WHM: Ana Castillo

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Ana Castillo is a writer, poet, and essayist whose seminal work, Massacre of the Dreamers, on Chicana sexuality continues to influence the discourse today. (She is also one of my grad student’s favorite authors, so of course she had to be first.) She takes a critical eye to traditional gender and sexuality roles and the systems that uphold them including colonialism, mainstream religion, and patriarchy. She has won multiple literary awards from the publication of her first novel, Mixquiahuala Letters, into the present. She has been publishing critically acclaimed poetry for 30 years. She also co-founded the literary magazine Third Woman. She also co-edited and co-wrote anthologies and articles with other leading Latina feminists like Moraga and Alarcon.

She has taught Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies, and Creative Writing. Her pedagogical focus has been on women’s voices and the Chicana experience. As an author and educator she has inspired many women of color writers and continues to mentor many up and comers today. She has taught around the country but is currently teaching in NM. Her current class: Women Writers: Gender, Anger, and Revenge. The course shows a distinct understanding for the multicultural critical possibilities/realities of feminism and includes authors like: Alison, Morrison, Lorde, Smiley, and Castillo herself. Castillo moves fluidly between a vision of multiculturalism and strong, centered, Chicana feminism in ways that show how we can embrace the specificity of our oppression and see across to the shared needs of our gendered communities.

Massacre of the Dreamers is an inspiration both for its long publication history (which we will see other essential books in woc feminism have also had) and its content. After being told there was no market for a book about Chicana feminism and Chicana sexuality by mainstream publishers and to stop talking about sex and sexuality by ethnic presses, Castillo had to publish her book outside of the United States. As she recalls in the book, the talk about her work was so great that when she came to conferences people whispered about her being “that sex obsessed lady” even though her work explored multiple themes of empowerment and resilience beyond sexual agency.

The book is widely accepted as having established the term Xicanisma as an organizing ideology; the term itself was coined by Castillo and has appeared in multiple authors work since. Like womanism, Xicanisma is a culturally specific articulation of feminism designed to write/right Chicanas back into a feminist her/hirstory. It not only does so in the face of eurocentricism but also a black-white binary that seldom acknowledges the existence of brown women. The work establishes a chronology that includes struggles in Mexico and Central America, borderlands (especially reminding us that the border crossed Mexicanas long before they crossed it), and indigenous histories to remind of the interconnectedness of groups in Xicanisma and in the U.S. mainstream. It also speaks extensively on spirituality: Catholicism, Curanderas, Mestiza Spirituality, etc. and though her experience of Catholicism is different than mine, the insertion of potential spiritualities from which we can embrace a woc feminism or reject a patriarchal organizational system are important contributions to feminist literature on spirituality.

She also maintains a blog that represents a mix of her scheduled events, work, important socio-political and cultural announcements, and her thoughts on writing and women’s lives. Though I read it sporadically, I am always reminded of the clarity, persuasiveness, and extensive grasp on feminist praxis Castillo has every time that I do.

  • Her early works (1993-1999) are housed at the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives
  • Her blog
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