a letter from the guest editor, volume 1

about ‘bozalta’ & bozalta

“The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being. They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically. Yet, although they desire authentic existence, they fear it. They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized.”

-–Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The times were hectic: the change of season promised a frenzied closure to our doctoral obligations, followed by a refreshing beginning. In other words, we were entering once more into “hell week,” the doom of graduate school FINALS. But, like Jobim’s song goes, “And the riverbank sings/ Of the waters of March/ It’s the promise of life/ It’s the joy in your heart.” With that lyrical spirit, Rosita (Rose Simons, co-creator of bozalta) and I met to collaborate in establishing a name for a graduate-student-run online journal. One thing we knew: the journal was to deal with issues of social justice, and to provide a space for writers, artists, activists, and scholars to sing for social change. 

Searching for inspiración justiciera in Santa Monica, we turned to my personal bibliotequita: Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina by Eduardo Galeano; Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk; Loïc Wacquant’s Punishing the Poor; Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop; Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Commonwealth; and writings by Angela Davis. Eventually, we ceased the external search, and like infants allowed our bodies to babble whatever vocalizations it wishes to emit. We imposed no boundaries, no linguistic barriers, no parameters on our introspections. I hear Rosita saying, “vós…voz…en voz…alta…la voz…en alto…alta…en voz alta…” As I listened to the oral stream of consciousness coming from my friend’s mouth, I unknowingly misheared “bozal” instead of “voz alta,” and exclaimed, “that’s it Rosita! The journal’s name should be ‘bozal!’” The pacific afternoon sunlight filtering through Rosita’s cheeks, she asked in confusion to my response, “bozal?” I explained that “bozal” is the word in Spanish for “muzzle,” that hideous and violent apparatus used by white masters to entrap and tame African slaves’ voices of insubordination and rebelliousness. The Spanish Royal Academy defines “bozal” as “a recently captured African/black slave,” “unskilled worker,” or “simple, stubborn, or idiot” person. 

Our discussion of social justice that followed made evident to me how different our cultural, personal, national and political experiences had been, and what diametrically opposing signs alluded to the concept. At a subconscious level, the idea of “social justice” meant to me an incessant threat of repression; for Rosita, I understood that it connoted a more revolutionary and freeing experience. Rosita and I understood, though, that our differential experience with the ideal of “social justice” did not place us in disagreement; instead it allowed us to recognize a moment of diversity. We accepted the fact that there was difference amongst us (two or more); yet that difference did not equate separation or disagreement, but alterity. We compounded our experiences. We conjoined the diametrically opposing meanings into one word: 

bozalta (del adj. voz alta y el adv. bozal) 1. Am.Falta de ortografía satírica que expresa la dualidad existencial de hablar en “voz alta,” donde a su vez el sujeto parlante es consciente de su misma opresión. 

Like the Freirean maxim that I shared in the introductory epigraph, “bozalta” (the word) and bozalta (the journal), attempts to resolve the existential duality of being the oppressor and the oppressed. By not recognizing the oppression or the bozal that we bear and wear, we continue to oppress each other, but especially ourselves. The conversational space of bozalta does not deny the fact that we all carry a bozal. But, we want to stress that through the use of our voice(s), hablando en voz alta, we become aware of our oppression; and hopefully, together we can carve a consciousness that is more liberating to all. To break from this oppressive power relationship, we follow Freirean philosophy and treat difference not as a divisive and antagonistic stance, but rather as a unifying and diversifying strategy. We engage in dialogue, or dialogic praxis, as Freire would put it, through the collaboration of non-traditional forms of knowledge between artistic productions of activists, scholars, and artists. 

I would like to conclude this letter with Freire’s own words and suggestions for cultural transformation as a form of liberation: 

“Cultural synthesis is thus a mode of action confronting culture itself, as the preserver of the very structures by which it was formed. Cultural action, as historical action, is an instrument for superseding the dominant alienated and alienating culture. In this sense, every authentic revolution is a cultural revolution” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 180).

Take these words with you and trust that the editors, collaborators, and contributors of bozalta work together in recognizing the social structures that oppress us, and in seeking alleviation, restitution, and justicia through art praxis. 

Kendy Denisse Rivera Cárdenas

Entre Tijuana y Los Ángeles

Julio 2014