an English-speaking environment and unable to understand those around her. She notices cues and determines that the teacher is calling roll because, when the students around her catch their name, they respond. Prieta gets in trouble for not hearing - or rather, not knowing - her name. Her family’s reliance on her nickname, “Prieta” or “Prietita,” makes it impossible for her know her official name, “Gloria.” She is unable to explain that she goes by “Prieta,” and as a result, the teacher punishes Prieta for misbehaving. The story continues with a lapse in time: an older Prieta explains the confusion with her name and the changes made to her birth certificate. The tone of the story shifts; she clarifies that her name is the basis of her awareness and power. This story is relevant for its literary contributions. However, as a rhetorician, I juxtapose the official documents with this unofficial fiction or autohistoria to trace the rhetorical dimensions of the archive and repertoire. Doing so provides insights to how Anzaldúa created theories. It allows us to perceive more directly Anzaldúa’s embodied isolation, her everyday acts of resistance, and her sense of awareness through a backward glance.

The short story allows scholars to recognize that the repertoire begins and ends with awareness. The protagonist’s lack of understanding correlates with the author’s journey towards conscious- ness - political, cultural, and contextual. Since discussions about family names transcend official documents, the repertoire helps explain discrepancies in the birth certificate, suggesting the story’s connection to Anzaldúa’s lived experiences. Anzaldúa begins with the protagonist Prieta, which means “dark girl,” on her first day of school. Prieta is a common protagonist in Anzaldúa’s work, and scholars are aware that Anzaldúa’s mother called her “Prietita.” Thus, the work of fiction may be understood as autobiographical and theoretical. The protagonist’s contextual cognizance is obvious despite the cultural barrier between the English-speaking teacher and her Spanish-speaking students (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 1). Prieta understands that she needs to respond to her name by standing up and saying “Present” while raising one hand, even though she never heard her name; it wasn’t until going to school that she, “heard the name Gloria” (Box 76, Folder 4, pp. 1-2).

The archive provides “objective” data that points to the discrepancy in the birth certificate while the repertoire highlights its embodied effects. Having the wrong name on the birth certificate creates confusion in the child. She understands her environment perhaps even better than her peers, but her confusion and lack of English makes it difficult to respond with agency when she hears a name that is foreign to her. The short story serves as a record that documents the protagonist’s rhetorical awareness, which is erased in the classroom context. Not only is Prieta more aware of herself and her surroundings than people give her credit for, but she is also aware of that erasure. Hence, Anzaldúa uses this “fictional” space as a starting point for theory-building through the images conjured up in her autohistoria. Anzaldúa’s work explains feelings of isolation, from herself, her family, and other students in her class. Personal experience is silenced in the birth certificate; the repertoire provides additional information that shows how a common rite of passage such as a child’s first day of school can illustrate how many people from South Texas live with these seemingly simple errors. The protagonist is self-aware and understands the discrepancy between what she knows and what the rest of the class knows. There is agency in the child’s thought process that exists outside the official conventions of the classroom.

However, this agency can only go so far. Although her parents give her strict orders to be obedient - “All year she’d heard Mami and Papi say, ‘When you go to school you’ll have to obey the teachers, Prieta’” (Box 76, Folder 4, p.1) - due to the language barrier, the protagonist has a hard time following simple instructions and understanding her teacher. Moreover, this problem also connects directly to issue of Anzaldúa’s birth certificate. The story depicts actual, material consequences that might result from the mistakes and changes in the document. Scholars are not aware whether the errors were caused by an English-speaking health professional or record keeper unable to correctly record Spanish, or if her parents misspelled her name or could not decide. In the end, the protagonist does not know her name, perhaps cannot know it, leading to a cycle of misrepresentation.

Not hearing the correct name during class is an ongoing problem for Prieta, suggesting that the confusion engendered by the birth certificate is not isolated - it has long lasting consequences. The story goes on to say that the following day, Prieta did not answer when the teacher called “Gloria Anzaldúa,” resulting in the teacher speaking unintelligibly in English and pushing her on face onto the chalkboard lest she be paddled (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 1). She does not understand the language her teacher uses, the other “Mexican” kids do not speak Spanish, and she does not recognize her name. The misspelling of her name on the birth certificate reflects material conditions of life for Prieta, who receives daily abuse at school because she neither speaks English nor recognizes the name her parents gave but eschewed. Psychological consequences arise, such as shame and punishment at home (Box 76, Folder 4, pp. 1-2). Early on, Prieta internalizes feelings of shame associated with her name, her race, and (later on) her sexual orientation. The birth certificate reifies her isolation on paper and shows how racism works on an institutional level and becomes a social message, even as her traumatic experience reifies the effects of official documents on raced bodies.

Scholars are left to speculate why Anzaldúa kept all of the birth certificates and corrected copies since her reactions to the birth certificate are missing. I suggest that the repertoire allows scholars more detailed, intelligible speculation over how this official document becomes the basis for everyday acts of resistance. Performative elements found in the repertoire are not always evident in the archive. Prieta exercises her awareness and converts it into agency. This has a dual function: the protagonist communicates her knowledge of the system that oppresses her and adds complexity to the experience; the author exercises agency in a fictional space that prepares her to do so in her own lived world.

Eventually, Prieta fights back by coming up with a plan, of lying “when the teacher called that name that was not her name” (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 2). There are times when “she would forget to lie and most mornings the teacher would descend on her knuckles with the edge of her ruler. She was going to establish discipline over these wild dirty Mexicans right from the start. And with this little skinny girl she would set the example” (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 2). Nonetheless, Prieta tricks the Anglo teacher by memorizing the name that the teacher assigns to her, a name that sounds foreign. She knows how the system works and how to bend the teacher’s rules, based on critical awareness of who she is and who her teachers think she is. Even as she fights back, she occasionally forgets and faces the consequences of being misunderstood. She exemplifies discipline for other students, and one might argue, is used to prevent them from forming bonds with one another. Resistance is important in the narrative. Even though Prieta experiences isolation and racism, she learns to use her position and fight back. Resistance occurs within the confines of the story but also outside of it.

Anzaldúa is known for consciously exercising her agency through writing. She explains that for her writing is not a choice, that it helps her create or “compensate for what the real world does not give” (Anzaldúa, 2015, pp. 166-167). She uses fiction as a laboratory where she constructs and tests her theory performatively and then connects it to the larger structural problems of racism and identity. The autohistoria gains agency on its own, but it also provides what Kenneth Burke (1973) would term “equipment for living” in the Borderlands. Self-awareness as resistance takes her and her readers full-circle through the backward glance, the revisiting of official documents, that is possible via the repertoire.

Anzaldúa’s family fought over her name: Evangelina was her name according to her father; Gloria according to her mother; and Gloria Evangelina according to her “mamagrande Locha;” however, as an adult she would discover that the name on her birth certificate was “Eve Angeline” (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 2). The story names each of the mistakes: misspellings of her parents’ names, their placement in incorrect slots for mother and father, and the statement that she was “born dead” (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 2). Anzaldúa even includes how the section labeling Prieta as “Mexican” was the “one bit of information that was correct” and that her grandmother made a point to “see to it that mijita’s record was set straight” (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 2) by adding “white” to the race section. Although acting “from the heart…to save her from the painful ignominy of being what she was - Mexican,” this action caused Prieta distress: “the one true fact falsified now” (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 3). When her ethnicity it listed as Mexican, it explains feelings of otherness; when her ethnicity is white, those feelings do not disappear. Only the racial category is erased. At school, the students and her teacher never see her as white despite the change.

A later draft of the story adds that the “misnaming” would become important once the protagonist assumed the identity of a writer: “The power that came with naming was one she wanted” (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 3). In a subsequent revision, Prieta rereads the work and comes back with an even stronger sense of awareness. During the extensive writing process, Anzaldúa works out emotions that connect to larger structural issues. She refines her theoretical grounding and rereads her experience, adding a new layer of understanding to the piece. Interestingly, this version has a critique next to Anzaldúa’s reflective statement that reads, “This seems overstated to me - sudden academic language” (Box 76, Folder 4, p. 3). Perhaps Anzaldúa worked out her story and her theory using academic language because they are inseparable.


Anzaldúa’s Archive and Repertoire

This study is an example of the multimodal nature of archival research, exemplified through official and unofficial interactions between materials. The documents I examined here are both official and unofficial, even though they are both technically located in the archive. I believe that delving into the unofficial aspects of rhetorical contexts through the notion of the repertoire can help us unmask the racist ideologies of official archival texts. The official archive may only display “facts” (such as place of birth, names of parents, and so on), but the repertoire offers a complex layering of responses to the official record (such as the material consequences and performances based on the “facts” listed in the archive). It allows us to recognize affect and awareness - crucial components of social change for Anzaldúa. The interaction of texts like the birth certificate(s) and Anzaldúa’s fictional-theoretical work help us read her ethos more holistically. A focus on the repertoire allows us to understand how, through her writing as a means of survival, Anzaldúa works out feelings of exclusion and creates bridges between the official and unofficial, speaking to the experiences of marginalized groups and attendant sense of isolation.

This essay has aimed to show how a common birth certificate proves a symbol of racist ideologies and how these are internalized. Anzaldúa’s confusion shows her nascent childhood self-awareness, and how she is later able to name her feelings and derive critical concepts that we now deem vital as rhetoricians. Having language to describe these feelings of isolation becomes a generative theory based on lived experience as cultural work by people of color. This approach is only possible through recognition of knowledge making as multimodal, that is, as the interaction between very different materials and texts in the archive and the embodied performance of the everyday which is too often ignored by academics. As Prior (2004) states, “We must consider the complex, emerging affordances and consequences of semiotic practices, artifacts, and media carefully and precisely to understand and shape change” (p. 29). Via the archive and repertoire, scholars can comprehend how Anzaldúa works through her experiences and creates a theory of social change that is textual, imagistic, and embodied. She supplements the official record with unofficial performances and literature that conjure vivid images - images that help Chicanxs build connections using shared experiences. She uses images to create theories of life on the Borderlands and demonstrates her process - awareness, isolation, resistance, and back to awareness - as a model for others.

Differing reactions to Anzaldúa’s birth certificate, including her fictional responses, exemplify this evolution. The archive is not merely “data.” It offers a living set of relationships and creates new meaning when set in the larger scheme of the repertoire. Every archival collection contains official and unofficial documents that, when combined by the critic, contribute to the continued evolution of the materials. As the archive evolves, spaces of possibility emerge, corroborating Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel’s (2005) claim that a healthy “multimodal public sphere…is contingent upon nonspecialist citizens having access to an array of cultural and material resources” (p. 807). Unfortunately, too often the issue of access to the archive, and therefore the repertoire, remains. The repertoire is at least partially located within the archive, which means that a researcher requires special permission to access the work. This work, while publicly available is really only available to a select few, and so, this must change so that the crucial theorizing that authors like Anzaldúa enacted might be more easily accessed by wider audiences.


[1] The author would like to thank the Benson Latin American Collection and Gloria Anzaldúa Literary Trust for permission to use their collection in this research. This manuscript was written thanks to generous Faculty Research Support Funds from the University of Houston-Clear Lake for work conducted in June and August 2016. This work is an extension of the author’s dissertation work and various portions have been presented at the National Communication Convention.

[2A select portion of the archive had been closed to research until posthumous publication or until release by Anzaldúa’s trust. Other parts of her work are closed for researchers for privacy purposes, to be released at a later date (Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, 1942-2004). These limitations pose an added layer of difficulty in studying her work. As of my most recent return to the Anzaldúa archive, the final draft of “Her Name Never Got Called” is now available for research. However, I find it necessary to maintain that throughout the course of archival research, scholars may not have full access to the records they wish to access.

[3] Latina/o cultural critics use Anzaldúa’s work as a starting point to critique rhetorical practices and explore social consequences of marginalization. In social psychology, Hurtado (1998) maps Chicanas’ “methods for theorizing.” In sociology, Martinez (2005) uses standpoint theory to conduct a content analysis of Borderlands/La Frontera. Covering English and sociology, Licona and Maldonado (2014) discuss the social production of visibility and invisibility of Latina/os. Communication scholars explore the rhetoric of crossing borders (Flores, 2003; Cisneros, 2014); rhetorical documents and methods (Palczewski, 1996; Delgado, 1999; LaWare, 1998); and vernacular discourse (Holling & Calafell, 2011). Several researchers situate their work using Anzaldúa’s phrase ‘theories of the flesh’ as a starting point for discussion (Moraga & Anzaldúa, 1983; Calafell & Moreman, 2009; Calafell, 2010; Moreman & Non Grata, 2011). Borderlands can also be difficult spaces to inhabit. In performance studies, Calafell (2005) expresses the difficulties that Chicanas face in negotiating home, and Moreman and McIntosh (2010) provide a critical performance ethnography of Latina drag queens. Chávez (2009) explores the contradictions on the Borderlands; she explains, “Although the borderlands can be a rich source of creativity, they can also be stifling” (p. 166). Other scholars discuss the intersection of Borderlands and writing style (Feedman, 1989; Dolmage, 2009). Beyond Chicana texts, Rodríguez (2005) uses Borderlands to examine the transition of Salvadoran immigrants to the United States. Thus, Anzaldúa’s writing style ties her to her status as a border woman and puts her in conversation with an array of cultural and rhetorical concepts, theorists, and methods.

[4] I examine Anzaldúa’s papers, which include official and unofficial elements. Olga Herrera scanned, organized, and observed about Anzaldúa’s papers; she wrote a short piece about the texts used in this study. I extend her analysis (2008) to show how Anzaldúa’s response to her birth certificate contains an implicit multimodal rhetorical theory. Through Taylor’s theoretical concepts, I develop a rhetorical method for examining archives and argue that a multimodal rhetorical theory exists from the oscillation between archive and repertoire.

[5All mentions of Anzaldúa’s birth certificate refer to Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, Birth Certificate, Box 1.

[6] As I explain later in the paper, her name was written in all capital letters, leaving out the accent mark on her last name.

[7] Roediger quotes poet Diane di Prima: “This pseudo ‘white’ identity…was not something that just fell on us out of the blue, but something that many Italian Americans grabbed at with both hands. Many felt that their culture, language, food, songs, music, identity, was a small price to pay for entering the American mainstream. Or they thought, as my parents probably did, that they could keep these good Italian things in private and become ‘white’ in public” (2005, p. 3). Even cultures that are considered “white” in today’s culture struggled with issues of citizenship and race. By claiming whiteness, they also gained privilege and citizenship.

[8] “Autohisteorías” is the “concept that Chicanas and women of color write not only about abstract ideas but also bring their personal history as well as the history of their community” (Keating, Interviews/Entrevistas, 2000, p. 242). I find it necessary to use this term because it helps the reader make the connection between fiction and the visual, which I argue, is central to her theory.

[9] The character “Prieta” is found in other works of fiction written by Anzaldúa. I focus this paper on “Her Name Never Got Called” exclusively because it discusses Prieta’s birth certificate, uniquely drawing a connection to that particular official document.



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