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  • Spiritual Mestizaje: Religion, Race, and Nation in Contemporary Chicana Narrative
  • Stella Setka
Theresa Delgadillo. Spiritual Mestizaje: Religion, Race, and Nation in Contemporary Chicana Narrative. Durham: Duke UP, 2011. xi + 275 pp.

In her 1987 study, Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa developed a theory of spiritual mestizaje aimed at helping Chicana subjects achieve and embody social justice. Building on the theoretical contributions of Anzaldúa's seminal work, Theresa Delgadillo's Spiritual Mestizaje examines the significance of its titular concern as "a critical intervention" in recent scholarship that explores how Chicana narratives have enacted its method (1). Further, Delgadillo argues that a "new mestiza consciousness" cannot be achieved without an understanding of "spiritual mestizaje," which she defines as a "powerful and life-changing process" through which one achieves the "transformative renewal of [their] relationship to the sacred through a sustained multimodal and self-reflexive critique of oppression in all its manifestations and a creative and engaged participation in shaping life that honors the sacred" (1). Each of the eight Chicana texts that she addresses in this study historicizes, critiques, and imagines the "past, present, and future on the U.S.-Mexico border." Most important for Delgadillo, however, is the way that each text holds the "spiritual realm and spiritual work" as central to its ethos (3). She clearly shows how Chicana writers affirm the need for spiritual development while concomitantly addressing the sociopolitical concerns of their community. In so doing, she demonstrates the importance of the "social practice of imagination" for the world of Chicana/o studies (2).

While the term mestizaje has been traditionally used within the Chicano movement to signify racial mixture as well as to acknowledge and celebrate the indigenous cultural inheritance of Chicano/as, Delgadillo observes that spiritual mestizaje by contrast does not "designate the subject 'naturally' produced by racial, material, or historical mestizajes," but rather presents a "framework capable of transforming the conditions of mestiza and borderlands existence," signifying "the critical mobility that can create new mestiza consciousness" [End Page 178] (13). However, as Delgadillo explains, the idea of spiritual mestizaje is important not only for those interested in Chicana studies, but also for those seeking broader understanding of contemporary feminist spiritualities. Indeed, the idea of cultivating a new critical consciousness that draws on inherited spiritual traditions resonates in the works of other ethnic women writers, such as Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, and Maxine Hong Kingston. Delgadillo demonstrates that the work of Chicana writers such as Anzaldúa "is deeply preoccupied with women's spirituality, particularly in non-Western spiritual traditions" (17). The book's first chapter, "A Theory of Spiritual Mestizaje," is dedicated to delineating both the roots of spiritual mestizaje as well as exploring its applicability to Chicana/o studies, feminist studies, and border studies. This chapter is heavily invested in reading spiritual mestizaje as it is defined in Anzaldúa's Borderlands, and it works to connect Anzaldúa's seminal ideas about spirituality and border identity with the works of other early Chicana writers. Doubling as an introduction, Delgadillo's first chapter lays the theoretical foundations for those that follow, in which she analyzes eight fictional and documentary texts that imagine spiritual mestizaje by enacting it, texts that she finds significant for "the forms they invent, the arts they employ to tell particular stories, and their meaning in the world outside of the text" (2).

In her second chapter, entitled "Bodies of Knowledge," Delgadillo provides intensive close readings of Denise Chávez's Face of an Angel and Demetria Martínez's Mother Tongue, and argues that these works portray the journey of a working-class female protagonist's journey toward a new mestiza consciousness. Delgadillo persuasively explains that each of the protagonists' romantic relationships are vehicles for the characters' respective quests for "greater spiritual and sexual agency." These quests, she explains, prompts the characters to question the gender and sexuality norms of their families and communities, as well as to challenge their own religious backgrounds. Using Face of an Angel and Mother Tongue as examples, Delgadillo shows how an engagement with spiritual mestizaje can lead to "new understandings of the sacred, critical insight, psychic peace, and passionate commitment...


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pp. 178-181
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