The Cultural Politics of Dislocation and Relocation in the Novels of Ana Castillo

By Walter, Roland | MELUS, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

The Cultural Politics of Dislocation and Relocation in the Novels of Ana Castillo


Walter, Roland, MELUS


   Now, I-woman am going to blow up the Law ... in language. (Cixous "The
   Laughing Medusa" 887)

   By creating a new mythos--that is, a change in the way we perceive reality,
   the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave--la mestiza creates a new
   consciousness. (Anzaldua Borderlands/La Frontera 80)

Ever since the initial success of vanguard Chicana writers such as Lorna Dee Cervantes, Estela Portillo-Trambley, Gina Valdes, Bernice Zamora, Lucha Corpi and Alma Villanueva in the late 1970s and early 1980s and throughout the boom of Chicana literary output from the mid 1980s until now, Chicana writers have used the written word in order to "reveal" and "change," that is, they have been engage writers in one way or another.(1) According to Maria Hererra-Sobek, Chicana writers have been making "daring inroads into `new frontiers' ... exploring new vistas ... and new perspectives" which reveal "new dimensions" for both Chicano and mainstream American literatures (10-11). Focusing upon Ana Castillo's novels, The Mixquiahuala Letters, Sapogonia, and So Far From God, this essay addresses the politics of dislocation and relocation as a key aspect of the interacting social and cultural practices and ideological discourses that constitute the narrative's signifying process.

In Borderlands/La Frontera Gloria Anzaldua describes the border space as "a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary," a space "in a constant state of transition" (3). Those who live in the Chicano borderlands, this interstitial cross-cultural space, are "plagued by psychic restlessness ... torn between ways ... a product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another" (78). I want to suggest that Castillo's characters, male and female, are border subjects positioned between cultures and in search of an alternative to their lived "nepantla" state of invisibility and transition.(2) In terms of her female characters, this state is aggravated by what Castillo calls in Massacre of the Dreamers "double sexism, being female and indigenous," that is, by the Chicana's identity as man's specularized Other,(3) a subject-position conditioned by racism and misogyny. Castillo, I want to demonstrate, uses writing to reveal and change the mestiza's imposed "subject-position," which, according to JanMohamed, can be defined only "in terms of the effects of economic exploitation, political disenfranchisement, social manipulation, and ideological domination on the cultural formation of minority subjects and discourses" (9). In this process her narrative problematizes the "ethos" and "worldview" of Chicano and Anglo-American cultures through the aesthetic creation of a new mestiza consciousness, a repositioning of the marginalized subject by means of a counterhegemonic discourse that establishes what Goran Therborn has called a narrative "alterideology" (Identity of Power 28): a narrative "dialectic of difference"(4) as socially symbolic act with an ideological utopian function intent on finding imaginary solutions to existing social conflicts. This utopian function--an impulse of liberation and salvation--embraces the relation between both the individual and the collective and life as it is lived and experienced imaginatively. Hence, I want to argue that Ana Castillo's narrative instantiates counterhegemony (culture/ideology) as a substance of Chicana/o thinking and is therefore, in Frederic Jameson's terms, "informed by ... a political unconscious ... a symbolic meditation on the destiny of community" (The Political Unconscious 70). It becomes, as it creates, what Bhabha based on Jacques Lacan has termed the place of "the signifying time-lag of cultural difference" (The Location of Culture 237).

In The Mixquiahuala Letters Castillo describes a Chicana's search for identity in the borderlands by foregrounding "the psychic restlessness" which characterizes the protagonist's endeavors to deconstruct her imposed identity as man's Other and create an authentic consciousness. …

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