Cherrie Moraga: Assimilation and Activism

In Cherrie Moraga’s writings, she explores from many angles the challenges of reconciling multiple intersecting identities as a “Xicanadyke” in the U.S. This identity has shaped her interactions with both the gay and lesbian movement and the Chicano movement, but has ultimately also paved her way to an “oppositional consciousness” that serves as the heart of the type of activism that Moraga believes in. This “oppositional consciousness” is in stark contrast to the assimilationist core of many of the activist movements that Moraga criticizes.

Most activist movements are inherently based around some type of group identity and identification. People select to be a part of such an identity, and after doing so, immediately appropriate the injustices and blessings ascribed to that identity. However, such movements naturally reduce the world to a binary of people who “belong” and everyone else, and leaves no room for differences within the group. Such binaries are highlighted by the inability of our very language to express two identities at once: Moraga writes about having to choose between referring to herself as a “Chicana lesbian” or a “lesbian Chicana”–linguistically, only one of these two identities can serve as the essential part of her being, while the other can only serve as a modifier.

For Moraga, this binary seems to be particularly problematic when it interacts with privilege along some other axis. She speaks repeatedly of the “white entitlement of feminism,” and criticizes the Euro-American “cultural core” of U.S. gay and lesbian or feminist movements. The assumption that all women or queer-identified people face the same types of “victimization” and hold the same ideals is central to Moraga’s discontent with such movements. One example of this is perhaps the focus of such movements on marriage equality, and other ways for gay and lesbian couples to assimilate and begin to resemble as close as possible the white American ideal. This agenda does little to address what Moraga calls the “intersecting oppressive system of the nation-state” and does little to help “queer” the family  or the country like such movements ought to try to do (60).

For Moraga, identity is less about these types of “easy solidarity” of group identification than about a more active form of identification that she contends actually has “revolutionary consequence” (23). What and how can this “revolutionary consequence” be understood? Moraga’s belief is that “the personal is political” and that “our bodies and our experiences are that complex site of conflict through which our political work is mediated” (59). She cites the poet Lorna Dee Cervantes in arguing that the problem with Chicano activism is “that nagging preoccupation of not being good enough,” which shows itself in “timid and assimilationist” writings (60).

Thus, the revolutionary consequence of identifying herself as a “Xicanadyke” is, in a manner reminiscent of our discussions on trangression, not just the refusal to ascribe to norms, but the rejection of those norms as “ideals” in the first place, not just the acceptance of not belonging, but eliminating the desire to “belong” or to be a member of the “oppressive nation-state.” Moraga practices this transgression through no more and no less than a daily consciousness in her daily practice of living and raising her queer familia. This message resonated with me particularly well, because she is forward- rather than backward- looking. She is still angry, but remarks that only by “[stopping] daily to question our gut, out-of-control reactions” can the “weak” become “warriors of peace.” In this way, recognizing her own weaknesses and her own mortality is the type of consciousness that can ultimately achieve the type of compassionate action that Moraga seeks.




Filed under Week 9: Cherrie Moraga and Alison Bechdel

2 responses to “Cherrie Moraga: Assimilation and Activism

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I was also struck by Moraga’s ability to pair anger about the status quo in different identity based activist circles with both concrete and theoretical methods of resistance.
    – LGT

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