Category Archives: Music, Arts and Visual Culture

Two Essays on Our Work at Standing Rock

pregnant woman with earth in belly and water flowing around her

“Water is Life” drawing by Ruby Chacón. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Water is Life: Why Chicana/o/xs Should Support NoDAPL

By Marisa Elena Duarte

On Thursday October 27 militarized police forces from multiple states joined the Morton County Sheriff’s Department in North Dakota to initiate a violent series of crowd control tactics against the peaceful water protectors and land defenders blocking the illegal construction of an Energy Transfer Company (ETC) oil pipeline across land adjacent to the current boundaries of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The pipeline, designed to transport oil from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota down to the Gulf Coast, and from there to various domestic and international markets, also threatens clean water and soil through the entire Midwest region, all the way down to the Gulf Coast of Mexico. In July, Continue reading

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. 

Finding My Home in Psychic Restlessness

by Lizeth Gutierrez

“Because I, a mestiza

continually walk out of one culture

and into another

because I am in all cultures at the same time,

alma entre dos mundos, tres, cuatro,

me zumba la cabeza con lo contradictorio.

Estoy norteada por todas las voces que me hablan

Simultáneamente.”

Gloria Anzaldúa

Gloria Anzaldúa is my academic godmother. She has provided me the tools to create a sense of home. A space of survival. A space to call my own in the academy. This piece is inspired by Anzaldúa’s work, specifically her writing in Borderlands/La Frontera. Anzaldúa provided me the tools to name my restlessness. “Finding My Home in Psychic Restlessness” is about my journey to self-discovery. In this poem I recite ‘culture’ and ‘race’ as homogenous markers of identity only to strategically address the multiple identities I wear on my body. I do not seek to homogenize identity or discipline racial categories of identification. Culture and identity, as Anzaldúa’s writing reveals, are complex, multifaceted and fluid.

I wrote this piece when I was an undergraduate student at Grinnell College. As a current PhD student at Washington State University this poem continues to speak to me in painful ways. I am a first generation Chicana college student from Los Angeles, California who decided to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in small town Grinnell, Iowa. I oftentimes felt dislocated there and swore to myself that I would never go back to rural towns. I did not belong in those spaces. Ironically, my distaste for small towns brought me back to a similar rural town: Pullman, Washington. Maybe I am a masochist. Perhaps it is in that masochism that lies my sense of home. Who knows, but it is with this knowledge that I offer you a piece of who I am.

 

!Ya no!

No quiero sentirme marginalizada por tu hipocresía

Me exotizas por ser Latina.

Me llamas “lazy” por ser Mexicana.

Y te burlas de mi acento porque no es como el tuyo.

Tú dices “pizza” cuando yo digo “piksa.”

 

You tell me I can achieve the American dream, and yet set boundaries that aim to intimidate me and make me question my own abilities.

Si, vivo en un lugar de contradicciones.

I am in a college where I am the “exotic Latina,” pero soy la “outsider” en mi familia.

La “pocha.”

La “ya te crees muy miss thing porque vas a coh-ledge”

No me encuentro ni aquí, ni allá.

 

Why do you make me feel like I have to choose only one culture?

Soy mestiza, una hybrid, una mixture.

Anzaldúa me lo grita al oído in my dreams.

 

I, like Anzaldúa, believe in the new Latina consciousness.

Una conciencia que reconoce y tolera las contradicciones de mis dos culturas.

I love frijoles y las tortillas hechas a mano, and let’s not forget the smell of el cilantro en la salsa roja.

Y adoro el crispy chicken sandwich with large fries de McDonalds.

 

Soy Mexicana como mi abuela, like my mother who must constantly fight against the machismo of our patriarchal culture.

Y soy Americana: conquering my dreams and goals a como de lugar is the mentality of my gobierno capitalista.

 

Tú  te sigues sintiendo perdida, abandoned, ahogada en un mar that restricts your identity

because it tells you constantly that you are not enough Mexican, ni suficientemente Americana.

Date cuenta that you are more than one culture, no te de vergüenza, no te escondas.

 

Do not let the waves of assimilation trap you.

No te dejes.

Nada. Nada más rápido. Defiendete, you can do it.

 

Our history has shown us that Chicanas are guerrilleras.

Tú como yo somos la negotiation of two distinct worlds.

Anzaldúa dice que vivas sin fronteras.

 

No dejes que la corriente del mar te lleve.

Do not let it make you choose one culture over the other.

¡Lucha!

Lucha por tu crossroads.

 

This internal fight no acaba hasta que hagas tu propia negociación de identidad.

Revolutionize your sense of self.

No eres prisionera.

 

You are not less than one culture or more than the other.

You are all cultures.

La güera. La negra. La india. La mestiza.

Eres la voz de la nueva Chicana and you have the inner-strength to create your third space of survival.

 

A space Anzaldúa so proudly calls “una conciencia de mujer.”

 

Lizeth Gutierrez is a graduate student in Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies 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.

Review of Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives

by Paloma Martinez-Cruz

Verónica Reyes. Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives. Pasadena, CA: Arktoi Books, 2013. 111 pages. ISBN 978-0-9890361-0-8. $18.95

chopperchopper coverI left my hometown of Los Angeles to attend college in the Bay Area, and then I left California altogether to attend graduate school in New York City. Many denizens of the San Francisco Bay and the five boroughs of New York City have no love for my birth town, so when people asked me where I was from, I felt shy about admitting I was from the place known as “72 suburbs in search of a city.”  One day a fellow student shared with me what he loved about it: “You can feel how it’s red and brown.” After he said this, I realized that he was right, and that so many of the quips about L.A. being anti-intellectual and superficial were, in truth, about the other L.A., the tinsel L.A. that eclipses our red and brown realities, until violence erupts in the streets, or Chicana feminist jota poets like Verónica Reyes sound the thunder of our lives in verse.

The poems in Chopper! Chopper!, Reyes’ first published collection, envision East L.A. as the continuity of Mexican experience, participating fully in an Americas-based spirituality that venerates the natural world.  As with physical sacred gatherings, the volume begins with a blessing.  The poem “Desert Rain: blessing the land” [sic] surveys the desert cityscape with devotion.

The agua took her back to her childhood in México

rain that blessed her alma como copal shrouding her skin

She inhaled the desert aroma over concrete, nopales,

and limones beneath splintered street telephone wires

Socorro breathed in once and inhaled México in East L.A.

While I am exhilarated by the red and brown affirmation of Mesoamerica in Los Angeles, some of the portraits of Chicana ethnicity in this volume echo others. From my perspective as a Latin American/Latina Studies scholar, I question what seems like a nostalgia that conflates spirit, nature, and nation. Although some of the poetic turns tended toward predictability, there is also much to recommend in this volume.  Reyes is at her best when she navigates the difficulty of voicing bicultural, transnational experience by moving in for the hyper close-up, telling us what she alone is capable of observing.  In “Theoretical Discourse over ‘Sopa’ (what does it really mean?),” she playfully employs academic jargon to try to make sense of a word that has multiple meanings.

All our lives we called it “sopa”

Differentiated “sopa” from fideo

            to estrellas or melones

labels for different pastas

titles to establish subjectivity

within the hegemonic world of pasta.

The poem concludes with the narrator and her sister agreeing to use the word sopa the same way that their mother had used it – to refer to Mexican rice – thereby legitimizing local, intimate knowledge over official language usage.

As in the postmodern approach to “sopa,” Reyes’ poetry consistently repositions authority so that cholos, jotas and bus patrons are key culture makers.  In “Super Queer,” the queer Chicana becomes a supernatural champion, managing to survive homophobia, bashing and “what you thought no human being can withstand.”  Where others are tempted to perceive marginalization or victimization, Reyes tells of pride and strength, urging the listener to “take off those silly straight lenses that skew your vision.”  In “El Bus,” the narrator is proud to announce, “I speak in bus routes,” which, as Angelenos and visitors to the city are aware, is a dialect spoken almost exclusively by the poorest of the poor.  In Reyes’ poem, the speaker claims “You got it, esa or ese, I know the system/It’s in my blood to travel the calles via el bus” as if to boast of royal lineage.  Reyes’ poems invert the parameters of social inclusion, so that queer and street folk decide who belongs, and misguided wearers of “silly straight lenses” and novice bus riders become the outlanders in need of charitable assistance.

Vehicles of surveillance and pesticide application populate Reyes’ poetic universe, producing a bellicose environment in which East L.A. residents are surrounded by drone-like aerial hostility.  “Green Helicopters” describes the apple-orchard helicopter that sprays toxins on the migrant workers, and “Chopper! Chopper!” depicts the play of young neighborhood children who turn the menacing sounds and lights of police helicopters into fantastic games.

The cops announced to the convict, “We know where you are.  We know…”

And Xochitl ran out of breath chasing the big white light piercing the darkness

She stopped and stared up at the helicopter slicing the chapopote sky for a moment

It was almost as if it were stuck like the mammoths, the saber-toothed tiger, the Chumash

woman whose bones remained deep underground until the archaeologist came

The people screamed and wailed to be set free from the tar that pulled them down

that swallowed them little by little as they struggled to get out from the bottom

Still the thick goo engulfed them hole suffocating their skin, filling their mouths

Xochitl’s brown eyes stared at the chopper swirling in East L.A.’s summer sky

But the helicopter broke free, pulled back its white light and flew away to the hill

Here, the child Xochitl plays under a tar firmament where the craft hovers like a relic from California’s Pleistocene epoch, witnessing centuries of ancestors struggle against asphyxiation across the sky: just another summer night in East L.A.

While most of Chopper! Chopper! must remain unexamined here, there can be no doubt that Reyes achieves what she sets out to do. In her poem “A Xicana Theorist,” her queer protagonist moves through a lesbian, Latina social space, and yet she poses the question, “Are we really safe?” The final verse reveals the highest potential that theoretical work can aspire to achieve.

She dances with the woman from the bar

She holds her gently around the waist

She leans her body closely into hers

She wants to cry and tell her she is hurt

…tell her she is tired of fighting

…tell her she feels alone and scared

She wants to heal her wounds

These last lines of “A Xicana Theorist” leave room for interpreting whether the wounds she wishes to heal belong to her or to her dance partner, and this blurring of bodily boundaries and subjects allows the reader to interpret a more expansive notion of selfhood that includes all the Latinas who are wearied by building their lives in spaces that are racially negative and sexually oppressive. The desire that is repeated in these last lines does not hone in on sexual appetite, which would make sense given the erotically charged environment of the bar, but rather emphasizes the act of telling. The telling is the medicine the poetic voice craves in order to heal wounds.

In the tar and asphalt prism of East L.A., Reyes’ poems unearth and celebrate centuries of red and brown truths. While some of the writing resorts to idealizing Mexico as a font of political and spiritual alignment, the collection convinces readers to rethink urban spaces and witness the cunning and courage that develop under a dome of both hyper vigilance and civil neglect.  In the midst of roaring engines, slicing blades and hostile surveillance lights, her courageous act of telling manages to cultivate a space of safety and healing: a place for pride to grow.

Paloma Martinez-Cruz, PhD, works in the areas of contemporary hemispheric cultural production, women of color feminism, performance and alternative epistemologies. She is the author of Women and Knowledge in Mesoamerica: From East L.A. to Anahuac (University of Arizona Press, 2011) and the translator of Ponciá Vicencio, the debut novel by Afro-Brazilian author Conceição Evaristo, about a young Afro-Brazilian woman’s journey from the land of her enslaved ancestors to the multiple dislocations produced by urban life. Martinez-Cruz is also the editor of Rebeldes: A Proyecto Latina Anthology, a collection of stories and art from 26 Latina women from the Midwest and beyond. Currently Martinez-Cruz is at work on a book publication examining the resistance fronts found in Chicano/a popular culture. [5/1/14 post updated to correct an editorial error]