A series of wide-ranging essays on the growth--and marginalization--of Chicana/Latina literature, criticism, and art.
Series: Chicana Matters Series, Deena J. González and Antonia Castañeda, editors
Although there have been substantial contributions to Chicana literature and criticism over the past few decades, Chicanas are still underrepresented and underappreciated in the mainstream literary world and virtually nonexistent in the canon. Writers like Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, and Gloria Anzaldúa have managed to find larger audiences and critical respect, but there are legions of Chicana writers and artists who have been marginalized and ignored despite their talent. Even in Chicano anthologies, the focus has tended to be more on male writers. Chicanas have often found themselves without a real home in the academic world.
Tey Diana Rebolledo has been writing about Chicana/Latina identity, literature, discrimination, and feminism for more than two decades. In this collection of essays, she brings together both old and new works to give a state-of-the-moment look at the still largely unanswered questions raised by vigilant women of color throughout the last half of the twentieth century. An intimate introductory essay about Rebolledo's personal experiences as the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Peruvian father serves to lay the groundwork for the rest of the volume. The essays delve into the historical development of Chicana writing and its early narratives, the representation of Chicanas as seen on book covers, Chicana feminism, being a Chicana critic in the academy, Chicana art history, and Chicana creativity. Rebolledo encourages "guerrillera" warfare against academia in order to open up the literary canon to Chicana/Latina writers who deserve validation.
- Introduction: Hey, That's MY Story! A Conversation with My Peruvian Father and My Mexican Mother—Literature and Identity
- Part I. On Criticism and Critics
- 1. The Chronicles of Panchita Villa: Episode One (1993)
- 2. The Chronicles of Panchita Villa: Episode Two (1997)
- 3. Women Writers, New Disciplines, and the Canon (2000)
- 4. The Politics of Poetics: Or, What Am I, a Critic, Doing in This Text Anyhow? (1987)
- 5. "Sprinkling Wildflower Seeds": A Plática about Critical Perspectives in Chicana/Latina Literature (1998)
- 6. Reconstructing Sor Juana's Library: Twenty Years of Chicana Literary Representation (1999)
- Part II. On Chicana Literature
- 7. Who Killed Presiliano Ulibarrí? Or, the Case of the Missing Women: Clues for Cultural Studies (1993)
- 8. Las Mujeres Hablan: Creativity as Politics (1996)
- 9. "No More Cookies, Please!": Chicana Feminism through Literature (1997)
- 10. "Jugando a la vida con poemas": Contemporary Chicana Poetry in Spanish (1998)
- 11. "Mi Vida Loca": Symbolic Spaces in the Construction of Identity in Chicana Literature (1998)
- 12. The Chicana Bandera: Sandra Cisneros in the Public Press—Constructing a Cultural Icon (1996-1999)
- 13. The Tools in the Toolbox: Representing Work in Chicana Literature (1999)
- 14. La Nueva Onda—The New Wave: Contemporary Chicana Writing (2001)
- 15. Size 48D Bras and Men Who Wear Skirts: The Dialectics of Humor in Denise Chávez's Narratives (2001)
- 16. The Archbishop Sees the Body of the Virgin: Art, Religion, Ideology, and Popular Culture (2001)
- Part III. Miscellaneous Essays on Chicana/Latina Literature
- 17. Game Theory: A Typology of Feminist Players in Latina/Chicana Writing (1985)
- 18. Art and Spiritual Politics: Sor Juana Beatriz de la Fuente—A Feminist Literary Perspective (1995)
- 19. "Inheriting the Alphabet": Homeland and Exile in Marjorie Agosín (1997)
- 20. Questioning Nepantla: The Land in Between—Geopolitical Tyrannies and Other Border Complexities (2002)
I sit reading my father's short stories in the collection La Llama y el Indio, published in 1949, stories he had written over a period of several years. Some of the characters resemble me, some my beautiful mother. Sometimes the characters are a synthesis between my younger sister and myself, and even our faithful dogs Fino and Nusta make an appearance: Fino's habit of chasing cars and subsequent death because of it, and Nusta, the blond spaniel's color. There is much creative license, but I can still recognize us. And I certainly recognize my father's voice. I begin to understand also why my mother was jealous of my father's first wife, who tragically died. A short story about a trip on a Spanish train, which demonstrated the warmth and generosity of the Spanish people, also demonstrated my father's love for his wife, Lucía Alonso.
But Lucía died and later my grieving father went to Mexico (perhaps to distract himself from his sadness) and there he met my mother. She was divorced in a time when women did not divorce, had two children, and was working in El Palacio de Hierro, a high-end Mexico City store, selling mantillas. My father apparently was buying mantillas for the Spanish Club at New Mexico Normal College in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he was teaching, saw my mother, one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, and they ran away together. Several stories arose from this: one version is that my father wrote letters to my mother, and she and a friend thought they were funny and answered them. He then went to Mexico and she ran away with him, the federales hot on their tracks because she had her children, and she was not supposed to leave Mexico with them. Another version has them getting married right away with the taxi driver and a stranger as witnesses to their civil marriage, a cigar band standing in for the wedding ring. No one still alive knows what was true. But what I do know is that they were married on April 24, 1936, that his first wife, Lucia Alonso died in 1935, and that I was born on April 29, 1937. For many years I would perversely tell people that my parents were married on April 24 and I was born on the 29th.
What does this have to do with identity and the Chronicles of Panchita Villa? My father was Peruvian, although for years he told people he was a Chilean. There are many stories about this, too. He was trying to escape being inducted into the Peruvian military, his mother was a Chilean, and so forth. It is true that his grandfather was a Chilean who somehow (and family history is unclear about this) "left a gift" for my paternal great-grandmother, Pasión Alzamora, in the form of my grandfather, Cesareo Rebolledo. The family secret is that they were not married (shhh! don't tell). I never knew my paternal grandmother, who died quite young. There is a sad photograph of her family, all dressed in black, my father staring somberly into the camera. My grandfather was a cruel man, my cousins tell me. They had some land in Peru, and he treated the servants and workers badly. He treated my gentle father cruelly also. One night, because my father was afraid of the dark, Cesareo made him sleep in a spooky barn, all by himself. But my grandfather must have been a man of ideas—he named his sons after important men: the first was Napoleon ("Napo"), my father was Washington ("Washito"), the next Cesareo, after himself, and the last Renán, after the French philosopher. In 2003, while visiting Huaraz, Peru, where my father was born, we saw my family's lands, now mostly washed away and destroyed by earthquakes and aluviones. To cross over the ranging Santa River, the locals use the time-honored and scary method of climbing into a basket and being taken by rope and pulley to the other side. "There," a man pointed, "is where the Alzamoras lived." The Chilean name of Rebolledo is forgotten.
My mother was a Mexican, born to a Mexican mother and an English grandfather (who the family says refused to speak Spanish—really? for seventy or more years?). My grandmother, Concepción Galindo, better known as Concha, was one of five beautiful Galindo sisters. We have many photographic portraits to attest to this. She was older when she married my grandfather, a solterona it was rumored because she was almost (gasp) thirty when she married. She had studied medicine in Chicago, had worked as a journalist it was said, and was appointed by President Porfirio Diaz to some important post, according to a plaque somewhere in the family. If she had not married before, it was because she didn't want to. Unfortunately, I cannot attest to any of this; I only knew her as an old lady dressed in black. However, there is a family picture in which she is showing off her long hair—hair she grew to detest, but my grandfather didn't let her cut it. She convinced her children to chew gum and stick it in her hair so she had to cut it. Actually this story never made sense to me, but I wrote the following poem about it.
El pelo de mi abuela
El pelo de mi abuela Concepción Galindo
se le caía hasta las caderas.
Por alguna razón,
mi abuelo, el venerable don Arturo,
no quería que se lo cortara,
ese cabello, largo,
risado y voluminoso
como en la fotografía.
Mi abuela, gordita,
siempre vestida de negro
cuando yo la conocía,
no parecía mujer vanidosa,
sensual y seductora,
sin embargo . . .
el abuelo sonreía
pasaba con su pelo suelto.
El cuento va
que un día,
ya muerto Arturo,
urgió a sus seis niños
y pegarlo en su pelo
engomado, enredado y entumecido
My Grandmother's Hair
The hair of my grandmother, Concepción Galindo,
fell down to her hips.
For some reason,
my grandfather, the venerable don Arturo,
did not want her to cut it,
that hair long, curly and
voluminous that you see
in the photograph.
My grandmother, chubby
was always dressed in black
when I saw her.
She didn't seem to be
a woman of vanity
nevertheless . . .
when she passed by
with her hair loose.
The story goes
that one day,
she urged her six children
to chew gum
and stick it in her hair
and thus, sticky, tangled
she had to cut it off.
Abuelita Concha made her living as a moneylender and was known in the family as a clairvoyant. I heard many spooky stories at the kitchen table about my grandmother's visions. It was said that family members and neighbors came to visit her shortly after they died to say good-bye. So when she had a vision, she would send someone to the house of the newly departed with her condolences. And they would always have just died. These stories scared me so that, like my father, I was always afraid of the dark. And I must say, even to this day I'm not so sure.
And so, what was I? Born in Las Vegas, New Mexico, to a Peruvian/Chilean father and a Mexican mother, I grew up speaking Spanish, quickly switching to English when I entered school. Well, when asked "Qué eres chula?" (What are you, cutie?), I would answer, "Pocha," which to me meant a mixture but which I later found out was derogatory. However, because we lived in New Mexico, had Spanish-speaking people all around us, and traveled often to Mexico to visit with my mother's family, I always identified with "lo mexicano." "Lo peruano" was relegated to my father's music ("Your father! Always listening to those huaynitos of his," my mother would say); a haunting flute filled strange music that enveloped our house when my father was home.
The Latin American side of my family didn't enter my life, really, until I was about twelve, when my father's sister and her husband came to visit from Peru. By that time we were living in New London, Connecticut, where my father was a professor at Connecticut College and life was very different from what it was in New Mexico. In 1951 we traveled to Peru, where I met my Peruvian family for the first time, fell in love with my fifteen-year-old cousin (isn't that what cousins are supposed to do?), and then my father died. His death effectively cut us off from that part of the family as my mother struggled to cope with two young children and her grief. In the years that followed we moved many times, and I went to college to study Spanish and literature. I became a historian, and it wasn't until I returned to graduate school in 1973 that I again became acquainted with literature. As I have detailed in other essays in this narrative, I became a Latin American literature specialist and then a Chicano literature specialist. Because the Mexican, then Mexican/American, aspect of my identity had always been so strong, it clearly helped me to identify with Chicano literature. These were the resonances and the spaces so important to my growing up. But what of that other part? That Peruvian/Chilean part, the Rebolledo part—not the Galindo/De la Torre part? And this is what I was trying to find in my father's stories, in the grammar book called Amanecer that he wrote for Spanish-speaking children. As I said before, I see my story and my father's story embedded in those books.
My mother, when first married to my father, must have had some time on her hands, or perhaps she was competing with him, as she wrote a novel. Never published, it languished in a trunk until it one day resurfaced in the possession of my sister Angeles. It is an interesting story of my mother's life in Mexico, and from it I included a section in the anthology Infinite Divisions. But it isn't my story—that is, it does not extend to the period in which I was born. Yet it is a family story, and in that sense it is mine, too.
While writing essays, every critic, especially those who are cultural critics, understands that our approach to literature and analysis is one based on our own particular perspective: who we are, what has molded us, the spaces and people surrounding us. And so in this collection I wanted to include essays on writers who have influenced me, molded me, and impressed me over the years. Perhaps this desire disrupts what might be a more coherent focus on just Chicana writers. However, I wanted to include the essays on the women writers from Latin America who have made my life meaningful and who, I thought, had taught us something about being women in difficult circumstances and about survival. Thus Rosario Castellanos, Alfonsina Storni, and Delmira Agustini are women I have long admired and wanted to include. Marjorie Agosín, who has written so beautifully about her family and their travails and who has so strongly defended social justice, also seemed to be a writer we could compare with those Chicana writers who wrote and struggled about many of the same things. These are all part of a larger story about transcendence and compassion, our heritage and family connections. They write about who they are and what has shaped them.
One day Margarita Cota-Cárdenas, about whom I have written extensively in this collection, and I were traveling by car from Phoenix to Tucson to attend a celebration honoring Dr. Dolores Brown, who had been our professor at the University of Arizona. Margarita was reading to me from her new novel, and when she finished reading a section, I said to her, "Hey, that's MY story!" The section recounted a story I had told her about an incident that happened to me at Connecticut College when I took part in a psychology experiment. They had deceived me about the nature of the experiment, and the results of that experiment, when they were revealed to me, were extremely disturbing. So disturbing, in fact, that I totally changed my life. (If you want to know what happened, you will have to read Margarita's novel, Sanctuaries of the Heart.) In any event, Margarita laughed and said, "I know, that's why I'm reading this to you!" You can't trust writers, you know; they steal things, and you should never tell them your best stories.
Several years later my husband and I were in Italy, traveling from Genova to Sorento. I had just finished a fellowship at the Institute for Arts and Letters at Bogliasco, and we were changing trains in Florence, where we had several hours to kill. We put our luggage in the left-luggage office, and my husband took our tickets out of his pocket and started to zip them into his bag. "Don't leave the tickets here," I said. "Someone could take them." Obligingly he put them back into his jacket pocket. As we were leaving the station to walk to the Duomo, we were swarmed by three young gypsy girls, one carrying a baby. First they asked for money, and then they surrounded Michael, fanning at him with their hands. The next thing I knew, Michael turned to me and said, "They have the tickets!" I became furious and, by this time being somewhat conversant in Italian, charged after the young women, grabbed the one with the baby (Michael says I slammed her into the wall, but I don't think that is true), and said, "Give me the tickets" in fairly good Italian. At first she refused, but I had a pretty firm grip on the baby she was carrying. She handed over one set of tickets. "Give me all the tickets," I emphasized, "or I'll take the bambino." Now I had almost lifted the baby out of her arms, so she gave me the rest of the tickets and ran off with her companions. We had collected a crowd by this time, including a man from England who told us that they had done exactly the same thing to him the day before and he had come back to see if he could find them. By then my adrenaline had started to subside, and I began to think of the consequences of my actions. What if the baby hadn't been hers and she had abandoned it? What if someone thought I was trying to steal the baby? (After all, I had read about an American in Guatemala who was accused of stealing babies to sell them for adoption.) We would have spent hours trying to explain to the carabinieri what had happened, perhaps even ended up in jail. In any event I reached the conclusion that my impulses might have lead to drastic consequences. Safely back home from the trip, Michael and I told the story to several people, and every time it acquired embellishments.
One day several years later, we were invited to the home of friends for an Italian dinner. Stories were being told about trips to Italy, when someone told of a couple who had been robbed of their tickets by gypsies, whereas the wife grabbed a young gypsy with a baby, roughly slammed her against the wall, took the baby, and got the tickets back. I sat there with my mouth wide open as I heard the story, and of course, when it was over, said, "Hey, that's MY story!"
Well, stories, family and personal, as well as our experiences and our perceptions are what guide us as critics and readers. Many writers I know claim their poems and narratives are fiction, and I know this is true. But at the same time they are personal and autobiographical, and this is also true. Many of them have told me their stories, which I then see reflected in their writing. Sometimes they listen to our stories and use what makes sense to them.
In this collection I have tried to combine my personal and academic interests and my own experiences and perceptions. I have tried to reconcile all the many parts of me, the Latin Americana side, the Mexicana side, the Chicana side, the Americana side. This is not so much a melting pot as a green chile stew, with all the ingredients retaining their unique flavors. I am my mother's daughter, but my father's daughter as well, and I am the child of New Mexico as I am of Connecticut. I am a Mexicana, a Peruana, a Latina, and a Chicana (as well as an Americana). And so, in some sense, all of these essays are my stories. Hey!