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From darkness to light: Comparing Moraga and Anzaldúa in terms of oppression
On the surface, Cherríe Moraga’s essay “La Güera” and Glora Anzaldúa’s piece “La Prieta” appear to be two completely different works. Though both authors were of Latina heritage, they framed their homosexuality in disparate ways as a result of the variances in their lives, including the colors of their skin, their childhood and parents, and the way they were viewed and treated by society. Moraga’s pleasant realm of university education and privileges afforded by her lighter skin stood in stark contrast to the raw, uncomfortable descriptions provided by Anzaldúa’s rather abnormal experiences as a guilt-ridden, dark-skinned Chicana. While Moraga and Anzaldúa did differ in how they communicated the dissimilar stories of their sexualities, however, both suffered from the fact that, no matter your skin color, “lesbianism is a poverty” in western culture (Moraga 29). That concept helped demonstrate the idea that while no one is safe from all forms of oppression, any and all women can come together and battle the forces against them in order to set a powerful social revolution in motion.
Skin color is one of the primary factors influencing the different direction that the lives of the authors took, signifying the racialization of class resulting from societal perceptions of light and dark skin. Moraga, “[b]orn with the features of my Chicana mother, but the skin of my Anglo father… had it made” (28). She was partially discouraged from associating with her Latina heritage by her mother, who scorned her own background to benefit her children. Anzaldúa, on the other hand, found herself living as one of the “wet-backs” and “braceros” whom Moraga’s family derided because her skin was darker. Even her family looked down upon dark skin, with her grandmother inspecting her for dark blotches and her mother insisting she wear her gorra to keep from growing darker (198).
The educations that Moraga and Anzaldúa received likely differed due in part to their skin. Though Moraga knew of the trials her mother experienced as a Chicana, she saw them not as reasons to appreciate her higher education and easier life, but rather as chances to be proud. In fact, she was so unfamiliar with her Mexican culture as a result of being “anglocized” that her lesbianism was actually the avenue that allowed her to understand how closely she was connected with her Chicana mother, and the ways that people of color can be oppressed; it was the only part of her identity that really caused her to be subjugated in society. Whereas Moraga found satisfaction in the education she received, Anzaldúa was exposed through the books she read since her childhood to the stereotypes and prejudice she encountered later in her life.
While Moraga fit comfortably into “a white-dominated world” (33), Anzaldúa felt rather “queer” in the majority of her experiences. She worked in the fields for much of her adolescence, and the culture of farm and ranch life encouraged her to wear men’s clothes and to grow resilient and aggressive, and to be a “’machona – india ladina’ (masculine – wild Indian)” who “did not act like a nice little Chicanita is supposed to act” (201). This may have been a result of her father’s death; she so admired her “strong, good, beautiful god-like father” (200) that she may have wanted to help her mother and fill her father’s position as the “ultimate authority in the family,” as Mexican culture reinforces patriarchy and machismo as the ideology (López 254). From her minority standpoint, she saw the advantages of acting masculine and the power it bestowed, and so she turned her back on femininity for practicality and duty.
The relationships both authors had with their mothers revealed volumes about their sexualities. Anzaldúa had a considerably unusual relationship with her mother, based on society’s standards. She felt more like a sister to her mother because she was born when her mother was only 16, and she was able to hold something between them that almost no one else did: her strange physical development, “the deep dark secret between us, her punishment for having fucked before the wedding ceremony, my punishment for being born” (199). She also resented that she was unable to be affectionate toward her mother while her brothers could – “[r]esenting the fact that physical intimacy between women was taboo, dirty.” Anzaldúa’s mother frequently disapproved of her behavior while valuing relationships with the males of the family, so with that in mind, Anzaldúa realized that she could make her mother proud by wearing men’s clothing, being independent and unafraid of danger, and eschewing customary women’s roles. Perhaps her mother was content that, as an openly masculine lesbian, her daughter had overcome the “deep dark secret” and finally found a comfortable place in society. Interestingly, while Anzaldúa wanted a close relationship with her mother, Moraga “had no choice but to enter into the life of my mother,” a life that she was contented to be “subverted by anglo culture and my own cooperation with it” (28, 30). She was forced into realizing the oppressions that those close to her had faced for a lifetime, whereas Anzaldúa was too easily confronted with the difficulties of a person of color in society.
Both “La Güera” and “La Prieta” demonstrated how many queer theorists fail to “mark race” (Barnard, 6). According to UC San Diego professor Ian Barnard, sexuality and race are not “disparate constituents of subjectivity or axes of power,” and “[r]ace is as much constructed and unstable as sexuality is, and sexuality is certainly one of the factors that determine racial appellations and identifications” (2, 9). However, the traditional paradigm that refuses to recognize the “inseparability of the supposed constituents of a particular identity” basically invalidates those who “occupy more than one of the canonized subject positions” (Barnard 3). While all people experience life from a number of different standpoints, many are forced to choose or rank oppressions. This was illustrated by Anzaldúa’s story of a former roommate who, “forced to choose between the priorities of race, sexual preference, or gender,” was ostracized from the Chicano organization MAYO after the members learned that she was gay (205).
Moraga and Anzaldúa presented their sexualities together with race and gender in order to show that sexuality, race, gender, and other pieces of one’s identity all work in concert to affect one’s standpoints and experiences. However, this does not mean that all of those pieces can be added together, and nobody, no matter how many social positions they speak from, should claim to suffer more than others based on the exact oppression. Moraga attested to this in her essay, stating, “The danger lies in ranking the oppressions” (29). Furthermore, the combination of constituents of an identity might even mean an entirely different identity rather than a simplistic result of a theoretical formula; for instance, a Chicana lesbian is said to be triply oppressed as a woman, a Chicana, and a lesbian, but Chicana lesbian might be an identity itself (Barnard 3). However, as many fail to realize this, oftentimes the singular circumstances resulting from unique groupings of identities are ignored or misunderstood, and people are not treated with appropriate care and consideration.
Both Moraga and Anzaldúa call attention to the influence that society and culture has on one’s expression of any part of an identity, especially sexual orientation. Moraga bemoaned having “sometimes taken society’s fear and hatred of lesbians to bed with me” (33). Similarly, Anzaldúa admitted that it was “difficult for me to break free of the Chicano cultural bias into which I was born and raised, and the cultural bias of the Anglo culture that I was brainwashed into adopting” (207). They both also agreed that “the women seem to feel no loss, no lack, no absence when women of color are not involved (Moraga 33), and so “women of color have to stop being modern medusas – throats cut, silenced into a mere hissing” (Anzaldúa 206). With that said, the third-wave feminists insisted that women of any and all social positions – “survivors” (Moraga 34) – speak out in order to stir a social revolution for equality and justice. There is a need and a connection between all women, and so in that is a great power. Women should embrace every part of their identity in order to unlock their full potential and fight inequality.Ethnicity and culture served as an effective way to express sexuality for Moraga and Anzaldúa in their essays. From seemingly opposite places on the spectrum of society – one initially overlooking her Chicana culture and reveling in the privileges of her lighter skin, and the other painfully aware of her Mexican ethnicity through her experiences with family and society – Moraga and Anzaldúa illustrated the ways in which people can combat oppression, whether racial, sexual, or another form. In that respect, “la güera” and “la prieta” came together to prove that women of all social standpoints are more connected than commonly believed, which allows for an amazing capacity for societal change.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. “La Prieta.” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Eds. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. Pittsburgh: Persephone Press, 1981. 198-209.
Barnard, Ian. “Introducing a Queer Theory for a Queer Race.” Queer Race: Cultural Interventions in the Racial Politics of Queer Theory. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004. 1-18.
López, Ann Aurelia. The Farmworkers’ Journey. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2007.
Moraga, Cherrie. “La Güera.” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Eds. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. Pittsburgh: Persephone Press, 1981. 27-34.
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