Academic journal article MELUS

From Llorona to Gritona:(1) Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros

Academic journal article MELUS

From Llorona to Gritona:(1) Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros

Article excerpt

In Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua discusses the significance of the pre-conquest fertility goddess, Coatlicue, to contemporary Chicana feminist struggles. According to Anzaldua, "Coatlicue states which disrupt the smooth flow (complacency) of life are exactly what propel the soul to do its work: make soul, increase consciousness of itself" (46). A psychic and emotional process foregrounding conflict and struggle instead of easy resolutions and compliance to social oppression, the Coatlicue state encourages Anzaldua to delve into the depths of her consciousness and acknowledge the negative forces affecting her life, among them racism, homophobia, poverty, and misogyny. Coatlicue brings suffering to the forefront of consciousness, providing a clearer vision as to whom or what to confront. She prompts Anzaldua to assert herself fully in the face of external psychic, physical or emotional violence so she will emerge completa or whole: instead of victimhood, Coatlicue encourages resistance against external forces that diminish a sense of self. In pitting creative resistance against destructive energy, this ancient goddess, representing "a cosmic process" rather than a fixed entity, embodies the act of struggle inherent within the principle of contradiction--the dynamic tension between conflicting forces, such as creation and destruction, lightness and darkness, masculinity and femininity.(2)

Many goddesses have descended from Coatlicue, among them Cihuacoatl, the patron of midwives who, like her precursor, embodies a holistic figure that embraces both death and creation. In turn, Anzaldua and many folklorists have drawn the connection between Cihuacoatl and the legendary Mexican and Chicano figure of La Llorona (the weeping or wailing woman).(3) Recurring themes in the maternal legend of La Llorona include: her white dress; her wandering at night wailing at the loss of her children whom she has often killed herself; and her association with water--she either roams by bodies of water or drowns her victims. Similarly, Cihuacoatl covers herself in chalk, dresses in white, and wanders the streets at night weeping and wailing, foreboding war (Barakat 290).

Within folkloric literature on the La Llorona legend, La Llorona emerges as both a figure of maternal betrayal and maternal resistance. While she is most often imagined as a destructive figure, contemporary Chicana writers Helena Maria Viramontes and Sandra Cisneros, by constructing defiant Llorona heroines in their respective short stories, "The Cariboo Cafe" and "Woman Hollering Creek," have propagated and vitalized the set of tales about maternal resistance. Their contemporary Llorona tales give voice to the violated Latina mother who, in "The Cariboo Cafe" fights against poverty, a military dictatorship and the U.S. immigration service (INS) and, in "Woman Hollering Creek," struggles against wife battery and economic and emotional dependency on men. Viramontes and Cisneros do not explicitly invoke La Llorona's pre-conquest antecedents in their writings, yet they make implicit references to pre-conquest figures, and their Llorona heroines undergo a transformative process that strikingly resembles the process described by Anzaldua in her "Coatlicue State." In putting these writers in dialogue with ethnographic literature on La Llorona and with contemporary Chicana feminist work, such as Anzaldua's, a genealogy of La Llorona as both an ethnographic and literary figure emerges that foregrounds her as a resistant, culturally specific maternal figure.

In examining ethnographic accounts dating back to the colonial period, La Llorona and her antecedent, Cihuacoatl, repeatedly emerge as dangerous and destructive figures. These tales of maternal betrayal describe La Llorona as a treacherous, selfish woman who murders her own children, usually through drowning. The motivations provided include: insanity, parental neglect or abuse, and/or revenge for being abandoned by a lover. …

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