Breaking the Silence: The Culture of Incest on the Border, Ruth Villarreal
The mention of incest in the Gloria Anzaldua work, Borderlands, La Frontera, serves to remind the reader of countless horrific tales of fathers, uncles and brothers who assaulted youngsters—their own family members—and remain for the most part unidentified since most victims to this day are compelled to maintain a silence that protects la familia. Anzaldua states that, “a borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary” (25). Such boundaries, for the countless children which represent the victims of sexual assaults in the form of incest, were violated long before families settled in the border areas, those areas “set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe” (25). For the victim of incest, perhaps more than any other Latino in the border region of the United States, we are as Anzaldua states, “zero, nothing, no one” (85). This is the harsh reality that one must deal with in the aftermath of sexual abuse by a family member: the repeated violation(s), the subsequent covering to protect the family unit (as well as the perpetrator), and the lifelong effects produced by the most criminal and taboo offenses known to modern man. The incest victim does not strive only toward “inclusivity” (99), but toward survival as one “straddling cultures” and “value systems” beyond the lines that include or exclude each individual living near its boundary (100). And these Latinos, whether they migrated here or were born on the border, are usually victims of victims of victims for there is a cycle to incest which humankind has found impossible to eliminate.
New Evidence: Debunking Previously Viewed Ideas on Incest in the Latino Household
In her June 2012 presentation, "Transnational Incest: Mexican Families, Sexual Violence, and Migration” at UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, Dr. Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez’s candidly admits her need to redefine incest in a manner which addresses her personal misconceptions about stereotypical perpetrators of sexual abuse. Her research led to the following conclusions:
- victims often confuse consensual and coerced involvement;
- incest creates kinship reassignment so a daughter then may become parent-child and a mother is infantilized thus stripped of all authority;
- social forces often make people vulnerable to sexual violence within a family;
- incest is often born of opportunity—specifically, parents must leave young children in the care of relatives not equipped to care for them;
- victims usually do not tell because they fear that they will not be believed;
- those who tell and receive reaction that is favorable and consistent with the acts of violence committed against them, are able to overcome many of the psychological effects of the events in later years;
- perpetrators do not display “negative expressions of masculinity” in fact, they are often hardworking, charismatic, giving and nurturing adults which does not fit into the constructs of sexual predators;
- often brothers, cousins, and uncles who commit acts of sexual violence toward family members are acting out as a means of “hetero-patriarchal training.” This is a culturally accepted initiation into manhood; “boys will be boys,” she says, and coins the phrase “normalized sexual harassment.”
- girls become “sexual surrogates.”
Furthermore, incest is more about patriarchal sytems of rule than the result of poverty or loyalty to family. When people migrate, incest migrates with them; perpetrators continue in the cycle and victims remain captive. Psycholgist Yvette G. Flores-Ortiz maintains, "incest violates an ongoing bond of trust between a child and a caretaker; it is precisely the violation of this bond of trust that can have the most devastating consequences" (50). These consequences and the future eradication of incest requires that victims break their silence.
Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987.
Barbini, Kathy. The Healing Years Excerpt. Dir. Kathy Barbini. Big Voice Pictures, 2001. Web.
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Clark, Tena. “Break the Chain/Rompe las Cadenas.” On Billion Rising. 2013. Web. 11 July
Flores-Ortiz, Yvette G. “The Broken Covenant: Incest in the Latino Family.” Voces: A Journal of Chicana/Latina Studies. Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social. Summer 1997,
48-70. Web. 18 June 2014.
Gonzalez-Lopez, Gloria. “Transnational Incest: Mexican Families, Sexual Violence, and Migration.” UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Web. June 19, 2012.
RAINN: Rape Abuse, and Incest National Network. 2013. Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice. Web. 14 June 2014.