Chicana/o Fiction from Resistance to Contestation: The Role of Creation in Ana Castillo's So Far from God

Article excerpt

The past two decades have given us a wealth of Chicana and Chicano literature, both because of the exemplary work of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project in discovering and recovering older texts and because of the sheer boom in Chicana/o publications over the last fifteen years. Even the nonspecialist now recognizes the names of Chicana/o authors such as Sandra Cisneros, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Ana Castillo, Rolando Hinojosa, and Denise Chavez, to name only a few. Their work, as well as that of their contemporaries, complements the publications of the heralded Chicana/o movement, which included Corky Gonzalez's epic poem Yo Soy Joaquin (1967), Tomas Rivera's Y no se lo trago la tierra ... / And the Earth did not Devour Him ... (1971), Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima (1972), Oscar Zeta Acosta's Revolt of the Cockroach People (1973), and Estela Portillo Trambley's Rain of Scorpions and Other Writings (1975). The corpus of Chicana/o writing, in short, has grown exponentially. While many of the contemporary writers share the social and political concerns of the Movement writers, what I find particularly interesting is the strategic shift these writers have made from a resistance literature to what I identify as a contestatory literature. This essay examines the theoretical framework and historical conditions surrounding that shift and illustrates by example how a contestatory literature engages in social critique. After charting the historical and theoretical ground for the shift from resistance to contestation, I examine the role of the creation narrative in Ana Castillo's romance So Far from God (1993).(1)

In establishing a framework for my definition of contestatory literature, I would like first to consider resistance literature. Taking her lead from the Palestinian writer and critic Ghassan Kanafani, Barbara Harlow has written the definitive text on resistance literature, a text which carefully examines the relationship between this literature and third world national liberation movements. "Resistance literature," states Harlow, "calls attention to itself, and to literature in general, as a political and politicized activity. The literature of resistance sees itself furthermore as immediately and directly involved in a struggle against ascendant or dominant forms of ideological and cultural production" (28-29). The writers from the various sites (e.g., Palestine, Lebanon, and South Africa) that she discusses, though not necessarily bearing arms, are so intimately tied into the armed struggle, that she is able to demonstrate powerfully the mutually reinforcing relationship between the cultural and paramilitary programs. Indeed, Harlow asserts, "The resistance writer, like the guerrilla of the armed liberation struggle, is actively engaged in an urgent historical confrontation. The questions raised by the resistance leaders are the questions faced by the writers as well" (100).

Consequently, the alliance between the national liberation movements and the literature that Harlow discusses demarcates a sharp boundary for me between resistance literature and contestatory literature. For the term "resistance literature" is used most appropriately when discussing armed liberation movements that have direct links to territorial claims, where there is literally a battle for terrain and governance at stake. In addition while Harlow takes the necessary measures to define the terms of her argument, the term "resistance literature" has become nearly ubiquitous since the publication of her book eleven years ago. Critical omnipresence of a term, though not necessarily bad, typically drains it of its specificity. In short, I believe the term "resistance literature" has been bandied about so much that it has lost its critical impact and function.

Before moving further ahead, I would like to reflect for a moment on the role of resistance literature in the United States, which Harlow has absented from her study,(2) though many scholars, Ramon Saldivar among them, have subsequently adopted her model to talk about Chicana and Chicano literature. …