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2.4: Xicana Feminist Ontologies- Indigeneity, Spirituality, and Sexuality

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    Mestiza Consciousness 

    In her seminal text Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), Gloria Anzaldúa moves away from masculinist, heterosexist, nationalist, and biological notions of mestizaje attributing new meaning to identity construction through her concept of “mestiza consciousness”—one that emerges from life in the Borderlands (for more on Borderlands studies visit Section 3.1: What is Chicanx/Latinx History).58 Mestiza consciousness is a cognitive decolonization process of racialized, gendered, and sexed subjects wherein la mestiza becomes aware of the Borderlands and makes conscious decisions regarding the construction of her multiple and often contradictory identities. Through mestiza consciousness––later conceptualized as “conocimiento”––la nueva mestiza rethinks her material, psychic, and spiritual existence as she negotiates contradictions and ambiguities as a subject-in-process who is constantly constructing provisional identities. AnaLouise Keating, feminist scholar and editor of Anzaldúa’s work, succinctly describes Anzaldúa’s theory of the new mestiza as “an innovative expansion of previous biologically based definitions of mestizaje. For Anzaldúa, new mestizas are people who inhabit multiple worlds because of their gender, sexuality, color, class, bodies, personality, spiritual beliefs, and/or other life experiences. This theory offers a new concept of personhood that synergistically combines apparently contradictory Euro-American and Indigenous traditions."59


    Chicana feminists continued to intervene in Chicano nationalist constructions of Indigeneity by unsettling myths and binaries that were delineated during El Movimiento through Xicanisma, an embodied feminist philosophy and praxis. “During the 1990s a cohort of Chicana feminists began replacing the Ch in ‘Chicana’ with a capital X (Xicana) in order to summon the lexical appearance––and sound––of Nahuatl, an ancient but still living Indigenous language. …Contemporary Xicana feminist sonic, lexical, and political replacements of the Ch with an X are meant to point to Indigenous uprisings within and throughout Chicana, Chicano, and Chicanx identities. Today, the spoken and written grapheme X acts as a mobile signifier that points to identities-in-redefinition."60

    Early deployments of the term Xicana include Ana Castillo’s critical text Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994) and La Red Xicana Indígena, an organization founded in 1997. Castillo further complicates queer Indigeneity and mestizaje through her use of the term “mestiza/Mexic Amerindian” to assert a U.S. Indigenous, pre-colonial Olmec, Spanish, and Mexican lineage. The label Xicana, Castillo argues, affirms Indigenous ancestry, spirituality, and sexuality, and considers other multiple, crosscutting identities. She accounts for the Arab and North African racial mixing that shaped Iberian culture and the subsequent racial mixture with Indigenous peoples of the Americas during the Spanish conquest. Castillo critiques sexism prevalent within contemporary U.S. white supremacist culture, Mexican Catholicism, and some pre-conquest patriarchal Indigenous cultures, such as the Aztecs. She argues these multiple sites of sexism across time and space have led to the subordination of Indigenous womanhood and are a result of spiritual imbalance due to the omission of the “feminine principle.”61 Castillo refutes the Chicano propensity to glorify and romanticize male supremacist aspects of pre-conquest Aztec culture.

    Castillo introduces the term Xicanisma, a retrofitted form of Chicana feminism intended to create an avenue for mestizas and detribalized Indigenous women to “not only reclaim our Indigenismo––but also to reinsert the forsaken feminine into our consciousness."62 In order to heal from historical, institutional, and personal traumas, Castillo advocates acknowledging and honoring the feminine side of our complementary feminine/masculine duality. To do this, she writes, would restore spiritual balance. This restorative act challenges U.S. white supremacy, Chicano heteropatriarchy, and the Catholic Church––all rely on stringent dichotomies that repress women’s spirituality and sexuality. For Castillo, Xicanisma is “an ever present consciousness of interdependency specifically rooted in our culture and history."63 Xicanisma is a practical way for retribalizing peoples of any gender to express an Indigenous sensibility, reconnect spirituality with the body/sexuality, and to (re)claim and (re)construct their traditions in a way that serves their present needs.

    Similarly, Xicana lesbian activist and playwright Cherríe Moraga explains her use of the X indicates “a reemerging política, especially among young people, grounded in Indigenous American belief systems and identities... [that] reflects the Indian identity that has been robbed from us through colonization... As many Raza may not know their specific Indigenous nation of origin, the X links us as Native people in diaspora.”64 Moraga is co-founder of La Red Xicana Indígena, (The Indigenous Xicana Woman’s Network), along with Celia Herrera Rodríguez, a collective of scholar- and community-activists who define themselves as

    a network actively involved in political, educational, and cultural work that serves to raise indigenous consciousness among our communities and supports the social justice struggles of people of indigenous American origins North and South. Our name...further signifies our alliance with all Red Nations of the Américas, including nations residing in the North. We are a pueblo made up of many indigenous nations in diaspora who through a five hundred year project of colonization, neocolonization, and de-indianization, have been forced economically from their place of origin, many ending up in the United States… [W]e stand with little legal entitlement to our claim as indigenous peoples within America; however, we come together on the belief that, with neither land base nor enrollment card––like so many urban Indians in the North, and so many displaced and undocumented migrants coming from the South, we have the right to “right” ourselves.65

    The writers of this document further explain that Xicana Indígena politics re-envision “families apart from the Eurocentric model of the privatized patriarchal family,” and seek to “draw examples from the tribal structure of...indigenous antecedents.” Moraga, along with co-founder Celia Herrera Rodríguez, advocate for raising the consciousness of younger generations through alternative and creative learning environments that “closely reflect an indigenous point of view.” In sum, mestiza consciousness and Xicanisma are Ch/Xican/x feminist ontologies––philosophical explorations of the nature of being––grounded in a decolonial and liberatory praxis. 


    58 Section 2.4 is adapted from Amber Rose González, “Where is Indigeneity in Chican@ Studies?” in Another City is Possible: Mujeres de Maiz, Radical Indigenous Mestizaje and Activist Scholarship (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2015), 51-73.

    59 AnaLouise Keating, “Appendix 1. Glossary,” in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2009), 322.

    60 Chela Sandoval, Amber Rose González, and Felicia Montes, “Urban Xican/x-Indigenous Fashion Show ARTivism: Experimental Perform-Antics in Three Actos, in meXicana Fashions: Politics, Self-Adornment, and Identity Construction, eds. Aída Hurtado and Norma E. Cantú (Austin: University of Texas Press), 283-84.

    61 Ana Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994), 11.

    62 Castillo, “Massacre,” 12.

    63 Castillo, “Massacre,” 226.

    64 Cherríe Moraga, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000-2010 (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2011), xxi.

    65 La Red Xicana Indígena, “Our Purpose and Intention.”