Chicana/o Narrative: Immigration, Family, Feminism and Transgressions In the late twentieth and twenty first century Chicana/o narrative has become a medium to express the injustices that the community faces along with identity conflicts at the individual level. Chicana/o narrative, fictional or autobiographical work, serves as an act of healing and resistance, in which the themes of the gender roles, family, feminism and immigration are predominant. These four themes serve to deconstruct and challenge the patriarchy, while seeking to foster a more inclusive community.
Immigration plays a fundamental role in Chicana/o community, Reyna Grande’s memoir The Distance Between Us deconstructing the popular representation of the American Dream by representing the complexities of immigration, while Josefina Lopez’s play Real Women have Curves rises awareness of the traumas of undocumented immigrants even after they are legalized. In a similar matter, the works of Chicana/o writers Lucha Corpi, Gil Cuadros, Michel Nava and Ana Castillo deconstruct traditional representations of the mother and through their main characters bend traditional gender roles.
The literary and visual production of Chicanas/os in English and Spanish literature give representation to those who have live similar experiences while allowing others to learn about their experiences to foster solidarity among communities. Autobiographical work allows the author to speak for her/him while representing her/his community without necessary idealizing it or misinterpreting it. Reyna Grande in The Distance Between Us gives a vivid representation of the reasons behind her immigration to the U. S. nd hardships that she faced while in this country. Reyna’s father left Mexico during the country underwent one of their worst recession to pursue his dream to build a house for his family (Grande 6). Due to his immigration the family’s economic situation did not improved immediately rather they faced more problems as a result of his absence. Grande gives a real representation of the push and pull factors of her family’s immigration and their separation.
The dream house is constructed, however the family does not inhabit it and while living in the U. S. they continue to face hardships. Reyna’s father immigration is both the cause of the end of his first marriage, but also the reason why Reyna had the opportunity to excel academically and become a writer. Grande gives her readers a narrative that communicates the negative and positive effects of immigration without idealizing the process and contributing to the popular American Dream narrative. The American Dream portrays life in the U. S. as socially and economically better than in the migrant’s native countries.
Grande pinpoints the opportunities, like education, not available in Mexico, but available in the U. S. without ignoring to highlights the irreparable emotional and physical separation among families due to immigration. In a similar manner, Josefina Lopez in Real Women Have Curves deconstructs the popular narrative of the American Dream by representing the continuous traumas from which immigrants suffer even after they are legalize. In the play, citizenship status especially the women’s suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from previously lived raids by U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE or la migra) and Estela’s undocumented status is a central theme which adds complexity to the plot. Even though, most of the women have legal documentation (a Green Card) they still have the same fear of La migra that they had as undocumented immigrants.
For example in Act 1, Scene 1: “CARMEN: ? La migra! /(All the WOMEN scatter and hide waiting to be discovered. Then after a few seconds PANCHA makes a realization. )/PANCHA: Pero, why are we hiding? We’re all legal now. CARMEN: ? Ayy, de veras! I forget! All those years of being an illegal, I still can’t get used to it” (1987). The women are traumatized from their previous experiences as undocumented immigrants living in constant fear of been retained and possibly deported that, even though they have documentations they retain the trauma.
The fact that they carry on their fears of deportation regardless of their possession of their Green Cards testifies of the degree of social separation that immigrants experience living in the U. S. n spite of citizen status or their economic integration. In addition, this trauma is an example of the magnitude of the fear of being deported back to their native country and being separated from their families experienced by undocumented immigrants. Overall this trauma deconstructs the popular American Dream narrative since even after their legalization the women continue to live in fear. Instead of only portraying the just the good aspects of living in the U. S. this play represents the complexities of the lives of immigrants.
Along with deconstructing the popular narrative of the American Dream, Chicana/o narrative focuses on the subjectivity of the Chicana/o family by deconstructing the traditional representation of the mother. In Gil Cuadros work, specifically his poem “At Risk” represents his mother differently from the traditional portrayal of mothers as passive and unconditional lover beings as an act of healing. During his stay at the clinic the witnessing of a child being mistreated by his mother and the copies of Life and Women’s Day remind him of the physical abused suffered from his mother as a child.
To the reader this narrative creates frustration and anger toward the both mothers, how can mothers be so cruel to their children? Throughout his visit to the clinic he is completely alone, in contrast to the child being mistreated by his mother, in spite of the abuse, at the call of the nurse he “hugs his mother’s leg” (Cuadros 120). This gesture implies that the child’s fear of being examined is worth than his mother’s threats, as well as his dependency on her for emotional support. The poem ends with the poet voice saying “mother / softer than [he] ever did before”.
The ending is open for various interpretations; however because of the indications of his loneliness and his vulnerability it is implied that his pronunciation of “mother” is a call for help. He is in need of comfort and care, two qualities usually attributed to a mother, but that can be fulfilled by anyone. Given that writing can serve as a medium of healing and recovery, it is acceptable to imply that this poem is Cuadros’s act of healing and his personal comfort (Ruiz, Lecture 5/3/16 and 5/10/16).
Writing serves a tool to tolerate traumatic moments and negotiate with the past. In a similar matter, Reyna Grande recalls her complex relationship with her mother as an act of healing. In chapter 19 and in the book overall, one of the main themes is Grande’s difficult relationship with her mother. Looking back with a new perspective of the reason of why her mom kept Batty, Grande recalls: “Mami looked away and didn’t answer. Later, I would come to realize that her decision had come from stubbornness. Pride” (Grande 152).
At the time of the lived experience Reyna was too young and could not understand her mother’s decisions. As a writer looking back through her writing Reyna is able to re-analyze and fully comprehend the events that as a child she was unable. Grande concludes the chapter explaining that she would try to remember the positive aspects of her mother and forget the version of the mother who once left and returned a changed woman. By reflecting on the relationship with her mother Grande heals from the irreparable distance that migration and separation caused between them.
The complexities of their relationship and her mother’s emotional detachment from her children make her an easy target for the judgement of the audience. Similar to “At Risk” the relationship between Reyna and her mother is a different description of the general idea of a mother being incapable of causing harm to their children. To Reyna her relationship with her mother is her normal, however to the audience it might be frustrating and difficult to understand it. By doing this Reyna uses her real life experience to represent the alternative types of motherhood.
Equally important to the deconstruction of the traditional role of the mother in the Chicana/o family, Chicana/o narrative breaks down traditional gender roles to oppose and challenge the patriarchy. In Lucha Corpi’s novel Black Widow’s Wardrobe, with Gloria Damasco’s transgression into traditional masculine spaces as a Chicana detective bends the traditional detective role. Gloria as a Chicana detective transgresses into a traditional masculine profession proving that women are capable to do an equal or better job than men.
Historically, most protagonists of the detective novels have been male, while female characters are portrayed either as hysterical or as the damsel in distress (Ruiz, Lecture, 4/19/16). On the contrary to the traditional masculine detective, Gloria is an independent and excellent professional. With Gloria’s symbolic transgression into a role dominated by male characters, Corpi diversifies the detective role. By diversifying the role of a detective in crime fiction, Corpi gives representation to non-fictional women that work in these professions.
For example, Gloria is a mother, a widow, but also a woman in a romantic relationship with Justin. Gloria describes the pain of losing her first husband; however that did not end with her independent life or stopped her from allowing herself another opportunity to love. This is important because it highlights that women can maintain a professional career regardless of their romantic relationship with men. In addition, after her first husband’s death she did not need saving, rather she recovered alone.
Likewise with Justin, she enjoys calling him to share details about her life, but she never asks him for help or is dependent on him in other ways. With Gloria’s transgression into traditional masculine spaces, the novel is a precursor into the gender democratization of Chicana/o detective novels. Similarly to Gloria Damasco’s transgression into predominately masculine roles in law, in Michael Nava’s novel The Hidden Law Henry as a queer criminal lawyer breaks with the traditional masculine roles. In the narrative, there is a clear contrast between Sargent Friday and Henry Rios.
Sargent Friday is the macho fighting the forces of evil in a black-andwhite vision of the world, while Henry is homosexual and a lawyer (Nava Ch. 1). Henry lives in a realistic and more complex world where there is no clear distinction between the good and bad guys, and as a lawyer he works in the blurred lines defending mainly youth that are criminalized for misdemeanors. Instead of punishing like Sargent Friday, Henry works hard to give second opportunities, something that an arrogant macho man would not do.
As a queer lawyer his gender identity does not present an obstacle or weakness to his professionalism, something that his father did not understand. The character of Henry breaks away the macho roles in law spaces, while remarking that gender is not interrelated with the intellectual abilities of an individual. As a queer lawyer, Henry, transgression into predominately masculine roles is of great significance since it challenges and critiques the patriarchal traditions.