Academic journal article MELUS

"A Kind of Queer Balance": Cherrie Moraga's Aztlan

Academic journal article MELUS

"A Kind of Queer Balance": Cherrie Moraga's Aztlan

Article excerpt

A constant in Chicana author Cherrie Moraga's critical analyses over the past twenty years has been her exploration of the maternal bond, which her first text, Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Paso Por Sus Labios (1983), simultaneously constructs as the core of the nuclear family, the larger tie to Chicano community, and the place of origin for Moraga's lesbian sexuality. Following Moraga's lead, critics have primarily focused on the psychosexual connection between Moraga and her mother as seen in Loving in the War Years, centering much of their analysis on Moraga's revision of Malinche, a pivotal figure in Chicana literature. (1) The mother-daughter relationship in Loving in the War Years presents an origin point, however, rather than an end, for investigations into Moraga's theories of representation. By considering Loving in the War Years in conjunction with Moraga's later two texts The Last Generation (1993) and Waiting in the Wings (1997)--expanded and more complicated readings of Moraga's evolving politics become possible.

Since Moraga's texts are all undoubtedly worth further (and fuller) consideration, the lack of critical attention that her later publications have received is somewhat troubling. Such silence says volumes about the expectations cultural critics place on the texts of "minority" writers. As Gloria Anzaldua comments:

   Position is point of view. And whatever position we may occupy, we
   are getting only one point of view: white middle-class. Theory
   serves those that create it. White middle-class lesbians and gays
   are certainly not speaking for me. Inevitably we colored dykes
   fall into a reactive mode, counter their terms and theories
   [...]. We focus on the cultural abuse of colored by white and
   thus fall into the trap of the colonized reader and writer
   forever reacting against the dominant. ("To(o) Queer the
   Writer" 252)

This "trap," which Anzaldua specifically addresses in terms of queer writers of color, is one that critics of all ethnicities often duplicate when analyzing the work of non-white or multiethnic authors. For writers of color, as Anzaldua suggests, the trap may be defined as a recurring reaction against dominant discourses, which, by its very repetition, acts to reinstate the dominant as center. I suggest that "white middle-class" writers also fetishize this conflict by ignoring the texts in which Moraga moves beyond white/nonwhite binaries of identity formation. Thus, by continually situating critical conversations about Moraga's autobiographical fiction entirely around Loving in the War Years, critics remain in comfortable territory. But Cherrie Moraga's theoretical project is not about comfort. With each new text, Moraga extends her investigations of identity formation, inviting readers to follow suit. Each new book also, however, moves readers progressively away from the comfort zone in which the climax of a multiethnic author's narrative lies in a return to the "mother" culture. (2) Instead, the body of Moraga's work presents complicated and less tidy narratives in which Moraga examines the multivalent nature of identity.

As critics have shown, Loving in the War Years is the mother's story, describing Moraga's trajectory away from and then back to the Chicano community and ending with Moraga's solid identification as a Chicana lesbian. (3) But behind the figure of the mother in at least two of her texts, Loving in the War Years and The Last Generation, lurks the omnipresent shadow of the father, a figure as yet unexamined in the critical conversation surrounding Moraga's work. In both texts, the father's ghost is a queer presence. Figured as homosexuality, whiteness, and a silencing of history, he is always creating an absence that can be filled only by a woman: a mother's frustrated passions by a daughter's lesbian sexuality, a daughter's guera [fair-skinned] privilege by a mother's Chicana heritage, a father's Anglo past by an aunt's stories. …

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