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Latina Literature  
page: 1  2  3  

Terri de la Peña employs similar strategies in her mainstream fiction. Like Umpierre and Moraga, she associates lesbianism with the adoption of an ethnic-specific identity.

In "La Maya" (1989) and Margins (1992), for example, she downplays the homophobia and heterosexism found in many Latino communities and emphasizes the parallels between her Chicana protagonists' quests for their Mexican-Indian spiritual and cultural heritage and their sexual relationships with dark-skinned Chicanas or Mexicanas.

Although Anzaldúa is more critical of Latino restrictions against same-sex desire, she too associates her sexuality with her cultural background. In both her creative and theoretical writings, she rejects the ethnocentrism implied by the words lesbian and homosexual and adopts culturally specific terms like "mita' y mita'" ("half and half") to describe her sexual preference.

By acknowledging the terms' derogatory implications, she simultaneously challenges conventional Eurocentric sexual and gender categories and exposes Mexican Americans' heterosexism, homophobia, and sexism.

Expanding Conventional Western Notions of Lesbian Identity

By associating physical desire with the desire to reclaim their cultural roots, self-identified Latina lesbian writers expand conventional Western notions of lesbian identity in three ways.

First, by identifying their sexuality with non-Western cultural traditions, they counter the commonly held Latino belief that Latinas' same-sex desire indicates ethnic betrayal or assimilation into the dominant Anglo culture.

Second, their simultaneous focus on sexuality and ethnicity complicates conventional Eurocentric descriptions of lesbian identity formation, thus providing an important corrective to the monolithic images of lesbian identity found in much twentieth-century Euro-American lesbian literature.

Third, this dual focus on sexual and ethnic identities indicates Latina lesbians' ability to make complex negotiations between two or more apparently disparate communities.

Juanita Ramos's coming out narrative, "Bayamón, Brooklyn y yo" (1987), provides a striking example of this mediational complexity. Whereas the majority of Euro-American coming out stories focus primarily on the growing acceptance of a stigmatized sexual identity, Ramos associates coming out as a lesbian with coming out as a Puerto Rican.

As she describes her attempts to synthesize her sexual, ethnic, and gender identities, she explores a diverse set of issues--including her desire to create self-empowering communities of women; her bicultural ambivalence and struggles against U.S. racism and color prejudice; her alienation from the homophobic radical left Puerto Rican liberation movement; and the subsequent difficulties she experienced in attempting to integrate her lesbianism with her political activism.

Ramos's ability to shift between "mainstream" lesbian-feminist groups, specific Latino political and familial communities, and the dominant North American culture gives her work a visionary, ethical perspective most readily seen in her urgent call for mestizaje coalitions that work to end all forms of oppression.

Developing Cross-Cultural Alliances

As Ramos's narrative indicates, self-identified Latina lesbians' willingness to acknowledge their own complexity allows them to develop alliances among people from diverse groups. Indeed, the cross-cultural communities Ramos and others create represent one of Latina lesbian literature's most notable contributions to contemporary literature.

This Bridge Called My Back--the groundbreaking 1981 anthology of writings by self-identified radical women of color edited by Anzaldúa and Moraga--illustrates the importance of this mediational role. By compelling feminists of all genders, sexualities, and ethnic backgrounds to participate in the formation of a more inclusive feminist movement, this anthology has significantly altered U.S. feminist theory.

Anzaldúa's Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras indicates a further extension of this desire to create alliances and dialogues among diverse peoples. In this 1990 anthology of creative and theoretical pieces by self-identified women of color, Anzaldúa attempts to develop coalitions between nonacademic and academic social activists.

In the preface, she rejects the inaccessible, elitist nature of academic "high" theory and underscores the importance of inventing new theorizing methods, "mestizaje theories," that "create new categories for those of us left out or pushed out of the existing ones."

Creating Expansive New Categories

It is this ability to create expansive new categories that makes the emerging field of Latina lesbian literature so vital to twentieth-century U.S. literary studies. By destabilizing apparently fixed classifications and provocatively crossing sexual, cultural, gender, and genre boundaries, Latina lesbian writing breaks down the categories that lead to stereotyping, overgeneralizations, and arbitrary divisions between apparently dissimilar groups.

In so doing, it opens up new spaces where mestizaje connections--alliances between people from diverse sexualities, cultures, genders, and classes--can occur.

AnnLouise Keating

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social sciences >> Overview:  Latina/Latino Americans

Latina/o glbtq communities in the U.S. pursue multiple visions, diverse politics, and a variety of struggles for identity and liberation; their efforts have helped shape the meaning of what it means to be queer and Latina and Latino in the U.S. and transnationally.

literature >> Anzaldúa, Gloria

American Latina lesbian editor and writer Gloria Anzaldúa connected racism and homophobia to posit a political queerness that interconnects with all struggles against oppression.

literature >> Moraga, Cherríe

In her own works, CherrĂ­e Moraga defines her experience as a Chicana lesbian; and in her capacity as editor/publisher, she provides a forum for traditionally silenced lesbians of color.

literature >> Ortiz-Taylor, Sheila

A prolific writer and respected teacher, Sheila Ortiz-Taylor has bracketed her career with groundbreaking achievements.


Alarcón, Norma, Ana Castillo, and Cherríe Moraga, eds. The Sexuality of Latinas. Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1989.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987.

_____. Prieta. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1994.

_____, ed. Haciendo Caras/Making Face, Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation, 1990.

Castillo, Ana. "La Macha: Toward a Beautiful Whole Self." Trujillo 24-48.

_____. The Mixquiahuala Letters. Binghamton, N.Y.: Bilingual Press, 1986.

_____. Sapagonia (An Anti-Romance in 3/8 Meter). Tempe, Ariz.: Bilingual Press, 1990.

_____. "What Only Lovers." Trujillo 60-61.

Chávez, Denise. The Last of the Menu Girls. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1986.

de la Peña, Terri. "Beyond El Camino Real." Trujillo 85-94.

_____. "Desert Quartet." Lesbian Love Stories. Vol. 2. Irene Zahava, ed. Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1991.

_____. "Good-Bye Ricky Ricardo; Hello Lesbianism." The Original Coming Out Stories, Expanded ed. Julia Penelope and Susan Wolfe, eds. Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1989.

_____. "La Maya." Intricate Passions: A Collection of Erotic Short Fiction. Tee Corinne, ed. Austin: Banned Books, 1989.

_____. Margins. Seattle: Seal Press, 1992.

_____. "Mujeres Morenas." Lesbian Love Stories. Vol. 2. Irene Zahava, ed. Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1991.

de Monteflores, Carmen. Singing Softly/Cantando Bajito. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1989.

Moraga, Cherríe. Giving Up the Ghost. Los Angeles: West End Press, 1986.

_____. The Last Generation. Boston: South End Press, 1993.

_____. Loving in the War Years: lo que nunca pasó por sus labios. Boston: South End Press, 1983.

Moraga, Cherríe and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983.

Navarro, Marta A. "Interview with Ana Castillo." Trujillo 113-132.

Ramos, Janita, ed. Compañeras: Latina Lesbians (An Anthology). New York: Latina Lesbian History Project, 1987.

_____. "Bayamón, Brooklyn y yo." Ramos 89-96.

Taylor, Sheila Ortiz. Faultline. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad, 1982.

_____. Southbound. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad, 1990.

_____. Spring Forward/Fall Back. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad, 1985.

Trujillo, Carla, ed. Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About. Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1991.

Umpierre, María Luz. The Margarita Poems. Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1987.


    Citation Information
    Author: Keating, AnnLouise  
    Entry Title: Latina Literature  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 3, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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