Cartographies of a Violent Landscape: Viramontes' and Moraga's Remapping of Feminisms in under the Feet of Jesus and Heroes and Saints

Article excerpt

"I cannot continue to use my body to be walked over to make a connection."

--Cherrie Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back, xv

There is "[n]o sense talking tough unless you do it."

--Estrella, Under the Feet of Jesus, 45

[1] In her 1980 preface to This Bridge Called my Back, Cherrie Moraga explains that despite the exclusion of women of color and the prevalent homophobia in the U.S. feminist movement, she dreams of a bridge between women. Regarding the exclusiveness of the feminist movement, she asserts: "I call my white sisters on this" (xiv). She calls for changes from Anglo feminists, and writes of her "faith" and "visions" of alliances between women, acknowledging the toll such attempts at alliances have taken on her body. Throughout Moraga's poetry, especially her poems in Loving in the War Years: lo que nunca paso por sus labios (1983), plays, autobiographical writing, and essays, her body as a Chicana and the Chicanas she writes about carry the physicality of a history of colonialism, a physicality that particularly connects them to an exploited land, to a landscape of continued violence against Chicanas. Moraga's play Heroes and Saints (1994) and Helena Maria Viramontes's novel Under the Feet of Jesus (1995) map the continued violence against Chicana farm workers, particularly the effects of pesticide poisoning on female farm workers and the collusion of agribusiness and the United States government. Such a mapping foregrounds their intervention in feminisms that fail to look at what bell hooks has referred to as "interlocking systems of oppression:" their writing asks questions about the relationship between Anglo women and the exploitation of Chicana farm workers, about the invisibility of the material conditions of women farm workers' lives, and the relationship of such realities to feminisms.

[2] Although Moraga writes of a bridge between women in This Bridge Called My Back, she specifically articulates that it will not be at the expense of her own body to make that connection. The politics of location that Moraga's play Heroes and Saints and Viramontes's novel Under the Feet of Jesus enact mirror the tactics of resistance for feminisms that Chela Sandoval terms "differential consciousness," in Methodology of the Oppressed (2000). Such an oppositional consciousness, as Sandoval delineates, allows for "coalition politics that are vital to a decolonizing postmodern politics and aesthetics, and to hailing a 'third wave,' twenty-first-century feminism" (44). She explains that such a method is "mobile," a "kinetic motion that maneuvers, poetically transfigures, and orchestrates while demanding alienation, perversion, and reformation in both spectators and practitioners" (43). Many women of color in the U.S. from at least as far back as Harriet Jacobs, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Sarah Winnemucca, and Sojourner Truth in the nineteenth-century--and some fewer Anglo women allies (such as Helen Hunt Jackson, Lucy Stone, and Angelina and Sarah Grimke)--have been articulating the necessity for an anti-colonialist based feminist politics, and feminists such as Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Paula Gunn Allen, Devon Mihesuah and numerous others have continued to point to the necessity of looking at intersections between race, gender, class, and sexuality since the publication of This Bridge in 1981. Yet it still remains a crucial task to continue efforts to decolonize feminisms in the twenty-first century, particularly as it relates to work that more feminists are making to define feminist struggle as a recognition of particular effects of constructions of gendered, racialized economies in the struggle for human rights. Such recognition--and the real work involved in the process--can continue to then inform theory, politics, poetics, and praxis.

[3] Part of the continuing colonial reality in the twenty-first century in mainstream American culture, as well as in feminist theory and praxis, is the invisibility of the working conditions and daily struggles of farm workers. …