The term Chicana literature describes the writing of women of Mexican descent who are born and/or raised in the United States. While the word Chicana might have originated as a racial slur, Mexican-American women reclaimed the term in the 1960s and 1970s, during the Chicano Nationalist Movement.
Chicana literature expresses the efforts of Chicana feminists to challenge stereotypes. Their writings allow them to share their experiences with other women like them and with those outside the Chicana community. Literature has contributed to Chicanas self-discovery while concurrently chronicling their struggles.
Common themes in Chicana literature are politics, identity, race and ethnicity. Popular authors include Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez and Gloria Anzaldua. Cherrie Moraga and Lorna Dee Cervantes are also well known.
Chicana literature recognizes that Chicana women carry numerous identities. They are women; they can be mothers, professionals, workers -- young or old. Their multiple sources of identity deny their one-dimensional image of compliancy and dependency. The literature encourages them to take on the image of "La Neuva Chicana," the new female of Mexican background. The new woman redefines the stereotypes imposed upon her. The writers exhorted Chicanas to blend the strengths of their cultural heritage with the strengths of their womanhood. For example, Evey Chapa encouraged women to define their identities as Mexican Americans and as women. Juliette Ruiz also wrote about Chicanas' growing awareness of their dual identity.
Chicana feminists took the male Chicano version of the Indian and turned him into a symbol of women's resistance. The Chicano movement had employed the Indian as a representation of disenfranchisement and resistance. Female writers extended that image into the women's movement. Indian, as they use it, refers to the Western concept of indigenous people.
Lorna Dee Cervantes wrote poetry that reflected her anger about the Chicanos' pigeonholing of women into domestic tasks without acknowledging the contribution of domestic work to society. Her poetry also contains the theme of the difficulty of returning to one's origins.
Two short story writers, Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Alma Luz Villanueva, confront assumptions about identity and indigenous people. Their characters dispel simplistic expectations about the behavior of particular identity configurations.
Teresa Paloma Acosta's writings delve beyond her Mexican roots to her Spanish ancestry. Other scholars laud this approach, saying that Chicana literature is based on the folklore of the writers' Spanish ancestors. Rituals, recipes and religious ceremonies provide insight into the thoughts of women who had no way to transmit written recordings about their lives.
Chicana literature underwent a clear change between the 1960s and the 1980s. The writers moved from a position of marginality to a political position, directly confronting class, ethnicity, gender and race issues. They learned from both the Chicana movement and the feminist movement. Their later literature reflects an appreciation for one's cultural and personal values. They provide new images of self, different from their preconceived roles.
Early Chicana literature suggests the conflicting relationship Chicanas have with their environments. The barrio and the city are prominent images. Writers express a sense of bewilderment about the loss of their lands and their culture. Angela de Hoyos describes her sadness about the lack of cultural understanding in her home in the Southwest. Rina Garcia Rocha describes in stark terms the rat-infested environment of the Chicago barrio. Tina Alvarez describes her cultural crisis: When she is in the United States, her parents caution her not to forget her Spanish, but when she visits Mexico, she is asked to show off her English to her relatives.
Chicana writers share many of the themes of Chicano male writers. Both confront dispossession of lands and culture, racism and alienation. The difference lies in the Chicana's struggle within the macho-dominated Hispanic culture. Chicana literature is often extremely critical of machismo. The women complain of imposed roles and subjugation of women in the male-dominated Hispanic society. They frequently write with a sense of determination to forge their own futures.
Chicanas' feminist texts are, to some extent, politically subversive. The writing itself can be revolutionary. More than just an expression of self, it inspires the writer and the reader to rebel against their circumstances.
Starting in the 1980s, several Chicana writers attempted to redefine Chicana sexuality. They remove control of their sexuality from men and return it to the females. These writers wrote about protagonists who asserted themselves as independent of men, sexual and strong. Homosexual relationships between female friends are a common theme. In books by Ana Castillo and Laura del Fuego, the male characters are peripheral.