Heteronormativity and Homonormativity in Queer Chicana/o Cultural Discourse and Politics
Summary and Keywords
Heteronormativity is the dominant belief in Western and Westernized societies prescribing heterosexual sex and romance as “natural.” Its more recent same-sex equivalent, homonormativity, expands upon heteronormativity by championing domestic consumerism, middle-class respectability, and reproductive futurism as practices and values for same-sex households to observe in their quest for political inclusion. Together, heteronormativity and homonormativity figure largely in the rights-based claims of marginalized communities on the nation-state for citizenship. Such an assimilationist ethos proves popular in the political arena because gender and sexuality remain central to the racialization of marginalized communities as “other.” To undo stereotypes that cast marginalized communities as unassimilable and, thus, unfit for the privileges of democracy, those same communities proceed to invalidate dominant scripts casting their gender and sexuality as dangerous, deviant, and diseased. The mainstream US immigrant rights movement, for instance, has capitalized on the ideology of the nuclear family to make compelling claims for immigration reform centered around family reunification. This approach depicts idealized immigrant families (read: worthy) through sanitized images of strict hardworking fathers, self-sacrificing mothers, and productive sons and daughters. However, such liberal approaches to rights and citizenship risk shoring up the very same technologies of normative power that pathologize gender non-normativity and sexual deviance. First, the ideology of the nuclear family—in both its heterosexual and homosexual guises—neglects the abundance of familial experiences that do not adhere to hard and fast notions of traditional gender roles. Second, when heteronormativity and homonormativity shape the organizing logics of rights-based mobilizations, a danger coalesces in reinforcing the partition between “deserving” and “underserving” subjects. Third, the ideology of the nuclear family conceals the involvement of the nation-state in establishing those conditions of precarity it is then petitioned to rectify. In spite of the legibility that heteronormativity and homonormativity ascribe onto marginalized communities, some social justice movements have divested from the nuclear family model. By jettisoning gender and sexual normativity as prerequisites for personhood, these grassroots efforts, including the UndocuQueer movement, have made intelligible a once unfathomable position: “deviant,”—that is, non-normative—but valuable, nonetheless. In short, heteronormative and homonormative rubrics of social value may prove beneficial in extending rights and citizenship to some, but these rubrics cannot sustenance broad structural change.
A Tale of Two Arellanos
On August 15, 2006, Elvira Arellano, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, was ordered to appear before immigration authorities in Chicago, Illinois. Following a post–September 11, 2001 security sweep, immigration authorities arrested Arellano at O’Hare International Airport, where she cleaned airplanes. Convicted of Social Security fraud and scheduled for deportation, Arellano, instead, took refuge inside a Chicago Catholic church. There, behind the stained-glass panels of La Virgen de Guadalupe, she sparked a nationwide sanctuary movement. Arellano’s life and struggle probably might not have resulted in a national media spectacle were she not a mother—to a US citizen or, in the parlance of immigration restrictionists, an “anchor baby.” Together, Arellano and her US-born son became the faces of US immigration reform, with Time magazine even featuring Arellano in its 2006 “Person of the Year” issue.1 For pro-immigration activists, Arellano’s case highlighted how the country’s broken immigration system brutally separated mixed-status families. Arellano’s case, however, is noteworthy for other reasons as well. For one, Arellano’s case begs the following set of queries: Why do some injustices provoke collective action but not others? And what conditions must first abound for collective action on behalf of a specific individual?
Arellano’s case is significant because it illustrates the near-absolute embrace of the nuclear family as an organizing principle by the mainstream US immigrant rights movement.
Political scientist Amalia Pallares identifies this immigrant politicizing of the nuclear family as “family activism.”2 Family activism makes use of “familismo,” a Latina/o ideology denoting a strong identification with and attachment to one’s nuclear and extended family. Associated with loyalty, reciprocity, and solidarity among family members—both biological and not—familismo may ameliorate the stressors experienced by Latinas/os, including racism, poverty, and discrimination.3 With Arellano, immigrant rights activists and groups partook in a form of family activism, one that dramatized the importance of family unification to immigration reform. In vouching for the suspension of some deportations, immigration advocates and organizations specified cases of US-born children with undocumented parents, including Arellano. Between July 1, 2010, and September 31, 2012, nearly 23 percent of all deportations—or 204,810 deportations—involved parents with citizen children.4 In 2013, the non-profit organization Human Impact Partners estimated that 4.5 million US citizen children had at least one undocumented parent.5 Since then, pro-immigration activists and groups have harnessed these numbers to shine a light on the devastating consequences of deportation proceedings on mixed-status families.
Immigrant activists and organizations were successful enough that on June 17, 2011, then-Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director, John Morton, in a memo outlining deportation proceedings, instructed ICE agents to consider “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships,” and “whether the person has a US citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.”6 Morton marshaled “family relationships” to cast particular immigrant subjects—those with a “U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent”—as worthy of belonging in the United States. Morton’s memo suggested mixed-status families should not be separated because these undocumented immigrant parents were not violent criminals. Such practices of valuation, nonetheless, were contingent on an/other’s criminalization.
Given that Arellano’s case emerged out of a context of increased scapegoating against immigrants for crime, terrorism, and unemployment, immigrant rights advocates and organizations dislodged Arellano’s illegality from criminality by appealing to normative understandings of family. By prioritizing the nuclear family as the proper determinant of belonging and citizenship, however, the mainstream US immigrant rights movement shored up a heteronormative rubric of social value, one that differentiated between worthy and unworthy immigrants. Claims on behalf of Arellano to social value hinged on naming and normalizing the categories of “criminal” and “terrorist” occupied by devalued racialized and gendered subjects.7 Thus, Arellano’s case is also important because it enshrines the narrative of the deserving migrant. By conceiving of undocumented immigrants in negative relation to those occupying the categories of criminal and terrorist, this narrative of “migrant exceptionalism” sutured claims of belonging and citizenship onto particular assemblages of gender and sexuality.8 Insofar as Arellano’s case advanced narratives of migrant exceptionalism, it reinforced the state’s role in denying citizenship to those subjects collectively deemed underserving.
Truth be told, pro-immigration activists are correct in pointing to the emotional and social well-being of both parent and child in cases involving the separation of undocumented immigrant parents from their US-born children. Admittedly, the immigrant rights movement must voice its efforts in a lexicon intelligible within the limited and contested terms outlined by US immigration policy and law. And, these terms have long favored assimilation as the organizing rubric of immigration policy and law. Still, emphasizing the nuclear family as the means through which worth is accorded immigrants proves limiting. A pro-family discourse excludes a number of lived experiences, particularly those of undocumented queer and transgender immigrants in detention who do not fit within the deserving immigrant narrative.
Around the same time Elvira Arellano sought refuge in a Chicago Catholic church, Victoria Arellano, a transgender woman of no relation to the former, was taken into ICE custody in Harbor City, California. Chained to a bed frame in solitary confinement, Arellano was denied HIV medication for three months until she died. While Elvira Arellano’s predicament was the subject of much media fanfare, Victoria Arellano’s death sparked a mostly unnoticed protest by queer and transgender communities at ICE offices.9 Victoria Arellano’s death accentuates how detention, police abuse, and punitive immigration policies inordinately impact transgender people. While in detention, ICE routinely places trans women in male facilities where they are subjected to heightened rates of sexual assault. Human Rights Watch reveals that 33.2 percent of immigrant trans women held in state and federal prisons in 2014 reported abuse by other prisoners while 15.2 percent complained they were abused by staff members.10 Social movements scholar Suyapa G. Portillo Villeda reasons: “That such rampant violations against transgender immigrants in detention centers have gone without a mass groundswell of protest by immigration advocates and community leaders is one stark manifestation of hetero-patriarchy in the movement.”11 Indeed, the stark difference in responses to Elvira Arellano and Victoria Arellano by the mainstream US immigrant rights movement illuminates an ongoing tension between attempts to sanitize immigrant sexuality and more reformist efforts that disavow middle-class respectability.
Community requests for citizenship and cultural belonging often depend upon a strategy of assimilation, one privileging the performance of American norms of gender, sexuality, and domestic space. Provided that heteronormativity occupies the top tier of the sexual hierarchy in the West and in Westernized societies, disenfranchised populations emulate heteronormative practices to be deemed “fit” for social membership by the nation-state. Under heteronormativity, heterosexual dating, marriage, and romance are premised as the building blocks of happiness, emotional well-being, personal stability, and, more importantly, political inclusion.12 As a political institution, heteronormativity dictates heterosexuality as the conduit through which community members petition the nation-state for rights and benefits. Historian Nayan Shah contends: “In order to be a candidate for inclusion, the previously unreformed have to prove that their conduct makes them worthy of participation in society and governance.”13 This process of political inclusion compels those seeking resources and entitlements to celebrate community members who model middle-class norms of respectable domesticity. The ideological and physical infrastructure of privacy, therefore, operates as a discursive space through which disenfranchised populations perform their social worth and characterize their intimate relations as private. In other words, marginalized communities mobilize the private sphere of the home to enact and legitimate citizen claims in the public sphere. By laying claim to the rights of American citizenship through the private sphere of the home, marginalized populations acquiesce to the universal, yet exclusionary, mandates of heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is exclusionary in that it calls for the regulation or outright exclusion of those community members unable or unwilling to adhere to domestic consumerism, middle-class respectability, and reproductive futurism. Under these conditions, the ideology of the nuclear family obscures the abundance of relationships and circumstances found in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrant communities that do not adhere to intractable notions tradition.
In this article I reveal how and why some US Latina/o communities, especially in the political arena, reproduce heterosexuality as the norm circumscribing the romantic and sexual lives of their members. In particular, I examine the limitations of nuclear family ideology—both heterosexual and homosexual—as a normative value concept in the rights-based claims of marginalized communities. To that end, I discuss the restrictions of deploying the nuclear family as a political strategy by the Chicano civil rights movement and the mainstream US gay and lesbian rights movement. I argue that the heteronormative and homonormative impetus of single-issue political mobilizations sidelines multiply positioned subjects, those whose interplay of racial, class, gender, and sexual idiosyncrasies cannot be wholly reduced to any one movement. By homonormative, I am referring to a system, modeled after heteronormativity, that expresses LGBT political claims on the nation-state through the language of domesticity, morality, privacy, and responsibility.14 Through a close examination of Carla Trujillo’s 2003 novel, What Night Brings, and Aurora Guerrero’s 2012 film, Mosquita y Mari, I engage Chicana feminist literature and film as a counter discourse and practice centering the lived experiences of those doubly excluded from Chicano culture, history, and politics, on the one hand, and the mainstream gay and lesbian rights movement in the West, on the other hand. By disrupting the gender oppression and racial violence enacted by both mainstream society and Chicano nationalist endeavors, Chicana feminist cultural production unsettles the state-sanctioned logic of social value as a precondition for social membership.
I begin the article with a brief contextualization of the Chicano movement, noting the role of Chicana women and Chicana/o queers within it. I then look at the Chicano system of marianismo and malinchismo (e.g., the virgin/whore dichotomy), and I consider how Chicana feminist literature and film disrupt that binary. Next, I discuss the constraints of a culture and politics of homonormativity as manifest in the mainstream US gay and lesbian rights movement. I conclude by juxtaposing the strategies of the DREAMers campaign and those of the UndocuQueer movement, pointing to alternatives that resist the deployment of gender, sexual, and domestic space norms in the revalorization of Chicana/o family.
Immigrant activists and organizations that dispatch the institution of the nuclear family to encourage immigration reform are not unique in their strategy. On the contrary, this strategy remains foundational to other nationalist endeavors. Sociologist Maxine Baca Zinn describes the deployment of heteronormative family ideology in the service of social change as “political familism.”15 To the extent political familism embodies the family as paradigmatic of the nation, political familism undermines public and private boundaries. In this context, home becomes the site wherein political claims for social membership in the public sphere are substantiated. Political familism reveals how the ideology of the nuclear family functioned as a principal cultural nationalist ploy of the Chicano civil rights movement.
The family has proven pivotal for Chicanas/os, operating as what literary critic Richard T. Rodriguez describes as a “crucial symbol and organizing principle” for collective mobilization and quotidian affairs.16 From the inception of the Chicano civil rights movement in the 1960s, the movement emphasized the institution of the nuclear family as an oppositional force to racial violence. Structured around a politics of “traditional” values, various segments of the Chicano civil rights movement—from student walkouts to the Brown Berets and the United Farm Workers—harnessed patriarchal and heteronormative metaphors of family to unite unrelated yet similarly disenfranchised individuals as community or nation. The Chicano movement was part of a 1960s surge in ethnic revivalism among disenfranchised populations that swept through the United States and the “Third World.” These postwar liberation efforts collectively asserted the agency, dignity, and existence (in some cases, independence) of racially aggrieved populations. The Chicano civil rights movement, for instance, spearheaded cultural, economic, and political programs that developed Chicana/o consciousness, autonomy, and self-determination. As Latina/o literary scholar Raúl Coronado observes, by providing a cause for ethnic pride and a powerful sense of belonging among group members, nationalism offered a remedy to the devastating, traumatic history of conquest, colonization, and racism.17 For all its promises of redemption, however, the nation was and remains limited because it hinges on exclusion. By definition, the nation demarcates those who belong from those who do not.18 When heteronormative family ideology organizes nationalist struggle, those relegated to the margins are often women and queers.
With the rise of cultural and revolutionary nationalisms, the necessity to assimilate into a dominant Anglo-Protestant culture appeared to dissipate. Nonetheless, inasmuch as such ethnic nationalisms promoted particular gender and sexual arrangements, their leaders, in effect, pushed for assimilation. The cultural nationalist orientation toward the heteronormative family—what literary scholar Rosa Linda Fregoso calls the “Chicano familia romance”—conformed to mainstream white ideals of family values: gender hierarchies, heterosexual marriage, and nuclear genealogies.19 By harnessing gendered power relations within family to frame a Chicano nationalist order, Chicano male leaders fortified a private sphere mirroring back a Western, patriarchal ideal of the nuclear family. Because Chicano male leaders conceived their liberation in primarily male terms, they endeavored to resolve racial violence in favor of re-establishing heteropatriarchal authority. Unwilling or unable ponder how their freedom was interwoven with that of women and queers, Chicano male leaders essentially demanded their right to participate in the position of male dominance enjoyed by white heterosexual men. In effect, cultural and revolutionary nationalisms supplied male leaders with powerful antidotes to feelings of de-masculinization spurred on by racial subjugation.
The Chicano civil rights movement foregrounded sanitized patriarchal images of la familia in response to dominant characterizations of Chicanas/os as deviant, diseased, and dangerous. Chicano male leaders were, thus, equally motivated by a desire to invalidate the racial ideologies that disparaged Chicanas/os. In mainstream society, Chicana/o sexuality has historically been misaligned as pathological—a danger to white Americans. For instance, scholars in the social sciences, in particular anthropology and sociology, who investigated Mexican and Puerto Rican families in the 1960s were paramount in pegging poverty and machismo to alleged cultural beliefs and habits. These social scientists blamed the dire living circumstances of the US racialized poor to their so-called maladaptive cultural practices and values. This attack on African American and Latina/o families was buoyed by and large the legislative efforts of US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the writings of cultural anthropologist Oscar Lewis.20
In his ethnographic studies of Mexican and Puerto Rican working-class families in Mexico City and East Harlem, respectively, Lewis linked the socioeconomic marginality of his informants to their cultural practices, rigid gender dynamics, and individual character shortcomings. Lewis detected an intergenerational transfer of ostensibly destructive attitudes and behaviors among his ethnographic participants, what he deemed to be representative of a “culture of poverty.”21 (Lewis’s “culture of poverty” thesis was infamously encapsulated in the lyrics to the song “America” from the musical West Side Story by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein.22) Although Lewis’s work proved significant in refuting a biological determinist understanding of race, his cultural-oriented conceptual framework neglected the magnitude of political-economic structures in historically circumscribing the life choices of the racialized poor, in both the United States and the Global South. Lewis’s work, as such, confirmed for many in positions of power their deep-rooted disdain for the racialized poor and, by extension, justified punitive policies and practices that curtailed citizenship.
Despite the flaws in Lewis’s analysis, his conclusions were universalized to take into account all Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, without respect to socioeconomics and unique historical contexts. One of the most egregious ways in which Latina/o families have been rendered culturally monolithic has been through the uncritical application of “machismo,” a heightened manifestation of masculinity endorsing sexist and violent attitudes and behaviors. Lewis’s culture of poverty thesis conceptualized machismo as a static, unitary phenomenon.23 But, as sociologist Alfredo Mirandé disputes, machismo is not a feature unique to Latina/o culture. Writing in regard to Mexican and Chicano men, Mirandé considers machismo to be a more complex and diverse formation tied to historical and material conditions of racism and class exploitation. Mirandé’s groundbreaking study of machismo among Mexican and Chicano men suggests that the Chicano civil rights movement’s investment in heteronormative family ideology was not a culturally innate predisposition.24 Rather, the pursuit of heteronormativity by a Chicano political tradition emerged as a complex adaptation to the social and physical environment of structural racism and economic disenfranchisement. In a context of relative structural powerlessness, heteronormativity unfurls as a calculated response to US racial violence. According to this logic, heteronormativity is both the affirmation of Chicano men’s racial identity and the negation of Chicano men as inferior and passive—in short, not men.
The salience of heteronormative family ideology in Chicano cultural discourse and politics has not gone unchallenged. Chicana women and Chicana/o queers have fought back, extensively critiquing the commitment of Chicano cultural politics to white American norms of heterosexual marriage. For instance, Chicana feminist scholars maintained that such norms circumscribed the role of women to that of caretaking wives, nurturing mothers, or dependent daughters—vested with the responsibility of transmitting cultural mandates to future generations. Two prominent figures who challenged their confinement to such roles in the Chicano civil rights movement were Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. Detailing her experience with homophobia and sexism as a Chicana lesbian within the Chicano movement, Moraga considers: “In reaction against Anglo-America’s emasculation of Chicano men, the male-dominated Chicano Movement embraced the most patriarchal aspects of its Mexican heritage.”25 If Chicano male leaders privileged race and class as solely constitutive of the Chicana/o lived experience, then it comes as no surprise they minimized gender and sexuality in their analysis of oppression. In response, Anzaldúa and Moraga edited the groundbreaking anthology This Bridge Called My Back to stress the cultural and political necessity of assessing the interconnections between race, gender, and sexuality. The text became foundational to a bourgeoning women of color feminism, which unsettled the fixed and romanticized perception of a homogeneous family unit as a refuge from external racism and class exploitation.26
By speaking back to the heteropatriarchal male leadership that silenced them, Chicana women and Chicana/o queers insisted on sexually comprehensive frameworks for mobilizing and organizing. For example, the edited anthology Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings records the voices of Chicana poets, writers, and activists who did not merely bemoan their victimization within El Movimiento but rather enacted their agency in combating social injustice and patriarchal structures of domination. In the process, Chicana feminists forged more dynamic understandings of the cultural relevance of sexuality, prioritizing an intersectional approach to oppression that refused to disentangle racial justice from gender liberation. Additionally, Chicana feminists established their own organizations, including Las Hijas de Cuauhtémoc, Las Adelitas de Aztlán, and Mujeres por la Raza Unida. They also joined other women-of-color feminists in contesting the Eurocentrism that hampered US feminist and gay and lesbian movements.27 Similarly, Chicana/o queers formed their own political collectives. For instance, oral historian Horacio Roque Ramírez documents how gay Latina/o members of the Gay Latino Alliance (GALA) negotiated San Francisco’s same-sex politics in the 1970s to forge political spaces that integrated their racial, gendered, and sexual identities and practices.28
When Chicano cultural discourse and politics did address gender, it did so in relation to the Mexican cultural “master narrative” of the virgin/whore dichotomy. According to this centuries-old paradigm, women should submit to sexual repression as outlined by Catholic-based discourses, institutions, and everyday practices. In Spanish, this binary is exemplified by marianismo and malinchismo. The former is embodied in the story of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the holy mother, and the latter by La Malinche, the violated woman. Both of these extremes proscribe socially sanctioned respectable Chicana womanhood. Under this formulation, Chicanas are depicted as either saints or sinners. Hardly, if ever, can Chicanas embody traits associated with both ends.29
As the veneration of the Virgen de Guadalupe, marianismo personifies motherhood and martyrdom. In Mexican and Chicano popular culture, the Virgen de Guadalupe represents a selfless nurturer who endures pain and sorrow for the well-being of her husband and son. Pure and servile, the Virgen de Guadalupe is heralded as the proper symbol for womanhood in Mexican and Chicano culture. (Take for instance, media depictions and activist descriptions of Elvira Arellano that often portrayed her as an altruistic caretaker, willing to break the law for the sake of her US-born son.) Because marianismo calls for Chicanas to aspire to these very same values of selfless nurturance and virginal martyrdom in the service of husbands and children, marianismo can normalize women’s ability to tolerate unjust behavior from men, the church, and the state. Although being wedded to a man—as either wives, mothers, or daughters—bestows upon Chicana women a certain legibility within Chicano cultural discourse and politics, it is predicated on the repression of Chicanas’ emotional, intellectual, and sexual needs.30 In effect, marianismo teaches Chicanas to be virtuous but above all to be servile to men by yielding to their sexual advances.
On the other end of marianismo is malinchismo, which refers to the societal depiction of Chicana women as the source of betrayal and sinful behavior. In Mexican and Chicano popular culture, malinchismo embodies the eponymous figure of La Malinche. As Hernán Cortés’s translator and concubine, La Malinche—also known as Malinalli or Doña Marina—supposedly facilitated the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. From this so-called betrayal, Mexico was born—figuratively and literally. La Malinche personifies, thus, both the violation associated with the fallen woman and the treachery identified with the national traitor. For this reason, contempt toward Chicanas traces its ideological origins to the cultural and sexual violation of La Malinche. Many Mexican and Chicano male writers, including Octavio Paz, have infamously foisted this initial betrayal of Mexico upon all Chicanas.31 Such scorn for Chicanas can be a product of La Malinche’s danger to patriarchal authority. After all, La Malinche undermines the ability of the Mexican and Chicano macho to protect “his” women. Many Chicana feminist scholars have recuperated La Malinche as a feminist hero, interpreting her betrayal as an act of female agency.32
The heteronormative binary of malinchismo and marianismo is patriarchal because it ascribes personhood to women based on their linkages to men. It is also sexist because it dichotomizes the complexities of Chicana womanhood into simplistic camps of “good” and “bad.” To be “good” is to be a virgin until marriage and, once married, to be loyal, devoted, and nurturing to one’s husband and children. To be “bad” is to command a sexual independence without reliance on any male figure. As a result of marianismo and malinchismo, Chicanas—both heterosexual and queer—were and remain conditioned to suppress their sexual desires and needs in deference to men. Forasmuch as these cultural stereotypes reduce the rich heterogeneity that abound in modes of being and desiring, they prove socially constraining. Chicana feminists who questioned the virgin/whore dichotomy and, by extension, the patriarchal authority of Chicano cultural discourse and politics were accused of sabotaging the Chicano movement’s quest for social justice. They were anglicized. Branded as malinchistas and vendidas, these Chicanas were demonized as traitors to their communities and sellouts to white feminism for subscribing to a bourgeoning feminist consciousness, one that Chicano male leaders mistakenly perceived being “anti-family, anti-cultural, anti-man, and therefore, anti-Chicano movement.”33 Despite the risk of being ostracized as vendidas, Chicanas who reclaimed their sexuality embarked on a political act that invalidated the patriarchal social order. One of the mechanisms through which Chicanas enacted their sexual agency was through Chicana cultural production, a subject to which I turn next.
Chicana Feminist Literature and Film
Cultural production carves out a space that draws attention to the quotidian struggles of resistance established by marginalized subjects. Chicana feminist literature and film invalidates the heteronormative cultural polemics that collapse the complexities of Chicana sexual cultures, identities, and practices into simplistic camps of “good” and “bad.” In so doing, Chicana cultural production also counters the historical erasures perpetrated by Western colonialist ideology around gender and sexuality. A colonial white heteronormative way of seeing and knowing prioritizes those subjects whose life trajectories adhere to norms of gender, sexuality, and domestic space. This pattern of valorization illustrates how even the colonized and oppressed can and do internalize a hegemonic gender and sexual mindset in their own political endeavors.
To uncover the histories of sexuality hidden by a white colonial gaze, Chicana feminist scholar Emma Pérez encourages us to read queerness into certain cultural texts. Pérez proposes a “decolonial imaginary” as a reading practice that reinterprets the past by mining the voices of multiply-positioned subjects, those whom historians and community stakeholders have chosen to ignore or negate.34 According to Pérez, a decolonial imaginary allows us to revise the past, present, and future to honor those who fall prey to the normative itineraries of cultural nationalist traditions. In keeping with this objective, Chicana feminist literature and film cultivate a decolonial imaginary to propagate oppositional narratives outside the discursive bounds of heteronormative constraints.
By honoring the differences between and among Chicanas—without relegating them to either side of the virgin/whore dichotomy—Chicana feminist literature disrupts the discourses that posit Chicana women and lesbians as expendable to the El Movimiento and as pariahs to the Chicano familia. According to literary scholar Teresa Córdova, Chicana feminist writings shed light on the multiply positioned location of Chicanas. Córdova contends that Chicanas write in opposition to “the symbolic representations of the Chicano movement that did not include them.” They also write in opposition to “a hegemonic feminist discourse that places gender as a variable separate from that of race and class.” And, they write in opposition to “academics, whether mainstream or postmodern, who have never fully recognized them as subjects, as active agents.”35 Córdova argues that Chicana feminist literature not only reverses a male-centered Chicano culture and politics but also presents Chicanas as agents in their lives and in the larger political struggles of the Chicano movement. If so, through Chicana feminist literature, we can theorize the complexities of Chicana lived experience in the United States.
One of the works that lends itself to a decolonial imaginary is the novel What Night Brings by Chicana feminist scholar Carla Trujillo, editor of the groundbreaking anthology Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About. What Night Brings is the coming-of-age story of 11-year-old Marcía “Marci” Cruz, growing up in small-town California in the 1960s.36 The novel narrates the struggles of being an abused child in the midst of the confusion that accompanies homoerotic attraction. What night brings every day at five o’clock home from work is Eddie, Marci’s alcoholic and womanizing father. With his leather belt and callused fists, Eddie beats Marci and her sister, Corin. He believes such violence will intimidate the girls into showing him the respect he believes he merits as family breadwinner. The beatings occur while the girls’ mother, Delia, stands idly by, acting as “the watchdog of the whippings.”37 Delia is so enamored with her abuser—or just as likely paralyzed by fear—that she minimizes the increasing bouts of violence against her daughters. As the transmitter of culturally sanctioned norms, Delia raises her daughters to be “passive heterosexual recipients of male sexual dominance.”38 Although Eddie embodies traits commonly associated with machismo, Trujillo does not portray Eddie as a unidimensional monster. Not all men have equal patriarchal power, Trujillo stresses in her description of Eddie. For Eddie is not just an alcoholic and womanizer, he is also a victim of constrained life choices. Because there are few contexts outside the private sphere for Eddie to exert male privilege—he often complains of emasculating work conditions—Eddie brutally re-establishes his patriarchal authority vis-à-vis gender dominance and sexual power in the home.39
In spite of Eddie’s reign of terror, Marci does not wish him harm. She only wants him to go away. Marci fears that if she were to wish Eddie dead then God will not answer her prayer: to be turned from a girl into a boy. Marci longs to be a boy because she believes such a bodily transformation will legitimate her attraction to other girls, particularly her friend and neighbor Raquel. Thus, every morning, Marci checks to see if “Baby Jesus, Mother Mary, or God” have answered her prayers by replacing her “cuca” with a “birdy.”40 The likelihood of remaining a girl and liking other girls appears to be an impossibility for Marci since she has internalized cultural and social scripts that prescribe heterosexuality as the ideal. Additionally, Marci longs to be a boy because she “views the male body as a site of gendered power that might help her shed her role as helpless victim and vulnerable child.”41 Due to Marci associating the male body with agency, freedom, and power—traits that most women in her family and community appear to lack—she envisions becoming a boy as the only means of protecting Delia, Corin, and herself from Eddie’s rage and flying fists.
By the end of the novel as Marci and Corin attempt to make Delia see Eddie for the abusive and troubled man he is (they photograph him with his girlfriend), Marci reconciles her desire to become a boy. Through her bourgeoning feminist consciousness, Marci learns it is possible to reject Eddie’s violent outbursts—even as a female. No longer limited by a compliance to heterosexist norms, Marci realizes her same-sex desires are possible, even in her female body. In the climactic scene of the novel, when Eddie viciously beats Delia, Corin shoots Eddie with his own rifle—a scene of great symbolic valence. Marci, no longer content with merely praying for change, springs into action. She packs up her things and her sister and escapes to her shotgun-toting and switchblade-carrying grandmother, who owns a bar in Gallup, New Mexico. In so doing, Marci discovers the power within herself, within her female body, essentially saving both herself and Corin from the patriarchal dictatorship of Eddie.
Marci’s encounter with a female-centered community in Gallup, New Mexico, enables her to move toward self-acceptance and to the language necessary to make sense of her homoerotic attractions. As an ally and protector of the girls, Grandma Flor is a symbol of resistance. She provides her granddaughters with a resilient, matriarchal presence—a model of womanhood in stark opposition to that of Delia’s. This model of “safety, resistance, and activism” provides Marci with the discursive tools to conceptualize her own interpretative framework for understanding and articulating her emerging lesbianism.42 Living with her grandmother, Marci experiences her first lesbian encounter, a shared kiss with her new neighbor Robbie. When Robbie asks Marci if she believes their desires to be a sin, Marci quickly declares: “No, I don’t.” By telling herself, “I felt so good it didn’t matter,” Marci comes full-circle toward an embrace of her same-sex desires within her female body.43
In What Night Brings, Trujillo critiques two traditional institutions, including the Catholic Church. Trujillo suggests that Catholic practices and values dovetail with patriarchal cultures and institutions to position heterosexuality as the ideal form of sexual activity and desire for Chicanas/os. Marci’s experience with the Catholic Church demands her acquiescence to a credo of silence that strips her of her voice. In catechism class, the nuns incessantly shoot down Marci’s curious inquiries, with Mother Superior informing Marci that her “questions do no good for anyone and cause the other children to doubt what they are being taught.”44 Meanwhile, the parish priest, Father Chacón, partakes in sexual trysts with Eddie’s brother, Uncle Tommy, in the confessional booth. Eventually, Marci grows disillusioned with the Catholic Church as its representatives do little to safeguard women and girls from family violence. Trujillo, thus, ties her critique of the Catholic Church to her critique of the institution of the nuclear family, showing how one institution feeds into the other—both upholding the subservience of women in deference of male authority. Even though Marci’s large extended family is loving and supportive, it is unable or hesitant to step in and stop Eddie’s abuse. The family’s unwillingness to intervene in the domestic violence is partly a result of the patriarchal tenet dictating that others should not intrude on private family affairs, lest it impinge on the patriarch’s role as head of household. Here, Trujillo offers a stinging critique of the cultural structures of institutionalized heterosexuality that would allow a child to be abused for the sake of paying esteem to patriarchal authority.
For Trujillo, the nuclear family is not necessarily a space of freedom or a place of solace from outside racial violence. For women and queers, the nuclear family is often one of the pre-eminent sites of violence. Marci and Corin are savagely beat, slammed against the wall, and whipped across the mouths with leather belts by Eddie in his alcoholic bouts of violence. More than that, they are also subjected to emotional abuse by growing up in an invalidating, unstable living environment, one that minimizes their worth solely for being females. The investment in the Chicano familia romance by Marci’s family and community elides a critical focus on the role of heteropatriarchal authority in fomenting domestic violence and emotional invalidation. As a result, when the nuclear family is rooted in the subjugation of gender non-normativity and sexual deviance, concentrating on the nuclear family as the central institution in the self-identification of Chicanas/os proves inherently problematic. Given heteronormativity’s contingency on exclusion and erasure, the nuclear family—as a liberationist strategy—is far from the idyllic sanctuary from external forces of racism and class exploitation that some Chicano male leaders have long professed.
By the end of the novel, Marci rejects the passivity associated with women in her life. In preferring girls over boys, Marci’s lesbian girlhood also challenges the patriarchal principle delegating that a girl needs her father’s protection from boys and men. Marci undermines Eddie’s authority as family patriarch by symbolically suggesting that his protection is not needed or desired. This rejection is striking to Eddie as he construes his identity and self-worth around his role as family breadwinner. Marci’s non-conventional female masculinity imperils Eddie’s presumed social value as patriarch and rocks the very foundation of the family’s claim to respectable domesticity. His use of violence, consequently, becomes a desperate means to contain Marci within the home so as to re-assert his manhood.
Marci’s relationship with Eddie, moreover, symbolizes how Chicana feminist lesbians have posed an exceptional threat to the Chicano movement. According to Trujillo, the very act of lesbian existence ruptures the established hierarchy of patriarchal control that Chicano male leaders have uncritically reproduced. The Chicana feminist lesbian rejects compulsory heterosexuality, refuses to compete for men’s attention, makes sense of her own sexual desires, and challenges the norms thrusted upon her by society. Inasmuch as Chicana lesbian identities operate independent of men, “there is no need to submit to, or perform the necessary behaviors that cater to wooing the male ego.”45 In a heteropatriarchal cultural milieu, it is not so much the woman who needs the man to be complete; it is the man who needs the woman’s perceived submissiveness to assert his own patriarchal authority. For Marci, challenging the male-defining and anti-feminist rhetoric of her community enables her to achieve a modicum of control and independence.
In her research of Chicana feminist literature, literary scholar Catrióna Rueda Esquibel discovers that girlhood enables a space of lesbian desire. According to Esquibel, the socially sanctioned system of comadrazgo permits young Chicana girls and women to form lifelong friendships—the intimacy of which supplies a context for lesbian desire. Under comadrazgo, the baptismal ceremony unites mother and godmother, elevating their friendship to that of kinship in reciprocal support. Since comadrazgo treats extended relations and unrelated community members as part of the family, it surpasses the ties of immediate blood relations. Admittedly, although men are not central to comadrazgo, this female bond is enacted through heterosexual marriage. Thus, comadrazgo bolsters the heterosexual structure as it simultaneously negates it by potentially subverting the nature of those female social bonds.46
In her literary analysis of girlhood friendships, Esquibel assesses a number of texts, including Sandra Cisneros’s iconic coming-of-age novel, The House on Mango Street. Although neither Cisneros nor her characters identify as lesbian, Esquibel treats the text as a Chicana lesbian text. For Esquibel, the novel’s construction of girlhood friendships inscribes a desire between girls that one can name “lesbian.” A text is lesbian to the extent it critiques the heterosexual institution of male/female relationships and the ideology of the nuclear family. Like Marci in What Night Brings, all the young female characters in the stories Esquibel analyzes are discouraged by those around them from acknowledging their sexual agency and from acting on those desires. Instead, they are expected to accept and embody the archetypal traits associated with the Virgen de Guadalupe. Nonetheless, by the end of the novels, these young Chicana female characters denounce the heteronormative restrictions imposed upon them. They fuse traits associated with both the Virgen de Guadalupe (e.g., care and nurturance for their family and community) and La Malinche (e.g., sexual independence) to create a hybrid model of Chicana womanhood, one that attends to their racial and class subjectivities.
The immigrant home of these young Chicanas comprises more than a site of regulation and repression. The Mexican immigrant parents in Chicana lesbian texts advise against any sort of interaction with boys lest their daughters end up pregnant. Because Mexican immigrant parents perceive girlhood friendships to be devoid of erotic elements, they much prefer girlhood friendships to heterosexual relations with boys. Nevertheless, these very same girlhood friendships—manifestations of comadrazgo—subvert the system of patriarchal authority by accommodating a female sexual desire that runs incommensurate to heteronormativity. The home, thus, unfurls into a site where female sexual agency is not discarded altogether but rather refashioned in disguise of the heteronormative impetus of the Chicano family. In her ethnographic study of Chicana/Mexicana sexuality, cultural anthropologist Patricia Zavella notes that Chicana/Mexicana lesbians utilized heteronormative frameworks and gendered scripts to create discursive social spaces for acknowledging homoerotic sexuality, unbeknownst to family members. Zavella’s informants used “the subterfuge of virgin honor” to cloak their bourgeoning same-sex desires.47 This set of dynamics is clearly explicit in the 2012 coming-of-age indie film Mosquita y Mari, written and directed by Chicana lesbian filmmaker Aurora Guerrero.48
Mosquita y Mari portrays the fraught teenage relationship between two 15-year-old Chicana girls—Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) and Mari (Venecia Troncoso)—in the working-class, predominantly Mexican neighborhood of Huntington Park in Los Angeles. Growing up in immigrant households, both Yolanda and Mari are expected to prioritize the well-being of their families. This loyalty takes different shape for each of the girls. For the sheltered and studious Yolanda, an only child, loyalty consists of delivering straight A’s in hopes of achieving the so-called American Dream. Her strict, yet nurturing, hard-working immigrant parents dream of a college-bound future for their daughter and a better life outside Huntington Park. Yolanda’s parents have entrusted upon their only child all their aspirations and are not hesitant to continuously remind her of their sacrifices. For the streetwise and rebellious Mari, the older of two, loyalty consists of taking on economic and childrearing responsibilities. Mari’s undocumented, single mother struggles to make ends meet despite working long hours at a minimum-wage job. Mari helps support her family by handing out street flyers for a local business and by caring for her younger sister in her mother’s absence. In effect, through Yolanda and Mari, Guerrero portrays the diversity of Mexican immigrant experiences.
Mari and her family move in across the street from Yolanda’s white-gated home, an apt symbol of heteronormativity’s confinement. At first, Mari is aloof. When Yolanda enthusiastically volunteers to share her textbook in geometry class, Mari labels her an annoying fly—a mosquita. Not until Yolanda saves Mari from expulsion—she is nearly caught smoking in the school’s bathroom—that a friendship prospers between them. The girls are brought closer together when Yolanda takes it upon herself to tutor Mari, who is failing geometry class. In an abandoned garage with broken car parts strewn about, the girls establish their own refuge where they study and talk for hours on end. They spend time in each other’s house, and they walk to school together. As their friendship blossoms, Yolanda and Mari develop a sexually charged bond, one that confuses them but brings them closer together.
In one critical scene, early in their friendship, Mari changes clothes in front of a mirror while Yolanda looks on, allured but puzzled. As time wears on, their relationship evolves into affection and physical touch, carefully treading between friendly gesture and sexual innuendo. When either of the girls is the object of a male’s attention, the other becomes the agent of unadulterated jealousy and sharp resentment. But theirs is a relationship of unspoken affection and lingering gazes. Although Yolanda is always the first to know the answers in geometry class, she is unsure how to make sense of the strange connection uniting her with Mari. Ultimately, like Marci in What Night Brings, both girls lack the language to name their same-sex desires. With the exception of a few timid caresses, those desires remain largely unstated.
When Yolanda’s grades begin to slip, a result of being distracted by the intensity of her relationship with Mari, her parents agonize that a boy is to blame. Yolanda disputes those allegations, much to her parents’ relief. In fact, Yolanda’s parents encourage her relationship with Mari over heterosexual relationships with boys. For Yolanda’s parents, these latter ties run the risk of premature sexual activity and, by extension, pregnancy, shattering all hopes of a better life. Yolanda’s parents believe that by protecting their daughter from sex, they are improving Yolanda’s socioeconomic future. They are forestalling pregnancy so that Yolanda is prepared for college and professional success. By denying Yolanda any semblance of sexual agency and confining her to the home, her parents, basically, infantilize her to protect—or control—her. In their eyes, Yolanda is not a young woman as much as she is a child. For that reason, her parents invite Yolanda’s friendship with Mari without so much as considering the plausibility of female sexual desire between the girls. Cast in a heterosexist mold, Yolanda’s relationship with Mari arouses no suspicion. By dwelling on the perceived innocence of the girls’ relationship, Yolanda’s parents convince themselves of the sexlessness of girlhood friendship. They assume heterosexuality to be the norm—an instance of heteronormativity in practice. But, on the contrary, Yolanda and Mari’s friendship furnishes the space for lesbian desires to materialize. The very same heteronormative structure that culturally appraises the friendship of the girls also contains seeds of its own undoing. Operating within the privacy of the immigrant Mexican household, girlhood lesbian friendships, like Yolanda and Mari’s relationship, destabilize the heteronormative and patriarchal foundations of the home and the nuclear family it shelters. In effect, the behaviors, desires, and identities of the girls are mediated by an unstable heteronormative structure, one that in seeking to safeguard itself witnesses its own unsteadiness. Ironically enough, Yolanda and Mari’s hidden lesbianism earns them the classification of “good” girls—hijas buenas.
Like the novel What Night Brings, the film Mosquita y Mari disrupts patriarchal authority by foregrounding the complex sexual desires of its young female protagonists in opposition to the virgin/whore dichotomy. At the start of the film, Yolanda is imprisoned in her parents’ intense pressure to repudiate the enticements of adolescence and to see the completion of her studies toward college and a better life. Yolanda’s parents and community intend for her to prioritize the well-being of her Mexican immigrant family, even if this comes at the expense of her own dreams and pleasures. In short, she is expected to subscribe to marianismo, which likens the model of proper Chicana womanhood to that of the Virgen de Guadalupe: a caretaker of the downtrodden. By the end of the film, however, Yolanda refuses to act on her parents’ behalf without also staying true to herself. She fuses aspects of marianismo—a longing to aid one’s community—with malinchismo—a desire to maintain sexual agency—into a hybrid model of Chicana womanhood that attends to the material conditions and ethnic allegiances of life in el barrio.
On the other hand, at the start of the film, Mari more closely embodies the characteristics associated with La Malinche. She shoplifts, smokes marijuana, and throws away the fliers she is paid to distribute. However, unlike Yolanda, Mari—who is undocumented—is under intense stress as she is required to contribute to the family’s rent. In one pivotal scene toward the end, Mari even tries to exchange sexual favors for desperately needed rent money. She may be sullen and rebellious, but Mari also resists being reduced to any one side of the marianismo/malinchismo partition. She channels her sexual power—flirting her way here and there—to help her family financially. Like in What Night Brings, the nuclear family—especially in Yolanda’s case—operates as one of the pre-eminent sites regulating the romantic choices and sex lives of its young Chicana protagonists. The family is the source of both nurturance and regulation. For Yolanda and Mari, their friendship represents the true refuge from external forces of racism and class exploitation and from familial expectations of academic success and financial dependence. In following their desires, the girls incommode male dominance and tap into their own power. In short, these girls are not the subjugated characters of the virgin/whore dichotomy.
Unlike Mosquita y Mari, the film Quinceañera presents a somewhat different reading of traditional gender roles in Chicana/o families. Traditionally, a quinceañera is a religious coming-of-age ceremony in celebration of a Latina’s fifteenth birthday. Both gendered and sexualized, the cultural rite of passage presents the adolescent Latina as ready and available for heterosexual courtship. Through the quinceañera, heterosexuality, hence, is heralded as the social norm. Although the debutante in question is potentially ready to date and fall in love with a man, she is expected to remain a virgin until marriage. In fact, the ceremony represents purity—virginity. For that reason, when the quinceañera is not a virgin, the social fabric of heteronormativity and the honor of the family is blemished. This set of dynamics was illustrated in the 2005 low-budget film Quinceañera, produced and directed by real-life partners Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer.49
Quinceañera centers around Magdalena (Emily Rios), a Chicana quinceañera-to-be who learns she is pregnant. Magdalena’s father, a staunchly devout Christian preacher, is enraged as he believes his daughter has engaged in premarital sex. Although Magdalena maintains she is still a virgin, her father wants nothing to do with her. As such, Magdalena leaves the family’s Echo Park home and turns to her elderly great-uncle Tomas (Chalo González) for shelter. There, she comes into contact with her cousin, Carlos (Jesse Garcia), who is also estranged from the family, but for being gay. For his part, Carlos has his own narrative arc. He becomes sexually involved with the white gay couple, James and Gary, that purchases Tío Tomas’s property. (Westmoreland and Glatzer’s Echo Park home doubled for the gay couple’s home in the film.) Carlos begins a secret affair with Gary. Upon learning of his partner’s affair with Carlos, James sends an eviction notice to Tío Tomas. Due to the sprawling property values associated with the gentrification of the neighborhood, Magdalena, Carlos, and Tío Tomas are unable to secure an affordable place to live. Before the eviction, however, Tío Tomas dies in his sleep. By the end of the film, a gynecologist exam confirms for Magdalena’s father that her pregnancy is, in fact, the result of an improbable sexual counter. At Tío Tomas’s funeral, Magdalena’s father apologizes to her, convinced her conception is a miracle. Magdalena may be pregnant, but she does not compromise her virtue as a virgin. Also, upon Tío Tomas’s death, Carlos becomes the respectable male head-of-household—a homopatriarch. He voluntarily accepts financial responsibility for Magdalena’s child, and he accompanies her on her quinceañera.50
Although the film rightly critiques gentrification—in this case, through the figure of the homonormative white same-sex couple—the film’s take on traditional gender roles in Chicana/o families lacks nuance. Both Magdalena and Carlos use their family’s rejection not to critique the gender and sexual scripts upon which their rejection is doled out in the first place. Rather, they petition the family for acceptance by mobilizing discourses and practices that invalidate the shame and stigma associated with being an unwed, teenage mother and a homosexual. Magdalena is pregnant, but she is still a virgin; Carlos is gay, but he is still respectable. (Carlos also adheres to traditional gender roles in that he is not effeminate; he is a “homo thug.” It is unlikely he would have merited a second chance into the family had he performed his masculinity in a non-conventional fashion.) The inclusion of the young cousins into the family is contingent on the cousins convincing the family that their exclusion is unwarranted. In this process, the family’s welcoming of Magdalena and Carlos back into the fold does not destabilize the heteropatriarchal center of power within the family. Quinceañera comes close to offering a provocative disruption of heteronormative social functions in Chicana/o family politics. Unfortunately, that disruption does not come to fruition. Admittedly, the film presents a positive representation of a Latina character. But it does so by reifying respectable Latina femininity within a heteronormative matrix.
The films Quinceañera and Mosquita y Mari confirm that gender role attitudes among Chicanas vary by generation and social class. However, whereas the former film reconciles gender non-normativity and sexual deviance in the service of heteropatriarchy, the latter film offers possibilities in rejection of heterosexual love and romance. In Mosquita y Mari, the filmmaker, Guerrero, delivers a set of role models that transcend the good/bad, virgin/whore duality entrenched in Mexican and Chicano cultural discourse and politics. This hybrid model of Chicana womanhood does not require that Yolanda and Mari disavow family and community for the sake of their bourgeoning lesbian desires (or for sexual liberation as mainstream Western gay and lesbian discourse would put it). Put simply, Yolanda and Mari need not abandon their poor and working-class racial/ethnic surroundings for the promise of sexual liberation. Instead, the girls engender a model of Chicana womanhood that accommodates patriarchal authority with their same-sex desires. Truth be told, they maintain a sense of responsibility to aid and nurture their working-class, immigrant families and communities. Still, they do so without deferring sexual pleasure to male authority and without suppressing their racial and class particularities to ally with a mainstream lesbian community. Watched closely by their families and society, Yolanda and Mari assert their sexual independence within the confines of cultural authority, family practices, and conventional society. By pushing societal parameters in their favor, “Mosquita” and Mari acquire a sense of power to pursue that which they desire. Guerrero and Trujillo refuse to syphon off the same-sex desires of their female protagonists from their working-class Chicana identities. As Anzaldúa reminds us, the Chicana is in conversation with the lesbian who, in turn, is in conversation with the working-class. Therefore, to erect borders around race and sexuality is tantamount to positioning those lived experiences in violent contradiction to one another.51
The young Chicana protagonists of Mosquita y Mari and What Night Brings never utter the word “lesbian.” In fact, Guerrero and Trujillo exclude any overt visual or literary references to mainstream lesbian communities. There are no rainbow flags, and there is certainly no white lesbian community. It is possible the authors exclude any such references to suggest that the politics of white lesbian communities run incommensurate to the material needs and ethnic allegiances of the young Chicana protagonists.52 Indeed, the civic pursuits of mainstream lesbian communities, including same-sex marriage, can be seen as far removed from the working-class, Mexican immigrant neighborhood of these girls. A mainstream lesbian identity that professes public visibility as a marker of pride is not an option—at least for the time being—since the girls remain very much bound to their families.
To that end, Chicana feminist lesbian texts like Mosquita y Mari and What Night Brings “queer” the coming-of-age lesbian trope, one that proceeds from an unspoken yet largely white, middle-class sensibility. According to this white, middle-class sensibility, to be an “out,” proud lesbian entails jettisoning one’s family, community, and neighborhood as sites of lesbian repression. By centering the margins—the borderlands—Guerrero and Trujillo rewrite the ending of lesbian emancipation, highlighting how young Chicana women need not abandon their extended kin network or pathologize their cultural upbringing in the service of lesbian freedom.
Despite the potential heteronormative impulses and homophobic biases discerned in the ideology of the nuclear family in Chicana/o cultural politics, many queer Chicanas/os have pursued efforts to achieve familial acceptance. Because the affective nature of family and extended kin networks continues to fulfill a central role in the everyday lives of LGBT Latinas/os, many have come to nurture relationships with their biological kin as an interdependent means of economic, emotional, and social support. Since the family is considered a means to subvert racism and class discrepancies, the family is unlikely to lose its significance for all queer Chicanas/os. Given the persistence of race- and class-based oppressions, Chicanas/os will likely continue to create and negotiate discursive spaces within those families of origin.
In “To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora, y chicana,” Anzaldúa critiques the term “lesbian” and its accompanying coming-of-age backstory. For Anzaldúa, as a working-class Chicana mestiza, lesbian is “a cerebral word, white and middle-class, representing an English-only dominant culture” that does not speak for her as a multiply positioned subject. When a white lesbian brands Anzaldúa a lesbian, the white lesbian “subsumes” Anzaldúa under a category that erases her race and ignores her class, “not as an equal, not as a whole person.”53 Anzaldúa’s refusal to identify as a lesbian is further compounded by the same ethnic allegiances that compel Yolanda and Mari to remain wedded to their families. Anzaldúa explains, “The difference [between herself and white lesbians] is in my relationship to my culture; white culture may allow its lesbians to leave—mine doesn’t.”54 For these reasons, a mainstream lesbian politics—one that is single-issue oriented—cannot effectively attend to the ways in which race and class impinge upon lesbian desires for Chicana women.
In mainstream US gay and lesbian communities, queer Chicanas/os have contended with the race- and class-based exclusions of a movement evermore committed to a culture and politics of homonormativity. Inasmuch as homonormativity does not entail a significant deviation from heterosexual normativity (homonormativity enforces heteronormativity) homonormativity occasions exclusions along racial and class lines. Like cultural and revolutionary nationalisms, homonormativity indexes the heteronormative compliance of particular gay men and lesbians to the institutions of family and marriage. Accordingly, homonormativity illustrates a tradition in which minoritarian social formations appeal and strive for recognition from the liberal capitalist state by performing norms of gender, sexuality, and domestic space. Emerging out of neoliberal economic policies and practices, homonormativity, according to historian Lisa Duggan, is a “politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption.”55 As a formation opposed to vying for the freedom to sexual difference—a bedrock of queer liberation politics of yesteryear—homonormativity signals the compliance of some gay men and lesbians to heteronormative formations. In resituating freedom within the private sphere, this homonormative shift creates a depoliticizing effect on gay men and lesbians by recoding equality as consumerism and privacy.
To the extent homonormativity inaugurates homosexual conformity to gender, sexual, and domestic space norms, it also extends practices of racial exclusion. Any strategy of assimilation that tends to celebrate nuclear family domesticity provides for limited inclusion because it enforces the resilience of exclusionary strategies of capital and citizenship. For that reason, homonormativity materializes not only as a sexual formation but as a racial project as well. In theorizing homonormativity as an ethnic white formation, queer of color critique theorist Roderick Ferguson explains that the category of “ethnicity” communicates and maintains difference by confining it to the private sphere. Through this spatial management of difference, the ethnic subject can then occupy the allegedly universal properties of citizenship in the public sphere.56 The normalization of white homosexuality in the public sphere, however, remains predicated on the secularization of homosexual difference to the private sphere. In this process, homosexual difference is reworked into a private idiosyncrasy. Under these circumstances, gay men and lesbians articulate their demands for citizenship rights, benefits, and protections through domestic living arrangements and private housing conditions.
Even so, the discourses and practices of homonormativity are not universal; they are shaped by racial and class exclusions. For those gay men and lesbians that remain the most economically and socially marginalized—queers of color—privacy alone cannot ameliorate the material inequalities and social injustices conditioned by structural racism and institutionalized heteronormativity. Quite the opposite. Privacy may exacerbate those inequalities and injustices by downplaying the role of capital and the state in giving rise to them. In short, the institution of the nuclear family obscures the state’s vast machinery in doling out unequal life outcomes to its populace as it simultaneously privatizes social welfare obligations once held by the state.
Writing at the height of the “marriage equality” push in the United States in the late 2000s, Moraga identifies two major political pitfalls with the same-sex marriage platform. First, Moraga attributes the national campaign for same-sex marriage as a “predominantly white, middle-class, single-issued liberal movement” spurred by a sense of racial and class entitlement. Moraga elaborates that the campaign sought identification with a “mainstream America that preferentially applies full citizenship rights to the ownership class.” Here, Moraga critiques those activists at the forefront of marriage equality for not extensively reflecting upon their privilege and for not pondering the limitations of a single-issue, rights-based agenda on the “un-entitled.”57 Caught at the nexus of multiple social locations, queers of color do not possess the privilege of a single-issue, unilateral political perspective or movement that does not also propose economic redistribution. Without an intersectional and redistributive approach, access to same-sex marriage situates (white) gay men and lesbians within a national politic built upon the continued disenfranchisement of the racialized poor and “the unjust entitlement of the privatized nuclear family structure.”58
Moraga’s second issue with the same-sex marriage agenda is that it normalizes marriage as an institution “while other kinds of relationships and families continue to be marginalized.”59 The model of family professed under homonormativity—with its domesticated and privatized structure—does not reflect the working-class, extended kin networks of many queers of color. As Moraga puts it, that model of family is not the family of “our herencia.” In the wake of entrenched structural racism and widespread socioeconomic disparities, working-class, extended kin networks for Chicanas/os are the “less privatized, more interdependent alternatives to sustaining community,” not the nuclear family unit.60 Moraga’s analysis is a testament that without intersectionality, so-called liberation struggles—like the mainstream US gay and lesbian movement—will at most be partial and in the service of reconsolidating the white heteronormativity that occasioned its exclusion in the first place.
The tension between the normative itineraries of an increasingly privatized mainstream US gay and lesbian rights movement and the quotidian struggles of the “un-entitled” came to a head at a White House event celebrating LGBT Pride Month in June 2015. Jennicet Gutiérrez, a 29-year-old transgender activist from Los Angeles, interrupted President Barack Obama shortly after he began speaking on gay rights. Gutiérrez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, spoke out in protest of the detention and deportation of LGBT immigrants. Calling from the back of the room, Gutiérrez shouted: “President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations!” The crowd of predominantly white gay men and lesbians was none too pleased with Gutiérrez, drowning out her chants with shushing noises and shouting of their own. One man yelled, “Shame on you!” Another hollered: “This is not for you! This is for all of us!” Amid a chorus of boos and jeers, Gutiérrez was escorted from the room. In a statement, Gutiérrez explained she protested on behalf of “some 75 transgender detainees” abused in the custody of ICE.61 What is significant from this event—and there is plenty—is how a transgender Latina activist was literally silenced by a roomful of predominantly white gay and lesbian activists and leaders, who much preferred to listen to the president lionize same-sex marriage, LGBT military service, and hate crime legislation than to be confronted with the deplorable conditions of LGBT immigrant detention and deportation. The reaction of the assembled guests to Gutiérrez can be seen as reflecting the assimilationist ethos of a steadily mainstreamed US gay and lesbian rights movement, one seeking inclusion within the nation-state rather than its transformative change. Not all LGBT movements, however, are invested in deputizing the nation-state as the arbiter of political inclusion, a subject to which I turn next.
The UndocuQueer Movement
Insofar as the nation-state deciphers the fitness of marginalized communities for citizenship through heteronormative and homonormative rubrics, the institution of the nuclear family figures largely in political struggles for social membership by marginalized communities. However, as I have argued, relying on norms of gender, sexuality, and domestic space to determine social value excludes many, silences oppositional voices, and erases alternative images of community, family, and kinship. These exclusions unmask the inherent limitations of idealized Western prototypes of family—both heteronormative and homonormative—as vehicles of social struggle and nationalist liberation. In the case of the Chicano civil rights movement, Chicana women and Chicana/o queers were not openly envisioned as members of the nation—that is, of the home. Given these exclusions, we need to remain vigilant about the purported liabilities inherent in any nationalist struggle. We must similarly continue to theorize alternatives to the patriarchal order of the nuclear family and the white racial undertow of homonormative politics. In short, the collective liberation of a people must consider the liberation of all its people in their various forms of subjugation. Otherwise, gender and sexual normativity—although they may render some subjects intelligible—will not achieve true liberation, especially as other forms of structural violence (e.g., immigration restriction, abject poverty, and mass incarceration) go unchallenged.
Moreover, the institution of the nuclear family proves to be a constraining political strategy because it accommodates multiple forms of violence engendered by patriarchal authority and white supremacy. As Trujillo emphasizes in What Night Brings, the heteronormative impulse of nationalist struggles—the Chicano familia romance—often masks the violence permeating the private sphere. Such a heteronormative impulse normalizes child abuse and domestic violence. It concomitantly disciplines female sexual agency by suppressing lesbian desire. In response, Chicana feminist literature and film have mobilized a decolonial imaginary to question Chicano nationalist formations that pathologize gender non-normativity and sexual deviance as a means of revalorizing the Chicano family. Such Chicana cultural productions revise the past, make sense of the present, and envision a future that lies outside the heteronormative and homonormative rubrics of social value. Chicana feminist writers and filmmakers, like Trujillo and Guerrero, make use of a critical reading practice that remains non-white and non-colonial but, above all, non-heteronormative and non-homonormative. This way of experiencing the world centers those on the margins. Concentrating on the borderlands, in turn, provides us with ample discursive space to theorize the subordination of marginalized communities so that we can invalidate the norms through which US racial and sexual hierarchies are imposed and perpetuated.
Unfortunately, the Latina/o political arena remains vested to romanticized notions of the nuclear family. Such forms of rights-based organizing augment the state’s power in determining who should be subject to citizenship and who should be excluded. Even though rights and recognition may mitigate the suffering of some, rights and recognition are finite. They do not question the nation-state or the technologies of governance that citizenship extolls. The ideology of the nuclear family—both its heterosexual and homosexual guises—persists in rights-based organizing because it justifies limited government and, in doing so, suppresses the involvement of the nation-state in generating the very conditions of precarity it is then summoned to annul.62 The ideology of the nuclear family, as such, masks the neoliberal shifts in the political economy of the United States since the 1970s.
The mainstream US immigrant rights movement continues to deploy the ideology of the nuclear family as a political tactic of social value to discredit the criminality of undocumented immigrants. Pro-immigration activists and organizations underscore the worthiness of some immigrants by framing them as hardworking, selfless parents, or, in the case of DREAMers, as bright, young high schoolers or college students with the promise of professional greatness. The DREAMers campaign provides a useful case study for thinking through the tension that animates the contemporary Latina/o political arena. Arriving in the United States without legal authorization when they were small children, DREAMers are young people who are now fighting for the passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. First introduced in Congress in 2001, the DREAM Act would extend permanent residency privileges to a very small segment of the approximate 12 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. The act’s criteria account for those undocumented youth who do not have a criminal record, those who have completed high school or post-secondary education, those who have served in the military, and those who arrived in the United States as children by no choice of their own.63 By differentiating between unwitting undocumented immigrants and intentional illegalized immigrants, the DREAM Act buoys dominant ideas of productive and, by extension, deserving immigrants.
In marking DREAMers as deserving of the nation-state’s protection, the larger campaign relies on representations of undocumented youth as “productive” (read: valuable) members of society. These depictions highlight the achievements of these individuals, shoring up the binary between “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrants.64 But, as Cacho reminds us, in order for practices of valuation to be legible to the American mainstream, such practices must be relational. On this account, Elvira Arellano and others like her could only be deemed respectable, worthy subjects if we maintain the meanings attached to the categories of “criminal” and “terrorist.”65 Inasmuch as this process of relational valuing hardly if ever casts blame on the government for generating immigrant precarity, the process of relational valuing bolsters the logics of the neoliberal nation-state: the withdrawal of social supports and the reliance on self-entrepreneurship. Virtues like self-reliance prove accommodating to the current social order because they are easily assimilated within the purview of the neoliberal nation-state, which channels resources away from mutual holdings like education, public health, and social welfare.66 Accordingly, the DREAMers campaign runs the risk of buttressing the exclusionary terms of belonging established by the economic prerogative of the neoliberal nation-state.
However, in the margins, we can attend to the inherent diversity of lived experiences without having to vouch for the worth of one mode of being and desire over another. What would allow this rupture to the dominant white gaze would be a politics built around and across difference, what political theorist Cathy J. Cohen calls a “transformative coalitional politics.” In dismantling structural violence, Cohen stresses the importance of coalitional politics built across difference.67 A prime example of these transformative coalitional politics at play is the UndocuQueer movement, which posits that all undocumented immigrants, even those who are queer, matter regardless of “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships,” to use the language of ICE director John Morton in outlining deportation proceedings.68
Emerging from the DREAMers campaign, the UndocuQueer movement calls attention to the unique situation confronted by queers in the mainstream US immigrant rights movement. By treating gender and sexuality as integral to the racial identity and working-class status of its members, the UndocuQueer movement envisions a politics across and through the converging axes of migration, queerness, and race. By displacing gender and sexual normativity as a prerequisite to personhood, the UndocuQueer movement has made intelligible a once unfathomable position: “deviant”—that is non-normative—but valuable, nonetheless. Moreover, the UndocuQueer movement uses “queer” not as an identity marker but as a spatialized politics of location relative to normative regimes of power. In so doing, the movement capitalizes on the radical possibilities of queerness—to gather all those deemed “deviant” in hopes of sustaining a liberatory politics. Queerness, as such, provides an opening for a reformulated and broader kinship system—familias we choose, in revision of Kath Weston’s famous “families we choose” terms.69 The movement’s hybridized ethos is front and center in the collaborative protest art of Bay-area queer undocumented “artivist” Julio Salgado. Through his “I Am Undocuqueer” project, Salgado highlights the simultaneity of LGBTQ and immigrant rights struggles as lived and experienced by undocumented queer youth. Salgado’s digital art directs attention to the quotidian struggles of resistance enacted by undocuqueer activists. Forasmuch as Salgado treats gender and sexuality crucial to theorizing US migrant lived experiences, his loud neon-colored illustrations of plus-sized undocumented queer subjects resist the erasure of undocumented immigrants conditioned by nativist legislation and subvert the heteronormativity embedded in mainstream US immigrant rights discourse. According to rhetorical critic Karma Chávez, Salgado’s portraiture declares a new hybridized or “coalitional” political identity, one rendered feasible not through gender and sexual norms but through the quotidian struggles of undocumented migrant youth who also identify as LGBT.70 By foregrounding queer kinship systems, Salgado’s digital art disrupts early Chicano movement art that showcases Chicanas/os in the silhouette of heteronormativity.71 As such, we can situate the iconographic tactics of the UndocuQueer movement within a genealogy of Chicana cultural production—including What Night Brings and Mosquita y Mari—that expresses alternative Chicana/o subjectivities.
Using a decolonial imaginary, Chicana feminist literature and film resist mobilizing norms of gender, sexuality, and domestic space as a means of conveying the social worth of marginalized communities in the United States. Not having to pay deference to normativity lays bare the possibilities for imagining collectives against capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. Only then can the participation of the most resource-poor and vulnerable within the group be no longer forfeited but rather encouraged to highlight the rich heterogeneity of community, family, and nation.
Discussion of the Literature
Because cultural understandings of Latina/o sexuality as pathological are intimately connected to Latina/o subject formation, sexuality has developed into an integral part of Latina/o studies scholarship.72 Arising out of 1960s and 1970s student activism, early Latina/o studies programs (particularly Chicano studies and Puerto Rican studies) considered issues of multiple oppressions: race, class, and—to a lesser extent—gender. Such work indexed how racial and ethnic identities are established through varied modes of social control, including colonialism, enslavement, immigration, low-wage labor, and mass incarceration. More recently, the field has incorporated sexuality as an area of research and a vector of oppression in US Latina/o lived experiences.73
Latina/o studies scholars attribute the history of Latina/o sexuality to the Spanish conquest of the Americas.74 Colonialism shaped the sexual awareness of indigenous peoples and subsequent mestizo populations. In the late 1800s, as the United States expanded its imperialist aspirations, racist nativist impulses fueled a bourgeoning eugenics movement, one that underwrote the policies and practices implemented to regulate the sexuality and reproduction of newly colonized subjects. In the wake of American military victory over Spain in 1898—fifty years after the 1846–1848 Mexican American War—Puerto Ricans and Cubans endured US occupation and imperial control. In the case of Puerto Rico, Latina/o studies scholars have noted how sexuality conspired with race—through public health campaigns targeted at prostitutes and sterilization efforts spearheaded by government officials—in consolidating Puerto Rican colonial identities and American visions of modernization.75 The eugenics movement that underwrote US colonial policy lasted well into the 20th century. Racialized discourses that branded Latina/o bodies and sexualities as dangerous, deviant, and diseased were, in turn, redeployed during the Bracero Program against Mexican “guest workers.”76
By the 1950s and 1960s, anthropological and sociological accounts of Latina/o sexualities replaced “biology” with “culture” in making sense of US Latina/o lived experiences.77 These culturally overdeterminist approaches, however, elided the structural forces and historical circumstances that contoured the experiences and politics of Latinas/os. The conflation of Latina/o culture with sexual deviance has persisted in Western academic circles and US popular culture. These long-lasting representations of Latinas/os as sexually deviant—excessive yet deficient—have proven crucial to discourses and practices establishing Latina/o subjects as non-US citizens. As Latina/o studies scholars have duly noted, Americans have deliberately refused citizenship to Mexicans and Puerto Ricans on the false pretense that these groups are culturally, morally, and physically unfit for the benefits of US democracy.78
Recent scholarship on Latina/o sexualities continues to move away from ethnocentric, pathological, and static frameworks, which neglect structural forces like racism, poverty, and discrimination in molding the cultural practices and sexual experiences of US Latinas/os. Through the analytical optic of sexuality, some Latina/o studies scholarship has revisited landmark moments in Latina/o history including the Chicano civil rights movement, the Young Lords Party, and the Mariel Boatlift.79 These works are part of a Latina/o studies that continues to probe how US Latina/o lived experiences are mediated through intersecting categories of social difference and forms of embodiment. Through new research approaches and alternative perspectives, as Juana Maria Rodríguez reminds us in her literature review of Latina/o studies scholarship on sexuality, Latina/o studies is ever more alert to the quotidian politics of Latina/o sexual desires, identities, and practices in art and literature, dance and music, and film and media.80 And as we contend with globalization, migration, and transnationalism, a more dynamic and global outlook takes shape in the field.81
Unfortunately, the political sphere for Latinas/os remains engaged to sanitized forms of Latina/o sexuality. Similarly, past scholarship on Latina/o sexuality has oscillated between concepts of sexual honor and sexual shame—that is, showing how Latinas/os are decent and moral in opposition to popular stereotypes and academic images casting them as pathological. This scholarship runs the risk of forwarding oversimplified representations of Latinas/os that sanction heterosexuality as desirable, inevitable, and normal. For this reason, we need more complex and dynamic Latina/o studies scholarship that attends to the erotic pleasures and practices of Latinas/os on their own merit, especially when those pleasures and practices are non-normative.82 Moreover, even though research on Latina/o sexuality has gravitated toward Chicana/o populations—people of Mexican descent are the largest US Latina/o population—we need more comparative research that pays attention to the particular sexual desires, experiences, and practices of Latinas/os hailing from different nationalities, histories, and social conditions. Given the centrality of sexuality to dominant Latina/o representations and the everyday politics of Latina/o communities, questions of sexuality will continue to figure prominently in Latina/o studies. The field, as such, must continue to expand, adapting to the rich heterogeneity that is the tapestry of Latina/o bodies, desires, and sexual practices.
Alarcón, Norma, ed. The Sexuality of Latinas. Berkeley, CA: Third Women Press, 1992.Find this resource:
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987.Find this resource:
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1990.Find this resource:
Asencio, Marysol, ed. Latina/o Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010.Find this resource:
Blackwell, Maylei. ¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.Find this resource:
Cacho, Lisa M. Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected. New York: NYU Press, 2012.Find this resource:
Cantú, Lionel, Jr. The Sexuality of Migration: Border Crossings and Mexican Immigrant Men. Edited by Nancy A. Naples and Salvador Ortiz. New York: NYU Press, 2009.Find this resource:
Castillo, Ana. Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.Find this resource:
Chabram-Dernersesian, Angie. The Chicana/o Cultural Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006.Find this resource:
Gaspar De Alba, Alicia, ed. Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture & Chicana/o Sexualities. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.Find this resource:
Hames-Garcia, Michael, and Ernesto Javier Martinez, eds. Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.Find this resource:
Hurtado, Aída. Voicing Chicana Feminisms: Young Women Speak Out on Sexuality and Identity. New York: NYU Press, 2003.Find this resource:
Luibhéid, Eithne, and Lionel Cantú Jr., eds. Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.Find this resource:
Moraga, Cherríe. Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Paso por Sus Labios (2nd ed.). Brooklyn, NY: South End Press, 2000.Find this resource:
Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Watertown, MA: Persephone, 1981.Find this resource:
Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.Find this resource:
Rodríguez, Juana María. Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces. New York: NYU Press, 2003.Find this resource:
Rodríguez, Richard T. Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.Find this resource:
Trujillo, Carla, ed. Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About. Berkeley, CA: Third Woman Press, 1991.Find this resource:
(1.) María Inés Zamudio, “Elvira Arellano: From undocumented immigrant to international activist,”, The Chicago Reporter, last modified January 16, 2014.
(2.) Amalia Pallares, Family Activism: Immigrant Struggles and the Politics of Noncitizenship (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2014).
(3.) Sonya Grant Arreola, “Latina/o Childhood Sexuality,” in Latina/o Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies, ed. Marysol Asencio (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 48–61.
(4.) Seth Freed Wessler, “Nearly 205K Deportations of Parents of U.S. Citizens in Just Over Two Years,” Colorlines, last modified December 17, 2012.
(5.) “Family Unity, Family Health: An Inquiry on Federal Immigration Policy (Case Story),” Human Impact Partners, last modified 2017.
(6.) Wessler, “Nearly 205K Deportations,” Colorlines.
(7.) Lisa M. Cacho, “‘If I Turn Into A Boy, I Don’t Think I Want Huevos’: Reassessing Racial Masculinities in What Night Brings,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 18, no. 1 (2011): 71–85.
(8.) Yasmin Nair describes narratives of migrant exceptionalism as those that depict immigrants as valuable to the neoliberal logic of the nation-state—heroic despite their legal vulnerability. Yasmin Nair, “Undocumented vs. Illegal: A Distinction Without a Difference.” YasminNair.com, last modified 2012.
(9.) Sandra Hernández, “A Lethal Limbo,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2008.
(10.) Tiziana Rinaldi, “She Fled Abuse in Mexico, and Now This Trans Woman Says She Was Abused in Immigration Detention Too,” Public Radio International, last modified April 14, 2016.
(11.) Suyapa G. Portillo Villeda, Eileen J. Ma, Stacy I. Macías, and Carmen Varela, “The ‘Good,’ the ‘Bad,’ and the Queer Invisible: The Los Angeles May Day Queer Contingent,” Diálogo 18, no. 2 (2015): 27.
(12.) Heteronormativity is often associated with heterosexism, which refers to a social system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex desire, sex, and relationships. For a discussion on compulsory heterosexuality, see Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5 (1980): 631–660.
(13.) Nayan Shah, Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2001), 253.
(14.) Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003), 50.
(15.) Maxine Baca Zinn, “Political Familism: Toward Sex Role Equality in Chicano Families,” Aztlán 6, no. 1 (1975): 13–26.
(16.) Richard T. Rodriguez, Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 2.
(17.) Raúl Coronado, “Nationalism,” in Keywords for Latina/o Studies, ed. Deborah R. Vargas, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes (New York: NYU Press, 2017), 147–151.
(18.) Cultural anthropologist Benedict Anderson defines a “nation” as a socially constituted community established by individuals who see themselves as members of the group. The nation, however, is imagined because, as Anderson puts it, the members will probably never know each other. In spite of this, in the minds of members, they hold a lasting image of their affinity as a group; Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991).
(19.) Rosa Linda Fregoso, meXicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands (Berkley: University of California Press, 2003), 72–74.
(20.) Marvin E. Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti, The Subculture of Violence: Towards an Integrated Theory in Criminology (New York: Routledge, 1967); and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (Washington, DC: Office of Policy Planning and Research, 1965).
(21.) Oscar Lewis, La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty—San Juan and Puerto Rico (New York: Vintage, 1968); and Oscar Lewis, The Children of Sánchez: Autobiography of a Mexican Family (New York: Vintage, 1961).
(22.) For a critique of West Side Story from a Latina/o studies perspective, see Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Boricua Pop: Puerto Ricans and the Latinization of American Culture (New York: NYU Press, 2004).
(23.) Gloria González-López, “Heterosexuality Exposed: Some Feminist Sociological Reflections on Heterosexual Sex and Romance in U.S. Latina/o Communities,” in Latina/o Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies, ed. Marysol Asencio (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 103–116.
(24.) Alfredo Mirandé, Hombres y Machos: Masculinity and Latino Culture (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997).
(25.) Cherríe Moraga, “Queer Aztlán: the Re-formation of Chicano Tribe,” in Latino/a Thought: Culture, Politics, and Society, ed. Francisco H. Vázquez (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 230.
(26.) Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (Watertown, MA: Persephone, 1981). See also Cherríe Moraga, Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Paso por Sus Labios, 2nd ed. (Brooklyn, NY: South End Press, 2000); Gloria Anzaldúa, Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1990); and Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987).
(27.) Alma M. García, ed., Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings (New York: Routledge, 1997). For other studies of women’s involvement in the Chicano civil rights movement, see Maylei Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011); Lorena Oropeza and Dionne Espinoza, eds., Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement: Writings from El Grito del Norte (Houston: Arte Público Press, 2006); and Norma Alarcón, ed., The Sexuality of Latinas (Berkeley, CA: Third Women Press, 1992).
(28.) Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, “‘That’s My Place!’: Negotiating Race, Sexual, and Gender Politics in San Francisco’s Gay Latino Alliance, 1975–1983,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 12, no. 2 (2003): 224–258. For a similar account of Latina lesbian grassroots organizing in 1980s Chicago, see Lourdes Torres, “Compañeras in the Middle: Toward a History of Latina Lesbian Organizing in Chicago,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 20, no. 1–2 (2014): 41–74. For a discussion of the political and theoretical stakes of gay Latino activist, cultural, and scholarly work in relation to mainstream LGBT studies and the broader field of Chicana and Latino studies, see Michael Hames-Garcia and Ernesto Javier Martinez, eds., Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).
(29.) For discussions on the virgin/whore dichotomy, see Maxine Baca-Zinn, “Social Science Theorizing for Latino Families in the Age of Diversity,” in Understanding Latino Families: Scholarship, Policy and Practice, ed. Ruth E. Zambrana, Douglas S. Massey, and Sally Alonzo Bell (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1995); Baca-Zinn, “Mexican American Women in the Social Sciences,” Signs 8 (1995): 259–272; Patricia Zavella, “Talkin’ Sex: Chicanas and Mexicanas Theorize About Silences and Sexual Pleasures,” in Chicana Feminisms: A Critical Reader, ed. Gabriela Arredondo, Aida Hurtado, Norma Klahn, and Olga Nájera-Ramirez (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003); and Clara E. Rodriguez, ed., Latino Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. Media (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997).
(30.) Carla Trujillo, “Chicana Lesbians: Fear and Loathing in the Chicano Community,” in Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About, ed. Carla Trujillo (Berkeley, CA: Third Woman Press, 1991): 186–194.
(31.) Octavio Paz, “The Sons of La Malinche,” in The Labyrinth of Solitude and The Other Mexico, trans. Lysander Kemp et al. (New York: Grove Press, 1985).
(32.) Leslie Petty, “The ‘Dual’-ing Images of la Malinche and la Virgen de Guadalupe in Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street,” Melus 25, no. 2 (2000): 119–132; and Aída Hurtado, “Sitios y Lenguas: Chicanas Theorize Feminisms,” Hypatia 13, no. 2 (1998): 134–161. For a discussion of marianismo and malinchismo, see also Ana Castillo, “Saintly Mother and Soldier’s Whore: The Leftist/Catholic Paradigm,” in Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma, updated edition (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 91–112.
(33.) Anna Nieto-Gómez, “La Feminista,” Encuentro Femenil 1, no. 2 (1974): 35.
(34.) Emma Pérez, “Queering the Borderlands: The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard,” Frontiers 24, no. 2–3 (2003): 122–131.
(35.) Teresa Córdova, “The Emergent Writings of Twenty Years of Chicana Feminist Struggles: Roots and Resistance,” in The Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States, ed. Félix Padilla (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1994), 194.
(36.) Carla Trujillo, What Night Brings (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone, 2003).
(37.) Trujillo, What Night Brings, 12.
(38.) Cristina Herrera, “‘The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About’: Rejection, Redemption, and the Lesbian Daughter in Carla Trujillo’s What Night Brings,” Women’s Studies 39 (2010): 19.
(39.) Cacho, “‘If I Turn Into a Boy.’”
(40.) Trujillo, What Night Brings, 31.
(41.) Marivel Danielson, “The Birdy and the Bees: Queer Chicana Girlhood in Carla Trujillo’s What Night Brings,” Chicana/Latina Studies 7, no. 2 (2008): 73.
(42.) Herrera, “‘The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About’,” 35.
(43.) Trujillo, What Night Brings, 241.
(44.) Trujillo, 112.
(45.) Trujillo, “Chicana Lesbians,” 191.
(46.) Catrióna Rueda Esquibel, With Her Machete in her Hand: Reading Chicana Lesbians (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).
(47.) Patricia Zavella “‘Playing with Fire’: The Gendered Construction of Chicana/Mexicana Sexuality,” Perspectives on Las Americas (2003): 238.
(48.) Mosquita y Mari, directed by Aurora Guerrero (2012; Los Angeles, CA: Wolfe Releasing), DVD.
(49.) Westmoreland and Glatzer came up with the idea for the film after photographing the quinceañera of a neighbor. The film was released to critical acclaim. At the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, Quinceañera won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for Drama. Dennis Hensley, “The Gay Couple in Charge,” The Advocate, August 15, 2006, 62–63.
(50.) Quinceañera, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (2006; Los Angeles, CA: Sony Pictures Classics), DVD.
(51.) Gloria Anzaldúa, “To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora, y chicana,” in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. Ana Louise Keating (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 163-175.
(52.) Although Mosquita y Mari does not engage butch/femme dynamics, I do not think Guerrero intends to assign those dynamics to “mainstream” lesbian culture. Queer Latina scholars, including Juana Maria Rodríguez and Stacy Macías, have attributed the production of butch/femme dynamics to working-class, lesbian communities of color. These scholars have theorized butch/femme dynamics as counter-hegemonic erotic desires, gender identities, and survival tactics. See Juana Maria Rodríguez, “Gesture and Utterance: Fragments from a Butch-Femme Archive,” in A Companion to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, and Queer Studies, ed. George E. Haggerty and Molly McGarry (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 282–291; and Stacy Macías, “Femme Ontology: Queer Femininities and the Politics of Race On-line,” paper presented at annual meeting of the American Studies Association, 2006.
(53.) Anzaldúa, “To(o) Queer the Writer,” 163.
(54.) Anzaldúa, 164.
(55.) Duggan, The Twilight of Equality, 50.
(56.) Roderick A. Ferguson, “Race-ing Homonormativity: Citizenship, Sociology and Gay Identity,” in Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology, ed. E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005): 52–67.
(57.) Cherríe Moraga, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000–2010 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 178.
(58.) Moraga, 180.
(59.) Moraga, 178.
(60.) Moraga, 179.
(61.) Liam Stack, “Activist Removed After Heckling Obama at LGBT Event at White House,” The New York Times, June 24, 2015.
(62.) Melissa Autumn White, “Documenting the Undocumented: Toward a Queer Politics of No Borders,” Sexualities 17, no. 8 (2014): 976–997.
(63.) Karma Chávez, Queer Migration Politics: Activist Rhetoric and Coalitional Possibilities (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013).
(64.) Nair, “Undocumented vs. Illegal.”
(65.) Cacho, “‘If I Turn Into a Boy.’”
(66.) White, “Documenting the Undocumented.”
(67.) Cathy J. Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 3, no. 4 (1997): 437–465.
(68.) Wessler, “Nearly 205K Deportations,” Colorlines.
(69.) Drawing upon fieldwork and interviews in San Francisco, Kath Weston examines how gay men and lesbians reconstruct the notion of “family” by establishing their own kinship ties in opposition to heterosexual intercourse and procreation; Kath Weston, Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, and Kinship (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
(70.) Chávez, Queer Migration Politics, 81.
(71.) Juan D. Ochoa, “Shine Bright Like a Migrant: Julio Salgado’s Digital Art and Its Use of Jotería,” Social Justice 42, no. 3–4 (2015): 184–198.
(72.) For other historical overviews of Latina/o sexuality studies, see Juana Maria Rodríguez, “Sexuality,” in Keywords for Latina/o Studies, ed. Deborah R. Vargas, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes (New York: NYU Press, 2017), 196–200; and Pablo Mitchell, “Making Sex Matter: Histories of Latina/o Sexualities, 1898 to 1965,” in Latina/o Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies, ed. Marysol Asencio (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 38–47.
(73.) Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano proposes that Chicana/o studies center the study of sexuality rather than just “adding it in.” Such an approach would ensure that Chicana/o studies remain an ideal site for contesting US state domination, capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy; Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, “Sexuality and Chicana/o Studies: Toward a Theoretical Paradigm for the Twenty-First Century,” Cultural Studies 13, no. 2 (1999): 335–345.
(74.) Ramón A. Gutiérrez, “A History of Latina/o Sexualities,” in Latina/o Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies, ed. Marysol Asencio (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 13–37.
(75.) Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Eileen J. Suárez, Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870–1920 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, “1898 and the History of a Queer Puerto Rican Century: Gay Lives, Island Debates, and Diasporic Experience,” Centro Journal 2 (1999): 91–110.
(76.) Mireya Loza, Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).
(77.) Oscar Lewis, “The Culture of Poverty,” Scientific American 215 (1966): 19–25.
(78.) For a discussion on narratives of migrant hyperfertility and nativist legislation, consider Leo R. Chavez, The Latino Threat Narrative: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). For a discussion of mid-century sterilization efforts against Mexican immigrants to California, see Natalie Lira and Alexandra Minna Stern, “Mexican Americans and Eugenic Sterilization,” Aztlán 39, no. 2 (2014): 9–34.
(79.) On the Chicano civil rights movement, see García, Chicana Feminist Thought; Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power!; and Oropeza and Espinoza, Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement; on the Young Lords Party, see Cristina Beltrán, The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); and on the Mariel Boatlift, see Susana Peña, Oye Loca: From the Mariel Boatlift to Gay Cuban Miami (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
(80.) Rodríguez, “Sexuality,” in Keywords for Latina/o Studies. For Latina/o studies scholarship on art and literature, see Karen Mary Davalos, Chicana/o Remix: Art and Errata Since the Sixties (New York: NYU Press, 2017); Sandra K. Soto, Reading Chican@ Like a Queer: The De-Mastery of Desire (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010); Laura E. Pérez, Chicana Art: The Politics of Spiritual and Aesthetic Alterities (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010); Lázaro Lima, The Latino Body: Crisis Identities in American Literary and Cultural Memory (New York: NYU Press, 2007); Ricardo L. Ortíz, Cultural Erotics in Cuban America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007); and Alicia Gaspar De Alba, ed., Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture & Chicana/o Sexualities (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). For work on Latina/o identities and practices in dance and music, see Alexandra T. Vazquez, Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013); Cindy García, Salsa Crossings: Dancing Latinidad in Los Angeles (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013); Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, and Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012); Deborah Vargas, Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of La Onda (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Priscilla Peña Ovalle, Dance and the Hollywood Latina: Race, Sex, and Stardom (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010); David Román, Performance in America: Contemporary U.S. Culture and Performing Arts (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005); and Frances R. Aparicio, Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1998). For scholarship on Latina/o representation within film and media, see Isabel Molina-Guzmán, Dangerous Curves: Latina Bodies in the Media (New York: NYU Press, 2010); Clara E. Rodriguez, Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Chon A. Noriega and Ana M. López, eds., The Ethnic Eye: Latino Media Arts (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); and Rosa-Linda Fregoso, The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
(81.) Carlos U. Decena, Tacit Subjects: Belonging and Same-Sex Desire Among Immigrant Dominican Men (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Jafari S. Allen, iVenceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-Making in Cuba (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009); Lionel Cantú Jr., The Sexuality of Migration: Border Crossings and Mexican Immigrant Men, ed. Nancy A. Naples and Salvador Ortiz (New York: NYU Press, 2009); and Eithne Luibhéid and Lionel Cantú Jr., eds., Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
(82.) For Latina/o studies scholarship that attends to Latina/o sexual heterogeneity on its own terms, see Juana María Rodríguez, Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings (New York: NYU Press, 2014); Juana María Rodríguez, Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces (New York: NYU Press, 2003); and José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).