Finally Heard: Women’s Voices So Powerful

PART ONE Review

Anthologies:  

Rebolledo, Tey Diana, and Eliana S. Rivero, eds. Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993.

Hernández-Ávila, Inés, and Norma Elia Cantú, eds. Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016.

 

Introduction

At last year’s Texas Book Festival in Austin, I purchased the book, Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art, and felt fortunate because it was the last copy at the book store tent, and it was my main reason for attending the festival. I read the book, from cover to cover, not only because of my interest and delight in reading the text but because I had a personal connection with many of the book’s writers and artists, either as friends or acquaintances, recently or in the past. I lived in San Antonio and Austin while working and completing my advance degrees in the 70’s and 80’s, then, moved to Houston for several years, and then, the Valley. In all, I completed a career of 45 years as educator. Now I live just south of Austin, but I frequent the city regularly and admire its phenomenal, dynamic growth and character, reminding me of how important it was in my own life at the time that I was there.

As university professors, we’re trained and experienced to delve into inquiry and analysis, not only to seek answers to obstinate questions but to focus on attaining deeper understandings beyond our immediate reality, always to further advance the field of study and exploration. I choose to write about the two books in this website (Yellow Papaya) because together they represent the perspective of who I am today and how I got here, a time/space introspective. Of course, the overall purpose here is to express myself from my own experiences, including creative and academic writing, but with a wide lens that includes self-reflection and examination. However, I believe that in general, women like myself, are in constant search for self-understanding, and perhaps, my reflective thoughts are not so personal and have more in common rather than less with others. And, ultimately, as writers we are in constant pursuit of creative pathways which focus our goals on promoting writing in many forms and venues, and encouraging others, especially women, to express themselves.

This review article and subsequent related articles are organized in this website, Yellow Papaya, which is dedicated to publishing the posts. The Yellow Papaya style stems from my personal blog, and even though I maintain a scholarly voice throughout the content or material, the voice is personal and genuine. This is the first of a series of articles that addresses the works of the authors and artists of the two books.

 

1993-2016

 

Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature was published in 1993, and Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art in 2016. Both were the accomplishment of women that wanted to advance the cause of Latinas/Chicanas – women writers and artists in their quest to express their voices, which had been historically denied their due.

But the differences between the two books are certainly significant considering among other factors, the time lapse of twenty-three years that divide them. Although the two anthologies should be acknowledged for their contributions at the time they were published, they are markedly different as noted in this review. No doubt, each volume should be perceived along its own merits, particularly, on how the body of work has made advances in the development of self- consciousness vis-à-vis the historical accounts of discrimination, racism, and injustices of Chican@s, and a knowledge base attained from feminist thought and lived experiences. But clearly, although Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature includes a historical background of the plight of women authors from the Spanish conquest to modern day, Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art stands apart because of the acknowledgement and acceptance of multiple identities within a wide concentric circle of social and cultural phenomena.

 

The following paragraphs focus on the introductions of each book.

 

Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature: Preface and Introduction Summary

 

Editors Rebolledo and Rivero had initially developed a plan to compile a history of Chicana literature from the 60’s to present day, examining the works via an intellectual and critical lens. In the process they realized that, even though there were thousands of literature pieces, very few were published in readily accessible, mainstream publications. They believed that if they didn’t take the initiative to preserve and publish the manuscripts, they would be lost and irretrievable. Thus, their plan shifted from an historical, critical endeavor to compiling an anthology of Chicana literature.

The editors decided to publish the work of well-known, mainstream authors alongside those that were “early writers.” The selection criteria changed as the editors collected and pored over the documents. They eventually created the final plan for which they would make their final selections. They selected writings based on shared questions and areas of concern. These include: 1) how women writers as members of an ethnic minority group viewed or defined themselves; 2) the language(s) of the writings; 3) comparisons between women and men, if any that can be recognized; 4) why so many writings about “growing up” and who were the role models, etc. They also established a priority in selecting texts that could be described as “feminist” or in which the women’s strengths were depicted. Their various questions were complex and critical, focusing on the deep areas of women lived experiences. They also decided on including texts in English and Spanish, although, the Spanish language texts would be accompanied by a translated version. In cases of an English language text with Spanish words, they would include the translation in footnotes to better accommodate the non-Spanish readers.

It is important to point out that Rebollado and Rivero use Bernice Zamora’s poem, “So Not to be Mottled,” as a feature to their Introduction chapter, their first text besides the Preface, presumably to establish the source of the title of their book, Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature. The excerpt follows:

 

You insult me

When you say I’m

Schizophrenic.

My divisions are

Infinite. (1)

 

Rebolledo and Rivero organized the writings along themes that emerged in their collection. The topics follow a straightforward chronology beginning with texts before the “Chicano Renaissance” and proceeding to the “contemporary” writers.  These are reflected in the chapters, which are listed below in a summary format:

 

  1. “Foremothers.” Divided into two parts – Part I Oral Tradition and Part II Written Tradition, these selected texts are from historical archives that include women writers from California, New Mexico, and Arizona. The effort to select texts, from 1848 to 1960, produced only a few for reasons that women had few opportunities to become educated and to publish their work. The editors make an interesting observation in comparing the older texts with the contemporary ones, that much of the subject matter is evident today as it was in the past. However, the “approach” may be different but the emphasis on “storytelling” both oral and written, to convey cultural experiences is quite common.

 

  1. Self and Identity. The editors emphasize poems that raise questions related to self: Who am I? How do others perceive me? How do I view myself?

 

  1. Self and Others. Authors write about their relationships with others: family and friends. The editors make note of the candidness and vitality in the way relationships are described in the selections (mostly poetry) which depict realistic associations that reflect the times.

 

  1. Poetry, prose, and an essay by Gloria Anzaldúa focus on the diverse spaces and/or landscapes, responding in as many different ways but within a cultural context specific to Chicanas. Central to the cultural experiences is the notion of crossing borders and bridges, or building these; a consciousness-raising of the spaces that Chicanas inhabit or if they are restricted and why.

 

  1. Myths and Archetypes. Poetry, prose, and a three-act play focus on “figures” that exist in culturally laden situations. Many of the texts include a religious icon, or breathe life into the Virgin of Guadalupe and the saints of the Catholic Church, for example. Yet, the authors centralize their personal, self-reflective thoughts, creating amongst the literature a mosaic view of ideas woven around this powerful theme.

 

  1. Writers on Language and Writing. Although the overall or featured topic in this section is on how the authors become writers or creators of poetic and/or prose expressions, there is a strong undercurrent that give rise to nuances on self-identity. The authors share their experiences as they evolve as writers as well as in affirmations of who they are culturally, socially, and linguistically. Thus, the “Chicana” identity is evident in various ways, or obscure or veiled, but consistently present nevertheless.

 

  1. Growing Up. The authors of these pieces (seven short stories and eight poems) share their experiences throughout periods of time, sometimes about perceptions, anecdotes, sentiments, and change, others about certain crisis in their lives. But the writers seem to understand the importance of the “other,” and their connections with the reader seem to be vital and deliberate.

 

  1. The kinds of celebration inherent in the poetry and prose in this section have more to do with “love” manifested in different ways, such as in relationships or in moments of discord rather than in such milestones as anniversaries and birthdays. Rebolledo and Rivero choose pieces that end in an uplifting tone, which seem appropriate considering it is the last chapter of their anthology. The remarkable achievement is indeed a celebration.

 

Discussion Board

 

Rebolledo and Rivero’s intended goal to critically examine the vision of Chicana writers was not totally disregarded in their final product. They felt that they needed to abandon their initial focus on the historical aspects, but their original ideas opened up to other pathways, which in essence included literary analysis as an outcome or process of exploring and examining the body of works. Their introductory narratives at the outset of each chapter provides readers with a substantial amount of descriptive and thought-provoking information that highlights the literature pieces. Specifically, the entire first chapter (“Introduction”) is an historical account of the migration of settlers from Mexico to the Southwest (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California), an excellent reference, albeit brief, starting from about the 17th century to the 1960’s. This is an invaluable feature that provides uninformed readers with important historical facts, an excellent background within the context of how Mexican, Hispanic, or Mexican American women or Chicanas developed as writers. In all, the editors included 173 creative texts, five texts from the oral tradition; 52 authors and four storytellers.

To what extent did Rebolledo and Rivero’s anthology influence the production of Inés Hernández-Ávila and Norma Elia Cantú’s Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art anthology? One can only speculate that naturally, one led to the other, particularly since so many of the authors in Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature were unknown and/or newly published. The thematic unity established in both volumes facilitate the process of continuation as well as development. The fact that nine authors’ works appear in both volumes reinforces the overlapping of themes and style, although both volumes have differences as well as similarities. The authors that published in both volumes are: Inés Hernández (Inés Hernández- Ávila), Pat Mora, Evangelina Vigil, Teresa Palomo Acosta, María Herrera-Sobek, Carmen Tafolla, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Beverly (Beva) Sánchez-Padilla, and Gloria Anzaldúa .  In another post I review the works of these authors in each of the two volumes. *(Please see bibliography note at the end of this article. )

 

Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art: Summary

 

Although the subtitle of the “Introduction” chapter is Women of the Texas-Mexican Earth, the main editor, Inés Hernández-Ávila, seems to prefer the term, Tejanas, which is in the subtitle of the anthology, Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art: Tejanas in Literature and Art. She points out in the first paragraph that the book is “immanently” about “Tejana culture, sensibility, and gendered ways of being in the world…” But in naming the audience, Hernández-Ávila references Domino Renee Pérez’ description (from her book, There Was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture) as those that identify themselves as Tejan@s, thus, expanding the readability to individuals that reflect a “vast heterogeneity of thought, educational experiences, sexual alliance, and social or economic position.” Accordingly, the anthology should embrace a wide array of interested readers since the authors (and artists) constitute a diverse representation of women from different backgrounds and perspectives according to their experiences and thoughts. Hernández-Ávila continues the discussion on the origin of Tejanas, using a social, political, and cultural basis to advance the claim that the “Tejana cultural work” extends anywhere that Tejanas reside (3). In summing up Anzaldúas’ tribute to the lands of the people that have cultivated and nurtured it, “Mexican once, was Indian always,” Hernández-Ávila states: “The originality of this land is immanently indigenous, and then Tejana.” (4)

Hernández-Ávila’ creates a wide umbrella from which the anthology was constructed, including a mention of the creative writers and publishers of the 70’s from Texas, albeit not particularly female nor feminist. She leaves out a discussion on the anthology, Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature; she acknowledges the absence of many Tejana writers’ works in her and co-editor’s anthology for whom she extends a courteous and respectful gesture, but doesn’t specifically expound upon the selection criteria. Her discussion on Tejan@ Studies includes a list of distinguished Chican@s, most of them female and some of whom have died, that have contributed substantially in the fields of music, literature, and history. The term “Chican@” has its roots in the word, “Mexica,” she points out, a reference to people living in ancient México, or a “tribally specific term,” that is now used to “represent the whole.” (6)

Prior to its production, Hernández-Ávila had held on to a certain vision of an anthology for many years. The 60’s and 70’s proved to be a starting point for the formation of her identity, which she proudly describes as Nimipu (Nez Perce) and Tejana. She lived in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston at the time that she strengthened her activism, academically and as a community member. Now living in California, she proudly defines her identity as deeply embedded in her work in academia (as a university professor) and in the wider community: “I have been a bridge between the Chican@ and Native American communities …”   What she sought to accomplish with the anthology was to foreground “an indigenous sense of place,” a Tejana identity that emerged from Mother Earth. (6)

In working with Norma Elia Cantú, whom Hernández-Ávila invited to work as co-editor of the anthology, the project became a collaborative process, “because we were able to fill in the gaps for each other.” (7) Cantú, a university professor from Laredo, Texas, is noted by Hernández-Ávila as “one of the most nationally and internationally recognized Tejana/Chicana/fronteriza writers, scholars, and organizers.” (10)

The late Gloria Anzaldúa, whose writings and activism reached out to the seasoned Chican@s as well as to emerging activists, is featured in the front and center of the collected works, which establishes the dominant tone of the anthology. The anthology’s dedication includes: “to the spirit of Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa, our contemporary Musa Tejana, and to all those who came before her who believed in the mexican@ community in Tejas…” In her article, the first in the anthology, “Border Arte: Nepantla, El lugar de la frontera,” Anzaldúa writes about her perceptions as she compares her cultural experiences with others, and how culture and history are misconstrued when juxtaposed against racist, discriminatory practices perpetuated by the oppressors throughout time, and specific to the “borderlands,” the US/Mexico border. Her works, creative and scholarly, represent a clear and deeply profound understanding of the border; Hernández-Ávila elaborates on her vision and knowledge by writing: “In effect, a reading of the work of Anzaldúa and other Tejanas that does not take into account their empirical understanding of border, region, and land as history does not do justice to their voices.” (11) Anzaldúa’s vast and deep understanding of the people’s culture and history has created an aperture or expansion of the literary world, as well as in the re-definition of identity or, more specifically, multiple identities. Anzaldúa’s closing comments in the article seem to resonate in so many of her works: “For me, being Chicana is not enough. It is only one of my multiple identities.” (32) And to this aspect of Anzaldúa’s proclamation, a host of writers have elaborated on her thoughts and ideas relevant to this notion. Not only does she connect with a wide array of activists and feminists that embrace issues related to discrimination and inequality, but her stance against the representations of the Mexican male dominance and oppression against women has been overwhelmingly and enthusiastically received. Anzaldúa’s work is widely accepted by those that have historically felt marginalized, ignored, or trampled upon. But, today, her voice has emerged as the dominant force behind all kinds of activism, especially feminism.

Hernández-Ávila selected the title, Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art for several reasons. She views the two immensely popular historical figures as referents, attesting to their accomplishments, notwithstanding the controversy and scrutiny that each has generated since their emergence centuries ago. But there is a personal attachment as well. She recalls her visit to Laredo in the 70’s when she stood at a street corner with the name “Guadalupe y Malinche.” This inspirational moment allowed her to reflect upon her own perspectives, re-visiting the old misconceptualizations and misinterpretations, and thus, eventually expanding the narrative of these women, who they really were or could have been, back then, and what they can offer Chicanas today.  Guadalupe, or la Virgen de Guadalupe, or Tonantzin, was considered the “Emperatriz de las Américas” and she was “an activist virgin,” appearing in her celestial image during the 1910 Mexican Revolution in various apparels and other, such as hats, banners, and flyers. Malinche, or Malintzin, once considered a traitor for her alliance with the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortez, was later regarded as an “arbiter,” a negotiator whom both the Spaniards and the indigenous people could trust. Both great historical figures, states Hernández-Ávila, were indigenous women.

In discussing the focus or the purpose of the anthology, Hernández-Ávila consistently draws from the works of Gloria Anzaldúa, or those that espouse Anzaldúa’s philosophy such as Emma Pérez, Sonia Saldívar-Hull, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, and Domino Renee Pérez. She believes that “there is a heartfelt, determined commitment to turn to indigenous knowledge systems to reach, perceive, and bring forth intellectual, cultural, and spiritual tools by which to address the lives we live today.” (12) The collection highlights the negotiating spaces of multiple identities, focusing on “Tejanas in an inclusive, embracing way …. that bring us together in the present with our past clear and our future radiant.” (18)

The contributors in the collection include artists whose works are published in both color and black and white. These eight artists, or Tejana artivists, are featured in Norma Elia Cantú’s chapter three. Their works are rare and wondrous, primarily because very few publications have featured these female artists, and the quality of their work is of the highest, putting to rest any proposed notion that female artivists are less talented then their male counterparts. Cantú mentions that in planning for the chapter, she felt the need to ask the particular artist(s) to directly submit their work(s) rather than reach out in a general call for submissions.  Hernández-Ávila says of the contributors: “The women in this volume are truly extraordinary.” And, in her article “Dolores profundos y la gracia de la vida/Deep Hurts and the Grace of Life” she posits that “the writers and artists in this book are healers, curanderas del alma del pueblo.” (113) We look to this body of work, especially since after decades of working in struggles and advocating for equality and justice in a variety of contexts there is still so much work that we must advance. Among the contributors, Hernández-Ávila points out, “readers will find that many scholars are also creative writers, that artists are also writers; all of them are activists in some way.” (10) While the poetic and prose works are a dominant feature in the anthology, essays and scholarly writings are also part of the anthological mix. The works are divided into six sections:

 

  1. Enterrando ombligos/Burying the Umbilical Cord: Tejanas in a Texas Land. Hernández-Ávila elaborates on Anzaldúa’s article and the volume’s first essay, “Border Arte: Nepantla, el lugar de la frontera,” then, summarizes the theme of this section: Tejanas share their “auto-historias, reflecting a love for the people and the land, a love for memory, with abiding certainty that they represent a refuge for us and the retorno that nourishes us.” (21)

 

  1. Dolores profundos y la gracia de la vida/Deep Hurts and the Grace of Life. Hernández-Ávila authors this section of articles that address the “constant aggression toward our bodies, minds, hearts, spirits, languages, and ways of naming and being with the world,” as Hernández-Ávila explains of the need to possess a “tough, compassionate spirit” in order to live as a Mexican in the U.S. To that end, history is central to our narrative, particularly in changing the narrative of the past to a more progressive, de-colonized present. The selections begin with historian Emma Pérez’ article, “Between Manifest Destiny and Women’s Rights: Decolonizing Chicana History,” about the past and persistent challenges, despite the efforts of brave, courageous women. The end article is an essay by Mia K. Stageberg, “Daughters of Burning Sun,” that depicts a slice of life in the 70’s with her compañero, Cecilio García-Camarillo, as editor of the magazine, Caracol, and the encounter with a curandera, Doña Teresita, who treated her injured knee.

 

  1. Arte y semblanza: Tejana Artivists. Cantú features eight female artists and their work – up to six art pieces each, depicting everyday life with deep cultural connections, as well as historical significance. Terry Ybañez’ mural in San Antonio, “We are not a conquered people,” depicting Emma Tenayuca, a respected leader in the 30’s, as an awe-inspiring woman with the people, is especially relevant within the context of promoting Chicanas in leadership roles.

 

  1. All Our Relations: Our Connections to Land, Family, Friends. Cantu’s introduction to this section addresses topics related to family and the circles of friends. She begins with Sonia Saldívar-Hull’s essay about growing up in the Valley, specifically in Brownsville, Texas, where she experienced subtle to blatant discrimination based on race and gender. In all, 29 pieces of poetry and prose about relationships are collected in a mosaic fashion, creatively depicting various, familiar and non-familiar situations. Cantú sums up this section in the final statement of her introduction: “With our families – parents, tías, children – with our friends and coworkers and with the larger world, we dance the dance of life in a wondrous and magical circle that joins us with the land, with our past, and with the future.” (269)

 

  1. (Auto)compromisos y comunidad: Gifts of Powerful, Conscious Loving. Hernández-Ávila chooses to characterize the pieces in this final section of the anthology as “despedidas,” meaning literally “good-byes:” “There are many despedidas in this section, tenderly written, con compassion.” (358) She refers to the despedidas as “new beginnings, another way of knowing, feeling, being with our loved ones;” a fitting description of the poetry and prose section that completes the anthology.

 

  1. Epilogue: Adelante y con ganas. Cantú writes about the “promise” of a future with many more creative writers like those in the anthology that will fill our communities with their talents, works, and performances. She includes a summary of accomplishments in the last couple of decades or so by Latinas or Chicanas in writing poetry, novels, plays, dance performance, art, etc., which certainly appear impressive. There are so many aspects in maintaining and sustaining the arts in communities, and certainly, promoting Latino or Chicano arts is a serious challenge.

 

The Use of the Spanish Language in the Anthology

 

Unlike the way Spanish language words and phrases are translated into English in Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, the writers in Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art take the literary liberty not to translate words and phrases except in certain parts of the texts. In the case of the poems written completely in Spanish, a complete English translation was included, such as “No me quites mi español,” (“Don’t Take Away My Spanish Idioma/Language”) by Aurora Orozco; “Viva la libertad: Mensaje a las mujeres,” (“Long Live Liberty: A Message to Women”) by Paulita Huerta Garza, translated by Norma Elia Cantú; “Hoy detengo el curso de los ríos” (“Today I Stop the River in Its Tracks”) by Liliana Valenzuela, translated by Fred Fornoff; “Con todo respeto para la raza más apreciada, los Chicanos,” (With All My Respect for My Dearest People, the Chicanos”) by María Silva; and “Luchando por libertad,” (“Struggling for Freedom”) by Sylvia Ledesma, translated by Inés Hernández-Ávila. Sometimes, the poet writes the title in Spanish but then, the actual poem is written in both English and Spanish. Of course, from the standpoint of the writer, each writer has every right to express herself using any language or linguistic variety. However, non-bilingual readers may find linguistic obstacles that may interfere with their comprehension of the text, and may be discouraged, or be content with reading with what they can understand. Hernández-Ávila describes the language that “mixes codes and switches elegantly” as “Our lengua [that] is more than a language.” She makes a reference to the past practices in our society of demanding or forcing bilinguals to give up their Spanish language, that in fact, “language is alive and that as long as Tejan@s speak with each other, it is their own language that they will communicate.” (13)

 

The Discussion Board

 

As mentioned in the introduction of this article, the intention of using both anthologies is to highlight their similarities and differences but, due to their 23-year publication gap, making any sort of assessment in comparison to each other is irrelevant and unjustified. Rather, it’s important to be forward-thinking so that we can learn from the remarkable work of the writers and editors, and celebrate their accomplishments, and think about the next step. It’s imperative that we envision a future insofar as how we can encourage more Latinas or Chicanas to become writers and how we can promote them as much as possible.

 

Here are a few questions for discussion purposes:

 

  1. How does each book invite the reader to read the literature pieces, and learn from the writers? Are some interested readers more inclined than others to feel “invited” or “inspired”? Why, why not?
  2. If you were an editor, how would you manage the use(s) of Spanish, English, and/or both? Why?
  3. Are there substantial connections from one chapter to the next; from one section to the next? How does each book maintain unity throughout the entire volume?
  4. Do the books comply with the stated goals in the Introduction section? Why, why not?
  5. For whom would you recommend these books and why?

*For an in-depth analysis of the literature in Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, see:

Rebolledo, Tey Diana. Women Singing in the Snow: A Cultural Analysis of Chicana Literature. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1995.