- Forms of Chicana Feminist Resistance: Hybrid Spirituality in Ana Castillo’s So Far From God
Ana Castillo’s 1993 novel So Far from God counters a pervasive stereotype of Chicanas as passive individuals victimized by oppression or subordinated by a patriarchal church by presenting a cast of female characters who resist domination every day of their lives—though some days more successfully than others. The awakenings that these characters experience emerge from a continual battle against subjugation in which they shift the terms and tactics of their struggle as circumstances permit. The novel insists that the transformative effort of human life engaged in struggle also finds expression in the spiritual, metaphysical, and religious life of the oppressed. Through an emphasis on communities of women, a Chicana feminism fueled by a woman-centered spirituality emerges to challenge the subjugation of women within and without Chicana/o cultures, the marginalization of other sectors of U.S. society, and the destruction of the environment. Because it highlights the centrality of hybrid spirituality in the lives of characters engaged in cultural and political resistance, the novel challenges pervasive notions of religion as an obstacle to progressive action [End Page 888] and perceptions of the sway of Catholicism in Chicana communities. It also asks us to see cultural resistance alongside political resistance, and to recognize women as agents of social change.
So Far from God tells the story of a family of women including Sofi, a single mother for much of her daughters’ lives, and her four daughters: Esperanza, a political activist and broadcast journalist; Caridad, who is first a nurse’s aide, then a battered woman, and, finally, a curandera (healer); Fe, a jilted bride whose job as a factory worker leads to her death by cancer; and Loca, a childhood saint, a recluse, and a healer.
Through its depiction of these lives the novel creates what Ramón Saldívar terms an “oppositional ideological form” (6) that can serve “both a unifying communal function as well as an oppositional and differentiating end” (4). Saldívar argues that Chicano narrative goes beyond realism to facilitate social change by systematically uncovering “the underlying structures by which real men and women may either perpetuate or reformulate” the “world of social hardship and economic deprivation” (6). Castillo’s novel embraces the creative and transformative truth-telling that Saldívar sees as characteristic of Chicano narrative.
The Native as Resistance
Central in this process is the recovery of the india/mestiza voice, what Norma Alarcón describes as the “recodification of the native woman” essential to a sense of self and communal identity that can combat cultural, political, social, and economic oppression (250–52). In many ways, this novel follows the lead established by Alarcón in her seminal article, “Chicana’s Feminist Literature: A Re-Vision Through Malintzin/ or Malintzin: Putting Flesh Back on the Object,” by retracing, albeit fictionally, a history of india/mestiza women’s subjugation and resistance. For Loca and Esperanza, in particular, the hybrid spirituality they practice becomes one with their political action. The link between their faith and their action parallels the practice of liberation theology, as, for example, in Nicaragua, where Christians were inspired by their faith to participate in a revolution (Betto 21). As in the exercise of liberation theology, this hybrid spirituality makes concrete the connection between the spiritual and the material, and between the personal [End Page 889] and the public—not only for Loca and Esperanza, but for Caridad, Fe, and Sofi as well. However, the radical nature of this hybrid spirituality’s challenge to the status quo arises not from a reinterpretation of Christianity, but from its embrace of both indigenous and Christian elements. In the Americas, a sense of the abiding validity of native beliefs and practices springs both from existence in the materiality (topography, landscape) of these continents and their human communities, as well as from the uninterrupted insistence of native populations on defining the world and themselves, that is, from their history of resistance to oppression. 1 Castillo’s novel more specifically links itself to what Gloria Anzaldúa calls the “Indian woman’s history of resistance” (21), creating a...