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Crossing, Trespassing, and Subverting Borders in Chicana Writing

by Debora Holler (Author)
Thesis 436 Pages

Summary

The border and border-crossing and its significance for the Chicana in a cultural, social, gendered, and spiritual sense are at the core of this book. The three oeuvres selected—Helena Viramontes’ The Moths and Other Stories, Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters, and Norma Cantú’s Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera—are eloquent examples of feminist Chicana writers who refuse to allow their lives to be restricted by the gender, social, racial, and cultural border and who portray how Chicana women rebel against the unfair treatment they receive from their fathers, husbands and lovers. Crossing and deconstructing the man-made borders means to leave behind the known territory and discover an unknown land, in the hope of finding a new world in which Chicana women have the same rights as white women and in which they can realize their self, develop a new mestiza consciousness and liberate themselves from patriarchal constraints and religious beliefs. The author shows how the newly won self-confidence empowers the Chicana to explore the opportunities this freedom offers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abstract
  • Contents
  • Illustrations
  • Introduction
  • Method and Strategy
  • Structure
  • 1 Background to Chicano/a Literature
  • 1.1 Historical, Political and Cultural Background of the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands
  • 1.2 Chicano/a Culture and Literature: A Survey
  • 1.3 Classification of the Chicano Literary Canon within the American Literary Canon
  • 1.4 Contemporary Chicana Literature
  • 2 Border Theories and Realities
  • 2.1 Terms and Definitions
  • 2.2 Border(lands) Phenomena
  • 2.3 Border Studies Research
  • 2.4 Border Theory Research
  • 2.5 Theorizations of Border Theories within Academia
  • 2.6 The Theme of the Border(lands) in Chicano/a Writing
  • 3 Border-Crossing in Chicana Writing
  • 3.1 Chicana Writing: A Manifestation of Resistance
  • 3.1.1 Border-Crossing and Mestiza Consciousness
  • 3.1.2 Postmodern Rhetorical Constructions of the Border
  • 3.2 La frontera: New Perspectives on the Border beyond Masculinism
  • 3.2.1 Writing Chicana: A Sensuous and Subversive Act
  • 3.2.2 Subverting Male Writing Tradition
  • 3.3 Challenging the Rules of Boundaries: Specific Aspects of Chicana Writing
  • 3.3.1 Re-Narrativating Culture
  • 3.3.2 Re-Constructing Chicana Identity
  • 3.3.3 Innovative Writing Techniques
  • 4 Mestizas Breaking Taboos: Crossing Gender, Social and Religious Borders in Helena Viramontes’ The Moths and Other Stories (1985)
  • 4.1 Author and Book
  • 4.1.1 Helena María Viramontes: Life
  • 4.1.2 The Moths and Other Stories: Contents
  • 4.2 Narrative Techniques
  • 4.2.1 Short Story as a Literary and Chicana Genre
  • 4.2.2 Stylistic Devices
  • 4.2.2.1 Interior Monologues
  • 4.2.2.2 Multiple Points of View and Non-Linear Story Development
  • 4.2.2.3 Religious Imagery
  • 4.2.2.4 Elements of Magical Realism33
  • 4.3 Repression and Resistance: Woes and Struggles of the Chicana
  • 4.3.1 Breaking with Cultural, Patriarchal, and Religious Constraints
  • 4.3.1.1 Resisting Religious and Patriarchal Ideology in “The Moths”
  • 4.3.1.2 Resisting Patriarchal Privileges in “Growing”
  • 4.3.1.3 Resisting Control over the Maternal Body in “Birthday”
  • 4.3.1.4 Resisting Imposed Traditional Gender Roles in “The Broken Web”
  • 4.3.1.5 Resisting Catholic Values in “The Long Reconciliation”
  • 4.4 Preliminary Conclusions
  • 5 Mestiza Liberation through Transgression: Crossing Gender Borders in Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986)
  • 5.1 Author and Book
  • 5.1.1 Ana Castillo: Life
  • 5.1.2 The Mixquiahuala Letters: Contents
  • 5.1.3 Parallels to Castillo’s Life in The Mixquiahuala Letters
  • 5.2 Narrative Techniques
  • 5.2.1 The Mixquiahuala Letters: A Modern Epistolary Novel
  • 5.2.1.1 Epistolary Fiction as a Literary Genre
  • 5.2.1.2 Epistolary Fiction as a Chicana Genre
  • 5.2.1.3 The Reader as cómplice: The Conformist, the Cynic, and the Quixotic Reader
  • 5.3 Border-Related Experiences: Identity Quest, Social Expectations, Self-Conflict
  • 5.3.1. The Mixquiahuala Letters: A Search for the Female Voice
  • 5.3.2 Patriarchal Conventions and Female Submissiveness
  • 5.3.3 Feminist Consciousness and Mestiza Identity-Making
  • 5.3.4 Between Mexico and the United States: A Liminal Space
  • 5.3.5 Mobility as an Escape from Reality
  • 5.4. Mirror Effect, Repressive Function of Culture, and Border-Crossing
  • 5.4.1 The In-Between Consciousness: Constructing a New Reality
  • 5.4.2 Crossing Social, Gender, Cultural, and National Borders
  • 5.4.3 Deconstructing Accepted Boundaries: Patriarchy and Gender Roles
  • 5.4.3.1 Male Relationships and Gender Identities
  • 5.4.3.2 Patterned Thinking and Relationships Governed by Patriarchal Law
  • 5.4.3.3 Transgressing the Invisible Border between Femininity and Masculinity
  • 5.5 Preliminary Conclusions
  • 6 Growing up Mestiza: Crossing Physical, Cultural, and Spiritual Borders in Norma Cantú’s Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera (1995)
  • 6.1 Author and Book
  • 6.1.1 Norma Elia Cantú: Life
  • 6.1.2 Canícula: Contents
  • 6.2 Narrative Techniques
  • 6.2.1 Crossing Genres: Dancing between Ethnography, Autobiography and Fiction
  • 6.2.1.1 Autobiography as a Literary Genre
  • 6.2.1.2 Autobiography as a Chicano/a Genre
  • 6.2.1.3 Canícula: An Example of a Chicana Autobiography
  • 6.2.1.4 Canícula: A Personal Story Representing the Mexican American Community
  • 6.2.1.5 Cantú’s Specific Narrative Strategies
  • 6.2.2 Genre Hybridity: Visual/Verbal Border-Crossings
  • 6.2.2.1 The Use of the Photographs
  • 6.2.2.2 Memory, Non-Chronology, Barthes’ Studium and Punctum
  • 6.2.2.3 Blurring Reality and Fiction: Manipulation and Retouching of Photographs
  • 6.2.2.4 Discrepancies between Image and Text
  • 6.2.2.5 Descriptions without Photographs
  • 6.3 Crossing Literal and Figurative Borders
  • 6.3.1 The Geographic Border: Physical Crossings and their Significance
  • 6.3.1.1 The Border: A Physical Reality which Shapes Identity
  • 6.3.1.2 Border-Crossings as an Expression of Biculturality
  • 6.3.1.3 Border-Crossings in Canícula: “Crossings”, “On the Bridge”, “The Flood”
  • 6.3.1.4 Results of Physical Border-Crossings
  • 6.3.2 The Cultural Border: Crossing Cultural and Spiritual Codes
  • 6.3.2.1 The Importance of Culture for the Mestiza
  • 6.3.2.2 Catholicism and Spiritual Syncretism
  • 6.3.2.3 An Example of American and Mexican Spiritual Fusion: El Día de los Muertos
  • 6.3.2.4 Religious Practices
  • 6.4. Herstory100: Growing Up en la frontera
  • 6.4.1 Chicana Identity Construction: Individual “I” vs. Collective “We”
  • 6.4.1.1 Female Identity Construction
  • 6.4.1.2 Communal Experiences
  • 6.4.1.3 Characteristic Markers of Growing Up in the Borderlands
  • 6.4.1.4 Canícula: A Classic Example of a Coming-of-Age Story
  • 6.4.2 A Chicana on the Verge of Womanhood
  • 6.4.2.1 Becoming a Woman: Female Role Models Who Crossed the Border
  • 6.4.2.2 The Importance of Women in Azucena’s Life
  • 6.4.2.3 Formative Experiences: Learning the Lessons of Growing Up
  • 6.5 Preliminary Conclusions
  • Conclusion
  • Annex
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

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Introduction

The idea of crossing borders4 evokes images of individuals traversing from one country to another. At the U.S.-Mexico border this means crossing from south to north and north to south, legally or illegally, on a daily basis or just from time to time, to go to work or for leisure. In fact, the border itself is seen more as “a crossroads than a frontier” despite the debates about illegal immigration (Hamnett 11). The experiences of border dwellers and those who cross the U.S.-Mexico border on a regular basis are told in numerous writings and research papers and have become increasingly popular since the establishment of the so-called border studies in the 1960s (Jay, “Border Studies 2). Since then, the study of the border has been carefully researched in several disciplines such as geography, history, political science, philosophy, linguistic and literary studies (Maihold 59). Moreover, the growing pile of books on the topic both in literary and political science studies that are published each year, speak volumes about the great interest researchers have in the U.S.-Mexico border. The US-Mexico border has gained in significance for both the interstate trade as well as the transcontinental trade (Witt 19).

Since the demarcation of the US-Mexico border, stipulated by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which separates the four U.S. states Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California from the Mexican states Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Baja California, the border has been a sensitive area from a political as well as an economic perspective. Today, the borderlands are home to 11.8 million Mexicans5 who have largely maintained ←21 | 22→their own culture and language. This confined space is a unique place in which political, social, cultural, economic, and religious opposites clash. The borderlands have increased in importance since the turbulent 1960s, where a general dissatisfaction with social and political institutions among minority groups living in the United States such as the African, Asian und Indian and Mexican Americans could be noticed (Pérez-Torres, “Refiguring Aztlán” 110). The general resentment culminated in political demonstrations and clashes, today known as The American Indian Movement (late 1960s to mid-1970s), the African American Civil Rights Movement (mid-1950s to late 1960s) and the Chicano Movement (mid- to late 1960s).

The nationalist movements of the 1960s contributed to the Chicanos’ urge to press for equality and more rights than they had been granted since 1848. Moreover, the black movement starting in the late 1950s and the mass movement against the Vietnam War gaining public interest in 1965 also inspired women to fight for their needs and the solution of their problems (Mauthausen 1). Although the first women’s movement originated in the secession war in 1848, in which women mainly fought for the right to vote which was granted in 1920 (Mauthausen 1; MacLean 47), it was not until 1967, as a result of the black civil rights movement, that women called for reforms concerning child care, equality in the workplace, an increase in the minimum wage, the right to end marriage and the end to discrimination against women of color and lesbians (MacLean 1). This commitment to take responsibility for their own needs led to a “gradual repolitization of U.S. women” and a revitalization of American feminism (Evans 61). As a consequence, the first national conference specifically addressing women’s problems was held in Texas in November 1977.

The women’s movement sparked the Chicanas to seek the same rights as white women. They, too, devoted themselves to remove male domination in the home and outside world, i.e. they sought to fight against the old standard Mexican thinking which claimed that ‘the husband rules’ and ‘the wife obeys’ (MacLean 18). Especially in the West and Southwest Latina farm workers soon became actively involved in the fight against the suffocating conditions in the fields, low payment, and child labor (19). Ultimately their efforts led to the First National ←22 | 23→Chicana Conference—la Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza—in Houston, Texas, in 1971 where they covered delicate topics such as gender discrimination, reproduction control, free sex education, abortion, as well as cultural and religious oppression (Palomo Acosta 1).

What started with the Chicano Movement, in which the Chicano/a identity traces its roots, culminated in a literary movement, the Chicano Literary Renaissance. According to Manuel Villar Raso and María Herrera-Sobek, leading voices in the Chicano literary research scene, this literary movement which had its first peak in the 1970s, soon had “a tremendous energizing and invigorating influence in American literature” (16). Ramón Saldívar points out that Chicano/a literature belongs to the minority literatures of the United States, and that it has the prospect of a rich cultural and literary heritage (Chicano Narrative 10). Chicano/a literature can be also described as “a literature in between” as it originated in the borderlands between the United States and Mexico. In this literature Chicanos/as express the experiences of having lived “in exile” for over one hundred years as they use the borderlands “as a site of agency and transformation” (Swyt 190) to challenge mainstream literature with their innovative writing style. Popular and recurring themes are the life of the (im)migrant, the encounters and clashes with the other culture often linked to acculturation and assimilation, historical myths and the preservation of traditional life styles, the value of the family, the pain of the loss of a great part of Mexican territory and the search for self and identity. Moreover, the borderlands have always been a recurrent theme in Chicano/a literature to explore biculturality, construct identity and challenge mainstream perspectives on life. Chicana literature deals with the metaphoric meaning of the border for the Chicana including gender, cultural, spiritual and ideological borders.

In the beginning, only works written by male authors were published, which must be attributed to the patriarchal culture. The stories written by Chicanas managed to be incorporated into the Chicano/a literary canon approximately ten years later. Since the late 1980s, the amount of literature written by women has been increasing. Chicana literature in particular aims to promote the female perspective often excluded and neglected by society. The published anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1983) by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa is ranked as a groundbreaking book in which Chicana values and feminism are redefined. This book has decisively contributed to the development of the history of Chicana feminism and the mestiza consciousness. The meshing of overlapping oppressions due to race, gender, and social class are topics that have neither been addressed by the Chicano Movement nor the American Women Rights’ Movement. Contemporary Chicana literature thus arose from the specific circumstances with which Mexican-American women had to cope. Therefore it is not surprising that what is known as Chicana literature often includes feminist and political features and reflects the marginalization experience of a double minority—Mexican American and Chicana woman—in the American Anglo-dominated society.

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Suffering repression due to gender from their own people Chicanas started to use writing as a means to protest against the patriarchal laws that govern the Chicano/a community. In their writings they seek to uncover oppressive beliefs and traditions created by men to subjugate women. The constraints placed upon the Chicanas are often undermined by subtle resistance starting at home. Knowing that they are not alone in the struggle against patriarchal values, but share the destiny of millions of other Chicanas, makes the feminist Chicana courageously cross imposed borders and overcome constraints. The complexity which arises from living between borders and boundaries can be seen in much of Chicana literature, and can be particularly well observed in the three selected works—Helena Viramontes’ The Moths and Other Stories, Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters, and Norma Cantú’s Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera—which serve here as prototypes of Chicana border-crossing.

Chicana literature is considered a border literature since it combines various literary traditions, the U.S. American literary heritage with its ethnic minorities and the Latin American heritage (Rebolledo 119). Edna Acosta-Belén argues that the increase of Hispanics in the U.S. has forged a new culture in which traditional concepts are preserved and redefined and new ones created (254). As early as 1885 the clash of two cultures, two different legal systems, and two different religions is treated by María Amparo Ruiz de Burton in Squatter and the Don. Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana Rivero argue that “[c];rossing borders, bridging borders, or simply recognizing the limits of the borders are an integral aspect of Chicana writing” (160). Border-crossing has thus been inextricably linked to Chicano/a literature and the deliberate moving between the physical, cultural, social, psychological, and spiritual borders as experienced by the Chicano/a community. Some scholars posit that Chicanos/as cling to their ethnic identity, even if they are living far away from the border. In other words, distance to the place of happening increases ethnic identity. It has been observed that the latter has become true as Chicano/a culture and language also runs through the writings written by Chicanos/as living in Chicago or New York.6

Demographic projections show that by 2050 Hispanics will be the largest minority group in the United States and almost fifty percent of the United States society will consist of minorities including Asian, African, Native Americans as well as Hispanics (Acosta-Belén 261). To date Mexican immigrants already ←24 | 25→outnumber the descendants of the original population who stayed after the annexation. This is the reason why two different concepts of the border are currently circulating. On the one hand, the border is seen as the homeland by the original population and on the other hand, it is a line that has to be crossed in order to find work in the United States and to be able to support the family back home in Mexico.

Method and Strategy

The border and the borderlands have become buzzwords in Chicano Studies. The border is first of all understood as a definite social space which demarcates a social and political divide between two countries of different social, religious, linguistic, educational system and economic wealth, in short: a superpower and a third world country. However, the concept of border is presented very differently, sometimes even contradictory. Chicano/a literature is often defined as “the product of a border consciousness and, thus, automatically endowed with some subversive potential in its representational strategies” (Neate 1). These strategies of representation are separately analyzed in each of the selected works to show the various forms of resistance to traditional literary traditions. The objective of this thesis is to contribute to the critical analysis of the existent body of Chicana literature by focusing in particular on the topics of the border, borderlands, border and boundary crossing in a literal and figurative sense and the underlying deeper meaning the term border has for the Chicana.

The borderlands as a place where contradictions and tensions between race, class, society, gender, and culture are negotiated are the starting point of the analysis. The first chapter offers an outline of the historical development of the border and traces the resulting cultural and social circumstances of the larger Chicano/a community. Chapter two presents the major border theories and the importance of the borderlands theme for Chicano/a writing. Drawing on the leading border theories in academia, the analysis of the selected works explores how these border concepts are involved in current Chicana writing. Chapter three deals with the role of Chicana literature as a manifestation of resistance and investigates rhetorical border constructions, and border-crossings as well as specific aspects of Chicana writing strategies. For the specific analysis in chapters four to six three well-known Chicana works from the mid-1980s up to the mid-1990s have been chosen. Those were the times when Chicana literature was not only acclaimed on the national level, but also gained international reputation. The works of Helena Viramontes’ The Moths and Other Stories (1985), Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986), and Norma Cantú’s Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera (1995) present a variety of borders and boundaries against the background of the geographic U.S.-Mexico border. The impact of the geopolitical border on the culture and lives of Chicanas is of extreme significance which is clearly articulated in these works. For this reason, the major focus is on how the physical border as well as gender, cultural, social, and spiritual borders ←25 | 26→are perceived by contemporary Chicana writers and how imposed borders, either by the dominant United States society or by the Mexican/Chicano patriarchal society, have restricted and limited women’s life choices for decades. Torn between two cultures Chicanas struggle to liberate themselves from the oppressive patriarchal conventions, try to find their new mestiza identity, and their gender role in life. As a Mexican American woman, the Chicana is faced with additional borders in her life which, most of all, affect gender, identity formation and culture alongside class and ethnicity. These borders are consistently subverted with elaborated writing techniques, code-mixing of the English and Spanish languages, a redefinition of literary genres, and a highlighting of the feminine/feminist subject.

In order to analyze the different boundaries which constrain the Chicana’s life, this investigation combines close readings of the works in question, examines the used writing techniques, studies the presented borders and subsequently achieved border-crossings as well as diverse border-related topics which result from a life between two distinct cultures. A content-based analysis of the border, its deconstruction and crossing in these works shall lead to a deeper understanding of the importance of border-crossing for the Chicana.

Each book of the three selected works is analyzed individually, the author’s background outlined and its contents described. Then the narrative strategies chosen by the respective author in the work are explored. Next the different borders presented in each book are analyzed, how they impact on the life of the protagonists and how they are crossed. Additionally, other salient border-related topics such as identity quest, feminist consciousness, cross-border relationships, cultural clashes, and religious syncretism are laid out and discussed. In all of these books the physical border is of special importance, as it shapes the Chicana’s perception of herself in a land in between. Nevertheless, it is the invisible borders with which Chicanas have to struggle that are presented in each book in an individual way. Literary, linguistic, spiritual, sexual, physical, and psychological border-crossings are part of the everyday struggles of the Chicanas.

The Moths and Other Stories, The Mixquiahuala Letters, and Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera, have been selected as they have a number of features in common: first, the three authors of these works are Chicanas; second, they belong to the first representations of Chicana writing; third, they focus on female characters living between two cultural codes; fourth, they present only a part of their lives which emphasizes the fragmentary identity of the Chicanas; fifth, in the course of writing the development of a mestiza consciousness is portrayed; and sixth, the three works picture the Chicana’s specific role in both Chicano and Anglo society and the adversities she faces in these societies. Another common feature is that the protagonists are all women; women who live between two cultures and in a continuous process of deciding to either live according to the imposed borders by Chicano society or to cross borders and by this act open a new chapter in their life, the life of the new mestiza liberated from socio-cultural constraints. In this sense, the crossing of the man-made borders which are partly ←26 | 27→due to culture and religion, partly due to the historical and political situation, can be interpreted as the liberation of the female self, the discovery of her own identity as well as the acceptance as a mestiza.

Moreover, all the female characters in these works are faced with a series of borders and boundaries, either literally or metaphorically, they have to cross or trespass in order to reach the longed-for liberation and become independent, self-relying mestizas who strive for more than to live a life according to traditional pre-set roles. The physical border is but the starting point of the journey they undertake towards liberation from oppressive ideologies, gender boundaries and social expectations. Additionally, breaking with traditional concepts of prevailing genre codes and subsequent subversion of these are essential themes in Chicana literature. The selected works offer a glimpse of the array of potential choices these double minority writers have created to reinvent their female characters.

Structure

The geographic border between the United States and Mexico is the socio-cultural and historical-political background and is chosen as the place of literary reality where several borders are deconstructed and crossed. The borderlands become a place in which self-realization and identity formation are the driving forces for the creation of this literary border reality. The transnational experience, which forms part of living between two opposing cultures as well as the mestiza consciousness, inspires the Chicana to localize new territory, and cross imposed borders in the patriarchally oriented Chicano culture. The crossing of these borders bears consequences not only for the Chicana but also for the education of future children and the maintaining of the culture. A balance between being a wife and mother and a self-assertive woman is the message that Chicanas seek to transmit in their literature.

In order to understand the deep reaching problematic of the border between the United States and Mexico, la herida abierta (the open wound), as Anzaldúa calls it and its influence on the Chicano population, chapter 1 provides a socio-historical, political, and cultural background, which also serves to categorize the different nuances in which this topic is treated in modern Chicana literature. Focusing on the beginnings of this emerging literature in the 1970s, its peak in the 1990s, and the importance Chicano/a literature still maintains until today, this chapter pays special attention to the emergence of contemporary Chicana literature, the world of Chicano/a culture, language and society. Taking into consideration the relationship between the socio-historical context and the literary texts and how they “produce culture in a more direct, primary manner than criticism itself” (Bruce-Novoa, “Chicano Literary Space” 160), the three selected works are interpreted, foregrounding the border thematic.

Chapter 2 approaches the theory that stands behind the border experiences and highlights current border theories evaluated in academia and the importance ←27 | 28→of the theme of the borderlands in Chicano/a writing in general. Here the most important border theories applied by Chicano/a writers and scholars with and without Chicano/a background are discussed. Border culture and border-crossing play a significant role in this research area, particularly the mental border-crossings described in Chicana literature open windows into the patriarchal culture of the Chicanos/as.

Chapter 3 shows the importance of Chicana writing as a manifestation of resistance and as a subversive act. Female-male relationships are redefined and pre-ordained social roles are deconstructed. Moreover, specific aspects of Chicana writing such as the blending of genres, cultures and languages, which speak for the innovative and creative strategies Chicanas employ, are explored.

Chapters 4 to 6 are dedicated to the close readings of Helena Viramontes’ The Moths and Other Stories, Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters, and Norma Cantú’s Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera. Special attention is given in all three cases to the border and border-crossing as the major topic. The analyses feature the crossing of the geopolitical, social, cultural, spiritual, linguistic, and gender borders and boundaries that exist in Chicano/a culture. However, the emphasis of this study is always on the female perspective on the border experience, their perception of border-crossing not only in the physical sense as it is dealt with in male Chicano writing, but rather from a cultural, social and psychological perspective. Alongside the border, thematic, subliminal, but equally important issues for the Chicana are also dealt with, although to a lesser extent, such as mestiza identity, feminist consciousness, syncretic religious practices, growing up, and Catholic and patriarchal codes enshrined in Chicano/a society and culture. In the conclusion, the most important aspects and insights concerning the three selected works are summarized.

In Chapter 4—Viramontes’ collection of short stories titled The Moth and Other Stories—the Chicana struggles and woes are featured. Each story in itself displays the border in its own way. Especially important in terms of patriarchal and religious power are the stories “The Moths”, “Growing”, “Birthday”, “The Long Reconciliation”, and “The Broken Web”, in which the different positions of the Anglo woman and, respectively, the Chicana woman, who is shaped and influenced by patriarchal power and the Catholic Church, are contrasted and analyzed. Viramontes addresses several taboo topics in Chicano/a culture and openly speaks about feelings of guilt, shame, confusion and hatred sensed by the female characters as they try to liberate themselves from patriarchal control, which has tremendous social and psychological consequences for their lives, by rebelling and resisting on a small scale, mostly in the home. By describing the pretentious self-image and male control over the maternal body, motherhood, and female sexuality, Viramontes gives a precise, unabashed portrayal of the patriarchal repression Chicanas silently suffer until the present day.

In Chapter 5 on Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters the focus lies on the crossing of sexual and gender-related borders and the subsequent liberation from gendered constraints. This means that the border is actually presented in a more ←28 | 29→metaphorical way than as a geographical reality. Although the geographic border is crossed several times in the hope of finding a spiritual home where the mestiza soul can rest and be at peace, the geographical border plays a minor role, rather gender borders, gender identities, female bonds and male-female relationships are predominant in this work. The conflict with the self and the confrontation with the expectations of a male-defined society lead to violent clashes between the male and female characters. Transgression and crossing the imposed gender borders is finally perceived as liberation by the protagonists.

In Chapter 6—Norma Cantú’s Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en La Frontera—which tells the “autobiographical” story of Azucena Cantú, the focus is laid on growing up as a Chicana, crossing the geopolitical and figurative border between childhood and adulthood. The book is also an expansion in the blurring of genres. The narrative deals with the Texas-Nuevo León border history of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and the social and cultural circumstances along the southern and northern side of the borderlands. The border is perceived as both Texan and Mexican. Preponderantly Canícula distinguishes itself from the other two works in that it subverts the traditional literary genre of autobiography by creating visual and verbal border-crossings. The border is presented through the eyes of the adolescent female character as a socially and culturally overlapping world in which identity is unstable and built according to circumstances. Border-crossing in Canícula seems to be an innocent dance across cultures, conventions, and traditions. Canícula also stands out for its description of everyday border life and the presentation of the border as a “natural” divide. Border-crossing finishes with growing up, finding one’s identity and the acceptance of being a new mestiza.

Biographical notes

Debora Holler (Author)

Debora Holler holds an MA in Translation Studies and a PhD in (US-) American Studies from the Department of Translation, Linguistics, and Cultural Studies in Germersheim, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz; she also earned an MA in Spanish and English from the University of Alicante. Her main areas of interest include the English and Spanish languages and cultures.

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Title: Crossing, Trespassing, and Subverting Borders in Chicana Writing