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.
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.
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.
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.