Feminism on the Border: Chicana Gender Politics and Literature

feminism on the borderFeminism on the Border: Chicana Gender Politics and Literature

Sonia Saldívar-Hull

See also, “Feminism on the Border: From Gender Politics to

I love the style of this book. Sonia Saldívar-Hull mixes personal narrative with literary analysis and history to examine the intersection of race, class, and gender in the history of Chicano nationalism and literature. The first chapter, “Reading Tejana, Reading Chicana” opens with Saldívar-Hull’s experiences growing up in central Texas and how through cultural norms and institutionalized racism in her school, not much was expected of her, even though she was bright and interested in her studies. She explains how she received a lower-quality education than her white peers, simply because she was of Mexican descent, as well as how being bilingual was basically treated as a learning disability as teachers focused on her diction:
“Lining up at the front of the third-grade class with the handful of children my teacher delicately labeled ‘Spanish,’ I worked on ‘diction.’ The fact that we all came from similar backgrounds, with working-class parents, many of whom were fifth-generation borderers and were therefore fluent in English, was ignored by this educator, who felt she was helping us by eradicating all traces of a Spanish accent” (6).
Later, she describes how, despite good grades in high school, she was never expected to really go to college, because for her getting married was an assumed path. As she supported her husband through med school, her brothers got Yale educations and sent her back poems from Chicano/a artists. This reading and her own activism in her community lead her to Chicana feminism.
In analyzing Chicana feminism’s relationship to academic and Eurofeminism, Saldívar-Hull describes how white feminists helped make a space for Chicana feminists such as Anzaldua, Cisneros, and Viramontes while also sort of colonizing the discourses by making them mainstream: “While the presence and struggles of White feminist women in U.S. academia helped promote our literatures, too often the foremost White feminist theorists erased our specificity; indeed, they denied our subject positions as writers, critics, and students of color. Chicanas turned to feminist critics and scholars as our sisters in struggle…Before long, we had to wonder if we should consider ourselves part of the ‘sisterhood’ called feminism” (35)
In Chapter 2, “Chicana Feminisms: From Ethnic Identity to Global Solidarity,” Saldívar-Hull explains the position of Chicana feminism within the racial politics of Chicana/o studies and activism and feminist politics. Like the Black Power movement, Chicano nationalism had a really patriarchal bent to it, depending on the hard work of women, but not counting women’s voices or considering the intersection of gender and race. According to Saldívar-Hull, Chicana feminism seeks to address these issues, without forgetting the racial oppression as well. Thus, Chicana feminists occupy a border: “Chicana “feminism on the border” demands that we deal with all these important issues in all their nuances. Life as feminists on the border means recognizing the urgency of dealing with the sexism and homophobia within our culture’ our political reality demands that we confront institutionalized racism while we simultaneously struggle against economic exploitation.” (34)
The remaining chapters use literary analysis of Gloria Anzaldua’s La Frontera, the work of Sandra Cisneros, and Helena Maria Viramontes to explore facets of Chicana feminism including mestiza, intersectionality, and collective identities.
On La Frontera: “Mestiza Consciousness and Politics: Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/ La Frontera”
  • “For Anzaldua, the multiple issues that informed her radical political awareness finally culminate in what she calls ‘a new consciousness’ for the women who dare examine and question the restrictions placed on them in the borderlands of the United States. In Anzaldua’s political manifesto, a ‘New Mestiza’ can emerge only after she develops an oppositional consciousness.” (59)
  • “Anzaldua’s methodology brings to light…strategies for unearthing a razed indigenous history as a process of coming to consciousness as political agents of change” (60).
  • multiple consciousness, challenging dualisms of US politics
  • Her “political, feminist position takes as its primary premise the fact of Chicana history across two cultures, Mexican and American, and in the intersections of two worlds: First and Third. In her analysis of the power system, she ventures into the mechanisms of the way the dominant group enforces its domination. When she asserts that ‘reaction,’ or resistance, is limited by and dependent on what it is reacting against, she is engaging in the political theory based on the works of Antonio Gramsci and Raymond Williams. What she describes in ‘Struggle of Borders; is how hegemony and counter hegemony work” (61)
  • Anzaldua provides a methodology for creating a new consciousness by recovering women’s erased place in history. She recuperates and reinvents indigenous icons by revising the patriarchal appropriations of them
  • la Virgen de Guadalupe vs Coatlicue, the indigenous mother of all Gods
  • “Even with her critique of the conquest, Anzaldua refuses to romanticize an Aztec history in which male domination ‘drove the powerful female deities underground by giving them monstrous attributes and by substituting male deities in their place’ (27)” (64).
  • moving between Chicano nationalism and socialist feminism
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