- Chicana Sexuality and Gender: Cultural Refiguring in Literature, Oral History and Art, and: From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture by Myra Mendible
Debra J. Blake's Chicana Sexuality and Gender: Cultural Refiguring in Literature, Oral History, and Art and the collection of essays edited by Myra Mendible, From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture, together fill a gap in feminist criticism of Latina iconography across the Americas. Though these texts cover different genres, periods, and disciplines, and address different audiences, they work very well together to offer a critical vantage onto a broad range of Latina representations that are both pan-ethnic and regionally diverse. Debra Blake's work on Chicana writers', oral historians', and artists' consumption of major Mexicana icons pairs nicely with Myra Mendible's edited collection of essays on pan-Latina icons of popular culture and the cultural fascination with the hypersexualized versions of the Latina body. Both works address issues related to the production of the Latina body in popular discourses as well as the experience and representations of Latina sexuality. [End Page 197]
Chicana feminists have long been reworking representations of La Malinche, La Llorona, and La Virgen de Guadalupe and other powerful female icons of Mexican culture. Following this tradition, Debra J. Blake's Chicana Sexuality and Gender: Cultural Refiguring in Literature, Oral History, and Art draws on a history of texts about these icons as they are interpreted in cultural productions and in the oral histories of "Mexicanas." In particular, she merges analyses by noted Chicana writers Gloria Anzaldúa, Ana Castillo, Cherríe Moraga, and Alma Villanueva with oral histories from nine Mexicanas from across the United States. Minerva Godoy, Ventura Loya, and Cindy Siqueiros from Muscatine Iowa; Vicky Rivera Reyes, Aurora Harada, and Mary Ozuna from San Antonio, Texas; and Evelyn Gonzales, Virginia Urias, and Irma Vásquez from Tuscon, Arizona. She departs somewhat from earlier critical work of Chicana feminism with the innovative use of the descriptive term "Mexicana" in lieu of the more commonly used and politically infected "Chicana." She does so out of recognition of the often regional basis of Chicana, a term that has tended to be used among Latinas in the Southwest and the West. The term Mexicana is inclusive and aims to capture common heritage and transnational affiliation to Mexico and reach beyond regional differences for Latinas in different parts of the United States. Her approach to the analysis of cultural iconography is equally novel. Chicana Sexuality and Gender seeks out instances of resistance to dominant narrative constructions by weaving together interpretations across various audiences and types of texts. Blake goes beyond a visual or historical text to seek meaning in various interpretive communities of Mexicanas. In fact, this is perhaps the first study to examine oral histories in the context of literary and artistic renderings of major Mexican cultural icons. Blake is attendant to the social and economic class differences among the various constituencies represented in her work in order to seek meaning beyond these differences. She departs from the typical notion of the "organic intellectual," a term she finds imprecise, to foreground the term "professional intellectual" or anyone who is able to make a living on their intellectual labors. This marks a subtle distinction between the organic or nonacademic intellectuals, working-class or semiprofessional women, and professional intellectuals.
In her work, Blake has chosen to focus on icons that have shaped the moral, spiritual, and intellectual world of Mexicanas. In dominant discourses, these icons have been used to police and monitor women and guide their proper behavior. La Llorona has served as a cautionary symbol about the proper maternal role, La Malinche represents women's role in colonization and potential betrayal of nationalist projects, while La Virgen de Guadalupe...