3 September 2010
Property, Power, and Culture
In Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel Tropic of Orange, the relationship between property and power can be seen by examining various characters. Gabriel Balboa is one of the characters in which this relationship is apparent. Gabriel is a Chicano living in Los Angeles, who “worked his way up,” he assumes a position of power and uses his power to acquire property. Gabriel has gained power by becoming part of the educated middle class. He distinguishes himself from his community by going to college, and although he dedicates his success to his community, he struggles to feel accepted. He feels that his position of power has distanced him from his culture because can no longer relate to the people in his community. He can no longer identify with other Chicanos in his neighborhoods because of his education. As a result of feeling distant from his culture and community, he uses his power to acquire property in Mazatlan, Mexico which he believes will bring him closer and will allow him to be in touch with his Mexican Culture. Gabriel tries to use his property as an artificial means to create the cultural identity that he feels he lacks. He is trying to force culture, which is organic and natural, onto property. The power he holds which is related to his property doesn’t truly exist. It is not possible to choose to create a cultural identity. A true cultural identity does not come from something tangible such as property, and it isn’t until Gabriel realizes this that he can be happy within himself. Gabriel’s internal struggle to be at peace with his cultural identity is evident throughout the novel.
Gabriel Balboa’s personal description of himself shows where he thinks he stands in his community. He says, “I’m one of the handful of Chicano reporters on editorial staff. I did a rare thing: worked my way up from messenger. Did this all through college” (39). By describing himself as a rarity among his community, he is actually distancing himself. He understands that the people in his community who have achieved the level of success that he has are not in abundance, but by pointing this out he is creating borders and categories within his culture. It is as if he is trying to make excuses as to why he does not feel included in his community.
Gabriel wants to be a part of his community, but he goes about being involved in the wrong way. For example, he claims that when he started his journey into his field, he was doing it for the wrong reasons. He says, “ To be honest, I did it for completely idealistic reasons at the time, not necessarily because I could write of even liked to do it. It was because of Ruben Salazar… Of course I never knew him personally but had read about and been inspired by the man… This was going to be my contribution to La Raza,” (39) Gabriel admits that his career path was influenced by what was going on in his community. He wanted to make a difference; he wanted to give back to the community that he felt he belonged to. It seems that instead of being letting himself be embraced by his community for what he accomplished, he uses his accomplishments as a way to separate himself. When Gabriel becomes educated, he uses his education to assume a position of power above his culture. This position of power is what created the alienation between Gabriel and his Chicano cultural identity. The thing that he thought would bring him closer to his community actually transformed him into thinking and acting as a separate entity of the Chicano community. He felt that he could no longer relate to them because he was educated; instead of reaching out to his community, he pulled away from it.
In Gabriel’s opinion, his education and lifestyle are what set him apart from his community. Although Gabriel is the one who separates himself from his culture, he is unhappy with the gap he feels between him and his community. Gabriel uses his power to acquire…