Sandra Cisneros's Modern Malinche: A Reconsideration of Feminine Archetypes in Woman Hollering Creek

Sandra Cisneros's Modern Malinche: A Reconsideration of Feminine Archetypes in Woman Hollering Creek

Alexandra Fitts, University of Alaska

Sandra Cisneros's collection of stories Woman Hollering Creek (1991) depicts the situation of the Mexican-American woman: typically caught between two cultures, she resides in a cultural borderland. [1] The topics of the stories range from the confusions of a bicultural and bilingual childhood to the struggles of a dark-skinned woman to recognize her own beauty in the land of Barbie dolls and blond beauty queens. While Cisneros does not attempt to force easy resolutions on such complex subject matter, she does search for a "place" that will respect Spanish and Indian heritage along with Mexican tradition without resorting to a nostalgic longing for a distant motherland (a Mexico that, in some cases, the characters have never seen). Her characters engage in a continual process of cultural mediation, as they struggle to reconcile their Mexican past with their American present. Further complicating this struggle is the fact that most of her characters are young women who must sort through the competing stories that they hear about a woman's "place" until they find one where they can reside comfortably. Part of this negotiation is the incorporation of key feminine archetypes from the Mexican tradition and the reconsideration of these figures in a way that will reflect the realities of the modern Chicana experience. Cisneros reevaluates, and in a way revalues, the three most prevalent representations of Mexican womanhood: the passive virgin, the sinful seductress, and the traitorous mother, idolized in the figures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, La Malinche, and La Llorona. Along the lines of U.S. feminism, these female icons could be seen as promoting an image of women that is detrimental, but they may also serve as emblems of feminine power and pre-conquest Mexican beliefs. Sandra Cisneros tackles each of these feminine figures in Woman Hollering Creek: La Malinche in "Never Marry a Mexican," the Virgin of Guadalupe in "Little Miracles, Kept Promises," and La Llorona in "Woman Hollering Creek." Rather than merely casting aside these figures, Cisneros searches for a transformation of them that will allow for the past while opening up the future. However, her goal does not seem to be as uncomplicated as merely redeeming these figures as powerful female icons. Instead, she modernizes and adds nuance to their legends and their legacies.

It could be said that the place of the Mexican-American woman is by force of immigration always in the borderlands. Of course, many Chicanas physically inhabit the borderlands between Mexico and the United States-that place that is neither entirely one country nor the other, but something else, a unique amalgamation of the two. The Mexican-American woman, however, is not marginalized by her physical location as much as she is by both her sex and her ethnicity. In the words of Chicana critic and activist Gloria Anzaldúa, "this is her home / this thin edge of / barbwire." [2] She must live on the fence because she can never occupy a full place in any of the cultures to which she nominally belongs. In the U.S., she is separated by her color, her language, and her history. In Mexican and Chicano societies, she is defined and limited by the traditions of machismo and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Anzaldúa writes, "Alienated from her mother culture, 'alien' in the dominant culture, the woman of color does not feel safe within the inner life of her Self. Petrified, she can't respond, her face caught between los intersticios (the cracks), the spaces between the different worlds she inhabits." [3] Much of this can be said for any person, male or female, who lives as a minority within a dominant culture. Anzaldúa makes a special case for the Chicana, however. Dominated in both cultures, she is even less at home in either than is a male, be he white, Mexican, or Chicano. Furthermore, the Mexican and Chicana woman has repeatedly served as mediator between the two cultures. She is too often the sexual property that links white men and Mexican men in a system of exchange.

The historical representative of this sexualized position as cultural mediator is La Malinche. Malinche, doña Marina, Malinalli-she has many names and many incarnations. What we know of her is that she was an Indian woman who served as interpreter and lover to Hernán Cortés while he conquered her land and massacred her people. Infamous as a traitor and a whore, her legacy has been to serve as a representative of the victimization of the native people of Mexico at the hands of the whites, and as the shameful reminder of a woman's complicity.

In his famous work The Labyrinth of Solitude, originally published in 1950, Octavio Paz reflects at great length on La Malinche's role in the formation of the Mexican consciousness. To him, she is la Chingada, the "violated Mother." Paz spends quite a bit of time defining the word "chingada," all the while avoiding its most common and vulgar usage. Most commonly, la chingada means "the screwed one." Paz claims that this verb always implies unwillingness and victimization, but he also points out that La Malinche "gave herself voluntarily to the conquistador." [4] For Paz, the proof of her victimization lies in Cortés's abandonment of La Malinche once she had served his purposes. So, she is not only a traitor and a whore, but also a woman not cunning enough to hold on to her man or even to realize that he is abusing her. In fact, La Malinche's sin is one of omission rather than commission. According to Paz, "her passivity is abject: she does not resist violence, but is an inert heap of bones, blood and dust. Her taint is constitutional and resides … in her sex" (85). He traces the Mexican repudiation of the Mother (and thus of women) to their shame of origin, the shame that rests with La Malinche's collaboration and her sinful sexuality. La Malinche is the figurative mother of all post-Conquest Mexicans, and thus, of all Chicanos. Her sin, like Eve's, must be born by her sons and, more pointedly, by her daughters.

Cherríe Moraga describes the impact that La Malinche's story has had on Hispanic women's sexuality. She writes, "[c]hicanas' negative perceptions of ourselves as sexual persons and our consequential betrayal of each other finds its roots in a four-hundred year long Mexican history and mythology." [5] The weight of guilt imposed on women for La Malinche's betrayal of her people and for her sexual transgressions has led to a deeply conflicted self-image. In order to be "true" to her people, a Mexican or Chicana woman must deny her sexuality, for "the woman who defies her role as subservient to her husband, father, brother, or son by taking control of her own sexual destiny is purported to be a 'traitor to her race' by contributing to the 'genocide' of her people" (113).

Sandra Cisneros tackles the legacy of La Malinche in the story "Never Marry a Mexican." [6] In this story, a Chicana woman seeks revenge on the white lover who has rejected her by becoming the sexual tutor of his teenaged son. Though the first-person narrator does not say how the son will pay for the sins of the father, it is clear that he must pay, as she lulls him into false confidence waiting for the right moment or, as she puts it, the moment when she will snap her teeth. The reference to La Malinche and Cortés is made explicit from the start, as she recalls that her lover, Drew, used to call her his "Malinalli" (another name for Malinche) and that he looked like Cortés with his dark beard and white skin. Like the legendary Malinche, the narrator is an accomplice in her own domination and a traitor to the "sisterhood." [7] She admits, "I've been accomplice, committed premeditated crimes. I'm guilty of having caused deliberate pain to other women. I'm vindictive and cruel, and I'm capable of anything" (NM 68). She also says that, though a painter, she must support herself in other ways. Sometimes she acts as a translator, though she also relies on the generosity of her lovers, which, she says, "is a form of prostitution" (NM 71). She translates the language (although Spanish is now the "native" language), as did La Malinche, but also serves as a cultural intermediary, a sort of ambassador to the white world in which she moves but which she does not fully inhabit.

Cisneros's Malinche is a complex, modern figure. She is at once victim and victimizer, as she turns her hurt and anger on others. She is certainly not the "abjectly passive" victim that Paz described, but she does allow herself to fall into relationship after relationship with unavailable men-always married, and always white. For the narrator, whose real name is Clemencia, the issues of race and gender are at odds, as she feels forced to choose her primary allegiance. Clemencia's parents are both Mexican, her father born in Mexico, her mother in the U.S. The title of the story, "Never Marry a Mexican," is her mother's often-repeated advice. Clemencia's mother felt inescapable discrimination from both cultures. As a lower-class Chicana, she was looked down on by her husband's upper-middle-class Mexican family, but she also suffered discrimination in mainstream U.S. society because of her dark skin. The answer, for her, was to marry out and supposedly up, and she instilled in her daughters the belief that the only appropriate future husbands for them were whites.

Clemencia buys into this prejudice against her own heritage to some extent, but her feelings about race are more complex than those expressed by her mother. She says that she never saw Mexican men, or Latin men of any sort, as potential lovers, yet she considers her mother to be the true traitor because she married a white man almost immediately after the death of Clemencia's father. Clemencia and her sister move from their suburban neighborhood to the Mexican part of town in a romanticized quest for a cultural connection. At first, they think the neighborhood is quaint and charming, but soon they realize that the realities of life in the barrio are anything but charming. Not fully at home in either culture, she ultimately decides that she must define and situate herself as a Chicana, though this decision is perhaps a moot point, as her lovers clearly have also been taught to "never marry a Mexican." Though born in the U.S. to a mother who does not even speak Spanish, she is Mexican in the eyes of the world. To the white men with whom she has affairs, she is a sexual mystery, the exotic dark-skinned woman with whom they can have sex before going home to their pale, polished wives.

Though Clemencia struggles with the allegiance she feels, or is forced into, with others of her race, her lack of loyalty to other women is much clearer. Where La Malinche is considered primarily as a traitor to her race, we see in Clemencia the impact of a woman's betrayal of the "sisterhood" of other women. The problem is that Clemencia feels no such sisterhood with white women-already excluded from their society, she is well aware of the power differential between a white woman and a dark-skinned woman, and for her, this difference negates any kinship they might share. She says, thinking of her lover's son: "All I know is I was sleeping with your father the night you were born. In the same bed where you were conceived. I was sleeping with your father and didn't give a damn about that woman, your mother. If she was a brown woman like me, I might've had a harder time living with myself, but since she's not, I don't care" (NM 76).

Cisneros complicates La Malinche, as she is represented by Clemencia. She is neither entirely a victim, nor merely a self-serving woman who betrays her people for her own gain. Like La Malinche, she is defined by her race and her sex, and she struggles with these meanings that are imposed on her body. However, this story does not present an apology for La Malinche, nor an uncomplicated recuperation of the figure. While the reader may sympathize with Clemencia up to a point, she ultimately turns into a sort of obsessive stalker, who can find power only through sexuality and, perhaps, violence. The contradictions of her legacy remain intact, as Cisneros lends some justification (and perhaps sympathy) to her actions, but falls short of a whole-hearted vindication of La Malinche.

Unsurprisingly, a number of Chicana writers have taken up La Malinche's cause more fully than does Cisneros, seeing her as a victim not only of the conquistadors, but also of the pervasive sexism of Latin culture. In La Malinche in Mexican Literature, Sandra Messinger Cypess discusses Chicana writers' reconsideration of the legacy of La Malinche, saying that "they have incorporated the figure into their creative works as another way to make her their own, to transform her into their own image instead of accepting the image of La Malinche constructed by patriarchal cultural forces." [8]

Gloria Anzaldúa traces the figure of Malinche back to the powerful goddesses of the Aztecs. She claims that the male-dominated culture, even before the time of the Conquest, sought to weaken the power of the primary creator goddess, Coatlicue, and divided her in two-the good mother, Tonantsin, and the sexual being, Tlatzoteotl. With the incorporation of the ancient pantheon into the Catholic religion, the two opposing female figures metamorphosed into La Virgen de Guadalupe (the pure mother) and La Malinche (the sexualized, evil temptress), though, ironically, it is La Malinche who is the figurative mother of the mestizo race. Anzaldúa sees both of these figures as working to oppress Mexican and Chicana women-the Virgin of Guadalupe by robbing them of their sexuality, and La Malinche by making them ashamed of both their gender and their Indian heritage. Anzaldúa calls not for a disavowal of these "mothers," but rather a reconsideration of their legacy. To cast them aside would further deny the Indian and Mexican past; to embrace them unchanged would be an acceptance of gender roles that do not allow for sexual independence and self-expression.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and its most powerful religious icon. She appeared in 1531 on the site of a former shrine to Tonantsin, the Aztec goddess who most resembled the Christian concept of the "Mother of God." The Virgin of Guadalupe became an important symbol of criollo and mestizo identity, as she appeared both to an Indian and as an Indian herself. While the Virgin of Guadalupe is considered a saint of the people and is an enormously powerful popular icon, her image is still that of the Virgin, and connotes all the negative aspects about women's sexuality (or lack thereof) that the cult of virginity entails. [9] In Our Lady of Guadalupe, Jeanette Rodríguez writes that "Our Lady of Guadalupe is often experienced as a Marian image to support and encourage passivity in women, and thus is viewed as an instrument of patriarchal oppression and control." [10]

Nevertheless, even feminist critics such as Anzaldúa cannot fail to see the power of such an omnipresent female icon. In fact, she sees the figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe as "a synthesis of the old world and the new, of the religion and culture of the two races of our psyche, the conqueror and conquered." Perhaps more importantly, she can serve as a Chicano emblem, because she "is the symbol of ethnic identity and of the tolerance for ambiguity that Chicanos-mexicanos, people of mixed race, people who have Indian blood, people who cross cultures, by necessity possess." [11] Jacqueline Doyle refers to her as "a threshold between human and divine, the living and the dead, and as a mediator between competing cultures." [12] This position as cultural mediator is important, as it provides a link between the Mexican past and the American present. The omnipresence and force of the figure in the Mexican and Chicano cultures is undisputed. However difficult it may be to accept a representation of female power and cultural complexity that is also a symbol of women's passivity and oppression, for Chicanas the Virgin of Guadalupe is also an ethnic symbol and tied to their Mexican heritage. Merely rejecting the Virgin on feminist grounds denies the validity of Chicanas' history and in some cases their faith. [13] Cherríe Moraga contrasts her own repudiation of the image of the Virgin with the passionate faith of so many Mexican women. She writes, "I left the church in tears, knowing how for so many years I had closed my heart to the passionate pull of such faith that promised no end to the pain. I grew white." [14]

Cisneros's book also reflects the importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the Chicano psyche and cultural practice, as numerous stories in Woman Hollering Creek make mention of her. The most interesting of these in its treatment of the Virgin is "Little Miracles, Kept Promises." [15] The story takes the form of a series of notes to the Virgin and other popular saints, left at a shrine somewhere in Texas. They ask for everything from overtime pay to a good man, and they give thanks for recovering a stolen truck or for graduating from high school. The authors of the notes reflect a wide variety of Chicano lifestyles-some write in Spanish, most in English, some display a traditional and unquestioning faith, others the petty complaints of disgruntled teenagers. The last note in the story is from a young woman, Chayo, who writes of the challenges of being a modern Chicana. She is nagged by her mother for cutting her hair, for spending too much time alone, for becoming a painter. She describes herself as "straddling both" worlds, but her mother accuses her of being a malinchista, a "white girl" who is betraying her Mexican heritage by attempting to break out of the role that it defines for women. This is not an uncommon epithet, and it is used to imply that a woman is a traitor for "consorting with Anglos or accepting Anglo cultural patterns." [16]

Again, we see La Malinche as the betrayer of her culture, in this case because she is stepping outside the bounds of acceptable behavior for women and daring to express feminine power and sexuality. We learn that Chayo has left a note and a braid of her hair to give thanks to the Virgin because she has found out that she is not pregnant and she is not sure that she wants to be a mother. [17] We also learn of Chayo's struggles with her race, her gender, and her religious beliefs. Her mother's Virgin is not one to whom Chayo can relate, just as she cannot imagine herself in her mother's abnegating role. She does not want a passionless Virgin who calmly forgives all, but rather: "I wanted you bare-breasted, snakes in your hands. I wanted you leaping and somersaulting the backs of bulls. I wanted you swallowing raw hearts and rattling volcanic ash. I wasn't going to be my mother or my grandma. All that self-sacrifice, all that silent suffering. Hell no. Not here. Not me" (LM 127).

Now, however, Chayo has come to terms with the Virgin, and the way that she has done this is by accepting a version of her that is neither exactly Malinche nor Virgen. Chayo recognizes the power of both, and rather than deny either of them, she sees their ability to help her negotiate her position in each of her two cultures. She is able to accept both the Virgin's pacifism and Malinche's sexuality through knowledge of her own Indian heritage. She learns of the goddess's transition from the Aztec serpent goddess, to Tonantsin, to Guadalupe, and, seeing "all of her facets," Chayo can recognize the strength of the image. She finds a goddess who has snakes in her hands, but who still allows for the beliefs of Catholicism: "that you could have the power to rally a people when a country was born, and again during civil war, and during a farmworkers' strike in California made me think that there is power in my mother's patience, strength in my grandmother's endurance" (LM 128). She ends the story saying, "I could love you, and finally learn to love me" (LM 128).

In an essay called "Guadalupe the Sex Goddess" in the collection Goddess of the Americas, Cisneros describes her own youthful discomfort with her body, and the reluctance to discuss sex or birth control: "What a culture of denial. Don't get pregnant! But no one tells you how not to. This is why I was angry for so many years every time I saw la Virgen de Guadalupe, my culture's role model for brown women like me. She was damn dangerous, an ideal so lofty and unrealistic it was laughable." [18] Like Chayo in "Little Miracles, Kept Promises," Cisneros writes that she came to her own acceptance of the Virgin through a knowledge of her pre-Colombian past. Most importantly, she states, "My Virgen de Guadalupe is not the mother of God. She is God. She is a face for a god without a face, an indígena for a god without ethnicity, a female deity for a god who is genderless" (50). This understanding of the Virgin, which seems to be the one at which Chayo eventually arrives, is a clear reflection of Anzaldúa's claims for the Virgin of Guadalupe as a mediator of not just culture, but also gender, race, and history.

While La Malinche and the Virgin of Guadalupe are figures that appear again and again in modern Chicana writing, there is a third female figure that has left a lasting impact on the construction of Mexican and Chicana womanhood. The title figure of Cisneros's book is the "hollering woman," or La Llorona, of Mexican legend. According to Américo Paredes, La Llorona is "the wailing woman in white [seeking] her children who died in childbirth. Originally an Aztec goddess who sacrificed babies and disappeared shrieking into lakes or rivers, La Llorona usually appears near a well, stream, or washing place. The Hispanicized form has La Llorona murdering her own children born out of wedlock when her lover married a woman of his own station." [19]

Again, we see an Aztec female goddess transformed into a guilty reminder of a woman's sin. Though there are various versions of the legend, La Llorona is guilty on a number of scores, all affronts to the accepted roles for women. She is a sexual transgressor, but even more importantly, she betrays all of the traditional notions of motherhood. When her children became a burden to her, she simply murdered them. Like La Malinche, La Llorona is a symbol of motherhood gone wrong. La Malinche's betrayal of her "children" was in her sinful collaboration with their oppressive "father," but La Llorona's betrayal of motherhood is even more perverse. For this sin she is doomed to an eternity of repentance with her continual wailing as a reminder to all of her crime, and of the repercussions of transgression.

Cisneros's first transformation of La Llorona is one from the "wailing woman" of legend to the "hollering woman" of the title story. [20] Woman Hollering Creek is a real place, situated in Texas near San Antonio. Cleófilas, the protagonist of the story, wonders about the origin of this appellation, thinking: "La Gritona. Such a funny name for such a lovely arroyo. But that's what they call the creek that ran behind the house. Though no one could say whether the woman had hollered from anger or pain. The natives only knew the arroyo one crossed on the way to San Antonio, and then once again on the way back, was called Woman Hollering, a name no one from these parts questioned, little less understood" (WHC 46).

Cleófilas wants to understand how the creek came to have this name, and why the woman was hollering. The only answer that she can find is that the name is a somewhat inaccurate translation of La Llorona, who could be said to wail or sob, but not exactly to holler. Cleófilas's desire to understand the hollering woman stems more from personal circumstances than from her interest in geography. She has come to Texas from Mexico as a new bride, spurred by hopes that are a mix of fairy tales, romance novels, and soap operas. Bored with life in her pueblo, she longs for passion, excitement, new clothes, and a pretty house. However, not long after her arrival in Seguín, Texas, Cleófilas begins to realize that in some ways her life is like a soap opera, "only now the episodes got sadder and sadder" (WHC 52). As she grows more and more desperate in her marriage, Cleófilas, like La Llorona, is drawn to the water. She sits by the creek that she had originally thought "so pretty and full of happily ever after" (WHC 47), and begins to understand the despair that could drive a woman to destruction. As she plays with her own child, she thinks that she hears La Llorona calling to her, and wonders about the quiet desperation that might have led to her violent actions. Cleófilas does not think of La Llorona simply as a woman who drowned her own children out of selfishness or evil. Instead, she contemplates the causes that would lead a woman to "the darkness under the trees." Cleófilas, however, evidences some resources that La Llorona must not have possessed, and it is through Cleófilas's resolution of her desperate situation that Cisneros rewrites the story of La Llorona.

First, Cleófilas has a family in Mexico to whom she can turn. It is her father rather than her mother who is the source of protection and solace. Cleófilas's mother is not present in her life, though it is not explained if she has died or has merely left. It is Cleófilas's father who nurtures and reassures his daughter. Presciently, he sensed that her marriage would fail and, as she left home, assured her, "I am your father. I will never abandon you" (WHC 43). By casting the father in this role, Cisneros further complicates stereotypes of mothers and motherhood. Perhaps a "perfect," Marian mother is not a necessity. Her neighbors wonder how Cleófilas will mature into a wife and mother herself without the example of her own mother, but clearly her father has provided the strength and support that she needs. Cleófilas is also able to draw on unexpected reserves of inner strength. Initially concerned about the shame of returning to Mexico, she realizes that the price that she will pay if she stays is much higher. Pregnant with her second child, she tricks her husband, Juan Pedro, into driving her to town for a doctor's visit, and once she is left alone in the office, she begs the nurse to help her escape. The nurse, Graciela, and her friend, Felice, become Cleófilas's most important allies. In this case, as opposed to Clemencia's situation in "Never Marry a Mexican," there is a bond of sisterhood, as two unknown women with whom she has little in common conspire to help her.

Felice agrees to drive Cleófilas and her son to the bus station in San Antonio. As Cleófilas is fleeing to safety with this stranger, Felice does something that shocks her: "when they drove across the arroyo, the driver opened her mouth and let out a yell as loud as any mariachi" (WHC 55). At Cleófilas's surprised response, Felice explains: "Every time I cross that bridge I do that. Because of the name, you know. Woman Hollering. Pues, I holler. She said this in a Spanish pocked with English and laughed. Did you ever notice, Felice continued, how nothing around here is named for a woman? Really. Unless she's the Virgin. I guess you're only famous if you're a virgin. She laughed again" (WHC 55). For the first time, Cleófilas is able to imagine a woman hollering for some reason other than pain or rage. Felice's yell is one of independence-a true grito. [21] Also for the first time, Cleófilas is able to see her own strength and independence and laughs, rejoicing in her freedom.

It is Felice's more assimilated position in U.S. culture that enables her to envision a scream of joy rather than despair. She is presented as a modern, "American" woman, in contrast to Cleófilas's naive immigrant. Felice does not need to ask her husband to drive her anywhere; first, she does not have a husband, and second, she has her own truck. Cleófilas marvels at this level of independence: "when Cleófilas asked if it was her husband's, she said she didn't have a husband. The pickup was hers. She herself had chosen it. She herself was paying for it" (WHC 55). Ironically, it may also be Felice's distance from the Spanish language that leads to her interpretation of the creek's name. Though she speaks Spanish to Cleófilas, she frequently reverts to English, and her conversation with her friend Graciela is the reverse-English sprinkled with a few Spanish phrases. Like the other natives of the area, Felice seems to be unaware of the Spanish origins of the "hollering woman" and does not translate the name back to La Llorona, as does Cleófilas. She is happily ignorant of the hollering woman's association with pain and betrayal.

The story "Woman Hollering Creek" acknowledges women's suffering, as Cleófilas sees her dreams shatter and her marriage crumble. However, she does not succumb to despair, or heed the keening siren's call of La Llorona. In fact, the only sobbing in the story is that of Juan Pedro each time that he beats her and begs forgiveness. Cleófilas neither drowns nor abandons her children. Instead, she saves them, and herself, by drawing on resources that come from both sides of the border. From Mexico, she has her protective father and extended family. From the U.S., she has women like Graciela and Felice, who are able to imagine a woman whose power does not have to come from either her virginity or the support of a man.

In Borderlands, Gloria Anzaldúa proposes a "conciencia mestiza" that accepts without assimilating, that draws strength from both sides of the border. Importantly, it is also a "conciencia de mujer." Not just a hybrid of races, this mestiza consciousness would allow for a complicated understanding of gender. Rather than rejecting either white or Mexican culture, she says that "we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes." [22] The mestiza "communicates that rupture, documents the struggle. She reinterprets history, and using new symbols, she shapes new myths." [23]

This is precisely Sandra Cisneros's accomplishment in Woman Hollering Creek. In this collection of stories, Cisneros tackles a number of Mexican religious and cultural icons, particularly those female archetypes whose images often still define the role of Chicanas. While all of these symbols are shown to have power in the construction of Chicano identity, some are questioned more than others. La Malinche did not fare exceptionally well in Cisneros's retelling of her story. While she does modernize La Malinche and provide some shading to her villainy, ultimately, she is still a traitor. The reader can comprehend Clemencia's confusion and anger, but she is still an overtly sexualized figure who trades her body for power. In the end, Clemencia is not so terribly far from the La Malinche described by Paz.

However, the stories "Woman Hollering Creek" and "Little Miracles, Kept Promises" represent precisely the reconsideration of female archetypes that Anzaldúa calls for. Cleófilas learns from her time in the U.S. that life is not a telenovela and that being a wife and mother may not be the only possibilities open for women. While remaining true to her beliefs, she rejects the passive abnegation of the Virgin. In "Little Miracles, Kept Promises," Chayo does not cast aside the legacy of her mythical and actual fore-mothers, but manages to find strength in certain parts of their images. She does not need to either entirely reject or entirely accept their proscribed roles. Instead, she can recognize the strength of the Virgin without emulating her passivity and aspire to the sexual freedom of La Malinche without betraying her culture. We see in this story that through a reconnection to both her Indian and her Mexican past, a young Chicana can negotiate the unstable ground of her own cultural borderland.

A number of feminist scholars have searched for a recuperation of the "goddess" as a representation of feminine power, and many Chicanas have found this matriarchal figure in Guadalupe and La Malinche, and in their fore-mothers, Tonantsin and Coatlicue. [24] The revaluation of the passive Virgin or of the reviled Malinche and Llorona can be more than a image-boosting exercise. As Margaret Randall writes in "Guadalupe, Subversive Virgin": "A saint or secular being may be spawned by the orthodoxy, but claimed, or reclaimed by people in need. More impressive still is when groups of people gain self-knowledge and power enough to produce warriors of their own. Control of our history, of our stories, has traditionally been in the hands of those who hold power over our lives. Social change is largely about people retrieving their stories." [25]

The fact that Cisneros does not offer an easy reconciliation with La Malinche does not weaken her reconsideration of these three figures. In fact, her refusal to valorize or validate all aspects of their legacies further elucidates the struggle to come to terms with such contradictory images. As Anzaldúa points out in Borderlands, "[l]iving in a state of psychic unrest, in a Borderland, is what makes poets write and artists create." [26] The borderland is not, and cannot be, a place of ease and security. It is precisely that unease, insecurity, and ambivalence that make the borderlands such a fertile zone.

Notes

[1] Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (New York: Random House, 1991).
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[2] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La frontera (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987) 20.
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[3] Anzaldúa 20.
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[4] Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude (New York: Grove Press, 1961) 86.
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[5] Cherrie Moraga, Loving in the War Years (Boston: South End Press, 1983) 99.
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[6] Subsequent references appear in the text in parentheses following the abbreviation NM.
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[7] It is not clear whether the historical Malinche was a willing accomplice of Cortés. She was probably given to Cortés as a slave, and was about fourteen years old at the time of the Conquest.
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[8] Sandra Messinger Cypess, La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press) 142.
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[9] It is interesting that, while passivity is celebrated as a feminine virtue in the Virgin of Guadalupe, it is precisely the "abject passivity" of La Malinche that Paz condemned. It would seem that passivity is a virtue only as long as a woman's passivity does not lead to her sexual victimization.
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[10] Jeanette Rodríguez, Our Lady of Guadalupe: Faith and Empowerment among Mexican-American Women (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994) xviii.
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[11] Anzaldúa 30.
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[12] Jacqueline Doyle, "Assumptions of the Virgin in Recent Chicana Writing," Women's Studies 26 (1997): 181.
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[13] The acceptance or rejection of the Virgin of Guadalupe is much more than a political or moral issue for many Chicanas, who must attempt to reconcile their religious faith with the negative images that have so long been cast upon the Virgin. As Ana Castillo writes in the introduction to Goddess of the Americas, "we make no claim to represent the Catholic Church here, thank goodness. The only claim we make is our right to love her" (xxiii).
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[14] Moraga ii.
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[15] Subsequent references are cited in parentheses in the text following the abbreviation LM.
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[16] Messinger Cypress 138.
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[17] The image of Chayo cutting her hair is symbolic of a shedding of stereotypically feminine appearance and behavior. In her article "Assumptions of the Virgin in Recent Chicana Writing," Jacqueline Doyle also points out that the braid can be seen as representative of Chayo's weaving of cultures (187).
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[18] Sandra Cisneros, "Guadalupe the Sex Goddess," Goddess of the Americas: Writings on the Virgin of Guadalupe, ed. Ana Castillo (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996) 48.
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[19] Américo Paredes, Folktales of Mexico (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970) xvi.
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[20] Subsequent references are cited in parentheses in the text following the abbreviation WHC.
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[21] El grito de Dolores (The shout of Dolores) was the cry for Mexican independence sounded by Miguel Hidalgo on 15 September 1810 and celebrated as a national holiday in Mexico.
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[22] Anzaldúa 78-79.
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[23] Anzaldúa 82.
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[24] Mary Daly studied the power of the goddess myths in the ground-breaking Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Beacon Press: Boston, 1978). For a more recent compilation, see The Concept of the Goddess, eds. Sandra Billington and Miranda Green (London: Routledge, 1996). Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands provides an analysis of Aztec/ Mexican goddesses.
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[25] Margaret Randall, "Guadalupe, Subversive Virgin," Goddess of the Americas 122.
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[26] Anzaldúa 73.
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