Writing Real World - University of San Francisco



Writing Real World - University of San Francisco
for a
Real World
A multidisciplinary anthology by USF students
Writing for a Real World (WRW) is published annually by
the Department of Rhetoric and Language,
College of Arts and Sciences, University of San Francisco.
WRW is governed by the Rhetoric and Language Publication Committee, chaired
by Michael Rozendal. Members are: Brian Komei Dempster, Philip Hanson,
David Holler, Michelle LaVigne, Ana Rojas, Michael Rozendal, and David Ryan.
Writing for a Real World: 13th edition © 2016
The opinions stated herein are those of the authors.
Authors retain copyright for their individual work.
Essays include bibliographical references. The format and practice of
documenting sources are determined by each writer.
Writers are responsible for validating and citing their research.
Cover image “Epidermis” was painted by Taylor Smalls.
© Taylor Smalls
Reproduction courtesy of Taylor Smalls
See more at taylorsmalls.com
Printer: BR Printing, San Jose, Calif.
Thanks to James Barrios and Matt Bonnett
To get involved as a referee, serve on the publication committee, obtain back print
issues, or to learn about submitting to WRW, please contact David Holler
<[email protected]>. Back issues are now available online via Gleeson Library’s
Digital Collections. <www.usfca.edu/library/dc/wrw>
For all other inquiries:
Writing for a Real World
University of San Francisco
Kalmanovitz Hall, Rm. 202
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
Fair Use Statement: Writing for a Real World is an educational journal whose
mission is to showcase the best undergraduate writing at the University of San
Francisco. Student work often contextualizes and recontextualizes the work of
others within the scope of course-related assignments. WRW presents these articles
with the specific objective of advancing an understanding of academic knowledge,
scholarship, and research. We believe that this context constitutes a “fair use” of
copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. In
accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material herein is made available by
WRW without profit to those students and faculty who are interested in receiving
this information for research, scholarship, and educational purposes.
Writing for a Real World
Issue Thirteen
David Holler
David Ryan
Cathrin Jacob
Ben Brandenburg
Jenna Douvikas
Allys Nu Ton
Elizabeth Angarola
Miles Bierylo
Jonah Dorrance
Maggie Hazard
Shelby Lueders
Paula Mirando
Natalia Rocco
Cathrin Jacob
Sara Veeraswami
Paula Birnbaum, Art + Architecture
Brian Komei Dempster, Rhetoric and Language
Leslie Dennen, Rhetoric and Language
Doreen Ewert, Rhetoric and Language
Cathy Gabor, Rhetoric and Language
Philip Hanson, Rhetoric and Language
David Holler, Rhetoric and Language
Devon Christina Holmes, Rhetoric and Language
Jonathan Hunt, Rhetoric and Language
Michelle LaVigne, Rhetoric and Language
Genevieve Leung, Rhetoric and Language
Tom Lugo, Rhetoric and Language
Catherine Lusheck, Art + Architecture
Theodore Matula, Rhetoric and Language
Giovanni Meloni, Chemistry
Ana Rojas, English
Michael Rozendal, Rhetoric and Language
David Ryan, Rhetoric and Language
Carol Spector, Gleeson Library
Stephanie Vandrick, Rhetoric and Language
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction
Honorable Mentions
Resisting Patriarchy Through Maternal Love and Violence in
Toni Morrison’s Sula
In the Eye of the Beholder:
The Face of Il Gesù
Girls Like Us
Cobalamin as a “Trojan Horse” for Targeted Delivery of
“Omo, oppa! I saranghae you so much! Fighting!”:
Unpacking the Korean-Pop Fandom Language
Migrant Women’s Experiences of Abuse in U.S. Detention:
A Self-Narrative Gendered Critique of U.S. Immigration
Detention Policies and Practices
Modes of Visual Communication:
The Role of Wari Featherworks in Constructing an
Iconography of a Ruler
A “Dream” Deferred:
An Exploration of the Scarlet Title “Undocumented”
Relational Dialectics and Management Strategies
Between Blue-Collar Parents and Adult Children
on Divergent Career Paths
Issue Fourteen Submissions Information
Editor’s Introduction
E DEDICATE this thirteenth issue of Writing for a Real World to a
recently departed friend of this journal, Rev. Michael Kotlanger,
S.J. As Tyrone Cannon, dean of university libraries, wrote recently, “Fr.
Kotlanger was very dedicated to his work as the university’s archivist.
His dedication was underscored by his being a virtual fountain of USF
history and his never-ending enthusiasm and wonderful stories about
the university and Gleeson Library. A question presented to him would
usually result in a marvelous tapestry of information. His work supported countless individuals who needed information about USF, including
alumni, researchers from around the world, and colleagues on campus.”
Indeed, no one knew more about the history of research and creative
work published by USF students than Fr. Kotlanger. I recall planning to
see him in the Archives for a few minutes, only to spend much of an
afternoon with him, pulling interesting student publications from the
shelves in the Archives. The experience did indeed result in a marvelous
tapestry of information and insight, and I know I am not alone in saying
that he will be missed at USF.
Notes on the Selection and Publication Process
This issue is the result of a rather competitive selections process. Each year
the WRW publication committee issues a call for students to submit their
top two papers in May. More than twenty faculty and librarian readers,
in service to the university, then spend at least two weeks anonymously
scoring the work. All reviewers agree to recuse themselves if they recognize
their own students’ work. Everything here in print—and every honorable
mention—received high marks from at least four reviewers. From our
many submissions this year we selected nine works. Notifications were
issued in June, after which the authors were invited to revise and polish
their work before resubmitting manuscripts in August. Student copyeditors
in my RHET 325/ENGL 325 course then took over in September and
helped lay out and revise every page of this book throughout the fall. To
my staff of ace copyeditors who pored over every sentence you’re about
to read, I owe a great debt. They truly helped professionalize this book.
Notes on This Year’s Publications
First and foremost, we congratulate Clarisa Janssens, winner of the
Fr. Urban Grassi, S.J., Award for Eloquentia Perfecta for her top-scoring
entry, “Resisting Patriarchy Through Maternal Love and Violence in
Toni Morrison’s Sula.” Written for Professor Christina Garcia Lopez’s
English literature capstone course, Clarisa’s piece offers an insightful
and poignant lens on one of Morrison’s masterpieces. Clarisa’s blend
of strong research and personal insights exemplify what is best in essays
of this kind, and I hope that her work will serve as a model for others
who are just now beginning to work on capstone essays in the English
Following Clarisa’s piece we present Aubree Mladenovic’s outstanding art history investigation, “In the Eye of the Beholder: The Face of
Il Gesù.” Written for Professor Kate Lusheck’s class, Aubree’s research
offers a fascinating physiognomic hermeneutic on one of Rome’s most
interesting Post-Tridentine churches.
Next we offer “Girls Like Us,” a powerful and poignant essay by
Grace Berg. Written for Professor Brian Komei Dempster’s Written and
Oral Communication course, this exploration of Grace’s journey is one
of the most compelling essays I’ve seen in years. (Grace, incidentally,
delivered an incredibly powerful speech at last year’s Speaker Showcase.)
Following Grace’s piece is Susanna Basappa’s Chemistry term
paper, “Cobalamin as a ‘Trojan Horse’ for Targeted Delivery of
Chemotherapeutics,” written for Professor Jeff Curtis. Susanna, now
pursuing an MD/PhD at the Mayo Clinic, makes plain (even to a nonscientist such as myself) the cancer-research potential of cobalamin
(which is form of Vitamin B12).
Moving from Chemistry to Communication Studies, we are also
proud to print Brittany Tinaliga’s provocatively titled research, “ ‘Omo,
oppa! I saranghae you so much! Fighting!’: Unpacking the Korean-Pop
Fandom Language.” Her research offers fascinating insights into the
function of K-pop lingo and the perceived appropriateness of its use in
various contexts.
Our sixth essay, “Migrant Women’s Experiences of Abuse in U.S.
Detention: A Self-Narrative Gendered Critique of U.S. Immigration Detention Policies and Practices,” by Valeria Vera is surely essential reading
for anyone interested in correcting certain abhorrent detention practices
on the U.S.-Mexico border. Valeria’s research was co-winner of this year’s
Ralph Lane Award. After reading her work, written as an honors thesis
for Professor John Zarobell’s International Studies class, you’ll see why
she earned these accolades.
Next we offer Madeline Warner’s important contribution to the study
of Wari culture, which she begins to reconstruct, to a great degree, by
closely examining a feathered tabard that was displayed at the nearby de
Young Museum. “Modes of Visual Communication: The Role of Wari
Featherworks in Constructing an Iconography of a Ruler,” written for
Professor Emily Breault’s Art + Architecture course, is actually Madeline’s
second outstanding publication in the three most recent issues of WRW.
Amber Floyd, an alum of the Martín-Baró Scholars Program which I
direct (whose work I’m pleased to say was selected by four other faculty
reviewers), wrote our next excellent piece, “A ‘Dream’ Deferred: An Exploration of the Scarlet Title ‘Undocumented.’ ” This essay makes strong
use of an interview Amber conducted with an undocumented friend,
whose struggles, despite a 4.0+ GPA, are outlined in Amber’s powerful
appeal to enact the Dream Act.
Finally (and I long for a fresher way to sincerely convey, “Last but
certainly not least”), we conclude with very interesting research conducted by Elizabeth Fray. Written for Communication Studies Professor Allison Thorson, “Relational Dialectics and Management Strategies
Between Blue-Collar Parents and Adult Children on Divergent Career
Paths,” contributes powerfully to family communication scholarship.
Our Gratitude
To bring Writing for a Real World to fruition both as a book and as an
annual celebration of student writing requires an enormous collaborative
effort. People at every level of the university are involved—from the
dozens of students who submitted papers, to the 20 faculty members
and librarians who judged manuscripts, to the 10 student copyeditors
who created and pored over all the layouts, to the valuable behind-thescenes work of the WRW Publication Committee members and our
program assistants, to the presentations of our inspiring guest speakers
at our ceremonies, to the fine work of our tech support crew who have
enabled us to accept online submissions, and to the Deans who have
enthusiastically supported our efforts—this project could not be what it
is without multivalenced support. I thank you all for rallying behind this
project with such enthusiasm.
Let me name here a number of our valued allies and supporters.
We are, first of all, deeply grateful to Provost Jim Wiser, who supported
this project from its inception many years ago, and of course to former
Provost Jennifer Turpin who championed the project as well. We also
thank Marcelo Camperi, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and
Eileen Fung, Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities, College of Arts and
Sciences—both of whom continue to back this project with unwavering
I also thank my class of eagle-eyed student copyeditors whose names
are listed prominently on our masthead for their detailed review of
manuscripts and layout of the journal. Our Fall 2015 course was devoted
to carefully preparing this book, as indeed any book of this kind deserves.
Their professionalism in handling matters was truly impressive.
And making those layouts possible through the acquisition of the
very latest version of InDesign, I would like to thank John Bansavich,
Director of the Center for Instruction and Technology (CIT), who has
provided more than just tech support for this journal for the last several
years. John has also been instrumental in securing us plenty of lab time
to devote to making this book a reality.
And speaking of serious tech support, I’d also like to thank Alexey
Fedosov for helping us streamline our submissions process by creating an
online review portal for students and editors. This innovation helped us
make a quantum leap, not only in terms of our efficiency in reviewing, it
will also, we’re certain, pay off in terms of increased submissions in the
future. Thank you again, Alexey.
I’d also like to thank Taylor Smalls, whose haunting image graces
our cover. Taylor, whose work I first encountered in a student exhibition
at the Thacher Gallery at USF, has generously allowed us to reprint her
work. Clearly, as you’ll see if you go to her webpage, www.taylorsmalls.
com, Taylor is creating outstanding images.
We also gratefully acknowledge the important work of Digital
Collections Librarian Zheng Lu who spearheaded digitizing WRW—
making this, and every issue, available for future researchers.
A special salute goes to Sara Veeraswami, program assistant for the
Department of Rhetoric and Language, who deserves special praise for
helping us with publication, publicity, distribution, and ceremony details.
Many thanks of course go to John Pinelli and Dan Dao for helping
us pay the bills.
I’d also like to underscore my thanks to all 20 of our journal referees
who spent many collective hours reviewing the research that ultimately
ends up in WRW. As the saying goes: “Many hands make light work”—
but the fact that so many people rallied to carefully review so many
manuscripts while also grading final papers and resisting the siren song
of summer, well, that effort demonstrates the real camaraderie to be
found here at USF—and—the genuine devotion to honoring student
work, as we have done now in various forms for virtually one century.
Our deepest thanks, of course, are reserved for those students who
submitted their work. As our Honorable Mentions list illustrates on the
following pages, we received many more fine papers than we were able to
publish. Congratulations go to all those who earned honorable mention,
and especially to those students whose work we hope you will now read.
—David Holler, Editor
Honorable Mentions
“Preserving the Past and Personality in Nabokov’s Ada and Speak, Memory”
Written for Senior Seminar in Literature
Tracy Seeley, English
“Divine Sight: Shared Visions and the Birth of the Medieval Pietà”
Written for Medieval Art and Society (de Young Research Symposium)
Catherine Lusheck, Art + Architecture
“Nikki Giovanni’s Missing Voice: The Past and Present Resistance
of Social Control”
Written for Senior Seminar in English
Christina Garcia Lopez, English
“Music as Resistance: The Rhetoric of Afrobeat”
Written for Rhetoric 195
Michael Rozendal, Rhetoric and Language
“Communication of LGBT Identities After the Move
from a Conservative to Liberal Area”
Written for Qualitative Methods
Brandi Lawless, Communication Studies
“Prisoners’ Rights and Solitary Confinement”
Written for Sociology of Human Rights
Heather Hoag, History
“I didn’t choose the Thug Life, the Thug Life chose me:
A criticism of the media’s coverage of the uprising in Baltimore”
Written for Rhetoric 131
Brian Komei Dempster, Rhetoric and Langauge
This issue is dedicated to the memory of
Fr. Michael Kotlanger, S.J.,
whose contributions to USF were invaluable
Resisting Patriarchy Through
Maternal Love and Violence
in Toni Morrison’s Sula
Clarisa Janssens, class of 2015,
graduated with a degree in English. This
essay won USF’s Fr. Urban Grassi, S.J.,
Award for Eloquentia Perfecta.
Nothing catapulted me into the frontier of sexism and gendered expectations like pregnancy and motherhood. Thus, it would be accurate to say
that my research began with the unexpected news of my pregnancy. I immediately found myself circling between the exhaustively conflicting emotions that I discuss so heavily in my paper: joy, despair, fear, and anticipation.
However, as I searched for support from community I found my negative
emotions constantly censored. There is no tolerance in mainstream society
for the mother who experiences any form of negativity regarding maternity, regardless of what form that emotion may take. It was that moment
of silencing that made me ask—is it wrong for a mother to feel negativity,
regret, and sadness regarding maternity? Aren’t these emotions just as important as archetypical maternal love? And if so, what are we depriving our
children of when we deny the existence of negative maternal emotion? I
found these questions marvelously explored in Toni Morrison’s Sula, where
we can observe and examine the pathology of dominant motherhood in
the generations of characters who are simultaneously born and destroyed
within the culture of singular motherhood.
—Clarisa Janssens
Clarisa Janssens produces a work of startling accomplishment in her
thesis, “Resisting Patriarchy through Maternal Love and Violence in Toni
Morrison’s Sula.” She expertly attunes her attention to maternal duality,
linking ancient mother-goddesses of creation and destruction with Morrison’s historically inflected work, as well as with timely contemporary
contexts. Her observations about the text’s resistance to binary motherhood are paired with cogent reflections on the conflict this created in
readers wavering between judgement and empathy. The critical consciousness that Clarisa argues may emerge from a permeated model of an
ultimately “ethically violent” motherhood reveals insightful awareness of
Morrison’s writerly strategies. In particular, the careful contextualization
of the historical and economic commodification of black women’s bodies,
and the exclusion of these bodies from social protections highlights Sula’s
embedded representations of trauma and “maternal resistance” to patriarchy. Clearly, Clarisa is a scholar of extraordinary talent and perception,
as she eloquently demonstrates in this thesis.
—Christina Garcia Lopez, Department of English
Resisting Patriarchy Through Maternal
Love and Violence in Toni Morrison’s Sula
maternal love is not new: from Ancient Greece’s
Gaia, to Ancient Aztec’s Coatlicue, and Christianity’s Virgin Mary.
These mother goddesses and their myths reveal that maternal affection
has been cross-culturally regarded as one of the most powerful and unwavering tenets of love—maternal love persists despite the exhausting
weight of responsibility. While all three religions worship motherhood’s
redemptive nature, only Ancient Aztec and Greek paganism appreciated
the mother’s ability to destroy as central to her power. Unsurprisingly, as
Christian empires turned violently imperialistic, goddesses embodying maternal dualities were destroyed in favor of the Virgin Mary, whose pious
and self-sacrificing image was deeply influenced by the weight of Eve’s
original sin. This image of the selfless and content mother with her welladjusted and successful children continues to permeate today’s collective
cognition. As such, societal expectations demand religious adherence to an
idealized motherhood despite its inherent unreachability.
Even more troubling is that these conventions create misled heuristics through which greater society—and to a lesser extent—women
themselves, control the trajectory of maternal experience. These harmful filters color our judgment and evaluation of a mother’s experiential
and emotional life. This perspective determines what society considers
authentic motherhood; and categorizing motherhood based on authenticity, excludes the existence of a variety of experiences and emotions.
For example, a woman who longs for her past, who regrets sacrificing
her career, or who expresses negative emotions towards her children, is
either deemed insufficient or abnormal. The danger in failing to include
motherhood’s multifaceted nature into popular collective discourse, and
by extension cognition, is that culture then fails to rationalize and cope
with the inevitable complex emotions involved in the mother-child relationship. Perhaps more sinister is when the mother encounters parental
obstacles, the haunting ideal causes shame, anxiety, and even rage—all of
which are inherited by her children.
This tension between the ideal family and motherhood versus its incompatibility with reality is deeply explored in Toni Morrison’s Sula, where
the novel’s atypical mother-child relationships critique dominant culture’s
model of maternal love. In Sula, mothers are subject to immense historical and societal marginalization that often results in tragedy; as such, the
realities of maternal aggression and filicide do not neatly fit into simplified
binaries of good and bad. The maternal figures in Sula simultaneously
act as both the powerhouse and the demolition-site through which their
children’s lives are created and destroyed. Popular culture frowns upon the
concept of the mother as a destroyer; however, in rearing children, every
parent engages in a cycle of creation and destruction. We create the social
norms we want our children to obey, and in enforcing these boundaries we
destroy socially unacceptable behaviors.
Specifically, Sula features mothers who, in their attempt to raise children while dealing with insurmountable socio-economic undercurrents,
commit acts that leave the reader conflicted with judgment and empathy.
Set directly after the Emancipation Proclamation in nineteenth-century
Ohio, Sula focuses its narrative on African-American women’s struggle
for agency and authenticity within a system that profits from their oppression. The novel’s plot centers around a triadic structure of women:
Eva, Hannah, and Sula Peace. Eva, abandoned by her husband, sacrifices
her leg for income. When her son is destroyed by war and drugs, she
saves him the only way she knows how—by killing him. Eva’s daughter
Hannah, a widow, survives by maintaining her mother’s house and her
only relief comes from a constant staccato of sexual affairs. And finally
Sula, Hannah’s daughter, is a girl catapulted into womanhood and defined by her mother’s rejection.
All women in Sula’s family are unmarried and have no access to
resources, yet must still raise children and provide for them. As such,
it would be unreasonable to hold them responsible for the dominant
ideal. Their immensely complex and difficult lives make it impossible
to fit them into the socially preferred binaries of good and bad. Furthermore, the complex interaction of motherhood, culture, and social
circumstance in Sula creates cultural work. By featuring characters that
cannot adhere to the dominant ideal and writing their experience in such
a way that the reader cannot pass judgment without considering other
factors, Morrison creates a space to critique and question the previously
impermeable model of motherhood.
The Cult of Domesticity, Womanhood,
and Maternal Experience
In order to understand how dominant culture informs Morrison’s narrative, readers must first examine the conditions that polarize womanhood and maternity. Then they must consider the resulting influence of
these conditions on African-American community and culture of this
time. While patriarchal discourse concerning women and mothers has
existed throughout history, slave-holding antebellum America experienced a particular urgency for codified gender roles with the rise of the
Cult of Domesticity, or True Womanhood. Marci Littlefield looks at the
effects of the industrialization of the West through the lens of black
women. America saw an unfortunate transition from a “family-based
social system to a market-based social system that ultimately undermined [women’s value]” (Littlefield 54). In response to this, Susan Farrell discusses how women’s previously valuable contributions to strenuous farming and crop management were deemed inferior, and were thus
replaced by an entirely domestic and private role defined solely through
motherhood (Farrell 141).
Certainly sexism and gender roles were present before this time,
but patriarchal slaveholding America was economically and socially dependent on its “pious, pure, submissive, and domestic” women (Littlefield 54). Paula Gallant Eckard asserts that historically speaking, black
and white women were unified by the roles that “were clearly defined
for them in the plantation system … it was in the realm of sexuality and motherhood that patriarchy delivered the most oppression …
both women’s bodies were the terrain upon which the southern patriarchy was erected” (14). A woman’s body proved valuable to society
for its reproductive functions explicitly because her progeny renewed
white southern families on one hand, and the system of slavery on the
other. As a result, both were forced to “endure repeated childbearing
expressly for the benefit and support of the patriarchy” (Eckard 12).
While Eckard’s observation of historical unity between black and white
women seems to serve as an attempt to unite contemporary women today, it raises a contentious question that needs answering. If the direct
female descendants of Old Southern patriarchy are already sexually,
biologically, and spiritually harmed by the silencing of their voices and
bodies, then what kind of ethical violence can the reader imagine is
imposed on poor women of color?
In antebellum America, white women were awarded a sense of
political importance and autonomy through their role as breeders and
“inculcators” of patriarchal ideals as shown in Marilyn Francus’ book
Monstrous Motherhood: Eighteenth Century Culture and the Ideology of Domesticity (3). Black women, however, were excluded from the domesticity
codes because of their role as a physical and sexual commodity. They
were not seen as “true women” capable of virtue, modesty, and piety
(Littlefield 54). Thus they were denied what little prestige and protection domesticity had to offer women. Shirley Yee similarly claims that
black women’s sexuality only “performed a further service as breeders for the slaveholding community,” subjecting them to gross sexual
violation by their white male slaveholders—either through rape or
forced marriage (41). Moreover, it is their perceived commodification
and sexual availability that compelled white women to engage in the
subjugation of black women. In attempt to preserve this distinction
between the other and the self, and to avoid the reality of their own victimization, “white women blamed [black women] for initiating sexual
relations with men and, as a result, portrayed [them] as [hypersexual]”
(Yee 43). This hypersexualization contributes to oppression long after
the Emancipation Proclamation.
Repeated rape and forced marriage between slaves and slave owners
had an inevitable consequence: motherhood. The resulting abundance
of mixed-race children on plantation property compelled lawmakers to
absolve white fathers of paternal responsibility and deny the child’s access to his status and estate. Children born to a slave mother and white
father were to inherit the mother’s subhuman status according to Ruth
Feldstein (33). For black women, motherhood became a “central and
compelling experience … much of female slavery was connected with
bearing, nourishing, and rearing children whom slaveholders needed
for the continual replenishment of their labor force” (Eckard 14–19).
Consequently, “because slaveholders often bought, sold, and traded
slaves, the threat of maternal separation was constant, and as a result,
maternal resistance was common” (Littlefield 57). Maternal resistance
is defined as any act that seeks to repel or buffer the effects of patriarchal dominance. There were four common acts of maternal resistance:
social revolts, communal mothering or “othermothering,” refusal to
accept sexual exploitation regardless of the consequence, and abortion
and infanticide (Littlefield 57).
Perpetuating Maternal Silence Through Child-Centric
or Apologetic Academic Discourse
Sula’s characters are undeniably shaped by their traumatic histories. The
acts of maternal resistance that were born in the plantation fields were
inherited by future generations, and served as an attempt to not only resist patriarchy, but to restore maternal voice and identity. These historical
events provide readers with the opportunity to examine patriarchal society and its effects on women of color. However, literary scholarship often fails to adequately critique patriarchy in Sula in two ways. First, many
writers engage in mother-blame and child-centric readings. Second, the
desire to justify and absolve motherhood and maternal violence from
criticism creates apologetic discourse that fails to recognize patriarchy’s
Although each of the mothers in Sula has deviated from the dominant ideal, the scene that surprisingly garners the most contempt and
disgust is Hannah’s assertion that she loves, but dislikes her daughter.
Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi condemns Hannah’s idea of maternal
love, blaming her for “Sula’s insecurity and consequent neurosis … [that]
stem from her unstable relationship with her mother. [Hannah’s] flippant
denials of her daughter … are crucial events in Sula’s life” (130). Despite
Ogunyemi’s attempt to critique white supremacist patriarchy in Sula, he
ironically engages in patriarchal discourse by silencing and invalidating
Hannah’s voice because of her refusal to adhere to the dominant ideal
of motherhood. Reading the scene with a daughter-centric perspective,
Ogunyemi neglects to question why the mother dislikes her daughter at
this point in time—the reasons could be puberty, stubbornness, disobedience, or quite simply an irreconcilable personality difference (135). As
Hannah states, mothers and their children are “different people” (Morrison 57). If in public life, women can be exclusionary with their approval
and love, then why is Hannah—and by extension all mothers—denied
this right? Mothers are the terrain on which patriarchy erects its empires
(Eckard 14). Patriarchal society demands the erasure of maternal individualism and identity in order to provide unrelenting maternal love,
approval, and appropriate enculturation. This results in an ethically violent dependency in the mother-child relationship—one cannot form an
identity without the other.
Another pivotal scene occurs when Hannah’s mother, Eva, decides
to kill her son, Plum, in a tragic attempt to save him from drug addiction. Barbara Lounsberry and Grace Ann Hovet also responds to this
event through child-centric filters. While the critics acknowledge the role
of social discrimination in Plum’s drug addiction, they explicitly claim
Morrison’s intent to illustrate that the “diminishment of the black male
may be caused by excessive mothering by both black wives and mothers”
(128). This type of mother-blame is the very kind of engendered discourse that prevents social progress. Instead of first looking at the oppressive social factors that cause the “diminishment of the black male,”
for fear of what such thinking may reveal about our own realities, these
critics immediately resort to mother-blaming. Similar to the critique of
Ogunyemi’s work, Lounsberry and Hovet show the pervasiveness of patriarchal discourse. Furthermore, they reveal the haunting truth that is so
often echoed through Sula’s narrative: women often are the transmitters
of racist and sexist thought (128).
In contrast to Ogunyemi (as well as Lounsberry and Hovet), author
Andrea O’Reilly defends Sula’s women in her piece Toni Morrison and
Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart by asserting that:
Loved and proud African-American selfhood depends upon
connecting to the motherline, keeping the values of the
[motherline] intact, and receiving the motherlove that fosters
self-love. Sons, however, more so than daughters, are required
to separate from their mothers and the motherline to assume
their normal masculine identity. Plum’s death is a critique of
this patriarchal imperative. Likewise, the murder of her son
represents one mother’s refusal to give up her son to patriarchy. Eva, recognizing that neither her nurturance nor the
motherline can save Plum, kills him in order to save him. (158)
Here O’Reilly is on the right path; however, she is too apologetic and
misses some important nuances in Morrison’s narrative. She is correct
in claiming that Plum’s murder can be, and should be, interpreted as
maternal resistance. Specifically, his death is a mother’s poignant refusal
to raise another useless black man, to adhere to the stereotype that maternal households are pathological ones, and to see her son succumb to
heroin addiction that resulted from class and racial warfare. That being
said, O’Reilly is too eager to absolve Eva from wrongdoing and misses
a crucially important point. Eva, with all her strength and fight, fails to
resist patriarchal imperialism. Her values are still informed by domesticity and by antebellum ideals. Eva kills her son because of his failure to
adhere to dominant masculinity and to save herself from the terrifying
shame of maternal failure.
Eva: Survival and Reparation Through
Maternal Sacrifice and Violence
Aesthetics and morality both operate at a surface level, even when Sula
is filled with maternal anomalies. Morrison addresses the racial discourse
implicit in dominant culture’s motherhood by intertwining her characters’ lives with the risks of enforcing a universal static concept of motherhood in a diverse and dynamic world. On one hand, these mothers’
actions and words are easily classified as reprehensible. On the other
hand, the conditions that birthed the very acts and words leave the reader oscillating between sympathy, bemusement, and terror. How, then,
should the reader determine the narrative’s maternal ethics, if Morrison
is constantly moving from a state of empathy to one of judgment? Axel
Nissen frames the “interpretive struggle” as “ethical work” (265). He
embeds this within the “debate as to whether individual experience or
general ethical principles are the sounder basis for personal ethics” (265).
However, the term “personal ethics” implies a unique individual opinion
that cannot exist without a varied experiential history. If this variation
applies to members of the same community, what happens when we begin to look at minority communities whose ancestral knowledge differs
greatly from dominant culture?
According to Naomi Morgenstern, Morrison explores the wilder-
ness of ethics in her novel with maternal representations that both
combat patriarchal motherhood and depicts the harmful effects of a
racially and sexually imperialistic society (8). Morrison’s narrative investigates the relationship between individually determined ethics and
“interpretive struggle” primarily though Eva, who loves and hates, sacrifices and takes, resists and succumbs, and succeeds and fails simultaneously throughout the novel (Nissen 265). Before Eva is introduced
as the sacrificer, Morrison painstakingly details Eva’s early maternal life
and personal sacrifices with the example of Eva’s husband, BoyBoy,
abandoning the family: “Eva had $1.65, five eggs, three beets, and no
idea of what or how to feel” (Morrison 32). Eva’s retrospective narrative purposefully serves as an important filter through which readers
must view Plum’s early life and death as troublesome:
Sometime before the middle of December, the baby, Plum,
stopped having bowel movements … He seemed in great
pain and his shrieks were pitched high in outrage and suffering … she resolved to end his misery once and for all. She
wrapped him in blankets, ran her finger around the crevices
and sides of the lard can and stumbled to the outhouse with
him. Deep in its darkness and freezing stench she squatted
down, turned the baby over on her knees, exposed his buttocks and shoved the last bit of food she had in the world
(besides three beets) up his ass. Softening the insertion with
the dab of lard, she probed with her middle finger to loosen
his bowels. Her fingernail snagged what felt like a pebble; she
pulled it out and others followed. (Morrison 33-34)
In this scene, Eva’s body becomes the “central metaphor of love and sacrifice” that adds “mythic and inverted dimensions to the maternal” (Eckard 53). The fact that Eva’s first story ties her to this great act of maternal
sacrifice leaves her harshest critics such as Lounsberry and Hovet vulnerable. Why preface filicide with such lengthy and humanizing retrospective narratives if readers are to blatantly condemn or blame Eva? After
all, Eva did not need to use the “last bit of food she had in this world” to
“[soften] the insertion” of her finger (Morrison 34). She was thrown into
desolate poverty by her husband, the provider, who is required to fulfill
dominant motherhood; most importantly, was left with three mouths to
feed, not including her own. Already in this situation, while it would be
difficult to accept infanticide with ease, it would be understandable for a
mother with no medical knowledge to spare her remaining children from
starvation. Instead, Eva used what little food she had left to provide her
son of minor comfort and dignity that she could afford in her unforgiving world. Carolyn Jones critiques this sacrifice as problematizing Eva’s
characterization as a “woman wholly concerned with self ” (98). Eva embodies the maternal ideals patriarchy glorifies in perverse and humanizing clarity. Eva is a mother who, among many things, places her child’s
comfort above her own needs.
Despite confirming the incredulous nature of maternal love, it is
important to note that Morrison is not affirming patriarchal motherhood. Instead, she depicts maternal love and sacrifice against the realities of marginalization. Specifically, Eva’s act of maternal sacrifice
cannot be aestheticized or idealized for important reasons. Set in the
brutal cold, Eva is surrounded by human excrement and is forced to
penetrate her infant to save his life. By paralleling bodily waste with
maternal sacrifice, Morrison breaks down any possible aestheticization
or romanticization that is typically associated with motherhood. She
exposes the terrifyingly dehumanizing injustices and conditions forced
upon underprivileged mothers of color.
The maternal body in Sula is not only the ground in which life
originates and develops, but it is also the terrain that her children’s survival depends upon. Eva’s final and successful attempt at securing her
children’s survival entails the sacrifice of her leg, resulting in a $10,000
award. Eva’s maternal bodily sacrifice is again shown, but instead of
sacrificing the last of her resources, it now involves the voluntary amputation of her leg for financial security—comfort that was almost
never afforded to black women and their communities during this period. Although Eva’s sacrifice secures her family’s financial wellbeing,
it is still a gamble. Sacrificing her limb is an incredibly isolating decision, should Eva need access to additional funds, and she has restricted
herself to any income-generating work available to black women at
the time. Eva also isolates herself from her community; she becomes
asexualized, idealized, and commoditized by her sacrifice. Despite her
age and legless figure:
Eva had a regular flock of gentleman callers, and although
she did not participate in the act of love, there was a good
deal of teasing and pecking and laughter. The men wanted to
see her lovely calf, that neat shoe … They wanted to see the
joy in her face as they settled down to play checkers, knowing that even when she beat them, as she almost always did,
somehow, in her presence, it was they who had won something. (Morrison 41)
Much like the archetypal mother who is asexualized in patriarchal discourse, Eva is stripped from accessing her sexual and individual self. She
serves to provide an empowering and maternal presence to the town’s
black men. In turn, precisely because of Eva’s sacrifice and financial independence, her maternal voice is silenced. During these meetings with
her gentleman callers, her remaining leg is aestheticized like her maternal sacrifice. While finding beauty in a socially undesired body is an act
of patriarchal resistance itself, Eva’s missing leg is a physical symbol of
the intersection of two issues: maternal sacrifice and racial sexual discrimination. These issues transform into a prosthetic of sorts for Eva.
The spiritual and body fragmentation that is endured by the town’s black
mothers is constantly implied by the absence of Eva’s leg. Nevertheless,
the “gentlemen callers” are unable to cope with the reality that led Eva
to this jarring sacrifice, as it suggests their involvement in black women’s oppression. This leads to a fixation on Eva’s remaining leg, which
is ethically violent in itself by actively demanding aestheticized motherhood—ignoring the dismembered maternal body, and thus silencing the
maternal voice.
However, Eva is not always depicted as the self-sacrificing and
caring maternal figure, and the first act of maternal transgression in
the novel is Eva’s decision to kill Plum in order to release him from
drug addiction. Motherhood is a duality and Morrison intersects Eva’s
frightening bodily sacrifices with filicide. Filicide, the act of killing
one’s child, is a jarring and reprehensible act; yet, when it is intertwined
with desperate poverty and subjugation, readers are left oscillating between disgust and empathy. It is in this moment that Morrison delivers
her harshest critique against patriarchal society. Historically, abortion,
infanticide, and filicide were not uncommon in slave communities as
acts of maternal resistance. While Eva murders Plum as a definitive act
of resistance against patriarchy, she does not successfully dislodge herself from the throes of her oppressors. The tragedy is that her thinking
is very much fueled by patriarchy. Specifically, Plum fails to subscribe
to patriarchal masculinity by succumbing to the desire for drug-induced
nonexistence and escape. This is a battle that he cannot win without a
return to the maternal body and community, as children’s identities are
directly tied to the maternal (O’Reilly 158).
Plum’s downfall exposes the irony and danger of patriarchy: he
went to war to fight alongside his oppressor in World War I and also to
command respect, approval, and masculinity. But due to the war’s atrocities, Plum was unable to cope and he was subsequently drawn to opiates.
There were no resources or Veteran’s Affairs for black men during the
time. Shortly after World War I, a mass hysteria regarding the “negro
dope menace” and a perceived sexual threat against white women fueled
the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1918, as researched by Rufus King (737).
The introduction of this act “allowed the narcotics addict to be pushed
out of society and relegated to the criminal community” (King 738).
In addition to vicious drug criminalization efforts targeting black men,
Barbara Holden-Smith asserts that the Harrison Act also provoked the
rampant mass lynchings of people of color that continued until 1968
(36–38). Although Sula’s narrative never expresses these threats, this
was the social current that shaped black communities in early-twentieth
century America.
Despite the gravity of Plum’s situation, many critics seem unable
to make the connection between patriarchy, masculine failure, predatory criminalization, and their involvement in Plum’s demise. Critics
commonly engage in mother-blame by asserting that Plum is already
doomed due to excessive mothering, and thus his failure is inevitable.
They also claim that this “excessive mothering” is supported by Eva’s
coldness towards her daughters (Lounsberry and Hovet 128). These
scholars attempt to rationalize Plum’s demise, claiming that Eva is at
fault for “[swaddling him in] love and affection” until he goes to war
(Morrison 45). However, we cannot attribute his downfall to Eva’s
parenting skills. Instead, Plum’s situation highlights the pervasiveness
of patriarchal gender roles: men are to be valued and uplifted, while
women are to be commoditized and taught submission. If anything,
Eva’s polarized interactions with her daughters and sons expose how
patriarchy affects the “dynamics [in] mother-child-relationships … ‘Female children are quite literally starved … for physical nurturance and a
legacy of power and humanity from adults of their own sex’ ” (Eckard
54). Eva’s discriminatory affection strongly suggests her own internalized sexism. Eva actively establishes and maintains “the interpersonal
and institutionalized mistreatment of [her children] on the basis of their
[sex]” (Bearman et al. 13). Contrary to the scholarly claims of excessive mothering, Eva’s unabashed affection for only her son is problematic because it reveals just how far patriarchy can violate the oppressed.
To reiterate bell hooks, “patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their
sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others.” As such it teaches women that their value is in
their ability and willingness to be dominated, leaving Eva no reason to
nurture her daughters (hooks 70).
Plum’s ultimate demise stems from his inability to conform to patriarchal masculinity and dominant culture. That being said, in the moments before Plum’s death Eva is in a rare moment of vulnerability and
determination. She lugs herself up several flights of stairs and scoops
Plum into her arms, rocking him as she reminisces about his childhood.
As Eva quietly cries, she reaches over to Plum’s desk to drink a glass of
“strawberry crush,” when she realizes it’s blood-tainted water (Morrison
46). This is the moment she decides to kill him. Plum’s death is highly
aesthetic, and the narrative momentarily shifts towards Plum’s perspective as his mother engulfs him in flames:
Plum on the rim of a warm light sleep was still chuckling …
He felt twilight. Now there seemed to be some kind of wet
light traveling over his legs and stomach with a deeply attractive smell. It wound itself—this wet light—all about him,
splashing and running into his skin. He opened his eyes and
saw what he imagined was the great wing of an eagle pouring
a wet lightness over him. Some kind of baptism, some kind
of blessing, he thought. Everything is going to be all right, it
said. Knowing that it was so he closed his eyes and sank back
into the bright hole of sleep. (Morrison 47)
The relevance in writing Eva’s act of filicide as highly aesthetic violence
is not to be overlooked. If Eva’s deep grief prior to setting Plum on fire
isn’t an ethical compass of sorts to readers, then Plum’s perspective—
albeit drug-induced—definitely is. Morrison’s narrative is intended for
readers to condemn Eva, which is why she prefaced Plum’s death with
an intensely intimate moment between the mother and son, followed by
a passage ridden with salvation imagery.
O’Reilly reminds readers that “Morrison defines the responsibilities
of motherwork in terms of four distinct yet interrelated tasks; namely,
preservation, nurturance, cultural bearing, and healing” (26). Specifically,
O’Reilly defines preservation as physical preservation. She defines nurturance as “black mothers immuniz[ing] their children from racist ideologies by loving them so that they may love themselves in a culture that
defines them as not deserving or worthy of love.” Cultural bearing is
defined as the identification with ancestral memories and properties. Finally, healing is seen as the reconnection of unmothered children to the
motherline (O’Reilly 28). These four properties of motherhood are linear—without preserving, the mother cannot nurture, without nurturing
she cannot bestow ancestral knowledge, and with the proper fulfillment
of the first three properties, no healing is needed. O’Reilly states that
because Eva was only able to preserve her children, she must heal them
in any way she can—hence Plum’s death. However, O’Reilly’s argument
is an overly apologetic one that fails to emphasize the dangers of a belief
in a universal maternal experience. Furthermore, since dominant culture
attributes normative masculinity to the authenticity of maternal experience, the dangers of universal masculinity are also overlooked. Eva is
long removed from her African ancestry and thus only carries fragments
of that ancestral knowledge—her life’s perspective is inarguably intertwined within the dominant culture.
Eva justifies her act to Hannah by stating “he was a man, girl … a
big man can’t be a baby all wrapped up inside his mamma no more; he
suffocate” (Morrison 72). Morrison herself stated that Eva’s murder is
“absolutely the right thing to do but also the thing she had no right to
do” in her interview with Danille Kathleen Taylor-Guthrie (185). As
with Eva’s leg, the aestheticization of the disfigured body always exposes
a revealing nuance. While the beauty in Plum’s death is alluring because
it saves him from all of the systemic violence in the patriarchal world,
his mother still committed a heinous and unimaginably painful act that
cannot be justified under any circumstances. Eva’s attempts to save her
son from judgment and persecution only repeat the same violence she
endures in order to survive.
To echo Nissen, the maternal ethics in Sula are determined by the
reader as they are swept between sympathy and dismay. The recognition that these emotions are not separate allows the reader to make the
judgment that the maternal experience and the authenticity of maternal
love is individually determined. In the case of Eva, her genuine love,
regardless of what form it may take, allows the reader to understand her
and pause their tendency to condemn women who commit infanticide
or filicide. Eva’s situation then, becomes more telling of the dangers of
blindly forcing dominant ideals without considering ancestral, individual,
and experiential histories.
Hannah and Sula: Maternal Love and Rejection
Following Plum’s death and the blurring between maternal sacrifice and
violence, Morrison intersects maternal love and rejection, showing that
one often does not exist without the other. Readers first see this when
Hannah discusses the burdens of motherhood with a frustrated friend.
Upset that her daughter had been causing her grief, Hannah responds to
her friend by stating “you love her, like I love Sula. I just don’t like her.
That’s the difference. … They different people, you know” (Morrison
57). Hannah boldly identifies a distinction between loving and liking your
child—that loving does not necessitate liking. This proclamation catapulted Sula into puberty, causing her rejection of the maternal. However,
what is of greater interest at this point is Hannah’s difference in behavior
as her role changes from mother to daughter.
Despite Eva’s hardships, Hannah is unable to recognize or equate
those sacrifices as love. Even with Hannah’s own unique and truthful
views of motherhood, when she is the child in the mother-child relationship, she too is influenced by patriarchal ideals. People are first children
before they are parents—and in a subjugated community where parental
presence is forcefully sparse, these children are most vulnerable to pa-
triarchal ideals. Hannah can differentiate between loving and liking her
child when she is the mother. Just like her daughter, when she is the child,
her sense of self is so attached to her mother’s adherence to dominant
maternity that it prevents a higher level of understanding and empathy
between the two (Morgenstern 8). The reader can see this conflict of
ideas when Hannah asks Eva if she ever loved them or played with them,
to which Eva responds:
You settin’ here with your healthy-ass self and ax me did I
love you? Them big old eyes in your head would a been two
holes full of maggots if I hadn’t … I’m talkin’ ’bout 18 and
95 … What would I look like leapin’ ’round that little old
room playin’ with youngins with three beets to my name? …
Ain’t that love? You want me to tinkle you under the jaw and
forget ’bout them sores in your mouth? … what you talkin’
’bout did I love you girl I stayed alive for you can’t you get
that through your thick head? (Morrison 68-69)
Here, Hannah’s socially unique view of motherhood is based solely on her
experience as a mother. As soon as her role is switched from mother to
daughter, she returned to the child-centric, socially prescribed definition
of motherhood. She questions her mother’s sacrifices—engaging in hard
labor usually reserved for men, using the food to save Plum, sacrificing
her leg to provide for them—because she did not feel the hallmark motherhood that the dominant culture tells children they deserve. Perhaps even
worse is that Eva is given the rare opportunity as a mother to express her
voice, but is muted by the influence of child-centric patriarchy. Hannah
commits ethical violence against the very woman who separated her body
into pieces to ensure her survival.
Despite living through single motherhood, social marginalization,
and poverty like her mother, Hannah is still unable to grow into a woman
and face the many layers of motherhood as the child of that imperfect
mother. Even after her mother’s heartfelt testimonial and rare expression
of deep emotion, she quickly engulfs herself in domestic work and falls
asleep. Hannah is the first character to strictly verbalize her progressive
views on motherhood. She is still deeply trapped within dominant ideals; her only chance at freedom is suffering a terrific death like Plum’s.
Hannah’s death by fire while tending to conventional female tasks is yet
another indicator of the dangers and harms of the values of patriarchal
domesticity (Eckard 37–53).
Hannah’s death is both beautiful and horrifying. Initially her death
is foreshadowed by dreams of beautiful red weddings; when Hannah
catches on fire, Morrison writes, “the flames from the yard fire were licking the blue cotton dress, making [Hannah] dance” (Morrison 75). However, as the neighbors try to save her by pouring water on her, it produces
steam, “which seared to sealing all that was left of the beautiful Hannah
Peace” (76). Morrison complicates Hannah’s death by paralleling it with
Plum’s death, which is packed with olfactory and visual imagery. It then
becomes unclear what readers should make of it. Ogunyemi suggests
that Hannah’s death is a sort of karma, proving Eva’s wrongdoing. Yet,
O’Reilly claims that Hannah’s death is just another example of salvation through death of fire. Both these scholars produce an interpretation
that leaves something unanswered in Sula. If we are to follow the logic
that the “maternal body is the source of … metaphor to undergird the
realities of female experience” then the maternal body becomes a “perversely unifying symbol” (Eckard 37–53). Specifically, what does Hannah’s disfigurement reveal about her society, and how does that unite the
black women of her community?
Hannah’s death is foreshadowed by a dream of a red wedding, a
symbol of patriarchal values in itself, yet no groom is ever mentioned.
What could this groomless red wedding mean? Surely it must have
more purpose than predicting a death by fire? Hannah’s red wedding
dress symbolizes the marriage of a passionate and sexually attuned
woman to her patriarchal community; however, a sexually independent and antithetical mother like this cannot exist. Hannah only attains
freedom through death, much like a marriage vow. She is therefore
punished by the patriarchy she adheres to, which is ironically the only
way she can achieve freedom. The maternal body is destroyed by domesticity here. Hannah is married and bound to the very institution
that seeks to silence and destroy her. It is also worth considering that
the only other wedding in Sula features Sula’s dear childhood friend,
Nel, as the bride; and she too experiences destruction of self and an
agony “that had no bottom or top, just circles and circles of sorrow”
(Morrison 174).
Lastly, the most complex of the Peace women is Sula, as her growth
as a woman and person is a direct result of her matrilineal legacy. Many
critics such as Carolyn Jones attribute Sula’s departure from Bottom
and her return as an “other” as a victory in part due to her biblical entrance. However, it is important to note the diction Morrison chooses
by opening Part Two with: “Accompanied by a plague of robins, Sula
came back to Medallion” (89). While the symbolism associated with
robins is that of redemption, renewal, salvation, and spring, the use of
the word “plague” suggests that something is problematic. Any good
entity in excess—certainly in such excess that it becomes a plague—
is detrimental to the individual and greater community. Nevertheless,
with a college diploma on one hand and a long line of white and black
sexual suitors, Sula appears to thrive intellectually and sexually. She
even unites Medallion in their hatred for her; this hatred is fueled by
her sexual union with white men, which is a gross transgression in the
black community of Medallion.
Armed with liberal white Christian education and values, Sula re-enters Medallion and exercises her womanly independence. Regardless of her
sexual transgressions, she is not hated until she severs herself from her ancestral culture by shoving Eva in a nursing home—an act that is absolutely
unimaginable in African-American customs (O’Reilly 44). O’Reilly argues
that this is where Morrison’s commentary lies: because Sula’s inability to
accept the deep and complex layers of motherhood and maternal emotion, she chooses to sever herself from her cultural bearing which in turns
severs her ability to heal (48). Sula’s only chance to heal herself from her
relatively unmothered past was to reconnect with Eva. Yet she fully rejects her matrilineal legacy in favor of dominant culture that values youth,
independence, and uniformity. Sula is deprived of the only relationship
that can save her. Shortly after Eva’s admittance to the nursing home, Sula
dies alone, taking her dominant cultural values to the grave with her. Symbolically and metaphorically, Sula’s untimely death is a commentary on the
unsustainability of dominant culture in the greater world. In terms of the
greater context of the novel, Sula should not be condemned for rejecting her family; instead it should be read as another tragedy due to social
marginalization and the rejection of the various realities of the maternal
experience. The Peace women were only able to preserve their children
because of their crippling circumstances, and had “no time” to nurture
their children in a way that would teach them to love their ancestral lineage, and themselves, despite the dominant ideal. The result is a matrilineal lineage of “circles and circles of sorrow” of which Eva, Hannah, and
Sula all fall victim (Morrison 174).
Sula and a Reflection on Contemporary Motherhood
The maternal body was the platform in which patriarchy built its pillars. Morrison inverts and disfigures this ideological maternal body to
expose a metaphorical platform in order to instigate the critique of patriarchal culture. Eva’s sacrifices, and the voluntary amputation of her
leg, exposes the disturbing extent to which the mother is given sovereign responsibility of her children’s wellbeing. In the case of women of
color and underprivileged women, this form of sovereign responsibility
ethically harms women so as to fragment them into pieces (Morgenstern 11). This form of thinking also fuels maternal transgressions such
as filicide, as women are increasingly valued based on the acceptability
of their children. Although Eva’s particular case is an attempt to resist
these oppressive forces, the tragedy lies in her motivation that is formed
by patriarchy. Lastly, what is perhaps the greatest tragedy of Sula is the
child’s inability to identify, empathize, and rationalize her mother’s dualities, which causes women to be the inculcators of patriarchal sexist
thought (hooks 70).
I would like to conclude this essay by placing my critique of dominant
motherhood and Sula in conversation with contemporary issues of motherhood. Even in the twenty-first century, where we have the luxury of
experiencing many forms of femininity and masculinity with increasing
acceptance, motherhood is still surprisingly homogeneous. Dominant culture today still looks at motherhood in a singular way: the role of mothers
is to produce functioning and socially viable children. The gaze of our
community today has not softened for mothers; women whose toddlers
throw themselves in the candy aisle of grocery stores still receive judgmental glares. Even more disturbing is our tendency to cannibalize unfit
mothers that media flashes on our televisions as bait—if not to judge,
then to validate our own imperfect maternal experience. As seen in Sula,
no good can result from this judgment, and it is vital to remember that
literature often serves as a more accurate reflection of our reality and the
consequences of it. Women and mothers perform the same individual
analysis of motherhood to determine where our ethical compasses must
point, and slow our human tendency to form to the binaries of good and
bad. In order to dismantle oppressive patriarchal motherhood, we must
remind ourselves that motherhood is good and bad; joyful and sorrowful;
fulfilling and disappointing.
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In the Eye of the Beholder:
The Face of Il Gesù
Aubree Mladenovic, class
of 2015, graduated summa
cum laude with a degree in
Art History/Arts Management.
The topic for this paper stemmed from Professor Catherine Lusheck’s
Baroque Art class and our studies on the rhetoric of the art and
architecture of post-Tridentine Rome. Specifically, it was the Church of
Il Gesù, and the imposing appearance of its façade, that made such an
impression on me that I was inspired to explore how and why it could
visually express such grandiosity. My research thus began with an indepth study of early modern architectural theory. I focused on the texts
of Vitruvius, Alberti, Serlio, and other classical writers, specifically on the
human characteristics they attributed to architecture, to support the
reading of the façade as a face. I then explored the concept of physiognomy
which is deeply rooted in the classical tradition. In physiognomy, features of
a face can portray one’s disposition, and it was through this theoretical lens
that I argue how the exterior, or face, of Il Gesù, expresses the character of
its interior.
—Aubree Mladenovic
In her excellent essay, “In the Eye of the Beholder: The Face of Il Gesù,” Art
History/Arts Management graduate, Aubree Mladenovic convincingly argues
that the influential, late 16th-century façade of the first Jesuit church in
Rome was designed to act as an imposing architectural front meant to betray the structure’s—and by extension, the Order’s and its patron, Cardinal
Alessandro Farnese’s—most fundamental, humanist values. Grounding her
discussion deeply in Renaissance physiognomic and architectural theory, as
well as in humanist traditions of portraiture, Aubree extends Leon Battista
Alberti’s Renaissance metaphor of a church as an architectural “body” quite
literally to its new, Baroque “face.” As the imposing, architectural element
designed to reflect the Order’s classically inspired concerns for stability,
balance, and order—and by extension, the Jesuits’ new role in fostering and
maintaining these values in post-Tridentine, Catholic Rome—this new design further exemplifies the central role that art and architecture played in
widely disseminating some of the earliest Jesuits’ most profound messages.
—Catherine H. Lusheck, Art History/ Arts Management
(Department of Art + Architecture)
In the Eye of the Beholder:
The Face of Il Gesù
CHURCH OF IL GESÙ IN ROME, Italy (Fig. 1), was one of the most
influential architectural projects of the Post-Tridentine era. It was
the first commission by the Jesuit Order and was patronized by Cardinal
Alessandro Farnese (1520-89) in 1561. Immediately striking in its appearance, Il Gesù stands as the mother church of the Society of Jesus
and a symbol of its growth as one of the most reformed orders that
emerged out of the Counter Reformation.1 The strong organization of
the Jesuit Order and its devotion to education and conversion inspired
a unique building program in order to more firmly establish the Order’s
presence in Rome. The construction of Il Gesù demonstrates the climate
of reform that inspired many changes to the interior designs of subsequent Roman Catholic churches in Europe, such as the alteration of the
nave to accommodate larger assemblies for year-round preaching and
the construction of distinct side chapels to allow for multiple masses.2
Completed in 1580 with contributions by Italian architects Giacomo
Barozzi da Vignola (1507-73) and Giacomo della Porta (ca.1533-1602),
the overall design of Il Gesù expresses a unique character. Yet it is largely
through the graceful and imposing façade that the character most reveals
itself. The expression of character is particularly relevant to the concept of physiognomy that emerged in classical scholarship. As a study of
how the external features of humans can describe their internal dispositions, physiognomy placed predominant attention on facial features for
the purpose of reading one’s character: “Taking as a starting-point the
existence of a reciprocal relation between body and soul, physiognomics dealt with establishing fixed rules for the reading of permanent traits
of character from both the structure of the parts of the body and of
the body as a whole.”3 Branching from the concept of physiognomy
1 Loren Partridge, The Art of Renaissance Rome: 1400-1600 (New York: Harry N.
Abrams, Inc., 1996), 57.
2 James S. Ackermann, “The Gesù in the Light of Contemporary Church Design” in
Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution, ed. Rudolf Wittkower et al. (New York: Fordham
University Press, 1972), 19.
3 Michael Kwakkelstein, Leonardo da Vinci as a physiognomist: Theory and drawing practice.
(Leiden: Primavera Pers, 1994), 44.
and ideas drawn from early modern architectural theory to compare human features with architectural elements, and the moral language around
both, I will argue that exteriors can be reflections of interiors, and that
the façade of Il Gesù can be read as a “face” that portrays the character
and values of the church behind it.
The reputation of the Church of Il Gesù as an undeniable exemplar
of new, ecclesiastical architecture in post-Reformation Europe stems
from its contextual significance and visual exceptionality. The overall
scale of the Church of Il Gesù and the grandeur of its façade reflect the
attempts of the Jesuit Order to attract more worshipers. The church was
indeed the largest built after the Sack of Rome and the second largest
overall after St. Peter’s Basilica.4 According to Robert Sénécal, the “practice of restoration gained momentum during the period of the Counter
Reformation because of the wish of successive popes that Rome should
present a decorous face to the increasing number of pilgrims visiting the
city, especially for the jubilees of 1575 and 1600.”5 Notably, the year the
construction of the façade of Il Gesù was completed, 1575, drew nearly
400,000 pilgrims to Rome for the Jubilee of Gregory XIII.6 This timing
suggests a possible incentive for the patrons of the church to organize
such a grand architectural project that coincided with a huge influx of
visitors from around Europe. The excitement that was built up around
the Jubilee was reinforced by the desire of the Jesuit Order to make a
strong public impression through newly designed ecclesiastical constructions and renovations. Art historian Anthony Blunt even suggests that
contemporary patrons and their architects sought to express papal ideology in a more imposing, rhetorical way: “so that their splendor and their
religious character may force themselves even on the casual spectator.”7
What better way to make such a statement to a pilgrim or common visi4 Clare Robertson, ‘Il Gran Cardinale’: Alessandro Farnese, Patron of the Arts (New Haven;
London: Yale University Press, 1992), 181.
5 Robert Sénécal, “Carlo Borromeo’s Instrucciones Fabricae et Supellectilis Ecclesiasticae and
its origins in the Rome of his time,” Papers of the British School at Rome 68 (2000): 244.
6 Lorenzo Canova, “1575 The Jubilee of Gregory XIII, Art and Religious Devotion after the Council of Trent,” in Rejoice! 700 Years of Art for the Papal Jubilee, ed.
Maurizio Calvesi (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1999), 94.
7 Anthony Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy: 1450-1600 (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1956), 128.
tor than to present the power of the Jesuit Order, the name of Cardinal
Farnese, and the grandeur of Roman architecture all in one imposing
stone façade?
A detailed visual analysis of the Gesù façade reveals the specific,
classicizing architectural elements that make its design both impressive,
and worthy of a physiognomic reading as the public, humanist “face” of
a venerable architectural body. First of all, the harmony of two oppositional forces is eloquently expressed in the façade of Il Gesù through a bilateral design that simultaneously suggests differentiation and unity. The
church’s facade is symmetrical along the vertical axis, yet also asymmetrical along the horizontal axis; the width of the façade is thus countered
by the steep, vertically split two-story design. This arrangement creates
a strong sense of balance, and suggests unity in the meeting of the two
axes. Variety is then displayed through the mixing of both rounded and
triangular pediment shapes above the sculptural niches and through the
replacement of a doorway for an arched window and balustrade on the
second story. The harmony created by the arrangement and variation of
architectural elements ultimately establishes a central focal point for the
façade. The more sculptural ornamentation is restricted to the central
area where the horizontal and vertical axes meet as if contained within
a circle that extends from the main rounded pediment. The seal of the
new Society of Jesus, the Roman style inscription dedicated to Cardinal
Farnese, the sculptural niches, and the decorative Corinthian and Composite columns are all arranged in this concentrated space. These classically inspired components are direct references to the character of the
church that make a greater impression on its beholder.
Notable differences between the plans for the façade by original architect Vignola and the final façade design by Giacomo della Porta reveal
how a sense of grandeur was both sought and achieved for the front of
the church. Vignola’s plan (Fig. 2), from 1570, is remarkably more sculptural than the final design of 1575. While there are still two stories, split
by a strong cornice, the sense of verticality is heightened, perhaps a little
too much, by the steeper volutes and extension of the edges with fullfigure sculptures. In general, while Vignola’s façade design appears more
elaborate than della Porta’s, it is somewhat less impressive in this elaborateness because there is a weaker distinction between each architectural
element. This is important because Vignola’s plan suggests the deliberate
simplification that occurred in the final façade design by della Porta that
ultimately allowed for the architectural features to carry more emphasis.
One specific area that expresses the success of della Porta’s design
simplification is in the reduction of ornamentation across the frieze
above the Church’s main portals. In Vignola’s earlier plan, numerous
sculptures set between the columns crowded the space that would otherwise bring attention to the central portals. The simplification of the
final façade places greater attention on one of the important visual cues
of the church’s grandeur: the reference to the triumphal Arch of Constantine in the three entrances.8 All that remains along that horizontal
strip are those three entryways, of which the central is the largest. This
arrangement creates a more monumental experience out of the entrance
to the church. The triumphal arch, which alternates narrow, wide, and
narrow entrances, was a classical symbol of stability and harmony9 and a
nod to early Roman architecture. The subtle, yet familiar presence of this
feature on the façade, by extension, helped to legitimize and heighten the
esteem of the Jesuit Order through its celebration of humanist expressions of imperial triumph.
Furthermore, the impressive architectural program present on the
façade of Il Gesù underscores a direct relationship between the physical
features of the church’s exterior and architectural plan and elements of
its interior. For example, the placement of the pairs of columnar pilasters on the façade is of great significance given the spacing between them
correlates with the interior structure of the nave and side chapels (Fig. 3).
The pairs of pilasters on the second story even frame the ceiling space
of the nave, implying a more conceptual representation of the sacred
space. Italian Renaissance architect and theorist, Leon Battista Alberti
(1404-72), claimed that the space between columns was the most important of openings because of the way the viewer perceives it and makes
judgments on its effect as a design.10 It is in the relationship between interior and exterior that this importance is demonstrated. Loren Partridge
notes that no other church before Il Gesù had so intimately connected
Ackerman, 102.
John Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture (Cambridge: MIT Press,
1963), 17.
10 Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, trans. Joseph Rykwert et al.
(Cambridge; London: MIT Press, 1988), 30.
the interior plan with the design of its façade.11 This alignment can also
be seen in the deliberate spacing between the windows, doors, and sculptural niches which acknowledge the equidistant arrangement of the side
chapels inside. The distinction of the side chapels in churches during the
Counter Reformation allowed for simultaneous preaching. Thus, the façade of Il Gesù acted as a symbol of the experience one might encounter
inside the church, even as it aligned with the new Jesuit Order and its
It is this concordance of the façade of Il Gesù and the distinction
of its features with its interior structure that relates to the concept of
humanist preoccupations with physiognomy. Scholarly interests in physiognomics date back to Ancient Greece and Rome where philosophers
applied a systematic treatment to interpreting character as a form of
rhetoric. The pseudo-Aristotelian treatise, Physiognomonics, suggests the
messages man’s proportionality conveys. For example, “an ill-proportioned body indicates a rogue, while a well-proportioned frame is characteristic of upright and brave men.”12 Aristotle believed the body (i.e., the
exterior) and the soul (i.e., the interior) were intimately linked—so much
so that the character and form of one affects the character and form of
the other.13 When applied to architecture, the distinction of visual elements, and their unification with the whole building mimic the structure
of the human body as the sum of its parts. The physiognomic connection between body and soul suggests an intimate relationship between
the exterior and the interior that is evident in the design of Il Gesù.
First, in order to support this physiognomic reading of the façade of
Il Gesù, I will draw from textual examples from Early Modern Italy that
describe architecture in relation to the human body, emphasizing their
connection in a literal and theoretical framework. In 1462, Pope Pius II,
visited the Pienza Cathedral (Fig. 4) during his travels around Italy. His
descriptive, first-hand account of the cathedral’s façade exemplifies his
acute awareness of the structure’s architectural elements and he even
references them in human terms. According to Pius II:
11 Partridge, 58.
12 Evans, 9.
13 Elizabeth C. Evans, Physiognomics in the Ancient World (Philadelphia: The American
Philosophical Society, 1969), 8.
[Pienza Cathedral] was modeled on those of ancient temples
and richly decorated with columns and arches and semicircular niches designed to hold statues … It had three beautifully
proportioned doors, the center one larger than the others,
and a great eye like that of Cyclops…The other walls are
of less precious material but the stones are squared and well
polished with projections like ribs interspersed at regular intervals to strengthen the fabric.14
Pius’s reference to the rose window suggests the importance of eyelike shapes and how their arrangement on a surface, or “face,” could
potentially make a strong impact on a viewer. Rose windows were ritually
placed just above the middle line of a façade.15 This likely relates to the
symmetry of a human face; the eyes, more or less, rest slightly above the
horizontal midline of the head. Indeed, Pius’s contemporary, Alberti,
stated in his treatise On Painting, 1435, that the most significant features
of human faces are the planes that constitute them: “Those faces which
have the planes joined in such a way that they take shades and lights
agreeably and pleasantly, and have no harshness of the relief angles,
these we should certainly say are beautiful and delicate faces.”16 In Early
Modern Italy, the symmetry and agreeableness of a human figure’s face
and well-joined parts clearly corresponded with those of a building’s too.
For Early Modern humanist Jesuits, and their architects della Porta
and Vignola, Roman ideas proved central to their plans. The Roman architect, Vitruvius, wrote the first known treatise on building around 15
BCE, arguing that symmetry is inherent in the human body and similarly
in the construction of temples. Vitruvius claimed that proportionality
would not have come about without the discovery of numbers which
came from the human fingers.17 The famous drawing by Leonardo da
14 Florence A. Gragg, trans. Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope: The Commentaries of Pius II,
ed. Leona C. Gabel (New York: Capricorn Books, 1962), 287.
15 Robert Tavernor, On Alberti and the Art of Building (New Haven; London: Yale
University Press, 1998), 103.
16 Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting, trans. John R. Spencer (New Haven; London:
Yale University Press, 1956), 72.
17 Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, trans. Morris Hicky Morgan (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1914), accessed May 18, 2015, http://www.gutenberg.
org/files/20239/20239-h/29239-h.htm, 75.
Vinci, The Vitruvian Man (Fig. 5), 1490, visually demonstrates the classically inspired idea of proportionality in relation to man’s body. Considering the value Roman—and after them, Renaissance Italian—artists and
architects placed on the harmony of forms and patterns from nature, it
is no wonder that they used the most accessible visual model that demonstrated this idea: the human body. Also inspired by Vitruvius, Alberti
claimed that the ancients even based the shapes and sizes of columns
on the proportions of man’s body: “When they considered man’s body,
they decided to make columns after its image. Having taken the measurements of a man, they discovered that the width, from one side to the
other, was a sixth of the height, while the depth, from navel to kidneys,
was a tenth.”18 It was the consonance of parts that Alberti esteemed in
good architecture as well.
These ideas were echoed nearly one hundred years later in 1554
when Italian architect Pietro Cataneo wrote about the necessity of having the long, Latin cross plan for a church match the proportions the
human body (Fig. 6). He postured that a full figure should fit, according
to scale, within the interior space of the church: legs along the nave,
arms stretched across the transepts and head nuzzled in the space of the
altar.19 Notably, this intentional use of a classical, Roman ideal was seen
only “in the case of temples of the gods, buildings in which merits and
faults usually last forever.”20 As reflected in Cataneo’s example, Vitruvius had established a motive for architects that resonated well into the
sixteenth century when ecclesiastical building programs required special
treatment to express the value and potency of the Church. Vitruvius
wrote: “We can have nothing but respect for those who, in constructing temples of the immortal gods have so arranged the members of the
works that both the separate parts and the whole design may harmonize
in their proportions and symmetry.”21 Thus, the theory behind buildings
for the gods—and in the Catholic Renaissance, for the one God—was
inextricably linked to the accordance of its elements. Using the human
body as a physical model for building ties the two concepts together thus
18 Alberti, On the Art of Building, 309.
19 Vernica Biermann et al, Architectural Theory: From the Renaissance to the Present, 89 Essays on 117 Treatises (Köln: Taschen, 2003), 96.
20 Vitruvius, 73.
21 Ibid, 75.
justifying a physiognomic reading of the façade of Il Gesù.
Considering the parallels drawn between the human body and architecture in Early Modern architectural theory, certain elements of Il Gesù
indeed reference a face. For example, the pediments of strong triangular
and round shapes act as framing devices not unlike eyebrows. Would the
important elements of the façade, such as the entrance and inscription,
draw one’s attention if the pediments were not there to encompass them
with their high relief and framing arch? Perhaps even the windows or entrances all suggest the conceptual space within the church just as an eye
references a “window to the soul.” The special emphasis created by the
pediment shapes reinforces the importance of the exterior architectural
features of the façade as a representation of what is inside. The combination of small pediments above sculptural niches and entrances relate
with the large triangular pediment at the top that both encompasses the
entire central strip of the façade beneath it, and points to the cross atop
the church. The way these pediments accentuate features of the façade
are in line with the structure of human faces where angles, bones, protrusions and even eyebrows all visually frame different parts of the face.
The similarities established by early architectural theories about the
human body and architecture also resonate in the linguistic treatment
of architecture in relation to human characteristics and values. In many
discussions of the five classifications of columns, terms of moral implication such as these are frequently used. For example, in his architectural treatise (of which the first book was published in 1537), Sebastiano
Serlio wrote about how the Corinthian order (Figure 7) can be “dark,”
“confused,” or “crude,” while the Doric order (Fig. 8) is “solid,” “simple,” “soft.”22 In the specific case of intaglios, or inscriptions, the term
“solid,” for example, would be used to describe a building that was “not
weakened by intaglios.”23 He affirms though that “if the intaglios are
22 Sebastiano Serlio, Tutte l’opere d’architettura, trans. Vaughan Hart et al (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2001), 276.
23 Ibid, 276.
compartitioned in the way shown above the doorway, this sort of work
could never be criticized as being ‘confused.’ ”24 The connection with
human characteristics helps clarify and heighten the moral consequences
of using such visual elements. Serlio sought to clearly communicate these
rules for building to practicing architects:
I shall put before them a common comparison from nature
… for example a beautiful, well-formed woman who in addition to her beauty is adorned with sumptuous—but august
rather than lascivious—clothing, and she has a beautiful jewel
on her forehead and two beautiful and expensive pendants
hanging from her ears … However, if many jewels were
placed around her temples, on her cheeks, and on other parts
superfluously, tell me please, would she not be monstrous?25
By referencing a woman’s appearance, with obvious implications
regarding her potentially “monstrous” character, Serlio again links the
vocabulary of human values with the treatment of architecture. Moreover, Serlio’s instructions were also wholly aligned with the decrees of
the Council of Trent regarding religious art: “Finally all lasciviousness
must be avoided; so that figures shall not be painted or adorned with
a beauty inciting lust.”26 The idea of decorum suggested here is woven
into the writings of Serlio who extends it to church architecture. Ornamentation in architecture acts as a visual cue of the morality of a given
structure: too much of it implies an indecorous character and too little of
it perhaps gives an impression of austerity. Considering the ornamentation, or accessorizing, of a human as a distinct expression of one’s style,
Serlio’s text further supports the claim that an architectural façade, much
like a sober, virtuous face in a humanist, Renaissance portrait, held the
potential in early modern Europe to express moral attributes through its
arrangement and quality of visual elements.
24 Serlio, 280. “Compartition is the process of dividing up the site into yet smaller
units, so that the building may be considered as being made up of close-fitting
smaller buildings, joined together like the members of the whole body.” Alberti, On
the Art of Building, 8.
25 Ibid, 280.
26 Blunt, 118.
The subdued decoration of the façade of Il Gesù is in keeping with
these theoretical perspectives. Looking at the façade, we might see that
perhaps those volutes are like pendants—accessories of a sort—that reference an august establishment. Or maybe it is the solidity of the pediment within a pediment that suggests something beautiful and classically
noble yet not ostentatious. Moreover, the apparent blank sides of the
façade that frame the entrances are not to be read as plain and uninteresting, nor is the delicate treatment of column decoration to be seen as
flamboyant. Rather, the modest face of Il Gesù reads harmoniously as
a fine balance between the subtle ornamentation of the façade and the
more expressive iconographic program within the Church (Figure 9).
The interior decoration, particularly the paintings in the side chapels,
reference “heavenly hierarchy and the life of Christ.”27 Aligning with
the Jesuits’ aims to teach and share the devotion of Jesus, the interior
of Il Gesù provided a functional yet intimate experience for large masses
of people.28 The relatively sparse decoration of the façade thus paradoxically functioned as condensed way to express Jesuit predilections for
classically inspired decorum, order and balance on its face.
The similarities between architecture and the human body, as structures whose exteriors reflect their interiors, demonstrate why the concept of physiognomy is an appropriate framework for reading both
faces, and facades as in the case of the Church of Il Gesù. The moral
associations with architectural elements and human features attribute
great significance to the particular aims of architects and their patrons
to express certain messages of character as clearly and impactfully as
possible. Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his treatise, On the Human Body, ca.
1489, that “‘silent’ figures had to be as expressive as if they spoke lest the
beholder should fail to understand the meaning of the event depicted.”29
Although da Vinci references the depiction of a figure in drawing or
painting, perhaps a work of architecture can also be considered a “silent” figure expressed through its visual elements and their accordance
with its interior.
The reading of the façade of Il Gesù as a face and its communica27 Robertson, 194.
28 Ibid, 195.
29 Kwakkelstein, 60.
tion of character thus requires the clarity and readability granted by its
architectural composition. For if the design of the façade indeed portrays a face, that face must represent a character of the most decorous
and attractive nature. The face is decorous in its accordance with classical values of harmony and the reforms of the Council of Trent. This
is evident in the influence of Roman architectural elements, such as the
reference to the Arch of Constantine, and their moral implications, such
as the dignity of the pediments. While the façade maintains its nobility
through these associations, it pushes its ability to impress along humanist
lines through its classical language of balance and order. Considering the
Jesuits’ overall aim to appeal to the public, the grandeur and proportions
of their signature architectural face was design to draw the beholder to
explore what lay inside. The face of Il Gesù ultimately exhibits the perfect
union of a decorous piety and an enticing beauty located in early Jesuit
preferences for order, balance and stability. Its makers sought to invite
people to move inside the church with the gracefully imposing presence
of its exterior, even as they simultaneously projected its status as a harmonious and powerful symbol of the Jesuit Order. To gaze upon such
a face would not only have been aesthetically pleasing, but one of the
most inspiring and enlightening experiences a beholder could have then
Figure 1. Church of Il Gesù, 1561-1580, Rome, Italy.
Figure 2. Design for Il Gesù façade, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, 1570.
Figure 3. Plan of Il Gesù, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, ca.1564.
Figure 4. Pienza Cathedral, Pienza, Italy, ca. 1460.
Figure 5. Leonardo da Vinci, The Vitruvian Man, 1490.
Figure 6. Pietro Cataneo, drawing of Vitruvian man in basilica plan, ca. 1554.
Figure 7. Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, detail of Corinthian order from The Five
Orders of Architecture, 1562.
Figure 8. Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, detail of Doric order from The Five Orders of
Architecture, 1562.
Figure 9. Interior detail of Il Gesù.
Ackermann, James S. “The Gesù in the Light of Contemporary Church Design.” In Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution, edited by Rudolf Wittkower
and Irma B. Jaffe, 15–28. New York: Fordham University Press, 1972.
Alberti, Leon Battista. On Painting. Translated by John R. Spencer. New Haven;
London: Yale University Press, 1956.
Alberti, Leon Battista. On the Art of Building in Ten Books. Translated by Joseph
Rykwert, Neil Leach, Robert Tavernor. Cambridge; London: MIT Press,
Biermann, Veronica, Alexander Grönert, Christoph Jobst, Roswith Stewering. Architectural Theory: From the Renaissance to the Present, 89 Essays on 117
Treatises. Köln: Taschen, 2003.
Blunt, Anthony. Artistic Theory in Italy: 1450–1600. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1956.
Canova, Lorenzo. “1575 The Jubilee of Gregory XIII, Art and Religious Devotion after the Council of Trent.” In Rejoice! 700 Years of Art for the Papal
Jubilee, ed. Maurizio Calvesi, 92–103. New York: Rizzoli International
Publications, 1999.
Evans, Elizabeth C. Physiognomics in the Ancient World. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1969.
Gragg, Florence A., trans. Memoirs of A Renaissance Pope: The Commentaries of
Pius II ed. Leona C. Gabel. New York: Capricorn Books, 1962.
Kwakkelstein, Michael. Leonardo da Vinci as a physiognomist: Theory and drawing
practice. Leiden: Primavera Pers, 1994.
Partridge, Loren. The Art of Renaissance Rome: 1400–1600. New York: Harry N.
Abrams, Inc., 1996.
Robertson, Clare. ‘Il Gran Cardinale’ Alessandro Farnese, Patron of the Arts. New
Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1992.
Sénécal, Robert. “Carlo Borromeo’s Instrucciones Fabricae et Supellectilis Ecclesiasticae
and its origins in the Rome of his time.” Papers of the British School at Rome
68 (2000): 241–67.
Serlio, Sebastiano. Tutte l’opere d’architettura. Translated by Vaughan Hart and
Peter Hicks. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
Summerson, John. The Classical Language of Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press,
Tavernor, Robert. On Alberti and the Art of Building. New Haven; London: Yale
University Press, 1998.
Vitruvius. The Ten Books On Architecture. Translated by Morris Hicky Morgan.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914. Accessed May 18, 2015.
Girls Like Us
Grace Berg, class of 2018,
is pursuing a degree in English with an
emphasis in writing.
The capstone project in RHET 130–131: Written and Oral Communication
was an assignment to persuasively and bravely confront an issue with which
we each could wrap up the year-long course’s topics explored in our extensive speaking and writing. With “Girls Like Us,” originally a speech constructed in the aftermath of the 2014 suicide of Leelah Alcorn, I used this
final project to name Conversion Therapy as the killer it is, knowing that
its atrocities are a shared experience between Leelah and myself and that
it was named as a cause of her death. As I spent the semester’s final weeks
exploring and defining the scope of this deplorable practice and arguing for
its criminalization, Professor Dempster (as well as the entire class) created
the atmospehre and opportunity to allow this essay to be vulnerable and
empowered in a topic so often shrouded in shame; and, as even just one
narrative breaks the silence, I am forever grateful for the space and opportunity to shed light on this dehumanizing injustice.
—Grace Berg
Grace Berg’s brave essay, “Girls Like Us,” skillfully integrates pathos and
logos, realms of the personal and social. She seamlessly weaves rich narrative and reflection with perceptive analysis of Conversion Therapy, including
its abusive methods, historical roots, and devastating effects. Giving voice to
collective trauma, Grace shares her own experiences and those of others who have survived heterosexist so-called “therapies” that damage the
body and poison the mind; she reveals the cycle of shame and secrecy that
follows which, for some, leads to suicide, “. . . a faintly luminescent EXIT
sign flickering in the back of a dark theater.” Despite the pervasive nature
of the problem, Grace’s argument empowers us by offering pathways to
transformation: our need to understand the complexity of sexuality and the
importance of banning this practice—now. Brilliantly rendered and fearless,
this essay shocks us awake.
—Brian Komei Dempster, Department of Rhetoric and Language
Girls Like Us
before I learned the iconic dance to “Single
Ladies” by Beyoncé, almost a full six years after it became a cultural
staple and viral YouTube trend. It’s tragic, I know; but, to be fair, my
childhood and early adolescence had left me knowing very little about
secular culture at all.
My parents are Evangelical Christians and have had a strict parenting style to match their “old school” fundamentalist ideology, but the first
two of their five children had loosened their parenting methods by the
time I became their third pre-teen. After a certain debacle that went down
in 2006, featuring a contraband Black Sabbath album (found in my older
brother’s bedroom) that served as a catalyst for a summer spent watching
seven VHS-tapes called They Sold Their Souls for Rock and Roll (a less-thanriveting “rockumentary” about popular music albums serving as conduits
for demonic possession), my parents have been pretty relaxed about the
music that their kids choose. Radical rhetoric had done very little for our
family; however, the real turning point was the discovery that my dad was
really into classic hard rock. Sure, my parents still aren’t crazy about my
now-teenage little sister’s previous affection toward Miley Cyrus, but they
just let her enjoy the music before their lecture on what should/shouldn’t
be “twerked” upon. If I’d wanted to download “Single Ladies” when it
came out, they would have taken no offense at all.
My seclusion from the beautiful world of secular music and Beyoncé
was, at the time, seemingly of my own free will. Mom and Dad wouldn’t
have cared if I added some Destiny’s Child to my early collection, but
I was determined to only listen to Christian music, Christian podcasts,
Christian news sources, and Christian sermons to fill my time; because,
according to Love In Action ministries, that’s what I needed to do if I
wanted to be straight (“Healing the Broken”). Their rhetoric and coercive strategizing, ingrained in me after I attended one of their workshops
at a church conference, limited my entire worldview to one small bubble
of internalized heterosexism.
Ex-Gay Therapy (commonly referred to as Reparative Therapy,
Conversion Therapy, or Gender-Specific Therapy, interchangeably) is
a historically longstanding psychological experiment in transforming
homosexual people into heterosexuals under the coercion of dangerous medical procedures, self-hatred inducing behavioral therapy, and an
endless cycle of spiritual upheaval and repentance. The specific type of
isolation I experienced, after learning from Love In Action, is colloquially called “Praying the Gay Away” and is, thankfully, the least physically scarring methodology used to increase an individual’s “heterosexual
potential” (Rosik 275). In this practice, I was completely immersed in
anti-homosexual doctrine and propaganda, kept woefully unaware of
anything positive or neutral that could be said of those of us who identified as LGBTQ, and repeatedly told that prayer and staunch Christianity
could deliver anyone from being a gay adult in the future. (Of course,
given the “information” that gay adults are fundamentally incapable of
forming lasting relationships in their current state of hopelessness, were
intrinsically mentally ill, and only sought to be hell-bound sinners, that
was a goal that I had for myself.) If I failed at becoming soundly heterosexual, it was my own fault for not trying hard enough … and, as Biblepounding adults in my life frequently highlighted in their sermons and
conversations—God could not and would not accept me into Heaven
unless I succeeded.
The damage done to me personally, as well as for many other recipients of this “treatment,” leads me to the conclusion that Reparative
Therapy is not reparative at all; in fact, it is psychologically and physically
scarring, promotes the hatred of homosexual people in our culture’s fringe
communities, and should be finally criminalized in the United States.
I mention “fringe communities” because, at its core, isolation functions as a major tool in the coercion of the young people seeking conversion. Because I had never met a gay person in my life, I believed the “ExGay” speaker (later to be identified as–surprise!–only the most flaming
of homosexuals) who said that “[His] homosexual tendencies were the
Devil’s way of killing [his] future children and depriving [his] future wife
of a loving husband and leader” (“Healing the Broken”). There was no
one in the world telling me (or any of the others in that brief seminar)
anything different, so we instantly took this man at his word. After all,
he’d changed, hadn’t he? Repair must be possible; or, at least, we had to
hold on to the hope that it could be, because we had no other choice.
After being conditioned to believe homosexuality is the worst possible option, patients will do just about anything to become heterosexual,
including bodily damage to their persons. In this vein, another common
Ex-Gay Therapy method is “Aversion Therapy,” kept alive in recent years
by NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals). These methods of re-orienting sexuality and gender usually include some variation of shock therapy, an ethically dubious throwback to
the asylums of the 1930s (One Nation Under God). In a typical session, the
patient is shown homosexual imagery—sometimes just a picture of two
men or two women shaking hands—while simultaneously being given an
electric shock or other unpleasant physical stimulus to their hands, chest,
arms, head, and/or genitals. Besides electricity, stimuli can range from
nausea-inducing drugs being administered intravenously to practitioners
wrapping electric coils (similar to those used in electric stoves) around
the wrists to burn the skin. As a result, the patient comes to associate
their sexual orientation with tremendous amounts of anxiety, crippling
pain, and generalized feelings of helplessness (Green).
Often, these patients submit to their series of treatment under the
threat of violence or neglect, often threatened by their parents or other
trusted adults, as the vast majority of unwilling participants are teenagers
who are not yet legal adults. One such individual, now a twenty-something MIT graduate student named Samuel Brinton, recalls receiving this
treatment on a missionaries’ compound in northern Florida. In an interview with ABC Australia, he recalls the experience of his parents beating
him to the point of hospitalization only weeks before being introduced
to a strange man, and to Reparative Therapy:
The man told me that all gay people had been rounded-up
and killed, and I was the only one left. They didn’t know how
I’d slipped through, but I would be killed by the government
if I didn’t change … Later, they told me that I had AIDS and
was going to die. I was eleven, and I didn’t have AIDS, but
I believed that I would die if I didn’t change. It was mental
terror. I was in tears at the dining room table every night,
praying … Next came what I call ‘The Month of Hell’. I
was strapped to a chair … needles pushed into my fingers
… electric coils wrapped around my wrist … and I would
be shocked and burned whenever they showed a picture of
two men on the screen … To this day, I still feel excruciating
pain when a man touches me, even just in a handshake. (“Gay
Conversion USA”)
This horror story is a tale as old as time, because the heterosexist,
discriminatory attitudes and values supporting gender- and sexualitycorrective behavior are deeply rooted in Western culture and history.
The most influential accounts of Ex-Gay transformative efforts originate from Nazi German concentration camps circa World War II, when
homosexuals (like Jewish people and other socially marginalized undesirables) were imprisoned in work camps and death camps, some of which
conducted bizarre medical experiments on prisoners. As a clear label to
guards and Nazi officials onsite, gay/bisexual men were given pink triangles to wear in lieu of the Jude yellow stars, and lesbians had the black
triangle patches relegated to prostitutes and social outcasts. (In that time
period, as is often the case today, women were not seen as being sexual
beings capable of true perversion, so their sex acts were indistinguishable
from simply being antisocial.) Able to pick homosexuals out from among
the prisoners, especially gay and bisexual men, the Auschwitz–Birkenau
Memorial and Museum records that gays were subject to “conversion”
treatments including massive hormone injections, electric shocks, mutilation of the genitals, and castration performed without anesthesia (Neander). The Journal of Contemporary History states that when Allied forces
liberated these camps, homosexuals were the only prisoners who were
not freed because same-sex relationships were still illegal in that time period. Instead, these particular Holocaust victims were sent to local prisons to live out their sentences instead of being returned to their grieving
families (Giles). As the world recovered from the atrocities under the
Third Reich, the war crimes committed against homosexuals were largely
ignored. Even as victims of these terrible injustices, gay people were an
untouchable subject and unworthy of public recognition or apology; it’s
no wonder that, following this history, homosexuals become an underground part of societal structures and continue to feel marginalized.
In the middle of the twentieth century, “research” continued in an
effort to modify gender and sexual orientation. Castration remained a
popular punishment for homosexual men, well into the 1950s, but lesbians were typically subjected to hormone experimentation or committed
to mental hospitals (Carter). Psychological therapy, including behavioral
therapy, gained popularity in the decades to follow.
One such therapeutic study, conducted in 1970, was George Reyker’s
“Sissy Boy Experiment” that focused on correcting feminine manner-
isms in young boys between the ages of three and eight (Cooper). Reyker
gave instructions for the parents of his young male subjects, all worried
about their sons’ effeminacy, to ignore their children whenever they expressed a feminine mannerism, played in “gender-inappropriate” ways,
or spoke in a “lofty” tone. When interviewed for CNN earlier this year,
the parents revealed how they counted the instances of “sissy” behavior
using poker chips. At the end of the day, they gave their sons one beating for every poker chip that he’d collected, often reporting that they
left severe welts and scars from the repetition of this punishment (Cooper). Reykers claimed one subject as a success story, and he still cites the
experiment as a successful reorientation of feminine behavior … even
though his “success story” patient committed suicide as a direct result
of his therapy experience (Cooper). Reyker doesn’t seem to be in a place
to judge, either, when you consider that he was recently caught-up in
a homosexual sex scandal; apparently, he was critical of homosexuality
from a very personal perspective (Savage). The disgust in the gay community over hypocrites like this, those who oppose homosexuality in
others but act on it in their personal lives, is an almost universal hatred in
an otherwise diverse and complicated subculture: While Reykers claimed
to help clients who feared the judgment of God, I doubt he’ll meet God
where he’s going.
Paradoxically, fundamentalist attitudes against homosexuality on
moral grounds, often spurred on by a repressed sexual orientation, only
intensified with the growth of the Gay Rights Movement. As the fight
for LGBTQ rights gained momentum after the Stonewall Riots, historians recorded reparative therapy becoming even more popular within
the Christian Right (Carter). The popular majority no longer deemed
these measures necessary, especially when homosexuality was declassified as a personality disorder in the DSM-II in 1974, but fundamentalist
Christians harbored a sentiment of “Be apart from the world!” that was
a perfect place for Ex-Gay Therapy to grow.
As queer-identified people came out of their closets and into the
spotlight, this oppositional force saw their actions as a sign of the End
Times and the degradation of mankind; and when HIV/AIDS struck
the gay community like a second plague on Sodom in the early 1980s, this
religious fervor gained even more traction (Goodman). Even the medical
community became incredibly homophobic; in the early days, the first
“die-in” protests were that of gay men literally dying on the front steps
of hospitals that refused to admit them (Goodman).
It was a completely unobserved and alien disease at the time, obliterating the gay male population for seemingly no other cause than because of their sexual orientation. Larry Kramer, the author of an autobiographical play called The Normal Heart detailing his experience as the
partner of a man who died of AIDS in 1981, has described how most
gay men at the time knew at least ten good friends who died of the virus
(The Normal Heart). When queer men saw others like them dropping like
flies for no discernable reason, they flocked to ex-gay organizations that
claimed to save them from God’s judgement. Even further, some of
these organizations promised that God would cure the AIDS of anyone
who repented and became heterosexual (One Nation Under God).
HIV/AIDS infection rates are much lower now. The World Health
Organization estimates a 38% decrease between 2001 and 2013, and the
virus is easily manageable with the proper medication, but the idea of
avoiding God’s wrath still remains prominent in the field of re-orienting
sexuality. As Western culture continues to progress toward equal rights and
protections for LGBTQ Americans, conservative church communities become more and more isolated in their staunch rejection of these principles, including their complete distrust of modern scientific knowledge.
If the modern world, something seen as inherently evil in nature,
approves or disapproves of something on the basis of science or reason, denial of these ideas is misconstrued as an act of blind faith. As a
direct result, practicing ex-gay therapists do not require certification of
any kind. (Legally, they get away with this through Religious Exemption laws.) Even just a few years ago, in the twenty-first century, science
was reported to me as being the Devil’s temptation to sin and doubt
the Bible’s principles (Anderson). Science says that sexual orientation
is innate? Well, that doesn’t matter, because the Bible ostensibly says
something else. Psychology has long ago rejected the idea that homosexuality is a result of child molestation? It doesn’t matter, because ExGay therapists can’t trust any psychologists who state that sexuality is
caused by anything un-sinful, so they continue to repeat that mantra
to their patients and communities. In this Cartesian circular reasoning,
anything that could convince fundamentalist groups of homosexuality’s
validation is discredited on the merits of it validating homosexuality in
the first place, so no one’s mind is changed. Of course, no one’s sexual
orientation is changed either, because sexuality is far more complex than
a simple act of the will.
The emerging science behind sexual orientation is complicated by
its very nature, as the theorized causes are more than psychology and
more than biology. Saying, “Sexual orientation is caused by genetics,” is
like saying, “Star Wars: A New Hope was caused by dinosaurs.” Yes, the
remains of dinosaurs and other ancient biological matter are included
in modern petroleum, and petroleum was used in the mechanized construction of the typewriter that George Lucas used to draft the script of
that awesome movie, but it’s much more complicated than that. Similarly,
homosexuality is much more complex than a simple genetic code, and it
is far too nuanced to be revised by wishy-washy ideas about sin and penance. All of these dangerous therapists, telling children that they were
“turned gay” by something dark and evil that they must have blackedout, have a zero percent success rate. In fact, in all fields and methodologies of Reparative Therapy, not a single person has been successful in
changing their sexual orientation … most, really, don’t survive the treatments long enough to find out. A patient’s will to live is much more easily
broken than their patterns of sexual and romantic attraction.
As a headline from The Onion put it so fantastically: “Gay Conversion
Therapists Claim Most Patients Fully Straight By The Time They Commit Suicide.” The satire is spot-on: Conversion Therapy does a really
poor job of helping a homosexual person “discover their true heterosexual nature” (Green), but it does a positively excellent job of making
homosexual people discover the many ways to end their own lives. In a
1993 interview on the subject, two cofounders of Exodus International
(the world’s largest collection of Reparative Therapy organizations) discuss how they knew hundreds of patients who had attempted suicide
because they felt that they had failed God in remaining gay. Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, as founders, knew many men and women who
died at their own hands. Other drastic measures were taken, as Bussee
remarked in the same interview: “People have cut off their genitals,” he
said. “There was one man, recently, who slashed his genitals with a razor
blade and poured Drain-O on the wounds, to punish himself. He didn’t
want to have one more homosexual thought” (One Nation Under God).
The shame that Ex-Gay survivors feel is magnified in the therapy’s ef-
fectiveness, and thousands of people in these organizations come to the
conclusion that God could forgive them of suicide faster than he could
forgive their constant and inescapable homosexual attractions.
While many advocates of conversion acknowledge the psychological
and emotional risks involved, it’s important to remember that none of
these harmful messages have a positive result: Even Cooper and Bussee,
as of the 1993 interview, announced that they were not actually Ex-Gays.
As they travelled across the country to speak in workshops, like the one
I attended as a teenager, they “accidentally fell in love” with each other,
and are now married with four children (One Nation Under God). While
they were certainly not psychologically or emotionally sound as they
sought to cure their own homosexuality, it can’t be ignored that the very
foundation of Exodus International was laid in hypocrisy.
There are few third-party statistics available about the suicide rate
among Ex-Gay therapy patients and other adherents to their doctrines,
mostly because very few “Ex-Gays” are willing to come forward about
their experiences unless they’ve committed to continuing the treatment
and believe that it will be successful. And, even if they’re willing to admit to undertaking their past/current treatment in Reparative Therapy,
it’s extremely unlikely that a conservative Christian would admit to selfinflicted harm, as suicide is one of the Seven Deadly Sins and is often
seen as an unforgivable and cowardly act. In this instance, both of the
statistical limits are shrouded in secrecy and shame.
I can attest to the fact that psychological effects are incredibly difficult to discuss, and there are many consequences of my Ex-Gay indoctrination that will never go away. There are still days, though they
become rarer with time, when I feel absolutely disgusted with myself. My
sexual orientation and its manifestations, I remember in those moments,
are everything that I’d believed was deplorable about the world. And I’ll
look at my life and imagine what it could be like if I was straight, imagining what it would be like to be so sure of acceptance and love. After so
long believing homosexuals to be incapable and undeserving of love,
I still find myself being suspicious and self-flagellating in response to
most forms of emotional intimacy; and even though I have accepted my
sexual orientation and proudly identify as a lesbian, I frequently relapse
into old habits and watch videos of Ex-Gay sermons on YouTube and
other online video forums, sometimes just for the soothing elements of
my guilt’s familiarity. Some I can almost quote verbatim. Education and
separation have allowed me to see the fault in the actions of those who
poisoned my self-image and sexuality for all those years, but no amount
of information could make the effects disappear completely. My development and perception of myself is severely, if not permanently, damaged by the self-hate that I was taught on Sunday mornings.
There are no easy answers to dealing with the outcome of “Praying
the Gay Away” for so many years. My experience is not exceptional or
extreme among people who faced similar levels of exposure to reparative
action; in fact, testimonials would suggest that I’m one of the lucky ones.
Not every “convert” learns to cope with their psychological trauma.
Every Ex-Gay patient quoted in this paper (Michael Bussee, Gary
Cooper, Samuel Brinton, et al.) has made public remarks about their own
multiple suicide attempts, brought on by the crippling guilt they’ve felt
about their sexual orientation and the depression that followed. Brinton, particularly unlucky, copes with a panic disorder so extreme that it
caused him to run to the bathroom and vomit after experiencing his first
kiss, and he has attempted suicide so often that he keeps a crisis hotline
phone number taped on his fridge and has the local hospital on speed
dial (“Gay Conversion USA”).
Shockingly, even though this “therapy” is ineffective and is proven to
cause horrendous psychological damage, it remains legal in most states.
Major psychological organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, have issued statements
about it being unethical (One Nation Under God) but disapproval does not
equate to criminalization.
This still-too-common problem came to public attention last year
when Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenage girl, posted a suicide note
to a social media site before jumping into oncoming traffic, just months
after beginning Reparative Therapy in “Pray the Gay Away” isolation
similar to that which I experienced (Mohney).
Suicide, like a faintly luminescent EXIT sign flickering in the back
of a dark theater, is distracting until you turn around and decide that the
show is worth watching until the end. Those of us who want to continue
living with our eyes turned to the future, who have been fighting our own
minds and will continue to fight until we lose, fear a fate like Leelah’s.
The last line of her long suicide note, all of which was deleted by her
parents (who buried her as “Joshua,” her assigned name at birth) but was
saved forever by her social media followers, is heart-wrenching:
The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender
people aren’t treated the way I was. My death needs to mean
something. My death needs to be counted in the number of
transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want
someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up”
and fix it.
That’s exactly what’s happening. President Obama, as of April 2015,
has publically declared his disapproval of reparative therapy and has
pledged to work for States’ bans against sexual-orientation and genderidentity conversion, responding to a proposal called “Leelah’s Law” that
began with a petition that circulated extensively around Tumblr in the
wake of Leelah Alcorn’s suicide (Vogel). Not only the Tumblr community, but the wider world and the President of the United States of
America looked at Leelah’s death and said, “That’s fucked up.”
Now, in the broader scope of saving LGBTQ lives from a similar
legacy, the first step in finding a solution is to ban the conversion therapy
that she faced, that I was fortunate enough to survive, and save thousands of girls like us from similar psychological torture: girls who have
been told that they are fundamentally incapable of happiness; men who
are told that they are the murderers of unborn babies; and people who
are told that the only legacy they can leave behind is a suicide note. There
are no positive effects, only physical and psychological damage that will
plague and shorten the lives of those who seek this treatment, and this
abuse has gone on for far too long. We can educate survivors, and we
can give them hope for a happy life, but legislation has to step in and do
what culture cannot. We can not allow this toxicity to kill more Leelahs.
Christian groups, by stripping non-cis (cisgender describing a person
who identifies with the gender assumed of them at birth)/heteronormative people of their identities and destroying their mental and emotional
health, have only displayed how fantastically they have missed the point of
the Bible with which they beat and kill their neighbors. Even when organizations try to “reclaim” the rainbow as a religious (heterosexual) symbol,
they do not understand the damage they have already done. Scripture is a
message of hope, but they are stealing that hope away and instilling fear
As the Genesis story goes, God created the rainbow as a symbol of
renewal and peace. It appeared to Noah after the Flood, promising that
He will never again destroy the Earth and murder its inhabitants for their
wickedness; yet, his followers see that symbol on flags and murder the
ones who bear them, for “wickedness” they perceive in something they
do not understand. The vindictive bloodshed of Reparative Therapy will
not go unnoticed by God, of that I am sure, and it is high time that it
stops flooding the Earth with prejudice and violence. It’s been far longer
than forty days and nights, and the so-called “wicked” cannot survive
much longer.
Works Cited
Alcorn, Leelah. “Suicide Note.” Lazer Princess. Tumblr, 2014. Web. 20 Apr.
Anderson, Neil T., and Dave Park. Purity Under Pressure. 2nd ed. USA: Harvest
House, 1995. Print.
Bullock, Allan. Hitler: A Study in Tyranny. London: Penguin Books, 1990. Print.
Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York:
St. Martin’s Press, 2004. Print.
Cooper, Anderson. “AC360 Special Report: ‘The Sissy Boy Experiments’ ”
Anderson 360. CNN, 3 Jan. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
“Gay Conversion Therapists Claim Most Patients Fully Straight By The Time
They Commit Suicide.” The Onion—America’s Finest News Source. Onion
Inc., 9 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
Giles, Geoffrey J. “ ‘The Most Unkindest Cut of All’: Castration, Homosexuality and Nazi Justice,” Journal of Contemporary History 27.1 (1992): 41–61.
Goodman, Ellen. “AIDS Is Killing the Sexual Revolution.” Toledo Blade at
Google News Archives. 28 Oct. 1986. Print.
Green, Robert J. “When Therapists Do Not Want Their Clients to Be Homosexual: A Response to Rosik’s Article.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Abnormal Psychology. 4th ed. Dubuque: McGraw-Hill Contemporary Learning
Series, 2007. 291–304. Print.
“Healing the Broken.” Love In Action [Now referred to as Restoration Path].
District Blitz Youth Conference. The Duluth Entertainment Convention
Center: DECC, Duluth, MN. Apr. 2011. Lecture.
Journeyman Pictures. “Gay Conversion USA.” Online video clip. YouTube.
YouTube, 28 Aug. 2007. Web. 6 May. 2012.
“Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).” Who.int. World Health Organization, May 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
Mohney, Gillian. “Leelah Alcorn: Transgender Teen’s Reported Suicide Note
Makes Dramatic Appeal.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 31 Dec. 2014.
Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
Neander, Biedron. “Homosexual: A Separate Category of Prisoners.”
Auschwitz–Birkenau Memorial and Museum. n.d. Web.
The Normal Heart. Dir. Ryan Murphy. By Larry Kramer. Perf. Mark Ruffalo and
Matt Bomer. HBO, 2014. DVD.
One Nation Under God. Dir. Teodoro Maniaci, Francine M. Rzeznik, and Zinka
Benton. Documentary. 3Z/Hourglass Productions, 1993. Netflix.
Rosik, Christopher H. “Motivational, Ethical, and Epidemiological Founda-
tions in the Treatment of Unwanted Homoerotic Attraction.” Taking
Sides: Clashing Views in Abnormal Psychology. 4th ed. Dubuque: McGraw-Hill
Contemporary Learning Series, 2007. 274–290. Print.
Savage, Dan. American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights About Faith, Sex, Love,
and Politics. New York: Dutton, 2013. Print.
Vogel, Meg. “Obama Calls for End to Gay Conversion Therapy.” USA Today.
The Associated Press, 09 Apr. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
Cobalamin as a “Trojan Horse” for
Targeted Delivery of Chemotherapeutics
Susanna Basappa, class of 2015,
graduated summa cum laude with
her B.S. degree with a double major
in Chemistry and Biology. She is
now pursuing an MD/PhD at the
Mayo Clinic.
Enzymes are catalysts that, by lowering “activation energy,” allow chemical
reactions to occur with decreased energetic requirements, thereby driving
these reactions forward. Many enzymes require more than just their substrates to make their products; they may also require co-factors to recruit
or position substrates as necessary for catalysis. Cobalamin is one of these
cofactors that, by carrying methyl or adenosyl groups, are necessary for
proper synthesis of DNA nucleotides, without which cells cannot properly
divide. This paper describes how we may take advantage of this requirement, increased as it is in rapidly dividing cancer cells, to preferentially
deliver cobalamin-bound anti-cancer drugs, and thereby reduce the side effects of systemic introduction of similar unbound drugs. Cobalamin-bound
drugs act as “Trojan horses,” as cancer cells do not immediately recognize
and eliminate these anti-cancer drugs in their need for cobalamin. These
“prodrugs” are therefore the next step in developing viable, less resistant
—Susanna Basappa
Ms. Susanna Bappa’s cogent review of the use of cobalamin (a vitamin) to
enhance clinical efficacy in cancer treatment grew out of a term paper she
wrote for our senior-level Inorganic Chemistry course here at USF. Since
her primary interests were in biochemistry and medicine, she boldly went
straight to the middle of the periodic table and selected cobalt as the element she would use to bridge the seemingly different realms of the body’s
biochemical workings (based on the living or “organic” chemistry of carbon) with the “non-living” region of the table populated by the transition
metals. In this article she first illuminates for the reader how the crucial
trace element cobalt helps to sustain our biochemical functioning and she
then goes on to explain recent work wherein the cobalt-based endogenous
system has been creatively woven into life-saving clinical strategies based
on the more exotic chemistry of the element platinum.
—Jeff Curtis, Chemistry Department
Cobalamin as a “Trojan Horse”
for Targeted Delivery of Chemotherapeautics
also known as Vitamin B12, is a substituted Corrin ring
(tetra-pyrole) which contains a d7 transition metal, cobalt. Vitamin
B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, and is one of the only biologically produced and used forms of cobalt, which can only be naturally synthesized
by certain types of bacteria and archaea in the form of hydroxocobalamin.1 Cobalamin has four major known forms: the previously mentioned
hydroxocobalamin, stable and synthetically mass-produced cyanocobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin and methylcobalamin, which are two active
forms of Vitamin B12 that act as co-factors to enzymes in multicellular
organisms. Specifically, adenosylcobalamin acts as a co-factor to methylmalonyl-CoA mutase (MCM), and methylcoblamin acts as a co-factor to
methionine synthase (MTR). Both active forms act as carrier molecules
for their substituted ligand adenosyl and methyl groups.1,2
Vitamin B12 is a necessary vitamin, without which pernicious anemia,
macrocytosis and potentially even permanent nerve damage may result.1,2
Furthermore, due to cobalamin’s central cobalt atom with displaceable ligands, hydroxocobalamin can and is used to treat cyanide poisoning, as
the hydroxyl group can easily be substituted for by cyanide to form cyanocobalamin, thereby preventing cyanide from binding cytochrome oxidase
and allowing cellular respiration to occur. This then allows for the excess
cyanocobalamin to be flushed out of the body, preventing death from cyanide.3 In short, cobalamin is a dynamic nutrient, due in part to its cobalt
metal center and consequently its coordination chemistry.
Recent studies indicate that cobalamin derivatives are being developed such that they may also be used as carrier molecules for targeted
cytotoxic cancer treatments. Commonly used drugs carried by cobalamin include platinum-based drugs such as cisplatin; however, these drugs
often produce multiple negative side-effects, such as kidney lesions.4,5,6
Consequently, other ligated drugs and small molecules are now being
tested for their preferential delivery and cytotoxicity to cancer cells. Notable among these is nitric oxide, NO, which forms nitrosylcobalamin
when ligated to cobalamin, and is an important signalling molecule that
can induce apoptosis in cancerous cells.7,8,9,10,11,12 How can cobalamin, a
vitamin, allow for use and development of cancer-treating drug derivatives like nitrosylcobalamin and platinum-ligated cobalamin? How can
these drugs treat different forms of cancer? Novel, recently developed
methods of treatment, as well as the theory behind the mechanisms inherent in the delivery of this treatment, are described as follows.
Cobalamin is a highly substituted tetrapyrrole corrin ring that contains a
cobalt metal center, and carries a variable axial ligand for delivery to target sites. The macrocycle is asymmetric, with different methyl, acetamide
and propionamide side chains, one of which terminates in an adenosyl
group that associates with the cobalt atom as an electron withdrawing
group in a “base-on” (bound) or “base-off ” (protonated and removed)
conformations. Furthermore, certain coordination numbers favour specific oxidation states, such that 6 ligands are typically bound to Co(III), 5
ligands for Co(II) and 4 ligands for Co(I).1
First described by X-ray crystallography in 1954 by Dorothy Hodgkin, cobalamin was one of the most complex molecules described at
that time. Notably, its corrin ring greatly resembles the porphyrin ring
of heme, and even that of chlorophyll, which implies a common derivation or convergent evolution of this useful structure. Cyanocobalamin
was the first type that was identified by this method, as seen in Figure 1,
while subsequent studies indicated the existence of hydroxycobalamin,
adenosylcobalamin and methylcobalamin.13,14
Other substitutions such as nitrosyl and platinum-based drugs, discussed below, are also possible. For platinum drug delivery via cobalamin, cyanocobalamin is used such that the lone pair on the nitrogen of
the cyano ligand binds the platinum complex, rather than the two metals
binding directly, potentially creating an electron bridge.4,5,6 For nitrosylcobalamin, the replacement of the HO group of hydroxycobalamin with
NO- allows for its ligation.10,11
Of the four most common types of cobalamin, only two have well characterized biological function: adenosyl and methylcobalamin. Hydroxy
and cyanocobalamin function primarily for the purpose of allowing conversion to the active vitamin forms only when necessary for use. The
active forms of cobalamin are known to be co-factors for enzymatic
reactions. Specifically, they are carrier molecules that allow for closer
binding of enzymes, like methionine synthase, to the axial ligand of use,
such as the methyl group. The use of these co-factors thereby allows
for significantly decreased activation energy of the substrates brought
into greater physical proximity. Typically, methyl transferases catalyse
heterolytic cleavage of methylcolbalamin’s Co–C bond via nucleophilic
displacements. Other forms of cobalamin, such as adenosylcobalamin,
are used for radical generation following cleavage of a larger axial ligand
via homolytic fission performed by mutase or eliminase enzymes.1,2,13
For the substituted cobalamins of interest, namely cobalamin that
carries platinum, as well as nitrosylcobalamin, the functions of the axial
ligand are similar to those of the primary four types of cobalamins with
typical substitutions. For platinum-bound cobalamin, cisplatin, a wellknown anti-cancer drug, is commonly ligated to the cyano group of cyanocobalamin. Similar to the uptake of nitrosylcobalamin, Pt(II)-CN-B12
allows for the targeted delivery of this cytotoxic drug preferentially to
cancer cells due to greater cobalamin requirements of cancerous cells,
whereupon it can be released in order to induce its well-documented
apoptotic and necrotic effects.4,5,6
Similarly, upon uptake into cancer cells, the NO- ligand of nitrosylcobalamin can be liberated, allowing for a targeted delivery of this inflammatory mediator. Nitric oxide (NO-) is known for its anti-inflammatory
effects, and more importantly, for its ability to decrease cellular metabolism
and to induce activation of apoptotic mechanisms via inhibition of certain cell survival signalling mechanisms, such as the Apo2L/TRAIL pathway.7,8,9,10,11,12 In this manner, both nitrosylcobalamin and Pt(II)-CN-B12, as
well as other similarly substituted cobalamin derivatives may be considered
prodrugs that act as “Trojan horses” and become cytotoxic when taken up
by rapidly growing cells, like cancer cells, that would normally use biologically active Vitamin B12 to otherwise promote their survival.4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12
Activity of Pt-Bound Cobalamin
Platinum is a well-known anti-cancer agent, due to its soft acidic nature
that gives it a high affinity for binding to sulphuric compounds, and more
importantly, sulphuric amino acids.4,5,6,15 One of the most well-known
and commonly used platinum-containing cancer drugs is ciaplatin, which
has a stereoisomer, transplatin—both are composed of Pt(II) bound to
two amine groups and two chlorides. Transplatin, however, is not typically noted for its chemotherapeutic cytotoxicity; the focus for platin cancer
drugs remains on the cis isomer. The geometry of cisplatin is almost
perfectly square planar, and when bound to cobalamin, forms a bond
exclusively with the nitrogen of a cyano group on cyanocobalamin, creating an electron bridge.6 This is seen through IR spectroscopy, for which
Ruiz-Sanchéz reports to be one weak CN vibrational band at 2193cm-1,
and by 195Pt NMR, which had only one signal at 2120ppm, and which
resembles that of cisplatin.5
Release of platin involves reduction of the Co(III) center of cyanocobalamin into Co(II), since the Pt(II) center is electron withdrawing and
therefore mitigates the electron donation of the cyano group to cobalamin. Notably, the tumor microenvironment of most cancers is hypoxic,
and is therefore a reducing environment, rendering optimal release of
cisplatin from a cobalamin prodrug.6
Cisplatin is commonly used to successfully treat testicular, ovarian,
bladder, lung and stomach cancers; however, platinum-based drugs also
involve the risk of cytotoxicity to normal, healthy cells.15 Specifically,
active cobalamin is typically transported into cells via transcobalamin II
transport protein (TCII) and cell surface receptor (TCII-R), which mediates endocytosis of the molecule and is typically overexpressed in cancer
cells. This means that while platinum-bound cobalamin may be taken
up by cancer cells in larger quantities, it may also be taken in by other,
healthy cells as well.5 Platinum is not normally native to humans, and
is mostly encountered through diet and the environment, although it is
only minimally absorbed by the lungs and intestines. When taken in high
doses as with chemotherapy, however, platinum may accumulate in the
kidneys, bones and the hair cells of the ear, and can induce lesions in the
effected tissue, as well as hearing loss and tinnitus.16 Therefore, while
platinum based drugs are viable methods of treating cancer, it is advan-
tageous to introduce prodrugs that preferentially release their cytotoxic
platinum to the specific cancerous targets, rather than systemically.
When treating cancer, there is also the risk of the development of
resistance to specific drugs such as cisplatin. If cancer stem cells are
not killed, then it is possible that those cells might develop methods of
eliminating platinum without dying from apoptosis. However, cisplatin’s
method of action in the body is usually and quickly fatal to cancer cells.
Notably, cisplatin acts by forming a complex with DNA, as shown in Figure 2, such that it induces a bend or a “kink” in it, destabilizing the bases
surrounding the cisplatin and preventing replication. This is typically accomplished by the hydrolysis of cisplatin to form [Pt(NH3)2ClH2O]+
that binds to the negatively charged DNA, via a nitrogen of adenine
or guanine. Further hydrolysis of the other chlorine ligand allows for
further binding to a second adenine or guanine, thereby preventing binding of RNA polymerase. The DNA-platin complex is recognized by a
high-mobility group DNA repair enzyme, which, if it cannot be fixed,
halts transcription, such that the region of DNA cannot be replicated
and cells cannot divide. Eventually, this leads to apoptosis or necrosis
(in either case, death) of the cancer cells to which the cisplatin has been
introduced (Figure 2).15
Activity of NO- Substituted Cobalamin
Characterization of NO-Cbl, by Hassanin et al., has shown via UV-Vis
spectroscopy that a high peak band at 514cm-1 can be observed with
excitation, and that the most likely structure in an aqueous solution, as in
the body, is NO-Cbl•15H2O. Further X-ray diffraction has shown that
the Co-N-O bond angle is between 117.4-121.4o, indicating a bent geometry of the axial ligand. Since low spin NO-Cbl(III) has a lone pair on
the nitrogen, it is projected to be bent about a 120o angle, as compared
to NO-Cbl(II), which is thought to be linear. Between this data and the
previous knowledge that the coordination number predicts the oxidation
number of the cobalt atom, it was assumed that NO-Cbl has a Co(III)
center.10 On the other hand, in a previous study by Bauer in 1998, association of NO to hydroxycobalamin was shown to cause a shift in the
absorption spectra from Co3+ (λmax = 530) to Co2+ (λmax = 500) with the
formation of nitrosylcobalamin, while the IR vibrational frequency was
observed to be 1652 cm-1, which also indicates a bent geometry.7 It may
be noted, however, that the study by Hassanin et al. indicates that the
NO-Cbl is in a protonated base-off conformation, which may explain
this disparity between geometry and oxidation state.10
As with platinum-bound and other cobalamins, nitrosylcobalamin is
transported into cells via TCII and TCII-R mediated endocytosis. Due
to π* back-bonding of the nitrogen to the cobalt, NO- is a strongly
bound ligand that only releases under certain conditions.11 However, in
an aqueous environment, NO-Cbl has been shown to dissociate quickly
at a low pH, as is common in certain types of cancer.18 Bauer showed
that NO was preferentially released under acidic conditions around pH
4.9, and indicated a theoretical maximum of one NO released per one
molecule of cobalamin with first-order kinetics. At relatively higher pH
closer to physiological ranges of living cells (between 6 and 7.4, with a
normal physiological range of 7.3–7.4), release of NO was minimal, and
nearly absent under more basic conditions.7
Cancer cells are also known to have a relatively higher Vitamin B12
requirement, due to rapid and uncontrolled growth that is characteristic
of neoplastic cancerous cells. However, because NO- is an endogenously produced and easily scavenged (even by hydroxycobalamin in times
of excess), it is easier for healthy cells to eliminate excess NO-.7,8,9,10,11,12
Subsequently, NO-Cbl uptake and NO- release is preferential in cancer
cells, and has minimal negative side effects in non-cancerous cells, which
might make it a less dangerous, if less aggressive, treatment for less aggressive cancers.
Specifically, NO- is known to inhibit IKK, a kinase involved in activating the NF-ĸB pathway that normally induces cell survival, though
S-nitrosylation of Cys-179. Reynaert et al. also indicate that NO- can directly inhibit NF-ĸB from binding to DNA and activating cells survival
genes by S-nitrosylation of the Cys-62 of that protein.19
Therefore, during Apo2L/TRAIL activation that has the potential
to produce both cell survival (NF-ĸB) and apoptotic (caspase) signals
and enzymes, the introduction of NO- via NO-Cbl has been shown to
promote apoptosis, as shown in Figure 3, in the cancer cells in which it
is uptaken and the NO- released. Furthermore, NO-Cbl may induce the
expression of further Apo2L/TRAIL receptors, indicating a potential
positive feedback loop. This is especially relevant for otherwise resistant
cancer cells that overexpress survival signalling proteins like Bcl-2, as
NO delivery is sufficient to overcome these survival signals. This thereby indicates that NO-Cbl might prove to be a viable treatment by itself,
or in combination with other anti-cancer drugs. 7,8,9,10,11,12, 19
Cobalamin is a ubiquitous and necessary molecule that is used by the
body to transport methyl and adenosyl groups such that enzymes can
induce reactions necessary to cell division, and therefore perpetuation of
life. A lack of cobalamin in the diet results in pernicious anemia, which
is fatal if not corrected.1,2 As one of the only forms of cobalt used by
living organisms, cobalamin is a unique molecule, and is of great interest
for its capacity as a carrier molecule.
Recent efforts in cancer therapy have been made in order to allow for
better targeting of cytotoxic chemotherapies to tumor cells preferentially,
such that negative side effects such as organ failure and damage to other,
healthy cells is reduced. Two such drugs of interest are nitrosylcobalamin7,8,9,10,11,12 and platinum-bound cobalamin, especially cisplatin-cobalamin.4,5,6 These may be termed “prodrugs,” as they act as Trojan horses:
they are taken in by cancer cells of high cobalamin requirement, and are
preferentially released in conditions most permissible to and characteristic
of the hypoxic, reducing and acidic conditions of tumors.6,7,11 However,
due to the endogenous nature of the NO- released from nitrosylcobalamin, it may be said that while cobalamin-transported cisplatin may be more
effective at killing cancerous cells, NO- delivered in a similar way may be a
preferable treatment with fewer negative side effects.
Future studies may prove to be beneficial to support the use of nitrosylcobalamin as a regular chemotherapeutic. In addition, it is hoped
that further studies will test targeted delivery of other small molecules,
especially those endogenously produced and eliminated such that only a
transient treatment is introduced that damages only cancerous cells. In
these ways, novel cobalamin-transported chemotherapies, and perhaps
targeted treatments for other diseases, can be developed such that the
burden of disease can be reduced in afflicted patients.
Figure 1
The tetrapyrrole corrin ring of cobalamin is shown as discovered by Dorothy
Hodgkins, with a Co(III) metal ion center that binds the four central facing
pyrole nitrogens, the adenosenyl nitrogen extending from the highly substituted corrin ring, and a cyano group. The cyano substitution indicates that
the isolated cobalamin is in the form of cyanocobalamin, a highly stabilized
Figure 2
The cisplatin-DNA complex, with the hydrolysed cisplatin shown in red, the
destacked, kinked DNA in aqua, and the high mobility group enzyme in gray
with a yellow active site.15
Figure 3
A flow chart of the action of cis-platin on cells (optimally only cancerous cells
if therapy is targeted as with cyanocobalamin-delivery).17
Figure 4
The primary mechanism for NO-Cbl inhibition of IKK, which prevents the
activation of NF-ĸB induced cell survival. Apo2L/TRAIL signalling, following
IKK inhibition, results in caspase activation and subsequent apoptosis of cancerous cells.20
Herbert, V. (1988). Vitamin B12: Plant Sources, Requirements, Assays.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 48, 852-858.
2. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. (2011).
Vitamin B12: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. Bethesda, MD. Retrieved from:
3. Hamel, J. (2011). A Review of Acute Cyanide Poisoning with a Treatment
Update. Critical Care Nurse, 31(1), 73-82.
4. Ruiz-Sánchez, P., König, C., Ferrari, S., & Alberto, R. (2011). Vitamin B12
as a carrier for targeted platinum delivery: in vitro cytotoxicity and mechanistic studies.Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry 16, 33–44. doi 10.1007/
5. Ruiz-Sánchez, P., Mundwiler, S., Spingler, B., Buan, N.R., Escalante-Semerena, J.C., & Alberto, R. (2008). Syntheses and characterization of vitamin
B12-Pt(II) conjugates and their adenosylation in an enzymatic assay.
Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry, 13(3), 335-347.
6. Mundwiler, S., Spingler, B., Kurz, P., Kunze, S., & Alberto, R. (2005).
Cyanide-Bridged Vitamin B12-Cisplatin Conjugates. Chemistry: A European
Journal, 11, 4089-4095.
7. Bauer, J.A. (1998). Synthesis, characterization and nitric oxide release profile of nitrosylcobalamin: A potential chemotherapeutic agent. Anticancer
Drugs. 9(3), 239-44.
8. Bauer, J.A. Lupica, J.A., Schmidt, H., Morrison, B.H., Haney, R.M., Masci,
R.K., Lee, R.M., Di Donato J.A., & Lindner, D.J. (2007). Nitrosylcobalamin Potentiates the Anti-Neoplastic Effects of Chemotherapeutic
Agents via Suppression of Survival Signaling. PLoS One, 2(12), e1313.
9. Chawla-Sarkar, M., Bauer, J.A., Lupica, J.A., Morrison, B.H., Tang, Z.,
Oates, R.K., Almasan, A., Di Donato, J.A., Borden, E.C., & Lindner D.J.
(2003). Suppression of NF-ĸB survival signalling by nitrosylcobalamin
sensitizes neoplasms to the anti-tumour effects of Apo2L/TRAIL. The
Journal of Biological Chemistry. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M306111200
10. Hassanina, H.A., Hannibala, L., Jacobsen, D.W., Browne, K.L., Marquesf,
H.M., & Brascha, N.E. (2009). NMR spectroscopy and molecular modelling studies of nitrosylcobalamin: further evidence that the deprotonated, baseoff form is important for nitrosylcobalamin in solution. Dalton
Transactions, 3, 424–433. doi:10.1039/b810895a
11. Pallares, I.G., & Brunold, T.C. (2014). Spectral and Electronic Properties
of Nitrosylcobalamin. Inorganic Chemistry, 53, 7676-7691. doi: 10.1021/
12. Tang, Z., Bauer, J.A., Morrison, B.H., & Lindner, D.J. (2006). Nitrosylcobalamin Promotes Cell Death via S Nitrosylation of Apo2L/TRAIL Receptor DR4. Molecular and Cellular Biology, 26(15), 5588–5594. doi:10.1128/
13. Buckel, W. (2007). Cobalamin Coenzymes and Vitamin B12. Encyclopedia of
Life Sciences. doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000666.pub2
14. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkins. (2010). Chemical Heritage Foundation.
Retrieved from: http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/molecular-synthesis-structure-and-bonding/hodgkin.aspx
15. Trzaska, S. (2005). Cisplatin. Chemical Engineering News: Special Issue, 83(25).
16. WHO Regional Office for Europe. (2000). Platinum. Air Quality Guidelines (2nd ed.). Copenhagen, Denmark. Retrieved from:
17. Wang, D. & Lippard, S.J. (2005) Cellular processing of platinum anticancer drugs. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 4, 307-320. doi:10.1038/nrd1691
18. Fukamachi, T., Chiba, Y., Wang, X., Saito, H., Tagawa, M., & Kobayashi,
H. (2010). Tumor specific low pH environments enhance the cytotoxicity
of lovastatin and cantharidin. Cancer Letters, 297(2), 182-9. doi: 10.1016/j.
19. Reynaert, N.L., Ckless, K., Korn, S.H., Vos, N., Guala, A.S., Wouters,
E.F.M., van der Vliet, A., & Janssen-Heininger, Y.M.W. (2004). Nitric
oxide represses inhibitory ĸB kinase through S-nitrosylation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(24), 8945–8950. doi: 10.1073/
20. Lupica, J.A., Bauer, J.A., Chawla-Sarkar, M., Morrison, B.H., Tang, Z.,
Oates, R.K., Almasan, A., Didonato, J.A., Borden, E.C. and Lindner, D.J.
(2004) Effects of nitrosylcobalamin on NF- B survival signaling and
antitumor activity of Apo2L/TRAIL. Proceedings for the American Association
of Cancer Research, 45.
“Omo, oppa! I saranghae you so much!
Fighting!”: Unpacking the Korean-Pop
Fandom Language
Brittany Tinaliga, class of
2015, graduated cum laude
with a major in Communication
Studies and a minor in Public
I initially chose to research on the function of a language being spoken
within a specific nationality or race. However, feeling adventurous, I took
a different route and examined a fandom culture—in this case, the K-pop
fandom. The concept of “styling the other” through language and its
implications drove me towards examining this particular group. K-pop fans
are critiqued for their language choices since they are not only fans of
music but of a culture. Professor Leung guided me in laying out rigorous
research methods. I combed through a plethora of naturally occurring fan
discourse throughout online forums/social media sites for certain words
frequently used by fans—some of which included Korean words. I then
interviewed a fan about her personal fan language use/experiences and her
views on fan lingo usage. I received data from over one hundred fans about
K-pop fan communication and how they rate the appropriateness of this
language use.
—Brittany Tinaliga
Brittany Tinaliga’s paper on Korean pop music fan language is a unique take
on the concept of the appropriation and re-entextualization of a specific
register of language. Through robust qualitative and quantitative data,
Brittany shows how K-pop fans of non-Korean heritage style their language
online and in person to perform a unique identity that celebrates their
participation in a sub-culture and imagined community. Brittany’s use of
crowd-sourced survey data allowed her entry into online communities all
over the world, and her insider position in this community also provided
access in collecting rich interview data, going above and beyond what
was expected of her in our course paper. I was so impressed with her
application and extension of our course concepts and theories, but most
importantly, with how enthusiastic she was about this project, even as she
was wading through all her survey data responses. Her piece is a fantastic
example of how starting a research project from one’s personal interests,
experiences, and queries culminates into a product that is academically rich
and rigorous.
—Genevieve Leung, Department of Rhetoric and Language
Led by the framework of meta-discourse analysis, discourse analysis,
and critical discourse analysis, the goal of this study was to gain an
understanding of the function of fans using Korean-pop fan lingo and
the perceived appropriateness of its use. In this study, the fan community
and their actions are referred to as the “fandom.” In order to answer
the research question, a mixed methods approach was taken; the results
indicated that fans used fan lingo and words when stylizing the Korean
language, when expressing fan identity and expertise, when showing
participation in fan culture, and when equivalents to the lingo didn’t
suffice due to meaning and impact. These results were then compared
and contrasted to past literature. The findings reinforced the idea that
language use is guided by our language ideologies. Furthermore, K-pop
fans overall viewed their Korean language use as a positive agency in
promoting the culture rather than a negative practice. This development
of a K-pop fan language can be viewed as positive, although a negative
side may be that the fan language allows for the appropriation of the
Korean language. K-pop fans are arguably not just fans of a music genre
but also of a minority culture, which sets them up for critique especially
when they participate in language borrowing.
Keywords: lexical borrowing, language appropriation, slang, fandom, Korean-pop
“Omo, oppa! I saranghae you so much! Fighting!”:
Unpacking the Korean-Pop Fandom Language
is an issue that has constantly been the
center of heated discussion—appropriation of dress, symbols, and
for the focus for this study, the appropriation of language. Language
appropriation occurs when words, phrases, or certain language elements
are adopted into another group. These language elements (e.g., single
words) are taken out of their original context and used as a verbal
fashion of sorts outside of their actual culture—the danger being that
appropriation can remove the original cultural meaning.
With the growing popularity of Korean pop (also known as K-pop)
internationally, the use of certain Korean words and phrases are being
adopted into the discourse of non-native speakers, usually in a public
performance or when interacting with others to show solidarity. There
are slang words that have become common lingo among fans that are
beyond the knowledge of non-fans. The purpose of this study is to
determine how language appropriation and emergent slang created by
non-Korean speaking fans function. Additionally, this study will examine
the implications of the practice of language appropriation and its effect
on Korean culture.
Researcher’s Stance
This particular topic garnered my interest because of my own identity as
a K-pop fan. As a regular blogger within the K-pop fandom, I never really
noticed the new language I acquired over time. The idea of compiling
lingo into a dictionary of sorts for fans was an idea I entertained for a
while; but after learning a plethora of sociolinguistic research concepts,
I realized I could take this fan dictionary idea even further. Fandom
language, in general, is surprisingly understudied, despite its prevalence in
the online sphere. With this interest in mind, I decided upon conducting
a study surrounding a fandom I am intimately acquainted with.
Speaker Authenticity and Expertise
Brenner, Burns, and Ewald (2014) examined the discourse practice of
male NFL fans. The “fan speech” the participants used expressed their
knowledge of football and showed which team they aligned with. When
taking on coach speech, they used simple dialogue, encouraging phrases,
and criticism, while also using football lingo. They also used the coaches’
and players’ names to refer to the game and its elements. When taking
on the commentator role, they would speak with an air of expertise, but
would not adhere to the appropriate “turn-taking” pattern.
Similarly, expertise was a function of talk in Leppänen’s (2007) article focusing on Finnish youth language and their use of English. This
study looked at various contexts, with one of them being joint video
game play using a console system. Within this context, the use of English functioned as a way to establish authority in conversation.
Reyes’ (2005) article pertaining to Asian American youth and their
appropriation and use of African American slang also touches on the
element of expertise and authority. In this study, they were considered
authentic slang speakers, depending on what region they resided in and
whom their friends were.
Showing Participation in a Culture
and Displaying a Desired Identity
With specific respect to slang, Danesi (2010) conducted a study
surrounding slang and its general functions. One of the findings was
that slang allows individuals to make sense of how they see the world.
It allows individuals to present a certain identity when interacting with
others. With slang specific to groups, they participate in what is referred
to as “groupthink,” which is how they view the world.
Furthermore, there is a connection among slang, identity, and reasoning. Our reasoning is shaped by our identity, and slang comes from
elements of our identity. How we see the world and those who live in it
can certainly be affected by what we participate in. Showing participation
in a generational culture was examined in Corrigan’s article (1984), which
examined the use of the slang word “totally.” The previous generation
used this slang word to belittle those not adhering to a standard, as an
expression of celebration, and as an assurance check. When looking at
various generations of slang, all in all, slang is looked at as a way to say
what is important, what the norms are, and what activities are expected.
Slang words like “totally” encompass a generation and its cultural
aspects. It allows one to be expressive, while simultaneously directing
one’s actions.
Slang can be utilized to express a generational identity, as well as the
underlying expectations in a nationalist and cultural context. Büscher,
D’Hondt, and Meeuwis (2013) study examines the residents of Goma,
Congo, who assign multiple indexes to the Lingala language, which is
well outside their primary knowledge. It is important to see this in the
context of the Rwandan–Congolese politics. The border symbolizes an
ideology of separation between those who lived there first—the “true”
Congolese—and their invaders. Goma residents needed a way to show
their true Congolese status; for Goma residents, the use of the Lingala
language functioned as a link to their inner sociolinguistic capital, which
affirmed their identity of being Congolese. Lingala is the language of
the Kinshasa and speaking it in a public environment equates to them
affirming their identity as an “authentic” Congolese person. This appropriation reinforces the Lingala language to strength, in addition to urban
modernity, which can be tied to the idea of styling the other.
This concept of “styling the other” refers to how people use certain
language elements in their discourse with the purpose of emulating a
group that they are usually not a member of, which merely reflects their
subjective view of how that group speaks (Rampton, 2013).
Just as Goma residents used slang in order to perform a desired
identity, Lepännen’s (2007) study examines how gamers, fan-fiction authors, and bloggers express their identity. The gamer lingo in Lepännen’s
(2007) study found the prevalent frequency of English words. The use
of English made interaction and game functions smooth, while allowing gamers to identify with game characters and fellow players. Another
area that Lepännen examined was a corpus of fan written fiction; the
study found that switching languages allowed the story to be enhanced
through the interesting character dynamics. It authenticated the character’s world and settings put forth by the author.
By creating multilingual friendly fan-fiction, the writer is able to take
part in a broader social world. Looking at weblogs, the function of a
writer’s use of language shifting was examined. For example, a blogger
actively utilized English when she was capable of speaking in Finnish,
demonstrating language shift. Her blog entries tend to be entirely in
English with little Finnish. The use of English creates an intimate link
with other bloggers where she is confident in expressing herself and to
communicate with others with different linguistic backgrounds.
Much like the citizens, gamers, and writers in Lepännen’s study, Bulgarian English learners of various ages expressed comparable functions
of slang. Charkova (2007) had Bulgarian English learners partake in a
study where they were tested on English slang. They were asked about
their thoughts toward sources, motives, and ways for utilizing the English language as slang. The two motives they found prevalent for using
the English language as slang was as follows: (a) to identify with a speech
community with other English learners, and (b) to feel as if they are part
of a youth culture that is ultimately formed by the media and the English
language (Charkova, 2007). As opposed to the younger participants, the
older group’s motive was more about using slang to access a different
culture shaped by media. Unlike their younger counterparts, they did not
use slang for integrative or expressive purposes. Overall, English slang
allowed both groups to pass into the global youth culture.
In regards to global culture, Kim’s (2015) article examined the
Korean-pop fandom. The researcher found that fans partake in a
“participatory culture,” in which the K-pop fandom conducts donation
activities in order to project a positive image. This culture puts forth
efforts to be socially responsible in view of the public eye. These fan
groups were found to be especially fixated on the competitive aspect of
the amount and novelty of the donations.
Youth discourse studies in the following article yielded similar
results in regards to showing participation in a desired culture. Reyes’
(2005) article concerning Asian American youth also mentioned the use
of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) to show participation
in the urban youth culture. The researcher found that it was also a way
in which they separated youth from adults. The youth participants were
mostly accepted as being part of the urban culture when they used
AAVE. It was apparent that there was a separation between youth and
adults when they had no knowledge of the lingo, or were not validated
as participants.
Another instance of boundaries being a function of language is seen
in an article by Jaspers (2011), which looked at teenagers in a Belgium
school and their use of the Antwerp dialect. They noted that established
citizens would use the dialect to create a boundary between them and
newcomer immigrants, who usually had poor Dutch fluency. They concluded that appropriation of the dialect did not form an understanding
between white and non-white students; since there were only some elements of the dialect utilized, the use of their primary tongue was still
present, and there was no consistency in the dialect’s features they would
choose to utilize. Overall, there seemed to be tension between choosing
to use the dialect or their home-language, as institutions expect them to
speak proper Dutch—although their social class and education makes
it hard to adhere to because they run the risk of overdoing it, and not
using enough of their primary language. With choosing to adopt the dialect, they must take on the stigma given to those not fluent in the home
language. While taking on a dialect allowed them to put forth a certain
identity, it also worked to create an “in” group versus an “out” group.
Styling the “Other”
The article by Brenner et al. (2014) touches upon male NFL sports fans
discourse. The researchers found that the participants would take on
different identity roles depending on whom they aimed their utterances
towards. When speaking to the TV, they would take on the linguistic
expressions of fans and coaches. Similarly, the function of taking
on certain discourse elements to project an identity was examined in
Leppänen’s (2007) study. He examined the indexical function of using
English in Finnish hip-hop lyrics, finding a mix of English and Finnish
in the lyrics, which indexes a desired hip-hop identity. Finnish hip-hop
is indexed as linked to Anglo American hip-hop, while simultaneously
Finnish lyrics indicate that there is a unique Finnish hip-hop scene. The
act of indexing what the lyricists believe to be Anglo American hip-hop
is seen as a way of embodying a stereotypical view of the genre.
Another study examining the use of English found that a function
of usage was to create certain personas. Charkova’s (2007) study on Bulgarian English learners revealed that one of the younger participants’
overall purpose was to integrate English slang in order to present a
respectable image. In this study, the younger group indexed English
slang with being respected, which could be attributed to their view that
English speakers are seen as prominent figures.
The desire to mirror a prominent figure was similarly a topic of interest in Morales and Lovric’s (2015) study on the K-pop and K-drama
fandom within Spain and Latin America. One aspect of the study involved asking for narratives from male K-pop and K-drama fans about
their relationship with Korean pop culture, as well as their interactions
with others. Many of the participants mentioned that there was much
to be admired about the “superior” ethics, morals, and respectfulness
of Koreans. This could perhaps signal a desire to also emulate these
perceived Korean values. Furthermore, they expressed that the absence
of hyper-sexuality in K-pop—often seen in Western music—is a major
reason for why they are drawn to this music style. This could be a way for
the participants to distance themselves from the Western music culture
that they do not identify with and do not wish to express as part of their
own identities.
Language Impact and Special Meaning
One of Charkova’s (2007) findings indicated that the younger group’s
integration of English slang allowed them to more aptly express
themselves, suggesting that other languages may not have sufficed.
This is seen in Jaspers’ (2011) study, where Belgian teens’ use of the
Antwerp dialect was connected with intense emotions, a loss of control,
aggression, slurs, body fluids, and sexuality. This perhaps meant that
their natural dialect did not quite get the right amount of intensity or
meaning across.
Within De Decker’s (2012) article, most chat room data indicated
that Flemish users would utilize English words as what they coin a
“luxury loan” (De Decker, 2012, p. 347). This means that users would
usually choose to use English word(s) even if there was an actual term
they could use in Dutch. It is important to note, however, that Dutch remained the main language spoken. Most instances of lexical borrowing
involved substituting single English words into Dutch sentences as oppose to inserting multiple English words. Researchers noticed that while
they seemed to slightly know the English language, they didn’t seem to
be fluent users. English terms that occurred most often were adjectives
and few verbs, which aided in their expression of things and individuals.
Notably, teenagers were found to adjust certain English terms so that
they were less English and more Dutch in lexical nature. This shows
overall how language is not static, but dynamic.
Description of the Study and Research Question
As shown above, present studies surrounding language appropriation and
slang specific to certain groups are largely limited to ethnic groups and
a few other groups focused on certain interests. The present literature
neglects the modern interest groups formed today around topics such as
music genres. When looking for articles examining discourse specific to
fans in general, literature was limited to sports, TV shows, and university
students. Current literature relating to the K-pop fandom does not
touch on topics specifically about the use of fan language. This current
research is significant because appropriation is usually seen as a negative
and disrespectful practice.
This study will further examine how adopted words, phrases, and
slang actually work within this fan group. The practice of borrowing
choice words as an accessory can be seen as problematic toward actual
Korean speakers, since they are a minority group. It would be important
to see how Korean language appropriation and slang functions for international fans, as well as what the implications of these practices are.
Thus, this study is guided by the following research questions:
RQ1: What is the function behind emergent slang and
language appropriation by Korean-pop fans?
RQ2: What is the perceived appropriateness of using
lingo and Korean words in fan discourse?
A mixed methods approach was taken in this study. I utilized quantitative,
qualitative, and online source corpus for a larger result pool. Metadiscourse analysis, discourse analysis, and critical discourse analysis
(CDA) were the analytical frames used across the data. Meta-discourse
looks at conversation about discourse, while discourse analysis looks
at language-in-use or everyday talk, and CDA examines discourse as a
social practice in light of ideologies.
Specifically, the quantitative and qualitative portions used a metadiscourse and CDA lens, as I had participants discuss how discourse
functioned and a critique of language appropriateness. I examined the
online sources using the discourse analysis lens, as I was more interested
in the actual conversation content.
For the quantitative portion, 115 participants from 33 countries took
part in an online survey. Most participants resided in the Philippines
(30.4%, n=35), followed by the United States (13.9%, n=16), and
Malaysia (9.6%, n=11). Most of the participants were female at 95.7%
(n=110) with males at 4.3% (n=5). Their ages ranged from 11 to 39, with
the average age ranging between 16 to 19 years old. Of the participants,
93% (n=107) claimed no fluency in the Korean language, while 3%
(n=8) claimed fluency.
Additional information revealed that the majority of fans had been
involved in the K-pop fandom between 1 to 4 years at 53% (n=61), followed by 5 or more years at 35.6 % (n=41), and lastly, less than 1 year at
8.7% (n=10). Most fans claimed to listen to Bangtan Boys, solo artists,
and Korean hip-hop.
Following the qualitative portion, I interviewed one non-Korean
speaking participant with the pseudonym of Taeyeon. She is a 17-yearold female, who revealed that she is of Filipino descent and did not claim
fluency in Korean.
Lastly, the online corpus analysis involved three sources: allkpop.
com, Soompi.com, and Koreaboo from Facebook. The user comments
came from participants who were non-native speakers of Korean. Additionally, all these sources were open for use in multiple countries.
For the online survey, I distributed a survey link across various social
media sites (e.g., Facebook and Tumblr) asking for participants. A
disclaimer in the survey informed participants that their identities would
remain anonymous. I used questions suited to answer my research
For the interview portion, I used convenience sampling by going
through my own social media to ask for participants. An interview protocol was compiled prior and led the direction of the interview. I interviewed my participant at locations of her choosing for roughly fifty
minutes of data. The interview was audio recorded and transcribed for
reoccurring themes.
Lastly, I chose three online news sources to screenshot conversations from—allkpop.com, soompi.com, and Koreaboo. The rationale
behind these resource choices was their popularity amongst the online
K-pop fan community. I examined three significant events that occurred
in the K-pop industry: (1) Kris, an ex-member of EXO suing S.M. Entertainment for contract nullification, (2) B.A.P. suing and leaving TS
Entertainment, and (3) Ladies’ Code members EunB and RiSe passing
away from a car accident. These were chosen because the articles for the
events had fan comments that spanned across six months, lasting from
May to December 2014, which allows us to see any consistency in the
results. These events also garnered strong responses from fans.
Additionally, these sources are used by fans from various countries,
allowing for a diverse pool of participants. A total of 25 news articles
and posts relevant to the three topics were examined (see Appendix).
Survey Data
To answer the research question about fan language functionality,
participants were initially asked what they perceived the function of
inserting fan lingo and Korean words into fan discourse entailed. The
most prevalent answer was that there was a special meaning or impact of
fan lingo and Korean language that an equivalent just wouldn’t suffice
(i.e., it’s trying to communicate meanings we don’t have words for, or no
exact equivalent in our own language). The next most occurring answer
was that using the fandom language allowed them to participate in the
fandom culture (e.g., to feel like you’re part of a community). Next was
to show expertise and authenticity as a fan (e.g., to feel like a language
master) or to express a desired identity (e.g., we are known as K-pop fans
and not a fan of British bands). Lastly, it was the function of styling the
Korean language (e.g., we feel like we’re a little bit Korean, too).
The next section of the survey provided the participant with twelve
K-pop fan lingo and Korean words commonly used in fan discourse.
They were asked for its meaning, its synonyms or antonyms, its use in
a sentence, and their experiences with the word or phrase. For the purposes of this paper, only the perceived appropriateness and the function
will be discussed.
When asked about the word oppa 오빠 (a term of endearment for
an older brother), the most prevalent functions mentioned were that
the word had a special meaning or impact (45%, n=43), followed by
the functions of stylizing Korean language and to participate in fandom
culture (both 14.9%, both n=14).
Next, they were asked about the term “OTP” (an acronym meaning
“one true pairing”). The top response was that it had a special meaning
or impact (58.6% , n=17) with the next top response being the participant hasn’t used the term (17.2%, n=5). This was followed by the function of participation in fan culture (6.9%, n=2).
Otoke 오토케 (a term meaning “What to do?”) yielded the following
responses: the term had a special meaning or impact (39.5%, n=15), the
term is used to stylize Korean language (23.7%, n=9), and the term is
used to show the user’s expertise (10.5%, n=4).
Unnie 언니 (a term of endearment for an older sister), yielded the
following responses: the term has special meaning or impact (38.2%,
n=13), the term is used to stylize Korean language (23.5%, n=8), and
used to participate in fan culture (17.6%, n=6).
Sasaeng 사생팬 (a term to describe crazy, dangerous fans) yielded the
following responses: the term has special meaning or impact (62.5%,
n=20), the term is used to participate in fan culture (12.5%, n=4), and
shows fan identity (12.5%, n=4).
Saranghae 사랑해 (a phrase meaning “I love you”) yielded the following responses: the phrase has special meaning or impact (31.7%,
n=13), the phrase is used participate in fan culture (26.8%, n=11), and
the phrase is used to stylize Korean language (19.5%, n=8).
Omo 오모 (a term meaning “Oh my”) yielded the following responses:
the term has special meaning or impact (43.8%, n=14), the term is used
to show the user’s expertise (12.5%, n=4), and the term is used to stylize
Korean language (6.3%, n=2).
Daebak 대박 (a term meaning “awesome”) yielded the following
responses: the term has special meaning or impact (45.9%, n=17), the
term is used to participate in fan culture (18.9%, n=7), and the term is
used to show the user’s expertise (16.2%, n=6).
Andwae 안돼 or Andeyo 안돼요 (terms expressing negativity, “no”)
yielded the following responses: the phrase has special meaning or impact (34.6%, n=9), the term is used to show the user’s expertise (15.4%,
n=4), and the term is used to express fan identity (15.4%, n=4).
Wae 왜 (a term asking “Why?”) yielded the following responses: the
term has special meaning or impact (38.9%, n=14), the term is used to
stylize Korean language (27.8%, n=10), and the term is used to express
fan identity (13.9%, n=5).
Stan (a term meaning “fan”) yielded the following responses: the
term has special meaning or impact (59.4%, n=19), the term is used to
express fan identity (15.6%, n=5), or participant hasn’t used the term
(15.6%, n=5).
The last provided word was bias 비앗 (a term meaning “favorite”)
and yielded the following responses: the term has special meaning or impact (65.3%, n=32), the term is used to participate in fan culture (12.2%,
n=6), and the term is used to express fan identity (12.2%, n=6).
Across all the data, the reasoning that fan lingo and Korean words
have special meaning or impact was consistently the most prevalent
among the responses. The other functions (to express fan identity, to
show the user’s expertise, to participate in fan culture, and to stylize Korean language) occasionally occurred within participants’ responses. On
the following page is a table displaying my data findings.
Special impact or meaning
Participate in fan culture
Expertise and authenticity
Display desired identity
Styling the Korean language
Table 1.
This table displays the function of Korean-pop fan lingo and Korean words
in fan discourse. This data was gathered from 89 responses from nonKorean speaking fans. The chart is arranged with items in descending order, with the most prevalent function at the top of the chart.
Next, I asked participants what they perceive the overall appropriateness is of using fan lingo and Korean words in fan discourse. A response of “1” indicated the participant felt it was completely inappropriate and a response of “6” meant they felt it was completely appropriate.
Out of the responses, 31.8% (n=107) of the participants chose a
level of 6, which indicates “completely appropriate.” Notably, the choices of levels 3 and 4, 24.3 % and 21.5%, respectively, were not too significantly far from the top statistic indicating that most participants felt
it was between “mildly to completely appropriate.” The next occurring
levels were 5, 2, and 1 (15%, 6.5%, and 1%, respectively). Not too many
participants felt strongly overall that using fan lingo and Korean language was completely inappropriate, which was level 1. However, the
fact that these levels were chosen at all shows that there are individuals
with these sentiments.
The charts are all skewed right, meaning most responses indicated
that use of fan lingo and Korean terms is usually seen as being totally
appropriate (level 6). Notably, however, the terms omo and wae seemed to
have a significant amount of participants who were leaning towards lingo use being inappropriate. Note that the inconsistency of the number
of replies for each term is due to the participants’ voluntarily choosing
to not provide a rating of appropriateness for certain words or phrases.
Charts 1–12.
The following charts display the appropriateness of using fan lingo
and Korean words. The data was gathered from 115 responses
from non-Korean speaking fans, some of whom chose to abstain
from answering.
Number of Responses
Chart 1.
oppa 오빠
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 2.
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
otoke 오토케
Chart 3.
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 4.
unnie 언니
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 5.
sasaeng 사생팬
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 6.
Number of Responses
saranghae 사랑해
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 7.
omo 오모
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 8.
daebak 대박
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 9.
Number of Responses
andwae 안돼 or andeyo 안돼요
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 10.
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 11.
bias 비앗
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
Chart 12.
Number of Responses
Level of Appropriateness
Interview Data
The transcribed interview was coded for emerging functions of fan
lingo and Korean words. Please refer to the following legend to better
understand the symbols and their functions:
Symbol Meaning
Colons indicate prolongation of the
immediately prior sound. The length of
the row of colons indicates the length
of the prolongation.
Double parentheses contain
descriptions rather than transcriptions.
A dash indicates a truncated or cut-off
A period within parentheses indicates a
pause, usually less than one second.
A number within parentheses indicates
a pause, usually in seconds.
> sentence <
“Greater than” and “less than” angle
brackets in this order indicate that
the talk between them is rushed or
The equals sign shows that there is
no discernible pause between two
speakers’ turns or, if put between two
sounds within a single speaker’s turn,
shows that they run together.
This indicates an inhalation of breath.
A period indicates an intonation
signaling finality.
Legend 1.
This legend displays the function of the transcription symbols used in the
interview with Taeyeon.
When Taeyeon was asked about what she noticed about the fans’
usage of Korean words during instances online. She stated the following:
T: u::m I actually have a blog on tumblr tha:at is called otokeoppa
which is ((cough)) what should I do older brother hhh and u::m
I have noticed that other people sometimes use oppa also cause
it’s a-it’s a cute term (Lines 93-6)
Later, when asked why she employs the Korean phrase oppa in her
discourse instead of English, she reasons the following:
T: it doesn’t sound as cute if you say (.) hey older sister or older
brother (Lines 330-1)
These responses point toward a language ideology she holds about
what is valued in a language. In this case what is valued is the sound of
the language, or its perceived beauty. This finding demonstrates Rampton’s definition of “styling the other,” since she states that using certain
fan lingo and Korean words allows her to emulate what she believes the
language sounds like—in this case, “cute.”
The next emerging function was to show one’s identity as a fan, in
addition to authenticity and expertise. When interviewed about whether
it was appropriate to use the term daebak, Taeyeon responded as follows:
T: I think it’s fine it’s (.) it shows that yo::u (.) you’ve watched
enough like k-dramas to know what it means (Lines 543-4)
Her response shows the value in sounding like she has watched
“enough” K-dramas. Being a fan of K-pop perhaps entails more than
just being exposed to Korean music, and involves other aspects of their
culture. It implies that showing expertise in the language in dramas helps
express one’s authentic identity as a K-pop fan. Additionally, using these
words allowed her to feel connected to other fans and to various aspects
of the culture. After she was asked about the function of using different
languages in her discourse her response was the following:
T: it shows tha::t (.) you know something about a certain culture
and then hhh not in a (.) it kind of makes you feel like (.) >if you’re
talking to another group< that (.) everyone kno- since everyone
knows what you’re saying= (Lines 168-71)
T: =that you feel mo::re u::m >close to the group< but then if
you use it (.) to::o towards people who don’t know the word (.)
(Lines 174-5)
While she was able to show her expertise, she was also able to create
mutual understanding with fellow fans so that she could properly participate in fan culture. Another function that came up was the necessity
for certain lingo within fandom discourse due to its special meaning.
When asked about the appropriateness of the using the word sasaeng, she
responded with the following reason:
T: um I think it is because when you (.) when you think of sasaeng
>it’s just like< (1.1) the definition is just crazy fan (Lines 606-7)
T: =but then if you would say it in like English it would be like (1)
it wouldn’t have the same kind of (1.5) level. (Lines 611-2)
This implies that there is a certain meaning for fan lingo and Korean
words that have no other equivalent with quite the same impact. Overall,
the following functions of K-pop fan lingo emerged: to style the other,
to show fan identity and authenticity, to allow for participation in fandom, and to be able to express the special meaning of the lingo that has
no other impactful equivalent.
Online News Source Comments Data
I examined roughly 500 comments from each event from each source—
allkpop.com, soompi.com, and Koreaboo—totaling 4,231 comments. I
combed through the screenshots for frequency of fan lingo and Korean
words. The purpose was to witness how fan lingo and Korean words are
actually used within fan discourse, as well as determine whether the use
of language was significant and strategic, if at all.
First, it was important to investigate the actual prevalence and use
of fan lingo and Korean words to determine its use in real time, as well
as whether or not its use seems systematic, if at all. Table 2 (below) provides a general picture of the amount and percentage of fan lingo and
Korean words found in comments across news sources about certain
K-pop events.
Kris leaving EXO
B.A.P. leaving
TS Entertainment
Ladies’ Code
EunB and RiSe Die
132 of 502
129 of 500
51 of 502
97 of 500
34 of 219
45 of 504
73 of 500
57 of 507
13 of 507
1,502 Total
1,226 Total
1,513 Total
Table 2.
This table displays the total number and percentage of fan lingo and Korean language use
across news article comments. The data was gathered from allkpop.com, soompi.com, and
In the following tables, specific lingo and Korean words are more
closely examined for frequency of use. The first K-pop fandom event
examined was Kris leaving EXO and suing S.M. Entertainment. Comments from this event totaled 1,502 and spanned from May to August
2014. After quantifying fan lingo and Korean words that were used in
fan comments across the three K-pop news sources, the more frequent
terms and phrases were compiled in tables below:
oppa 오빠
oppa 오빠
22 of 132 (16.7%)
22 of 97 (22.7%)
56 of 73 (76.7%)
“We are one!”
“We are one!”
19 of 132 (14.4%)
18 of 97 (18.6%)
26 of 73 (35.6%)
“We are one!”
andwae 안돼 or
andeyo 안돼요
14 of 132 (10.6%)
Fighting or
hwaiting 화이팅
22 of 132 (16.7%)
12 of 132 (9%)
22 of 132 (16.7%)
13 of 97 (13.4%)
Fighting or
hwaiting 화이팅
9 of 97 (9.3%)
oppa 오빠
21 of 73 (28.8%)
Fighting or
hwaiting 화이팅
18 of 73 (24.7%)
15 of 73 (9.6%)
Table 3.
This table displays the total number and percentage of fan lingo and Korean language
use pertaining to Kris’ departure from S.M. Entertainment in 1,502 news article
comments. The data was gathered from allkpop.com, soompi.com, and Koreaboo.
As displayed in the data, few of the sources had specific fan lingo
or Korean words come up in comments half of the time or more. However, the term “idol(s)” did occur over half of the time in the Koreaboo
comments. Across all three sources, “idol(s),” “We are one,” “oppa,” and
“fighting or hwaiting” were consistently present, showing that the language of K-pop fans use have certain meaning and is purposefully and
systematically used in their discourse.
The second K-pop event examined was the group B.A.P. leaving
TS Entertainment. The 1,226 comments examined spanned between the
months of November to December 2014. The following top frequencies
of fan lingo and Korean language were found:
14 of 129 (10.9%)
Fighting or
hwaiting 화이팅
Fighting or
hwaiting 화이팅
20 of 34 (58.8%)
57 of 57 (100%)
Fighting or
hwaiting 화이팅
10 of 129 (7.8%)
16 of 34 (47.1%)
6 of 129 (4.7%)
12 of 34 (35.3%)
25 of 57 (43.9%)
wae 왜
4 of 34 (11.8%)
19 of 57 (33.3%)
6 of 129 (7%)
36 of 57 (63.2%)
oppa 오빠
oppa 오빠
5 of 129 (3.9%)
2 of 34 (5.9%)
7 of 57 (12.3%)
Table 4.
This table displays the total number and percentage of fan lingo and Korean
language use pertaining to B.A.P.’s departure from TS Entertainment in 1,226 news
article comments. The data was gathered from allkpop.com, soompi.com, and
In contrast to the first event examined, there were more instances of
particular fan lingo being used in more than half of the fan comments.
With the Soompi.com and Koreaboo sources, the terms “fighting or
hwaiting” occurred more than half of the time. Also, the term BABYs
came up in all of the comments containing fan lingo in the Koreaboo source. Across three sources, the terms “BABYs,” “comeback(s),”
“fighting or hwaiting,” “idol(s),” and “oppa” appeared frequently and consistently.
The next set of comments totaled 1,513 and were posted in September of 2014. They pertained to the tragic deaths of Ladies’ Code
members EunB and RiSe. The following frequencies of fan lingo and
Korean language were yielded:
unnie 언니
unnie 언니
12 of 51 (23.5%)
20 of 45 (44.4%)
4 of 13 (30.8%)
bias 비앗
bias 비앗
8 of 51 (15.7%)
9 of 45 (20%)
2 of 13 (15.4%)
Fighting or
hwaiting 화이팅
6 of 51 (11.8%)
6 of 45 (13.3%)
2 of 13 (15.4%)
unnie 언니
bias 비앗
3 of 51 (5.9%)
5 of 45 (11.1%)
2 of 13 (15.4%)
wae 왜
2 of 51 (3.9%)
3 of 45 (6.7%)
1 of 13 (7.7%)
Table 5.
This table displays the total number and percentage of fan lingo and Korean
language use pertaining to Ladies’ Code EunB’s and RiSe’s passing in 1,513 news
article comments. The data was gathered from allkpop.com, soompi.com, and
Overall, the comments for this event had fewer instances of lingo
and Korean words used in fan discourse compared to the other events.
As indicated above, instances of fan lingo and Korean words used in
fan comments never surpassed more than half. The common terms that
came up across the sources were “bias 비앗,” “idol(s),” and “unnie 언니.”
Examining the fan comments as a whole, I found that a few of the
statistics indicated that fan lingo and Korean words were occasionally
employed, while others appeared a significant amount of times in comments. Furthermore, each specific event had certain terms that came up
consistently across the different news sources, which shows selectivity in
language use.
Discussion of Findings
The recorded frequencies of fan lingo and Korean words derived from
the three K-pop news sources showed that their use was not arbitrary and
was actually selective according to the event. Across the three sources,
the same fan lingo and Korean terms occurred consistently according to
the event. This suggests that the fans go through a careful process of
what term is actually appropriate for the given context of the event or
For example, with the events about the males, Kris and B.A.P., the
term oppa was seen more in discourse specifically because the term refers
to males. For the Ladies’ Code tragedy, however, unnie was frequently
inserted, as it refers to an older sister.
The transcribed and coded interview data derived from my interview
with the female K-pop fan yielded the following results. When asked for
commentary on Taeyeon’s reasoning behind using Korean words in discourse, she states that she does it for its “cute” quality. The function of
sounding a certain way also came up within the quantitative study.
In the portion of the study where participants were provided with
various fan lingo and Korean words, one of the frequent reasons provided explaining its function was that it sounded a certain way (e.g., cute,
cool, Korean). This was the case for terms like omo 오모, otoke 오빠, oppa
오빠, unnie 언니, saranghae 사랑해, and wae 왜.
Survey participants reasoned that using fan lingo and Korean words
allowed them to sound a certain way. Usually the case is that fans wish
to emulate their Korean idols. This points to the concept of language
ideologies—what sounds beautiful and what language is considered useful. It also ties back to the concept of styling the other, where the fan has
an idea of how native Korean speakers sound aesthetically and phonetically, and try to emulate that.
These findings are similar to Reyes (2005) where they wanted to
show a tough persona, which they attribute to AAVE; the findings are
also similar to Buscher et al. (2013) where the Congolese are equated
with sounding strong. Lastly, the findings can be tied back to MadridMorales and Lovric’s (2015) study in regards to the K-pop and K-drama
male fans perceiving Koreans as especially moral and upright, which are
traits they desired to match. Additionally, the stark innocence of K-pop
and K-dramas is something they would attribute to themselves.
Another code derived from the interview is the idea of inserting
Korean words to display expertise and legitimacy as an authentic K-pop
fan, in addition to displaying one’s identity as a member of the K-pop
fan community. The function of performing one’s identity matches up
with Buscher et al. (2013), Charkova’s (2007), Danesi’s (2010) findings
that speaking a certain language is a way of performing a desired identity.
For a few of the Korean words, the participant reasoned that she utilizes
them to show her knowledge and the extent of her linguistic repertoire.
Using lingo that only other fellow K-pop fans know shows solidarity. Similar findings were seen in the quantitative portion of this study.
The functions of expertise and fan culture were mentioned frequently
for terms like oppa 오빠, OTP, otoke 오빠, sasaeng 사생팬, and unnie 언니.
Generally, they reasoned that inserting these terms in their discourse
made them closer to other fans, while also showing their knowledge of
the Korean language. This is similar to Charkova’s (2007) findings where
certain words used to refer to others in a community functioned to create a culture.
Often, being a K-pop fan may also mean that the fan watches Korean dramas as well. Using Korean words and fan lingo shows the identity
of the fan as someone who has been exposed to enough of the language
through dramas that they are now more of an “expert.” This function
of displaying expertise goes along with the research of Brenner et al.
(2014) and Leppänen (2007), who respectively found language switching
as functioning to show expertise in sports and gaming.
It also relates to Jaspers’ (2011) study where it is a way of creating
a separation between the “out” group and the “in” group. Kim’s (2015)
study is also similar in that the fans take part in a competitive “donation
culture” in a collective fashion to create positive public sentiments for
their fan group.
The first finding was that the participant felt that fan lingo and Korean words have a certain impact and meaning special to K-pop fans.
The participants emphasized that in certain situations it simply would
not be enough to use the English equivalent of a certain Korean word
or fan term. The quantitative data reflects this finding immensely. Across
all given lingo terms, the reasoning that it held special meaning or impact
was consistently the most prevalent. These findings demonstrate how
fandom language is a unique phenomenon and how language can be a
vital way to create solidarity and understanding within a fandom. These
coincide with findings in Jaspers (2011), as they would usually switch
languages in moments of intense emotions and De Decker (2012) who
found that switching helped with expressing certain things better.
Lastly, when asked about the appropriateness of appropriating fan
lingo and Korean words, the participants state that it’s not meant to be
offensive and is instead a positive thing. It is important to note that
throughout the interview when asking this question about language use
appropriateness, Taeyeon doesn’t mention any possible negative setbacks of appropriation. Data from the quantitative study reflected the
same findings. As indicated by the graphs that are all skewed left, with
most responses reflecting a level 6 and less leaning towards a level 1, a
great majority of participants feel that using fan lingo and Korean words
in their discourse was totally acceptable. Most of the reasoning behind
this was that it was a progressive and fun practice and that there was
nothing wrong with it. Notably, terms like omo 오모 and wae 왜 had a
number of individuals that were leaning towards it not being acceptable.
Some of the existing literature states that there is an existing tension between maintaining the use of the primary language and not overdoing it
with the acquired language. This did not seem to be a problem in the
gathered data, which is cause for interest.
The data from this study demonstrates that language use is guided by
our language ideologies, which are usually formed through institutions,
media, stereotypes, and culture. Language is also an integral means in
forming an imagined community that works to connect K-pop fans
globally. Additionally, my data overall expressed fans’ views that their use
of the Korean language is a positive thing meant to spread the culture.
Understandably, there can be both negative and positive implications of
the emergence of this new K-pop fan language. On the one hand, the
production of new languages made from a mix of various languages is a
progressive thing in light of the concept of language ecology. However,
others may feel like some of the fandom language is merely appropriation
of a minority language. K-pop fans are placed into a unique position as
they are more than just fans of music but also fans of a minority culture
and borrowers of this minority language. This sets the non-Korean
speakers up for critique.
Future research should seek out more participants (especially more
males) for a more diverse pool. It would also be ideal to ask native Korean speakers what their stance is on language borrowing as this study
merely looked at one side of the issue.
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Jaspers, J. (2011). Strange bedfellows: Appropriations of a tainted urban
dialect. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 15(4), 493-524. doi:10.1111
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portrayals of Korean pop idol fandom in Korea. Journal of
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K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America. Journal
Of Fandom Studies, 3(1), 23-41. doi:10.1386/jfs.3.1.23_1
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Reyes, A. (2005). Appropriation of African American slang by Asian
American youth. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 509-532.
Alim17. (2014, September 2). [UPDATE] Ladies’ Code member EunB
revealed to have passed away in a car accident + two members in
critical condition. Allkpop. Retrieved from http://www.allkpop
CallMeN00NA. (2014, May 14). [Update] Kris hired Hangeng’s former
law firm to file contract termination from SM. Soompi. Retrieved
from http://www.soompi.com/2014/05/14/chinese-media
CallMeN00NA. (2014, September 3). Ladies’ Code’s EunB’s funeral
to be held on September 5, updates on other members’ conditions
Soompi. Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/09/03/
CallMeN00NA. (2014, September 5). Sojung recovering after successful
surgery, no changes in RiSe’s condition. Soompi. Retrieved from
Deedeegii. (2014, September 2). Ladies’ Code members Sojung and
Rise currently undergoing surgery following car accident. Soompi.
Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/09/02/ladies-code
Deedeegii. (2014, September 2). [Update: Rise out of surgery] Polaris
Entertainment releases official statement with details regarding
Ladies’ Code car accident. Soompi. Retrieved from http://www
Deedeegii. (2014, September 3). Ladies’ Code’s agency reveals more
details on fatal accident: “Involved vehicle was a rental, driver is
experienced road manager.” Soompi. Retrieved from http://www
Deedeegii. (2014, September 3). Ladies’ Code’s “I’m fine thank you”
reaches No. 1 on music charts, EunB’s lifelong wish
belatedly granted. Soompi. Retrieved from http://www.soompi
Deedeegii. (2014, September 4). Ladies’ Code’s Sojung still unaware of
EunB’s passing + Ashley and Zuny to give eulogy at funeral.
Soompi. Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/09/04
Deedeegii. (2014, November 27). TS Entertainment reveals it has yet to
receive formal complaint regarding B.A.P.’s lawsuit. Soompi.
Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/11/27/ts
Deedeegii. (2014, November 29). Daehyun’s former vocal trainer
speaks out in B.A.P.’s defense in midst of lawsuit reports. Soompi.
Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/11/29/daehyuns
Deedeegii. (2014, December 29) B.A.P. opens up a fancafe to
communicate with fans in the midst of lawsuit. Soompi. Retrieved
from http://www.soompi.com/2014/12/29/b-a-p-opens-up-a
Halves in unison. (2014, September 2). [Breaking] Ladies’ Code’s
EunB passes away from car accident, other members injured.
Soompi. Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/09/02
Jun2yng. (2014, May 15). Reports claim SM violated EXO-M Kris’
basic civil rights. Soompi. Retrieved from http://www.soompi
Jun2yng. (2014, September 6). Ladies’ Code Sojung making a quick
recovery, had been aware of EunB’s passing prior to surgery.
Soompi. Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/09/06
Jun2yng. (2014, November 26). [Updated w/ official statement] All
6 B.A.P. members allegedly file lawsuit against TS Entertainment.
Soompi. Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/11/26
Jun2yng. (2014, December 5). B.A.P. responds to TS Entertainment’s
statement, refutes claims made by agency. Soompi. Retrieved
from http://www.soompi.com/2014/12/05/b-a-p-responds-to-ts
Jun2yng. (2014, December 5). TS Entertainment releases official
statement addressing issues raised in B.A.P.’s formal complaint.
Soompi. Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/12/05
Koreaboo. (2014, May 14). Breaking News: SM Entertainment
has reportedly confirmed with TV Daily that EXO-M
Kris has filed a lawsuit for early termination [Facebook
status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook
Koreaboo. (2014, May 14). Cover Story: EXO-M’s Kris
has revealed that he is seeking early termination from his
contract with SM Entertainment [Facebook status update].
Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/koreaboo/photo
Koreaboo. (2014, September 6). Breaking news: Ladies’ Code RiSe has
passed away at 10:10 AM [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from
Koreaboo. (2014, November 26). Breaking: B.A.P. has filed a
lawsuit against TS ENT for contract nullification [Facebook status
update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/koreaboo
Sablo. (2014, September 4). Ladies’ Code’s Kwon RiSe clings to life
after car accident, EunB and Sojung’s mothers offer their support. Soompi.
Retrieved from http://www.soompi.com/2014/09/04
Serendipity. (2014, May 14). Exo’s Kris seeking to nullify contract with
SM Entertainment. Allkpop. Retrieved from http://www.allkpop com/
article/2014/05/chinese-media-outlet-reports-that-exos-kris is-seekingto-terminate-his-contract-with-sm-entertainment
Serendipity. (2014, November 27). B.A.P. reported to have filed to
nullify their contract with TS Entertainment. Allkpop. Retrieved
from http://www.allkpop.com/article/2014/11/bap-reported-to
Migrant Women’s Experiences
of Abuse in U.S. Detention:
A Self-Narrative Gendered Critique of
U.S. Immigration Detention
Policies and Practices
Valeria Vera, class of 2015,
graduated cum laude with a B.A.
degree in International Studies.
She majored in Global Politics and
Societies and minored in Latin
American Studies. An earlier
version of this essay won USF’s
Ralph Lane Peace and Justice
Essay Award.
This began as a project of curiosity, and it will continue to be. It began by
observing the gaps in the media and academia regarding violations made
against the bodies of migrant women in U.S. detention centers. This project
is a compilation of feminist academic research, personal observations, and
listening to my “feminist blinkers” (thank you, Cynthia Enloe and Annick
Wibben); the thesis was also certainly guided and nurtured through the
University of San Francisco’s mission of social justice. My goal in this project
is to share the stories that were shared with me. It was made for and by
admirable and resilient women survivors, who re-lived their stories in the
hope of paving the way for other women. My goal is to continue asking
questions and listening to the voices and perspectives that have been shadowed by the system of control. Laws are dynamic, therefore, the dominant
narratives must also be dynamic.
—Valeria Vera
Valeria Vera wrote her undergraduate honors thesis in my International
Studies course in the fall of 2014. She chose the topic at the height of the
United States migration crisis when thousands of children from Central
America were streaming over the border and seeking asylum. Though the
international ramifications of exploding migration traffic worldwide has
expanded in the public’s consciousness thanks to the new crisis in Europe
in 2015, the story behind the news is far more complex.Vera’s thesis
examined an under-explored dimension of migration, namely the abusive
treatment of migrants deemed “illegal” and detained by federal agents and
local police in the United States. Her paper shows how a bourgeoning
private detention industry as well as a sense of impunity among agents in
the field has led to a rampant culture of abuse and neglect towards women
and children who have been detained while seeking to migrate.
—John Zarobell, International Studies
The abuse of migrant women in U.S. detention is the result of the systematic effort to criminalize undocumented immigrants in the United
States. This paper seeks to bring light to the specific human rights violations occurring inside the confines of U.S. immigration detention that
were uncovered through interviews conducted with five Latin American
migrant women. Such abuses were perpetrated by U.S. law enforcement
officers: local and/or federal police, private prison guards, public prison
guards, and Border Patrol agents. These stories of violence experienced
by each woman—whether physical, medical, psychological, or sexual—
are presented through their own self-narrative and reflection. What were
these specific violations? Why do they need to be brought to light? What
are the relationships between the criminalization of undocumented immigrants, the platform of national security the United States has adopted
domestically since September 11, police brutality, and the current prison-industrial complex? Approached with a gendered, feminist-informed
theory and Michel Foucault’s carceral system and punishment theory, this
paper attempts to link such pressing questions and provide alternatives
to how we can work with these vulnerable communities to support them
as they move forward seeking justice, dignity, rights, and citizenship in a
country that continues to deny them their very humanity.
Keywords: U.S.-Mexico border, immigration policies, abuse of migrant women,
U.S. detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Migrant Women’s Experiences of Abuse in U.S.
Detention: A Self-Narrative Gendered Critique of U.S.
Immigration Detention Policies and Practices
“La sabiduría de la experiencia es necesaria, no se aprende en ningún
libro; esta experiencia vale.”
—L.E. Bazan
“Violence against women and other vulnerable groups is not
… a ‘natural’ consequence of ‘patriarchal culture.’ Rather, it
is indicative of the absence of a functioning state that can
ensure law and order, basic services, and socio-economic
development, together with the construction of a political
system that rewards sectarian and ethnic politics.
—Nadje Al-Ali and Nichola Pratt,
What Kind of Liberation?
SEPTEMBER 30, 2014, the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Educational Fund issued an open complaint letter to the Department of Homeland Security in response to allegations of ongoing sexual
abuse perpetrated by prison guards and staff since August 2014 at the
Karnes County Residential Center in Texas. It demanded that the necessary protective and investigative measurements be implemented to protect all women and children detained. It stated that:
Karnes Center guards and/or personnel [were] removing female detainees … for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts
in various parts of the facility … calling detainees their “novias,” or “girlfriends”… and requesting various sexual favors
in exchange for money, promises of assistance … and shelter
if the women were released … and … kissing, fondling and/
or groping female detainees in front of other detainees, including children.
But sexual violence in the Karnes facility is neither an isolated case nor
a novel one. When we study violence against migrant women, sexual-
ized violence has resulted as a commonly and systematically established
phenomenon rather than as an anomaly. Such violence against migrant
women has mostly been documented as violence perpetrated by partners,
employers, or those individuals who know these women to be vulnerable
because of their non-status, such as “coyotes” and other migrants with
whom they journey north. Not all migrant women are apprehended during or after arriving in U.S. territory, but those who are can find themselves detained in a facility, immediately released to their country of origin, or briefly detained until voluntarily deported (the scope of this paper
is limited to Latina migrants crossing the U.S.–Mexico border). Missing
from the literature of detention and violence against migrants (women),
however, is the role of U.S. law enforcement officers.
As a direct outcome of the attacks of September 11 and the subsequent scramble for national security, the U.S. border has become increasingly militarized with a policy-enforcement system whose duties and
purpose have become the criminalization and dehumanization of “others”—undocumented individuals, people of color, and Muslims. The establishment of such an environment of dehumanization normalizes the
abuse and exploitation of these “others,” contributing to the creation of
a culture where impunity reigns. As the prosecutor who led the first rapeconviction case of two Border Patrol officers in Texas in 1982 stated, “it
is really difficult to win civil rights cases against law enforcement officers.
They have a lot of power” (Falcón, 2000).
Militarization, as studies of war and gender demonstrate, is the
adoption of militaristic values. It is “a sociopolitical process … by which
the roots of militarism are driven deep down into the soil of a society”
(Enloe, 2004, p. 219–20), the exacerbation and expression of power,
hierarchy, domination, obedience, the use of force (Enloe, 2007). This
deeply rooted patriarchal masculine domination legitimizes violence. In
the wake of the attacks of September 11, the border has become increasingly militarized to its present-day deployment of over 22,000 border patrol agents (18,000 covering the Southwest border alone in 2013);
drones, such as the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, whose wingspan
stands at 27 feet and has been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan; wireless
camera-equipped robots (Coyne and Hall, 2013; Wagstaff, 2014); and an
additional 3.7 billion dollars added to the already-proposed 13 billion
dollars for Customs and Border Protection alone, which the Department
of Homeland Security (DHS) requested for FY 2015 “to deal with the
current (immigration) crisis, with 39.4 million dollars [of that sum] committed to air surveillance—including funds meant for 16 additional crews
to operate and maintain drones” (DHS). Operation Jumpstart, for example, deployed 6,000 national guard members—who “are trained to kill
and are not properly trained in civilian affairs, particularly those related
to the unique border region”—to border states with the goal of lawfully
arresting individuals alongside Border Patrol (Border Action Network,
2008, p. 14, 28). Crossing into the United States is no longer a civil crime
but a felony (Williams, 2008, as cited in Androff and Tavassoli, 2012).
Cockburn (2007) claims that war “legitimizes male violence” (Cockburn, 2007, p. 228). The soldier, even if he or she is not actively in war,
is taught that their goal is to kill. When the border has become “like
a war zone” (AFSC, 2013), the attitudes it fuels are those of violence
against men and women, and human rights violations. In 1995, Human
Rights Watch published a report detailing that “U.S. Border Patrol agents
[had been] committing serious human rights violations, including unjustified shootings, rape, and beatings,” reaffirming the fact that the officers
allegedly perpetrating such crimes received “virtual impunity for their
actions,” even in the face of evidence from multiple victims. In 1996,
the linkages between security and border militarization were studied by
Timothy Dunn who concluded that human rights violations had become
unique to the borderlands region as “widespread human rights violations
[are] committed by military and security forces, key elements of which
have often been trained and advised by U.S. military, security, and intelligence personnel” (Dunn, 1996, p. 4).
Sylvana Falcón’s 2001 piece, “Rape as a Weapon of War,” follows the
stories of multiple women sexual violated and raped by U.S. border officials. She details the story of two Guatemalan women, Norma Contreras
and Luz Lopez, and their abuse by on-duty officer Luis Santiago Estevez.
Estevez stopped and took them to his patrol car, where he “lifted up
[Norma’s] dress, pushed her legs open, pulled aside her underwear and
stuck his fingers in her vagina. [Then, he instructed] Lopez to undo the
buttons on her jumpsuit and [he] put his hands inside her top and felt
her breasts” (Falcón, 2001, p. 40). This can be further seen in Julia Light’s
Their ordeal continued when the agent brought them to the
office for processing. Lopez said he took her to the back
room, told her to strip, turned her against the wall, and continued to sexually assault her … [Then,] while the supervisor
stood watch at the front door, the patrol agent followed her
into a bathroom and … groped her and forced his fingers
into her vagina. (Light, 1996)
Estevez was eventually prosecuted, receiving a 24-year sentence for
counts unrelated to the sexualized violence against the two migrants. He
appealed, and served only months from his original conviction.
While it was found that on the border “between 80 and 90 percent
of migrant women have suffered sexual violence” (Ruiz–Marrujo, 2009,
p. 31) and that “rape has become so prevalent that … some women consider it ‘the price you pay for crossing’ ” (Ruiz–Marrujo, 2009, p. 31), it
is clear that “violence is one means by which dominant groups establish,
sustain, and legitimize their privilege” (Ruiz–Marrujo and Lopez Pulido,
2010). Rape is in fact the most effective way to “devastate notions of
[the] self ” and the identities of its survivors (Henry, 2011, p. 9). This
is because the knowledge of these actions established by the dominant
groups are also victimized in their (mis)construction. Both “accepted
truths” and the atrocities that have inflicted extreme forms of suffering
on marginalized individuals (women) are reconstructed by those in power (men). By negating realities of injustice, pain, male domination and
privilege, women are further controlled and a greater silence is forced
upon them. The problem is not only that they have no voice to express
their stories, but also that there is no acknowledgement of their suffering. When the abuse is deeply rooted in the already flawed immigration
and border-enforcement policies, the method of control of such a system becomes even more powerful and dangerous as it becomes institutionalized. Specifically in the United States, this institution is immigration
Immigration detention is conceptualized through the carceral method of control in the United States: “We [in the United States] live in the
most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under
correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850” (Legend,
2015). Criminalizing and incarcerating undocumented migrants (to be
discussed further in the findings sections) as it seeks to protect “the
nation” from terrorism, a threat which undocumented immigrants allegedy play a large part of. In such a system of control, the story of
what happens, to whom, and why—the “truth”—become obscured and
overshadowed by an image controlled by those in power. In the case of
migrant women, those in power seem to be militarized masculine white
All of the aforementioned scenarios and dominating cultures give
rise to pressing questions to challenge the deprivation of the voices
representing the scenarios, the realities, voices that do not threaten
the power in place. Though under-reported and in the margins, the
rape and individual traumatic experiences of migrant women’s sexual
abuse—including those of the women found at the Karnes Center in
Texas—stand to testify that these events are not unique, or the “case
of a few bad apples” (Falcón, 2009). How, then, do these women who
have lived these experiences—these migrant women whose language,
status, color, and education poses a barrier—project their voices louder than the oppressive and dominating institutions? Can these women
rewrite the story? How can these women, subalterns, speak? Do they
want to? Additionally, if on the border, these women experience atrocities similar to sexualized violence, what do migrant women face behind
closed doors? What does it mean to be a migrant woman in detention?
This paper is an attempt to inquire and expose the effects of the
aforementioned systematic oppressions from a different angle, one that
is missing from academia and largely from the media. This paper investigates the practices within the confinement of the carceral institution of
U.S. detention and the migrant women it detains. The carceral complex
and its criminalization of migrant women, its impunity, and the silences
with which it operates create a false memory, a false reality, and a false
image of migrant women and the experiences they have while in detention. As the research presented here further uncovers, the violations
committed upon their bodies, the abuse inside U.S. detention can take
the form of physical, medical, or psychological violations, amounting to
the trauma previously developed through their histories of abuse in their
country of origin (a powerful migration push factor) and their journey
Through a gendered-feminist research approach, this paper seeks
to present the narratives of five migrant women as they reflect on their
experiences in U.S. detention. Specifically, the abuse each experienced
in it and in their encounters with U.S. law enforcement—local and/or
federal police, private prison guards, public prison guards, and Border
Patrol Agents.1 A feminist researcher’s job is to stay informed, critical,
political, and also self-reflective (Enloe, 2004; Wibben, 2011: 110), challenging “traditional” or established notions of war, violence, and gender
roles. Incorporating the dialogue of migrant women as they tell their
own stories is the only way to affirm their realities, their memory, their
history, and the torture-like conditions experienced in U.S. detention.
This paper urges its reader to “see,” challenge, and deconstruct preconceptions and knowledge of the dominant discourse, and to build
bridges towards the humanity and understanding of the marginalized
woman migrant and the flawed, corrupted, and abusive conditions U.S.
enforcement policies permit.
Managing Immigration Through Crime:
Detention and Punishment
The United States detains 34,000 undocumented individuals every single
day (Endisolation.org, 2014). Immigrations and Customs Enforcement
(ICE), whose task is to enforce federal laws governing border control,
customs, trade, and immigration, owns about 40% of these 34,000 beds
not owned by the private sector (ICE, 2014). CIVIC (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement), an organization devoted
to visiting immigrants in detention, states every year “over 400,000 people disappear and are bought and sold in the United States.” They are not
referring to what is conceived to be “human trafficking” or “sex trafficking” of persons, but instead are referring to the 34,000 individuals who
must be detained every day and whose expenditures amount to 5 billion
taxpayer dollars annually.
However, the environments in these detention centers and facili1 In no way do the arguments presented here deny, undermine, or ignore that all
migrants, regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation or sexual identity experience
abusive realities, marginalization, or victimization. Nor do my arguments generalize
that all U.S. law enforcers will or do engage in the perpetration of such violence.
ties where immigrants are held—especially those of private contractors—are the absolute worst. This is a result of what Jennifer Chacón,
a law professor, believes to be the U.S. procedural system’s attempts at
“managing immigration through crime.” Since having “lost sight of the
legal distinctions that separate the criminal from the civil realm” (2009,
p. 48). Chacón is directly responding to the massive violations that take
place in two specific instances: mass-hearing court proceedings and
the increasing presence of immigrants “detained” in prisons, not jails,
meaning that they are treated on the same criminal level as a rapist, a
murderer, or a high-profile drug lord. This occurs primarily through
the use of mass-hearing court proceedings which deny immigrants
their due process. For immigrants who have been detained, court is the
only mechanism that can grant them their freedom by assigning them
a bond that will allow them to fight their case from outside detention,
or by deciding whether their case will be approved or not. Yarazeth2
and Imelda were granted bonds, but their court hearing was a much
smaller hearing. Yarazeth’s sister, who has been detained in Texas for
over ten months now, was denied her asylum in a mass hearing, sending
her back to the degrading conditions of detention, where she continues
appealing her asylum case.
If detention is where immigrants await their case decisions and
removal, nothing can be inferred of this self-eating beast that profits
from the confinement of human beings (not “aliens”) but that detention serves as a place to punish. Ayelen, an asylum seeker from Mexico,
reflected on being treated “like criminals.” Also on the reasons why such
abuse is so widespread:
[T]he criminalization of the immigrant is a huge business,
especially targeting Latinos as they cannot hide us anymore;
so they make a big business out of holding them there [in detention] for months at a time. Dehumanizing people is a way
to assure control, to assure you will not lose power.
Her experience as a survivor of domestic and sexual violence, as a victim
2 All names have been changed to preserve the safety and respect the wishes of each
of ethnic and language discrimination in the United States, and as an
undocumented individual for over a decade, further demonstrates the
extent to which the carceral system, which Michel Foucault describes in
his work Discipline and Punish, punishes for the purposes of controlling,
subordinating, and reinforcing a system of power. This carceral system
which is “not only the institution of the prison, with its walls, its staff,
its regulations and its violence” (Foucault, 1975. p. 271), but extends its
surveillance through a system of the normalization of proper conduct
and identity, identifying those who do not fit as anomalies, or “others;”
in the case of undocumented migrants (particularly since September 11),
as criminals. Similarly, the state, as the institution in power, controls discourse and has the ability to apply mechanisms of “discipline.” When
applied practically, in this case immigration detention, these practices
transcend in the lived experiences of the migrant women whose stories
are shared in the following section.
Empowered Migrant Women:
Reflective Stories of Experiences in U.S. Detention
“Tenemos que ir a la oficina de Nancy Pelosi, pararnos afuera, y demandar que
haga algo. Por qué si sabe, nosotros le hemos dicho de las hieleras y ella negó desde un
principio que sabía, y que ese tipo de cosas no podían estar pasando,” 3 encouraged
Lucia in response to Yarazeth’s comments on the hielera (literally translated as “cool box”) and el hoyo (“the hole”).
Yarazeth: Bronchitis and Panic Attacks
Yarazeth, in her early 30s, is a small, indigenous woman originally from a
small village in Honduras. She was released from detention around September 2014 after being detained for ten months in a mixture of private
and public detention centers. “Ellos creen que todos se vienen porque uno quiere
venirse del país de uno pero en mi caso no es … o sea si yo me vengo es por mi amen3 “ We have to go to Nancy Pelosi’s office, stand outside, and demand that she do
something. Because she knows, we’ve told her about the hieleras and she denied
knowing from the very beginning, that she was not aware and that such actions
could not really be happening” (Lucia’s observation)
aza de muerte.” 4 Yarazeth was forced to migrate, escaping a violent and
abusive partner. She sought asylum, a protection that would allow her to
remain in the United States without being forced to return to Honduras,
where she feared she would die if she were to return.
Yarazeth’s relationship with her former partner started off really
nicely. She really felt like it was love. She was around twenty-two, recently
received her undergraduate degree, and worked as a third-grade teacher
when she met him. When he suggested they move in together, Yarazeth
was eager to start her new life with him. He took her to Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa, far from her village of San Pedro Sula and her family. In
their new home together, he became aggressive, racist, and violent. He
didn’t feed her or give her much water, and she was forced to sleep on the
cold concrete floor. He cut off all of her contact with the outside world
and kept her locked inside the house. During this time, Yarazeth became
pregnant on two occasions. When she was about six months pregnant
during both pregnancies, her partner’s beatings led her to abort. The
second time, she carried twins.
The first time she crossed she was immediately apprehended on the
border and taken to an hielera, detained for three days, coerced into signing an order for voluntary deportation. “Estuve como en tres diferentes hieleras
… 3 o 4 días; no hablamos con oficiales, con juez, ni nadie, y ya después nos sacarón
… Nos mandarón para Honduras como el 4 de diciembre.” 5 She was never informed of her right to seek counsel or their consulate and request an
immediate asylum case, violating their due process and their right to protection.
On February 1, 2014, she left Honduras for the second time, not
knowing that it would take her two months before she found herself on
U.S. territory. This time, she spent weeks held for ransom on two different occasions: first by the Zetas in the south of Mexico and then by
the Gulf Cartel on the area between Matamoros and Brownsville, Texas.
While held by the cartels she experienced sexual harassment and cruel
4 “They (U.S. government/officers) think that we come because we want to leave
our own country, but that’s not true for me… I left because I was threatened with
5 “I was in three or four different hieleras for 3 or 4 days; we didn’t speak with any officers, or judge, nobody, and then we were released … sent back to Honduras, where
we arrived around the 4th of December [2013].”
conditions, such as spending nights outside and traveling from place to
place, walking through the forests and mountains, leading her to develop
bronchitis. In her second apprehension by U.S. Border Patrol, Yarazeth
refused to sign voluntary deportation and was thrown into an hielera with
lower temperatures than the first time and, even though, she begged to
receive medical attention for her bronchitis, she was denied any. After
about 10 days in the hielera she was transferred to Laredo, Texas, where
her bronchitis and overall health worsened tremendously as she continued to be denied medical assistance. As she put it: “Estuve un mes consecutivo, mandaba nota, y nunca me sacarón al hospital.”6 A month later, Yarazeth
was transferred to West County in Richmond, California, where she was
assigned a doctor who overlooked her medical file and prescribed her
“what he wanted,” or what she deemed as the wrong dose because:
A raíz de que el doctór me dió 120mg., creo que me ha perjudicado…
En veces estóy acostada, y me palpita de repente el corazón, me duele
mucho la cabeza, siento que me ahogo. Yo sentía que yo me quemaba.
Siento como algo bien feo, no se si es de que me tenían tanto tiempo
encerrada alla o de lo que me dio el doctor. El hizo lo que él quería.
Él quería que yo recallera. Digamos que yo me hubiera morido y a él le
hubiera valido. El me dijo “aquí” es una casa y hay reglas.7
What did the doctor mean by the detention center being “[his]
house and there [being] rules?” As other narratives will further demonstrate, Yarazeth’s medical neglect of her bronchitis and being wrongly
prescribed, which she believes was responsible for her current severe
depression and panic attacks, are not an isolated case. Punishment in
hieleras is not either.
6 “I was there for one whole month, wrote written requests, but was never taken out to
the hospital.”
7 “Whatever he prescribed began giving me sudden headaches, made my heart beat
rapidly all of a sudden. I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel like I
was burning, I don’t know if it’s because I was locked up for so long or because of
what he prescribed, but I’ve felt like I can die and it scares me so much; because I
could have died and he wouldn’t have cared. ‘This is a house and there are rules,’ he
Imelda: Anemia, Physical Abuse, and Silence
Imelda is a Honduran woman also from San Pedro Sula. She is 35 years
old and a single mother of seven children, all of whom are currently
cared for by their uncle in Honduras, where Imelda worked as a housekeeper for a local politician. She fled to the U.S. after witnessing a violent
murder that put her life at risk and forced her into hiding for months.
Él estaba a un lado de mi cuando llego el otro y le dió el primer golpe con
un machete. Aveces me pregunto como no me pego a mi … pero estaba
paralizada, no sabía que hacer. Cuando le dio el segundo golpe, yo ya
estaba cubierta en sangre y empecé a corer … cuando pare y mire atrás
vi que el hombre me estaba persiguiendo a mi también, traía el machete
en la mano. Entonces entre a una tienda y le pedí al que trabajaba ahí
que me ayudara, le rogué por mi vida y por la de mis hijos, por quienes
yo tenia que vivir y ver por ellos.8
Her children needing to be clothed, fed, and supported in their education (the eldest is fourteen, the youngest three), she decided to migrate
to a place where she thought she would find safety. It was the hardest
thing she has ever had to, she reflected, a journey of suffering and fear
where (notoriously on The Beast9) one has to “make themselves blind,
deaf, mute. Those you see being shot, hear being abused (women), or the
screams after someone gets thrown off the train … you force yourself
to unsee, to pretend it didn’t happen.”
When she finally reached the Arizona border, Imelda paid a coyote to
8 “He was next to me when the [other] man came up behind and—with the man next
to me—struck the first blow with a machete. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t get
hit, how the machete missed me … I was paralyzed, I didn’t know what to do, when
I saw the second blow, I was already covered in blood and started running. When
I looked back, I realized the man was chasing after me with the machete in hand. I
tried to get a store-keeper to give me shelter, to help me hide, I begged him for my
life in the name of my children, who I had to live and stay alive for.”
9 The Beast, La Bestia, is a high-speed freight cargo train that migrants use to journey
north through Mexico. Many jump on it while it is running to get on. Cartels control
specific areas it runs through and its passengers have to pay the cartels themselves
the demanded bribe otherwise they will be thrown off to die. Imleda said this bribe,
which she had to pay 9 times throughout, was 100 dollars.
take her across the river amongst a group of about 24 men and 5 women.
As they walked across the river, with her belongings in a plastic bag held
over her head and her only her underclothes to shield her body, Imelda
recalls being sexually assaulted by the coyote. After the group crossed, the
coyote divided them in two and left one behind as he accompanied another forward into the U.S. under the pretension he would return but never
did, leaving Imelda alone with three men to decide whether to return to
Mexico or trek across Arizona desert alone. Unwilling to give up, Imelda
and the three men chose the latter and were lost for a week, during which
time she fell in a hole in the desert and injured her right leg, losing her ability to independently walk and eventually being discovered by Border Patrol. “We were caught on a Sunday. I was lying down on the ground when
immigration came. I had no more strength. They warned me that I better
not get up … but I told them I couldn’t, I had no strength. They took
me to the hielera.” Imelda was held for four days. An officer in the hielera
warned her if she planned on staying in the United States she had to walk
right and not disturb anyone with any medical requests. “They set up a
bunch of hurdles to avoid taking me to the doctor, which they said would
complicate my case. They told me to be brave, but how could I? It was my
foot, my leg, where I press all my weight. We were treated so badly.”
Imelda was transferred four times over one year and vividly remembers the treatment she received at each different detention center.
California City Detention fed their detainees rotten food—oatmeal with
larvae, bread green with mold. West County Detention Center in Richmond, California, was her last stop but by then, her health and body
had significantly deteriorated and her health suffered extremely. She collapsed to the ground as she made her way to the bathroom10 one day:
I was unable to get up but conscious enough to remember being on the ground while one officer began kicking my legs and
stomach, telling me to get up, that I was faking it. While the
officer, Rodriguez, kept kicking me and yelling at me to ‘stop
faking it’ because they were not going to take me anywhere,
10 Bathroom breaks were every hour and a half or so, and they (the 120 women or
so detained alongside Imelda, one of which was Yarazeth) were given three minutes to go to the bathroom
the doctor came and said that I was not faking it. He took my
blood pressure and said he could barely feel my pulse. They
took me to the hospital for one night. I had anemia.
Vilma: Hieleras and Detention Guards’ Physical Abuse
Vilma, the third interviewee, is from Guatemala and was the third person whose story included the reality of the hielera. Vilma’s story reveals
most about what this punishment is and its implications upon individuals, most alarming since she was pregnant while detained.
Vilma migrated into the United States with her five-year-old son,
José, who is a U.S. citizen. This was her second time crossing and the second time she had to leave behind her eleven-year-old daughter in Guatemala, in fear of the almost certain danger a young girl migrating north
would be exposed to. The first time she crossed was nine years ago when
she sought to escape the abuse of her daughter’s father. This time, she
was also fleeing Guatemala after being violently harassed by a local gang
who was hired by José’s father—who continues to reside in the United
States. He was responsible for their deportation in the first place, as he
reported Vilma to the authorities.
“Era una carcel,”11 José shared as he listened in to Vilma’s reflection on the hielera. “They put the air conditioning on as high as they
could while we were given a strip of blanket they said was aluminum
but wasn’t … I still don’t know the material, but it wasn’t enough. We
all [about 20 people] would huddle together,” said Vilma. “Our water
came from the faucet and our toilet was in the cell. We had no privacy.
In those seven days, we never showered and never brushed our teeth.
We had a terrible stench.”
The freezing temperatures made them both sick. Vilma had a stomach flu and José a fever. When she begged officers to take him to the
hospital they ignored her for a whole day and night. José didn’t receive
help until the following morning when the officers “felt like it.” Both recall how all children in their hielera were always crying from sickness, cold,
or hunger. “We received one sandwich each every four to five hours; Jose
would cry and tell me he was so hungry he could eat ten sandwiches; to
11 “It was a jail.”
ask for more … [we] were miserable. And I was pregnant.”
Imelda recalls that while in the hielera she was treated and talked to
worse than dogs. Officers threw food at her and her fellow detainees,
mocked, laughed, and screamed out “Why are you in my country? You
are all wetbacks, you’re all pieces of shit.” Immigration authorities often
respond terribly if a detainee complains:
We placed several complaints [when already in West County]
and the only thing we would get out of it was worse punishment from the same officer we complained about. Once, an
officer told a woman to get out of the room because they
were going to inspect it, but the woman didn’t speak English
and so didn’t understand, and the officer—who did speak
Spanish—knew that. She grabbed the woman and yanked
her out of the room, throwing her against a wall and then hit
her. The woman didn’t say anything because she was scared.
If you complain, they take it out on you and it’s worse. The
worse punishment was el hoyo, a punishment room where you
were isolated for a week or 10 days, where they only let you
out for one hour every two days so you can shower. “It’s our
house and these are our rules,” the officers would always say.
Reported Violence and Impunity
Women Victims of Sexual Abuse in Detention
Of the personal stories shared by migrant women for this paper, none
included being personally victimized by sexualized violence. However,
through published reports it has become evident that sexualized violence
perpetrated by prison guards and officers is widespread in detention centers and hieleras in the same way that it has been present for the migrant
women who cross the border.
When the Mexican American Legal Defense issued its open letter to
the Department of Homeland Security in August 2014 it received a monumental response as it was the first public report demanding a response
from authorities upon the gendered atrocities occurring in detention by officers and guards in uniform. With such masculinities, patriarchy, militariza-
tion, and war theories institutionalized in the practice of immigration and
border enforcement, the practices in immigration detention transcend our
ideas of reality. The open letter goes as far to claim that the detention centers provide an environment that facilitates such sexual abuse. The Karnes
Center’s staff is predominantly male, and has access to the detained at any
time, day or night. If children are over 13 years old, they are separated
from their mothers and have separate living and sleeping cells. MALDEF
adds that neither ICE nor DHS have written policy that mandates zero
tolerance towards sexual abuse and sexual harassment; nor do they have
a means of approaching, preventing, detecting, or responding to sexual
abuse in their agency’s policy.
Providing a larger perspective, the American Civil Liberties Union
published a report in 2011 of the United States with a map of compiled
sexual abuse complaints by detention center and state. Highlighting the
number of “sexual abuse complaints since 2007” the list concluded that
there were more than 200 allegations between 2007 and 2010 (ACLU,
2011). The Karnes Center is not on the list, as it did not exist at the time.
However, Texas proved to be the state with most allegations with a total
of 56, California with 17 allegations. West County—where Yarazeth and
Imelda were detained—was not mentioned.
Fig. 1. The map above, generated by data from the ACLU, demonstrates the higher
number of abuse incidents in Western states.
Of additional interest is a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to Congress published in December 2013 advising “additional actions could strengthen DHS efforts to address sexual
abuse.” Whereas the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act was created to
prevent and eliminate sexual abuse in prisons and detention centers, the
GAO report proves this act has failed to implement safety procedures
and eradicate the issue. More specifically, while the act requires that detention centers hold the proper tools for responding to and approaching
any allegations and providing support for those who have been violated,
the deregulation and underreporting of sexual assault allegations by ICE
or prison officials proves the inconsistency and failure to comply to the
law. For example, the GAO report stated the DHS hotline or call center
to which detainees were directed for help was often not answered or
the voicemail was full. This prevented detainees from receiving access
to which they are entitled and limited their ability for their voices to be
heard, perpetuating the culture of silence that allows for this victimization of migrant women.
On November 28, 2014, the United Nations Committee Against Torture
published a list of observations every two years, based on data provided
by the specific country being “observed.” As a member of the Committee Against Torture, for which the United States is a ratified State
Party since 1994, this is routine. In its report, the committee expressed
its concern over the policies and attitudes detainees were met with and
acknowledged the existence of sexual abuse towards detained migrants.
While the committee cannot force any investigation or compel the United States to investigate or to change its practices, publication of such
observations and concerns has brought further attention to human rights
The Kino Border Initiative’s published 2013 document “Documented Failures: The Consequences of Immigration Policy on the U.S.-Mexico
Border” reported the wide range of violations that exist in this regulatory process of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and in
its treatment of immigrants, both apprehended or in detention. It found
that “different sources reveal systematic failures of Border Patrol Agents
to follow their own regulations and procedures with respect to civil and
human rights, detention standards, and professionalism” (Kino, 2013, p.
26). The wide range of abuses committed by the Border Patrol Agents,
it states, are undocumented as a result of insufficient enforcement policies and agencies’ failures to require the documentation of incidents, even
when migrants are “injured or killed by a CBP agent” (Kino, 2013, p.
28). Of the deported migrants interviewed in their report, 7.3% claimed
they were not allowed to contact their consulate by U.S. immigration authorities despite their request (Kino, 2013, p. 28), and despite the fact that
they have the right to make and be granted such a request. Finally, after
multiple of recommendations, the Kino report advises that “additional
training should be provided to CBP agents” and standards of professional
conduct set; that Operation Streamline should be suspended as it has been
responsible for the hyper-criminalization of individuals and is responsible
for the current boom in detention facilities; and that CBP agents should
be required to publicly report all incidents as well as its protocol for investigating such incidents (Kino, 2013, p. 33).
The CBP Inspector’s Field Manual highlights in detail the protocol
criticized by Kino. In its 343 pages, the IFM has only one subsection
(Section 2.7) titled “Reporting Significant Incidents.” It begins by advising that since “the Office of Field Operations program … is so highly
visible, [it] is an obvious target of those seeking publicity” and that an
officer “should anticipate national media attention and [be] prepare[d]
to act promptly and properly in emergency situations” such as “strikes,
demonstrations … threats of terrorist activities … bomb threats … assaults upon officers, and natural disasters” (Miller, 2003, p. 7). Contrary
to what the title of the manual highlights, there is little to no instruction
throughout the manual on the process of reporting any crimes committed
against undocumented immigrants found or apprehended on the border
or which department holds jurisdiction over this.
Besides institutional impunity that is granted by inadequate laws, another factor that contributes to the impunity of the Border Patrol agents
is the overall fear, lack of knowledge, and powerlessness of their victims.
As Anna O’Leary (2009) points out, “in the case of undocumented migrants, violations of their rights remain undisclosed by the simple fact
that victims are repatriated or deported and they have little or no opportunity or incentive to denounce their offenders” (p. 91). Even if they did
denounce their offenders, as both the Human Rights Watch report of
1995 and the individual survivor women (those who have reported and
taken their case to court) have further demonstrated, the corruption at
work of individual agents and within the agency’s system are also greatly
responsible for institutionalizing impunity:
Disciplinary actions meted out to a particular agent often depend more on that agent’s relationship with his or her supervisor than on the seriousness of the abuse committed. A seven-year veteran of the Border Patrol stated, “in about seventy
percent of the offense categories, the punishments can range
from verbal reprimand to dismissal. And there’s certainly cronyism in how it’s handled.” (Human Rights Watch, 1995)
As a government prosecutor stated in 1982 after successfully convicting
two Border Patrol officials of rape in Texas, “it is really difficult to win
civil rights cases against law enforcement officers. They have a lot of
power.” The impunity and power that U.S. officials and law enforcers
hold directly contributes to the systematic degradation of migrant women in detention. The United States has created flawed enforcement and
immigration policies that have unintentionally victimized many migrants.
When Michel Foucault theorizes that the prison system is a place
for punishment, he also demonstrates that a government that seeks to
deprive people of their liberty legitimizes their use of power over others and uses that same power to construct threats to protect its interests.
Such a state uses violence to ensure that power. Using the United States
as a case study, the state’s legitimization of its own power has normalized the abuse suffered by migrant women inside detention centers. This
dehumanizes these individuals to the extent that the state no longer sees
their abuse as illegal or tortuous, but rather as a necessary deed in ensuring control and exercising its sovereign power. As President Obama
expressed in his plans to enforce detention through a tougher platform,
“[migrants’] release [from detention centers] pose a national security concern by encouraging further immigration” to other Central American immigrants (Detention Watch Network, 2014). The fallacy is that migrant
imprisonment will limit further migration because fear of detention will
discourage other migrants from journeying into the United States. Thus,
the United States normalizes its expansion of detention and the terrible
Imelda and the women she shared her room with in West County
understood the inner workings of the prison complex as a place for the
control of power, the domination of a one-sided narrow discourse, and
oppression of the “other.” It was their everyday life. She recalls the abuse
her bunkmate received as she welcomed Imelda back when she returned
to her cell from the hospital, where she had spent the night being treated
for her anemia.
She asked me, “How are you?” That’s all she said. The officer on duty was in a bad mood. She replied to “what does
it matter to you if she’s good or bad, it’s none of your business” and she replied, “I care because I care for her …” They
wrote her [Olga] up and the report said that Olga had thrown
herself at the officer and tried … to hit her. So she was punished for 10 days in the hole. But none of it was true; it was
the other way around. The officer was the one who threw
[Olga] down into the ground and [violently] handcuffed her.
We filled out a complaint when we saw the report and I testified about what had happened. They said they would do
something, but they never did. And they just transferred her
to Yuba straight from the hole.
From physical and psychological abuse to officers abusing the migrant
women they detain, impunity has become accepted in the attitudes and
ideologies adopted by the system and its law enforcement.
“That’s the story I have had to live in the United States. I have been
laughed at, mocked, and mistreated. If I were returned to [Honduras],
I wouldn’t come back,” lamented Imelda. But the situation Imelda had
to endure and suffer through, and continues to fight to overcome is not
isolated from that of which other migrant women have had to endure
and suffer in detention centers. Such abuses are allowed in a culture that
has adopted policies such as the criminalization of immigrants, exempli-
fied through mass incarceration and private prison industrial complex
plaguing the nation.
Beginning on the U.S.-Mexico border, migrant women suffer abuse
that adds to the trauma they have already suffered. Agents often cross the
border without inspection. Consider, for example, the abuse of Juanita
Gomez, Luz Lopez, and Norma Contreras (who were detained in freezing rooms). They suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of officers, or were tortured into signing “voluntary deportation” orders, sending them back to their country of origin. This could place migrants in
very real danger—especially risky if their country of origin is Honduras,
Guatemala, or even Mexico—all of which are in a state of undeclared
internal war.
When I began the investigation for this paper, I encountered many
obstacles that prevented relevant information from being uncovered. Immigration scholars, who have been doing work on the border for years,
admitted they were unaware of current research on the abuses against
migrant women in detention, which concerned the curious feminist within me. This made the “silence” surrounding the topic much more powerful. Because I was already aware of the existence of sexualized violence
perpetrated by U.S. law enforcers in the southern U.S. border, I was motivated to continue to question why more information was not available.
Furthermore, as post-September 11 events have led to greater efforts to
secure the United States as a nation, the scramble to construct the image
of the new “other” further created issues for immigrants without agency.
Linking the effects of such heightened border security—the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border—with feminist theory demonstrated that
a serious situation existed even with limited evidence available.
Thus, stepping away from academia, I was able to find that the practical issues were deeply rooted in the system that seeks not just to criminalize, but to punish, this being the carceral system, a system that fuels
detention and seeks to control and legitimize its abuse. Furthermore, it
can be reasonably concluded that the United States’ extended power has
manifested into new forms of tyranny as it seeks to reform, control, and
criminalize all those who reach its geographical boundaries, its nation.
Included are those individuals who are in grave need of protection. Given the deeply rooted silence that surrounds the experiences of abuse suffered by migrant women, only they can lead the dialogue that academia
has failed to nurture. It is only through the perspectives of the women
migrants themselves—whether they had been detained or not—that an
understanding of the realities that exemplify the systematic dehumanization and punishment migrant women and migrant populations inside
detention face can be reached.
The more women who shared their stories, the more I understood
how critical it was for them to lead this conversation—for the sake of
truth, knowledge, their identity, and the future. The sharing of their individual stories became the most important factor.
U.S. immigration enforcement policies, intentionally or not, have
had terrible and degrading consequences on all migrants. In particular, though, migrant women are victimized in many different ways. The
abuse they suffer inside detention is appalling. It is torture.
The stories of violence and abuse in detention centers contributes
to the migrant women’s security dilemma. These women are being punished and criminalized by a state that has become tyrannical in its use
of force, overstepping all boundaries of the human body and human
dignity. The journey migrant women make has taken a large toll on their
lives, and the last thing they need is additional violence: what they need,
in fact, is to be granted the dignity all human beings deserve, and that begins with being granted a safe place to reside free from fear, danger, and
persecution. As these women seek a stable future, they also need closure
over past persecution and traumas they have and continue to suffer. This
includes circumstances experienced in their country of origin, during
their migrating journey, as undocumented women in the United States
(including, but not limited to, abuses in the work force, racism, language
barriers, lack of access to medical or psychological resources, lack of
economic opportunities). Migrant women (and all migrants) deserve to
live their lives without fear of oppression, discrimination, or persecution.
They deserve opportunities to be heard, to be included, the acknowledgement that they are survivors instead of guilty for the violence they
have experienced. This will also radicalize their former notions of womanhood, empowerment, and as agents in social change.
Unless the border region begins to regulate its own protectors and
punish those protectors’ violation of authority, censuring its militaristic
culture, the abuse of vulnerable communities will continue to occur. The
injustice of these abuses, it is my hope, will continue to gain exposure as
activists and migrants begin to unite. However, the first step in doing so
will be, as Wibben and Enloe (2004) argue: we must “listen, listen, and
listen”; we must take the narratives of women who have been silenced
for so long into account and understand their realities and experiences,
for “there is always more than one point of view and more than one
story to be told” (Wibben, 2011, p. 2). Through understanding the narratives of migrant woman, “we [will] not only investigate but also [re]
invent [the] order of the world” (Wibben, 2011, p. 2) that allows these
abuses through the linkages between war, militarization, and patriarchy.
That is not to say, though, that abuses will be eliminated. Through narrative and challenges to such power that has made the security of one
group dependent on the insecurity of another (Wibben, 2011, p. 4), we
might be able to better protect women and understand that this is imperative. Ending these crimes will be a step toward bringing dignity and
justice to migrant women and other migrant populations in the United
States, as well as a solid foundation on which to build an offense against
the institutionalized state dominating discourse and power: thus also
attacking the systems of incarceration and the systems that currently
threaten the safety and dignity of all people of color who continue to be
discriminated against by the militarized, white, masculine supremacy in
the United States.
Migrant women as a group, whether still detained, currently awaiting their status cases to be resolved, already deported, or who now hold
“legal” status as U.S. citizens, collectively seek multiple things. Among
these, and maybe the most pressing as was empirically derived from the
interviews conducted, is the opportunity to rebuild and sustain their lives.
Can this happen in the United States? It cannot happen in their country of origin because their lives are threatened there. Another of these
things which migrant women seek is the ability to reclaim their human
value, dignity, and identity. As they continue to advance and fight in their
day-to-day lives, and as the United States deliberates over future (and
current) immigration policies (particularly with Obama’s executive action, the proposed DAPA bill set to potentially grant citizenship up to 5
million parents of U.S.-born children, and the continued efforts to detain
and deport as many undocumented individuals as possible, prioritizing
those who entered the United States after January 1, 2014 (Lee, 2014),
the majority of whom have fled due to persecution and instability in the
past few months and years in their country of origin), it is imperative
that the voices and experiences of these migrant women are engaged
and even encouraged (not drowned out by others in power, those who
control the discourse) to lead the dialogue if what we seek is to truly
change the system. While the question of justice will never cease to pose
a challenge (can justice ever truly be achieved in the face of such atrocities?), it is nonetheless imperative that the voices and experiences of
abuse that migrant women have been subjected to under the power of
U.S. law enforcers be heard and accounted for because: 1) only they have
lived it, 2) they have been silenced for too long, and 3) it is the only way
to ensure that “truth” and “knowledge” are not distorted by those in
control of the discourse.
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Modes of Visual Communication:
The Role of Wari Featherworks in
Constructing an Iconography of a Ruler
Madeline Warner, class of
2015, graduated summa
cum laude with a degree in Art
History/Arts Management.
She was a member of
the Saint Ignatius Institute.
In my Art of the Americas seminar taught by Professor Emily Breault, we
used the objects in the pre-Columbian art collection of the de Young Museum as the basis of our research projects for the semester. I selected a feathered tabard made by the Andean culture of the Wari people as my focus,
and used this object as a point of departure for engaging with the culture
that made it. What began as an inquiry into one single object grew into an
exploration of the larger cultural meaning of such objects and their imagery. I looked closely into how such objects functioned and created meaning
through their visual language that was in dialogue with the social, political,
and religious contexts of their culture of origin. My goal was to recreate
the life of this feathered tabard in order to attempt an understanding of its
purpose and value in its original context and for its makers.
—Madeline Warner
I am thrilled to see Madeline Warner advance her work on the important
pre-Columbian feather-work on-view at the de Young museum. The object
of study is a feather tabard: a broad field of cloth adorned with a multitude
of feathers collected from Amazonian birds located hundreds of miles from
the site where the garment was made and later discovered. Madeline confronted head-on the challenges of original research, as the tabard had not
previously been studied in-depth. She began with close visual analysis of the
tabard and she then deeply engaged the historiography of Wari culture and
of pre-Columbian feathers and textiles. In this essay, Madeline delivers new
and fascinating insights into Wari iconography.
—Emily Breault, Department of Art + Architecture
Modes of Visual Communication:
The Role of Wari Featherworks in
Constructing an Iconography of a Ruler
of a larger visual whole. Deprived
of the vibrant contexts within which they flourished, these objects
linger as static and dead having been removed from the animating visual
traditions which gave them meaning and power in their former lives.
Hence the art historical maxim: “Art does not exist in a vacuum,” an idea
that underscores the importance of reconstructing the original context
of artwork to understand how they functioned in the lives of their
creators. Objects from outside the domain of Western Europe present
an extra challenge, as we must approach them from behind the barriers
of language and culture. The Inca Empire prospered from the mid-15th
to the 16th century—the same time the Italian Renaissance was at its
height—yet the Inca remained more elusive to the western mindset,
and their art has not been afforded the same level of inquiry as their
Quattrocento counterparts. This essay will attempt to combat the idea
of the impenetrability of pre-Columbian art, through the examination
of a particular object and the exploration of it in the larger contexts of
its social, political, and spiritual cultures. The object in question is the
Feather Tunic (Accession Number: 1996.48) from the San Francisco
de Young Museum (fig. 1).1 The de Young labels the object as a tunic;
however, Heidi King distinguishes a “tunic,” which is sewn together on
the sides to create a closed garment with arm-holes, from a “tabard,”
which is a similarly constructed garment but the sides are left unsewn—
an open-sided tunic.2 The latter of the two is true of the de Young
garment, making it incorrectly labeled in the museum as a tunic.
This feathered tabard comes from the south coast of Peru, and is
most likely a product of the Wari culture created sometime in the range
of the eighth to the sixteenth century CE.3 When hanging flat, the tabard
is rectangular and about four feet by five-and-a-half feet in size. There
Please see bibliographic note at the end of this essay
Heidi King, “Feather Arts in Ancient Peru,” In Peruvian Featherworks, ed. Heidi King
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 10.
3 Museum label for ‘Feathered Tunic,’ San Francisco, CA, de Young Museum,
September 2, 2014.
is a vertical seam running down the center of the garment, where no
feathers are attached, and the brown fabric support is visible. This is the
seam that would have draped over the wearer’s shoulders, allowing the
tabard to cover both the front and back of his body. Perpendicular to
this seam is a one-foot-long horizontal slit in the middle of the tabard—
the garment’s neck hole. The adorning feathers are tied together in
horizontal rows and then sewn to the fabric support, starting from the
middle and moving out towards the edges (fig. 2). The successive rows
slightly overlap one another, much like the overlap of shingles on a
roof, and the resulting texture resembles the plumage of real birds. The
tips of all the feathers are cut into squares, allowing for the precise
lines and right angles of geometric designs. The formal design of the
tunic is symmetrically planned to split in half, mirroring itself along
the main vertical seam. A bright yellow central field is accented by a
geometric border of light green, light blue, orange-red and dark brown
colors and a neckline of alternating blue and red feathers. The border
is about 10 inches in width and surrounds the whole tabard. Separated
from the main yellow body by a band of brown feathers, this border
boasts a diversity of color and consists of a mix of diagonal steps and
interlocking geometric scroll motifs.
The Wari feathered tabard from the de Young Museum was part of a
larger cultural framework in which objects and their materials highlighted
the wealth and power of their owners. Clearly a garment of status, this
tabard was likely a part of the Wari visual tradition of linking leaders with
powerful supernatural forces. This linking visually endowed leaders with
the power to mediate between cosmological realms, thus legitimizing their
rule. Feathers were a rare and valuable material in ancient Andean times,
even ranked higher than gold. Reserved solely for the elite,4 their primary
use was to adorn and ornament festive/ritual attire and accompanying
objects.5 These feathers provided a striking iridescence, and their use as
a material for clothing created a silky texture and a plush garment—
qualities standard woven fabrics could not achieve.6
As aforementioned, feather garments were synonymous with high
4 Heidi King, op. cit., 10.
5 Kenneth M Kensinger, introduction to The Gift of Birds: Featherwork of Native South
American Peoples, ed. Ruben E Reina et al. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1991), xx.
6 Heidi King, op. cit., 11.
status in the Andean world.7 Examinations of surviving works show that
the feathers they used represent 1.6% of the bird species present in South
America.8 The Andean wearers and makers of these feathered garments
preferred the intense, saturated hues of tropical bird plumage most
commonly found in parrots and macaws from the eastern Amazon basin.
The bright, vibrant colors of these feathers could not be replicated with
dyes,9 and the native coastal birds of the area had more muted colored
feathers not usually used in the production of Andean featherworks.10
This penchant for tropical bird feathers required their transport west
from the rainforest to the coastal workshops.11 Importing these materials
from such far and inaccessible locations not only emphasized their
importance, but also underscored the power of the wearer who was able
to orchestrate the necessary labor forces and trade routes to obtain the
feathers and create such lavish garments.
In addition to the brightly hued feathers, the coastal peoples may have
also obtained live birds from the tropical rainforest.12 In their reports
on the “New World,” Spanish explorers from the early 16th century
noted the large quantities of plucked feathers and live birds that were
sent from the east as tribute to the Inca rulers.13 It is probable that this
trade network was in effect long before the Spanish documented it, and
it most likely extended to other cultures—such as the Wari—preceding
the Inca. Art Historian Elizabeth P. Benson suggests that some birds may
have likely been kept as pets, as parrots and macaws are easily tamable
and have the capacity to mimic language. This is a quality that Benson
anticipates would have been highly amusing, and may have even been
regarded as supernatural to their human companions.14 She goes on to
cite archaeological findings that show birds were sometimes buried in
Susan E. Bergh, “Tapestry-Woven Tunics,” in Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes, ed.
Susan E. Bergh and Luis Jaime Castillo (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012): 174.
Kenneth M Kensinger, op. cit., xix.
Heidi King, op. cit., 11.
Ibid., 12.
Kay Candler, “Featherworking in Precolumbian Peru: Ancient Plumage,” in The
Gift of Birds: Featherwork of Native South American Peoples, ed. Ruben E Reina et al.
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 8. 13
Heidi King, op. cit., 12.
Elizabeth P. Benson, Birds and Beasts of Ancient Latin America (Gainesville: University
Press of Florida, 1997): 69.
what can be described as miniature mummy bundles.15 Mummy bundles
were often signs of elite status: the more social capital a person had in
their lifetime, the more elaborate his mummy bundle and burial site were
after his death. These mummy bundles were often wrapped in layers of
luxurious woven tunics and—if the person was of an elite status—he
was wrapped with feathered garments as well. To include birds in this
tradition highlights their importance in the Andean world through the
high level of honor accorded to them even after death.
The de Young feathered tabard has been attributed to the Wari, a culture
that flourished during the Middle Horizon (600 CE–1000 CE) and was
centered in the southern highland—the Ayarucho Valley of modern-day
Peru (fig. 3).16 The Middle Horizon was the first Andean period dominated
by two interconnected empires: the Wari and the Tiwanaku.17 The two
cultures shared distinctive religions and iconographies, but they were also
quite different from one another.18 Evinced by its open architectural plan,
the city of Tiwanaku may have functioned as a pilgrimage site similar
to the earlier city of Chavín.19 Conversely, the Wari were a much more
militant and exclusive people, as depicted though the high, thick walls
which dominated the architecture of their imperial city.20
The Wari ruled over a large territory and absorbed many diverse
peoples into their empire and under their influence.21 They built multiple,
geographically scattered, administrative and military settlements all
connected by a vast system of roads and terraces, which was both
functional and a grand display of power.22 “All roads lead to Wari”
is an accurate way to describe how the network of routes converged
on the imperial city. While providing a means of transportation, these
roads also reinforced the Wari as powerful rulers who were centrally
15 Ibid., 74. These wrapped, bird mummies have been found in several sites along the
coast of Peru.
16 Rebecca R. Stone, Art of the Andes: From Chavín to Inca (London: Thames & Hudson,
2012), 127.
17 Ibid.
18 Katharina Schreiber, “The Rise of an Andean Empire” in Wari: Lords of the Ancient
Andes, ed. Susan E. Bergh and Luis Jaime Castillo (London: Thames & Hudson,
2012): 32.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid., 31.
22 Rebecca R. Stone, op. cit., 127.
important to the territories under their control. As a centrifugal culture,
it follows that the Wari arts were predominantly portable objects, which
would have allowed for a wide dissemination of their iconography and
its message.23 Textiles were the Wari’s primary artistic activity. Their
precedence is reflected in other extant Wari art objects, such as metal
and ceramic works, that evidence a similar, flat, patterned treatment.24
Before launching into a full exploration of the complicated topic that
is Wari textiles, it is important to first look at the origins of this textile
In the Andes, textiles preceded fired ceramics by thousands of years.25
The coast and highlands of this area are incredibly dry, and because of
this inhospitable climate an agricultural tradition never developed.26 The
Humboldt Current, which flows along the Atlantic coast of modern-day
Peru, was the primary source of food. The bounty of the sea eliminated
the need for a ceramic tradition, and instead these cultures relied on nets,
sparking the development of a textile tradition.27 These early textiles were
made of cotton, were hand-woven using a technique called “twining,”
and evidenced a representational imagery rich in symbolic meaning.28
Ann Pollard Rowe affirms the importance of these early textiles, stating
that in geographic areas where textiles are made by hand, their creation
process ranked second only to food production in occupational and
economic importance.29 These early textiles, such as the condor snake
textile fragment from the site of Huaca Prieta in the Chicama Valley (ca.
3100–1500 BCE), reveal an early interest in the characteristic Andean
denial of efficiency (fig. 4). This indicates the preliminary importance of
textiles in the Andes and the extraordinary labor that went into making
them. Scholars of Andean art call this the phenomenon of “technical
transcendence,” where, in the words of Professor Emily Breault,
“aesthetic ends justify difficult means.”30
23 Katharina Schreiber, op. cit., 32.
24 Rebecca R. Stone, op. cit., 160.
25 Emily Breault, “The Pre-Ceramic Period: Chavín de Huantar,” (lecture, Art of the
Americas, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, September 25, 2014).
26 Ibid.
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.
29 Susan E. Bergh, op. cit., 159.
30 Ibid.
Wari textiles in the form of tunics are the culture’s most common
surviving artifacts and also their most complex.31 John Murra comments
on the importance of textiles for the Inca: “No political, military, social,
or religious event was complete without textiles being volunteered or
bestowed, buried, exchanged, or sacrificed.”32 This description is accurate
also to the Wari and the central role textiles played in their culture. The
process of weaving a tapestry by hand was, and still is, incredibly laborand resource-intensive throughout.33 Their textiles evidence a penchant
for geometric abstraction that was both beautiful and inaccessible to the
uninitiated.34 For the knowing viewer they were a “fascinating world into
which the ancients poured intellectual energy.”35 There was a pervasive
interest for the Wari, in what can be called the wholeness of their objects:
both sides of tapestries were finished, so that there was not a “front” or
“back” of the textile (Bergh compares this to the European technique of
tapestry weaving where one side is clearly “unfinished”).36 Textiles were
always woven to shape on the loom, but they were never cut down to
size. The Wari, among other Andean cultures, considered cutting to be
an act of incredible disrespect towards the textiles, or the “noble cloths”
as they referred to them.37 A unique system of “distortion” characterizes
Wari textile design,38 a technique which no other culture, or even other
forms of Wari art, exhibits.39 This process is a systematic, rule-bound
method of distortion of forms that accounts for the illegible imagery
of Wari textiles.40 This deliberate way of transforming their imagery
distinguishes the Wari interest in a process of “mental gymnastics” both
for the creator and the viewer. This method was meant to, in the words
of Bergh, “disguise and mystify [the textile’s] sacred imagery” and/or to
provide a “delightful intellectual exercise” for elite viewers.41
Bergh notes a general trend towards the standardization of Wari
Quoted from Ibid.
Ibid., 160.
Ibid., 159.
Ibid., 160.
Ibid., 181.
Ibid., 183
tunic imagery that can largely be grouped into two general categories:
“profile-face and stepped-fret tunics” (fig. 5) and “winged attendant
and sacrificer” tunics (fig. 6).42 The first category of common tunic
imagery is derived from the repeating profile-face and steppedfret motifs that comprise many Wari tunics. Bergh suggests that
these tunics have clear military associations and, in some cases, “the
motif seems to relate to conflict and death, some of it cosmically
sanctioned.”43 The other category of tunic imagery is the “winged
attendant and sacrificer.” While the stepped-fret and profile-face was
a much more legible image pair, the imagery making up these tunics is
largely incomprehensible due to the Wari’s system of distortion. The
sacrificing figure is consistently depicted holding a sort of weapon and
a human trophy head. The more benign attendant figure is shown in
profile with one knee bent, holding a staff and wearing a headdress
with an elaborate wing sprouting from his back. Both figures have been
depicted in dozens of different iterations with a “bewildering” degree
of variety.44 While the “profile-face and stepped-fret” tunics were
probably worn by important members of Wari society, the “winged
attendant and sacrificer” tunics were reserved for only the most elite—
most likely the Wari state lord himself. This information is surmised
from examinations of the physical makeup of the different tunic types.
“Profile-face and stepped-fret” tunics comprise, on average, seven
miles of thread; “winged attendant and sacrificer” tunics, on the other
hand, are of the greatest quality and they may contain up to eighteen
miles of thread in a single garment.45
The “winged attendant and sacrificer” was clearly an incredibly
important pair of images to the Wari, and were intimately related to
their cosmological beliefs. They were closely associated with the Wari’s
principle divine figure, known as the “Staff Deity.” The Wari Empire left
behind a major cache of iconography depicting this being (fig. 7), who is
Ibid., 165
Ibid., 163.
Ibid., 165.
Ibid., 167.
identified by the prevalent depiction of a frontal-facing figure grasping
staff-like implements in each hand. The being is usually depicted alongside
his two smaller companion figures—a winged, staff-bearing attendant
and a sacrificer.46 The Staff Deity is visually marked as supernatural
through his decidedly non-naturalistic depiction: two vertically divided
eyes, a fanged mouth, a frontal posture, a staff in each hand (a Middle
Horizon symbol for divine sovereignty),47 and streamers emanating from
his head with varying animal head terminus motifs.
As a central figure of their “state religion,” Wari art handles the staffdeity image with remarkable consistency and uniformity.48 This would
have allowed for easy legibility and dissemination of the image to the
different territories under the Wari’s control. The head of the Staff Deity
figure is always surrounded by a band of interlocking frets that often
comprises the border of his tunic (fig. 8).49 This motif was consistently
used across a variety of manifestations of the Staff Deity (figs. 9, 10).
Curiously, the motif is often present in Wari art objects that do not depict
the Staff Deity outright, but do depict his attributes (such as the head
streamers and animal head terminus motifs) (fig. 11). This signals that the
interlocking fret motif might have been used in Wari visual vocabulary as
a short-hand notation for the Staff Deity, referencing his presence and
powers even when he himself was not explicitly portrayed.
The Staff Deity’s interlocking fret motif sounds curiously close notes
to the interlocking scroll motif in the border of the de Young feathered
tabard (fig. 12). Their visual similarity, as well as their similar placement
on the tabard’s border, seems more than coincidental. This imagery could
perhaps be referencing what would have been the well-known visual
vocabulary of the Staff Deity. By wearing tunics with this motif, Wari
elites may have been attempting to, in the words of Anita Cook, “cast
themselves as surrogates for the Staff Deity in some way.”50
46 Anita G. Cook, “The Coming of the Staff Deity,” in Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes,
ed. Susan E. Bergh and Luis Jaime Castillo (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012):
103. The Staff Deity figure is most prevalent in Wari ceramics and textiles, but has
also been found in metal ornaments, carved into stone, and on musical instruments.
47 Susan E. Bergh, op. cit., 161.
48 Anita G. Cook, op. cit., 105.
49 Ibid., 106.
50 Ibid., 120.
The evidence for this claim is strengthened when thinking back to the
“winged attendant and sacrificer” tunics, which literally clothed their
wearer in imagery of the Staff Deity’s attendant figures. This would have,
by extension, allowed the wearer to be associated with the Staff Deity,
thus constructing visual links between an abstract cosmological force
and an elite human figure in the Wari culture. It is not implausible to
suggest that this practice was extended to their feathered tabards as well.
The de Young tabard is also not the only extant example of Wari
feathered tabards employing the interlocking fret border motif (figs.
13, 14). The larger surviving body of similar objects allows for the
proposition that the use of this motif in the de Young tabard was not an
anomaly; rather, this particular tabard was part of a larger tradition of
Wari feathered tabards employing the interlocking fret motif to key its
viewers to the relation between the figure wearing the garment and the
Staff Deity.
For any study involving the Wari and their art as it relates to their
cosmology, a basic understanding of the larger Andean cosmological
context is necessary. In her essay, Anita G. Cook defines the term
‘cosmology’ as a cultural way of “explain[ing] how the world came
into being, how it functions, and how people ... relate every-day events
to causality.”51 There are two central ideological pillars that form the
crux of Andean cosmology and are crucial to this essay’s argument.
Firstly, in Andean cosmology, death was linked to fertility.52 Secondly,
the world of this cosmology was considered to be made up of three
tiers of space: the upper world of the future and the divine; the middle,
present, world of humans and the earth; and the lower (inside) world
of the past and the home of the ancestors.53 From these two central
ideas comes the belief that creation was engendered by the flow of
energy between spatial tiers—and what ensured this flow was sacrifice.54
Sacrifice allowed for this cycle of continuous creation and ensured the
reproductive capacity of the earth—death generated life.55 Cook calls
Ibid., 103.
Ibid., 109.
this concept the “life-death continuum.”56 The Wari were acutely aware
of this concept, and for them it took the form of an otherworldly spirit
who was responsible for the fecundity and fertility of their land and
people.57 This spirit was the Staff Deity: the transformer of energy who
both created and destroyed life.58
Clearly a powerful being, the locus of the Staff Deity power lay in
his ability to move between cosmological realms, ensuring the flow
of energy in order to sustain the life-death continuum. The Wari
incorporated this power visually into their depictions of the Staff
Deity image. An identifying attribute of this deity was the streamers
emanating from his head. Each of these streamers ended in a motif
such as an animal head (snakes, birds, jaguars), an ear of maize, the tip
of a tumi knife (a rounded knife used in Andean rituals of sacrifice),
or a feather (see figs. 7, 9, 10).59 These “terminus motifs,” as Cook calls
them, all serve mediating roles between the different realms of Andean
cosmology.60 Snakes symbolize the lower, felines the middle, and birds
the upper realm of the world.61 The presence of tumi knives alongside
ears of corn, serves to highlight the reciprocal nature of death and
fertility—and the Staff Deity, from whose head they literally sprout,
ensures their continuous cycle.
Before examining this idea further, this essay will briefly return to the
subject of feathers and look at the important role they played in the visual
dynamic between the Staff Deity and Wari elites and rulers. To reiterate
and expand upon the previous discussion, the importance of feathers
as a material operated along three different, yet interconnect, tracks. As
earlier stated, their aesthetic value was paramount, as they allowed for
lavish colors and a striking iridescence that could not be replicated with
other media. Feathers also had the ability to communicate the power of
their wearers. They were valued (in a monetary sense) more highly than
gold, and their procurement required the orchestration of diverse trade
Ibid., 105.
Ibid., 112.
Ibid., 106.
Carole Fraresso, “The Sweat of the Sun and the Tears of the Moon: Gold and
Silver in Ancient Peru,” in Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, ed. Victor Pimentel
(New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2013): 142.
routes and labor forces. Finally, a new point may be added to this list:
feathers had a potent symbolic value that contributed immensely to their
importance as a material. Birds, having the ability to fly, were thought to
have access to the upper world of the gods and future time, and their
image symbolized that upper realm of Andean cosmology.62 Susan Bergh
has even suggested that the Wari associated birds with the highest status
members of their society. She posits that elites may have been given the
titles of mallku (condor) or huamani (falcon).63 Feathers, as the physical
substance of birds, absorbed these meanings and were therefore a highly
charged material. Their symbolic power would have easily transferred
to an object such as the de Young feathered tabard, and in turn, to its
wearer. The interlocking fret motif was a Wari symbol clearly saturated
with meaning and linked to their principle cosmological force—the Staff
Deity. So, the act of rendering this motif with the symbolic material
of feathers must have amplified and elaborated its meaning ten-fold.
Harmonizing the power of feathers within a reference to the Staff Deity
would have been an incredibly powerful image in the ancient Andean
The question still remains as to why this imagery was so important
and why the Wari went to such lengths to link their rulers with the
Staff Deity and his powers. The Wari Empire flourished against an
historical backdrop colored by natural disasters and chaos.64 This was
an era when floods, frosts, earthquakes, and droughts were all very real
and threatening realities of the world, and the Wari’s political success
was based on their ability to adapt to these environmental disasters.65
Scholars have suggested that the Wari’s quick rise to power and longevity
was predicated on a belief that their nobility had the ability to mediate
between human and divine affairs.66 This idea was no doubt fueled by the
carefully curated and standardized iconography worn by Wari lords. This
adornment associated them with the Staff Deity, implied their ability to
intervene in the life-death continuum and helped to tip the balance in
Susan E. Bergh, op. cit., 174.
Ibid., 189.
Rebecca R. Stone, op. cit., 159.
Susan E. Bergh, op. cit., 188.
their people’s favor.67 This was a powerful form of ideological control in
which the Wari communicated their ability to blunt the destructive forces
of nature and ensure its reproductive capacity.68
Objects, even if they are fragments of a larger whole, make statements
about the physical, social, and cultural worlds of their makers.69 The Wari
created a unified system of visual language that was both complex and
self-referential. Everything had meaning for the Wari. This concise yet
malleable system of visual language is perhaps best considered in light
of the fact that the Wari never developed a written language.70 They
relied heavily on images to “communicate and disseminate information
and ideas.”71 We may never know the exact meaning of the motifs and
symbols that made up the Wari’s coded visual language, but we do know
that these images were undoubtedly meaningful to those who created,
viewed, and wore them. Knowing the extent of this importance allows
for further inquiry into Wari visual culture—an area that is ripe for
exploration. Keeping in mind the larger context surrounding Wari art
objects, the imagery moves far beyond aesthetics, and the great extent to
which it is saturated with symbolic meaning can be seen. Objects such as
the de Young feathered tabard were steeped in a powerful visual culture
where everything had meaning. The symbolic, monetary, and aesthetic
values of feathers are brought together in this tabard in a visual form
67 The Wari employed spondylus shell to the same propagandist means. This was a
precious material, similar to feathers, which Wari elites imported from Ecuador’s
coastal waters. Because it came from the sea, spondylus shell was conceived of as
“the ultimate source of water that cycles through the cosmos,” and it was a material
that had controlled the seasonal rains of the region. Many Wari art objects were
covered with a mosaic of spondylus shell inlay, including many small-scale figures
of Wari elites. The shell figures are sometimes pierced at the top, suggesting their
use as a necklace or pendant—something meant to be worn and displayed (not
dissimilar to featherworks). This is another instance where Wari elites employed
a material with symbolic cosmological powers to convey an idea of their power
over nature. A full address of the Wari’s use of spondylus shell is a topic beyond
the scope of this essay. For a more complete discussion see Susan E. Bergh’s essay
“Inlaid Metal Ornaments,” in Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes, ed. Susan E. Bergh
and Luis Jaime Castillo (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012): 217–231.
68 Katharina Schreiber, op. cit., 33.
69 Kenneth M. Kensinger, op. cit., xix.
70 Andrea F. Vazquez, “Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes,” Wari Teacher Guide
(Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2012): 3.
71 Ibid., 12.
that references the Staff Deity: the one responsible for sustaining the
flow of the life-death continuum. Multiple dimensions of the Wari visual
culture converge into one object, and together become a unified image
of the terrestrial and spiritual power of the lord who wore it. In turn,
a carefully curated iconography of a Wari ruler is culminated. The Wari
did not create anything that stood alone, as each object of art seems to,
in one way or another, draw from a single source and manipulate it in
different ways. It is the same visual language that is repeated throughout
their art, present in different ways and in different forms, yet still pulls
from the same source—the Wari culture’s reservoir of visual knowledge.
Bibliographical Note
1 This note serves to discuss the bibliography of three areas of Andean
historiography that are relevant to this essay: the Wari (Huari) culture,
Andean textiles, and featherworks and birds in the ancient Andes.
In her survey Art of the Andes: From Chavín to Inca (2012), Rebecca R.
Stone (also Stone-Miller) speaks to the history and arts of the Wari
culture, situating them within a chronological timeline of Andean
art. The most comprehensive study of the Wari people is the work
of Susan E. Bergh in her publication, Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes
(2012). This publication contains essays written by different scholars
focusing on a wide array of topics, including a general history of the
Wari people and their architecture, cosmology, and textiles. Bergh is an
established academic authority on the Wari, and she was responsible
for curating the accompanying exhibit on Wari art at the Cleveland
Museum of Art. The same publication featured the essay, “The Rise
of an Andean Empire,” by Katharina Schreiber—a clear yet complex
survey of the history of the Wari as a highly militant people. Anita
G. Cook contributed “The Coming of the Staff Deity” to the collection, focusing on Wari cosmology and the main deity that comprised
the Wari state religion. Andrea F. Vazquez published an educational
guide on the Wari that accompanied the same 2012 exhibition at the
Cleveland Museum of Art. This volume also included two essays by
Bergh that concentrated more intently on Wari arts. “Tapestry-Woven
Tunics” addressed the complex topic of Wari textiles. Bergh’s text
surveys the production process, imagery, and formal elements that
distinguish Wari textile arts from—and situate them in—their Andean context. Rebecca Stone-Miller has also added a publication to
the scholarship on Andean textiles with her work To Weave for the Sun:
Ancient Andean Textiles in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1995).
She speaks directly to ideas that governed textile design and creation
in the Andes and specifically to the Wari culture. It is here that she
coins the idea of “technical transcendence,” a critical feature of such
textiles and their larger implications as embodiments of cultural
prowess. Simeran Maxwell wrote his article, “All That Glitters is not
Gold: Textiles of Ancient Peru,” for the National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition Gold and the Incas: Lost Worlds of Peru (2014). Heidi
King’s writings dominate the bibliography on ancient Andean featherworks. Her recently published catalogue, Peruvian Featherworks (2012),
is a wealth of information, covering a wide array of topics, including
historical use, methods of creation, methods of preservation, and
iconographic discussions of Peruvian featherworks. She contributed
the essay “Featherwork” to Bergh’s previously mentioned book, Wari:
Lords of the Ancient Andes (2012). King was responsible for curating the
exhibits Radiance From The Rain Forest: Featherwork In Ancient Peru (2008)
and Feathered Walls–Hangings from Ancient Peru (2013) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Esther Pasztory contributed an article on feathers, “Rare Ancient Featherwork from Peru,” to the American Journal
of Archaeology (2008). The article was written to accompany King’s
2008 feather exhibition, and is a general survey of the production and
importance of featherworks to their Andean cultural contexts. Ruben
E. Reina and Kenneth M. Kensinger co-edited a collection of essays
from various scholars, anthropologists, and ornithologists entitled, The
Gift of Birds: Featherwork of Native South American Peoples (1991). This
older text is a wealth of information on the use of feathers in the art
of native South American peoples. The essays cover topics from the
decorative and ritual use and symbolism of feathers, to their more
practical uses in tools like arrows or which specific birds were prized
most highly for their feathers. Elizabeth P. Benson contributed her
book, Birds and Beasts of Ancient Latin America (1997), to the oeuvre
of literature on pre-Columbian featherworks. Her book focuses on
the symbolic, spiritual, and mythological significance of birds in the
ancient Andes, rather than exclusively on feathers.
Benson, Elizabeth P. Birds and Beasts of Ancient Latin America. Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 1997.
Bergh, Susan E. “Inlaid Metal Ornaments.” In Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes,
edited by Susan E. Bergh and Luis Jaime Castillo, 217–231. London:
Thames & Hudson, 2012.
_____. “Tapestry-Woven Tunics.” In Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes, edited
by Susan E. Bergh and Luis Jaime Castillo, 156–191. London: Thames &
Hudson, 2012.
Breault, Emily. “The Pre-Ceramic Period: Chavín de Huantar.” Lecture, Art of
the Americas, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, September
25, 2014.
Candler, Kay. “Featherworking in Precolumbian Peru: Ancient Plumage.” In
The Gift of Birds: Featherwork of Native South American Peoples, edited by
Ruben E. Reina and Kenneth M. Kensinger, 1–15. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.
Cook, Anita G. “The Coming of the Staff Deity.” In Wari: Lords of the Ancient
Andes, edited by Susan E. Bergh and Luis Jaime Castillo, 103–121.
London: Thames & Hudson, 2012.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young Museum. Museum label for
‘Feathered Tunic.’ San Francisco, CA. September 2, 2014.
Kensinger, Kenneth M. Introduction to The Gift of Birds: Featherwork of
Native South American Peoples, edited by Ruben E. Reina and Kenneth M.
Kensinger, xviii–xxi. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.
King, Heidi. “Feather Arts in Ancient Peru.” In Peruvian Featherworks, edited by
Heidi King, 9–43. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
Maxwell, Simeran. “All That Glitters is not Gold: Textiles of Ancient Peru.”
In Gold and The Incas: Lost Worlds of Peru, Exhibition catalogue. National
Gallery of Australia, 2014.
Pasztory, Esther. “Rare Ancient Featherwork from Peru.” In American Journal
of Archaeology, no. 112.4 (October 2008): 1–6.
Schreiber, Katharina. “The Rise of an Andean Empire.” In Wari: Lords of the
Ancient Andes, edited by Susan E. Bergh and Luis Jaime Castillo, 31–45.
London: Thames & Hudson, 2012.
Stone, Rebecca R. Art of the Andes: From Chavín to Inca. London: Thames &
Hudson, 2012.
Stone-Miller, Rebecca. To Weave for the Sun: Ancient Andean Textiles in the Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1995.
Vazquez, Andrea F. “Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes.” In Wari Teacher Guide.
Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2012.
Figure 1.
‘Feather Tunic,’ 8th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Feathers sewn to woven cotton fabric,
121.9 x 170.2 cm. de Young Museum, San Francisco, California. Reproduced from
http://art.famsf.org/feather-tunic-199648. Accessed September 17, 2014.
Figure 2.
Detail of the feathered-string knotting for ‘Feathered Hanging,’ 7th–8th century.
Peru. Wari. Feathers on cotton, camelid hair. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
York. Reproduced from http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/feathered-walls/making- feather-panels. Accessed November 11, 2014.
Figure 3.
Map of Wari and Tiwanaku cultural influence. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Reproduced
from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Huari-with-tiahuanaco.png. Accessed
November 12, 2014.
Figure 4.
Textile fragment and reproduction of design, Condor-Snake, ca. 3100–1500 BCE, Huaca
Prieta, Peru. Photograph by Junius Bird, 1961, Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Reproduced from ArtStor, http://www.artstor.org. Accessed November 11, 2014. This
textile fragment once depicted a condor with a snake in its stomach. The color that
allowed the image to be visible has long faded, but we still know the subjects of the
textiles due to the way the textile was woven. The designs were not applied to the top
of the finished product (as with embroidery), but instead were implicit in the way they
were woven: the warps and wefts pulled in different directions, physically imbedding the
design into the very fibers of the textile.73
Figure 5.
‘Tunic,’ 7th–11th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Woven cotton and camelid fibers, 109.9 x
119.7 cm. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. Reproduced from http://www.artic.
edu/aic/collections/artwork/85520. Accessed November 12, 2014.
73 Emily Breault, op. cit.
Figure 6.
‘Tapestry-Woven Tunic with Sacrificer,’ 7th–11th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Woven
camelid fiber and cotton, 202.6 x 112 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland,
Ohio. Reproduced from http://artandseek.net/2013/06/26/at-the-kimbell-a-civilizationdiscovered/#sthash.uGjnLoJv.dpuf. Accessed November 12, 2014.
Figure 7.
‘Urn with Staff Deities,’ 7th–11th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Ceramic and slip. Museo
Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú, Lima. Reproduced from
http://wari.kimbellart.org/exhibit/gift-food-drink/urn-staff-deities. Accessed November
11, 2014
Figure 8 (details of Figure 7).
Detail of interlocking fret motif surrounding the staff deity’s head and on the border
of his tunic. ‘Urn with Staff Deities,’ 7th–11th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Ceramic and
slip. Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú, Lima. Reproduced from http://wari.kimbellart.org/exhibit/gift-food-drink/urn-staff-deities. Accessed
November 11, 2014.
Figure 9.
‘Jar,’ 7th–10th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Ceramic and slip, 21.4 x 16.6 x 11.2 cm, Fowler
Museum at UCLA. Reproduced from ArtStor http://www.artstor.org. Accessed
December 7, 2014.
Figure 10.
‘Wari Cup,’ 7th–11th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Ceramic and slip. Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Lima. Reproduced from http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.
ssf/2012/11/the_cleveland_museum_of_art_br.html. Accessed December 7, 2014.
Figure 11.
‘Bowl,’ 6th–9th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Ceramic and slip. The Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York. Reproduced from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-ofart/1979.206.385. Accessed November 11, 2014.
Figure 12 (details of Figure 1 and Figure 8).
Comparison of the border of the de Young feathered tabard and the border of the
staff deity’s head. Both have the same interlocking fret motif.
Figure 13.
‘Tabard,’ 7th–10th Century CE, Peru, Wari. Feathers sewn to woven cotton fabric,
142.2 x 132.1 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Reproduced from
photo- gallery. Accessed December 3, 2014.
Figure 14.
‘Tabard,’ 7th–15th Century CE, Peru, Wari or Chimú. Feathers sewn to woven cotton
fabric, 101.6 x 101.6 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Reproduced
from http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2008/radiance-from-the-rain-forest/photo- gallery. Accessed December 3, 2014.
A “Dream” Deferred:
An Exploration of the Scarlet Title
Amber Floyd was a member of the
Martín-Baró Scholars Program
(2014–2015). She is now attending
Trinity Washington University.
The idea behind “A ‘Dream’ Deferred” was inspired by my boyfriend and
his family, who are undocumented immigrants. More specifically, I was
intrigued by Brigitte, one of my boyfriend’s younger sisters. Brigitte was the
valedictorian of her high school class but was unsure as to how she would
be able to pay for college due to her lack of citizenship. Being so close to
something that I didn’t understand piqued my interest to become educated
on the subject. As a Martín-Baró Scholar, we were assigned to write about
a public policy that affected impoverished communities. This created the
perfect opportunity for the creation of “A ‘Dream’ Deferred.” I began my
research with general and less reliable resources in order to gain a broad
sense of the Dream Act and its components. As I delved deeper into the
world of immigration law, I collected information from peer-reviewed
articles, newspapers, and renowned journals. I outlined various arguments
that I wanted to represent and selected evidence from the research to
support those arguments. I also felt that it was imperative to include an
excerpt about Brigitte herself. In its culmination, “A ‘Dream’ Deferred” is an
exploration of current immigration law that far exceeded my expectations.
—Amber Floyd
One of the more challenging assignments in the Martín-Baró Scholars
Program calls upon students to write an essay in a Rogerian mode. Carl
Rogers, of course, was best known in the realm of Psychology, but his
insights into empathic communication also apply to Rhetoric and Composition as well. Students were asked to research a topic about which they held
profound beliefs and then look deeply, without condescencion, or indeed a
Ciceronian dismissiveness, at another “opposing” viewpoint. Students were
then asked to marshall evidence that would support not just their side
but another’s as well. Amber clearly did an outstanding job of respectfully
including and reporting the complexity of this political situation without
compromising her beliefs, and her paper is all the more powerful for
it. I very much appreciated that Amber included the voices and poignant
examples of her friends, whose lives are clearly impacted by our nation’s
myopic approach to education and immigration policy. Amber also, I must
say, delivered a very powerful speech based on this same research that used
Langston Hughes’ poem not as epigraph but as a powerful conclusion.
—David Holler, Rhetoric and Language Department
The Dream Act is very complex and contains many subcategories and
components. This paper, although it may touch on these ideas, only
serves to explore the educational component of the act. This paper will
fairly report the arguments of those against the act as well as those in favor of the act. It will then address the common values that are shared by
both sides. This paper does not serve to prove that some people should
be denied the right to higher education based upon their lack of effort
or motivation. However, it does serve to prove that those who do demonstrate determination, motivation, and initiative should not be denied
access to higher education as a result of being labeled with the status of
Keywords: Undocumented immigrants, Dream Act, citizenship, higher education,
teenage immigrants
A “Dream” Deferred:
An Exploration of the Scarlet Title
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
—Langston Hughes, “Harlem”
HE UNITED STATES government defines the Dream Act as “common-
sense legislation drafted by both Republicans and Democrats that
would give students who grew up in the United States a chance to contribute to our country’s well-being by serving in the U.S. Armed Forces
or pursuing a higher education” (Miranda). According to Professor Caleb
Kim of Loyola University Chicago, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act, was introduced in order to “protect undocumented students from deportation and to provide them with
a safer learning environment via a legal pathway for citizenship” (55).
The Dream Act was created in hopes that students who were brought to
America by their parents illegally would be safe from deportation, given
the opportunity to receive an education and eventually be on the path to
obtaining legal citizenship (Kim).
The act was first introduced on August 1, 2001, by Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and former Utah Republican Senator and
current President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch (Herszenhorn). The act has
not yet received enough votes from Congress in order to become a law.
One of the most recent votes occurred in 2010. The bill received 41 Senate votes against, 55 votes in favor, and 4 Senators chose to abstain from
voting—60 were required to pass (Herszenhorn). The bill had been previously passed by the House of Representatives—with a vote of 216 to
198, including 8 Republicans in favor and 38 Democrats opposed—and
required the same authorization from the Senate (Dwyer).
Arguments against the passage of the Dream Act contain many elements. One of the components being that the act promotes unjust ideals.
Duhita Mahatmya of George Mason University writes that although the
act promotes the needs of the children, it also undermines the well-being
of the family as a whole. Mahatmya explains this best when she writes, “the
Act promotes the rights of children over their parents, discourages family
stability and unity, and impacts family interdependence negatively” (79–80).
Mahatmya further explains by stating that there is an inequality when it
comes to the blame that is placed upon immigrant parents compared to
their children. The children are seen as American Dreamers who deserve
the benefits of the act while their parents are undeserving of any help and
are considered criminals. This in turn reinforces the stereotypes that often
surround immigrant adults (Mahatmya). Mahatmya further argues that the
act provides no regard for the circumstances of the other family members
and simply focuses on the condition of the Dreamer. There are no incentives or resources provided for the remaining family members who may be
experiencing hardship. The Dreamer, on the other hand, may be able to receive waivers or other resources to help them if their family is experiencing
hardship and the Dreamer is being adversely affected (Mahatmya). Mahatmya argues that this sends the message that the remaining undocumented
family members are unworthy of American support.
Another argument that is often posed regards the American economy.
Freelance writer and editor Todd Beamon argues that as a result of the passage of the Dream Act, beneficiaries who gain legal residency would then
qualify for federal programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program or food stamps, and federal health insurance exchanges. As a result, the federal deficit would then increase by between $5 billion
and $20 billion from the years 2021 to 2061 (Beamon 10). In utilizing these
resources, the new residents would be taking away from Americans who
could utilize the resources. Additionally, opponents believe that taxpayers
would be forced to subsidize student loans for students who qualify for the
Dream Act. Former Republican Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, New
York, expresses this belief by saying that he “simply cannot justify spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to pay for tuition for illegal
immigrants when so many law-abiding families are struggling to meet the
ever-increasing costs of higher education for their own children” (“New
York Senate rejects ‘Dream Act’ ”). The common belief is that it is difficult
enough for Americans to afford to put their child or children through college. Increasing taxes in order to help subsidize funding for immigrants to
go to college would only create another burden for American families to
bear. This will most likely be the result if the Dream Act is passed and immigrants are allowed to attend college at a more affordable rate.
The final argument against the Dream Act that I will present concerns
the colleges and universities themselves. Beamon writes that if the Dream
Act is to be passed, then college institutions will be forced to reconcile
“how to address the standard issues in educating low-income populations;
and how to maneuver a plethora of state regulations governing tuition
and fees, along with any new duties imposed under the proposed federal
law” (10). If the act is passed, institutions would then be forced to adjust
in a way that benefits the students and provides them with the best way
to learn regardless of their socio-economic background. Institutions will
also have to decide whether or not they will make tuition affordable for all
of their students, immigrants specifically, or whether to change the price
of tuition at all. Beamon further explains that community colleges specifically would be impacted the most as a result of a great influx of students
enrolling in order to receive an education at a more affordable rate. Each
of these issues would greatly affect the institutions who would receive
recipients of the act and may take years to address and eventually solve.
Many of the students who would be affected by the Dream Act
were brought to America as young children and have spent the majority
of their lives within the United States. They have learned to assimilate,
consider themselves to be a part of the American culture, and are often
fluent in English as well as their native language. Unfortunately, some of
these students are not even aware of the fact that they are undocumented until they try to get a driver’s license, try to get state identification,
or try to attend college. They spend the majority of their lives thinking
that they are American citizens with cultural ties to their native country.
Regardless of whether they are involved within their community, work
hard academically, or have remarkable talent, these students are unable to
pursue higher education. Kim explains that “Under current immigration
law, undocumented students’ academic accomplishments and lengths of
residency in the United States do not justify their violation of immigration law and cannot be cited as mitigating factors during deportation
proceedings” (56). Essentially, regardless of how long someone has been
in America or whether they were brought here as a child, current immigration laws state that they are not considered to be American and their
unlawful presence is not justifiable. Furthermore, if these students were
to be accepted into college, they would then face the obstacle of finding
financial support since they do not qualify for any federal funding nor
in-state tuition rate due to their lack of citizenship. As a result, students
often find themselves at a stalemate when exploring the avenues of how
they can receive a higher education.
According to Kim, about 5.5 million children under the age of eighteen live in households labeled undocumented. Approximately two million
of these children are students, and of this number only about 65,000 graduate from high school each year. Of this 65,000 who are able to overcome
adversity in order to graduate, only about 10% are able to attend college
and receive a higher education. This inability to attend college is often due
to their lack of American citizenship. Kim best explains that “undocumented students’ residency status is solely determined by their parents’ immigration status. If their parents are undocumented immigrants, students
do not have a pathway to obtain legal residency status even though they
may have lived most of their lives in the United States” (55). Essentially, if
a student’s parents are undocumented, rather than the student having their
own residency status, they are unable to receive legal residency nor attend
college regardless of how long they’ve lived within the United States. Kim
further explains this situation by stating that as a result of being unable to
attend college and therefore being unable to achieve the American dream,
many of these students drop out of school before they reach graduation.
Some of the students who drop out may also become involved in illegal
activity (Kim 55). Those who see no possibility in achieving their dreams
for the future in turn live their lives without hope. The Dream Act can be
the hope for these students.
Why should it be okay for someone who slacks in school and barely
passes their classes to be able to attend college but a valedictorian with an
honors diploma cannot attend college because she was born outside of
the United States? There are students in college who live by the model of
“Eat, sleep, rave, repeat.” Some go out every Friday and Saturday night to
clubs or to the “party of the week.” Others party during the week and then
don’t bother to wake up for class the next morning. This type of behavior
is considered the “typical college life.” This kind of behavior is condoned
and often expected from college students. But when one takes a step back
and includes those who have the status of being undocumented within
the United States, a different picture is painted. In numerous high schools
across the United States there are many undocumented seniors who have
fought in order to be among the top of their class. Many of these students
already face and overcome adversity daily in being undocumented. Some of
them juggle having a job in order to help provide for their families as well
as keeping up with their school work. Others may serve as the caretaker
of siblings, parents, or other family members while participating in extracurricular activities and volunteering. So many of these students overcome
situations that many affluent Americans would not even be able to fathom.
Regardless, a countless number of them still remain dedicated to their education and work hard in school despite their difficult circumstances. These
students continuously prove that they are beyond willing to do whatever it
takes in order to better themselves and their families. With the issue of citizenship aside, if one of these students were to be placed beside an American student who has not been as involved and does not have as high grades
as the other, there should be no question as to who is better “qualified” to
receive a higher education. So then why should a choice forced onto many
of these students by their parents—immigrating to America illegally—be
the determining factor when it comes to a human being, who has proven
to be worthy, being able to receive a higher education in order to better
A high school senior, Brigitte R., is the valedictorian of a Milwaukee
high school’s graduating class of 2015 with a grade point average of 4.13.
She was born in Peru, the second youngest of four children. Her family immigrated to America when she was five years old. When her family originally immigrated to America, they had visas. However, when the
visas expired the family did not have enough money to renew them. As
a result, the children grew up not being able to stay at one residence for
an extended period of time for fear that they may one day be found by
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Regardless of their
various adversities, Brigitte’s parents applied for the Milwaukee Parental
Choice Program and were able to send each of their children to one of
the best private schools in Milwaukee free of charge. Upon completion
of middle school, Brigitte was the valedictorian of her class. Throughout
high school, she participated in various community service programs and
projects. She was a member of Milwaukee’s Youth Health Service Corps,
a community service program for students in pursuit of medical careers,
for all four years of high school. She completed her high school’s honors
program, was a member of the Smart Team, and was even initiated into
the National Honors Society. Brigitte plans to be an accounting major and
is not yet sure about which college she will attend in the fall. The largest
amount of aid that she was offered was $24,890 from Cardinal Stritch
University. The amount evens out to about $6,222 a year. Stritch’s tuition
is about $25,920 a year. When asked whether she felt citizenship should
matter when it comes to college eligibility, Brigitte replied:
I don’t think that citizenship should play as big as a factor as
it does today. Most, if not all, undocumented students applying for college had no part in deciding whether they wanted
to be “illegal,” but were brought at a young age by their parents hoping to give them a better life. I feel that it’s wrong
to blame students for a decision that they had no choice in.
Some, including me, spend basically their whole lives dedicating hours in school to avoid what their parents had to go
through and to make a better life for themselves. In a way,
I feel like we are filled with all these false brilliant ideas and
dreams about what we could become and do because when
our junior and senior years come, we are left with little or no
help because we are not eligible for government aid, making
it difficult to attend college. This is why many cases result in
undocumented students not attending college, resorting to
a negative lifestyle, or only being able to attend a technical
One of Brigitte’s main points is this: “[Immigrants] should be chosen solely
because someone believes and sees success in them. Shouldn’t everyone
want smart and dependable professionals regardless of race, ethnicity, citi-
zenship, etc.?” Brigitte, along with others, firmly believes that college eligibility should be determined based upon ability and willingness to work hard.
The issue of citizenship should not be taken into account when it comes to
the right to an education.
Regardless of the positive and negative issues regarding the act, both sides
find themselves with a few similar values. Both sides of this issue want what is
best for America and the people living in it. They also share the same concern
of how the Dream Act will affect America in its entirety. Both sides believe
in everyone being able to contribute to society and that all people of America
have a duty and responsibility to take into account the well-being of America.
In regards to the act, both sides address how it will affect the American economy and both sides want everyone to contribute to promoting the economy.
Both sides also agree with the fact that everyone has the right to an education.
They also agree that receiving an education will help provide the opportunity
for a better life for all people. Finally, they also agree that it is not their intent to
promote any stereotypes regarding immigrants and their families.
To sum up, it is in the best interest of America, the Dreamers, and their
families for the Dream Act to be passed and become law. Although the opposing view poses very interesting and valid arguments against the passage of the
act, when examined holistically, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. In receiving an education, the Dreamers will then be able to work jobs that provide a
much greater pay and therefore be able to contribute more to the economy.
Also, by working jobs with more pay, they will be able to give back to their families domestically and abroad. Finally, and most importantly, the Dreamers are
among America’s next generation of leaders. Educating them will only help to
ensure the future quality of this great nation. Former Republican Governor of
Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, best summarizes this argument with the question:
“Is he better off going to college and becoming a neurosurgeon or a banker or
whatever he might become, and becoming a taxpayer, and in the process having to apply for and achieve citizenship, or should we make him pick tomatoes?
I think it’s better if he goes to college and becomes a citizen” (Huckabee qtd. in
Miranda). America should no longer allow the brilliant minds of these student
to remain unlocked simply because they carry the label “undocumented.”
Works Cited
Beamon, Todd. “Just Dreaming?” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education 29.6 (2012):
9–11. Print.
Dwyer, Devin. “House Passes DREAM Act for Illegal Immigrants, Senate
Poised to Vote.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 8 Dec. 2010. Web. 9
Mar. 2015.
Herszenhorn, David. “Senate Blocks Bill for Young Illegal Immigrants.” The
New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Dec. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
Kim, Caleb. “Lost American DREAM Of Undocumented Students: Understanding The DREAM (Development, Relief, And Education For Alien
Minors) Act.” Children & Schools 35.1 (2013): 55-58. CINAHL Complete.
Web. 3 Feb. 2015.
Mahatmya, Duhita, and Lisa M. Gring-Pemble. “DREAMers and their Families: A family impact analysis of the DREAM act and implications for
family well-being.” Journal of Family Studies 20.1 (2014): 79-87. SocINDEX
with Full Text. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.
Miranda, Luis. “Get The Facts On The DREAM Act.” The White House. The
White House, 1 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
“New York Senate Rejects ‘Dream Act’ for Illegal Immigrant Students.” Fox
News. Fox News Network, 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
R., Brigette. Personal interview. 9 Mar. 2015.
“Text of Republicans’ Principles on Immigration.” The New York Times. 30 Jan.
2014. The New York Times. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
Relational Dialectics
and Management Strategies
Between Blue-Collar Parents
and Adult Children
on Divergent Career Paths
Elizabth Fray, class of 2015,
graduated with a degree in
Communication Studies. She
is now working for Swords into
Plowshares, a San Francisco-based
non-profit organization.
As the number of first-generation college students grows, so too does
a generational divide among working class or blue-collar families. Young
adults today navigate vastly different social and economic landscapes than
that of their parents, which may in part lead to divergent career identities.
In this paper, I aimed to explore the ways in which values and expectations
surrounding career choices are communicated (or not) in blue-collar families. Specifically, I focused on a father and son whose experiences, I believe,
exemplify the dialectic communication patterns found among these families.
Coming from a similar background myself, I had long watched the tensions
and management strategies detailed in my research unfold within my own
family—although it was the theoretical foundation presented in Professor
Thorson’s course that first allowed me to see them as such. It is my hope
that this paper contributes to a deeper understanding of the way socioeconomic class may affect communication, values, and career options, as well as
encourages discussion about its effects in the university setting and beyond.
—Elizabeth Fray
Pulling from Dr. Kristen Lucas’s research on occupational narratives, Ms.
Fray’s theory-based, empirical case study on children’s decisions to diverge
from their family’s preferred career path is an exemplary illustration of the
wide array of research taking place among family communication scholars.
In her manuscript, Ms. Fray illustrates the complex connections between
occupational identity and family communication, specifically pointing out
the communicative challenges faced by children when they do not intend
to follow in their parent’s occupational footsteps. The depth of understanding and level of analysis offered in Ms. Fray’s manuscript is among the
best I have seen in the thousands of undergraduate research papers I have
reviewed and advised. I am extremely proud of Ms. Fray, her work, and
pleased that her research was chosen for this celebrated publication.
—Allison Thornson, Department of Communication Studies
Relational Dialectics and Management Strategies
Between Blue-Collar Parents and Adult Children
on Divergent Career Paths
This case study uses a dialectical perspective to examine what, if any,
relational contradictions are present in career-based communication between blue-collar fathers and adult sons, and how they are managed.
To investigate this topic, two in-depth, semi-structured interviews were
conducted with a father-son dyad. Using Strauss and Corbin’s (1990)
grounded theory approach of constant comparison, I found that the two
primary dialectics were openness-closedness, and career mobility-reproduction, which were primarily managed through neutralization strategies.
Results and implications for future research are described.
Keywords: relational dialectics theory, blue-collar discourse, mobility-reproduction
dialectic, dialectic management, family communication, grounded theory
approach of constant comparison
VER THE PAST DECADES, the number of first-generation college students has increased (Covarrubias & Fryberg, 2014; Wang, 2014);
many of them the children of blue-collar families (Lubrano, 2004; Lucas, 2007a, 2007b, 2011). Despite increased economic and professional
success, these individuals often experience dialectic tension, guilt, and
ambivalence due to membership in two conflicting class systems (Covarrubias & Fryberg, 2014; Lubrano, 2004; Lucas, 2007a). As a result, intergenerational members of a blue-collar family may experience unique
communicative difficulties. Although much research regarding blue-collar value structures and communicative practices has been conducted in
the organizational communication realm (Gibson & Papa, 2000; Jablin,
2001; Lamont, 2000), only some scholars have explored its impact within
family relationships (Lubrano, 2004; Lucas, 2007a). Guided by the relational dialectics theory, the aim of this case study was to explore how, if
at all, blue-collar fathers and their white-collar sons negotiate dialectic
tension surrounding career discourse. The following paragraphs highlight career discourses within blue-collar families, review research that
has been conducted on family communication surrounding relational
dialectics, and outline the nature of relational dialectics.
Blue-Collar Characteristics
As the United States continues its transition to a postindustrial economy
workforce demands continue to adapt, as do the people they affect. The
blue-collar workforce, which includes many goods-producing sectors such
as mining, construction, and manufacturing, has been declining since the
1950s (Lucas, 2007b; Lucas & Buzzanell, 2003). Although more than 25
percent of the labor force remains employed in blue-collar positions, many
jobs have shifted to information- and service-based fields, such as computer networking and customer service (Lucas, 2007b). Additionally, a college degree has become an increasingly necessary prerequisite for many
jobs that offer advancement, benefits, and security. This shift has been
expressed as both a welcome change in favor of more diverse employment
opportunities, and as unsettling loss of stable, skilled, physical careers (Lu-
cas, 2007b). For people anticipating a secure, blue-collar job, the decreasing
availability of options can negatively affect their self-esteem and career
satisfaction. Aside from the economic implications, these changes have
had far-reaching effects on blue-collar families. Research has shown that
children in these families are socialized differently than their middle- and
upper-class peers (Lucas, 2007b; Lucas & Buzzanell, 2003). According
to Lucas and Buzzanell (2003), blue-collar values revolve around “living close to family, making distinct the line between employment and
personal life, and choosing people over position and relationships over
money” (p. 6). They found that narratives of heroism within a mining
community centered around characters that were hard working, honest,
loyal, determined, and took pride in their handiwork. Blue-collar parents—who work for hourly wages, defer to bosses, and whose time is
controlled by the speed of the assembly line—raise their children in ways
that emphasize respect for authority and compliance with orders. In contrast, white-collar parents, whose jobs offer more autonomy, raise their
children to develop skills such as decision-making and critical thinking
(Lucas, 2007a). In fact, individual reward, recognition, and monetary bonuses were completely absent from the stories in contrast to the values
of white-collar workers. This indicates that blue-collar families and communities are socialized in a specific way, which Thomas (1989) interprets
as a “coping mechanism” for their lack of career opportunities and decision-making power. These behaviors include viewing work as a means
to an end, rather than central to personal identity; switching between
jobs of equal skill; and valuing status hierarchies of seniority and skill
level (Thomas, 1989). Lucas and Buzzanell (2003) offer an alternative
interpretation, suggesting that the communities simply share different
value systems than those promoted in dominant discourses of success
and career satisfaction.
Family Discourse Regarding Career
While most of the discussion so far has focused on career and organizational communication, these findings have a major impact on family socialization and communication. Research has shown that children’s eventual
career choices are heavily influenced by family discussions and expectations, which is known as anticipatory socialization (Gibson & Papa, 2000;
Jablin, 2001; Lamont, 2000; Lucas, 2007a, 2007b; McAlpine, 2008). As they
grow, children and adolescents experience anticipatory socialization by intentionally and unintentionally gathering information about careers that
they ultimately use to make decisions about their own personal career trajectories (Jablin, 2001; Lucas, 2007a). According to Jablin (2001), the main
sources of this information are family members, educational institutions,
peers, media, and part-time work experiences. Furthermore, many people
credit their families of origin as having a significant influence on their
career choices. Therefore, families—and family communication—have a
significant impact on blue-collar children’s eventual career choices (Jablin,
2001; Lucas, 2007a, 2007b; McAlpine, 2008). This impact is unsurprising,
considering that families are often the first place children become socialized in the values, roles, and traditions of their parent’s occupations—
which they may in time adopt as their own (Lamont, 2000).
Another means by which children become acculturated to a specific field of work is through social reproduction (Lucas, 2007a, 2007b;
McAlpine, 2008), which can refer to either holding the same occupation
as a parent, or holding a job within the same socioeconomic index as a
parent (Lucas, 2007a; McAlpine, 2008). That is to say, children are often
concentrated in occupations “close” to those of their parents, and are especially prevalent in fields such as self-employment, firefighting, and factory work, as well as white-collar occupations such as law, medicine, and
politics (Lucas, 2007a). Social reproduction may be evidenced in patterns
of college success. An analysis of college transcripts of students whose
parents had either graduated or attended college, or never attended college, found that students whose parents had attended or graduated from
college were more successful (Lucas, 2007a). This indicates that first
generation college students—often from working-class families—have
a more difficult time successfully completing college, which is usually a
requisite for further success in a postindustrial, white-collar job market.
Therefore, they are somewhat hindered from achieving social mobility
through patterns of social reproduction (Lucas, 2007a).
Divergent Identities
Still, research has shown that many children of blue-collar families do not
become blue-collar workers themselves (Lubrano, 2004; Lucas, 2007b;
Lucas, 2011). Instead they experience upward social mobility through
white-collar career trajectories. Although generally viewed as a positive
development, these adults often experience difficult feelings of class mobility-based ambivalence, which occur when an individual identifies with
two or more social statuses (Lubrano, 2004; Lucas, 2007b; Lucas, 2011).
In some instances, entering the white-collar, middle-upper class world is
equated with a rejection of family and community, that is intertwined with
broader working-class values and beliefs as to be indistinguishable (Lucas,
2011). Covarrubias and Fryberg (2014) found often that first-generation
college students experienced feelings akin to that of survivor guilt for having opportunities that their parents and extended families never had.
The different value systems embedded in each social class can serve
as points of dialectic tension between intergenerational members of a
family (Lucas, 2007a). For example, Lucas (2007a) found that the working-class mother of a banking executive expresses both pride and ambivalence toward her daughter’s professional accomplishments. Although
it is clear that this area of study yields rich data (Lubrano, 2004; Lucas,
2007a, 2007b, 2011), limited research has focused on the possible implications on family function and communication.
As the U.S. economy continues to shift away from manufacturing
and production in favor of service- and information-based jobs, the
population of working-class children entering white-collar professions
will continue to grow. While some research aims to understand how early
family-based communication affects career trajectory (Gibson & Papa,
2000; Jablin, 2001; Lamont, 2000; McAlpine, 2008), little is known as to
what dialectic tensions are present among parents and adult children on
divergent career paths, and how they manage those dialectics.
Relational Dialectics Theory
To better understand relational dialectics within blue-collar families, this
study drew upon relational dialectics theory (RDT). RDT addresses the
process of often simultaneous contradictions experienced by individuals
in a relationship (Baxter, 1990). Necessary to this theory are two basic
concepts of process, or the aspect of change, and contradiction, or the
conflicting forces (Baxter, 1988; 1990). Contradictions are created when
internal, conflicting forces cause relationships to be in a constant state of
flux, known as dialectical tension (Baxter, 1988; 1990). The three primary
contradictions as outlined by Baxter (1990) include autonomy-connection, openness-closedness, and predictability-novelty. These contradictions are described in the following paragraphs, highlighting their use in
family communication.
Dialectic Contradictions
The autonomy-connection dialectic concerns an individual’s desire for
a close, integrated bond with the relational partner, while maintaining
a separate personal identity (Baxter, 1990). Too much reliance and time
spent together begins to erode individual identity, which can cause resentment. Conversely, resentment and dissatisfaction also occurs when
the connection is weak. This dialectic is evident in the communication
between a stepparent and stepchild (Baxter, Braithwaite, Bryant, & Wagner, 2004), as well as in the communicative practices of abusive families
(Sabourin & Stamp, 1995). The predictability-novelty dialectic focuses
on an individual’s desire for stability and assurance within a relationship,
while desiring a degree of novelty and spontaneity (Baxter, 1990). She
found that participants in romantic relationships placed an emphasis on
the importance of predictability.
The openness-closedness dialectic centers around an individual’s
conflicting desire to be transparent and share personal information, with
a desire for privacy and protection of some personal information (Baxter, 1988, 1990). This dialectic is present in parents who have lost their
children, who report uncertainty in knowing what and how much to reveal about their loss (Toller, 2005), and children report differences in
their perceptions of what to share and what to keep private with their
stepparent and their non-residential parent (Baxter et al., 2004).
Although much research focuses on the three primary relational dialectics (Baxter, 1988, 1990; Baxter & Montgomery, 1996), some research
has explored the dialectics of social class and mobility (Lucas, 2007a).
For example, Lucas (2007a) found that children of blue-collar parents
were exposed to messages that both encouraged social mobility and social reproduction, in what she called a theme of mobility-reproduction
dialectical tension. On one hand, adult children recalled that their parents
encouraged mobility, or to “do better than we did,” while on the other
hand, promoting reproduction, or to “do like we did” (Lucas, 2007a).
Messages encouraging social mobility were usually verbal expressions to
“work hard,” “go to college,” or “don’t work in the mines.” However,
while verbal messages of reproduction included statements such as “college isn’t necessary,” Lucas (2007a) found that messages of reproduction were most commonly communicated through omission. Parents
did not explicitly say, “Don’t go to college”—rather, it may have not
been discussed or promoted as a viable option. Because these messages
were often presented simultaneously through both verbal statements and
omissions, they indicate the presence of a dialectical contradiction (Lucas, 2007a).
Dialectic Management Strategies
Research has shown that individuals in a relationship manage these dialectics through: selection, separation, neutralization, denial and reframing (Baxter, 1988, 1990; Baxter & Montgomery, 1996). Selection indicates that both parties are aware of the contradiction and seek to solve
it by selecting one state as dominant. For example, a romantic couple
grappling with autonomy-connection may choose to break up, making
autonomy the dominant state (Baxter, 1990).
To use separation, a relationship pair must be aware of a contradiction, and choose to manage it by separating the contradicting elements by
time or topic (Baxter, 1990). Cyclic alternation refers to separation based
on a specific time, such as designation of a “girl’s night out” to denote
autonomy. Topical segmentation, however, refers to separation based on
an activity, such as a sports league frequented by only one member of the
relationship (Baxter,1988, 1990). According to Baxter (1990), separation
through either cyclic alternation or topical segmentation are the most
commonly used strategies to manage dialectic tension in a relationship,
though they do not necessarily yield the most positive results.
Another form of dialectic management is neutralization, in which
compromising the intensity of each contradicting state dilutes the tension (Baxter, 1990). This is accomplished through either moderation or
disqualification. Moderation results in “diluted openness” or “diluted
closedness” during conversations, while disqualification denies the significance of the tension through statements such as “I’m just going
through a phase” (Baxter, 1990).
Denial, as explained by Baxter and Montgomery (1996), is characterized by efforts to obscure or deny the presence of a contradiction, often
without initial awareness of the contradiction’s existence. For example,
seeking to deny or willfully ignore a sense of monotony in a relationship
often creates a stronger reaction against it in the future.
The final strategy identified by Baxter (1988) is reframing. This is
characterized by a shift in the perception of the contradiction, in which
it is no longer at odds with the contrasting state. For example, instead of
viewing autonomy as the opposite of connection, an individual may reframe it as an enhancement of connection (Baxter, 1990). Overall, these
management strategies suggest that in blue-collar families’ communication about career options, dialectic contradictions occur as a result of
mobility-reproduction discourses.
Proposed Study
Children of blue-collar workers are less likely to perform well in higher
education and may experience lower levels of career satisfaction despite
upward social mobility (Lucas, 2007a). These “straddlers,” or whitecollar professionals raised in blue-collar families, experience conflicting
feelings about their identity that affect relationships with family members (Lubrano, 2004). Because fathers tend to have a stronger influence
on career choice (Lamont, 2000), the divergent nature of “straddlers”
decisions may negatively effect communication between the father and
child. Together, these strains may result in conflicting feelings surrounding the father-child relationship. However, little research has addressed
blue-collar discourses within the realm of family communication (Lucas, 2007b), instead focusing on its relevance to occupational or organizational communication (Gibson & Papa, 2000; Jablin, 2001; Lamont,
2000; Lucas, 2007a; Lucas & Buzzanell, 2003). As such, the purpose of
this study is to gain understanding of how blue-collar parents and their
white-collar adult children navigate and manage dialectic contradictions
within their relationship. Thus, the present study was guided by the following research question:
RQ1: What, if any, relational dialectics are present in career-based communication between blue-collar fathers and adult sons, and how are they
To explore the presence and significance of dialectic tensions and management in a father-son relationship, this study was approached from the
interpretive paradigm using qualitative methods. According to Creswell
(2013), this approach allows researchers to interpret others’ meanings
about the world, and thereby make it visible. To understand this experience, I used a case-study method, which allowed me to gain an in-depth
understanding of a particular issue (Creswell, 2013), namely, the communicative tensions between a “straddler” and his blue-collar father.
Participants of this case study were selected through convenience sampling and the ability to meet the following criteria: (a) an adult who selfidentifies as working in a “blue-collar” industry and (b) his or her adult
son/daughter, who does not identify as working in a “blue-collar” field.
Participants were a father-son dyad representing two generations of one
family; Richard, a 62-year-old father, and Cole, his 24-year-old son. Richard grew up in the Midwest, and upon graduating high school, served
a three-year enlistment in the Army. Afterward, he moved to Northern
California and began working in construction. After nearly 30 years of
union employment, he transitioned into semi-retirement and currently
co-owns a small construction company.
Cole grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and completed his undergraduate degree at a small, private university in Southern California.
He returned to the Bay Area and is currently pursuing an advanced degree at a local university, with the intentions of working in the computer
science field. Both father and son identify as White, and pseudonyms are
used throughout this study for privacy purposes.
To answer the research question, I conducted an in-depth, semi-structured interview with each of the two participants. The interviews occurred at locations of the participants choosing, to ensure both comfort
and confidentiality. To ensure consistency and breadth of information,
an interview protocol was developed and used as a guide (see Appendix
A). Prior to the interview, an explanation of informed consent was provided to the participants, and the researcher obtained their verbal consent. Interviews lasted between 21 minutes and 33 minutes. Prior to data
analysis, audio recordings were transcribed and checked for consistency
to ensure accuracy, resulting in 11 single-spaced pages of transcripts.
Data Analysis
Data analysis was conducted using a procedure consistent with Strauss
and Corbin’s (1990) grounded theory approach of constant comparison.
This method allows for the researcher to determine relevant categories
as they emerge during data analysis (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Specifically, preliminary categories of dialectic tension and management were
constructed during a primary reading of the transcripts while listening
to the participant’s interview. I noted the emergence of themes, patterns,
or phrases that both indicated the presence of a dialectic tension, as
well as the ways in which it was managed. During subsequent readings,
I used both open coding and axial coding to draw connections between
categories and narrow them to develop core themes. The analysis continued until I developed two categories of relational dialectics present,
and one theme reflected dialectical management between the father-son
dyad. Finally, the participants reviewed the transcripts and my interpretive findings. Validity of the results was confirmed without challenge.
Participants were asked how, if at all, they experienced and managed
dialectic tension surrounding career discourse and familial expectation.
The following results indicated that in addition to the presence of an
openness-closedness dialectic, SMD’s mobility-reproduction dialectic
was prevalent as well. However, contrary to previous research indicating
a strong communicative presence of conflict, contradictions, and guilt
among upwardly mobile children of blue-collar families (Covarrubias &
Fryberg, 2014; Lubrano, 2004; Lucas, 2007a, 2007b; Lucas & Buzzanell,
2003; Wang, 2014), neither participant reported experiencing these feelings, nor indicated memorable tension within their relationship. Instead,
their most common strategy for dialectic management was neutralization. While not all results align with previous RDT research, they do support and expand the mobility-reproduction dialectic, adding to the growing body of literature concerning working-class communication patterns.
Openness-Closedness Dialectic
Both participants characterized their mutual communication as being
more centered on utilitarian, or technical speak, rather than emotional
discussions. Research has shown that blue-collar families often focus on
objective, material topics in their daily communication (Lucas, 2007b),
and are comfortable with a level of closedness regarding “personal’ information.” In the following example, Richard qualifies Cole’s employment as personal or peripheral information, stating:
He never told me about the job he has now, but apparently
[his mother] knew something about it. He doesn’t talk to me
about it, so I figured it didn’t come up or it wasn’t worth mentioning, and I didn’t ask him. I don’t pry. (p. 5, lines 138–140)
Richard appears to respect Cole’s privacy, and further perpetuates
closedness by not attempting to solicit any information that is not readily
given. However, this behavior may hinder his desire for openness and
a deeper relationship with his son, which is expressed in the following
Well I’m not close with him in some respects … at least when
he was younger, and I kind of feel bad about that. I think I
have a better relationship with Cole now. Everyone has a little
bit of bitterness here and there in their life … I’m not real
talkative about personal stuff, I guess. I guess that’s how guys
are, that’s a fair statement. (p. 1, lines 10–12)
Though Richard believes he and Cole currently have a “better relationship,” he would prefer it to be closer. According to Baxter (1990),
closeness is often achieved through the sharing of personal information
with another individual. However, Richard’s reticence surrounding “personal stuff,” and his acceptance of this trait as inherently masculine, acts
to impede this desire.
Social Mobility-Reproduction Dialectic
The mobility-reproduction dialectic is often found in blue-collar parents’
communication toward their children regarding career choice (Lucas,
2007a). Statements promoting mobility are verbally expressed through
tangible or emotional support, and easily recalled. For example, Richard
explains that he encouraged Cole to “do whatever makes him happy,”
and not limit his career opportunities to blue-collar labor “just because I
did it.” These messages advocate for increased career choice and opportunity, exemplifying the mobility aspect of the dialectic. Its contradiction
lies in simultaneous messages of social reproduction, wherein parents
encourage their children to follow in their path. In one instance, Richard
recalls telling Cole about a union apprenticeship program:
I guess I just knew I should just mention it to him maybe …
If you’re good at it, then the company will hire you and treat
you right. They will be very good to you if you know what
you are doing. You take care of them and they will take care
of you. (p. 5, lines 132–135)
Here, Richard promotes the social reproduction dialectic by suggesting a career through his union. Implicit in this statement is the belief that
a “good” job does not necessarily require a college degree, which is one
of the many subtle socializing values imparted to children of blue-collar
workers. Notably, most statements of social reproduction are communicated through omission (Lucas, 2007a). For example, Cole explains:
Even to this day we don’t really—he didn’t come up and
say, “how are you doing in going forward with college.” He
was like, “Hey, I hear your motorcycle isn’t running. What’s
up with that shit?” I was like, “you know it’s got this battery thing, I’m not sure what’s going on.” He was like, “Oh
I know what’s going on.” It’s almost like communication
revolves around technical issues and problem solving. (p. 1,
lines 13–17)
This statement demonstrates the lasting impact of omission in
nevertheless conveying expectations and promoting social reproduction.
By removing certain discourses through repeated omission, Cole was
able to discern that it was not important or expected of him, despite
Richard’s claim that he encouraged Cole to “do whatever makes
him happy.” This explains how the mobility-reproduction dialectic
functions, as contradictory forces encouraging both social mobility and
Neutralization as a Management Technique
Despite divergent career identities, participants recollected minimal examples of disagreement surrounding career paths. This aligns with neutralization as a technique for dialectic management, in which conflicting
tensions are diluted through moderation (Baxter, 1990). Instead of conflict, both father and son seemed to correlate difference in career trajectory with generational trends, rather than socioeconomic opportunity.
Regarding his career expectations for Cole, Richard explained:
He seemed like he was more into the computer stuff than get
your hands dirty kind of stuff, and that’s what he really wants
to do … I always like being in a union, and a strong union,
and we had a fairly strong union. I guess that’s not how the
world works anymore. You know, most blue-collar workers
don’t have a lot of power. But I don’t think people his age really think about unions that much. (p. 2, lines 31–34)
In this example, Richard expresses satisfaction with his career and
membership in the union, while noting its decreased relevance and appeal
to the younger generation. He explains, “That’s where the whole world is
going, you have to have a degree or experience or something, you know.”
Cole echoes this idea of inevitable career divergence by stating:
Going to a public college-prep high school, where you go to
college after high school-like, that’s the route. So in my mind,
I was like, ‘my dad had a great job.’ It’s well-paying, you get
good benefits, and there’s nothing bad about it, but there is
still this sort of feeling that that’s not the direction that I’m
supposed to be going in my generation. We go to college.
That’s more what I was thinking. I was thinking, yeah I’ll go
to college for engineering, you know, not as a technician or
a hands-on guy, but in engineering for an academic degree.
So that’s why I think I was not going to pursue the apprenticeship, just because of the schooljsd. Everybody goes to
college, it’s like an extension of high school by default. (p. 1,
lines 33–41)
In these examples, Richard and Cole echo similar thoughts regarding
Cole’s divergence from a blue-collar career. While some children of
blue-collar workers received strong messages of career expectation or
reproduction (Lucas, 2007a, 2007b), neither participant could recall
memorable examples of this occurrence. Additionally, neither recalled
specific instances of disagreement or discord surrounding career
trajectory. While unexpected, these findings may be indicative of a bluecollar parent’s tendency to avoid personal or political discussions with
children (Lucas, 2007b). The “diluted openness” and “diluted closeness”
that characterizes neutralization (Baxter, 1990) may also account for
the openness-closedness dialectic explored in this section. Further, the
specific socializing messages Cole received from his family may have
aided his ability to navigate different social classes without a loss of
This case study is aimed at examining the presence and management
of relational dialectics within blue-collar families, in which the adult
child has pursued a white-collar, postindustrial career. Through two
semi-structured interviews with a father-son dyad, three distinct themes
emerged to characterize the dialectic aspects of their relationship. I
found that the two primary dialectics were openness-closedness, and
career mobility-reproduction, which were primarily managed through
neutralization strategies. Participants reported closedness through a lack
of discussion about their personal lives, though the father did express a
desire to develop a “closer” relationship. Second, the mobility-reproduction dialectic was demonstrated through the verbal encouragement of
social mobility, and the more subtle promotion of reproduction through
omission. Finally, results showed that neutralization was the most common method for managing the dialectic tension, as neither participant
could recall memorable instances of tension in their relationship.
This study adds to the field of relational dialectic theory by expanding previously identified dialectical tensions (Baxter, 1988, 1990; Baxter & Montgomery, 1996; Sabourin & Stamp, 1995; Toller, 2005), and
providing further evidence of the social mobility-reproduction dialectic introduced by Lucas (2007a). It also contributes literature to the understudied field of blue-collar family communication (Lubrano, 2004;
Lucas, 2011, Lucas & Buzzanell, 2003) by examining the relationship
between blue-collar parents and “straddlers,” or adult children who have
adopted white-collar professions.
However, this study also has many limitations. Results were obtained
through a case study which limits the transferability of the findings. In
fact, some results did not support previous research, indicating that results may be specific to the family in this study. This divergence from
previous research may also signal a need for further inquiry, to better understand the breadth of communicative experiences within blue-collar
families. Considering the limitations, future research should seek to expand data surrounding blue-collar communication, and further explore
the social mobility-reproduction dialectic. Overall, the present study
serves as a starting point for future research surrounding relational dialectics in blue-collar family communication.
Appendix A: Interview Guide
Interviewee: Son
1. Can you start by telling me a little about yourself ?
2. Growing up, did your father ever talk about his job? What sort of
things did he say about it? Were they positive or negative? How did
this shape how you felt about that profession?
3. Profession aside, what did your father say that let you know what his
expectations were for you after high school?
4. Think of the first time you felt pressure from your father about
choosing a career path. What did he say? How did you respond?
5. Can you think of another time you felt pressure from your father
about choosing a career path? What did he say? How did you respond?
6. Repeat as necessary.
7. Think of the first time you disagreed with your father about your
career path. What was said?
8. Can you think of another time you disagreed with your father about
your career path? What was said?
9. Repeat as necessary.
10. How do you talk to your friends and colleagues about your career?
How is it different from how you talk to your father?
11. What types of advice do you have for other people in similar situations?
12. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Interviewee: Father
1. Can you start by telling me a little about yourself ?
2. When your son was growing up, do you recall talking about your
job? What sort of things did you say? What did you want your son
to know about it?
3. Profession aside, what did you say to your son to express what your
expectations were for him after high school?
4. Think of the first time you suggested a career path to your son. What
did you say? How did he respond?
5. Can you think of another time you suggested a career path to your
son? What did you say? How did he respond?
6. Repeat as necessary.
7. Think of the first time you disagreed with your son about his career
path. What was said?
8. Can you think of another time you disagreed with your son about his
career path? What was said?
9. Repeat as necessary.
10. What sort of stress do you experience when you talk to your son
about his career as opposed to other family members?
11. Over time, how have you managed that stress? What do you say, or
not say?
12. Has that stress changed over time? How so?
13. What types of advice do you have for other people in similar
14. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
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Wiley and Sons.
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Lucas, K. (2007b). Discourses of downturn: Socializing blue-collar kids for
postindustrial careers. Conference Papers – National Communication Association.
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mobility-based ambivalences. Communication Monographs, 78(3), 347–369. do
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Call for Submissions
Writing for a Real World
Issue Fourteen
We announce our call for submissions for our fourteenth annual
Writing for a Real World anthology, which will be published in Spring
2016. Undergraduate writing completed during the 2015–2016 academic
year is welcome. WRW reviews not only essays and research papers but
also scientific, business, and technical reports.
The deadline for submitting work is Wednesday, May 18, 2016.
Students may submit two pieces written throughout the academic year.
First, please carefully review our guidelines:
Then enter your two best papers at the same website.
Please be sure to remove your name from the manuscripts.
Complete back issues of Writing for a Real World can now be found on
USF’s Digital Collections here:
Notifications take place during Summer 2016.
Manuscripts will be edited and put into layouts during the Fall 2016
semester in the Writing for a Real World Editing Workshop (RHET 325/
ENGL 325), a 2- or 4-unit course taught by WRW’s Faculty Editor,
David Holler ([email protected]).
Each published writer will receive two copies of the journal and an
individual award; winners and their guests will be invited to an awards
reception in Spring 2017.

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