Cherríe Moraga Essay - Critical Essays

Moraga, Cherríe (Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Cherríe Moraga 1952–

American poet, essayist, dramatist, and editor.

Moraga's publications are noted for their honest exploration of taboo subjects within American Chicano culture, particularly issues related to female power and sexuality. Moraga writes about her own experiences as a feminist lesbian and minority woman, as well as the common experience of Latinas in America. She is also a highly regarded editor of compilations of writings by minority women and is a cofounder of Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press.

Biographical Information

Moraga was born in Whittier, California, to a Chicana mother and an Anglo-American father. This disparity in her parents' backgrounds allowed Moraga first-hand knowledge of the tensions between Latinos and those in the dominant American culture. When she was nine, her family settled in the San Gabriel Valley, near Los Angeles, where Moraga felt the strong influence of her mother's extended family. Listening to stories related orally by female relatives afforded Moraga the opportunity to experience a uniquely feminine mode of story-telling that she would later employ in her own writing. Moraga, along with her brother and sister, was of the first generation in her family to graduate from college, attending a small private college for her undergraduate work and then San Francisco State University for her graduate degree. After receiving her bachelor's degree in 1974, Moraga taught English for two years at a private high school in Los Angeles. During that time she made two decisions that would significantly affect her future: she joined a writing group and she came out as a lesbian. Moraga has said that, in the writing group, she for the first time began to take her writing seriously; but at the same time she was told by the group that her vocabulary was too limited and that she could not write poems to women because that would confuse readers, Discouraged but more self-confident, Moraga decided to take a year off to concentrate on writing and reading. At this time she moved to San Francisco and became immersed in the city's highly charged political atmosphere; she also became aware of the political implications of her own minority ethnic and sexual status. For her master's thesis in 1980, Moraga co-edited a collection of writings by minority women, titled This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981). Moraga moved to Boston and then New York City to find a publisher for the book. Finally, she co-founded Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press to publish the book, which won the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award in 1986. While living in New York, Moraga became intrigued with the idea of writing for the theatre. She began writing plays and earned a residency at INTAR (Hispanic-American Arts Center), directed by María Irene Fornes. Since then she has returned to the San Francisco area as a writing instructor at the University of California at Berkeley and continues her activities in feminism and the movement to expand and give voice to Chicano culture.

Major Works

This Bridge Called My Back, co-edited with Gloria Anzaldúa, is an anthology of writings by women of color that includes poetry, fiction, essays, letters, and other genres exploring sexual, ethnic, and class identity from a feminist viewpoint. Moraga contributed two poems ("For the Color of My Mother" and "The Welder") and one essay ("La Güera") to the collection. In 1983 Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press published Cuentos: Stories by Latinas, again edited by Moraga with Alma Gómez and Mariana Romo-Carmona which included two stories by Moraga. The anthology is the first published collection of fiction by Latina feminists, as well as the first to focus on Latina sexuality, particularly lesbianism, a taboo topic in Latino culture, and language, freely mixing Spanish and English. Also in 1983, Moraga published the first collection of her own poetry and essays, Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca paso por sus labios. Again focusing on female sexuality, race, and class, although from a considerably more personal perspective, Loving in the War Years contains one of Moraga's most important concerns: reclaiming and revising the image of La Malinche, the figure from Spanish mythology who represents the threatening female betrayer and who, according to Moraga, contributes to the subordinate and passive position of women in Latino culture. In 1984 Moraga's first play, Giving Up the Ghost, was given its first staged reading by a Minneapolis feminist theatre group called At the Foot of the Mountain. A non-traditional drama consisting of poetic monologues in Spanish and English spoken by two women at different points in their lives, Giving Up the Ghost explores the oppressive forces that have damaged the women's perceptions of themselves. Moraga's next play, Shadow of a Man (1988), concerns a family's reaction to the father's self-destruction through alcoholism and the keeping of sexual secrets. Heroes and Saints (1989) is a surrealistic and political drama of a family of farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley suffering from pesticide poisoning. In The Last Generation (1993) Moraga returned to the themes of her earlier poetry and prose works, mainly the rapid disappearance of Mexican-American heritage due to the demands of assimilation, and the desire to create a "queer Aztlán," her own lesbian interpretation of the ultimate Chicano community. In Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood (1998) Moraga recorded her experience of becoming a mother, including her baby's premature birth and her relationships with the father and her own partner.

Critical Reception

Moraga's work is considered groundbreaking in several ways. Because of the anthologies she has edited, she is credited with paving the way for Latina writers to create their own tradition of story-telling, and she is the first openly lesbian Latina to have published her work. Additionally, Moraga's trademark style of mixing Spanish with English in her writing serves to highlight both the tension and the harmony between the two cultures, and her dramatic writings are acknowledged as a successful continuation of the revolutionary Chicano theatro of the 1960s and 1970s.

Principal Works

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color [editor, with Gloria Anzaldúa, and contributor] (anthology) 1981
Cuentos: Stories by Latinas [editor, with Alma Gómez and Mariana Romo-Carmona] (anthology) 1983
Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca paso por sus labios (poetry and essays) 1983
Giving Up the Ghost: Teatro in Two Acts (drama) 1984: published in 1986
Shadow of a Man (drama) 1988
Heroes and Saints (drama) 1989
The Last Generation (poetry and essays) 1993
Heroes and Saints and Other Plays (drama) 1994
Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood (memoir) 1998


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Judith Ortiz Cofer (review date July 1984)

SOURCE: "Mujeres en Lucha," in Women's Review of Books, July 1984, p. 5.

[In the following review, Cofer praises the stories in Cuentos—of which Moraga is an editor and contributor—and the poems and prose in Loving in the War Years for their focus on the Latina's search for identity and individuality.]

"We are New York and Island Puerto Rican, Los Angeles Chicana, and Chilena. We are Latina writers and activists who identify as U.S. Third World women." So proclaim the editors of Cuentos, an eclectic collection of fiction by and about Latinas in the U.S. The stories cover such a wide spectrum of style, language and technical proficiency that the...

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Cherríe Moraga with Luz María Umpierre (interview date Summer 1986)

SOURCE: "Luz María Umpierre with Cherríe Moraga," in The Americas Review, Vol. XIV, No. 2, Summer 1986, pp. 54-67.

[In the following interview, Moraga discusses her writing and her position as a Latina writer in the United States.]

I interviewed Cherríe Moraga during the summer of 1985 at her home in Brooklyn. By then her book Loving in the War Years had been published and I was particularly interested in the essays included in the collection. I was also interested in having Cherríe Moraga herself do a self-portrait of her life as a Chicana and a Lesbian.

[Umpierre:] Artists should be allowed to do self-portraits of themselves; so, in...

(The entire section is 7392 words.)

Raymund A. Paredes (review date 1987)

SOURCE: Review of Giving Up the Ghost, in Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Vol. 41, No. 1-2, 1987, p. 127.

[In the following review, Paredes notes that Giving Up the Ghost "represents the most radical element of contemporary Chicana writing" because of Moraga's portrayal of sexual relationships and Roman Catholic culture in the Mexican-American community.]

A self-described "Chicana lesbian," [Cherríe] Moraga earlier published Loving in the War Years, a collection of stories, poems, and essays notable for their passion and intelligence. In her latest work, a two-act play entitled Giving Up the Ghost, Moraga develops...

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Nancy Saporta Sternbach (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "'A Deep Racial Memory of Love': The Chicana Feminism of Cherrie Moraga," in Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings, edited by Asunción Horno-Delgado, Eliana Ortega, Nina M. Scott, and Nancy Saporta Sternbach, 1989, pp. 48-61.

[In the following essay, Sternbach examines Moraga's attempts to return to the pre-Malinche Latino notion of womanhood in her feminism.]

One of the most pressing and current feminist debates in the U.S. is the long-standing complaint that U.S. Third World women have lodged in regard to the continued racism within Anglo-American feminist circles; the accusations tend to focus on the latter's failure to acknowledge, take...

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Hal Gelb (review date 2 November 1992)

SOURCE: Review of Heroes and Saints, in The Nation, Vol. 255, No. 14, November 2, 1992, pp. 518-20.

[In the following review, Gelb notes that in Heroes and Saints Moraga "has written with compassion and intelligence about the difficulties of change," although she fails to fully explore some of her principal characters.]

As one of several Bay Area feminists who made their reputations in other genres but are now (or again) writing for the theater, Cherríe Moraga has expressed a desire to create plays that inspire a new vision while they challenge political correctness.

And in many respects her new work, Heroes and Saints, produced...

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Cherríe Moraga with Mary Pat Brady and Juanita Heredia (interview date Fall 1993–Spring 1994)

SOURCE: "Coming Home: Interview with Cherríe Moraga." in Mester, Vols. XXII and XXIII, Nos. 2 and 1, Fall 1993–Spring 1994, pp. 149-64.

[In the following interview, Moraga discusses her career, creative influences, and her notion of feminism.]

In 1981, Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa redefined the feminist movement in the United States. The publication of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color challenged the feminist movement to rethink the privileged term "woman." Bridge, by providing a combination of testimonios, poetry, short fiction, and essays, suggests the multiplicity of experiences and the various diasporas...

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Marie-Elise Wheatwind (review date January 1994)

SOURCE: "All in the Familia," in Women's Review of Books, Vol. XI, No. 4, January 1994, p. 22.

[In the following review, Wheatwind praises Moraga's commitment to Chicano culture and feminist ideals as reflected in The Last Generation.]

The Last Generation, a comprehensive new collection of prose and poetry by Cherríe Moraga, embraces a myriad forms and audiences. It includes personal narratives, insightful dreams, poetic forays into the author's past, political visions of her community's future, and prose transliterations of talks and presentations given at various conferences and symposia.

Just as the themes interweave like common threads in...

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Jan Clausen (review date 9 May 1994)

SOURCE: "The Axis of Herstory," in The Nation, Vol. 258, No. 18, May 9, 1994, pp. 634-37.

[In the following review, Clausen finds The Last Generation prophetic of racial, class, and gender clashes to come in the twenty-first century.]

In The Last Generation: Prose and Poetry, Cherríe Moraga records this wrenching break from a Chicana perspective:

I write this on the one-week anniversary of the death of the Nicaraguan Revolution.

We are told not to think of it as a death, but I am in mourning…. There is a protest. We, my camarada and I, get off the subway. I can already hear the voices...

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Catherine Wiley (review date October 1995)

SOURCE: Review of Shadow of a Man, in Theatre Journal. Vol. 47, No. 3, October 1995, pp. 412-14.

[In the following review: Wiley finds Denver's Su Teatro production of Shadow of a Man "triumphant" for women, particularly Latinas.]

Denver, capital of the only state to pass legislation forbidding the inclusion of sexual orientation in official anti-discrimination language, seems an unlikely place to stage a play by lesbian writer Cherríe Moraga, but theatre about AIDS, coming out stories, and plays written by openly gay authors have never been so popular here.

Denver's El Centro Su Teatro, one of the oldest amateur bilingual teatro...

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David J. DeRose (essay date October 1996)

SOURCE: "Cherríe Moraga: Mapping Aztlan," in American Theatre, Vol. 13, No. 8, October 1996, pp. 76-78.

[In the following essay, DeRose discusses Moraga's involvement with the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco's Mission District.]

Cherríe Moraga and I are sitting at the kitchen table in her San Francisco home, swapping stories about growing up in California. It is a badge we both wear proudly, and it has deep spiritual meaning for both of us—particularly for Moraga, who senses in the California landscape racial memories of Aztlan, the ancient North American homeland of the Chicano. She tells me a story about driving through the Southern California desert...

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Julia de Foor Jay (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: "(Re)Claiming the Race of the Mother: Cherríe Moraga's Shadow of a Man, Giving Up the Ghost, and Heroes and Saints," in Women of Color: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Twentieth-Century Literature, edited by Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, 1996, pp. 95-116.

[In the following essay, de Foor Jay examines mother-daughter relationships in Shadow of a Man, Giving Up the Ghost, and Heroes and Saints.]

Cherríe Moraga's courageous voice first emerged in the 1980s and has since become a significant one for Chicana, feminist, and lesbian studies. It has been heard in several genres: poems, fiction, essays, and plays,1 sounding the theme of...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 November 1997)

SOURCE: Review of Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood, in Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1997, p. 1692.

[In the following review, the critic praises the evocative immediacy of Moraga's motherhood experiences in Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood.]

[Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood is] an honest, introspective memoir of evolving lesbian motherhood.

When Chicana lesbian writer Moraga (coeditor, This Bridge Called My Back, not reviewed) was 40, she decided to have a child. She asked her white lover (who is called Ella here, the Spanish word for "she") to help, not so much to be the...

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Catherine Wiley (essay date Spring 1998)

SOURCE: "Teatro Chicano and the Seduction of Nostalgia," in Melus, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring 1998, pp. 99-115.

[In the following essay, Wiley discusses how the notion of nostalgia relates to Moraga's and other Chicano artists drama.]

In Cherríe Moraga's first published play, Giving Up the Ghost, the character Amalia leaves her home in Los Angeles to visit Mexico in an attempt to renew her physical and spiritual energy. She muses:

In thought … maybe it was the American influence that causes the blood to be sucked dry from you so early. Nothing was wrong with me, really. My bones ached. I needed rest. Nothing Mexico...

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Further Reading


Adams, Kate. "Northamerican Silences: History, Identity, and Witness in the Poetry of Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, and Leslie Marmon Silko." In Listening to Silences: New Essays in Feminist Criticism, pp. 130-45. Edited by Elaine Hedges and Shelley Fisher Fishkin. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Explores the ways in which the poetry of Moraga, along with Anzaldúa and Silko, challenges "the silencing forces of cultural and literary history."

Foster, David William. "Homoerotic Writing and Chicano Authors." In Sexual Textualities: Essays on Queer/ing Latin American Writing,...

(The entire section is 195 words.)