“As a mestiza I have no country, my homeland casts me out, yet all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover. As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me, but I am all races becasue there is the queer in me in all races.” -Gloria Anzaldúa
Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga: co-authors, activists, and friends during the Chicana Feminist Movement of 1970s. This feminist movement saw the mobilization of Chicana women who have felt invisible or ignored for the majority of their lives, allowing this community to reclaim their own sense of belonging. The movement acknowledges the intersection of racism and sexism, both within this culture and outside of it. The rise of lesbian Chicanas who refused to stay silent about the oppression they faced was inspiring, and would not have been possible without the work of these two remarkable women.
Gloria Anzaldúa was a Tejana lesbian writer and poet who consistently used her talents in literature to write about her intersecting identities and campaign for social justice. She is notorious for her blending of poetry and prose, with her most famous work being her book, “Borderlands/La Frontera,” where she discusses the multicultural identities near the Mexico-Texas border. A relevant phrase within this community, “Ni de aquí ni de alla,” meaning, “Not from here, nor from there,” captures the central complexity this group faces every day regarding their multifaceted identities. Anzaldúa thoroughly explains these complexities of living on the border within this piece, both physically and metaphorically:
“Living on borders and in margins, keeping intact one's shifting and multiple identity and integrity, is like trying to swim in a new element, an "alien" element.” -Gloria E. Anzaldúa
An additional relevant contribution alongside her literary work was her theory of “Mestiza consciousness”: the idea that in order to heal and grow, Mestiza/Chicana women must acknowledge their past wounds, while actively rejecting notions of oppressions that have been imposed on their community. This theory extends beyond race and ethnicity for her, and can be applied to the subject of sexuality as well.
“For the lesbian of color, the ultimate rebellion she can make aganist her native culture is through her sexual behavior.”- Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands
Therefore, in order to fully heal the scars inflicted by society’s desire to place people into strict boxes they do not fit into, Chicana lesbians must acknowledge their wounds and actively reshape previous notions of what it means to be a “perfect Chicana daughter” to allow their true stories to be heard. This act of reclamation is extremely impactful and truly influenced the movement towards more acceptance of queer women of color in this community.
“I am a woman with a foot in both worlds; and I refuse the split. I feel the necessity for dialogue. Sometimes I feel it urgently.” - Cherríe L. Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
Cherríe Moraga is a lesbian Chicana writer and poet as well, with her introduction to professional activism writing being the co-authoring of “This Bridge Called My Back” alongside Anzaldúa. This anthology allowed for the Chicana Movement to gain traction, as the book sparked the interest of women across the nation. Moraga was essential in cultivating ideas of reclamation and empowerment within this movement as well, with a key contribution being her introduction of the “theory in the flesh”:
“A theory in the flesh means one where the physical realities of our lives — our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual longings — all fuse to create a politic born of necessity.” -Cherríe L. Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
This theory in the flesh recognizes how the physical realities surrounding queer women of color impact metaphsyical spaces they inhabit, allowing for certain politics to manifest in their minds as a consequence. This theory validates physical experiences as truth, while taking an emotional approach to finding and explaining these multifaceted identities in a binary society. According to Moraga, Chicana lesbians have a foot in both worlds, meaning their identities should be their own to explore and both their physical and metaphysical experiences are valid.
Together, Moraga and Anzaldúa posed this idea of the Mestiza Way. This became a model for the lives of the community, a framework to reconstructing and reclaiming the way Chicana lesbians could define themselves. This model begins with taking an inventory of the baggage being carried; including but not limited to Eurocentrism and self hate perpetuated within society. The next step was to unlearn and relearn issues of oppression, for instance the prevalent issues of machismo, homophobia, and the puta/virgin dichotomy imposed on queer women of color. Next was reinterpreting history and adopting new symbols of power (ie: by using Mestiza consciousness and theory in the flesh). In order to fully heal, this community must allow contradictions and ambiguities to exist, as well as implement foreign ways of thinking. Finally, nahual: developing a new self. Mestiza and Chicana women do not simply figure out their identities overnight; these pieces of themselves do not just magically fit perfectly, but are joined by a sense of purpose and belonging that is bigger than traditions.
These legendary poets offered this complex understanding of intersectional identities and how to navigate a society that poses the idea of binary oppositions. These women were resilient in their work, while aiming to confront many key issues both within and outside the Latina community.
The first issue these women spoke out against was machismo: This was the idea that in order to be considered normal, men had to present themselves as very strong, independent, and that they are superior to women. This expression of masculinity was often a way to exert power or a sense of control over others. Additionally, machismo was viewed as an Anglo tool of control to maintain a racial hierarchy that simply should not have existed. Due to the oppressive potential of this concept, feminists like Anzaldúa and Moraga called for the acknowledgment of universal aspects of sexism that impacted everyone in the Chicano/a community.
Another relevant issue was the idea of white feminism. This concept left out minority voices, ignoring their contributions to the achievements of women as a whole throughout the twentieth century. Both women advocated for the inclusion of Chicana and minority voices in the fight for gender equality, however, the burden of explaining the dangers of white feminism was not theirs to carry alone.
“We cannot educate white women and take them by the hand. Most of us are willing to help but we can't do the white woman's homework for her. That's an energy drain. ”-Gloria E. Anzaldúa.
An obvious issue that was left to combat was the issue of sexuality: as they both had experiences in being oppressed as a consequence of their own sexual identities, it was not surprising they addressed the taboo discussion of being unapologetically queer. Both within and outside the Latina community, it was expected of young women to become “good daughters''. With this notion came the idea of this “puta vs virgin” dichotomy that plagued the minds of young women. A woman could either be a perfect daughter or a puta (whore)– there was no in between. Specifically within the Latina community, being a “good daughter” meant sexuality was repressed, as respectable women should not disobey or desire anything of this nature. For Moraga and Anzaldúa, however, being a perfect Chicana daughter meant being yourself unapologetically. For these women, being perfect meant embracing queerness, even if it makes others uncomfortable as nothing is worse than repressing who you truly are.
Consequently, Moraga’s and Anzaldúa’s works of emotional poetry blended with prose allow for an escape from the oppressive binaries and expectations placed upon queer women of color. This movement led by activists Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa challenged traditional notions of what it meant to be Chicana, or what it meant to be lesbian within this society, further proving ambition and courage can accomplish great things.