B. M. Calafell. “Pro(re-)claiming Loss: A Performance Pilgrimage in Search of Malintzin Tenepal.”

November 5, 2007


Bernadette Marie Calefell’s “performance ethnography” recounts her cultural and historical search of Malintzin Tenepal.  As outlined in “Pro (re-)claiming Loss,” Calafell soon recognized that her search for Malintzin was actually a personal journey in search of herself.  To know thyself through the embodiment of a (fore)”mother,” “sister,” and “lover,” Calefell realized that her cultural identity was not based upon the ownership of artifacts, her proximity to geographical locations, and could not be maintained through the love of another family member, but it was the embracing of all that is the Chicana membership by valuing the familial struggles and advancements and anticipating the future cultural goals of a people which shapes the individual, as seen through the representation of Malintzin Tenepal and personal growth.


What is interesting about the journey is that Calafell wanted to “pass” and “blend in” to obtain a closer identification to her culture.  It was not a rejection of who she is, but it was an increased desire to belong.  Through a lack of “proclaiming” and “reclaiming,” Calafell’s connections to her culture shifts based upon her geographical location.  She was perceived as being both “authentic” and “inauthentic” while in North Carolina, not quite “cultural” enough, from her use of the Spanish language and her skin complexion.  Yet, she felt completely at home in Arizona because she had the “luxury” of not having to question her cultural affiliation based upon the historical significance of the area and not needing to feel that she needed to measure up because she was surrounded by love of her family.  On the other hand, Calafell does admit to cultural loss and did not answer the “whisperings” of Malintzin Tenepal.  “The voices whispering all along, were they hers? Were they mine or someone else’s?  The ghost of Malintzin Tenepal has been banging on my door again” (46).


Still Calafell identifies with Tenepal.  She dreamed, “Marina, I come to you now because, honestly, I see that you and I are in the same boat.  We have both lost our voices” (47).  Calafell traveled to Mexico in search of Tenepal and her sites of memory.  She found that Marina’s sites of memory were “destroyed” and/”unidentified” and silenced.  Malintzin had no “recognized” cultural home.  “The fact that Malintzin’s house remains unmarked and unendorsed again attests to the way that Malintzin is devalued in the writing of history” (48).


Calafell’s mission becomes one of “self-knowledge” and “possibilities.”  Although Tenepal is not “memorialized” the larger community, the individual journey is a “performance ethnography” that attempts to rewrite the master narrative that has overlooked her contributions to her people.  Calafell explained,


In this space, I create my own embodied understanding of my legacy, of my culture.  All along I had been mourning the loss of my voice, culture, and story not realizing that in this process, in this space of anticipation and finally in this space of reclamation and reconciliation through the traversing of my past, present, and future I have created a space of new possibilities, what Pollock terms a possible real.  The possibility of remaking in the performance of language and in this embodiment of history can be liberatory and intoxicating as it is the ultimate seduction. (51-52)


Calafell draws similarity between the “anticipation of possibility” of Chicano/a culture and “queer temporality.”  Recognizing that the Chicano/a people are like turtles, who carry their homes on their backs, I recognize many parallels within the African American culture, which is, by in large, people who are removed from an ancestral geographical identity of Africa, and people who must derive its cultural identity through self-recognition of “archetypes” and “jeremaids” of a positive people and their common goals.  The master narrative becomes less important, resulting in a “proclaiming” and “reclaiming” of a people.  Calafell said, “My intention is not to use this framework as if to suggest that those who employ a queer temporality have no history of their own, thus they must create history; rather I argue that dominant discourses do in fact include them in narrative, but in ways that marginalize them, do not privilege their experiences, or allow them to define those experiences” (52-53).


The author suggests using personal narratives and its “disidenticatory strategies” to disrupt the master narratives.  The Calafell’s article suggests that individuals may undertake recovery strategies of Social Histories of Rhetoric.  Individuals are able to perform the “rhetoric of pilgrimage,” “re-story history,” and “rewrite space” to a give back the voices of loss memories.  Calafell takes a cue from Erik Doxtader; she said, “I identify performative process or pilgrimage as a means of honoring identities in the making and alternative forms of advocacy (“Making Rhetorical History”)” (54).  The procedure is both “action” and “object.”  It is through this discovery of Malintzin Tenepal that Calafell finds a part of herself and a greater appreciation of her cultural identity.



“Activisim is an engagement with the hauntings of history, a dialogue between the memories of the past and the imaginings of the future manifested through the acts of our own present yearnings.  It is an encounter with the ghosts that reside within and inhabit the symbolic and geographic spaces that shape our worlds” (Rodriguez 37).