The Mixquiahuala Letters – Ana Castillo

“In the modern U.S., i married a poor man out of love. Poverty had won out and separated us. i was of the multitude and survival and perversions were ingrained. i had been instilled with cynicism and, very soon, the only door opened to me to escape the banal destiny planned from birth
into a billion splinters of sheer farce, without a sound.”

– Ana Castilo, The Mixquiahuala Letters

I read this on the heels of reading Anzaldua, another Chicana feminist. It was  good timing because I was able to recall what I learned about Chicana feminism from Anzaldua, and identify the same themes in this book.
The format of this book was a series of letters from Teresa to her friend, Alicia, two creative women who refuse to follow traditional roles. The letters  were very revealing; not only do we experience the friends’ travels around Mexico, we’re also able to read their thoughts and also understand the society they lived in, and the inner conflict they experienced.

Being a woman is evident in every letter that is written, in everything the women experience and how they experience it. Race plays a major part, as does privilege as Americans and English speakers. The letters didn’t have to directly or explicitly address a situation, for example colourism, sexism, yet the themes were very clear, and a reminder of how  Chicana feminist theory, comes from lived experiences:

“From years afterward you enjoyed telling people that I was from Mixquiahuala. It explained the exotic tinge of yellow and red in my complexion, the hint of an accent in my baroque speech, and most of all, the indiscernible origin of my being.”

“My cousin’s a very nice looking guy. He’s been trying to get into films but I’m sure it’s his dark complexion, and Huichol-like features that are standing in the way of Hollywood discovering him. Some years ago he had a small part on a TV show where he played a gang member from the barrio. He was told to speak with a heavy accent although my cousin Ignacio speaks four languages and all flawlessly.”

Throughout there was also some discussion about feminism, wifehood, and women feeling trapped in their relationships and societies. This book was written in the 1980s so I’m sure things have changed since then, but so much has also stayed the same:

“When a woman entered the threshold of intimacy with a man, she left the companions of her sex without looking back. Her needs had to be sustained by him. If not, she was to keep her emptiness to herself.”

I haven’t read many travel stories from women of colour so I found this to be an interesting account of the minority traveller experience, especially as a woman:

“…We has abruptly appeared in Mexico as two snags in its patterns. Society could do no more than snip us out. We would have hoped for respect as human beings, but the only respect granted a woman is that which a gentleman bestows upon the lady. Clearly, we were no ladies. What was our greatest transgression? We travelled alone.”

Definitely recommended.


One thought on “The Mixquiahuala Letters – Ana Castillo

  1. Thank you for this post, Rowena. I have a few books of poetry that I love, written by Ana Castillo. I haven’t read this book—I think I thought I was supposed to be familiar with Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch….On the other hand when I read Massacre of the Dreamers I was blown away—another book I would like to re-read to learn if it has withstood the winds of time…!

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