In "Arts of the Contact Zone," Mary Louise Pratt introduces a term very unfamiliar to many people. This term, autoethnography, means the way in which subordinate peoples present themselves in ways that their dominants have represented them. Therefore, autoethnography is not self-representation, but a collaboration of mixed ideas and values form both the dominant and subordinate cultures. They are meant to address the speaker's own community as well as the conqueror's. Pratt provides many examples of autoethnography throughout her piece, including two texts by Guaman Poma and her son, Manuel. Although very different in setting, ideas, and time periods, they accomplish the difficult goal of cross-cultural communication.
Guaman Poma, an Andean who claimed noble Inca descent, wrote a twelve hundred page long letter in 1613 to King Philip III of Spain. This manuscript was particularly unique because it was written in two languages, Spanish and Quechua, the native language of the Andeans. "Quechua was not thought of as a written language . . . ., nor Andean culture as a literate culture" (584). This letter proved the theory wrong. Somehow, Poma interacted with the Spanish in a "contact zone", which is
" The words of the title are not misspelled because Manuel is not a good speller, but are purposely misspelled because of his intent to defy the authority figure, his teacher. With his new found knowledge, he presented to the world a piece of work that incorporated Andean customs and values with European manners and ideas, exemplifying the idea of cross-cultural communication. His drawings, along with their own individual autoethnographic captions, help to emphasize the transcultural symbolism and nature of his manuscript. Together, they accentuate the ideas of autoethnography. In this particular situation, Manuel's teacher asks them to write a paragraph using single-sentence responses to a few questions. This communication forced him to learn the Spanish culture and use it to his advantage. Guaman Poma and Manuel, two very different people from very different time periods, will always be in connection with one another because they share being a part of the subordinate group in a dominant-subordinate relationship. Because of this fact, many students have a hard time interpreting the meaning and point of Pratt's piece-a piece initially intended for her fellow writers and colleagues, who seem to be on the same level of thinking in the area of literature and writing as she is. The humor of it was not recognized. It could have been that his teacher did not truly see Manuel's point or that his teacher could have totally disregarded his humor altogether. Pratt proves this idea in her piece. By writing in their own language, Poma shows his oppositional representation of the Spaniards. His transcultural character is not only seen in the written text, but also in the visual content of some four hundred pages. Manuel, unwilling to be the subordinate, tries to resist the assignment in a clever way, since he is expected "to identify with the interests of those in power over him-parents, teachers, doctors, public authorities" (592).