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literature

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Latina Literature  
 
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The Works of Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga

As writings by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga indicate, this diversity characterizes single-authored Latina lesbian texts as well.

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In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), a hybrid collection of poetry, essays, and personal narrative, Anzaldúa transgresses conventional literary genres and creates cultural autobiography. She combines personal experience with history and revisionist myth to construct self-affirmative individual and collective identities.

Even her linguistic style, or "code switching,"--her transitions from standard to working-class English to Chicano Spanish to Tex-Mex to Nahuatl-Aztec furthers this attempt to integrate personal and communal self-definition.

Like many of the writers in Compañeras and Chicana Lesbians, Anzaldúa constructs a highly affirmative identity in the context of multiple forms of oppression.

By interweaving accounts of the racism, sexism, and classism she experienced growing up in south Texas with historical and mythic analyses of the successive Aztec and Spanish conquests of indigenous gynecentric Indian tribes, she simultaneously reclaims her political, cultural, and spiritual Mexican and Nahuatl roots and constructs a mestizaje identity, a new concept of personhood that synergystically combines apparently contradictory Euro-American and indigenous traditions.

Similarly, in Prieta (1994), Anzaldúa defies Western literary conventions and creates a short story cycle that blends autobiography, allegory, fiction, and myth with realistic Tex-Mex dialogue, settings, and characters.

Like Borderlands/La Frontera, Moraga's Loving in the War Years (1983) and The Last Generation (1993) could be described as cultural autobiographies, for Moraga unites autobiographical narrative with history and social protest with self-definition to develop empowering individual and collective identities.

Like Anzaldúa and many other self-identified Latina lesbians, she explores a wide range of issues, including indigenous spiritualities; the dilemmas of light-skinned, biracial people; conventional gender roles; U.S. imperialism; the sexism and racism within Latino communities; and lesbian sexualities.

However, whereas Anzaldúa depicts her sexuality as a conscious choice and the ultimate rebellion against her ethnic community's restrictive mores, Moraga does not. Instead, she simultaneously naturalizes her same-sex desire and associates it with her decision to adopt a politicized Chicana identity. In her work, lesbianism becomes the vehicle enabling her to overcome her light-skin privileges and comprehend the oppression experienced by dark-skinned peoples of all ethnic backgrounds.

The Complexity of Latina Lesbian Identity

As these distinctions between Moraga's and Anzaldúa's self-definitions suggest, representations of Latina lesbian identity, like Latina lesbian literature itself, resist simplistic classification. Even the use of culturally specific same-sex images takes a variety of forms, including a bisexual inflection, or an oscillation between homosexual and heterosexual representations that destabilizes the binary system structuring sex-gender categories.

For example, Singing Softly/Cantando Bajito (1989), the first novel by self-identified Puerto Rican lesbian Carmen de Monteflores, does not explore explicitly lesbian issues or portray lesbian-identified characters. However, de Monteflores's depiction of female friendships provocatively undermines the assumed "naturalness" of the heterosexual relationships she describes.

Similarly, Amalia's ambivalent attraction to Marisa in Moraga's 1986 two-act play, Giving Up the Ghost, and Anzaldúa's depiction of Prieta's heterosexual relationship with a Latino, as well as her sexualized attraction to a gay Anglo male, in Prieta challenge the (apparent) permanence and stability of the dichotomy between heterosexuality and homosexuality.

This bisexual inflection also occurs in apparently nonlesbian texts, like those by Denise Chávez and Ana Castillo. Although these Latina writers do not identify as lesbian, the representations of female desire in Chávez's The Last of the Menu Girls (1986) and in Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986) and Sapagonia (1990), as well as the latter's publications in Chicana Lesbians, complicate facile definitions of Latina lesbian literature.

Unlike many Euro-American lesbian texts, which focus almost exclusively on the construction of gendered, sexualized identities, Latina lesbian texts generally depict sexuality and gender as aspects of multifaceted identities that, depending on the particular writer, also include ethnicity, color, class, language, and cultural and religious traditions.

In The Margarita Poems (1987), for instance, Luz María Umpierre combines literary and regional allusions to Puerto Rico with sexually explicit language and highly erotic imagery to simultaneously affirm and construct her identity as a Latina lesbian, a Puerto Rican, and a woman.

Throughout the nine Spanish and English poems in this volume, she associates her desire for an Amazonian island homeland and her quest for "Julia"--who represents, among other things, Julia de Burgos, one of Puerto Rico's most famous poets--with her search for a new Latina lesbian identity.

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