Sunday, November 09, 2014

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of _Massacre of the Dreamers_: Interview with Ana Castillo

Ana Castillo, a Midwest born and raised Xicana (from Chicago, Illinois), has been writing novels, poetry, and prose since the 1970s.  Her accomplishments are many (click here!).  This year she has two publications recently released:  the novel, Give It To Me, (which our own La Bloga writer, Michael Sedano reviewed--click here for review) and this month, a new edition of Massacre of the Dreamers.  

Let me take you back to 1994:  With Massacre of the DreamersAna Castillo creates a linguistic visual link between our Mexican and Indigenous antepasados when she takes the capital “C” from Chicana and replaces it with a strong, decisive “X”:  Xicana.  The "X" is the prominent letter in  Nahuatl, the Uto-Aztecan languages representing various dialects and variants of indigenous peoples that populated and migrated in what is now the United States as well as Mexico.  By using the "X," then, the indigenous becomes privileged. This new concept of Xicana becomes a pivotal point in cultural and literary history and theory.  For example, while working on my dissertation two years after Massacre of the Dreamers is first published, (at the University of California, Santa Barbara), I notice a number of Xicanas changing their names to indigenous names: Xochitl, Xandra (for  Alexandra), Ximena.  Their reading of Castillo's work marked a transformation.  Castillo’s book provided Xicanas the necessary historical and cultural background to broaden and deepen their understanding of identity, and to encourage their participation in the world as a politically active and socially conscious mujer. 

2014:  University of New Mexico (UNMP) publishes a 20th Anniversary Edition of Massacre of the Dreamers and we are again reminded not to forget our antepasados, our complex background that brings to bear the indigenous and the colonizer.  Ana Castillo's interview today on La Bloga takes a renewed look at the concientización of the Xicana.  

Amelia Montes: Felicidades, Ana, on this important 20th anniversary edition of Massacre of the Dreamers. How did this anniversary edition come about with University of New Mexico Press?

Ana Castillo in San Francisco, 2012
Photo by Lisa Paul Streitfeld
Ana Castillo: Gracias.  UNMP published the original edition.  I had asked if they were interested in a new edition.  (I felt the impulse to update for some time.) As it turned out, the book came out exactly twenty years after the first publication.  Therefore, it is updated and a 20th anniversary edition.

Amelia Montes:  There are so many reasons why Massacre of the Dreamers was an important read twenty years ago.  I also see how it is important today. What is it about this historical moment that brings us back to your book?  

Ana Castillo:  I began to work on the project, Massacre of the Dreamers, in the mid-80s.  Latinas, specifically Chicanas, weren’t embracing the term feminism then.  Therefore, I came up with a relevant term:  Xicanisma.  By this example, you may see how the work and challenge was there for such a study.  So much material, theses around the world, have flourished as a result of  such works.  I thought the task of updating would be tremendous.  The good news was that it wasn’t.  (To some degree because of the Internet.)  The bad news was that there wasn’t all that much to update and the premise of the book still held up.

Amelia Montes:  ClarissaPinkola Estés writes the introduction to this new edition.  Tell us about Clarissa and her relationship to this book. 

Ana Castillo:  La Dra. Pinkola Estes is a brilliant Jungian feminist.  She has been very affirming of my writing since my early poetry in My Father Was a Toltec.  I’m touched and privileged to have her friendship and endorsement.

Amelia Montes:  The first part of this book is about feminism, activism, and the roots of machismo.  What has changed in twenty years regarding these three areas in our culture.

Ana Castillo:  As for the “Roots of Machismo,” they are much what they were in the first edition.  The updates I made in the new edition were mostly related to some new laws to protect women around the world.  Do they truly protect women?  It’s difficult to say. 

Ana Castillo, 2013 "in the Valley"
Feminism over all has morphed in various directions.  But, (and not just in “Western” society), capitalism has usurped much of it.  We have new generations, (they go by five year increments in my estimation now), that enjoy the benefits of earlier women’s struggles to full advantage as they engulf lives that perpetuate the notorious feminist arch-enemy:  patriarchy.  Do I consider Beyoncé a feminist because she calls herself that?  Not so much.  But it was due to feminist struggles that she is where she is and has what she has.

There is still great need in the world for selfless activism on many fronts.  Communication has advanced so that we can and do a lot of it on computers but that in and of itself is not the thrust of the work.  Information is now made available so that hopefully many of us with conscientización see the social and political connections that affect the lives of the majority in suppressive ways.  Anyone with conscientización can decide which of the many areas that negatively affect communities s/he may support.  It is crucial to know how you best can do that so that you don’t get frustrated or burnt out. 

Amelia Montes: In the sixth chapter, you use C.G. Jung's idea of the “animus” to have readers think of the feminine and masculine as one.  How are these descriptions important for us today? 

Ana Castillo:  Without formal study in the field, I nevertheless have been partial to Jung’s ideas.  One reason is that I come to my scholarly investigations from the perspective as a poet.  A poet, a brown woman from a modest background who has lived her life that way, a brown woman proud and intent on demonstrating the worthiness of her indigenous ancestry.  The studies of Jung and Joseph Campbell, both white men who approached their curiosity about humanity through mythology, connect with me through my own fascination with my rich ancestry.  We can apply Campbell’s hero’s journey to a girl’s journey into womanhood.  We can apply Jung’s studies about archetypes to those of our Mexican antepasados. 
Ana Castillo in Silver Springs, New Mexico.  2013 photo by Robert A. Molina
A long, long time ago as any feminist worth her salt knows, woman’s power in society began to be taken away.  Maybe not everywhere in the globe but it is fair to say, in most places where civilization was ‘advancing.’  This incessant pattern of splitting the consciousness seems, at least, on an emotional level.  I’d like to think we can work on unifying the feminine/masculine split. 

I do believe there are physiological differences between men and women, and I do believe that they do affect our behaviors and emotions.  I think that more understanding of this is coming about with sex re-assignment. 

Amelia Montes: The Brujas and Curanderas chapter is updated to include twenty-first century discussions.  Today, such as UC Berkeley, there are curandera course offerings for students, when in the 1980s, this was not possible.  Comments?

Ana Castillo:  I was in the Bay Area in the 1980s (when I began work on this book) and spoke several times at UC Berkeley.  The groundwork was being laid then by the Chicanas.   We must never lose track of how these things are a continuum.  They don’t naturally evolve.  For that continuum to have ‘legs,’ those who do “the work matters” must be tenacious.  Apparently, it has been.

Amelia Montes: In your last chapter, “Resurrection of the Dreamers,” you write:  “When we profess a vision of a world where a woman is not raped somewhere in the United States every three minutes, where one of every three female children do not experience sexual molestation, where the Mexican female is not the lowest paid worker in the United States—we are not hating, but trying to change the facts of our conditions.” So true.  What are some strategies twenty-first century Xicanas have done to “change the facts of our conditions.”

Ana Castillo:  “Conscientización,’ a term brought to us primarily today through the strength of Paulo Freire’s book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (by the way, the foremost book that has provoked the notorious case of the Tucson school book ban) is everything.  Because of conscientización we have the courage to act.  Because of it, we communicate.  We have entered fields where we were rarely, if at all, seen—medicine, law and of course, letters.  With this courage to act, we make change.  We are going against not just a thousand-year-old grind, but one that is in full swing now so it isn’t as evident or at the speed of what some of us would wish to see in our lifetimes.

Amelia Montes:  What is most interesting to you about the process in re-publishing a twenty-first century edition of Massacre of the Dreamers?
Ana Castillo in Silver Springs, NM, 2013
Photo by Robert A. Molina

Ana Castillo:  Interesting is a word I like to use when suggesting some reservation.  Today, twenty years later, it is interesting how little has changed for the majority of the women of color in the world.  It is interesting that today, like then, the book comes out and is welcomed first by women like yourself, a Chicana with concientización.  I’m grateful and am deeply touched to know of the women the book has affected, but it is interesting how in 2014, the second decade of the twenty-first century, the majority of Chicanas, Mexicanas, and Latinas are living the lives they might have led not just twenty years ago, but two hundred years ago.

Amelia Montes:  Is there anything you would like to add?

Ana Castillo:  Today, thankfully, we do have many more women studying and pursuing degrees.  They know they must publish.  I’m sure your readers know these studies don’t make anyone rich or (necessarily) famous as it was once thought about publishing a book. The motivation is to get the word out, to hopefully give others encouragement to move forward. Thank you for the opportunity to let your readers know of my humble efforts.  I hope it speaks to the new generation of Dreamers.  Gracias Amelia, and to La Bloga.

1 comment:

Daniel A. Olivas said...

What a wonderful interview of one of our most important intellectual and literary voices.