under the southern cross

I don't know how young I was when I first read Tschiffely's Ride but I remember searching for it years later to read once again. It was both the stars and the horses that enthralled me. I wondered about this Southern Cross. What it must be like to be guided by a different set of stars, a new arrangement.

So it was with contentment that I stood in the night air, the dog sitting on my feet, bare earth below and the Southern Cross bright above. And it was with delight that, earlier that day in Mendoza, I forged rivers and climbed hills, carried by Martina, a beautiful criollo pony just like Mancha and Gato, the two horses that carried Aimé Tschiffely from Buenos Aires to New York eighty years before.

But our adventures are not without stain (mancha). Postcolonial criticism has problematized the colonial travel-writing genre, finding in such tales of adventure a desire to name, map and exert control over foreign terrain. And feminists have made evident the symbolic connection between the conquering of land and the subjugation of women, particularly "native" or foreign women.

Furthermore, reading Ania Loomba's Colonialism/ Postcolonialism prompted me to pause at criollo. Criollo indicates the Spanish racial stratification of Latin American society. A criollo was someone born in the colonies but of 'pure blood' (limpieza de sangre). Criollo horses originated from Andalusian stock "gone native" on the pampas and plains of Latin America. To recover their pure state, seventy percent were slaughtered in the 1930s as part of a new breeding programme. My criollo pony was a survivor, her features deemed acceptable, and her blood pure.

Amongst postcolonial writers, however, it is mestizaje or hybrid identities that are celebrated, as colonial hierarchies of race and colour are broken down. Cuban-American theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz urges Hispanic/ Latina communities to choose 'mestizaje as a way of understanding and interpreting ourselves’ (Isasi-Díaz 2004: 195). She goes on to point out that, ‘…in rejecting differences as substantive categories and attributes, what we are doing is welcoming our diversity as relational.’ (Isasi-Díaz 2004: 200). Our manchas or impurities are to be celebrated. The differences within and between us are our fresh blood, our energy for change.

Isasi-Díaz, Ada María (2004) En la Lucha/ In the Struggle Elaborating a Mujerista Theology, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press
Loomba, Ania (2005) Colonialism/Postcolonialism London/New York: Routledge, 2nd ed.
Tschiffely, Aimé Félix (1933) Tschiffely's Ride: Southern Cross to Pole Star London, William Heinemann