Elevate Difference

Toward a Latina Feminism of the Americas: Repression and Resistance in Chicana and Mexicana Literature

Anna Marie Sandoval has written a very personal book: Toward a Latina Feminism of the Americas: Repression and Resistance in Chicana and Mexicana Literature. Can a book about such a scholarly topic be personal? In the preface and afterword (eighteen pages), Sandoval explains how. To summarize would be to remove the reader’s pleasure for those who will venture into her story. Suffice to say that Sandoval has taken a chance: the academic is so rarely personal that she might be faulted for including these sections. However, Sandoval’s own “Chicana” story of repression and resistance comes to frame the analysis that she presents in her books of the works of authors: Sandra Cisneros (Chapter 2), Carmen Boullosa, Laura Esquivel (both Chapter 3) and Helena María Viramontes (Chapter 4). Just as real life often intersects with literature, as Sandoval demonstrates in her analysis, literature intersects with real life.

Chapter one introduces some of the critical theoretical elements necessary to framing the study of the Mexicana and Chicana genres. Sandoval provides a very thorough review of existing literature and includes subsections on context and mythologies. While all parts are quite detailed, some of the shared (social, political, and literary) history of the Mexicanas and Chicanas appear superficially covered, possibly an editing decision linked to the vulgarisation process.

The sections on Boullosa, Cisneros, and Viramontes are very well executed, especially in her very perceptive textual analysis. It is difficult to make innovative points regarding Como agua para chocolate, perhaps the most over-analysed Mexicana novel. Chapter three did hold some promise when Sandoval mentioned the importance of the Chicana grandniece’s gaze, but she failed to produce an assessment of it, something that would have helped bridge the Mexicana-Chicana divide, a concept central de Sandoval’s analysis. Furthermore, in her brief analysis of the novel (the shortest of all the authors examined), she did not reflect on the ambiguity of Mama Elena’s symbolic upholding of patriarchal ideals (since she did have an affair and child), a position which is essential to any analysis of repression and resistance in the feminist context.

In her chapter four discussion of Chicana writers and mainstream presses, Sandoval does not support her argumentation surrounding the “marketability” of Chicana writers with figures. Regrettably, she does not make the explicit link between marketability and what she deems “continuing overt racism and sexism.” Her provocative stance denouncing mainstream presses’ publishing decisions is undermined by her own lack of supporting evidence as well as by the fact that her analysis centers on authors published by mainstream presses. She warns against an ‘exoticization’ of these texts as representative of all experience of Latino and Chicano, paradoxically something to which she seems to contribute.

Overall, the book is very well written and can be read very easily. There were a few occasions when I questioned Sandoval’s expression, perhaps where she endeavoured to be too exhaustive in her writing. For example, exactly what is “U.S. third world women’s feminist discourse”? In the same vein, I was puzzled about how, by its very nature, Chicana literature could be neither “gender- or ethnicity-specific” and what exactly “women-centered spaces in Chicana literature” would be like?

Regardless of these minor questions, this book makes a significant contribution to the developing field of transnational analysis. The Chicana act of resistance hinges on the act of writing the story, as apparent in Viramontes’ heartbreaking story of a Guatemalan immigrant’s murder (Chapter 4). Consequently, both Sandoval’s personal story and literary analysis are very much a part of this progression “toward a Latina feminism.”

Written by: Sophie M. Lavoie, July 3rd 2009