The Moorish Wanderer

Course 5 : Flamewoman, Ana Castillo

Posted in American Minority Voices by Zouhair ABH on February 15, 2009

Ana Castillo

a short bio to begin with : Castillo was born and raised in an inner city barrio of Chicago, Illinois. After completing undergraduate studies, she immediately began teaching college courses.

She earned her Master’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies from the University of Chicago with a thesis entitled “The Idealization and Reality of the Mexican Indian Woman”. She received her doctorate from the University of Bremen, Germany, in American studies in 1991. In lieu of a traditional dissertation, she submitted the essays later collected in her highly acclaimed work Massacre of the Dreamers.

Castillo writes about Chicana feminism, which she dubs “Xicanisma“, and her work centres on issues of identity, racism, and classicism. Many of her protagonists are fiercely independent, sometimes lesbian, women. Her “imaginative fiction” shows the influence of magical realism. For example, the novel Sapogonia is about a fictional country that is the home to all mestizos. Much of her work has been translated into Spanish. She has also contributed articles and essays to such publications as the Los Angeles Times and Salon. (Wiki reference).

What one could say about “Xicanisma” ? Ana Castillo claims it is a different sort of feminism, a feminine third world solidarity that is. I like the radical criticism of the WASP society (eventhough Castillo turns to be as simplistic in her ‘whit people type’ generalization just as the ones she criticises). In a sense, the woman is right : Women were subdued and alienated for a long time, and often still are in third world countries. Because of here Latin-American roots, she focuses on the women’s situation in Mexico, where women are confined into the classical sexual segmentation : they are housewives, and their sole purpose is domestic : They give birth to babies (boys are preferred), take care of their husbands when they come home. One might argue that ‘white women’ (let us consider white American people as WASP, Italian-Americans and other European-like communities) also experienced the same situation.What is different with Chicanas, is the ambient racism they had to cope with. A racism expressed by others and by fellow Chicanos. Perhaps racism is too strong a word. In latinos communities, though women were considered human being, they had a restricted access to the public life, their life being mostly a domestic one. Some might see in it a middle-east/arabic influence

There was an asymmetric situation, were Women were worshipped for their purity (as virgins or as mothers) or despised as ‘whores‘. On the other hand, men’s virility is on display when a man has girlfriends or several mistresses. (a situation similar to the way Moroccans look at relationships : If every family wants their daughter to be pure and their son to experience their virility, how could things be carried out ?). Latina women were therefore more or less objectified. Immigration, industrial and economic changes destroyed the traditional gender norms, and latina women had to work outside their house.

The most educated of them -like Ana Castillo- got an early grip on feminist ideology, as well as an interest in Third- World struggle. Eventually, Chicanas joined in the 70’s emancipation movement. Ana Castillo said she had little in common with a white American women claiming civil rights, while she shared the suffering  and the issues of a Third World woman. Xicanisma, in this sense, is more a revolt against traditional sexual norms, rather than a quest for equality.

As a member of a minor community, Castillo’s work, as for other Xicanismas writer, is highly political. It remind of the Black Panther literature, (minus the political violence) of course. However, one might notice that her own analysis is purely ethnical, due to the lack of a detailed and a fair point of view of the American society. It seems to be the case for many minor authors : A superficial criticism of the dominant culture/community/political power, a paradox, in view of the rich work and analysis on their own people.