As she describes the situation in such autobiographical essays as "La Güera"
(1981), Cherríe Moraga (1952- ) is the daughter of a Chicana mother and
an Anglo father, thus explaining one of her many identities or subject positions
as "fair or light skinned" ("la güera"). "No one ever quite told me this
(that light was right)," Moraga explains, "but I knew that being light was
something valued in my family . . . . In fact everything about my upbringing
. . . attempted to bleach me of what color I did have." Born in Whittier,
California, and raised in San Gabriel, Moraga had to wait until a different
kind of birth helped her rediscover her suppressed Mexican identity and strengthen
her connection with her mother. Specifically, she recalls that when she identified
herself as a lesbian, she began to forge a sympathetic union with her mother
and understand her "oppression—due to being poor, uneducated, and Chicana."
In "La Güera" and much of her other writing, Moraga dedicates herself to exposing
what she identifies as the four forces that combine to oppress women like
her: sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia.
Completing her undergraduate degree
in 1974, Moraga taught English at a Los Angeles high school before moving
to San Francisco to complete a Master's degree at San Francisco State. There,
she studied feminist writing in particular and submitted the anthology This
Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, co-edited
with Gloria Anzaldúa and published in 1981, as her M.A. thesis. The book had
a significant impact on a number of fields, especially Women's Studies, by
offering a corrective to the then white- and heterosexual-dominated discourse
of feminism. Soon thereafter, she published the autobiographical volume Loving
in the War Years: Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios in 1983, an anthology
of poems and prose pieces that, among other topics, chart Moraga's personal
and political development. Since then, she has written poetry, critical and
autobiographical essays, and several plays, all of which attempt to excavate
aspects of the identities—and forces of oppression—she has come to recognize
in her life.
For example, in one essay she
argues the radical position that the "control of women begins through the
institution of heterosexuality"; as a result, her lesbianism challenges the
"very foundation of la familia" and one source of women's subjection.
Thus, in the final moments of her poetic drama Giving Up the Ghost,
the central character, Marisa, recalls her intimate relationship with an older
woman whom she deeply loved. She remembers the woman remarking, "You make
love to me like worship," and she thinks, "Sí, la mujer es mi religion."
As the play ends, Marisa observes, "It's like making familia from scratch,
each time all over again . . .with strangers, if I must." Embracing both
her gender and her identity as a lesbian sustains Marisa—and Moraga—in a society
that only grudgingly affords her a measure of agency.
In both "La Güera" and Shadow
of a Man, Moraga also directly confronts another subjective reality—what
she calls in the former, "the brown in me." The Shadow of a Man, the
writing of which was supported by major grants including one from the Rockefeller
Foundation, was first produced in San Francisco by Brava! For Women in the
Arts in 1990. In it, Moraga examines the ways in which several forces impinging
upon the Latino family—the influences of Catholicism and a male-dominated
familial structure in particular—slowly reduce Manuel, the family patriarch,
into a drunken shadow of his former self. Moreover, the shadow of another
man, Conrado, Manuel's compadre who once enjoyed an intimate relationship
with Manuel's wife, looms over the loveless and abusive marriage that resides
at the center of the drama. The "brown" in Moraga reeacts against the subjection
of Hortensia, Manuel's long-suffering wife, and manifests itself rebelliously
in the family's two daughters, neither of whom seems destined to repeat the
life of their mother.
Shadow of a Man, revived
in 1995 by Denver's El Centro Su Teatro, forms part of a growing Chicana repertory
on the contemporary American stage. Modern Chicano theater, spearheaded in
the 1960s by Luis Valdez's founding of El Teatro Campesino (The Farm Workers'
Theater), was developed in a climate of political activism and social change.
Specifically, Valdez founded his theater company to support the work of César
Chavez and the labor organizing efforts of the United Farm Workers in northern
California. Unquestionably, Valdez's writing and production of short political
skits, then later full-length plays and film scripts, made major contributions
both to the history of modern American drama and to the political goals
Chavez championed of the more equitable and humane treatment of migrant workers.
Moraga's 1992 play Heroes and Saints, based on a 1988 UFW boycott to
protest the use of pesticides dangerous to agricultural laborers, follows
in this tradition [place photo here]. At the same time, however, Moraga
detects in Valdez's work a "sexism" she has "never respected." As a result,
women like Moraga and Josefina Lopez, joined by such writers of fiction as
Sandra Cisneros and Julia Alvarez, are producing work like Heroes and Saints,
texts that even when they borrow from the conventions of Latino or political
theater, also—in Moraga's words—"deal with a whole range of things that they
would never touch."
Selected Bibliography of Moraga's Work
Giving Up the Ghost: A Stage Play in Three Portraits (1986; first production 1989)
Shadow of a Man (1990)
Heroes and Saints (1992)
Prose and Poetry
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981; co-edited
With Gloria Anzaldúa)
Loving in the War Years : Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios (1983)
Cuentos/Short Stories by Latinas (1983; co-edited with Alma Gómez and Mariana Romo
The Last Generation: Prose and Poetry (1993)
Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of Queer Motherhood (1997)
Further Reading About Moraga's Work
Alarcón, Norma. "Interview with Cherríe Moraga." Third Woman 3 (1986): 126-34.
Ikas, Karen Rosa. Chicana Ways: Conversations with Ten Chicana Writers. Reno: U of Nevada P, 2001.
Morales, Ed. "Shadowing Valdez." American Theatre 9 (Nevmber 1992): 14-19.
Sternbach, Nancy Saporta. ".A Deep Racial Memory of Love': The Chicana Feminism of Cherríe Moraga." Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings. Ed. Asunción Horno-Delgado et al. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1989. 48-61.
Weatherston, Rosemary. "An Interview with Cherríe Moraga: Queer Reservations; or Art, Identity, and Politics in the 1990s." Queer Frontiers: Millennial Geographies, Genders, and Generations. Ed. Joseph A. Boone. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2000.
Yarbro-Bejarno, Yvonne. "Cherríe Moraga's .Shadow of a Man': Touching the Wound in Order to Heal." Acting Out: Feminist Performances. Ed. Lynda Hart and Peggy Phelan. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993.; 85-104.
___________________. "The Female Subject in Chicano Theatre: Sexuality, .Race,' and Class." Theatre Journal 38 (December 1986): 389-407.
____________________. The Wounded Heart: Writing on Cherríe Moraga. Austin: U of Texas P, 2001.
Umpierre, Luz María. "With Cherríe Moraga." Americas review: A review of Hispanic Literature and Art of the USA 14 (Summer 1986): 54-67.