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Latina Literature  
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Latina lesbian literature is a fast-growing, vibrant literary tradition with a diversity that resists easy classification. Until the mid-1980s, the relative shortage of publications by and about Latina lesbians made it difficult to delineate a specific body of texts and a single set of shared characteristics that could be defined as "Latina lesbian." The many cultures, colors, immigration patterns, and languages included under the umbrella term "Latina" indicate a multiplicity that makes attempts to describe this field even more problematic.

Yet this variety, coupled with the highly political challenges to restrictive descriptions of sexuality found in late-twentieth-century Latina lesbian writings, gives this emergent body of literature a complexity and a visionary perspective that significantly enrich twentieth-century U.S. literature.

In addition to expanding conventional literary genres and redefining previously established conceptions of lesbian identity, Latina lesbian literature offers readers innovative models for creating alliances among diverse peoples.

Before the 1980s, Latina writing of any type received little critical attention, and the in academic and Latino communities made it even less likely that Latina writings with explicit lesbian content would be published, taught, or explored in literary scholarship.

Because sexuality has been seen as one of the most taboo topics in Latino discourse, the Latina writer who breaks this culturally imposed silence generally has been condemned for violating her community's mores. Consequently, many Latina lesbians felt compelled to choose between their sexual and cultural identities, and those writers who identified publicly as lesbian often did so outside their ethnic communities.

Breaking the Silence

However, the widespread acceptance of openly lesbian writings by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, in conjunction with a growing lesbian, gay, and feminist readership, has reduced this need for self-imposed secrecy. By the late 1980s, a number of writers had begun including explorations of Latina same-sex desire into their works.

The Example of Sheila Ortiz Taylor

Sheila Ortiz Taylor's publishing career illustrates this recent shift. Designed and marketed to appeal to a mainstream lesbian audience, her first two novels, Faultline (1982) and Spring Forward, Fall Back (1985), contain no overt references to Chicana cultures or identities. Yet in Southbound, Faultline's 1990 sequel, Taylor explores her Chicana protagonist's ethnic heritage.

As Taylor's increased willingness to incorporate representations of Chicana lesbian identity into her work implies, U.S. Latina lesbian literature has made remarkable progress since the mid-1980s.

General Trends

Although it is premature to offer definitive descriptions, several general trends can be said to characterize this emergent literary field: the use of autobiographical material to construct complex identities; the production of hybrid texts that challenge conventional literary genres; the analysis of interlocking forms of oppression; a bisexual inflection; and the development of alliances between people of diverse sexualities, cultures, genders, and classes.

As an increasing number of Latina lesbians reject culturally imposed sanctions and attempt to synthesize their sexuality with their ethnic identities, they often engage in a twofold self-naming process that combines political critique with the invention of empowering individual and collective self-definitions. By integrating their personal experiences into their poetry, fiction, and prose, they create multilayered texts that explore a diverse range of interconnected issues.

The Earliest Anthologies of Latina Lesbin Writings

The two earliest anthologies of Latina lesbian writings, Juanita Ramos's 1987 Compañeras: Latina Lesbians and Carla Trujillo's 1991 Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About, illustrate the linguistic, thematic, and cultural diversity characterizing this literature.

Compañeras contains a wide range of genres--including oral histories, coming out narratives, letters, journal entries, poetry, interviews, stories, and art work--by forty-seven Latinas of Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Chilean, Honduran, Brazilian, Columbian, Argentinian, Peruvian, and Nicaraguan descent.

Chicana Lesbians encompasses a similar variety. Composed of theoretical and creative writings and art work by twenty-four Chicanas, this collection indicates the many differences in class, region, education, color, and language found even within a particular subgroup of Latina lesbian literature.

These bilingual anthologies include a number of distinctive styles and topics, ranging from fictional explorations of interracial relationships, to stringent critiques of sexism and homophobia in Latino and dominant U.S. cultures, to playful, erotic celebrations of women's same-sex desire.

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