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My hypothesis in this study of four women poets is that Chicana poetry is a poetry of conflict and struggle. Each of these poets has adopted a different position with respect to the conflicting relationships implied in the triple identity as woman, Chicana, and poet. Alma Villanueva defines her identity as a woman in opposition to the dominant male society in the United States. The importance of her female identity supersedes her ethnic affiliation. She harmonizes and integrates her female and poetic identities. A Chicana consciousness forms a minor part of her poetic self, standing in a relationship of juxtaposition rather than of fusion with the other two identities. Lorna Dee Cervantes offers a different combination of the three identities. Whereas Villanueva seeks a universal community of womanhood not limited by ethnicity, Cervantes refuses to compromise her Chicana identity, holding firm to her ethnic roots and incorporating her female identity into this context. For Cervantes, the two identities of woman and Chicana are one. Consequently, she harmonizes rather than juxtaposes them.

Cervantes may be credited with the only lyrical moment presented in the poems by these four Chicanas. In "Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway" she succeeds in projecting a time in history when male and female conflicts will be reconciled. Such was never the case in the relationship defining her identity as a Chicana and her professed role as a poet. The interplay between these two identities makes up the central tension in Cervantes'


poetry. Although she refuses to concede the particularities that define her social reality, she articulates other nonracial concerns worthy of expression but incompatible with her social voice. Unable to harmonize her identities as Chicana and poet, she fragments her poetic identity, speaking either in her social voice as a Chicana or in her lyrical voice as a poet. Despite their personal similarities in background, Villanueva and Cervantes make two different responses to the conflicts inherent in a Chicana poetics: Villanueva celebrates a universal female community and Cervantes memorializes the specificity of her cultural heritage.

For Lucha Corpi, as for Villanueva, an identity as woman is stronger than her identity as Chicana. In contrast with Villanueva, who defines her identity as a woman in a relationship of opposition to a male United States society, Corpi defines her female self in terms of an ambiguous relationship of identity and challenge with respect to a male Mexican society. A recent immigrant from a traditional Mexican culture, Corpi makes the strongest identification of all these poets with a form of womanhood defined by traditional male society. Her exposure to a social environment in the United States with fewer sexual restrictions on women has led her to seek freedom from the cultural constraints that prohibit women of her culture a choice in shaping their own sexual destinies. Because these constraints are always present in her struggle to realize her dream for sexual fulfillment, however, they restrict her search for a liberated womanhood. In a few instances, as in her short story and in the poem "Puente de Cristal," she reveals an awareness of a sociopolitical reality. Yet the personal need to clarify and define her identity as a woman takes precedence over her social identity as a Chicana.

Bernice Zamora is particularly problematic. She best exemplifies my hypothesis that Chicana poetry is concerned with conflict and struggle. Unlike Villanueva and Cervantes, who have chosen to favor one identity over another, Zamora presents a shifting poetic voice dramatizing a strong tension among her identities as a woman, a Chicana, and a poet, as well as among their implied counterparts of male, Chicano, and English-American and Mexican-Chicano literary traditions. As Zamora is the most conscious of the interrelationships among the three identities, her poetic voice articulates conflict and tension rather than synthesis and resolution. Like Villanueva, Zamora responds to the double dilemma by reenacting the history of woman's


oppression without compromising her autonomy as a woman and a poet. But unlike Villanueva, who seeks an abstract community of women with no real basis in either Anglo or Chicano society, Zamora articulates a male-female conflict in the contexts of the Chicano male and of the English-American poet. Whereas Villanueva's female consciousness does not—perhaps cannot—contain the social specificity of a Chicana consciousness, Zamora's female consciousness enters into sharp conflict with a desire to assert her Chicana ethnic self. Her strong female consciousness leads her to distrust the traditional Chicano male. It is this distrust that differentiates her from a poet such as Lorna. Cervantes. Whereas Cervantes envisions a moment of harmonious male-female relationships, Zamora's distrust keeps her from identifying with the Chicano male in a racial struggle against the dominant society, a struggle that includes herself as a member of the same community.

The existential choices these poets have made in defining their relationships to the three identities has resulted in the articulation of different kinds of poetic modes in Chicana poetry. Alma Villanueva's choice to transform her concrete social existence into a personal myth of womanhood and to integrate her poetic self into this vision is registered primarily in a mythic, cosmic mode. The expression of a Chicana identity is linked primarily to a documentary and narrative mode. These two modes ultimately imply two different audiences: a mythical community of women and a social community of women and Chicanos. These two communities are juxtaposed and separated rather than fused and integrated. Her decision to privilege a mythical audience of women communicates her alienation from both social groups as well as her desire to achieve their reconciliation.

The tensions in Lorna Dee Cervantes' dual vision of herself as a Chicana and a poet generate a narrative, discursive, "hard" mode to communicate the real, divisive world she knows as a Chicana, and a lyrical, imagistic, "soft" mode to evoke contemplative and meditative moods. The poems in this second mode are spoken by disembodied lyric speakers and imply an audience outside the social context of her ethnic group. In these poems Cervantes the Chicana is Cervantes the poet, free from her concerns as a Chicana with a strong commitment to la raza . The poems in the first mode are spoken by someone who is clearly identifiable as a Chicana, in both an ethnic and a gender sense,


and therefore imply an audience interested in and willing to listen to the concerns of her specific community. As long as she speaks primarily as a Chicana or primarily as a poet, the two identities remain apart, and Cervantes is unable to achieve a lyrical transcending moment. In "Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway" she speaks as a woman within the limiting confines of her barrio. When addressing the question of male-female relationships in this Chicano context, she achieves her vision of a utopian moment grounded in concrete, historical time. She does so, ironically, in a strongly discursive and narrative poem.

Lucha Corpi attempts to find a language that will articulate a woman's consciousness and feelings, which have been ignored in the male literary tradition. She examines her own emotions and feelings and makes them the subject of her poems. At times she examines them directly, as when she assumes the identity of the lyric speaker. At other times Corpi projects her identity onto fictional women and only indirectly presents her own female consciousness. But whatever literary persona she adopts, her predominant mode of expression is lyrical and imagistic rather than rational and logical. In her specific context, this lyrical-metaphorical mode implies a readership of women. Although her poetry does not contain the clear markers of gender seen in the poetry of the other women, its subject matter, imagistic arguments, and lyrical metaphors delineate a woman's emotional consciousness that has been neglected in the male Mexican tradition.

Lucha Corpi is also aware of a dual audience with two different language systems. Her chosen form of bilingualism is translation, which enables her to communicate with her Spanish-speaking audience without excluding her English-speaking audience. By placing her Spanish poems and their English versions on facing pages, she juxtaposes rather than resolves the tensions between the two cultures. Like the other Chicana poets, Corpi experiences alienation from both societies.

From an analysis of "Gata Poem" I derive Bernice Zamora's two main poetic modes: narrative and dialogue. By discussing a few poems representing each mode, I show how her poetic consciousness responds either as a woman or as a Chicana, but seldom as both. In only one instance, that is, in "Gata Poem," does Zamora attempt to respond simultaneously to the Mexican-Chicano sociocultural context and the English-American literary context. Usually it is in the juxtaposition of several poems that


we hear the multiple voices of the poetic consciousness, as it articulates in one poem a positive relationship to Mexican-Chicano culture and in another defines itself in critical opposition to the Chicano male. Zamora's poetic voice also reveals a shifting perspective toward the dominant literary tradition, now identifying with its poets as writers she admires, now criticizing them as males whose traditions have excluded women. The different gradations in her poetic modes, together with the contesting and disparate codes embedded in her texts, suggest division and fragmentation at the level of her implicit audience. The two main audiences presupposed in the totality of her poetry are an English-speaking one and a Spanish-speaking one. In contrast with Corpi's bilingualism, which suggests a juxtaposition of the conflict between two cultures, Zamora's bilingualism suggests a conflictual interaction of two cultures within a single poetic voice.

In responding to the conflicts implicit in their double dilemma as Chicanas and as women, these writers, then, have made choices that shape their poetic discourses. In so doing they have displaced other possible alternatives. For example, Alma Villanueva responds to the absence of a female consciousness in the Anglo-American literary tradition and thus affirms her relationship with other women in this context. In the end, her choice in favor of a universal female identity erases the genesis of the problem between woman and Chicana. My reading of Mother , May I ? as a text in a determinate context, however, argues the juxtaposition of the two identities and raises the issue of the nonintegration of a particular Chicana experience with the quest for self-definition as a woman. Lorna Cervantes' decision to articulate the Chicana experience in her poetic discourse prevents her full incorporation into a mainstream poetic community. She unites woman and Chicana and achieves their momentary harmony in "Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway" within the limitations of her barrio environment. A strong Chicana identity impedes her from forming relationships with women of the larger society. Lucha Corpi's poetic discourse is shaped by her desire to articulate a female voice long absent in a Mexican lyrical tradition. She captures the notion of an alienation from two cultures along gender lines which prevents her from expressing alienation along racial-ethnic lines. Bernice Zamora's poetic discourse is conditioned by her response to the Chicano male's sexual oppression of the Chicana as well as to the dominant culture's sexual


oppression of the woman. This response prevents her from dealing with the larger issue of the Chicana's social oppression in the United States. Zamora's insistence upon correcting, transforming, revising, and humanizing Chicano males and male poets of Anglo society implicitly communicates the desire to master the male oppressor. Her insistence on proving her autonomy as a woman in both cultural contexts produces a poetic discourse always dependent upon the very object it desires to master.

The unique contribution of these Chicana poets to American literature is to point out how difficult it is to resolve the issues of gender and ethnicity in two cultural contexts. Only these writers—as Chicanas, as women, and as poets having a relationship with a Chicano community in the United States—can understand this struggle in all its ramifications. By injecting into American poetry the consciousness of a Chicana ethnic community, long ignored by and excluded from American culture, they have helped to shape Chicano and American literature and to define and clarify the cultural forms that have kept them apart. In varying degrees, all these Chicanas have expressed a social voice in a struggle with a poetic voice. In so doing they have added a cultural and social dimension to Anglo poetry, whether written by men or by women. Although white women poets have injected a female voice into the new and different forms of consciousness represented in American poetry, only Chicana women can give that voice a Chicana dimension.

My discussion of this function implies certain social criteria that I think important to a Chicana aesthetics. For example, my analysis of Alma Villanueva and Lorna Dee Cervantes clearly shows the importance of a Chicana social consciousness and its value to the expressive whole of American and Mexican literature. Of and by itself, however, a Chicana ethnic identity is insufficient, for bonds common to women and men of other cultural groups must be forged. My reading of Villanueva's poetry makes clear that a universal and mythical womanhood must ultimately, in my opinion, remain a fiction. My discussion of Lucha Corpi's poetry implies that a social and cultural reevaluation of traditional Mexican norms for women is necessary if women such as Corpi are to gain freedom from cultural constraints prohibiting them from making their own choices. Finally, my analysis of Bernice Zamora suggests that to depend upon the source of oppression is to be trapped within the structures of that oppression.


Because Chicana poetry responds to different societal groups whose social and aesthetic interests vary widely, my investigative method has had to be eclectic and pluralistic. My critical approaches have been fashioned to accommodate the diverse styles and strategies employed by these poets. Although I have focused my analysis on their poetic texts, I have not considered them as autonomous creations. Rather, I have shown that they are grounded in the sociocultural experiences of these poets as Chicanas and as women. Part of Chicana poetry is rooted in and responds to the social community while another part has links to the academic community. Part of it deals with problems of real life while another part is conscious of itself as art. Because Chicana poetry responds to various social conflicts—academic versus social community, Anglo versus Chicano, women versus Chicanas, English speakers and Spanish speakers versus bilingual audiences—no one traditional theory of literary criticism is adequate to assess the social and poetic values of the works discussed in the foregoing chapters. In my analysis of these four Chicana poets I have had to shift from one critical model to another among the four I have used: the formal, the rhetorical, the sociological, and the cultural. I have also considered issues of language alternation and reader response. Given the fact that at a certain level all minority literatures challenge the dominant literary tradition, the critical models developed to deal with traditional literature are not entirely applicable to minority literatures. Ironically, they are at once useful and insufficient. What my analysis points to is the need to develop a comprehensive theory that can deal adequately with Chicano literature.

It has been my purpose to determine to what extent these Chicana poets have resolved the dilemmas that characterized Chicana writers and intellectuals during the 1970s. Yet I have been careful not to propose an ideal model by which to judge the success or failure of their poetic texts. Rather, the idea of synthesis between opposing tensions that have governed their responses has functioned in this book as a presence of something yet to be realized. In attempting to delineate these poets' responses to the dilemmas they face, I have argued that all the poems herein considered, except for Cervantes' "Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway," reveal their authors' inability to synthesize the existing tensions. Yet their inability to synthesize the three identities competing for their allegiance is not to be seen as a failure on


their part. Indeed, when Lorna Dee Cervantes does achieve her vision of harmonious relationships between men and women, her success is confined to one brief moment—three o'clock in the morning beneath the shadow of the freeway that cut through her neighborhood. Rather than classifying these poems as failures because they do not resolve tensions, I see them as positive creations that demonstrate to their readers how difficult it is to be a Chicana poet. In the sense that their responses do not harmonize the diverse conflicts that face them, Alma Villanueva, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Lucha Corpi, and Bernice Zamora are Chicana poets representative of their historical times. The conditions surrounding a separate and fragmented society prevent them from realizing their visions of unity. In "Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway" Lorna Dee Cervantes has given us a model of what Chicana poetry can be. Like Cervantes, who envisions in this poem a moment when men and women will enjoy a close community, we can envision a moment when improvements in social conditions will make possible better communications between Anglos and Chicanos, Chicanas and white women, Chicanas and black women, English speakers and Spanish speakers. For the time being, however, Chicana poetry can only dramatize the struggle to achieve harmony and the impossibility of achieving it.


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