Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Chicana Subject in Ana Castillo's Fiction and the Discursive Zone of Chicana/o Theory

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Chicana Subject in Ana Castillo's Fiction and the Discursive Zone of Chicana/o Theory

Article excerpt

In the world of Chicana fiction, Ana Castillo has achieved the kind of status Maxine Hong Kingston has attained within Asian American discourse. (1) Castillo's work is popular not only with the general reading public but in many academic circles as well. As Sara L. Spurgeon writes, "In 1994, [So Far From God] would help garner Castillo the Mountains and Plains Bookseller's Award and place her, along with Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, and Denise Chavez, in the September issue of Vanity Fair, cementing her place, with or without the unanimous agreement of academia, at the forefront of Chicana literature, and establishing her as an important voice in the canon of western writing" (15).

But what sets Castillo apart from so many other Chicana fiction writers is that she is also a theorist, and her Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994) has achieved widespread acclaim. As is the case in African American, (2) Native American, (3) and Asian American (4) discourse, the primary concern of Chicana fiction and theory is the integrity and authenticity of the ethnic subject. Following the pioneering work of Gloria Anzaldua, Chicana authors like Castillo have embraced the notion of the "mestiza," who "is a product of crossbreeding, designed for preservation under a variety of conditions" (Anzaldua, Borderlands 103; emphasis original). As Anzaldua writes,

   at the confluence of two or more genetic streams, with chromosomes
   constantly "crossing over," this mixture of races, rather than
   resulting in an inferior being, provides hybrid progeny, a mutable,
   more malleable species with a rich gene pool. From this racial,
   ideological, cultural and biological cross-pollination, an 'alien'
   consciousness is presently in the making--a new mestiza
   consciousness, una conciencia de mujer. It is a consciousness of
   the Borderlands. (99)

Within the discourse of Chicana literature and theory, the mestiza has a privileged position, functioning as she does as a reminder of the hybridity that has resulted from more than five hundred years of colonization and cultural miscegenation. The mestiza further reminds Chicana/os of "the contentious history of the Chicana/o population in [the] U.S." (Delgadillo 893). (5) Because of this history, Delgadillo writes,

   It is not unusual for the literature of this heterogeneous
   community to grapple with conflicting claims and demands, for its
   characters engage a discourse of identity in which issues of power
   and opposition to the dominant society are central. Consequently,
   Chicana/o literature has demonstrated a preoccupation with the
   multiplicity of subject positions that colonized and oppressed
   people must of necessity occupy in their experiences. (893)

The fictional works by Ana Castillo, as Delgadillo suggests, are indeed preoccupied "with the multiplicity of subject positions" her characters inhabit (893). They represent a "virtual catalog of the subjectivities, often in opposition to one another, in Chicana communities" (893). And yet in Massacre of the Dreamers, a collection of critical essays on the experience of those whom Castillo calls "Mexic Amerindians," Castillo suggests rather explicitly that, while Chicana identity is fragmented due to the vicissitudes of history, there is an essential "Mexic Amerindian" identity that can be "asserted" (Castillo, Massacre 12).

In order to illuminate the ways in which Castillo theorizes and constructs Chicana identity, in what follows I will look at the relationship between Castillo's own theoretical work, Massacre of the Dreamers, and her fiction, (6) including The Mixquiahuala Letters and So Far From God. There is, I argue, a curious incongruity between how Castillo theorizes the Chicana subject and how her characters perform subjectivity in her fiction. While Castillo's fiction not only exemplifies and performs "the arcane mysteries of absence, trace, and the slippery possibilities of presence" that are the hallmark of postmodernism, in Massacre of the Dreamers Castillo nostalgically searches for an originating moment that will ground her Mexic Amerindian identity (Smith 6). …

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