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Reviewed by:
  • Iconos femeninos latinos e hispanoamericanos
  • Lucía Aranda (bio)
María Claudia André, ed. Iconos femeninos latinos e hispanoamericanos. Mountain View, CA: Floricanto, 2006. 181 pp. ISBN 978-0915745-85-2, $26.95.

The nine essays in Iconos femeninos latinos e hispanoamericanos review ten Latin American women in the wider context of the traditions and institutions which helped elevate them to an iconic status. The authors (all women except one) explore the complexities of these actresses, singers, painters, intellectuals, politicians, and goddesses who exercised their agency in a world in which social, religious, and gender norms seemed to thrust them to act otherwise. Most of the papers attempt to take up not only a feminist revisionism but also a post-colonial consideration of Latin America. Not surprisingly, as the authors revise and reevaluate the relationship of Latin America with its colonizers and the institutions that perpetuated a negative image of the indigenous, a number of these female figures are set against the backdrop of a patriarchal society, which subdues through tradition, religion, and economic penuries. The general conclusion of these nine essays seems to be that the contradictions and confrontations reach a certain degree of resolution in the hybridity and syncretism the community assigns to them.

One of the major contributions of Iconos femeninos latinos e hispanoamericanos is that the essays bring together in one book some of the most significant female icons in Latin America and give them greater exposure. The underlying premise throughout the book is that identity “is a complex and problematic concept which relates not only to the community but the individual as well” (13), and this analysis of identity prevails in most of the chapters. However, while the editor promises that the contributions will present a revealing panorama of the multiple articulations between religion, politics, and culture, and will analyze how these iconic women bridge popular and elite cultures, the essays fall somewhat short of these intentions.

Gladys Ilarregui’s account of Malinche is the first and by far the most comprehensive and insightful in the book. The account unravels the complicated history of a maligned woman, and shows how historical accounts on both sides of the Atlantic translated this woman into a negative reference. In [End Page 352] the process of situating her as a pawn of the written text (Malinche did not leave any herself), Ilarregui follows her trajectory from unwitting interpreter for Cortés and Montezuma, through her “whitening” in the nineteenth century, all the way to the London stage in 2004. And in the retracing of these rep resentations, Malinche (a corruption of Malitzin, her name in her native Nahua, or Marina, as she was known to the Spanish) travels from traitor to icon.

In the excellent chapter on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, María Auxiliadora Álvarez’s objective is to unravel the two-tiered discourse of intellectualism and spirituality that dominated the writer’s life but from which men would banish her. The historical context within which she is situated constructs the framework for an icon who would be considered a rara avis even today.

The two essays which deal with the female goddesses María Lionza and Yemeyá, while extremely detailed, are somewhat indeterminate and uneven. María Lionza, the goddess of nature, fertility, and water, is a metaphor for Venezuela, and can be seen as symbolic of the syncretism of the country. The contradictions of the woman, both goddess and seductress, are inherent in her many representations: she is a black pre-Columbian green-eyed Indigenous woman, a Catholic saint, a popular spirit, and a priestess who is a powerful symbol in the social psyche. However, Edith Dimo contends that commercialization and manipulation by the media (María Lionza appears on stamps, figurines, and film and literary posters) have created a distorted view of the icon. Not only is María Lionza a muse for the collective, but a source of identification for the marginalized groups of traditional religious practices of Latin America. Yemeyá is the other feminine goddess whose iconic status is evaluated in this collection. Eva Bueno traces Yemeyá’s syncretic nature, as the African goddess takes on Catholic dresses and...