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Xicana literature is a form of literature that has emerged from the Chicana Feminist movement. It aims to redefine Chicana archetypes in an effort to provide positive models for Chicanas. Chicana writers redefine their relationships with what Gloria Anzaldúa has called "Las Tres Madres" of Mexican culture by depicting them as feminist sources of strength and compassion.
According to the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society, “Chicana feminist writings helped to develop a discourse in opposition to the Eurocentric frameworks.” Chicana writing grew out of Chicana feminism, through the feminist journals founded since the 1960s – one of which led to Norma Alarcón’s Third Woman Press; the assertions of Chicana feminism in essays; and the portrayal of the gender crisis in the Chicano Movement in the poetry and fiction of Chicana authors.
The Chicana Feminist movement, Xicanisma, originated from the exclusion of women’s issues from the initial goals of the Chicano Movement. According to The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature, it was from this beginning of the struggle [that] emerged a rich literature that erupted in poetry readings by Chicanas, theatrical companies like San Francisco's Las Cucarachas (The Cockroaches), as well as publishing houses like Lorna Dee Cervantes'* Mango and magazines like Third Woman.
The Chicano Movement – Masculine vs. Feminine
The Chicano Movement began to emerge in the 1960s after and in conjunction with the Civil Rights Movement (1955–65). As part of the movement, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which is now known as the United Farmworkers. Chavez and Huerta organized grape strikes, non-violent protests, hunger strikes, as well as organized marches to improve the working conditions of migrant Mexican, and Mexican-American farm-workers. Reies Lopez Tijerina later organized the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, a group which emphasized Chicano history and campaigned to restore land to those who lost it during the Mexican-American War. Rudolfo Gonzales became known for the Crusade for Justice, a movement that shifted focus from rural to urban areas and to Chicano youth in an effort to resist assimilation and help Chicano youth accept and embrace their heritage and culture.
The Chicano movement of the 1960s was a masculine one. In many ways, women were excluded and it even “tended to reflectively reproduce the subordination of women.”. The Plan Espiritual de Aztlán (1969), which was the manifesto of the Chicano movement, was ripe with words like “brotherhood, brothers, mestizo, etc. Women were not included in the vernacular of the document. The Chicana Feminist movement was sparked in part by the Denver Youth Conference of 1969 in which it was stated that, “It was the consensus of the group that the Chicana woman does not want to be liberated”.
- Chicana feminism
A Chicana is an American woman, or girl, of Mexican ancestry. Feminism is a movement concentrated on the belief in the equality of men and women in the societal, economical, and political sense.
“While it is true that the unity of La Raza is the basic foundation of the Chicano movement, when Chicano men talk about maintaining La Familia and the 'cultural heritage' of La Raza, they are in fact talking about maintaining the age-old concept of keeping the woman barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. On the basis of the subordination of women, there can be no real unity . . . The only real unity between men and women is the unity forged in the course of struggle against their oppression. And it is by supporting, rather than opposing, the struggles of women, that Chicanos and Chicanas can genuinely unite.” - Mirta Vidal, The Unity of “La Raza”.
According to the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, “There are many definitions of feminism, and many scholars now assert that the word should be used in its plural form to encompass women's various social locations,” and there are four ways Chicana feminism can be distinguished from other forms: history, culture, intersectionality, and political coalitions.
Chicana history is different from that of other American immigrant groups because they have a claim of origination to the Southwest. Chicano culture determines the specific ways in which gender and sexuality are defined in Mexican-American communities. Intersectionality is the concept that Chicanas belong to more than one oppressed group – race, gender, and class. And finally, this intersectionality means that Chicanas can join with but also be rejected by many different political coalitions.
The Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society claims that, "One of the best-known Latina feminists is Gloria Anzaldúa, author of numerous writings, including Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. As a lesbian Chicana writer, Anzaldúa has produced work that shows the clear intersectionality of gender, sexuality, and the social construction of racial identity.”
Oppressive Chicana archetypes redefined
Our Lady of Guadalupe
La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas, was recognized by the Catholic Church soon after she was discovered by an indigenous man, Juan Diego. According to the Encyclopedia of Global Religion, “During and after the conquest, Catholicism was used to justify the physical, emotional, and spiritual enslavement of the indigenous people…[who]were dehumanized and lived without hope. Popular tradition tells us that in the midst of this devastation, [Our Lady of Guadalupe] was viewed as a miracle that helped restore a dying people's dignity and desire to live.” She is generally viewed as the main symbol of all Catholic Mexicans.
- Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Role in Chicana Literature;
In some Chicanas’ works, including the well-known essay of Cherríe Moraga, Loving in the War Years, La Virgen de Guadalupe symbolizes the male repression of women’s sexuality and independence. Gloria Anzaldúa has been at the forefront of efforts to revise Guadalupe, moving away from the chaste, “perfect” mother sanctified by the Roman Catholic Church toward a feminist, brown mother goddess.
The myth of La Malinche is thought to have evolved from the story of Dona Marina, or La Malinche¹ Dona Marina was the indigenous woman who was given to Hernán Cortés during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico (1519–21). She served as his interpreter, and later bore his son, Martin, who is considered by many to be the first Mexican. Dona Marina has gone down in history as a traitor, and is blamed by many for the fall of the Aztecs and the success of the Spanish Conquest.
- La Malinche’s role in Chicana literature;
Many contemporary Chicana writers have taken on La Malinche, re-writing her story as one of a woman who had little choice in her role as Cortes' interpreter (she was sold to him as a slave), and who served as a “mediator between the Spanish and indigenous peoples . . .”.
The weeping woman: The folkloric legend of La Llorona is a story that has many variants. Generally, the story involves a woman who is scorned by a lover and in a fit of insanity or revenge, drowns her own children. Afterward, she is condemned to wander the earth, mourning her children. She is called La Llorona because she can be heard crying loudly in the night, lamenting her lost children.
- La Llorona's role in Chicana literature;
Folklore scholar Jose Limon argues that “La Llorona [is] a symbol that speaks to the course of Greater Mexican [and Chicana/o] history and does so for women in particular, but through the idiom of women [it]also symbolizes the utopian longing [for equality and justice]' . . .”. Sandra Cisneros has used this modern La Llorona story that is "Woman Hollering Creek" to give a “voice to the violated Latina mother who . . . struggles against domestic violence and economic and emotional dependency on men”.
Traditionally, La Llorona is a treacherous figure; she kills her own children in an act of ultimate betrayal. She is selfish; she would rather keep her lover than her children. She is insane, often depicted as a crazy woman, neglectful and abusive to her children (Carbonell 55). In some variants of the story, she doesn't kill the children but she abandons them. She is vengeful; she kills/abandons children to avenge her broken heart. Finally, she is foolish: she kills the children and regrets doing so only when it is too late.
Chicana writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldúa, Helena Maria Viramontes and Ana Castillo “have undertaken to create not only rich and immensely variegated accounts of women's experience, but alternative versions of Chicano culture . . .”. La Llorona/ la Malinche has been re-created as a woman who stands against injustices (in race, gender, and class). In modern Llorona stories, the male lover's dishonesty is emphasized, he is revealed as “ . . . a husband who not only deprives her of basic economic needs, but is also a slob, an emotional invalid, an adulterer and, worst of all, a batterer”. La Llorona is now a protective, loving mother figure, strong not victimized: “Cleofilas, the Mexican protagonist of “Woman Hollering Creek,” regains her voice by transforming herself from a stereotypical Llorona figure, a weeping victim, to a Gritona, a hollering warrior”.
These redefinitions of Chicana archetypes allow “us to see a culturally specific genealogy rooted within pre-Conquest, pre-Aztec feminine representations”. They provide Chicanas of today with role models that can be useful to them. These are strong women, resistant to cultural, racist, and sexual male domination, they are not voiceless victims.
As written in Latino and Latina Writers, “Chicana feminist theory and criticism as a body of analysis is of relatively recent vintage, and, like Alarcón, most scholars point to the activist days of the 1960s as the starting point for this academic field of study.” It is also important to note that many of the Chicana writers considered to be the founders of the study were marginalized in the academic world, which would account for, “the strong anti-institutional thread and oppositional rhetoric in much of the most well-known Chicana feminist thought.” In other words, Chicana literature is influenced not merely by the politics of the Chicano Movement, and male interpretation of their writing; it is also greatly influenced by the attitude of the academic world. Images of maternity and mother-daughter relationships are highly prevalent in Chicana literature. Mother and daughter characters abound in writings by Chicanas, highlighting the significance of the maternal relationship in the lives of women of color and the ways in which this central relationship informs their writing.
Finally, any reader of Chicana literature can see the oppression of its writers, not only by their words, but by how little recognition they receive. Even some of the more prolific Chicana writers are not recognized with a Wikipedia page. This page itself is not the work of an experienced academic, and is therefore clear proof that Chicana literature has yet to receive the widespread academic acceptance as many other forms of literature.
- Gloria Anzaldúa
- Sandra Cisneros
- Cherrie Moraga
- Ana Castillo
- Lorna Dee Cervantes
- Sonia Gutiérrez
- Pat Mora
- Bernice Zamora
- Francisca Flores
- Yolanda López
- Norma Alarcón
- Rosario Castellanos
- Adelaida Del Castillo
- Enriqueta Longeaux y Vasquez
- Chela Sandoval
- Marta Cotera
- Dorinda Moreno
- Anna Nieto Gomez
- Bernice Rincon
- Herrera, Cristina. Contemporary Chicana Literature: (Re)Writing the Maternal Script. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2014.
- "Feminism, Latina." Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society. Ed. Richard T. Schaefer. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2008. 490-493. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
- Rosales, Arturo F. "Chicana Liberation." The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature. Ed. Nicolás Kanellos. Vol. 1. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. 228-230. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
- Lambers, Erin., Kieft Kelly. Chicana Feminism. University of Michigan. Web. 16 October 2011.
- Pratt, Mary Louise. “'Yo Soy La Malinche': Chicana writers and the poetics of ethnonationalism..” Calaloo. 16.n4 (1993): 859 (15). Gale. NMSU Las Cruces. Web. 17 Nov. 2010.
- Lambers, Erin., Kieft Kelly. Chicana Feminism. University of Michigan. Web. 16 October 2011.
- Hurtado, Aída, and Jessica M. Roa. "Chicana Feminisms." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Ed. Maryanne Cline Horowitz. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005. 815-817. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
- Castañeda-Liles, Socorro. "Our Lady of Guadalupe." Encyclopedia of Global Religion. Ed. Mark Juergensmeyer and Wade Clark Roof. Vol. 2. Los Angeles: Sage Reference, 2012. 962-963. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
- Moraga, Cherríe. Loving in the War Years. Boston: South End, 1983. Print.
- Herrera, Cristina. Contemporary Chicana Literature: (Re)Writing the Maternal Script. Amherst, NY: Campbria Press, 2014.'
- Candelaria, Cordelia. “Letting La Llorona Go or Re/reading History's Tender Mercies” Heresies 7.27 (1993): 111-116. Web. 17 Nov. 2010.
- Petty, Leslie. “The 'dual'-ing Images of la Malinche and la Virgen de Guadalupe in Cisnero's The House on Mango Street.” MELIUS 25.2 (2000) 119-133. Web. 17 Nov 2010.
- Carbonell, Ana Maria. “From La Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue In Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros” MELIUS 24.n2 (1999): 53-74. Web. 17 Nov. 2010
- "Introductory Essays." Latino and Latina Writers. Ed. Alan West-Durán. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. 1-100. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
- Herrera, Cristina. Contemporary Chicana Literature: (Re)Writing the Maternal Script. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2014.'