Born 25 September 1952, Whittier, California
Daughter of Joseph L. and Elvira Moraga
Cherríe Moraga is a celebrated poet, playwright, and essayist. Her mother is Chicana and her father European American, and she grew up in the Los Angeles area, but as a young adult moved to Northern California. A poor reader as a child, she affirms that listening to the women of her mother's family instilled in her the art of telling a story and the blend of Spanish and English that characterizes her writing. She received a B.A. in English (1974) and an M.A. in feminist writings (1981) from San Francisco State University. From 1986 to 1991 Moraga taught in the Chicano Studies Department at the University of California at Berkeley.
Moraga's work is courageous and polemical in both Chicano and feminist communities. Speaking as a Chicana feminist lesbian, she has broken the silence surrounding taboo topics such as sexuality and lesbianism, sexism and homophobia in Chicano culture, racism and classism in the white women's movement, and the urgent need for a feminism defined by women of color. Moraga's effort to think through what it means to be Chicana and lesbian in essays that are collages of dreams, journal entries, and autobiographical reflection is an important foundation on which to build further Latina feminist theory.
Moraga is well known as coeditor and contributor to the award-winning book This Bridge Called My Back (1981), an anthology of poetry and essays by radical women of color. Coedited with Gloria Anzaldúa, the book provides an analysis of interlocking systems of oppression. Besides the important prefatory material, including the introduction defining the concept of "theory in the flesh," Moraga's work is represented by two poems and an essay. "La Güera" explains how her light skin allowed her to "pass" until she came out as a lesbian. Only then did she understand oppression. The essay documents her painful journey to "my brown mother—the brown in me," and calls for an awareness of the ways in which all women internalize the values of the oppressor. She sees her lesbian identity as another border to be crossed in her critical subjectivity.
Moraga is also acclaimed for her early book Cuentos: Stories by Latinas (1983), coedited with Alma Gomez and Mariana Romo-Carmona. This book is the first anthology of fiction by Latina feminist writers. "Sin luz," one of Moraga's two stories, is a frank depiction of a young girl's attitudes about sexuality. In another book published in 1983, Loving in the War Years, Moraga gathered together seven years of poetry and continued to work out in essays the contradictory aspects of her identity. She analyzes the pervasive influence on gender roles of the myth of "La Malinche," Hernán Cortés' mistress and tactical adviser who represented the equation of female sexuality and betrayal and contributed to the cultural construction of woman as passive object. And she forges new meaning for the lesbian body, which has been considered culturally meaningless. Part of her challenge in the construction of lesbian consciousness is to discover or create a female-centered image and to resist heterosexual meanings and images.
Moraga's first work for the theater, the two-act verse play Giving Up the Ghost (1986), which premiered in San Francisco in 1987, juxtaposes the poetic monologues of three characters: Marisa, a Chicana lesbian; Corky, Marisa's younger self; and Amalia, a heterosexual Chicana. Corky's fierce attempts to escape the definition of her female self as passive object are defeated when she is raped at the age of eleven. The adult Marisa is left with her rage, unable to open herself in her love for women and crippled by the betrayal of women who always put men first. Through Amalia's love for her, Marisa experiences what it is like to surrender to the woman she desires. But this sexual love does not bring salvation, and at the end of the play, both women are still struggling with the private ghosts that torment them, although Marisa dreams of a community based on the love and loyalty of women for women.
Moraga has received several fellowships and awards for her work in playwrighting. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Theatre Playwrights Fellowship, the Dramalogue Award for Playwrighting, the PEN West Literary Award for Drama, the Will Glickman Playwrighting award, and the Critics' Circle award for best original script. Since 1991 she has been an artist-in-residence and instructor in creative and performance writing at the Brava! For Women in the Arts organization in San Francisco. Moraga's second play, Shadow of a Man, performed in 1990 at San Francisco's Eureka Theatre, explores the harmful impact of machismo on Chicano men. Set in the late 1960s in Los Angeles, the play tells the story of the Rodríguez family, torn apart by the dark "secret" of the father Manuel's obsession with his compadre Conrado, who represents the masculine ideal Manuel both desires and fails to embody. The play asks the Latino community to think about sexuality and desire beyond rigid heterosexual roles and to explore the intersections and contradictions of homosociality and homosexuality. In 1992 the play opened at The Latino Chicago Theatre.
Moraga's third play, Heroes and Saints, premiered at the Mission Theatre in San Francisco in May 1992 and later that year at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas. This play combines consideration of the pesticide poisoning of farm workers, sexuality, and female subjectivity. With it, Moraga continues the project of creating a "healing" theater that offers the possibility of transformation by addressing Chicano reality in all its complexity. Heroes & Saints and Other Plays was published in 1993 by West End Press.
Moraga continues to write essays and poetry, publishing a new collection in 1993 titled The Last Generation, and also to collaborate with other Latinas. In 1989 she published The Sexuality of Latinas, coedited with Norma Alarcón and Ana Castillo, a collection of essays and poems by several Latinas dealing in fun with the taboo subject of sex. She frequently provides talks and performances for university and other academic functions, such as a performance and keynote talk for the March 1999 opening of the Southwest Texas State University's new L.B.J. Student Center and a performance with Sandra Cisneros for the 1999 National Association of Chicana/Chicano Studies annual conference.
Corpi, L., ed., M scaras (1997). Hart, L., and P. Phelan, eds., Acting Out: Feminist Performances (1993). Horno-Delgado, A. et al., eds., Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings (1989). McCracken, E., New Latina Narrative: The Feminine Space of Postmodern Ethnicity (1999). McKenna, T., Migrant Song: Politics and Process in Contemporary Chicano Literature (1997). Rebolledo, T. D., Women Singing in the Snow (1995). Saldívar, R., Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference (1990). Third Woman (1986). Trujillo, C., ed., Chicana Lesbians. The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About (1991).
CA (1991). DLB (1989). Hispanic Writers (1987). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
Americas Review (Summer 1986, Fall 1987). Monographic Review (1990). Off Our Backs (Jan. 1985).
AND ELIZABETH COONROD MARTINEZ