This article argues that conceptions of indigeneity and mestizaje conveyed in Ana Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters and Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead are influenced (differentially) by the very colonialist assumptions the novels otherwise aim to dismantle. I compare how indigeneity and mestizaje are defined in Letters and Almanac (with particular attention to their oppositional features), addressing relationships between these definitions, popular colonialist discourse, and anti-colonial articulations of identity that have developed in American Indian and Chicana/o communities. Significantly (and tragically), Letters' Chicana protagonist, Teresa, envisions her recovery of a cohesive cultural identity as a return to a distant indigenous past (via traveling from the U.S. to Mexico) — which, I demonstrate, places Letters in conversation with Mexican indigenismo, the myth of the Vanishing Indian, and the myth of Mexico as an Infernal Paradise. Almanac's Menardo, by contrast, grows up with a strong sense of Mexican indigenous ideologies but cuts his family ties and conceals his cultural identity after discovering that identification as Indian will disqualify him for entrance into Mexican high society. Through Menardo, introduced as “the mestizo,” Almanac critiques Mexican mestizaje as a cultural construct, and I consider whether this critique functions as the sort of exclusionary gesture Castillo has ascribed to some North American Indians when it comes to Chicana/o claims to indigeneity. At the same time, I consider how Teresa's inherited presuppositions about indigeneity perpetuate discourses that have functioned to bar indigenous peoples from the full rights of citizenship and self-determination. That Menardo eschews what Teresa strives to recover can best be understood, I argue, in the context of the different national circumstances in which they grow up, the consequences of Chicana/o diaspora, and traditional versus colonially influenced American Indian standards for tribal identification.
Tereza M. Szeghi; Indigeneity and Mestizaje in Ana Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters and Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead. Comparative Literature 1 December 2013; 65 (4): 429–449. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-2376624
Download citation file: