Spring 1998 - CHST-191CE

Special Topics in Chicano Studies

Representations of Chicana Lesbians: cuentos, novelas, y teatro

Instructor: Catriona Rueda Esquibel

Tuesday - Thursday. 3:30-4:45

Course Description:

We will be reading plays, short stories, monologues and novels by and about Chicana lesbians within the context of Chicana/Chicano fiction and popular culture. Starting with popular images of Mexican women, we will explore Cherrie Moraga's claim that Chicana lesbian desire has more in common with "the mostly heterosexual bedrooms of South Texas, L.A., or even Sonora Mexico," than with mainstream lesbian feminism. We will examine such themes as Aztec princes/ses in Chicana Lesbian fantasies, Girlhood crushes and lesbian desire, Lesbian Nuns, Queering Chicana History, the Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About, the Comadres Nobody Talked About, Butch Heroes, Femme Heroines, Lesbian-Feminist Fantasies, and the Girls Next Door. Lectures and class discussions will explore themes in relation to the dialogues and contestations of an imagined community of Chicana writers and artists.

An interdisciplinary approach will be emphasized

(General Education Codes: T4-Humanities and Arts, E)


Required work for this class will include in class writing assignments, an in-class midterm examination, and a final paper (10-12 pages). We will have occasional research assignments, exploring the resources available in the library, and developing specific research methods to find information on Chicana lesbians.

Required Texts:


Week One

Tuesday March 31

Introduction of authors, class themes and focus, approaches, and goals. How do we learn about female sexuality? What kinds of information are we given? Can this information be read in more than one way?

Lecture and slides: Reading the Chicana/o Sexual imagination, excerpts from Denise Chavez's The Face of an Angel, Cherrie Moraga's Giving Up the Ghost, slides of 1940s calendar art of Mexican artist Jesus Helguera, slides of drawings and prints by Chicana artist Ester Hernandez.

Reading assignment for Thursday:

Thursday April 2

Lecture: the paradox of Chicana + Lesbian

In class writing assignment: Describe what you learned/were taught about female sexuality from your cultural background. Draw from stories, songs, images about appropriate/inappropriate female behavior. If you feel at a loss, start with your beliefs about proper/improper female behaviour and work backwards: where do you think these beliefs come from? What positive or negative examples can you think of that would support your beliefs?

Small group work (groups of 2 or 3 students): Discuss the examples you gave in your writing assignment. How were your answers different from those of your classmates? How were they similar?

Reading for Tuesday:

Writing Histories

Week Two

Tuesday April 7

Lecture: The depiction of female heterosexuality, of lesbianism. How does Portillo Trambley depict the relationship between the individual and the community? What makes this text Chicana? That is, how does Portillo Trambley establish commonalities between Dona Josefa and a Chicana/o audience?

Reading for Thursday:

Thursday April 9

In class: performances from Day of the Swallows

Discussion: What does Moraga see as the significance of "Day of the Swallows?"

Readings for Tuesday:

Week Three

Tuesday April 14

Discussion: Drawing from Gonzalez's work, What are some of the difficulties you could foresee in researching Chicana lesbians in history? Extra credit: Attend performance by Monica Palacios at the Multicultural Center!!
Readings for Thursday:

Thursday April 16

Lecture: What does it mean to write "against history?" What do historical texts tell us about Chicanas? About Chicana sexuality?
Readings for Tuesday:

Reclaiming Histories I

Week Four

Tuesday April 21

Lecture: Traditional communities, heterosexuality, lesbianism: How are "Maria Littlebear" and "El Paisano" similar? How different?. What historical world do they imagine/describe? How do each of these writers carve out a discursive space for Chicana lesbians? What is the significance of these stories (in terms of the discursive erasure of lesbians in other Chicana/o representations of rural communities)? Think about the forms of these stories. What audience do they assume? What traditional elements do they use?

Thursday April 23

Small group discussions: What is the role of la familia in these stories. How do the writers link the main characters to their families and their communities? How do these stories fit with the histories we've been reading?

Readings for Tuesday:
Writing assignment for Tuesday:

After reading each of story, write briefly about your reactions/impressions about the characters Rocky and Gloria. You need not write more than a page for each story, but ask yourself as many questions about the characters as you can. It is important to complete the assignment for each story *before* reading the next story.

Week Five

Tuesday April 28

Lecture: Butch/femme in lesbian life; movement against butch/femme, Daughters of Bilitis and "taming the butches."

Discussion: Students will share their reaction sheets and compare reactions to Gloria and Rocky in each of the stories. Discuss these main characters in relation to butch and femme and the historical movements in the time about which Gamez is writing. "From the Gloria Stories": How does the nurse's reaction to Gloria's letter affect your own reaction to the story? to Gloria? Discuss the "femme characters": Rosita, Adela, Vitola. How are they similar/different from one another? How does Gamez contrast Gloria with Ernest in "A Matter of Fact"? Discuss Moctezuma/Alby in "A Baby for Adela." What is Gloria's attitude toward him? What is Rocky's attitude toward him?

Reading assignment for Thursday:

Thursday April 30

Lecture: The subversion of the form. How does Anzaldua reclaim the corrido in a lesbian endeavor? How does the narrative form itself reinforce binaries? How does Anzaldua deploy butch/femme in this story?

Research Methods

Week Six

Tuesday Cinco de Mayo

Meet at library. Bring notebook, reader.

Meet with library staff. Orientation to MELVYL, Pegasus, Chicano Database, Journal Indexes, World-Wide-Web

Presentation: What methodologies do and do not work for researching Chicana lesbian writing?

Super Extra credit:

Using some of the methodologies we've discussed, find one Latina lesbian short story. (You get more points if you're the only one who finds that title) Write up a description of how you found it.

Thursday May 7

Mid term exam
Readings for Tuesday:

Reclaiming Histories II

Week Seven

Tuesday May 12

Discuss Portillo's representation of Sor Juana: sympathetic? unsympathetic? How does Portillo attempt to make sense of Sor Juana as a real person? As a Mexicana? As a Chicana?

Readings for Thursday:
Extra credit: Attend Catriona's lecture at Multicultural Center on Wednesday, May 13.

Thursday May 14

Discussion: How does Gaspar de Alba depict the young Sor Juana? What are the differences in the way Portillo Trambley and Gaspar de Alba depict Juana's examination by the scholars? What works do they describe? What philosophies do they describe? What is Father Antonio's role? How do Portillo Trambley and Gaspar de Alba deploy language differently? [think in terms of English and Spanish]

How does Gaspar de Alba invoke mexicanidad? Xicanisma? How does Gaspar de Alba use the legend of Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl? How is she reclaiming that as a queer history?


You must come to class early on Tuesday, as the film will take all of our time

Week Eight

Tuesday May 19

Readings for Thursday:

Thursday May 21

Discussion of film, representation of sexuality, gender roles, transgression.

Lecture: discussion of politics of sexuality as it is raised in the essays;the claims Moraga is making for Chicana lesbian sexuality;the fantasy de la Pena evokes in "la Maya."

Readings for Tuesday:

Talk About Sex

Week Nine

Tuesday May 26

Lecture: What is at stake in Perez's application of Irigaray? her search for a Chicana lesbian language of sexuality?

In class writing assignment: think specifically about Terri de la Pena's "Second Thoughts about Sweaty Pages": what external event makes the short story seem objectifying to the author? what does she not consider? [think back to the slides with which we started this class] What is Pilar's role in the story?

Readings for Thursday:

Girlhood stories

Thursday May 28

Lecture: [Memories of Girlhood]: what makes a story "lesbian"? Why is there a resistance to naming stories by nonlesbian authors as "lesbian"? How has the critical silence about lesbian elements contributed to discursive erasure of lesbianism? How in particular do Perez and de la Pena try to actively mark "lesbian girlhood"?

Small group discussion: What happens when you link lesbianism and girlhood? How does this affect the way we think about lesbianism? [essentialist vs. social construction]

Readings for Tuesday
Writing assignment for Tuesday:

Write a sequel to "Miss Clairol," depicting the protagonist as an adult.

Week Ten

Tuesday June 2

Discussion: Which of today's readings are "lesbian" stories? How do they depict Chicana sexuality? Do they give narrow or broad definitions? How do the "lesbian" stories image lesbianism? What does it mean to be a Chicana lesbian? What is the relationship between the Chicana lesbian and her community?

Small-group discussion: Students will share their writing assignment. What were some of the assumptions we made about the character? How did that affect the way we saw her later in life?

Discussion of final paper: Choosing one of the sequences of stories we have discussed in this class (i.e. The Gloria Stories, Sor Juana stories, Girlhood Stories, Butch/Femme stories, Rural community stories--you may find others), describe the representation of Chicana and Chicana lesbian identity and sexuality in a Chicana/o Mexicana/o context.

Readings for Thursday:

Politics of Culture

Thursday June 4

Lecture: "In the Shadow of the Alamo": Twenty-five years of Chicana scholarship, the intersections of Chicana/feminist/history.

Readings for Tuesday:

Week Eleven


Lecture: The role of the Chicana lesbian in the political plays of Cherrie Moraga. How is sexuality imaged differently in these two plays? Explain Moraga's description of the way the production of Watsonville changed the emphasis of the play.

Wednesday June 10 4-7 p.m. Final class meeting

New Forms (for Old)

Wrapping up and looking ahead: Queer Chicana/o Visual Culture
Final Papers Due!!