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103 There’s No Place Like Aztlán Embodied Aesthetics in Chicana Art 1 ALICIA GASPAR DE ALBA University of California, Los Angeles “I don’t know where [Kansas] is, but it is my home, and I’m sure it’s somewhere.” —L. F. Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz WHEN DOROTHY OF THE FILM VERSION OF THEW IZARDOFOZ PRONOUNCED the magic phrase, “there’s no place like home,” and was consequently able to return herself to Kansas, she was learning the quintessential lesson of all displaced, misplaced, and replaced people: home, or place, is a fundamen- tal aspect of identity. If, as Dorothy discovered, there is “no place like home,” then home is in a sense a utopia, a place that is not a place, an imaginary space occupied by memory and desire. As a “place where one’s domestic affections are centered,” 2 home is different from any other place; it is not the same as any other place. For as magical, colorful, and marvelous as the Land of Oz was, Dorothy admitted to the Great and Terrible Wizard that “I don’t like your country, although it is so beautiful” (Baum 1994, 91 ); instead, she articulated her preference for the familiar, albeit humble and not-so- beautiful place she called home.
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There’s No Place Like Aztlán 104 Exiled from her land, however, she must navigate the challenges of displacement in an “uncivilized” 3 and exotic country, guided only by the singular quest to return home to a speciFc place, Kansas, and a speciFc per- son, Aunt Em. Like all exiles, Dorothy yearns for reuniFcation with the maternal body that signiFes home. The problem is, she doesn’t know how to get back, or even where in the topography of Oz it might be located. Somewhere, on the monochromatic side of the rainbow, is a land called Kansas, but the only place where it exists in Oz is in Dorothy’s domestic affections. In differentiating herself as not belonging to the Land of Oz, Dorothy enacts the diasporic condition as a body out of place and out of self. Through this recognition of her difference, through her process of dislocation and the challenging of her mind, heart, and courage, Dorothy Fnds her identity. With that comes her ability to return herself back to the homely prairies of the Midwest, a power she has unknowingly carried with her all along in her sil- ver shoes (or ruby slippers), but had not been able to use until she reached the end of the Yellow Brick Road, her journey of self-discovery. Dorothy’s story is of interest to me because it illustrates issues that I have been thinking about for a number of years about how artists living in exile— diasporic artists, as well as artists who are indigenous but dispossessed exiles in their own homeland—represent their journeys toward wholeness in the absence of place, where place signiFes a home, a nation, a community, a landscape, or even a body. A mythology of place evolves, and the mythos gets translated into what I call place-based aesthetics, a system of homeland rep- resentation that immigrants and natives alike develop to Fll in the gaps of the self.
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