Confrontando caras: Confronting language, facing cultural identity
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Ethnic identity can be subject to both passive and overt review, which has the potential to cause traumatic fracture of identity. I am a second generation American-Puerto Rican, which can be defined as a person born in the United States of native Puerto Rican ancestry. Personal identity is constructed in part via social and linguistic associations that work with, and against, the cohesive development of an individual’s claim to his or her identity. From the standpoint of a non-fluent Spanish speaker of Puerto Rican descent, I analyze the connection between place, language, and in particular, face-to-face communication, as these aspects come together in developing/disassembling identity. The major focus of this thesis concerns the power of the face as a point of (mis)recognition between people, the site in which a confrontation of identity takes place, in conjunction with spoken language. The face is the essential locus on the body for recognizing that the person before you is indeed a person; from that point forth, identity is revealed and awareness of subjectivity constructed. Stuart Hall discussed the construction of identity through the concepts of the enlightened subject, the sociological subject, and the post-modern subject. I will be referring to an individual’s identity in terms of these three models, while focusing on ethnic and cultural associations. It should be understood that in my discussion of face, “face” is not comprised solely of what rests above one’s shoulders; rather, the concept incorporates the entirety of an individual’s physical representation. I will question the ways in which language shapes identity, and how culture(s) and society reinforce it. I will also explore the conflict that unfolds when one is denied ownership of the identity that one has established as true. This analysis incorporates philosophy and cultural theory, including, but not limited to: Emmanuel Levinas’ “Face of the Other,” which professes that we must not inflict conceptual violence on the face of the person standing before us; additionally, Gloria Anzaldúa’s theory of the ethnic face and haciendo cara (making face), which states that minorities (women in particular) must construct layers of masks in order to adapt, and to deflect persecution. Language defines the borders of “face,” and urges us to construct a binary of correct and incorrect, true and false. However, a person’s identity cannot be false, because subjectivity exists beyond language. In the context of this thesis, I re-frame the individual’s frustrations with misrecognition of ethnic identity, through my focus on face and fluency, or lack thereof, in a particular spoken language. Through my video practice, I have forged a new pathway to explore these dualities. In a self-revelatory process, this project guides the viewer through a mixed media visualization of ethnic authentication and judgment.