Cherríe Moraga & "The Welder"



“Sometimes a breakdown can be the beginning of a kind of breakthrough, a way of living in advance through a trauma that prepares you for a future of radical transformation.”


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Cherríe Moraga’s words have inspired Chicanas, liberated women, and moved readers for decades. Her strength as a woman and identity as a “mixed-race Chicana lesbian” has made her a unique member—and a strong leader—of movements in identity writing.




Biography


Cherríe Moraga’s words have inspired Chicanas, liberated women, and moved readers for decades. Her strength as a woman and identity as a “mixed-race Chicana lesbian” has made her a unique member—and strong leader—of movements in identity writing.

Cherríe Moraga was born in 1952 to a Mexican mother and a white (Irish) father; she often refers to herself as “la guera”, which means “fair-skinned.” Raised in California’s San Gabriel Valley, Moraga felt the affects of her mixed ethnicity even at an early age. Her family has remained a large focus of her writing—her mother, specifically. Cherríe witnessed the unhappy and lonely nature of her parents’ relationship (she has alluded to her father’s not feeling affection for women at all) and felt great pains for her mother. Moraga’s mother refused to teach her and her siblings Spanish in hope that they would become less affiliated with their ethnicity. Because of this denial of heritage, Moraga felt that she was merely slipping through life unnoticed; she felt that she was only “passing” in white society. Her inability to identify with any background full-heartedly and her deep love for her mother set the groundwork for her emotional, confessional writings.

Moraga attended Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles and received her Bachelor’s in English in 1974. Though it may not sound so, Cherríe claims the school was a “radical Catholic school.” Though she began writing in school, Moraga’s most influential revelation occurred when left college. Moraga accepted and acknowledged her own lesbianism and came out to close friends. Once she felt more comfortable with her sexuality, Moraga took on more daring themes such as feminism, identity, ethnicity, sexuality, and most importantly, her relationship with her mother.

Moraga’s popularity grew as she found her place in small inner writing circles. As she experienced more classism, racism, and sexism, her passion for the working-class woman of color grew. Moraga worked as a high school teacher in Los Angeles from 1974—1977. During this time, she enrolled in a writing class at the Women’s Building and produced her first lesbian love poems. Echoing her internal struggle between Chicano and American culture, Moraga wrote of her identity as a lesbian and as a Chicana. In 1977, she moved to San Francisco; she earned a Master’s in Literature from California State in 1980. Since, Moraga has published books of poetry and prose. She has produced plays and ignited movements for her Chicana sisters.



"I know with my family that even as my writing functioned to separate me from them...it has freed me to love them from places within myself that had before been mired in unexpressed pain. Writing has ultimately brought them back to me." --Loving in the War Years



Loving in the War Years


“The first section of Loving in the War Years reads like a coming of age story. It is wrought with the confusion, frustration, and beauty that accompany maturity and the inward search to find oneself.” Moraga’s 1987 publication of her prose/poetic novel Loving in the War Years marked the true birth of her public identity. It has been said that she intended this work to be an emotional journey into the mind of the poet; the quoted Kafka in saying “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” Moraga writes fervently of the conscious clash between her sexuality and her ethnicity. She delves into the fear and anger she has felt for the men in her life and the inability to suppress her tenderness towards women. In the collection’s title poem Cherríe speaks of the dangers and risks involved in loving another woman. Ultimately, she claims, women can only rely on each other for survival. The true hardship is the struggle of the romantic relationship in an era when such affairs are socially unacceptable:

“We’re all we’ve got. You and I

maintaining
this war time morality
where being queer
and female is as rude
as we can get.”

Many have asserted that Loving in the War Years was one of the first pieces of literature to challenge the homophobia in the Chicano people. During the large social movements of Chicanos in the 60’s and 70’s, Moraga’s work stood out as an honest, exposé of female sensation.

Some critics of the work believe that the collection can be divided into two parts: The first, her journals and poems written during times of uncertainty and maturation. The latter being her writings on social reform and formal ethnic identity—founded in a more academic part of her life. The first section’s works were written mostly in the 70’s, when Moraga’s sexuality and ethnicity collided continuously. Her words are more focused on emotions, freedom, independence, and respect for women. The second half of the work—some have argued the less-impressive section of the piece—was written between 1995 and 1999. The flowing, poetic rhetoric of her previous writings is abandoned for a more formulated, academic approach to Chicano/a theories of reformation. Moraga debates the impact and creation of culture and the effects of the fine arts. Some believe that this step away from her confused, searching state found in earlier years is a detriment to the collection. It also could be stated that this duality of voices shows the maturation of a young, struggling Chicana into a proud, honest woman of two heritages.


Now available in an expanded edition, the collection contains four new essays by Moraga.




Hear Cherríe Moraga speak about the second wave of publication for Loving in the War Years here!



Themes in her work:



Cherríe Moraga’s work pulsates with raw human emotion. Throughout her career in writing, many common themes have been addressed and explored within her work.

Family Dynamics
In the first section of “A Long Line of Vendidas”, Moraga details the imbalance of influence and power in her family. She writes “My Brother’s Sex Was White. Mine, Brown.” Moraga explains that even her brother treated her and her sister as servants in front of guests. Moraga ties this expectation of women to her mother, but never places blame. She feels a deep level of sympathy for the woman who gave her life.

Father
Moraga’s internal struggles with the figure of her father run throughout her works. She writes “My mother was not the queer one, but my father. Something got beat out of that man. I don’t know what…That’s how we thought of him—a battered child.” Moraga claims it is the oddness of her father that she “runs from” in life. His resignation to a life of unhappiness and emotional distance is a theme present in many of Moraga’s early poems. Her fear of ignoring personal desires and such acceptance of one’s fate motivates many of her most inspirational poems.

Mother
In Loving in the War Years, Cherríe Moraga draws deep connections between her sexuality and the influence her mother has had on her life.

“For you, mamá, I have unclothed myself before a woman
have laid wide the space between my thighs
straining open the strings held there
taut and ready to fight.”
-Loving in the War Years

Cherríe’s mother was often pulled out of school (as early as age five) to work in the fields. Even at such a young age, she was often the only means of financial support for her family. Her father usual “drank away whatever profits she made” Moraga claims her mother is a “fine story-teller” and that she can still remember the smallest details of her mother’s stories. It is possible to connect Cherrie’s extremely powerful, detailed and honest poetry to the influence of her mother.

Identity
Moraga’s work has served as a source of support for many readers and insight for others. In her work “Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind”, Moraga draws from her experience as a Chicana lesbian and ultimately claims that one must accept herself and then allow others to accept her. Because she longed to fit snugly into one world—Mexican or American—she spent many of her early years battling her mixed identity. Moraga’s works stress the importance of loving oneself, and the emotional gain one experiences by doing so.



"This issue of being a 'movement writer' is altogether different. Sometimes I feel my back will break from the pressure I feel to speak for others." --Loving in the War Years

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Close Study—“The Welder”



Her work has functioned as an importance voice for Chicanas, lesbians, and women. In the 1983 collection of works (which she created with close friend Gloria Anzaldúa) Moraga writes that she is the welder who “understand[s] the capacity of heat / to change the shape of things.” One of her most symbolic pieces, “The Welder” functions to explain the responsibility Moraga feels to the different groups who depend on her voice. Because she is talented and strong enough to lead the demands for change, she functions as a mediator between many different types of people. In the poem, she writes:

“We plead to each other,
we all come from the same rock
we all come from the same rock
ignoring the fact that we bend
at different temperatures…”

“Yes, fusion is possible
but only if things get hot enough—”

Moraga’s ability to meld the world of homophobic Chicanos to the world of liberated lesbians to the world of domesticity to the world of passion and immaturity to the world of academic and political pursuits—this ability to find common ground and make things “hot enough”—is the mark of a monumental poet.



"The political writer, then, is the ultimate optimist, believing people are capable of change and using words as one way to try and penetrate the privatism of our lives. A privatism which keeps us back and away from each other, which renders us politically useless." --This Bridge Called My Back



Awards:


National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Scholars Award, 2001.
David R. Kessler Award. The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, City University of New York. (In honor of contributions to the field of Queer Studies), 2000.
The First Annual Cara Award. UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center/ Cesar Chavez Center for Interdisciplinary Instruction in Chicana/Chicano Studies, 1999.
Theater Communications Group National Theater Artist Residency Program, 1996.
The Fund for New American Plays Award, a project of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 1995 and 1991.
Lifetime Achievement Award, Ellas in Acción, San Francisco, 1995.
Lesbian Rights Award, Southern California Women for Understanding ("for Outstanding Contributions in Lesbian Literature and for Service to the Lesbian Community"), 1991.
The National Endowment for the Arts Theater Playwrights' Fellowship, 1993.
The Pen West Literary Award for Drama, 1993.
The Critics' Circle Award for Best Original Script, 1992.
The Will Glickman Playwriting Award, 1992.
The Drama-logue Award for Playwriting, 1992.
The Outlook Foundation, Literary Award, 1991.
The California Arts Council Artists in Community Residency Award, 1991-2 /1993-5.
The American Book Award, Before ColumbusFoundation, 1986.
The Creative Arts Public Service (CAPS) Grant for Poetry, New York State, 1983.
The Mac Dowell Colony Fellowship for Poetry, New Hampshire, 1982.





Sources


All information presented above is original writing. Sources noted if quoted.

Books:


Moraga, Cherríe & Anzaldua, Gloria. This Bridge Called My Back. New York: Kitchen Table, 1983.

Moraga, Cherríe. Loving in the War Years. New York: South End Press, 1983.

Espinoza, Dionne. "Cherríe Moraga, Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Pasó Por Sus Labios". Reading U.S. Latina Writers. Ed. Alvina E. Quintana. New York, NY: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2003.151-162.

Internet:

Cherríe Moraga's Official Site
Voices from the Gaps Biography of Moraga
QueerTheory.com: Loving in the War Years
Voices from the Gaps: Loving in the War Years
"Constructing the Queer Family in Cherrie Moraga's Fiction"
"Self-Valiation and Social Acceptance"

This page was created by Caitlin Carle in May of 2006 for Donna Strickland's English 2180 class.
University of Missouri--Columbia.

Visit our class page about Working Women's Literature and Authors