Excerpt from "Borderlands: The Place Where We Live"
Lavie and Swedenborg assert that borders create a “third time-space” between and among borders, which is a “borderzone between identity-as-essence and identity-as-conjecture,”(1) meaning that this third time-space falls somewhere between an essential identity and a constructed identity. It is important to note that the authors’ definition includes both spatial and temporal dimensions. For them, the third time-space is not a literal place, but an identity-creating process that exists both in space and in history. A third time-space identity is relational—playing off both the past and on the areas that surround it. Yet, it is 3also distinct space from the zones that bound it. The most provocative element of this definition is the authors’ assertion that third time-space identity is both essence and conjecture, showing that there is both a determinism and a dynamism to a borderzone identity. It is the tension between the two fosters a new type of borderzone identity.
Lavie and Swedenborg apply this third time-space to several such zones, with heavy emphasis on the Southwest Borderlands in the United States. The authors offer examples, of individuals, primarily writers, who inhabit the hyphenated space between dual identities, e.g. Mexican-American. They assert that the hyphenated space is not a fixed identity, but is a process that “remains active and intransitive,” where identity is fluid and dynamic. To illustrate, they cite the Chicana lesbian poet Gloria Anzaldua, who wrote about third time-spaces as an “open wound” where two worlds rub against each other. In this zone of friction, she says, “before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country…a border culture.” (2) It is noteworthy that Anzaldua writes of the borderzone as a body, as this reinforces the effect that third time-space has on bodies, on people who live there. She underscores the fact that this space is neither an abstract theoretical construct, nor an empty gap. Rather, it is embodied, full of bodies; it is “the place where we live.” What matters most about third time-space is not that it exists as a space between two places. Rather, as Lavie and Swedenburg point out, what matters are the people, the bodies that are affected by the juncture between Mexico and the U.S. and other similar borderzones.
Third time-spaces are not static; they are changing, mutable, intangible. The people of these spaces develop a culture that reflects the dynamism of their homespace. As Lavie and Swedenburg point out, the art produced from the borderzone are “highly stylized domains of knowledge…that [can] incorporate the primary daily realities from which such cultural representations emerge.” (3) They explain that the narratives produced from the people of the border then create new borders, where identity, space, and place are in a process of continual re-definition. As soon as narratives are created that speak the truth of the third time-space, a new space is created in response to that narrative, as some border people embody that story or use is as a springboard for their own experience. In this way, the borders are continually in flux.
One might argue that Anzaldua, in envisioning the border as a dehiscent space, a suppurating wound, depicts the border as dystopia—as a space where bodies are wounded and unhealthy. However, even as she describes the painful frictions of the border body, they envision a co-mingling of fluid and tissue, an emergence of the “new lifeblood” of the border culture. Epidemiologist Nancy Krieger says that “bodies tell stories,” and we can imagine that the border body bears the scars of many interactions. However, these scars, rather than wounding the body of the people who live in the borderzone, are markers of an identity that built in a space of “dissension”, of “contestation,” of identities-in-process. Such scars become a part of the fluid identity of border spaces.
Lavie and Swedenburg emphasize the third time-space--the area that lies outside of borders—to affirm their vision of borderzone possibilities. They view this space as having “utopian” potential, “whose future outlines we can only vaguely begin to make out,” but would certainly incorporate their concept of a “neo-orthodoxy that would privilege identity as constructed, hybrid, fragmented, conjunctural” and rejects notions of fixed and essential identities. (4) Those who inhabit this utopian space might enjoy an arena where identity was not socially prescribed or inscribed on their bodies, but rather one in which is fluid, and difference celebrated. This is a space “where theory and praxis meet in order to form new possibilities.” (5) While it seems difficult to imagine such a scenario, an example of this that I have personally experienced are the spaces of community gardens—where people of many ages, abilities, ethnicities, and social strata work together in a common space to grow food and flowers. Where squash vines and blackberry bushes (and weeds!) refuse to honor even the superficial boundaries of garden plots and the sharing of one’s abundant crops is the only common language of many of the gardeners. (6)
Like the loamy soil of a fertile garden, the third time-space is rich with possibilities for growth as various plants cross-pollinate across traditional boundaries and sow seeds of hybrid potential. As Anzaldua writes:
A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants. Los atravesados live here: the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulatto, the half-breed, the half-dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the “confines” of the “normal". (7)
Her vision of the borderland, of the “space where we live,” (8) is not only the moving gaps of border-in-motion, as described by Rodriguez, but it is the space where for those whose identities lie outside of the ‘normal.’ In this way the borderzone encompasses those who do not fit in any pre-existing category, and it allows for self-creation, self-definition, and self-assertion. Unlike mainstream society where “claiming a self lies close to the brink of annihilating a self,” third spaces allow prohibited and forbidden actions and peoples while maintaining selfhood. (9) Borderzones are not bound by the rules of society; they do not require the “docile bodies” of mainstream social institutions. (10)
1 Smadar LaVie and Ted Swedenborg, "Introduction: Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity," in Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity, ed. Smadar LaVie and Ted Swedenborg (Durham: Duke, 1996)., 17.
2 As quoted in Ibid., 15.
3 Ibid., 18.
4 LaVie and Swedenborg, "Introduction: Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity.", 17.
5 Juana Maria Rodriguez, in Queer Latinidad: Idenity Practices, Discursive Spaces (New York: NYU, 2003)., 31.
6 The recent brouhaha about Los Angeles’ South Central Community Garden demonstrates that such spaces are still sites of political, class-based conflict, but this is an exception. Perhaps an even more radical third space-type gardening project is that of guerrilla gardening, a group that practices ‘random acts of gardening’ in neglected, public spaces.
7 Gloria Anzaldua, Boderlands/La Frontrera: The New Mestiza (Aunt Lute Books, 1987)., 3.
8 Byrd, ed., Puro Border.
9 Lancaster, The Trouble with Nature., 234.
10 Foucault., 138.