Groupe de Recherches Anglo-Américaines de Tours

Editor-in-chief Trevor Harris

Book Review Editor Molly O'Brien Castro

(Literature, Civilization, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Linguistics)
GRAAT: Pronounce [greit]
lison Bechdel issue - GRAAT Alison Bechdel issue - GRAAT Alison Bechdel issue - GRAAT Alison Bechdel issue - GRAAT Alison Bechdel issue - GRAAT Alison Bechdel issue - GRAAT Alison Bechdel issue - GRAAT Alison Bechdel issue - GRAAT Alison Bechdel issue -________________________________________


GRAAT: Getting to the bone
A peer-reviewed journal of Anglophone Studies


Cherrie L. Morraga, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2011), $22.95, 280 pages, 978-0-8223-4977-8—Christiane Grimal, Université François Rabelais – Tours

In 1965, Cesar Chavez and farm workers united, the Raza Unida party was formed in Texas, and the Chicano movement was born. This newly forming consciousness, à la Paolo Freire, helped ignite the engine of communal awareness and political activity amongst Americans of Mexican origin. The term “Chicana,” which grew out of the political activism and feminism of the 1970s, refers to US born women of Mexican descent.

With the passing away of foremost Chicana feminist and queer author and activist, Gloria Anzaldúa in 2004, voices of Chicana writers like Cherrie Morraga, a longtime friend and collaborator of Anzaldúa and co-author of the acclaimed feminist anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, have gained in critical importance. One feels that Cherrie Morraga is aware throughout her writing of this burden which she has inherited and accepts knowingly; her voice is vital to the continued growth and solidarity between Chicana feminist writers, and urgent to the broader discourses on globalism’s and capitalism’s impact on transnational democracies. According to Morraga, Mexican-Americans come from a tradition of oral story-telling which served as a way to defend against “treason,” to give historical accounts or prophetic warnings, and as preachings and teachings against wrongs doings. In many ways, this is what “A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness” is—a strategy for revolution against the capitalist chokehold on democracy, a roadmap from past injustices to future redemption, a reflection on historic wrong doings. It is a warning, most importantly, to younger queers and indigenistas, to defend themselves against cultural oblivion, while underlining their potential to impact democracy. In this work, as Morraga writes,

Each step is marked with written glyphs depicting the daily advance of neo-colonialism: the mosque in flames surrounded by US troops, the family in middle America before their foreclosed home: plants and animals, villages and people of color communities disappearing into an ocean of melting glacier and broken levees; the dollar bill that makes it all possible. [Prólogo xvii]

The first sections of the book are personal reflections as well as the groundwork for later political interrogations; her sexual orientation as a site of colonization, and her sense of abandonment due to the disintegration over the past forty years of the social and political protest in the United States, as well as a meditation on the anger and violence within her own culture and its effects on her young son’s Bildungs process. “I am wondering what is happening in my middle age. I have changed. I have less hope, it seems, a deepening sadness accompanied by a growing wakefulness.” [11] This sadness is associated with the fact that generations of resistance and witness are dying off with the passing of her elders, and weariness is taking its hold for the young ones who are folding into a space of “cultural oblivion”—an amnesic space exacted for citizenship in the United States, according to Morraga.

Her arguments on internal colonization in American democracy and the critical importance of decolonializing the minds and bodies of people of color communities as a prerequisite to liberating American democracy from its unjust past are timely and daring. There are compelling moments in her writing, when we see precisely how the colonization that she condemns throughout the book has permeated the collective American unconscious, penetrating the psyche of the individual. Invaded by an unknown fear and uncertainty about self and place since early childhood, she writes the following lines: “once as a child of eight, I stood fearless before a great wall of ocean arching high above me. Diving auburn head first into its massive and luminous belly just before the wave broke.” [58] We are reminded at moments like this, that the writer’s arguments are also lived experiences, adding to the authenticity of her call for justice. Morraga points deliberately to her “auburn” head as a symbol of the trauma of colonialist preference for whiteness as well as a caveat against the unjust demands of the white, Anglo hegemony that she seeks to unhinge.

In the section titled “what’s race got to do with it?” she positions herself within the discourse on American corporate democracy, and tries to understand how her particular Chicana history is in a particular place of importance, not only as a dissenting and critical voice against forgetting, amnesia, exploitation, and unjust and inequitable social and economic practices, but as credible, trained voice in the surging transnational choir of the oppressed. Chicana feminist patterns of oppositional thought and critique can serve as a catalyst in many of the urgent discourses presented throughout the book, due to its nature, to the way it returns cyclically to the past, as in the Mexican Indian tradition, in order to reexamine and reevaluate the present as a starting point for change to occur. It is a looking back into unjust democratic political practices in the United States, which according to Morraga “teaches consumer citizenship over social responsibility; espouses the pursuit of profit as an American ethos, morally justifies privileging the lives of US citizens over non-European “foreigners” domestically and abroad; and still operates as if it had time and options about global warming.” [159 ]

We can see Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “second bill of rights” echoed in many of Morraga’s indignations on social and economic disenfranchisement; a disheartening reminder that little has changed for the better. Morraga refutes the principal platform of Obama’s campaign that democracy is measured by the strength of the middle class and the rich, but rather aligns herself with the principle that it is measured by “the condition of the disempowered poor” and poverty that continues to be defined, in large part, in racial terms. It is not an equal and just democracy until the last queer of color has been lifted out from under the white, hetero, Christian, capitalist, colonial hegemony.

Morraga’s reflections on 9/11 will resonate with many readers. She had hoped that after 9/11 and the economic crash that the country would reflect upon its errors. She is optimistic that the inevitable protests, as in the 1960s, will force the country to interrogate its current political system and lead itself toward reconstruction—with indigenous and displaced Americans in the forefront, as its only way of saving itself and righting generations of institutionalized injustices. Ultimately, Morraga suggests that in order for real change to occur, and for American democracy to prevail, solidarity must be formed within the chorus of divergent voices, a chorus of checks and balances toward a common good, because white minority rule has been systematically institutionalized—by Republican rightwing conservatives, Democratic moderates, and “tea party” types.

This is an overall compelling, timely, and on many fronts, prophetic read. There is just enough background discourse on Chicana feminist thought and history for those uninitiated readers, and many new critical reflections and insights for the more seasoned readers wondering what this author has to offer since her last influential work. Both will potentially walk away from this book with an overdue sense of indignation, as well as a sense of hope that within the burgeoning nest of Chicana consciousness and social activism, lies the golden egg of a just, social democracy in the United States.

© 2011 Christiane Grimal & GRAAT










Senior sub-editor: Hélène Tison

Webmaster Georges-Claude Guilbert