Cherrie Moraga and the Psychic Pain of Oppression

While discussing the isolation and censorship she struggles with, Cherrie Moraga writes that “The most virulent is self-imposed” (5). In fact, most of the struggle she writes about in our selections from A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness are about just that – consciousness, inner life, personal emotion and thought. Moraga gives us detailed insight into the psychic pain that generations of colonialism, misogyny, and homophobia have wrought on her and her family. “Why do we remain confused about who we are?” she asks about herself and her fellow Chican@ writers (5). And later, she writes about her near constant fear for the future, for herself and her loved ones: “I pray for peace of heart, while all along I am forced to look at how deeply frightened I am, as if I were a kind of sponge for the hysteria that surrounds us globally” (59). Moraga’s use of the word “heart” instead of the more common phrase, “peace of mind,” emphasizes her spiritual, whole-body approach to experience instead of the mind/body divide so often practiced in Western thought. Her mention of global hysteria in the same sentence as her own personal feelings of fear also portray a special interconnectedness between herself and the world around her. Moraga experiences nothing in isolation. She cannot even describe her own fear without connecting it to events outside her own personal experience.

This need for interconnectedness adds to Moraga’s struggle to live in a society structured around individualist beliefs. Her own identity: Chicana, queer, female, is affiliated with disparate movements to the point that she feels no political movement encompasses or accepts her. And yet, she needs a movement, she needs a community to accept all of the intersected identities she embodies. That’s why she had to make her own word, “Xicanadyke,” and create her own family with her partner and their children. In a mostly hostile landscape she has made her own haven, which makes the far-reaching, psychic effects of oppression even more devastating. There are times when her enemy is her own doubt, her own desires, her own mind. Like all of us: like Gallimard, like David and Giovanni, she is susceptible to the poisonous teachings that crowd the public consciousness, and the feelings of anger, self doubt, even entitlement they might cause. When writing about M. Butterfly, I discussed how Gallimard’s belief in white, western superiority clouded his judgment and his potential for empathy. With Moraga, these same teachings have had the opposite effect. She grew up surrounded by the message that she, as a Chicana, as a woman, as a lesbian, was not valuable or important; that her worth consisted of caring for and serving others. No wonder she struggles with anger, self-doubt, and self-censorship. No wonder the losses stacking up around her: loss of friends, of family, of safety, begin to overwhelm her. No wonder even the most joyful of moments remind her that “there is no permanence, only change, only loss and found and loss again” (37).

-Ash

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2 Comments

Filed under Week 9: Cherrie Moraga and Alison Bechdel

2 responses to “Cherrie Moraga and the Psychic Pain of Oppression

  1. I really enjoyed this post. As someone who has read Moraga for years, I’ve always been struck by her ideas surrounding interconnectedness and intersecting identities. I definitely agree that the individualist components of American culture can sometimes be antithetical to communal cultures like that of Latin American and queer identities. The theme of isolation is also central to Moraga’s work and how it influences her identity. She defends the importance of being conscious of how multiple identities (like race, class, and sexuality) can create both liberation and similarities between diverse groups as well as catalyze radical spaces of new identities (like Moraga referring to herself as “Xicanadyke”). –VCA

    • Moraga’s piece (and your post) both really stress the importance of intersectionality (as does the fact that the proof reader doesn’t recognize the word “intersectionality!”) Moraga embraces all facets of her identity, but by embracing all of them this increases her “psychic pain.” By acknowledging that she is a woman, a lesbian, and Chicana she bears the psychic burden of all 3 identities. While the addition of each marginalized identity increases one’s psychic burden, it is important to do so in order to work with coalitions and communities. As Moraga suggests, activist groups centered around one identity fail to recognize people who have more than one marginalized identity (e.g. a “feminist” group might leave out trans women, women of color, lesbian women, etc.).

      -Ripley

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