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5.4: Cultural Activism

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    Chicana Artivists Confront Disempowering Representations

    Chicana feminist artists and scholars have long-challenged gender oppression during and since the Chicano Renaissance––the flowering of arts, literature, and cultural production alongside El Movimiento. Writers such as Lorna Dee Cervantes, Ana Castillo, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Cherríe Moraga, performance artists Patssi Valdez of ASCO and Patricia Valencia, and visual artists Ester Hernandez, Santa Barraza, and Yolanda López, among others, have confronted disempowering representations of racialized women and reenvisioned Mexican/Chicanx cultural archetypes through their cultural production. Two figures, in particular, La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Malinche have been reclaimed and redefined by Chicana feminists, challenging the patriarchal ‘mujer buena/mujer mala’ dichotomy that structures women’s and girl’s everyday lives. These artivists (artist-activists) understood that mythologies and cultural stories transmit values, construct which traits are deemed desirable and undesirable, and shape behavior, making their work not merely art for its own sake, but deeply political.

    Redefining Guadalupe

    Many artists have transformed Guadalupe’s image from a chaste, docile, martyr into an empowered feminist icon. One of the first revisionist images was an etching by San Francisco-based visual artist Ester Hernandez in 1975. “La Virgen de Guadalupe Defendiendo los Derechos de los Xicanos,” displayed in Figure 5.4.1, features a young Guadalupe with an unwavering gaze framed by her long dark hair. She is dressed in a black belt karate uniform, her fists clenched, and one leg is powerfully kicking towards anyone or anything who would harm los Xicanos. Hernandez received praise and backlash for her artwork, including death threats, as did Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Alma López for the digital collage “Our Lady” created nearly 25 years later, displayed in Figure 5.4.2. Like Hernández, López portrayed the Catholic icon as a modern, familiar, corporeal woman. López’s version is a poised brown-skinned Virgen adorned in roses and a Coyolxauhqui cape, with hands-on-hips and a gaze intently focused on the viewer. She stands barefoot on a black crescent moon held up by a bare-breasted female cherub with monarch butterfly wings. The print was part of the CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2001. Organized attempts to censor the image were led by Roman Catholic clergy and Chicano nationalists who claimed the piece was overtly sexual and therefore sacrilegious. News of the controversy spread online across the U.S. and Mexico, consequently making López and her apparition world-famous. Through artistic reimagining, López created a cultural sign of queer Chicana desire––an action that has been taken up by many other Chicana artists, which is often met with hostility.

    The Virgin of Guadalupe dressed in a karate uniform, kicking the air
    Figure 5.4.1:La Virgen de Guadalupe Defendiendo los Derechos de los Xicanos (Ester Hernandez)” by gozamos is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.
    The Virgin of Guadalupe with an open robe, modestly covered by floral wreaths

    Figure 5.4.2: Our Lady (Alma Lopez)” by gozamos is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

    Reenvisioning Malintzín

    Another icon has been central in feminist cultural activism. The story of La Malinche, also known as Malintzín Tenepal, Malinalli, and Doña Marina, has been taken up in a number of essays, poems, and artwork in divergent ways. Chicana author and publisher Norma Alarcón points out that Chicano and Mexicano men’s representation of La Malinche is vastly different than that of Chicana feminists. Men’s patriarchal interpretations of Malinche tend to focus on her betrayal vis-à-vis her sexuality, assigning the role of servitude to Chicanas/Mexicanas, particularly those in heterosexual relationships. Embodied by La Malinche, betrayal itself is coded as female. Alarcón argues that Malintzín has become a “reference point not only for controlling, interpreting or visualizing women but also to wage a domestic battle of stifling proportions.”39 The impacts of this myth are vast. As the primary transmitters of culture, women are not exempt from reproducing misogynistic representations, which can manifest as self-hatred. If we are expected to love and emulate Guadalupe and her virtues, according to binary thinking we must hate and reject La Malinche and those aspects within ourselves that we share. These are the representations of La Malinche that Chicana feminists have sought to undo and revise.  

    In Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero (1993) identify four themes that describe the work of Chicanas who have written about Malintzín. These include

    Two noteworthy poetic examples include “Como Duele” by Adalijza Sosa-Riddell and “La Malinche” by Carmen Tafolla, composed in 1973 and 1978 respectively. They are part of a larger body of work that emerged during El Movimiento that seek to reformulate Chicana identity, history, and cultural politics. In the post-movement years, La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Malinche continue to be powerful symbols of Chicana representation. 

    Sidebar: Poetry

    “Como Duele” by Adalijza Sosa-Riddell42

    Ese, vato, I saw you today          [Hey, buddy]
    en Los y Sacra
    en Santa Barbara, Sanfra
    and everywhere else.
    You walked, Chicano chulo,
    eagle on your jacket,
    y “carnales y carnalas,”                [brothers and sisters]
    Y “Que Viva la Raza.”

    But where were you when
    I was looking for myself?
    As if I didn't know.

    Where the MAN and
    all his pendejadas?                      [stupidity]
    sent you,
         To Dartmouth, Los Angeles City College,
         Barbers School, La Pinta,
         Korea, and Vietnam; too many of you
         returned wrapped como enchiladas
         in red, white, and blue.

    A Chicano at Dartmouth?
    I was at Berkeley, where,
    there were too few of us
    and even less of you.
    I'm not even sure
    that I really looked for you.

    I heard from many rucos               [old people]
    that you
    would never make it.
    You would hold me back;
    From What?
    From what we are today?
    “Y QUE VIVA”
    Pinche, como duele ser Malinche.   [How it hurts to be Malinche]

    My name was changed, por la ley.  [by the law]
    Probrecitos, they believed in me,
    That I was white enough
    to stay forever,
    that I would never find you again.

    I found you, Chicano,
    but only for a moment,
    Never para siempre.                      [forever]
    Temilotzin died the morning after,
    It's too late.

    The world does not wait
    for indecision,
    neither do Chicanos.

    And mis pobres padres                   [my poor parents]
    taught me
    not to hurt
    others too much,
    Malinche, pinche,
    forever with me;
         I was born out of you,
         I walk beside you,
         bear my children with you,
         for sure, I’ll die
         alone with you.
    Perhaps I died before,
    when I said good-bye
    al barrio y al Cruiser.
    He went to road camp,
    por grifo y peleonero.                      [for drugs and fighting]
    While I was saved––
    for what?

    Pinche, como duele ser Malinche.
    Pero sabes, ese,
    what keeps me from shattering
    into a million fragments?
    It's that sometimes,
    you are el hijo de la Malinche, too.

    “La Malinche” by Carmen Tafolla43

    Yo soy la Malinche.

    My people called me Malintzín Tenepal
    the Spaniards called me Doña Marina

    I came to be known as Malinche
         and Malinche came to mean traitor.

    they called me––chingada
    (Ha––¡Chingada! ¡Screwed!)

             Of noble ancestry, for whatever that means,
    I was sold into slavery by MY ROYAL FAMILY––so
    that my brother could get my inheritance.

    …And then the omens began––a god, a new civi-
    lization, the downfall of our empire.
             And you came.
             My dear Hernán Cortés, to share your “civi-

    lization”––to play a god, . . . and I began to dream… 
                                                      I saw
                                                        and I acted.

    I saw our world 
              And I saw yours 
                        And I saw–– 

    And yes––I helped you––against Emperor Moctezuma
    Xocoyotzín himself.
    I became Interpreter, Advisor, and lover.
              They could not imagine me dealing on a level
                             with you––so they said I was raped, used

    But I saw our world
                        and your world
                                  and another.

    No one else could see.
             Beyond one world, none existed.
    And you yourself cried the night
    the city burned
         and burned at your orders.
    The most beautiful city on earth
                                       in flames,
    You cried broken tears the night you saw
                                       your destruction.
    My homeland ached within me
                        (but I saw another).

    Another world––
              a world yet to be born.
    And our child was born… 
              and I was immortalized Chingada!

    Years later, you took away my child (my sweet
    mestizo new world child)
              to raise him in your world
              You still didn’t see.
                        You still didn’t see.
    And history would call me

    But Chingada I was not.
              Not tricked, not screwed, not traitor.
    For I was not traitor to myself––
              I saw a dream
                        and I reached it.
                                       Another world……… 

                                                                     la raza.
                                                                      la raaaaa-zaaaaa………


    39 Norma Alarcón,  “Chicana’s Feminist Literature: A Re-Vision Through Malintzin/or Malintzin: Putting Flesh Back on the Object,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, 2nd edition, eds. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1983), 182.

    40 For a nuanced discussion of this topic see Sheila Marie Contreras, “From La Malinche to Coatlicue: Chicana Indigenist Feminism and Mythic Native Women,” in Blood Lines: Myth, Indigenism, and Chicana/o Literature (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008), 105-132.  

    41 Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero, eds. Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993), 193.

    42 From Rebolledo and Rivero, Infinite Divisions, 213-215. Originally published in El Grito VII, no. 1 (September 1973): 76-78.

    43 From Rebolledo and Rivero, Infinite Divisions, 198-199. Originally published in Canto al Pueblo: An Anthology of Experiences (San Antonio, Texas: Penca Books).

    This page titled 5.4: Cultural Activism is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Amber Rose González (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .