Category Archives: Chicana and Chicano Studies

Rafaela G. Castro (1943-2015): In Memoriam

photo of Rafaela G. Castro

Rafaela G. Castro. Photo courtesy of Castro Family. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Roberto C. Delgadillo

I first met Rafaela G. Castro during the annual week long Guadalajara International Book Fair, better known as the FIL (from its Spanish name: Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara), in early December 2000. The FIL is the most important publishing gathering in Ibero-America. Created 29 years ago by the University of Guadalajara, the FIL attracts academic, public, and school librarians and allows them to see and explore the books that form the core of major US based Spanish language library collections. The face-to-face interaction between librarians, publishers, and vendors result in better service and access to public and academic audiences. With business as one of its main goals, it is also a cultural festival in which literature plays a major role including a program where authors from all continents and languages participate, and a forum for the academic discussion of the major issues of our time. I was a part-time reference librarian assigned to the Hispanic Services Division of the Inglewood Public Library in Southern California. I was given the opportunity to attend and assist my then department head Adalin Torres, who kindly took the time to introduce me to librarians, publishers, vendors, and scholars I now consider friends and mentors. At the time I did not know Rafaela was a “luminary” among Chicana/o /Ethnic Studies Bibliographers. Her book Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans is considered an excellent, and indispensable, starting point for scholars interested in examining terms associated with the Chicano experience, history, and customs.

I remember joining Rafaela for lunch that first time, along with UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Selector/Liaison Susana Hinojosa, after Adalin mentioned my pursuit of a doctoral degree in Latin American history. I enjoyed the many anecdotes Rafaela and Susana shared, and regret that I did not meet with them — as I should have — for the next three successive FILs. At the time, I faced several educational and professional constraints, did not envision a career in academic librarianship, and yet for reasons too numerous to detail here I also did not have what it takes to establish a career as a professor of Latin American history. Nonetheless, throughout that time, Susana and Rafaela kept in touch and strongly encouraged me to switch to academic librarianship. I credit Susana for getting me into the UC system and Rafaela for directing me to UC Davis in particular after I finished my studies in 2004.

To say I was overwhelmed when I arrived at UC Davis in November 2005 would be an understatement. By then Rafaela had retired and was pursuing other professional and personal interests and yet she always made the time to speak to me whenever I had a question — or several, as was often the case. During our phone calls and visits at subsequent FILs, Rafaela taught me invaluable lessons: she made me particularly aware of the vulnerability and necessity of creating and constantly maintaining library collections that document the experience of America’s marginal cultures. Often it is only experienced librarians, archivists, and scholars who can truly understand the significance of such collections. Rafaela taught me that all too often such collections  are especially vulnerable to being undervalued. My success as a Chicana/o Studies Bibliographer is built upon Rafaela’s careful and thoughtful stewardship of her collections. Rafaela’s subject knowledge was, and remains, crucial to the delivery of effective library service, the preservation of these collections and the future viability of the library. She always reminded me that the deferral of timely selection and purchase of materials, lax security and a lapse in reliable service can quickly destroy unique resources such as Chicana/o Studies collections.

Rafaela G. Castro was born in Bakersfield, California but grew up in Arvin, a small agricultural town near Weedpatch Camp, the labor camp featured in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. When she was ten years old her family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where she lived most of her life. After spending two years in Brazil with the Peace Corps, in the mid-1960s, she returned home to start her education. Attending UC Berkeley, she received degrees in English Literature, Library Science, and Folklore.

Rafaela’s academic library career spanned over thirty years, at community college and university libraries, and in teaching courses on Ethnic Bibliography and Chicana/o Studies at UC Berkeley’s School of Library and Information Studies and Ethnic Studies Department. In between these various positions she also worked at DQ University and Adelante, Inc., a non-profit organization in Berkeley. She retired from Shields Library at the University of California, Davis in 2004.

After completing the writing of a master’s thesis she discovered the joy of writing and wrote articles for Chicana/o Studies and academic library professional journals. She also wrote entries for folklore and biographical encyclopedias. During the 1990s Rafaela wrote opinion columns on Mexican American culture for the San Francisco Chronicle, and she contributed to “Perspectives,” a public affairs commentary series, on KQED-FM.

I last saw Rafaela during a scheduled presentation at a local area bookstore for her collection of personal essays Provocaciones: Letters From the Prettiest Girl in Arvin. I was immediately struck by the number of similarities we shared in our childhood and professional lives. I smile to myself as I write these lines given that I am a Nicaraguan by birth, disabled, and male! I hesitate to discuss the book because that would require an entire essay altogether. I highly recommend it!! True to the book’s subtitle Rafaela was graceful, modest, beautiful, strong…and passionate about what she experienced after leaving Arvin.

The many lessons that Rafaela taught me came into sharp relief during the student occupation of the UC Davis University Library in January 2010. I recall thinking if Rafaela were there she would be at the library entrance to DEFEND student spaces on campus, and LEAD workshops, talks, discussion groups, and film screenings, to help PROTEST cuts to library funding, student co-ops, and public education. Instead I led students on tours of what I still consider Rafaela’s collections. I was amused at the praise I received for the collections and all the more so because the materials Rafaela gathered provide greater context for what the students were protesting at the time. During Rafaela’s career at UC Davis (1989-2004), she was instrumental in the acquisition of the Ada Sosa-Riddell Papers, the Mario Obledo Papers, the Cruz Reynoso Papers, and the Chicana/o Studies archives. According to one of our retired archivists, Rafela’s most important service to Special Collections was “her constant willingness to refer students to our collections. She directed a doctoral researcher to the Jack Forbes papers regarding the participation of Chicanos in the founding of DQU.” When I corrected the students by noting how these collections predated my arrival they left knowing the library and the legacy of Rafaela’s work created a community space they could claim as their own.

I feel honored to have known Rafaela, and will always be grateful for her mentorship. The Chicana/o Studies collections she built at the University Library continue to serve both students and the community as a whole. It is a privilege to build on her work and steward this collection for future students and researchers. Rafaela Castro, Presente!

Roberto C. Delgadillo is a Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian in Research Support Services at the UC Davis University Library.

Aztlán and Anzaldúa

Stone sculpture of woman seated facing forward with hands on thighs.

Copyright 2011 by The Regents of the University of California. Cover art by Dora De Larios, Sierra Madre, 1960. Glazed stoneware, 26 x 15 x 12 inches. Copyright 1960 by Dora de Larios, photograph by Sabrina Judge.

By Karrmen Crey

I’m somewhat new to Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, having joined the journal as assistant editor in June 2013, so I’ve played a very small part in Aztlán’s history, which is now approaching its forty-fifth anniversary. As a part of my position I process submissions and coordinate our double-blind peer review process. Although I’m far from an expert in Chicana/o studies (I’m a doctoral candidate in film studies studying Canadian Indigenous media), the sheer volume of submissions that comes across my desk has given me a sense of the contours of Chicana/o studies—that is, a familiarity with certain themes, topics, and scholars in the field. Of these scholars, perhaps none is more frequently cited than the groundbreaking feminist, queer, Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa. In fact, since 2007, every issue of Aztlán— fourteen issues total—has contained at least one essay or dossier that takes up Anzaldúa’s ideas. Given a longer timeline it would be interesting to comb through earlier issues, although I fully expect that I would see her name appear over and over. The submissions that Aztlán receives engage with the full scope of thinkers and theorists that constitute the rich intellectual terrain of Chicano studies. Still, authors return to Anzaldúa so frequently, and across so many disciplines, that tracing the use of her work offers a window onto the evolution of her ideas in Chicana/o studies, and a sense of the contemporary contours of the field.

In theorizing the “borderlands,” particularly in her groundbreaking The Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), Anzaldúa developed a language and set of conceptual tools that scholars continue to employ and debate, building on and complicating her ideas as they are applied to new and different areas. Anzaldúa’s theorizations, which sprang from her lived experience as a Chicana lesbian, produced a methodological framework for making visible subjectivities that are often invisible within unifying constructs such as “community” and “nation.”  In articles published in Aztlán over the past several years, we see Anzaldúa’s ideas driving, for instance, research methods in ethnographic projects that concentrate on social groups—women, the LGBTQ community, and people from mixed racial backgrounds—whose experiences, following Anzaldúa’s “theory of the flesh,” form the terra firma of cultural theory. Studies have, for instance, have employed intersectionality to examine Chicana/o political organizations in order to recuperate into the historical record the complex social dimensions (gender, race, transborder life experiences) that shaped these organizations.

Graphic illustration of frida kahlo like girl on contemporary street in athletic wear.

Copyright 2014 by The Regents of the University of California. Cover art by Rio Yañez, Ghetto Frida, 2006. Digital illustration, 16 x 20 inches. Copyright 2006 by Rio Yañez.

Anzaldúa’s ideas have flourished in jotería and queer studies, where the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality is fundamental to the field, as we saw in the dossier on jotería studies in the Spring 2014 issue. In this collection Anzaldúan thought forms a backdrop for nuanced discussions of the history of jotería studies and the growing diversity within this area over the past several decades. Naturally, border studies is indebted to her work, as we see in submissions that explore many types of borderland—national and transnational, physical and psychological, concrete and metaphoric.  More recently, it has been fascinating to see scholars in political science and sociology taking up Anzaldúa’s thoughts to better frame and understand principles of political organizing and inter- and intragroup dynamics—a testament to the value and relevance of her ideas across disciplines.

Anzaldúa’s legacy is seen perhaps most frequently in submissions that examine Chicana/o cultural production. We receive our share of literary analysis, of course—it would be fair to say that among the submissions that Aztlán receives, Anzaldúan thought is applied most frequently to Chicana/o and Latina/o literature. Yet scholars have explored her ideas in other areas too, including the visual arts, performance, and film and media, and even comic books. Authors apply Anzaldúa’s critical concepts of mestiza consciousness, the borderlands, and nepantla, extending them through analyses of the text and its production, and at times challenging these concepts; for instance, where the celebration of “hybridity” is seen as masking the tensions inherent in identities that are shaped by intersecting and sometimes irreconcilable social markers and experiences.

The breadth of scholarship that engages Anzaldúa’s work is a testament to the richness of her ideas and their ongoing relevance to Chicana/o studies as the field continues to expand, embracing more academic disciplines and specializations. As it does, so too does Aztlán, as these shifts and others are reflected in the submissions we receive and encourage. We welcome and invite your essays, dossiers, artwork, and book reviews. Please see our website for more information on submissions and subscriptions. Institutions and individuals with subscriptions to Aztlán can access our entire catalog of issues through Metapress.

Karrmen Crey is a PhD candidate in the Cinema and Media Studies Program at the University of California, where she is researching the infrastructure for Aboriginal media in Canada. Prior to beginning her doctoral work, she received her Master of Arts in Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. She has been the Assistant Editor of Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles since June 2013.

La Cholita de Guadalupe

Image of Virgin of Guadalupe as young contemporary woman in neighborhood.

La Cholita de Guadalupe. By Lizeth Gutierrez, Maria Saucedo, Silvia Garcia, Kayla Potts. Used with permission of the authors. Reuse of this image without the express permission of the authors is prohibited. All rights reserved (CC license does not apply to this image).

by Lizeth Gutierrez, Maria Saucedo, Silvia Garcia, Kayla Potts

When my colleagues and I were thinking about powerful images that represented today’s young Chicana we were very inspired by both Alma López [1] and Yolanda M. López’s [2] work with La Virgen de Guadalupe. Both artists redefined Chicana sexuality in powerful ways by reframing La Virgen; a significant cultural and religious iconography in the Chicana/o community, as a woman who is interpreted and experienced in various ways. Along with them we were also drawn to Sandra Cisneros’ essay “Guadalupe the Sex Goddess.” [3]  In her writing, Cisneros offers us a revolutionary understanding of our own sexual power as women. Through their work we were encouraged to think critically about our own unique relationship with La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Our individual relationships with La Virgen inspired this collective project because we realized we had a lot more similarities than differences in how we relate to her and each other. For instance, Lizeth is not very religious, but La Virgen holds symbolic value to how she has come to understand her femininity as a site of empowerment. She had to distance herself from her mother and grandmother’s conceptions of a “good” woman to make sense of her own sexuality. Similarly, Silvia and Maria grew up viewing La Virgen as a symbol of appropriate women behavior. Women are supposed to be docile and pure, especially in the eyes of Catholicism and Mexican culture. Both Maria and Silvia, however, have reclaimed La Virgen by challenging the typical portrayals of womanhood as submissive and passive. They embraced her as a strong figure that is not afraid to claim public space and speak her mind. Kayla sees La Virgen as a symbol of female empowerment because women’s bodies are sacred and sexual. We refuse to have vergüenza of our bodies, our sexualities, and our womanhood; we are beautiful women inside and out.

This project brings together two significant images of womanhood in our community; La Virgen de Guadalupe and the chola. Cholas are often perceived as a threat in our communities because of their political gender performances that re-signify sexuality. In bringing these two symbols of womanhood together we wanted to name ourselves within our communities. We wanted to contest the boundaries of femininity that are imposed on us each and every day. Women have been relegated to the domestic sphere in order to ensure that their role as mothers and wives in patriarchal culture function to affirm narratives of hyper-masculinity and heteronormative values of the heterosexual family. “The Cholita de Guadalupe” is our sitio that has allowed us to create a lengua that speaks about Chicana womanhood in empowering ways.[4] Her attitude of toughness is a fundamental mechanism of survival. Our survival. And it is through our toughness that we reclaim our femininity, our relationship with La Virgen, and our survival in academia.

While many may be curious as to why we have decided to use specific symbols in our work, we believe it is more powerful to leave our art open to interpretation. We do not feel it is necessary to unpack all the elements of the image because every symbol can mean different things for different people. The beauty of art is that it can speak to people in various ways, and it is precisely that ambiguity that we believe allows for a more inclusive conversation about religious identity, womanhood, and sexuality.

Some background information about this project: We worked on a beautiful painting together as part of our final group project for our Comparative Ethnic Studies course: “La Chicana in U.S. Society.” We wanted to draw attention to the ways family, religion (Marianismo), gender performances, and machismo (to name a few), shape and discipline constructions of womanhood in Chicana/o culture.[5] Our image reclaims the Virgin Mary as a chola; she is our “La Cholita de Guadalupe.” Inspired by a number of Chicana scholars and Chicana artists, we wanted to explore political identity from a Chicana feminist perspective in order to complicate the ways culture, religion, patriarchy, and the heteronormative Mexican family influence Chicana sexuality, as both a site of systematic oppression and a political space of discovery and resistance. Our work aims to incite a critical discussion on sexuality as both a political site and a politicized choice, especially for first generation Chicanas in higher education. The materials used were tempura paint, fabric paint, and bandana fabric. We, who worked really hard on this project, are all Chicanas, and are committed to our communities, especially on our campus.

References

[1] Alma Lopez, “Our Lady,” 1999 (Special thanks to Raquel Salinas & Raquel Gutierrez).
[2] Yolanda Lopez, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgen of Guadalupe, 1978.
[3] Sandra Cisneros, “Guadalupe the Sex Goddess,” 1996.
[4] Emma Pérez, “Sexuality and Discourse: Notes From a Chicana Survivor,” 1991.
[5] Cherrie Moraga, “From a Long Line of Vendidas: Chicanas and Feminism,” 1983.

Lizeth Gutierrez is a Ph.D. student in the American Studies program at Washington State University. She researches representations in popular culture of gendered and raced Latinidades and is particularly interested in the commercialization of mainstream Latinidad in relation to U.S. discourses on second-class citizenship.

Silvia Garcia is a senior at Washington State University and is currently majoring in general studies, but hopes to finish her mechanical engineering degree.

Maria Saucedo is a spring 2014 graduate from Washington State University. She completed her Bachelors of Arts in Comparative Ethnic Studies and was the Chair/Coalition for Women Students at the Women’s Resource Center.

Kayla Potts is a junior at Washington State University and is majoring in Women Studies with a minor in Psychology. 

Collective Imaginaries

Photo of two women side by side, June L. Mazer and Bunny MacCulloch

June L. Mazer (right) and Bunny MacCulloch. All rights reserved UCLA Center for the Study of Women

by Lizette Guerra

Yolanda Retter-Vargas, my mentor and predecessor at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, taught me that even within my own perceived community there were many communities: Latinas, Chicanas, Lesbianas, feminists, and others. She drilled into my work ethic the notion that I could not truly be at the service of my community, or any community for that matter, if I did not make a true concerted effort to represent everyone, women, men, lesbian, gay, rich and poor, of all cultural backgrounds and beliefs. Yet, historically, this belief has not been central to our profession. Archivists have been privileged with the power to decide what is deemed historical and what is not. What do we preserve for future generations and what do we leave out of our collective imaginaries?

Despite the reality that Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world, people of color and the LGBT community in particular continue to be underrepresented and in effect invisible within archival collections, the public record, and historical research. The partnership between the UCLA Library, CSW, and the Mazer Archives reflects an increasing awareness amongst archivists and librarians about the importance of collecting more ethnic studies and LGBT materials. In recent years, our profession has been moving away from exclusionary collecting practices and progressing toward more community-oriented approaches that include donors and patrons in the archival process. The collections in the Mazer Archives project not only reflect this nation’s rich history, but also, more importantly, provide communities who have long been under-served and under-documented within the historical record with a resource that respectfully reflects their experiences and contributions to U.S. history. Each step of the way, we have made it our priority to include the Mazer Archives’ staff and affiliates in the archival process. We have chosen to do so because each of the stories contained within the collections represents a community’s memories. The presence of such materials within an institution such as UCLA contributes to a community’s visibility, legitimation, and continuity.

Yolanda Retter-Vargas and Barbara Gittings standing side by side.

Yolanda Retter-Vargas (left) with Barbara Gittings, UCLA, 2006. Photo by Angel Brinkele. Angela Brinkele Papers. All Rights Reserved UCLA Center for the Study of Women.

“If we don’t collect these things,” Yolanda always said, “no one else will.” The partnership between UCLA and the Mazer Archives is a perfect example of the type of innovative project that Yolanda would have supported. This partnership has allowed us to document and provide wide access to documentation of early lesbian activist and literary history in Los Angeles since the 1930s—stories that might otherwise have been lost or forgotten. As Yolanda wrote in her dissertation, On the Side of Angels: Lesbian Activism in Los Angeles, 1970-1990 (University of New Mexico, 1999), “Amid the criticisms, let it be remembered that once there was a vibrant movement that put women first. In a world that was (is still) bent on undermining women, that kind of prioritizing and commitment deserves respect and study. Regardless of what terms are used to describe (or disparage) the lesbian activist movement, its spirit persists within the generational cohort that created it during a ‘social moment’ in U.S. history. It persists as a vision, an ideology, a submerged network and as a significant contribution to the tradition of resistant consciousness and pro-woman advocacy. Blessed Be.”

This essay is reprinted with permission from June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives: Making Invisible Histories Visible: A Resource Guide to the Collections. Edited by Kathleen A. McHugh, Brenda Johnson-Grau, and Ben Raphael Sher. Los Angeles: UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-615-99084-2.

Appendices

Herstory Archives

http://www.lesbianherstoryarchives.org/

June Mazer Lesbian Archive

http://www.mazerlesbianarchives.org/

In the June Mazer Archive, the following are Latina collections:

Terri de la Pena Papers

http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8sx6f0m/

Terri de la Peña is a novelist, short story writer, and children’s book author whose writings deal with complex issues of identity, homophobia, assimilation and resistance focusing on the lives of Chicana lesbians. This collection contains materials related to the creation, dissemination, publication and revision of both fictional and nonfictional works by Terri de la Peña. The bulk of the collection is made up of drafts of her first novel, Margins, also considered to be the first lesbian Chicana novel. The collection includes correspondence, contractual information, promotional materials, drafts and notes.

Connexxus /Centro de Mujeres Collection

http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt1779r55b/

The Connexxus/Centro de Mujeres Collection contains the administrative records of Connexxus / Centro de Mujeres, one of the first Los Angeles non-profit organizations that catered and provided services to lesbians.

Lizette Guerra is the archivist and librarian at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library and Archive. She received an MA in Latin American Studies and an M.L.I.S. in Information Studies from UCLA in 2007. She has research experience working in museums both in Mexico and Guatemala. She has done archival, curatorial, and cataloging work for the Autry National Center’s Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, CA.