Chicana Sexuality and Gender

Cultural Refiguring in Literature, Oral History, and Art

Chicana Sexuality and Gender

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 15 illustrations Published: October 2008

Author: Debra J. Blake

Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Since the 1980s Chicana writers including Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, and Alma Luz Villanueva have reworked iconic Mexican cultural symbols such as mother earth goddesses and La Llorona (the Wailing Woman of Mexican folklore), re-imagining them as powerful female figures. After reading the works of Chicana writers who created bold, powerful, and openly sexual female characters, Debra J. Blake wondered how everyday Mexican American women would characterize their own lives in relation to the writers’ radical reconfigurations of female sexuality and gender roles. To find out, Blake gathered oral histories from working-class and semiprofessional U.S. Mexicanas. In Chicana Sexuality and Gender, she compares the self-representations of these women with fictional and artistic representations by academic-affiliated, professional intellectual Chicana writers and visual artists, including Alma M. López and Yolanda López.

Blake looks at how the Chicana professional intellectuals and the U.S. Mexicana women refigure confining and demeaning constructions of female gender roles and racial, ethnic, and sexual identities. She organizes her analysis around re-imaginings of La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Llorona, indigenous Mexica goddesses, and La Malinche, the indigenous interpreter for Hernán Cortés during the Spanish conquest. In doing so, Blake reveals how the professional intellectuals and the working-class and semiprofessional women rework or invoke the female icons to confront the repression of female sexuality, limiting gender roles, inequality in male and female relationships, and violence against women. While the representational strategies of the two groups of women are significantly different and the U.S. Mexicanas would not necessarily call themselves feminists, Blake nonetheless illuminates a continuum of Chicana feminist thinking, showing how both groups of women expand lifestyle choices and promote the health and well-being of women of Mexican origin or descent.


Chicana Sexuality and Gender is a complex and multifaceted rendering of major Mexican cultural and religious female icons and figures in contemporary cultural productions.” — Camilla Fojas, NWSA Journal

Chicana Sexuality and Gender is the first full-length study of Chicana literature to analyze oral histories as narrative representations along with fictional writings and visual artists’ representations. This study offers one of the most thorough discussions of the archetypes of La Malinche, La Llorona, and La Virgen de Guadalupe as well as the lesser known Mexica goddesses. . . . Debra J. Blake makes a great contribution to Chicano/a studies, feminist theory, cultural studies, and literary studies.” — Nadia Avendaño, Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies

“Blake brings a new perspective to Chicana Studies through these oral histories and her own analysis of the meanings of these figures on the lives of these women. . . . Chicana Sexuality and Gender is a much welcome addition to the canon of Chicana feminist theory.” — Monica Teresa Ortiz, Feminist Review blog

“Blake makes an important contribution not only to the literature on Chicana identity and sexuality, but also to the field of oral history and audience interpretation analysis. Chicana Sexuality and Gender is informative, well written, and enjoyable for anyone in the fields of Chicana/o Studies or Women’s Studies, as well as for anyone grappling with the methodological problematics of ethnography or interviewing.” — Amanda L. Morales, Journal of American Ethnic History

“Blake’s study presents new and exciting possibilities for scholars in literary studies who long to enflesh literary theory with lived experience and for oral historians who are considering their own ‘border crossing’ into literary studies. More importantly, this study sanctions a space in the trajectory of Chicana feminist scholarship for the inclusion and scholarly consideration of the voices of working-class women and nonprofessional intellectuals.” — Larissa M. Mercado-López, Oral History Review

“Debra J. Blake makes a great contribution to Chicano/a studies, feminist theory, folklore, and literary studies. Much has been written on La Malinche, La Llorona, and the Virgin of Guadalupe but Blake’s study is one of the most thorough, perceptive, and brilliantly argued.” — María Herrera-Sobek, author of Chicano Folklore: A Handbook

“Debra J. Blake’s approach to the discussion of the archetypes of La Malinche, La Llorona, and La Virgen de Guadalupe, and her inclusion of other lesser-known figures, allow her to go beyond the mere rehashing of the same old discussions as she introduces women’s voices whose very existence questions the archetypes. By including and analyzing personal narratives collected in a series of interviews, the author explores the real-life existence of these figures in contemporary Chicana lives. This scholarly and illuminating text offers a fresh view of these often oversimplified images and icons found in Mexican female iconography.” — Norma E. Cantú, author of Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Debra J. Blake is a lecturer in the Department of Chicano Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. The Power of Representation: History, Memory, and the Cultural Refiguring of La Malinche's Lineage 13

2. Chicana Feminism: Spirituality, Sexuality, and Mexica Goddesses Re-membered 70

3. Las Historias: Sexuality, Gender Roles, and La Virgen de Guadalupe Reconsidered 102

4. Cultural Anxieties and Truths: Gender, Nationalism, and La Llorona Retellings 144

5. Reading Dynamics of Power: Oral Histories, Feminist Research, and the Politics of Location 185

Conclusion 215

Notes 223

References 253

Index 273
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4310-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4294-6
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