Rasquache as a Form-Of-Life
by sum foo
"My form-of-life relates not to what I am, but to how I am what I am."
Ni de aquí, ni de allá. Neither from here, nor from there. An old Chicanx adage that rings true but with a tired, Chicano-Studies-Department boringness. It’s Gloria Anzaldúa speaking to us from the other side telling us what we already knew before we read Borderlands. We also have Corky Gonzales telling us of the great hope of Vasconcelo’s raza cósmica for Chicanxs, a hope that is but the inversion of Social Darwinism with a dash of Spiritual Eugenics. Es por cierto que Vasconcelos iba con celos. ¿ Viva cuál raza ?
In many ways to be a Chicanx in 2016 is to be spoken to and to be a disappointment. With or without ‘el nopal en la frente.’ With or without the capacity to speak Spanish. The disappointment has also been political. The Brown Berets have been revived as a political organization though it was never very much of a radical political organization with their desire for “community control of the police,” and not for police abolition; their desire for “Unity of all of our people, regardless...of income,” which would unite us with our class enemy; and other paltry demands of “bilingual education” and what would become Chicano Studies. For better or worse Chicanxs seem to love bravado and nostalgia. Hence why the brown uniforms have come back, though not just as UPS delivery workers. What can brown do for you? Chicanxs are a group of people with a nebulous cultural identity looking to a past that has scarcely past. What perhaps unites us more than anything is a history of dispossession, though this is also the history of quite a few other peoples, a history of class society racialized.
But this is not meant to be a re-formulation of what it means to be a Chicanx, though I agree with Cheech Marin: “a Chicano [is] a Mexican-American with a defiant political attitude that centers on [their] right to self-definition. I’m a Chicano because I say I am.” Rather I’d like to talk about a way out of that dispossession: a way out of capitalism and the rest of its world; a way out of the racist-colonial state we live under; a way out of the patriarchy we learned from the West and which we homegrew ourselves. This modest proposal is rasquache as a form-of-life.
First for the uninitiated, rasquache is a word with possible origins in the Nahuatl language. In México it is usually a derisive term for things that are low class or just down right cheap. Per the usual re-appropriation tactics of the Chicanxs, it has been transformed on the U.S. side of the border into a term to describe art or aesthetics that arises out of making do with very little and with little regard for a singular visual cohesion. Neither of these definitions exactly suit our purpose. Let’s make ourselves a new one. Rasquache, as a form-of-life, is a way for not-just-Chicanxs to give up the charade of ideological purity in favor of antagonistic fervor which bears many sharp edges like a hominy can cut into the shape of a flower for a potted-plant. It is a way to encabronar orthodox politics into a deep and generative anti-politics. 1
If you got your radical politik learning from the university system then you are probably used to putting every variant of radical politics into neat little boxes that sit next to each other but rarely ever touch. This is hardly the way real life works or the way humans live out their lives. Also, no revolution was ever led by a singular idea focused on a singular position. The Leninist & Platformist conception of ideological cohesion and rigidity as a precursor for revolutionary action is an impasse that forever reaches out towards a future never to arrive. Though of course we should temper our actions against what we know and what can be known but we must realize that the limit point of thought is thought itself.
Rasquache inserted into the realm of politics allows us to take what we want and leave behind what does not suit our needs. To build our own vision despite what the gatekeepers of good taste and orthodoxy may want us to align with. This is why I have chosen to take the joy and antagonism of the Situationist International, but leave its workers-council focus behind; why I can talk about the material conditions which lead to the rise of the riot-form, yet also echo the insurrectionary fervor of Alfredo Bonanno; why I choose to still call myself a Chicano despite the reality that my politics fall outside of the Chicano mov’t proper; why despite the fact that the Partido Liberal Mexicano called itself “liberal,” I admire it as it served as an agent for anarchist revolution; why I can hope to one day loot a jacuzzi with friends, yet still have a critique of commodity fetishism. Anyway, a revolution is not the collective actions of angels.
Those who take very few steps to put their politics to the test of experimentation by actually engaging with the world find it easy to stay holed up in their boring, academic ivory tower. Being in a room with people who you hardly know and speaking your piece is how you learn to blend, to mix, to repurpose, to re-imagine. Of course, this is already the history of those whom we are told live between cultures. But we are also told that some things are not for mixing, not for blending, not for repurposing, not for re-imagining.
Rasquache as a form-of-life is a liberation of our desires from the stifling world of orthodox radical politics. Young people are especially attuned to finding ways to make what was reserved to Leftists and breathe new life into it by changing its character and sharpening its edge. All over the internet you see young people blending radical high (and low) theory with pop culture, with the braggadocio of rap lyrics or even churning-out iconoclastic memes.
Rasquache would also help us be flexible in light of changing circumstances. We would not simply attempt to build mass organizations because that’s what anticapitalists have been trying to do for 200+ years; we would see that the impasse we face is not so much one of a lack of formal organization but a lack of action. The last few years have shown what a few dedicated desmadrosos [tr. troublemakers] can do to make things pop off. See Ferguson, Baltimore, Oakland, Orange County and even Los Angeles.
Rasquache would allow us to be elusive when cornered; it will allow us to slip into spaces and say things that would go unsaid if we were to proclaim "I Am An Anarchist." Rasquache would push us to defy categorization and become opaque to the State. Rasquache would value creativity over regularity. Rasquache sees a border, but instead of just destroying it it subverts it into a decorative object that mocks it while neutralizing its power.
Chicanxs have not offered the world of radical politics much in the last 30 years. Usually we have offered ourselves as mere transmuters of Mexican culture into colorful commodities (see: the proliferation of Day of the Dead products). Perhaps the very rasquache we engage in because of our historical situation could be that which we offer the world. This would stand as a counterpoint to the way some Chicanxs flock like moths to a flame to the dusty and anachronistic ideologies of Maoism, Leninism, Third-World-ism, Cultural Nationalism, etc.
Rasquache would allow us to speak to those we need most to build real connections with by circumventing the old language, iconography and slogans of Leftism. No more raised fists. No more berets. No more red stars. No more calls to defend “the people.” No more Che Guevara shirts. No more folk punk. Sure, those things may attract a certain type of person. The type of person who needs a mass organization to feel like they’re “doing something.” The type of person who wants to talk the whole time at a meeting. The type of person who uses 5 different typefaces on a flyer. The type of person who willfully ignores riots and other forms of revolt because they are not intelligible to the State or “the people.”
MAY 20TH, 2016