The ceremony always begins for me in the same way…always with the hungry woman. Always the place of disquiet (inquietud) moving the writing to become a kind of excavation, an earth-dig of the spirit found through the body. The impulse to write may begin in the dream, the déjà vu, a few words, which once uttered through my own mouth or the mouth another, refuse to leave the body of the heart. Writing is an act prompted by intuition, a whispered voice, a tightening of the gut. It is an irrevocable promise to not forget what the body holds as memory.
When I heard that Cherríe Moraga was releasing a new collection of her writings, I could not wait to get my hands on it. Moraga, one of the foremothers of the Chicana feminist movement, has been producing beautiful, revolutionary work for over thirty years now. Along with Gloria Anzaldúa, she edited one of the classics of feminist literature, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (which unfortunately keeps going out of print). Now back with essays spanning the first decade of this century, it’s obvious that Moraga has not lost her touch.
There are a lot of recurring themes throughout A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness. In the past decade, Moraga became a mother and has been living with her partner, visual and performance artist Celia Herrera Rodríguez, and Celia’s two children (Celia also created the illustrations in the book). As an activist, numerous events–from September 11 to the 2008 presidential election to the struggle to legalize gay marriage–have shaped her work. Her mother also grew ill and passed away during this period; as Moraga grows older, the longing to know and tell the stories of her ancestors deepens. She explores all of these parts of her racial, sexual, and feminist identity in the raw, defiant style I’ve long admired her for:
Nearly thirty years out of the closet and I really don’t know what I have left to say to the white gay and lesbian community, except that I continue to be one, a lesbian…My racial identity has been more ambiguous…[S]ince my earliest childhood I knew Mexican meant Indian. And it was the naming of “Chicano” in the seventies that reminded me of that fact and that sent most of my relatives into political hiding. So, I knew “Indian” was dangerous, like lesbianism. Knew it could not be domesticated, tamed, colonized. Like “dyke.” People (white, black, and brown alike) have tried to dislocate me from Xicanismo, half-breed that I am; but it is getting harder and harder to do so. I’m getting older. I’ve been standing on this ground for too long now to be moved.
One of the most moving parts of the book was “Salt of the Earth,” where Moraga dedicated several chapters to the memory of her friends. The beginning of “Poetry of Heroism/2007: A Tribute to Audre Lorde and Pat Parker” was sobering. After listing the names of artists and activists (including Lorde and Parker), Moraga writes:
[They] could still easily be around with us today–it it were about the plain math of it. Women who died too soon, some barely looking at fifty.
But it’s never about the plain math of it. It’s about the complex equations of illnesses that hit women of color harder, the literal heartache of carrying so many warring identities, the poisoning exposures of campesino, reservation, and urban poverty that resurface later in our lives with names like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer inscribed on our bodies. It’s about murder familial, local, and transnational.
One essay in this section of the book that surprised me was “The Salt that Cures/2009: Remembering Gloria Anzaldúa.” I had no idea that Moraga and Anzaldúa had had a falling out a few years after This Bridge Called My Back was published, or that Anzaldúa (who had battled uterine cancer during much of the editing process) had been unsatisfied with the finished product. When this bridge we call home was released in 2002, this time it was Moraga who disagreed with the overall vision; she opted not to be a contributor to the book. Though Anzaldúa and Moraga met again briefly to collaborate for the 2002 reissue of This Bridge Called My Back, the two women hadn’t spoken in almost 20 years and wouldn’t speak again before Anzaldúa’s death. “The Salt that Cures” is an expression of Moraga’s grief over their falling out and is a beautiful tribute to their friendship.
Yet one of the essays that stood out the most was the final one, “Still Loving in the (Still) War Years,” the title a nod to her first book, Loving in the War Years, in which she makes an impassioned call to keep queer queer. It’s a brave essay, particularly when she begins her discussion of transgendered people of color. At times I was uncomfortable with her wording (I felt that she sometimes over-simplifies certain aspects of trans identity, but I won’t quote those parts because I think that it would be too easy to take her words out of their intended context), but I did feel she raised excellent questions. She broaches the subject by saying “there has been a reluctance toward open discussions about transgenderism among queer communities of color cross-generationally…wherein to question any aspect of the identity, one risks being labeled transphobic.” She then begins a delicate dialogue on some of her queer students have felt pressured to identify as trans, calling instead for the community to embrace all types of queerness:
As the queer and colored pegs in the round holes of the gay movement, I want something else for us. In the Aztlán that I imagine, our queer bodies, as they were born, would no longer be marked by society. Or better said, we would not have to change our bodies so that they ceased to be marked…I think of the Native concept of “two-spirit,” not as it has been appropriated, but as something once known and accepted by many aboriginal peoples of this continent. It was as evident then, as it is now, that there are some of us born this way, possessing pronounced male and female attributes, and that this possession is not a curse, but a blessing with its own integral power, which requires respect from our community.
Nostalgia, evolving consciousness, and the concept of (w)riting –writing to remember / making rite to remember / having the right to remember–lyrically permeate the pages of this book. Moraga’s ideas have matured and become more profound with the passage of time; I look forward to reading more of her eloquent resistance and wisdom in the coming years.
A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000 – 2010 was released by Duke University Press on May 25, 2011.