Ana Castillo is a Mexican-American Chicana poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, editor, playwright, and translator. She is known for her experimental style as a Latina novelist and is considered a leading voice of Chicana experience.
What is your greatest concern these days as a Mexican-American Chicana writer who has struggled to bring light to the multiple modes of oppression Chicanas experience?
My concerns at this time start with the current administration’s utter disregard for the future of humanity and the planet. There is little I believe that I can add to the outrage being expressed by millions in this country and around the globe who are in opposition to the government we’ve had this year. As a Chicana, Xicana, Mexican-American, Latina, WOC or however I may be viewed by ICE agents, Border Patrol officials, local police being given passes for harassment and violence of private citizens, usually of color, or private citizens who now feel they have been given carte blanche to cast aspersion or more on women and POC, in addition to my own outrage is an enormous sadness. Throughout my adulthood in this country, going on four decades, I’ve been outraged by the racism, gender inequality, and especially class inequality. Nothing, however, reached the depths of sheer indifference (if not to imagine it is rooted in loathing) of human beings, our earth’s resources, and every living thing. As a novelist, I couldn’t write a grimmer story and wouldn’t want to imagine it. But here we are. As an outspoken poet I urge all those concerned about the irreparable damage that the current government will provoke on humanity and nature to find whatever way they find doable for them to oppose all such action.
Does Xicanisma, or Chicana feminism, have a language, per se? If so, is it rooted in poetry? Myth?
In the mid-80s when I began serious work on a collection of essays that would be published in 1994 with the subtitle Essays on Xicanisma, women who identified as Chicanas were forming our own feminist themes in academia and in public intellectual discourse. The term Xicana, as I coined it then, felt necessary to be specific to the Mexican, Mexican American and Mexican indigenous woman’s experience. Like many Chicanas of my generation, I had started my writing life as a poet as a means to explore and declare what the Chicana experience was throughout the country, Mexico, and history. While I was conferred a doctorate in American Studies, an honorary doctorate for the book, and it was published by a university press, my book, Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma, was never financed by any institution or foundation. I worked independently and without academic supervision, save the national committee that met in Germany, where I was invited to submit the book as a formal dissertation. As a self-taught writer, I proceeded to write on what I would identify as “Xicanisma” by teaching myself the essay genre. As is true with my first novel, The MixQuiahuala, Letters, no doubt I brought my origins as a poet to the prose. The book was to be submitted to an American Studies publisher, which is why crossing disciplines was accepted. On a personal level, I brought my creative imagination and intellectual curiosity as a human being whose history and current existence has been overwhelmingly underrepresented to the process of identifying Xicanisma. In a broader sense, again, my generation of Chicana writers for the most part had our modest beginnings as writers as free verse poets. I think an immediately recognizable example is Gloria Anzaldúa in her book, Borderlands.
Your 1998 poem, “Women Don’t Riot,” describes women as passive under the wheel of constant oppression and violence, passive and unable to unite to combat it. Has this changed? Do you see more unity?
In the 90s, I wrote a long free form verse as my personal response to the non-guilty verdict of O.J. Simpson defense with regards to the brutal murder of his ex-wife, the mother of his children, and her boyfriend. Many excellent examples may be pointed out as to women’s historical participation across the board in effecting social and political change. There was a lot of heated emotion among the public at that time. Many African Americans felt it was one more example of a Black man being persecuted by the White system. Many, myself included, felt that the non-guilty verdict was the result of a wealthy and popular man’s privilege and that he, was most likely guilty. No one else has even been identified as a suspect. In no way do I believe women, or specifically Chicanas (be definition, a “Chicana” has political consciousness) have been passive in the face of misogyny, under which we continue to live in the world. Our activism, courage and perseverance have resulted in progress. Yes, I see more unity is possible, at least with women who wish to identify as Chicanas and wish to find unity with other POC.