Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Meshing of Culture and The Borderlands

The short stories in Salman Rushdie’s East, West examine the meshing and overlapping of two distinct cultures, as well as the difficulties that may arise from being divided between two homelands. Some of the themes present in this book are reminiscent to another piece that we’ve examined this year by Rushdie called “Imaginary Homelands”. In both works, we how troubling it can be to identify with two different homelands at some times, and at others, be unable to identify with any home at all. In “Imaginary Homelands,” Rushdie explains that “[s]ometimes we straddle two cultures; at other times, we fall between the two stools,” which could accurately be used to describe the circumstances of some of the characters in the final short story, “The Courter”. (Rushdie “Imaginary” 15).  The narrator and his grandmother Mary both experience a loss of identity to a degree, as they struggle to adjust to English culture while juggling their Indian roots. Luckily for Mary, she meets the courter, who is able to help her grow into her new home through chess, which eventually “had become their private language” (Rushdie “East” 194). Their relationship helps her to feel more comfortable in England, as the courter increased her familiarity with the country and its culture. The significance of the courter’s presence for Mary is clear when he is stabbed and she decides that can no longer stay in England and that she must return home to India. The courter represented her link to this new world—one that allowed her to mesh into the society rather seamlessly despite her deep roots in India. Without him, she feels lost, as if the home that she had begun to build in England had been torn down around her, and thus she naturally reverts to what was always comfortable for her.

            There are interesting parallels between the themes of homeland apparent in Rushdie’s pieces and a book that I recently read for an International Relations class this semester. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua sheds light on the meshing of cultures that occurs around near the U.S.-Mexico border, and the effects that it has on the citizens living in this “vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary” (Anzaldua 25).  The intermingling of people and cultures from both sides of the border create an identity that is both American and Mexican, while at the same time, neither. Anzaldua explains how those who call the borderland their home feel marginalized because they are forced to prescribe to one side or the other, while they don’t necessarily identify with the culture associated with either nationality. Instead, the culture of the borderland represents a unique blend of various backgrounds that form something completely new. This is much like Rushdie’s take on being divided between homelands, as Anzaldua explains that people in this area can prescribe to a variety of different identities such as Mexican, mestizo, Chicano, Raza, or tejanos. Despite the plethora of options by which to identify oneself, there is simultaneously a lack of central identity that plagues those live in the borderlands, much like the narrator of “The Courter” struggled to compensate his Indian Roots with his developing British identity.

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