Cherríe Moraga | Critical Essay by Julia de Foor Jay

This literature criticism consists of approximately 27 pages of analysis & critique of Cherríe Moraga.
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Critical Essay by Julia de Foor Jay

SOURCE: "(Re)Claiming the Race of the Mother: Cherríe Moraga's Shadow of a Man, Giving Up the Ghost, and Heroes and Saints," in Women of Color: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Twentieth-Century Literature, edited by Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, 1996, pp. 95-116.

In the following essay, de Foor Jay examines mother-daughter relationships in Shadow of a Man, Giving Up the Ghost, and Heroes and Saints.

Cherríe Moraga's courageous voice first emerged in the 1980s and has since become a significant one for Chicana, feminist, and lesbian studies. It has been heard in several genres: poems, fiction, essays, and plays,1 sounding the theme of betrayal, informed by various myths and legends in the Chicano/Chicana culture. She focuses, in particular, on the myth of La Malinche. In the pattern of Malinche, a woman who does not conform to prescribed roles is labeled La Vendida, the "sell-out," or La Chingada, the "traitor" (also slang for "the violated one"). Moraga attacks this encoding, arguing that women have been socialized by male-centered, heterosexual-centered ideologies into "selling out" or betraying their own daughters, apprenticing them for submission and servitude. In her plays Shadow of a Man, Giving Up the Ghost, and Heroes and Saints, Moraga explores this process of socialization and its effects on mothers and daughters in the Chicano/Chicana community, finally rendering a vision of revolution, led by courageous vendidas, as the only recourse to (re)claim the race.

Moraga begins her exploration of the Chicano mother-daughter relationship by focusing on la familia, a locus of multiple oppressions, "wounds," that relate to a larger sociopolitical context. She states, "My identity as a Chicana, a lesbiana, a mujer always had to do with the relationship between my deeply personal side and the whole political construct. I had to look at my family, at the contradictions and the mixed messages … the good stuff and the negative stuff" (quoted in Lovato, 23). Having been born and reared in a family with an Anglo father and a Chicana mother, Moraga had been encouraged to emphasize her "whiteness." In "La Güera" she writes, "It was through my mother's desire to protect her children from poverty and illiteracy that we became 'anglocized'; the more effectively we could pass in the white world, the better guaranteed our future" (Loving in the War Years, 50). Passing also meant appropriating the language of the dominant culture; therefore, Moraga spoke English, filtering out her mother's fluent Spanish.

Not only had Moraga attempted to pass as an Anglo, but she also had attempted to pass as a heterosexual, these two disguises becoming equally oppressive. This oppression was not lifted until Moraga heard Ntozake Shange read her poetry and experienced a profound "revelation," in which she realized that she had denied "the brown in me," that she had denied the language that spoke to the "emotions in my poems," and that she had denied "the voice of my own brown mother" (Loving in the War Years, 55). At this point she began her quest for a more authentic self and a more authentic poetic voice. In "A Long Line of Vendidas," she asserts, "To be a woman fully necessitated my claiming the race of my mother" (Loving in the War Years, 94).

Claiming the race of the mother meant claiming its myths and legends and acknowledging the codes and signs of the dominant ideology, its institutions and institutional practices. According to Nancy Saporta Sternbach, Moraga "draws upon, conjures, reinvents, and reinterprets Mexican myth and pre-Hispanic heritage" (52). In particular, Moraga draws upon the myth of La Malinche.2 However, while most writers concentrate on Malinche herself, Moraga focuses on Malinche's mother—the mother who sacrificed herself for men and the mother who betrayed the daughter by colluding with the dominant ideology. In one version of the myth, Malinche's mother wanted her son by a second marriage to inherit the estate so she sold her daughter into slavery (Mirandé and Enríquez, 24-25). Moraga explores this legacy of betrayal in her works—not just betrayal by the mother but betrayal by any woman of another. In an interview with Mirtha N. Quintanales, she discusses this theme and links it with her search for the meaning of love: "And for me, the conditions [for love] have always had something to do with the issue of separation—leaving and the consequences of leaving" (12). She admits that she has a "deep racial memory that the Chicana could not betray a sister, a daughter, a compañera in the service of the man and his institutions if somewhere in the chain of historical events and generations, she were allowed to love herself as both female and mestiza" (Loving in the War Years, 136).

To Moraga, Malinche, because she was a woman, had very little choice in her situation; therefore, her association with the downfall of her people is unjustified. Denigrating her, and by association denigrating all women, is a political act of a patriarchal system. In fact, several extant accounts mention her sensitive and loving nature. According to one chronicler, Malinche showed no vindictiveness when she encountered her mother and half-brother years later; instead, she treated them with mercy and love (Del Castillo, 126). Adelaida R. Del Castillo argues. "No one, not Cortés, not the Catholic Church, not her own husband, not even history itself, not the mestizo nation she gives birth to realize the great injustice they have done her by obscuring her in defamation" (143). By labeling her a traitor, "man is attempting to submerge the female character in negativism and Mexican culture does it through demeaning the character of Doña Marina—La Malinche" (146). Norma Alarcón asserts, "Her almost half century of mythic existence, until recent times mostly in the oral traditions, [has] turned her into a handy reference point not only for controlling, interpreting or visualizing women, but also to wage a domestic battle of stifling proportions" (182).

Moraga's mother also became a Malinche figure, a traitor, because she married an Anglo. Moraga herself, because she refuses to marry and serve any man, becomes the worst traitor or "malinchista" of all (Sternbach, 53). She reasons in "A Long Line of Vendidas":

My mother then is the modern-day Chicana, Malinche marrying a white man, my father, to produce the bastards my sister, my brother, and I are. Finally, I—a half-breed Chicana—further betray my race by choosing my sexuality which excludes all men, and therefore most dangerously, Chicano men.

I come from a long line of Vendidas. (Loving in the War Years, 117)

Sternbach observes that "her [Moraga's] conclusion brings her back to her people, the people of her mother … although she is obviously giving a new and perhaps reclaimed meaning, if such a thing is possible, to the word vendida" (55).

The myth of La Malinche works in various combinations with two other myths: La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Llorona.3 All are images of motherhood. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the virgin mother, sexless and pure, whereas Malinche is "the violated mother" (Paz, 85), sexual and adulterated. La Llorona, historically linked to Malinche, is the suffering mother: she suffers, according to one legend, because she has deviated from her proper role as "good" wife and mother. Like the Virgin of Guadalupe and La Malinche, La Llorona "reflects a cultural heritage that is relentless in its expectations of feminine roles" (Mirandé and Enríquez, 33).

The two contrasting figures of Malinche of Tenépal and the Virgin of Guadalupe, or the polarities of whore or virgin, linked with La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, have become entrenched in the Mexican and Chicano cultures, providing major stumbling blocks to women in their quests for self-determination. To avoid being labeled mujer mala, a woman must adhere to certain prescriptions: she must serve the males, take care of the home, mother the children, and give priority to the sons. Moraga states, "You are a traitor to your race if you do not put the man first" (Loving in the War Years, 103). She must give her allegiance not only to the institution of la familia but also to the institution of the Catholic Church, for "familial restrictions share close covenant with the Catholic faith" (Feyder, 5). For Moraga, embracing the mother means acknowledging the mother's roles in the society and the effects of those roles on her—and her daughter's—racial/sexual identity.

Somewhat autobiographical. Shadow of a Man focuses on la familia, examining how betrayal works in the context of the family structure. Hortensia, a traditional wife and mother, has allowed the dominant ideology to define her totally; she exists primarily to serve others, especially her husband and son. She is a prime example of the mother who "sells" her daughters into patriarchal slavery. Gloria Anzaldúa asserts, "I abhor some of my culture's ways, how it cripples its women, como burras, our strengths used against us, lowly burras bearing humility with dignity. The ability to serve, claim the males, is our highest virtue" (21). During the course of the play, Hortensia cooks, serves meals, folds clothes, and dresses and undresses her husband, Manuel. But still she feels that she is invisible to Manuel and demands that he see her: "Yo existo. (Pause.) Manuel, yo existo. Existo yo" (32).

Mainly, Hortensia exists for her children, defining herself primarily as mother. Even her husband is a little boy to her. She tells her youngest daughter, Lupe: "Funny, when a man is asleep, tha's when you really get to know him. You see the child's look on his face, before he wakes up and remembers he's a man again. In his half dream, tiene la voz de un niño." She admits, however, that her children, not her husband, receive her allegiance: "But your husband really isn't your child. He di'nt come from your body. Y no matter cuántas veces le das el pecho, tu marido no es tu hijo. Your blood never mixes. He stays a stranger in his own home" (44).

Her primary allegiance, though, is the one she bestows on her son. Moraga comments on the Chicana mother's preference for sons:

Ask, for example, any Chicano mother about her children and she is quick to tell you she loves them all the same, but she doesn't. The boys are different. Sometimes I sense that she feels this way because she wants to believe that through her mothering, she can develop the kind of man she would have liked to have married, or even have been. That through her son she can get a small taste of male privilege, since without race or class privilege that's all there is to be had. The daughter can never offer the mother such hope, straddled by the same forces that confine the mother. (Loving in the War Years, 101-102)

Irene I. Blea concurs: "Even at birth Chicano females and males do not start out the same. Boy babies are still preferred" (127). In a scene that reveals her phallocentric view, Hortensia tells her daughters: "Mira, qué lindo es [the baby's penis] … like a little jewel. Mi machito. Tha's one thing, you know, the men can never take from us. The birth of a son." Leticia retorts, "Well, I don't see you getting so much credit." "But the woman knows," explains Hortensia. "Tú no entiendes. Wait until you have your own son" (29).

Having internalized the belief that men are superior to women, Hortensia perpetuates these attitudes in her relations with her two daughters, indoctrinating them into a dualistic behavior system. The son, a fledgling macho, may venture from the home to test his wings and to develop a masculine identity (Mirandé and Enríquez, 114), but the daughter may not leave freely. When Leticia wants more freedom—like the males in the culture—Hortensia tells her: "If God had wanted you to be a man, he would of given you something between your legs." Rejecting this assessment of woman as "lack," Leticia responds, "I have something between my legs" (44). However, Hortensia perpetuates the double standard within the culture and defines women as dirty and whorelike if they desire the same privileges as men.

At one point Hortensia defines herself as whorelike, impure and unclean. After being abused and rejected by Manuel, she proclaims, "¡Estoy cochina! ¡Filthy!" She pours vinegar over herself and informs her daughters: "Tu padre thinks I stink, pues now I stink for sure" (34). Unable to feel "clean," she almost murders her daughter Lupe, her child by her husband's friend Conrado. Years before, in a classic "exchange of women among men" personal (and ultimately political) act, Hortensia had been offered to Conrado by Manuel as a sexual partner for one night. Lupe is the product of that liaison. Consumed by guilt. Hortensia symbolically renames herself la chingada—the traitor (also "the violated one").

Lupe, the twelve-year-old youngest daughter, internalizes the mother's "teachings" and assumes a caretaker's role. Following her mother's example, she waits upon her father, existing in his "shadow" and literally and symbolically sitting at his feet (69). Betty Garcia-Bahne, in "La Chicana and the Chicano Family," discusses this "modeling" and its effects upon Chicano women. She points out several "myths" that bolster the Chicano family structure and shows how they establish women's dependency and "mitigate against the development and exercise of self-determination" (43). One of these myths is that family members can be assured of well-being if they are under the leadership of a male. Garcia-Bahne argues that this type of hierarchical construct undermines the woman's sense of worth and potential. It also places too much responsibility and pressure on the male (44). By modeling the mother's behavior, Lupe enters into the traditional configuration of the family and, by extension, other umbrella institutions.

One of those institutions is the Catholic Church, which casts a long shadow over the bodies and psyches of the women. Lupe, identifying with her mother, takes on the negativism of Malinche, confusing the family's "secret" with her own secretly budding sexuality. In the first image of the play, Lupe appears wearing a Catholic school uniform and holding a votive candle under her chin. Only her face is seen, staring into a mirror. On the wall the shadow of a crucifix can be seen. She reflects. "I have x-ray eyes…. I can see through her [Sister Genevieve's] habit…. She has a naked body under there…. I think there's something wrong with me" (30). She tries to confess to the priest but is unable to reveal her sexual dilemmas. She realizes: "No matter how many times I make confession, no matter how many times I try to tell the priest what I hold insida me, I know I'm still lying. Sinning. Keeping secrets" (12). Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano posits that "Catholicism in its institutionalized form … inculcates in [women] the need to sublimate the body and its desires, as captured in the image of Lupe's disembodied head illuminated by a candle in the shadow of the cross" ("Cherríe Moraga's Shadow of a Man," 99-100).

Lupe's identity quest in the context of family, culture, and institutional religion is the controlling element of the play (her monologues begin and end the production). At one point, she considers her new confirmation name, vacillating between Cecilia and Magdalena—one burned at the stake, the other considered a prostitute—women who encode the dualities. Finally, eschewing all female saints, she decides on Frances, a masculine name she appropriates in order to align with a rebellious female friend. In the last image of the play, Lupe stares at the mirror, again speaking to her reflection: "I've decided my confirmation name will be Frances 'cuz that's what Frankie Pacheco's name is and I wanna be in her body. When she sits, she doesn't hold her knees together like my mom and the nuns are always telling me to. She jus' lets them fly an' fall wherever they want … real natural-like … like they was wings instead of knees" (49). With this decision, Lupe begins to rebel against the systems that have constrained and repressed her, represented by the mother and the church.

In the last action of the play, Lupe covers the mirror, a signifier with multiple references, with a rebozo, a black shawl. The family is on the way to the father's funeral, and Aunt Rosario instructs Lupe to cover the mirror because she does not want Lupe's father to come back and try to take them with him. In Borderlands/La Frontera, Anzaldúa discusses the multiple symbolism of the mirror in Chicano culture. The mirror is "a door through which the soul may 'pass' to the other side." It is also "an ambivalent symbol, reproducing images but also containing and absorbing them. In addition, it is a path to knowledge, a way of 'seeing through' an experience" (42). In Freudian/Lacanian terms the mirror reflects patriarchal ideology that she cannot enter. By taking on both "masculine" and "feminine" aspects and by taking on a name that blurs the dualities, thereby adding a new sexual dimension. Lupe threatens and challenges the existing power structure, based on male privilege and heterosexuality.

Another daughter who threatens and challenges the existing order is Lupe's older sister, Leticia, called the política by her mother. From the outset of the play, Leticia is a radical feminist, fighting oppression, not only for women but also for the raza. She has no respect for male-centered power structures, often countering her mother's phallocentric views. When her mother refuses to allow her the freedom she allows her brother Rigo, Leticia, in frustration, declares: "Es hombre. Es hombre. I'm sick of hearing that. It's not fair." Hortensia returns, "Well, you better get use to things not being fair. Whoever said the world was goin' to be fair?" Leticia proclaims. "Well, my world's going to be fair!" (18). When her mother tries to convince her that having sons is a sublime experience, Leticia pronounces, "Who knows? Maybe I won't have kids" (29). Choosing not to have children constitutes a challenge to male-based ideologies that control women through marriage and motherhood—a choice that is an attempt "to undo the power men everywhere wield over women, power that has become a model for every other form of exploitation and illegitimate control" (Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," 202).

In another act of defiance. Leticia gives away her virginity, taking away the power of the patriarchy to use her as a commodity. When her mother asks her, "Why you give your virginidad away for nothing?" Leticia responds: "I was tired of carrying it around … that weight of being a woman with a prize. Walking around with that special secret, that valuable commodity, waiting for some lucky guy to put his name on it. I wanted it to be worthless, Mama. Don't you see? Not for me to be worthless, but to know that my worth had nothing to do with it" (45). By the end of the play both Lupe and Leticia refuse to be sold out by the mother and the race, and both refuse to have their sexuality repressed or exploited.

Giving Up the Ghost, also somewhat autobiographical, focuses on betrayal in the family context but extends the examination into personal relationships. The mother is absent from the text, but her influence is omnipresent. Significantly, the epigraph of the play is a song Moraga's mother sang: "If I had the wings like an angel / over these prison walls / I would fly" (3). One of the "prisons" to which Moraga refers is the prison of rigidly defined sexual roles, set up by patriarchal ideologies to bolster power structures. Adrienne Rich calls this prison "institutional heterosexuality" and points out that it is "a major buttress of male power." In 1979, in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, she called for a close scrutiny of the "indoctrination of women toward heterosexuality" and for "a politics of asking women's questions, demanding a world in which the integrity of all women—not a chosen few—shall be honored and validated in every aspect of culture" (17). Moraga takes up this challenge in Giving Up the Ghost. In the opening scene. Marisa (Moraga), the daughter, writes in a sketchbook that she is going to consider "the question of prisons/politics/sex" (6). In "A Long Line of Vendidas," Moraga writes: "The one aspect of our identity which has been uniformly ignored by every existing political movement in this country is sexuality, both as a source of oppression and a means of liberation" (Loving in the War Years, 109).

One of the main points the play makes is that heterosexual relations are often harmful to the body and spirit and that lesbian relations are often restorative and healing. Historian Linda Gordon writes, "For women … heterosexual relations are always intense, frightening, high-risk situations which ought, if a woman has any sense of self-preservation, to be carefully calculated" (quoted in Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, 196). Marisa's goal is to fight institutional heterosexuality. At the beginning of the play, she speaks directly to the audience: "My mother was a heterosexual, I couldn't save her. My failures follow thereafter" (8). In Giving Up the Ghost, Marisa also attempts to save Amalia, a mother figure, from institutional heterosexuality. Paradoxically, Amalia feels like a failure, too. Her first words are "I am a failure" (8). But Amalia's lack of self worth stems from patriarchal neglect and abuse. Marisa insightfully recognizes this in her mother and then later in Amalia. Her failure to rescue these women, both the mother and the mother figure, depresses and angers her. Later in the same scene, she states, "I wanna talk about betrayal, about a battle I will never win and never stop fighting. The dick beats me every time" (9). Moraga, in Loving in the War Years, proclaims, "I love women to the point of killing for us all" (117). As a result, Mary K. DeShazer calls Moraga a "sister in arms" because of her fight against multiple oppressions, nothing that her battle cry is "neither hyperbolic nor malevolent; it reflects instead the historical, ideological, and affective locus from which she speaks" ("Making Familia," 282). It reflects her love and commitment to Chicanas, grounded in her love for her mother.

Marisa's love of Amalia is a transferal from the love of the mother to the love of an older woman.4 Although heterosexual at the beginning of the play, Amalia connects sexually and spiritually with Marisa as the play progresses. According to Teresa de Lauretis, in "Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation," "the play itself [moves] away from any simple opposition of 'lesbian' to 'heterosexual' and into the conceptual and experiential continuum of a female, Chicana subjectivity from where the question of lesbian desire must finally be posed" (175). According to Alarcón, "Moraga puts into play the concepts 'man' and 'woman' (and the parodic 'butch/femme'), with the intuitive knowledge that they operate in our subjectivities, so that it is difficult to analyze them, except in the way she has done" (156).

The use of a split subject, Marisa/Corky, and the blurring of time and sequence contribute to Moraga's quest to dismantle limiting concepts of Chicana identity. The split subject, moving back and forth through time, avoids a unified subject and narrativity. In "The Female Subject in Chicano Theatre: Sexuality, 'Race,' and Class," Yarbro-Bejarano notes, "The juxtaposition of past and present in the text reveals the cultural construction of female identity, specifically through the restricted gender roles of masculine/feminine, active/passive, subject/object, penetrator/penetrated defined in Chicano-specific cultural terms through the myth of La Malinche and the chingón/chingada polarity" (147). "The chingón," writes Octavio Paz, "is the macho, the male; he rips open the chingada, the female, who is pure passivity, defenseless against the exterior world" (77).

Giving Up the Ghost presents this "defenseless" position of women in the culture. Corky, Marisa's twelve-year-old self, assumes a male-identified persona in order to escape the oppression she witnesses in the culture. Her mother's powerlessness in the face of sexism and racism contributes to her sexual determination. Sue-Ellen Case contends that Corky can only inhabit a subject position in society if she enters as "male-identified" (132).

However, when she is raped, Corky is forced "to confront her internal split between her identification with the subjugating male and her repressed self-knowledge as female" (Yarbro-Bejarano, "Cherríe Moraga's Giving Up the Ghost," 116). For example, the rape episode reveals that Corky has internalized societal attitudes. At one point, she decides: "I knew I musta done somet'ing real wrong / to get myself in this mess" (28). In "A Long Line of Vendidas," Moraga discusses the historical practice of blaming the rape victim and links it to the Malinche myth: "In the very act of intercourse with Cortés, Malinche is seen as having been violated. She is not, however, an innocent victim, but the guilty party—ultimately responsible for her own sexual victimization" (Loving in the War Years, 118). Alarcón points out that "because Malintzin aided Cortés in the conquest of the New World, she is seen as concretizing women's sexual weakness and interchangeability, always open to sexual exploitation." She writes, "Indeed, as along as we continue to be seen in that way, we are earmarked to be abusable matter, not just by men of another culture, but all cultures including the one that breeds us" (184). The rape also confirms Corky's "femaleness" because she feels absent, objectified: "I suddenly feel like I'm floating in the air / my thing kina attached to no body / flapping in the wind like a bird a wounded bird" (28). When she is penetrated, Corky cries, "He made me a hole!" (29). This declaration of nothingness and despair is a rite of passage for Corky/Marisa, for she realizes that she is vulnerable in the society. Yarbro-Bejarano maintains that "the rape brings home Corky's sex to her as an inescapable fact, confirming her culture's definition of female as being taken" ("The Female Subject in Chicano Theatre," 147). María Herrera-Sobek, in "The Politics of Rape: Sexual Transgression in Chicana Fiction," posits that Moraga encodes in Giving Up the Ghost the construct in the act of raping, of making (i.e., of "engendering"), women: "In this process of engendering, fabricating, that is, making a gender, the end result is a hole and absence: women as invisible, voiceless, worthless, devalued objects." She further notes that women are "silent entities dominated by ingrained patriarchal vectors where the Name of the Father is Law, and years of socialization to obey the Father's Law transforms the female subject into a quavering accomplice in her own rape." Women, then, betray themselves as well as other women: "Women are socialized into being participants in their own [and other women's] oppression" (172-173).

Women in the culture are socialized to betray each other because of the culture's directive to put the male first. This process occurs between mothers and daughters such as Lupe and Leticia in Shadow of a Man and occurs between women friends and/or lovers. Marisa bears the wounds of these betrayals: "The women I have loved the most have always loved the man more than me, even in their hatred of him" (14). Consequently, she fears that Amalia will leave her. Moraga's dramatization of Marisa's jealousy and pain illuminates the complexities of their relationship.

Marisa's decision to battle for women, to save them, begins with the physical and psychical "wounding" she experiences during the rape. Partly, Marisa relates to Amalia because Amalia has also been wounded by men. Marisa believes. "It was not natural or right that she got beat down so damn hard, and that all those crimes had nothing to do with the girl she once was two, three, four decades ago" (35). Also, Marisa relates to Amalia because Amalia's wounds remind her of her mother's. Healing Amalia, then, by extension, means healing the mother. Using her hands as "weapons of war," Marisa attempts to restore Amalia, "making her body remember, it didn't have to be that hurt" (35). Together, the women heal each other. Spiritually, they connect, suggesting "the possibility of mutual salvation" (Yarbro-Bejarano, "Cherríe Moraga's Giving Up the Ghost," 118), their love for each other becoming a religious experience. When Amalia tells Marisa. "You make love to me like worship," Marisa wants to say, but does not: "Sí, la mujer es mi religion" (34). Temporarily, the women find salvation not in God but in each other. Yarbro-Bejarano notes that "for Moraga the lesbian couple is the microcosm in which the dynamic of faith works itself out, becoming a metaphor for feminism" ("Cherríe Moraga," 173-174).

Partly, Marisa relates to Amalia as a way to embrace the race of the mother. Ultimately, embracing the mother's race means embracing, or accepting, one's mestiza heritage, one's Indian roots, in particular. The longing to connect with the mother's culture is finally a longing for community. In turn, Amalia, longing for her Indian roots, finds a connection to them in Marisa's mestiza features. Moraga dramatizes the women's connection to the past through the dream sequences, in which the women are Indians, dancing or making tortillas, clapping them together in time to indigenous music. The most significant sequence is the one in which Amalia dreams that they are Indians and have broken some taboo in the village. Amalia is afraid until she realizes that "it is you who have gone against the code of our people." She also realizes that she does not fear punishment from "los dioses"; instead, she fears the breaking of the taboo—the fact that "the taboo could be broken." She concludes, "And if this law nearly transcribed in blood could go, then what else? What was there to hold to? What immutable truths were left?" (33). Amalia represents the culture's fears when laws are broken, laws that provide the glue to hold the society together. Ultimately, she fears the downfall of the entire race. If a lesbian, the worst traitor or "malinchista" of all, could break the culture's sexual mandate, then the culture itself could be in danger of unraveling. Embedded in this dream vision is Moraga's hope of a new, liberating cultural configuration.

Overall, in Giving Up the Ghost, Moraga addresses the continuum of mother-daughter love. She implies that daughters receive a legacy of love from the mother that is nourishing and healing, unlike the legacy from the father that is often demeaning and damaging. To Moraga, women should tap into this source of sustenance in order to heal and save each other. Marisa draws from this source but is unable to convince other women, including Amalia, to eschew heterosexual relationships.

The ending of Giving Up the Ghost is somewhat despairing. Marisa states, "I am preparing myself for the worst" (35). However, the beginning is hopeful (the play is not linear in form). In a flashback, Marisa writes that her love for Amalia was a "blessing" that convinced her that she was not "trapped" (7). On a personal level, Marisa finds love that transcends the material. On a political level, she wages a war to redeem women, including her mother, from the "prison" of institutional heterosexuality.

In Heroes and Saints, which is "an unusual blend of realism, surrealism, and political theater" (Gelb, 518), Moraga extends the issue of betrayal beyond the somewhat insular family sphere to the more all-encompassing Chicano community. In order to demonstrate this, she draws two different mother figures: one who perpetuates institutional beliefs and practices, the Catholic Church, in particular, and one who challenges them.

Dolores, like Hortensia in Shadow of a Man, perpetuates institutional ideologies, her racial/sexual identity having been shaped by an oppressive and relentless socialization process, grounded in traditional Catholicism. "It is a faith," assesses Linda Feyder, "that has placed taboos on female sexuality making the Hispanic woman ashamed of her own body" (5). In the main, Catholicism is the overriding belief system that informs her identity. By colluding with this belief system in the socialization of her own daughters, she betrays them, limiting their potential, sexually and politically. According to Hal Gelb, "The mother is reactionary, a sexually and otherwise repressive, fatalistic figure who must be overthrown" (519).

Dolores, the traditional, self-sacrificing mother, is coded as the mother of La Malinche, who sells her daughter into servitude and submission, and La Llorona, who weeps for her lost children and grieves for her "sins." Motherhood is not only her "work," as she proclaims, but it is also her identity. In the words of Garcia-Bahne, "Women accept this definition of themselves because of some security that comes with the role, but this acceptance lends itself to a subtle but pernicious undermining of women's self-esteem" (39). For example, she loses this identity, this sense of selfhood, when she loses her children: "It doesn't matter," she relates, "how old they get or how far away they go, son tus hijos and they always take a piece of you with them. So you walk around full of holes from all the places they take from you." Also, to Dolores, motherhood is a sacred vocation, one she equates with saintliness: "El Dios es el único que nos llena" (130).

One of her sacred missions is to protect her daughters from the "outside" world. She does this by keeping them voiceless, sexless, and invisible. The house, or the traditional family structure, is another one of Moraga's "prisons" or "cages." Dolores literally imprisons her youngest daughter. Cerezita, inside the house, never allowing her to be seen or heard. Although political and social turmoil is occurring in the community, Dolores does not define herself as a member of a community but as a mother of an insular traditional family unit. Garcia-Bahne postulates, "The Chicano family can thus be seen as a vehicle which incorporates those strengthening qualities that are necessary for social units to survive under exploitive conditions and paradoxically embodies those values which mitigate against the development and exercise of self-determination" (43).

Amparo is the nontraditional mother figure, coded as La Malinche because she challenges institutional beliefs and practices. She is considered a "bad" woman, a deviant, because she has "assertive social skills and self-confidence" (Garcia-Bahne, 41). With this particular character, Moraga offers a new definition of mother and nurturer. Amparo, although married, has no biological children, but she and her husband have "adopted" all of the community's children, "show[ing] the guts to fight para sus niños" (130) and organizing the Mothers and Friends of McLaughlin. Unlike Dolores, who believes the home is a safe, nurturing place, Amparo believes the home has become a "prison"—unsafe and life-denying. Also, unlike Dolores, Amparo rejects traditional Catholicism, informing her: "I don' even go to church no more, ni recibir comunión … coz I'm tire of swallowing what they want to shove down my throat" (102). Her rejection of the institutions of the traditional family and church is a movement away from oppressive, closed systems and a movement toward liberating, expanding definitions of la madre and la familia.

Yolanda, the oldest daughter, represents the unmarried mother, still trapped in the traditional home. Her baby daughter's illness and death from pesticide poisoning marks her transformation from stasis to action. First, she rejects the church, telling her mother: "He's [God's] forgotten you and me and everybody else in this goddamn valley." Secondly, she rejects the veiling and silencing of women, exposing herself to the men in the helicopter and daring them: "Take me!" (131). In despair, she asks her mother: "Don't you see, amá? I gotta find her killer. Put a face to him, a name, track him down and make him suffer the way we suffer. I want to kill him, amá. I want to kill some … goddamn body!" (132). With this declaration, Yolanda aligns with Amparo and joins the protests.

The youngest daughter. Cerezita, born without a "body," is a multiple referent. Because she has been wounded by pesticide poisoning, she is a reference to the children who are sick and dying in the Chicano community. Her severed head designates the separation of body and mind, and the "decapitation" of women or the denial (or "cutting off") of sexual desire by repressive cultures. It also represents her "virgin-like." "saint-like" state, prompting her mother to name her "virgencita" (137). In addition, the privileging of the head is a visual attack on the biologism that ultimately bolsters the privileging of the body. Furthermore, it is an attack on those who attribute lesbianism to biological factors. Significantly. Moraga attributes lesbianism "to social factors and/or luck—certainly not to physiology" ("Algo secretamente amado," 151).

Cerezita's mother, a proxy for institutional heterosexuality, indoctrinates her daughter in several ways. When she removes the anatomy books in order to eliminate worldly temptations, she is mimicking church teachings: "The biggest sins are in the mind" (113). When she prevents her from going outside and from looking out the window, she is attempting to repress her sensuality and to curb her quest for self-determination. In addition, when she attempts to "cut off" her tongue, a multiple signifier of sensuality, sexuality, and language (108-109), silencing her in order to "protect" her, she is molding her to comply with societal norms. This conditioning of Cerezita's mind and the condition of her body demonstrate how the mind and body are controlled by church and state. Rich writes. "This culture of manipulated passivity, nourishing violence at its core, has every stake in opposing women actively laying claim to our own lives" (On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, 14).

When Cerezita rejects her mother's socializing methods and aligns with Amparo's social activism, she also rejects the reductive appellation "virgencita" and aligns with the liberating signifier La Virgen of Guadalupe. At the conclusion, she offers herself as a sacrifice, not as a traditional self-sacrificing mother but as a new liberated and liberating mother, "Madre … Liberated" (148). When Cerezita appropriates the Virgin's image, clothing herself in the signifier, she gives the political act a spiritual dimension. In "A Long Line of Vendidas," Moraga observes that a movement's effectiveness often depends on "a spiritual imperative. Spirituality which inspires activism and, similarly, politics which move the spirit—which draw from the deep-seated place of our greatest longings for freedom—give meaning to our lives." She maintains that "such a vision can hold and heal us in the worst of times, and is in direct opposition to an apolitical spiritualist view of the world or a totally materialistic perspective" (Loving in the War Years, 130).

Moraga's examination of the La Malinche legacy and its effect on the mothers' and daughters' racial/sexual identities is a political act to challenge, and ultimately to dismantle, patriarchal systems, based on institutional heterosexuality. In all three of her plays, she looks closely at the ways mothers (and mother figures) and daughters interact during the socialization process. All of the women are at different stages of self-realization and self-actualization. All are "betrayers," either "selling out" the daughters by preparing them to serve the patriarchy or "selling out" the culture by daring to criticize it. The lesbian is the most daring of the vendidas or chingadas, for she not only "sells out" the cultural contract, but also blurs the distinctions between the dualities, threatening the very foundations of the power structures. In her last play, Heroes and Saints, Moraga takes her characters into the realm of the absurd to magnify the physical and psychical wounds women have borne under repressive institutions and to render a vision of revolution. This revolution, however, not only (re)claims Chicana women but also (re)claims the race.

Overall, Moraga dares, in these dramatic works, to critique the Chicano culture, ironically becoming la vendida in the process. But she argues, in "A Long Line of Vendidas," that "to be critical of one's culture is not to betray that culture" (108); in fact, not to critique the culture would be an "act of self betrayal" (112), as well as a betrayal of her mother and, by extension, all Chicanas. To critique the culture, then, is an act of love, an act of reclamation. She writes, "It is the daughters that can be relied upon. Las hijas who remain faithful a la madre, a la madre de la madre" (Loving in the War Years, 139).


1. In 1986 she received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), which she co-edited with Gloria Anzaldúa. Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios, a compilation of her poems, short stories, and essays, was published in 1983. This book contains two seminal essays that inform Moraga's works: "La Güera" and "A Long Line of Vendidas." Although she calls herself primarily a poet, she has written several plays: Giving Up the Ghost: A Stage Play in Three Portraits (first staged reading 1984; first produced 1987); La extranjera (1985); Shadow of a Man (first staged reading 1989; first produced 1990); and Heroes and Saints (first staged reading 1989; first produced 1992). Shadow of a Man is a recipient of the Fund for New American Plays Award.

2. According to Adelaida R. Del Castillo, in "Malintzin Tenépal: A Preliminary Look into a New Perspective," Malintzin Tenépal (her Aztec name), also known as La Malinche and Doña Marina, was sold to the Mayans by her mother in tandem with her second husband; she was later given to Hernán Cortés as a gift, along with several other young women. A brilliant woman who could speak several languages, she became invaluable to Cortés as an interpreter and guide. Partly, she assisted him because she believed, as many Aztecs did, that he was the god Quetzalcoatl, whose arrival had been predicted on the very day Cortés and his men came ashore. Because of her strong faith, Malintzin became the first Indian to be baptized as a Christian in her native land. Although she and Cortés had a son, he eventually married her off to another Spaniard, Don Juan Jaramillo. After Malintzin's death at the age of twenty-two (probably from small-pox), Jaramillo tortured and robbed her children of their rightful inheritance.

3. Octavio Paz, in The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico, relates that the Virgin appeared in 1531, about ten years after the Spanish conquest, to an Indian. Juan Diego, on the Hill of Tepeyac, where a temple had stood in pre-Hispanic times dedicated to the Aztec goddess of fertility, Tonantzin, known to the Indians as "Our Mother" (84). In "The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Mexican National Symbol," Eric R. Wolf explains that to the Indians, and later to the mestizos, this revelation linked their ancient gods and goddesses to the new order, validating their existence and assuring them salvation. (During the time of the conquest, Spanish officials debated whether the Indians were worthy or capable of being saved. If they were subhuman, then there was justification for oppression and exploitation.) The Virgin of Guadalupe represents on one level maternal warmth, life, hope, and health. She also represents a sexless, yet motherly state, the ideal to which Chicanas should aspire. On another level she represents major political aspirations: "The myth of the Guadalupe thus validates the Indian's right to legal defense, orderly government, to citizenship; to supernatural salvation, but also to salvation from random oppression" (37).

In La Chicana: The Mexican-American Woman, Alfredo Mirandé and Evangelina Enríquez offer several versions of the La Llorona myth dating back to pre-Columbian times. All reflect the culture's attitudes toward women. Prior to the arrival of Cortés, her voice was heard, crying for her lost children. Later, she was associated with La Malinche. Legends surrounding her have migrated to the southwestern United States; California and Texas have their own unique versions. In all the interpretations, she is a woman who has transgressed in her proper role as "mother, wife, mistress, lover, or patriot" (31-33).

4. In Loving in the War Years, Moraga writes about her profound love for her mother, the source from which her love for other women emanates. In her poem "La Dulce Culpa," she asks,

     What kind of lover have you made me, mother
     so in love
     with what is left
     unrequited. (15)

Provocatively, Adrienne Rich states, in "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," "If women are the earliest sources of emotional caring and physical nurture for both female and male children, it would seem logical, from a feminist perspective at least, to pose the following questions: whether the search for love and tenderness in both sexes does not originally lead toward women: why in fact women ever redirect that search …" (182).

5. Chingón and chingada have multiple meanings in Spanish, Mexican, and Chicano cultures; basically chingón refers to an active, aggressive male; chingada to a passive, violated female (Paz, 77).

6. The image of the Virgin carried on banners united farmworkers during strikes and demonstrations in California and Texas (Anzaldua, 29).

Works Cited

Alarcón, Norma. "Chicana's Feminist Literature: A Re-vision through Malintzin/or Malintzin: Putting Flesh Back on the Object." In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, ed. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, 182-190. Watertown: Persephone, 1981.

―――――. "Making Familia from Scratch: Split Subjectivities in the Work of Helena Maria Viramontes and Cherríe Moraga." In Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature, ed. María Herrera-Sobek and Helena María Viramontes, 147-159. Houston: Arte Publico, 1988.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters, 1987.

Blea, Irene I. La Chicana and the Intersection of Race, Class, and Gender. New York: Praeger, 1992.

Case, Sue-Ellen. "From Split Subject to Split Britches." In Feminine Focus: The New Women Playwrights, ed. Enoch Brater, 126-146. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

de Lauretis, Teresa. "Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation." Theatre Journal 40 (May 1988): 155-177.

Del Castillo, Adelaida R. "Malintzin Tenépal: A Preliminary Look into a New Perspective." In Sánchez and Cruz. 124-149.

DeShazer, Mary K. "'Sisters in Arms': The Warrior Construct in Writings by Contemporary U.S. Woman of Color." In Writing the Woman Artist: Essays on Poeties, Politics, and Portraiture, ed. Suzanne W. Jones, 261-286, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1991.

Feyder, Linda, ed. "Introduction." In Shattering the Myth: Plays by Hispanic Women, 5-8. Houston; Arte Público, 1992.

Garcia-Bahne, Betty. "La Chicana and the Chicano Family." In Sánchez and Cruz. 30-47.

Gelb, Hal. "Heroes and Saints." Nation (Nov. 2, 1992): 518-520.

Herrera-Sobek, María. "The Politics of Rape: Sexual Transgression in Chicana Fiction." In Chicana Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature, ed. María Herrera-Sobek and Helena María Viramontes, 171-181. Houston: Arte Público, 1988.

Lovato, Roberto. "Yo Existo: The Woman of Color Breaks the Silence." City (Nov. 1990): 23-24.

Mirandé, Alfredo, and Evangelina Enriquez. La Chicana: The Mexican-American Woman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Moraga, Cherríe. "Algo secretamente amado." In The Sexuality of Latinas, ed. Norma Alarcón, Ana Castillo, and Cherríe Moraga, 151-156. Berkeley: Third Woman, 1993.

―――――. Giving Up the Ghost: A Stage Play in Three Portraits. Albuquerque: West End, 1994 (all references to the play are from this source).

―――――. Heroes and Saints. In Heroes and Saints and Other Plays: Giving Up the Ghost, Shadow of a Man, Heroes and Saints, 85-149. Albuquerque: West End, 1994 (all references to the play are from this source).

―――――. Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios. Boston: South End, 1983.

―――――. Shadow of a Man. In Shattering the Myth: Plays by Hispanic Women, ed. Linda Feyer, 9-49. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1992 (all references to the play are from this source).

Paz, Octavio. The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. Trans. Lysander Kemp. New York: Grove, 1961.

Quintanales, Mirtha N. "Loving in the War Years: An Interview with Cherríe Moraga." off our backs (Jan. 1985): 12-13.

Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence." In Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, ed. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson, 177-205. New York: Monthly Review, 1983.

―――――. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966–1978. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979.

Sánchez, Rosaura, and Rosa Martinez Cruz, eds. Essays on La Mujer. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977.

Sternbach, Nancy Saporta. "'A Deep Racial Memory of Love': The Chicana Feminism of Cherríe Moraga." In Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings, ed. Asunción Horno-Delgado et al., 48-61. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989.

Wolf, Eric R. "The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Mexican National Symbol." Journal of American Folklore 71 (Jan.-Mar. 1958): 34-39.

Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. "Cherríe Moraga." In Chicano Writers: First Series, ed. Francisco A. Lomeli and Carl R. Shirley, 165-177. Vol. 82 of Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1989.

―――――. "Cherríe Moraga's Giving Up the Ghost: The Representation of Female Desire." Third Woman 3 (1986): 113-120.

―――――. "Cherríe Moraga's 'Shadow of a Man': Touching the Wound in Order to Heal." In Acting Out: Feminist Performances, ed. Lynda Hart and Peggy Phelan, 85-104. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

―――――. "The Female Subject in Chicano Theatre: Sexuality, 'Race,' and Class." In Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, ed. Sue-Ellen Case, 131-149. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

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