by Stacy Sekercan
Throughout Chicana feminist literature there are many issues each writer brings to light through their written works. One issue discussed by many Chicana feminist writers are how their views of the roles as women, mothers, and writers ought to be in relation to society’s view. Breaking out of the cultural norms that these women were raised in puts them on a path to solidarity. Although, Chicana women do spend some time engaging in more traditional roles such as, being a wife and a mother, they do not engage in those roles traditionally. It is through their life experiences and the understanding of relationships, starting as children, that they construct their definition of themselves through their writing.
The memoir, Loving in the War Years, begins with Cherrie Moraga delving into the past. She recounts her relationship with her mother and father as well as their relationship with each other. She greatly criticizes the fact that her father did not love her mother properly (8-10). The biggest reason for her father’s love being inadequate towards her mother could have been because he is gay. This fact is known by both the speaker and her mother but never discussed with the father (4-5). Knowing her father’s sexual preference may have given her a deeper understanding to the reasons he was distant from her mother emotionally. However, it imbedded the notion that one should hide their own identity in order to conform to the social norm. Back in a time when being anything but heterosexual was not socially acceptable, it makes sense as to why her father would seek refuge in a false relationship, using her mother as his ‘beard.’ Moraga, however, was able to embrace her own sexual identity as an adult and fought to do so. That is not to say she did not struggle with it, believing that “even as a feminist lesbian, I have so wanted to ignore my own homophobia, my own hatred of myself for being queer” (49). During her childhood, Moraga’s father modeled the concealment of his sexuality on the grounds that it was not socially acceptable. The hatred and repugnancy of being gay was instilled at a very young age. Even though as an adult she strived to embrace her true sexual identity, the dynamics of her parents’ relationship that ignored her father’s true sexual desires continued to culminate the negative association she held with a non-heterosexual identity. It is through the memories of her parents’ relationship paired with her life experiences as an adult that she built the architecture of her own identity which she explored through her writing.
Another example of the correlation between relationships and finding identity through writing can be uncovered in Lucha Corpi’s memoir, Confessions of a Book Burner. She explored past memories from her childhood where she had been reprimanded to conform to the ideals of a girl from a very young age. The four-year-old Corpi and her older brother were inseparable, doing everything together, and he protected her. When it was time for him to start school, Corpi wanted to join, so he refused to go without her (26). With permission from the principal, Corpi joined her bother in school with her own desk in the back of the classroom (26-28). Corpi attended the first and second grade ‘illegally.’ When she reached the age of six she could legally attend primary school; her father and principal fought the department of education to make an exception to allow her to start in the third grade rather than go back to the first grade. Long story short, she started school in the second grade where she began on her path to loving poetry and literature (30-31). Though Corpi’s parents supported her getting an education, they valued the education of her brother differently than hers. Her father said to her, “When you educate a man, you educate an individual. But when you educate a woman, you educate the whole family,” (43). While Corpi’s father was divergent to traditional ideals of girls’ education, he was still pressured to follow the social norms. Her parents tried to steer her away from career aspirations Corpi possessed, arguing they were not best for her. However, Corpi felt as though they were telling her to conform and not allow her true identity to be exposed (43-44). Corpi, a girl who would rather read a book in a tree than play with a dollhouse, was determined to continue her education. Her parents were restricting of her dreams and her true identity. This led her to leave Mexico in favor of the United States, which eventually allowed her the freedom to express her identity in the form of writing. However, had it not been for the support of her father and the principal in her youth, Corpi may not have had the exposure to literature and education. Thus, proving the strong, loving family and community she came from as a base from which her creativity in writing overflowed.
Growing up and throughout her life, Corpi experienced ‘disturbing dreams’ (132) during times of great change or stress. As an adult, she gained a deeper understanding of how to deal with her frightening subconscious when she made the decision to not only understand the fear defined as courage to confront its challenges but also to embrace it (133). Through these nightmares, Corpi was able to identify her “fear of the unknown… that ensued [her] survival by testing [her] resolve and strength to overcome any difficult situation” (147) with which she was faced or that life would throw at her. By understanding and accepting the relationship between her subconscious fears and the inevitable nightmares, Corpi was able to realize that the gift of those night terrors were the greatest she ever received. They brought her the gifts of poetry and narrative paired with the courage to write without regard to circumstance (133, 152).
As a curious and ever inquiring child, Corpi felt urged to discover what her destiny was, to which her Abuelita Nico told her, “It’s who you were meant to be and what you were born to do in life” (155). At first these words meant little to her; later on as an adult immigrant in the United States, Corpi realized how right her grandmother had been affirming that “writing poetry and later narrative was what I’d been born to do in this life” (160). Though Corpi had had many tough times in her life, both financially and emotionally, she was able to seek fulfillment through her writing.
Additionally, a crucial author that exposes the correlation between relationships and finding identity through writing is Ana Castillo with her memoir Black Dove. Though Castillo was raised, for the most part, by her mother, she did not lack the family bonding a child would have missed with only one active parent. She and her mother would go down to visit family in Mexico in July when the factory her mother worked in was closed for vacation (17). Chicago, where Castillo was raised, did not hold a comfortable suburban life with green backyards and white picket fences. However, the degree of poverty she was immersed in during those summer trips to Mexico would not come close to her home in Chicago (19). As a teen, when Castillo and her cousins grew bored of the deprived entertainment, they spoke in English to each other about wanting no part of Mexico in the way their mothers spoke of their experience of it twenty years ago (21). Castillo praises her mother for migrating north from the seemingly inescapable poverty of Mexico, where she too may have been destined to become a live-in domestic servant (24). Arguably a relationship Castillo had that was more important than the one with her mother was with her aunt, Flora. Unlike her own mother, Castillo felt a strong connection with Aunt Flora who listened to her stories without judgement (34). Aunt Flora shared with Castillo that her mother was concerned about her writing about the family, to which Aunt Flora exclaimed, “I don’t care if she writes about me. She’ll make me immortal!” (35). In her early years as a child when Castillo’s mother had to work in the factory, she was left in the caring arms of her grandmother. Even though her grandmother passed when she was about age ten, as her primary caretaker during that time, Castillo experienced the utmost tenderness from her grandmother. Castillo was left with life-lasting impressions by her grandmother, the most significant of which was the unconditional love her grandmother gave not only to Castillo but to others as well (251-52). One thing that Castillo knows for certain is that, “It is because of my abuelita… that I am convinced I was able to be a mother, even the writer that I became” (252).
In Gloria Anzaldua’s book, Borderlands, she too discusses the ins and outs of her childhood. Anzaldua was called lazy for studying, reading, painting, and writing instead of doing housework (37-38). From a young age, she learned that men made the rules. Those rules defined culture, the culture formed beliefs, and in turn the culture and the church said that women were subservient to men (38-40). That’s when she decided the only option for her was to leave home in order to find herself (37-38). She rebelled from what she was taught as a child so she could be the person she wanted to be. Anzaldua spoke to her feelings of alienation from both her mother culture and the dominate culture, which left her with the choice to either become a victim or to feel strong and thus more or less in control (42-43). Though Anzaldua considers herself “a turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back,” (43) she truly feels that as a Chicana, language is her homeland and a means of identity (77). She compares her ethnic identity to that of her linguistic identity, clearly professing, “I am my language” (81). Anzuldua describes her feeling a sort of duel identity, not really white American but also not exactly Mexican either (85). This conflict of identity stems from the struggle of borders, a conflict that will only cease with true integration (85). Anzaldua yearns for the separation to be over so that she may not have to choose one side or the other.
Among each of these authors, their quest for self-identity, while differing, delves into the importance of the relationships they experience in childhood and with their families paired with their innate desire to write as paths to seeking their individuality. For Moraga, one key piece of her identity puzzle was with how she understood and witnessed the relationship between her parents. Another was embracing her sexuality even though it went against what she was taught growing up. When Corpi was young, her drive for attaining education, even if it was not the norm, helped her uncover her identity. She also learned to face her greatest fears, those yet unknown, through her subconscious dreaming. Arguably the most important piece was her relationship with destiny, allowing herself to go for opportunities leading her to her passion of writing poetry and narratives. In the case of Castillo, the relationship that had the greatest positive impact on her, while short-lived, was with her grandmother who gifted her with unconditional love. Anzaldua spoke to her opposition of the patriarchy, leaving her no choice but leave home. However, ultimately she felt as though she had one foot on each side of the border, but not actually belonging to either. While each of these stories are unique, means to self-identity overlap from one Chicana to the other. The circumstances with which they were raised and the terms on which they perceived the inner workings of relationships, molded these Chicana writers’ notion of who they are as a person, as a lover, as a friend.
Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands = La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999. Print.
Castillo, Ana. Black Dove: Mama, Mi’jo, and Me. New York City: Feminist at the City U of New York, 2016. Print.
Corpi, Lucha. Confessions of a Book Burner: Personal Essays Stories. Houston, TX: Arte Publico, 2014. Print.
Moraga, Cherrie. Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Paso Por Sus Labios. Boston, MA: South End, 1983. Print.