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Castillo, Ana

CASTILLO, Ana

Born 15 June 1953, Chicago, Illinois

Daughter of Ramón (Ray) and Raquel (Rocha) Castillo; children: Marcel

Ana Castillo grew up in Chicago, where she received a B.A. from Northwestern University (1975) and an M.A. from the University of Chicago. In 1991 she completed a Ph.D. in American studies at the University of Bremen, Germany. The voices populating Castillo's texts speak from a multiplicity of positions that at times complement and at times contradict one another. Their subjectivity is a weave of differences, complex and potentially transformative.

The epistolary novel The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986) explores the geographic and psychic borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico as internalized by Chicanas. It also maps the borderlands between women and women and women and men. Much of the bonding, both positive and negative, between Teresa and Alicia is established through their relationships with men, while they struggle with the differences between them. Teresa begins Letter 13, "Alicia, why i hated white women and sometimes didn't like you," and ends balancing Alicia's class-and skin-privilege against her inferior physical attractiveness. While Teresa feels betrayed by Alicia's ignorance of Mexican culture, she in turn hides from Alicia her perception that men are more attracted to her because she has internalized femininity as submissive.

The text's structure insists on polyvalence, presenting four possible combinations of the letters. As published, the ending foregrounds the bonding between the two women through failed relationships with men. The other endings represent the triumph of maternal and cultural dictates, the confirmation of women's betrayal of women, and the quixotic preparations for yet another trip to Mexico.

Castillo's second novel Sapogonia (1990) positions women readers not to identify with the male subject Maximo, yet it is the story of Pastora, whose contradictory subjectivity is both revealed and concealed by the narrative. Maximo's subjectivity is constructed in opposition to woman as inaccessible enigma and vagina dentata. He both desires the primordial unity he projects onto Pastora and is terrified of being absorbed by her. Although various alternative narratives are available to her, Pastora is complicit in her own objectification as enigma and object of desire. Her opacity also functions as a shield from intimacy; she is both contemptuously independent of men and dependent on them. Sapogonia explores male fantasy, its potential violence to women, and the female subject's struggle to interpret herself both within and outside of this discourse on femininity.

My Father Was a Toltec: Poems (1988), monolingual poems in English and Spanish, explores a subjectivity of marginalization: what it means to be poor, to be hated because of skin color and culture, to be the daughter of a Mexican woman and a Mexican man. The first section, "The Toltec," focuses on what was received and rejected from father and mother; "La Heredera" on the ways heterosexual relationships have been culturally defined; "Ixtacihuatl Died in Vain" presents female bonding as a nonutopian possibility.

The last section of My Father Was a Toltec documents the collective struggle against domination. "A Christmas Gift…" exposes literary authority as male, white, and privileged: "so these are not poems, i readily admit, /as i grapple with nonexistence, /making scratches with stolen pen." The book ends with "In My Country," a utopian vision of a world that has put an end to multiple oppressions: "In my world the poet sang loud /and clear and everyone heard /without recoiling. It was sweet /as harvest, sharp as tin, strong /as the western wind, and all had /a coat warm enough to bear it." An expanded edition of the collection was published in 1995 as My Father Was a Toltec: New and Collected Poems.

Castillo's next work, Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994), is a series of 10 essays examining the roles of Mexican and Amerindian women in a sociological, historical, and political context. She challenges the notion of black-and-white race relations and advocates the need for Xicanisma—a brand of politically and socially active Chicana feminism.

A collection of short stories followed in 1996 with the publication of Loverboys: Stories. The medley varies greatly in setting, narrative, and structure, but each examines an aspect of love. Women in the stories deal with issues of race, culture, love lost and love gained. Her latest work takes a different approach to Mexican history with a series of essays, poetry, fiction, and historical writings on the Virgin Guadalupe. Goddess of the Americas, La Diosa de Las Americas; Writings on the Virgin Guadalupe (1996) brings together the work of Octavio Paz, Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez, and others to examine the impression this figure has had on the people and history of Mexico and in countries far beyond in art and literature.

Castillo has been recognized for her work from nearly the beginning of her career. She was given the American Book award, Before Columbus Foundation (1986 for The Mixquiahuala Letters), was honored in 1987 and in 1988 by Women's Foundation of San Francisco, was granted a California Arts Council fellowship for fiction in 1989 and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for poetry in 1990, and received a New Mexico Arts Commission Grant in 1991. For So Far From God, she was awarded the Carl Sandburg Literary Award in Fiction (1993) and the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award (1994). Castillo's work continues to cast light on an often forgotten theme, refusing to let her issues drown in the sea of multiculturalism.

Other Works:

Zero Makes Me Hungry (1975). I Close My Eyes (to See) (1976). Otro canto (1977). The Invitation (1979). Keats, Poe, and the Shaping of Cortazar's Mythopoesis (1981). ThisBridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (coedited and collected with C. Moraga and G. Anzaldúa, 1981). Women Are Not Roses (1984). Esta puente, mi espalda. Voces de mujeres tercermundistas en los Estados Unidos (coeditor, 1988). Third Woman 4: The Sexuality of Latinas (coeditor, 1989). So Far from God (1993).

Bibliography:

Horno-Delgado, A., et al, eds., Breaking Boundaries. Latina Writing and Critical Readings (1989). Alarcón, N., ed., Critical Approaches to Hispanic Women's Literature (1994).

Reference Works:

CA (1991). CA (Online, 1999). Hispanic Writers (1990). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). WW of Hispanic Americans (1991, 1992).

Other reference:

Americas Review (1992). Booklist (15 Sept.1994, 19 Aug. 1996, 15 Oct. 1996). Discurso Literario: Revista de Estudios Iberoamericanos (1990). MELUS (22 Sept. 1997).

—YVONNE YARBRO-BEJARANO

UPDATED BY CARRIE SNYDER

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