Laboring Verbs as Testimonio: How the Subaltern Speak—the Symbolism of Birth and Sacrifice (Part II) by Shayna S. Israel
Many theorists have queried as to whether the subaltern speaks (Nance, Beverley, Spivak, etc). I argue that the question is not whether the subaltern speaks but how they speak? Embed in the prevailing theories on testimonio is the false presumption that subaltern human bodies are speechless. I posit that the subaltern are already speaking. It is up to us to discern—how. Human bodies as illuminated life forms are imbued with inherent dignity. Further, I posit that the subaltern speaks through speech acts, namely that of labor—both in birthing and in midwifing a nation and its rationale—El Futuro. This paper posits genealogical legacy as a speech act.
This paper explores the connection between the female body as bundle or bill of rights and that of children as symbolic harbingers of a nationhood—futuro. What perceived threat is the woman with child for the wealthy landowner, the patriarchal figure or the presence of machismo? It is one of several stemming issues: Lack of access to the wealth of a nation—its laborers and their yield; foreign actors that seek the dissolution of the family, the national structure, the culture or tradition; and the changing social position of women as higher order citizens.
For paternal figures who are guardians of justice, a woman with child is a blessing rather than a problem. For masculine figures disconnected from their traditionally prescribed role as guardian of the protectorate—the woman, the nation— they frequently seek to insight terror often in the form of state-issued violence, domestic violence or psycho-social speeh act violence such as found in racist microaggressions, false classroom gentility, gender disparagement, classist speech act positioning or cyberbullying.
The laborer, both woman or man, has as its lexicon, the visual rhetoric of the body and the performativity of work. The subaltern speaks in speech acts—the physiological speech act of the body, the body in labor and the body torn from labor. Birthing—midwifing dreams, a woman in labor and in the raising up of a child—is how the subaltern speak—how they testify.
The double layer of proof, the second more transportable form of documenting the exploitation/theft of labor—outside of the body—is the testimonio narrative. Testimonio, itself, is a kind a labor. The tension in testimonio is negotiating the spiritual truth of immaterial becoming material and a world hardened to the laboring body as anything other than ripe for abuse. For the Latinx worker, laboring is universal citizenship—and thus, freedom.
The tension for the subaltern whose speech is labor is that to argue for the perception of trustworthiness, enough so to be perceived worthy enough to enter across the boundary required to work or—in other words, become a citizen. (Of course, for certain groups that means “productive citizen,” which then engenders debate as to what is or is not productive to what economy). That struggle is particularly precarious for a man, who in his solitariness is more likely to be attributed with criminality (illegality)—which some may define as the aim or intention to escape work or societal responsibility. The threat to the male migrant presence of a woman with a child is that she is more readily read as more trustworthy and, thus, needing of work than the man since the reason, the rationale for working, is present before her in her belly or cradled in her arms.
The Latinx woman, especially one with a child, more than the man, is able to hurdle the question of trustworthiness and, thus, believability in the test of the testimonio’s truth effect. The truth effect of the testimonio, then, is the skill in being able to perform the faithfulness of worthy worker.
The interesting thing here to mention is that—if the aim of testimonio is to nation build, the woman figure and the generalismo, the compassionate masculine figure, are both ripe for performing a sacrificial offering for a nation awaiting birth, realization. That performance of sacrifice for the just gatekeeper of national or familial borders signals that one—the appealing laborer—is seeking to bolster a nation still in formation such as the United States.