¿Quién soy yo? – Self-Identification and Ana Castillo

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

18 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Who are Chicanas?

3. Who is Ana Castillo?

4. The Mixquiahuala Letters
4.1 A Feminist Identity
4.2 The Journey against the Order
4.3 No Country to call a Home
4.4 Language as a Means of Self-Identification
4.5 Women do not riot
4.6 What is Love?

5. Conclusion

6. List of Sources

1. Introduction

¿Quién soy yo? or Who am I? One question is expressed in two languages. But there are numerous answers one can give. Some would say their gender and define themselves as being a man or a woman. Others would simply give their names or their religions. One could also reveal the nationality, the origin or the own social strata. There are a lot of possible answers to this question as humans perceive and identify themselves differently. But people cannot say who they are by using just one single criterion. “Of course, all of us have multiple identities. We may identify ourselves simultaneously as, for instance, woman, socialist, ecological farmer, world citizen, mother, daughter, wife, researcher, Finnish, Scandinavian, European, witch, theosopher, lover of music and plants, and so on (Fishman 54).”

Having a closer look at the meaning of the word “identity” the Oxford English Dictionary gives a proper definition of the word: “identities are the characteristics, feelings or beliefs that distinguish people from others.” This definition shows that identities are not just formed by the own person. It must rather be seen in relation to other humans. The system of society prescribes certain role models humans are expected to fulfil be it on grounds of their sex, race or their economic class. This is also what the personal identity shapes. What if someone does not really know who he or she? Of course, there are some basic answers one can give like the gender or the name but in some cases it is quite hard for people to be aware of themselves. Some marginal groups do not have that feeling of belonging to either side, for example black or white. They are brown, or simply an “in-between case”. They are a mixture of both colours and still in the process of defining themselves or simply lost in it.

Like aliens - this is the way many Chicanos feel in US society because they belong to a social minority. Lacking this important social affiliation they fight for acceptance, for the preservation of their culture and against racism. But which role has a Chicana woman or even a lesbian Chicana in this social system? Stepping a couple of stairs down in the “ranking of minorities” one will probably find her on the bottom of society, hardly endured by white US America and by their male opponents. Chicanas still have to struggle with oppression and they do not only fight for their culture but for their own identity as women, too. Who they are is rather uncertain but many Chicana writers try to define themselves and raise their voice in the field of literature. But what exactly is the Chicana´s social position like? Does she really have a chance to be heard in a male dominated culture? They try to express their difficult positions of being either Mexican or US American citizens and sometimes they feel like belonging to both sides or to none of it. But can a Chicana really find her absolute cultural belonging and this missing part of herself?

Ana Castillo is an example of a contemporary Chicana writer whose works include her own experience as being a woman and part of the marginal and male dominated Chicano group. She works against racial prejudices and for the acceptance of the feminine Chicana voice by setting herself and other Chicanas apart from U.S. American women. So, her concerns are gender and race relevant but where exactly does she settle her own person?

Ana Castillo wrote the novel The Mixquiahuala Letters and illustrates a number of prejudices Chicanas struggle with in everyday life. Like her the main characters in the novel are uncertain about their identity and cultural belonging. They suffer from relationships with men and experience that not just the journey to their cultural origin let them find the missing piece to complete the puzzle of their personal identity.

2. Who are Chicanas?

There are different understandings of who a Chicana really is and what her position in society is. On the one hand she is seen as the suffering brown woman whose main function is having children and being obedient to the male culture but on the other hand she is also perceived as the centre or the strong core of the family. Furthermore, having a look at the past Chicanas always had to work physically hard to survive which is contradictory to the Chicana image of the frail, passive and voiceless woman. These conflictive understandings of Chicanas have developed over decades but since the women´s liberation movement brown women have been “allowed to speak” and show who they are and how they want to be perceived by their environment (Gerds 167).

Many Chicana authors feel torn between two cultures and express this lack of their own identity via literature. Some writers are born in the United States and somehow feel like US Americans. They have hardly any contact to their origin, or the actual origin of their families. In this position it is rather difficult to identify with either country. “Many Chicanas are searching for their personal niche in U.S. society while trying to keep their ethnic identity (Lomelí in Gerds 171).” This confusion often ends up in not being able to adapt to one of the cultures and in a stay away of the social acceptance which influences the confused understanding of the personal identity from the outside. Deciding for one culture is expected but not easy because to approve a cultural belonging would consequently mean to negate the cultural opponent and to deny a part of the self. “In spite of possible rejection by both cultures, many Chicanas are unwilling or unable to give up aspects of their identity (Gerds 171).” The confusion about the own identity in a life caught between two cultural areas is often a topic in Chicana literature and an issue fictional characters struggle with, as well. This problem is often expressed via language as many authors use English and Spanish in the form of code-switching to show their positions in between both cultures.

Brown women are in an awkward position. They are wives and mothers and apart from that they are simply invisible. This is the stereotype of a woman not only men have formed. “The Church, the family, the culture require that women be subservient to men, that women renounce themselves in favor of men (Madsen 24).” Chicanas have never been expected to have a voice. Women in Chicano culture are not considered to have the strength to think or even to write. The field of literature has been dominated by men for decades but since brown women have had a better access to higher education and have found publishing houses that started spreading their works Chicanas were heard.

Only in the past twenty years has the patriarchal character of the Chicano movement been challenged by a generation of Chicana writers, including Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Alma Villanueva, Helena María Viramontes, Cherríe Moraga, and Gloria Anzaldúa, who attempt to discover in language a voice to express Hispanic femininity (Madsen 17 ff.).

Those contemporary authors belong to a female literature generation who reject fulfilling the role model of a Chicana who is supposed to be silent and invisible. In the process of their self- definition they fight for their feminist identity, for their culture and against the bias of their male opponents. “[…] Hispanic women are writing about their lives and analyze their experiences within the terms of their own feminist consciousness (Madsen 10).” How can Chicana writers raise their voices to be heard in society? There is one theme that a lot of authors take advantage of, which breaks every thinkable taboo. They have the courage to write about their own sexuality. “For a lesbian of color, the ultimate rebellion she can make against her native culture is through her sexual behavior. She goes against two moral prohibitions: sexuality and homosexuality (Madsen 25).” Writing about sex as a brown woman is one riot but being a lesbian author and spreading this sexual affection via literature arouses interest as it shocks. Women are not supposed to broach the issue of sexuality and even less of homosexuality. But writing about it is an attempt to spot the light on Chicanas and to show how they try to identify themselves while leaving the dominant patriarchy in their shadow for a while. Thus, it is a fight against their actual invisibility, against the patriarchal tradition and a great chance to be heard.

Sex in general is a delicate case in Chicano culture that has actually come along with rape, oppression and violence from the Chicana´s perspective but some contemporary female authors treat this topic in their works. The image of sex has always been associated with compulsion and submissiveness to men and not with pleasure from the female position. “Their commitment to break the taboo and openly discuss diverse issues such as rape, birth control, forced sterilization, violence against women, lesbian desire and other closely related topics deserves utmost respect (Gerds 178).” Violence and oppression in relation to sex has formed and influenced the Chicanas´ understanding of their own sexual identity enormously, thus this sexual life of suffering is still moving for brown female authors and important to their literary works. But this does not consequently mean that sex is always seen as something negative and depressing in Chicana literature. Writing about the own sexuality is also considered as freedom of expression about the own feminine identity (Madsen 40).

The stereotype of a Chicana woman who is seen as a weak slave and as a sexually exploitable object has a mythical background. There have been three religious images of women, called “tres madres” or “three mothers” who are seen as the ancestors of the Chicana/-o culture and they are still referred to in Chicana literature. The mothers are La Virgin de Guadalupe, La Malinche and La Llorona. They are considered to be really important for Chicanas´ self- identification process and occur repeatedly in writings as the mothers symbolize their own past and ancestors. “These images had/have a momentous impact on Chicana/o identity and culture and find exploration in an abundance of Mexican and Chicana/o art, literature and criticism (Gerds 184).” The good mother Guadalupe symbolizes pure virginity and innocence and La Llorona is regarded as the woman who cries for her lost children (llorar means to cry). Even though la Llorona drowned her own children while she was in a rage she is seen as a loving mother who regrets losing her offspring. The contentious mother was La Malinche, the concubine of the Spanish conquistador Cortés. She suffered silently from rape and violence and symbolizes women´s obedience and submissiveness to men which has shaped the later Chicana stereotype enormously. But, the Indian La Malinche also symbolizes the whore mother who betrayed the Mexican people and who was responsible for the loss of the land and the defeat of the Indians. She gave birth to illegitimate children which brought the mestizo race into being, the mix of Spanish and Indian genes (Madsen 7 ff.) The images of those three mothers are still important topics for Chicana writers and they often give their characters either the role of the virgin or the whore to show how Chicana women are understood in the mythical sense. Especially the figure of the whore La Malinche is often used by female writers but in a redefined understanding. “Thus re-vision of La Malinche and a preoccupation with what her cultural status has meant for Mexican and Mexican-American women are central to the emergence of Chicana feminism (González 3).” In addition to that, the revision of the symbol of the raped woman could also be understood as an attempt to rebut the stereotype of the suffering Chicana who betrayed her people and to identify with somebody else than La Malinche. “These writers try to redefine themselves beyond the Mexican community´s parameters, without having to accept the burden of being perceived as traitors to or betrayers of their culture (González 4).” Ana Castillo, for instance, makes use of the role model of La Malinche which was shaped by men and presented her, in a redefined form, as a powerful woman who holds forth about her own sexuality. Among others, this can be seen in the character Teresa in Castillo´s novel The Mixquiahuala Letters (Madsen, 94).

3. Who is Ana Castillo?

Ana Castillo is Mexican and US American, essayist, lesbian, poet, feminist, novelist, and a lot more but like many other contemporary Chicana authors Castillo is torn between two cultures that surround her and feels the need to make the struggle of her self-definition public via literature in order to represent the Chicana culture. Her own identity as a Mexican American and especially as a woman in this cultural area is an important concern for Castillo as she published essays that discuss her lack of identity.

I cannot say I am a citizen of the world as Virginia Woolf, speaking as an Anglo woman born to economic means, declared herself; nor can I make the same claim to U.S. citizenship as Adrienne Rich does despite her universal feeling for humanity. As a mestiza born to the lower strata, I am treated at best, as a second class citizen, at worst, as a non-entity. I am commonly perceived as a foreigner everywhere I go, including in the United States and in Mexico (Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers, 21).

In her essay Castillo cannot absolutely express who she is but she definitely knows what she is not and thus narrows the understanding of her identity down. She is aware of her mixed blood and her belonging to a lower economic class. Furthermore, she knows that her cultural background does not give her the same respect like Virginia Woolf has as a world famous author but due to her economic and social rank Castillo determines to get the appropriate attention from society. This is a disillusioning perception of her own person which gives the reader an idea of the weak social appreciation of a brown female author like Ana Castillo. In addition to that, the writer feels no cultural belonging because she neither feels accepted in the United States nor in Mexico. She speaks not only about her own experience but acts as a representative for Chicanas in general. “Gender identity essays, like those by Quintana and Castillo, though highly reflexive, seek to go beyond the personal and focus on the status and reality of Chicana women in modern US society […] (Sánchez 351).”


Excerpt out of 18 pages


¿Quién soy yo? – Self-Identification and Ana Castillo
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Chicano/Chicana Culture and Literature in the USA
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
480 KB
Castillo, Chicana Literature, Mixquiahuala Letters, Feminist, USA
Quote paper
Juliane Heß (Author), 2009, ¿Quién soy yo? – Self-Identification and Ana Castillo, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/177589


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