By Andrea Plaid
Because sometimes it’s time to respect a foremother of a movement, so I’m gonna talk about one of my favorite feminist crushes, Ana Castillo.
Castillo says of herself, “I was a Chicana protest poet, a complete renegade–and I continue to write that way.” The Chicago-born and -reared writer/activist came up in the swirls of the modern Chicano movements–in which criss-crossed the struggle of the United Farm Workers and other labor movements, La Raza, and other socio-economic campaigns–along with the splintering momentum of feminism’s Second Wave, from which came the National Black Feminist Organization and the Combahee River Collective. During this time, she obtained her bachelors degree in art from Northeastern Illinois University (1975) and a master’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from University of Chicago (1979) and published several books of poetry during this time.
Like Crush alum Meshell Ndegeocello, she’s a pioneer of a movement, namely Chicana feminism (which she calls “Xicanisma”) and Chicana literature. She co-edited the foundational book This Bridge Called My Back and its Spanish translation, Este Puente, Mi Espalda: Voces de Mujeres Tercermundistas en los Estados Unidos. In 1986, her first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters, dropped–and snagged an American Book Award. She re-teamed with her This Bridge co-editor Cherie Moraga to edit another seminal book, The Sexuality of Latinas, in 1993. Then, the book that started my sapiosexual crush on her, Massacre Of The Dreamers: Essays On Xicanisma, came out in 1994.
Due to a general viewpoint regarding our historical lack of formal education, money, poor language skills, and other reasons of given to explain the omission of non-whites from fully participating in this society, publishing companies have not considered us a viable book buying market. Therefore, major publishers have not traditionally published book reflective of our reality as mestizas. “Women’s” books that have been enormously successful in recent years include, for example, Backlash by Susan Faludi, The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, and Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, not to mention the slew of self-books and new age literature that has made a white woman a rich celebrity, such as marianne Williamson, Lynn Andrews, Harriet Goldhor Lerner, among others. Irrespective of the claims to certain sources, such as in Lynn Andrews’ and Marianne Williamson’s books, all of these texts are infused with Anglocentric perspective. Despite the dense pedantry of Paglia’s study of women in Western Civilization, it was a best seller and an international success because it catered to the white male hegemony that still directs today’s world. Moreover, much of the popularity of these books as well as those of other widely read authors who write formula fiction, such as Danielle Steele and Stephen King, is owed to intense promotion and media support that reinforces white America’s reality.
Despite our constant presence on these lands since before the establishment of this nation, the book-market industry in the United States continues to render us invisible. Our writing has been and remains confined mostly to academic circles and our frame of reference reduced to pedagogic argument, if not simply defensive (read: angry) diatribe. Therefore, it would seem economically impractical for the publishing market to promote literature by and addressed to mestizas, United States citizens, numbering in the millions but not customarily known to read, let alone buy books.
Our work and words against racism are accused of being nothing more than litanies of hatred for those (for example, some white educated males and white feminists, also apolitical Hispanics) who don’t realize, or refuse to see, the extent to which racism continues to affect U.S. people of color. By denying our right to express the ostracism–or not accepting our claims to the degree to which we are ostracized–that we experience in white society, they inadvertently contribute to it.
What Castillo said in 1994–Massacre of the Dreamers is based on her dissertation–is still being said on joints like Tumblr and this blog, almost 20 years later. (BTW, she received the 1995 Gustaves Myers Award for that book.)
Her work is not only respected for building the base of Chicana feminism–and just given awards and accolades all the way around–she’s also a respected author on feminist spirituality.
And I give all respect back to Ana Castillo.