Through a series of readings and comments, Chicana lesbian Cherrie Moraga underscored the limitations of identity politics and the dangers of silence in a presentation last Thursday.
Moraga said she is frustrated with “all that tired ass stuff about which part of you is lesbian, which part of you is woman, which part of you is brown.”
“The idea is that you want to be able to walk into a room whole,” she said.
Moraga, who teaches at Stanford University, was initially slated to speak on Wednesday night. However, as a result of a flight delay, she arrived after the time scheduled for her talk and lectured on Thursday morning in Griffin instead. Moraga is the author of numerous literary works, including the play Heroes and Saints and the book Waiting in the Wings: A Portrait of Queer Motherhood. Williams students study Moraga’s work in a range of Williams classes, including “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies,” “American Genders and American Sexualities” and “Introduction to U.S. Latina and Latino Writing.”
Dena Zaldua ’98, an organizer of the event and an alumni relations intern at Mears House, introduced Moraga. In her opening, Zaldua stressed the impact that Moraga’s writing has had on her growth as an individual.
“She has expanded boundaries and created a space of comfort for all those identities that we all have within ourselves that don’t seem to fit together,” Zaldua said. “Cherrie Moraga has helped make me a whole person, all of one piece, rather than many separate and conflicting pieces of myself housed in one being.”
Moraga developed this theme at the beginning of her lecture.
“Who you go to the trenches with may not look much like you,” she said. “There are incredible limits to identity politics in that way.”
Moraga said it is the task of every individual to mend all the “ruptures” that may appear as their identities change and evolve. She noted that it is through her writing that she has been able to breach the gaps in her own identity.
“Anytime I encounter that place of ruptureâ€”sometimes I can avoid it and sometimes I can’tâ€”that is when I write about it,” she said.
Moraga then read from a work-in-progress that illustrates the tragic consequences that can ensue when humans are unable to fully express their own identities.
Her piece was a series of meditations from inside the mind of Yolanda Saldivar, the imprisoned murderer of the Tejano music star Selena.
Moraga noted that Saldivar, who was the president of Selena’s fan club, was initially demonized as the “lesbian murderess.” She added that media coverage tended to depict Saldivar as the “ugly” culprit and Selena as the “beautiful” victim.
While condemning Saldivar’s action, Moraga contested the popular images of Saldivar as a “monster” and argued that the murder was a crime of passion that might not have occurred if Saldivar had felt comfortable being “out” concerning her sexuality.
“Yolanda is me,” Moraga said. “It could have been my story. You are as good as the worst of your people. You don’t create freedom unless you are able to stand in the bodies of those who are imprisoned and those take a lot of different shapes.”
Moraga emphasized the importance of constantly remaining aware of the multitude of repressions and oppressions that exist in society.
“If you are not in voyeur mode you are weak,” she said. Tying this point in with current events at Williams, Moraga noted that the recent desecration of the gravestones erected to protest Matt Shepard’s murder is only one small act when viewed in a larger context.
“A little message on a tomb that says ‘quit whining’ ain’t shit,” she said. “But it means a great deal.”
Moraga then read “Blood Sisters” from her book Heroes and Saints and an excerpt from her play “Heroes And Saints.”
Before answering audience questions, Moraga expressed her frustration with the use of the terms “biracial” and “bisexual” as political identifications.
She said the term biracial is “nada,” or nothing, because it is “not a political position.”
“Call me a breed, call me a dirty name, but don’t call me biracial,” she noted.
Although Moraga did not explain this position in great detail, she has put forth the view in various writings.
Mary-Jane Rubenstein ’99 said she found Moraga’s claim that bisexual and biracial aren’t highly politicized terms to be somewhat disturbing.
“Even if the terms aren’t confrontational enough (and it would take a lot to convince me of that), why on earth does every self-referential utterance need to carry the burden of revolution?” she said. “For some people, it does; for many, it has to. But other people might prefer not to politicize themselves to such an extent. Why is it their obligation to appropriate aggressive terms of identification in order to avoid dispersion?”
However, aside from that criticism, Rubenstein said she thought Moraga was “a wonderfully inspiring, strong, and smart-as-hell woman.”
Zaldua said when she first began reading Moraga, her discussion of the terms bisexual and biracial immediately caught her attention, but she has gradually come to agree with Moraga.
“I understand what she is sayingâ€”the point is that neither [bisexual or biracial] takes a stand politically,” she said. “It is one thing for me to say ‘I am Columbian,’ and ‘I am American’ and another to say I am biracial.”
“It is sort of a wishy-washy middle ground,” she added.
Zaldua praised Moraga’s entire performance, noting that she was particularly impressed by the fact that Moraga said “a lot of stuff that was really sexually dangerous.”
“She said things other people wouldn’t have had the balls to say,” Zaldua noted.
Assistant Professor of English Kathryn Kent said she was also impressed by Moraga’s bravery.
“I was struck by her intellectual, political and creative courageâ€”Moraga’s work consistently pushes beyond itself,” she said. “She does not settle into a position or a genre, but continually rethinks and re-imagines the world. I was struck by her refusal to accept a post-modern view of the self as simply fragmented, but her insistence that we challenge ourselves to make connections between identifications, to not let any aspect of experience wither in silence.”
The lecture was sponsored by VISTA, the Dively Committee, the Lecture Committee, the President’s Office, Women’s and Gender Studies, American Studies, the English Department, the Theatre Department and the Multicultural Center.