Theresa Delgadillo, Spiritual Mestizaje

Review by Liz Barr

Delgadillo, Theresa. 2011. Spiritual Mestizaje: Religion, Gender, Race and Nation in Contemporary Chicana Narrative. Durham, NC: Duke University Pres.

[1] In Spiritual Mestizaje: Religion, Gender, Race and Nation in Contemporary Chicana Narrative, Theresa Delgadillo examines the use of spirituality and spiritual mestizaje as tools for the deconstruction and reconstruction of identity in several recent works of Chicana fiction. Delgadillo defines Gloria Anzaldúa's concept of spiritual mestizaje as "the transformative renewal of one's relationship to the sacred through a radical and sustained multimodal and self-reflexive critique of oppression in all its manifestations and a creative and a creative and engaged participation in shaping life that honors the sacred" (1). Spiritual Mestizaje examines several contemporary Chicana narratives—documentaries, novels, and memoirs—and identifies the enactment and embodiment of a Chicana feminist politics within these texts. These feminist politics interrogate race, gender, sexuality, spirituality, religiosity, family, colonialism, and nation and, Delgadillo argues, are based in spiritual mestizaje. Her textual analysis identifies these social constructs as fluid and contestable sites from which to reshape identity and enact resistance. Using spiritual mestizaje as the foundation for her analysis, Delgadillo provides a model for broad application of Anzaldúa's work while demonstrating the radical and revolutionary potential of this theoretical framework.

[2] Chicana feminist, activist, and philosopher Gloria Anzaldúa first developed the theory of spiritual mestizaje in her foundational text, Borderlands/La Frontera. As Delgadillo notes, although spiritual mestizaje is only mentioned once in Borderlands, mestiza consciousness (which is the primary focus of Borderlands) depends upon it. Anzaldúa scholars—Delgadillo included—stress mestiza consciousness as a theory of action and praxis that is necessarily informed by an embodied spirituality. Mestiza consciousness is a process of (self)criticism and transformation that bridges theory and practice. The radical and liberatory potential of mestiza consciousness cannot be understated. Further, mestiza consciousness cannot be produced without the critical enactment of spiritual mestizaje.

[3] Delgadillo incorporates the work of postcolonial scholars, theologians, Chicana feminists, queer theorists, and postmodern philosophers throughout the textual and visual analyses in Spiritual Mestizaje, locating her own argument within broader academic and activist narratives of power, resistance, and identity. She demonstrates the intersections and overlaps between diverse theoretical perspectives while highlighting Anzaldúa's challenges and additions to these frameworks. For Delgadillo, a focus on Anzaldúan spiritual mestizaje allows a deeper understanding of contemporary Chicana narratives as challenges to hegemonic systems of power. Delgadillo stresses mestiza consciousness as a theory of action that is necessarily informed by the spiritual. The texts that are the focus of Spiritual Mestizaje vary in form and content, however, Delgadillo demonstrates the process of spiritual mestizaje in each of these diverse narratives.

[4] Unlike indigenous spiritualities embraced by the Chicano/a movements of the 1960s and 70s, spiritual mestizaje is not simply an act of reclamation. Further, unlike feminist theology, spiritual mestizaje moves beyond redefinition. The process of spiritual mestizaje is a creative process—one that is fluid, hybrid, and embodied. While based in borderlands experiences, spiritual mestizaje is not rooted in any particular borderlands. Instead, it works to subvert domination and reexamine power in all hierarchical power structures: sexuality, race, gender, religion, nation, and family. Delgadillo suggests that the spiritual mestizaje found in contemporary Chicana narratives provides "not a definitive religious or spiritual answer or particular set of beliefs, but a recognition of contingencies in religious social formation, which is impacted by the intersection of discourses of religion with discourses of nation, class, gender, sexuality, and race" (191-2).

[5] Delgadillo's textual analyses show spiritual mestizaje as a fluid, hybrid process. This fluidity appears as a major theme in Spiritual Mestizaje. Redefinition and personalization of spirituality appears throughout the films and literary works Delgadillo discusses. Many of the characters undertake spiritual mestizaje by critically engaging with Christianity (particularly Catholicism), Judaism, indigenous spiritual traditions, and Eastern religions. Characters are then able to arrive at unique and personal spiritualities that are based in traditional religious practices while remaining critical of these traditions. In the works Delgadillo examines, these personalized spiritualities emerge through ritual and prayer, as well as through characters' reexaminations of interactions with holy sites and pilgrimages. As Delgadillo argues, many of the characters (particularly in the testimonios Face of an Angel and Mother Tongue, as well as the documentary Flowers for Guadalupe) claim a feminist agency by (re)defining spirituality as personal—and thereby political—practices. This (re)definition is based in memory, social consciousness and feminism, as well as a privileging of embodiment and physicality.

[6] Bodily experience as central to spiritual mestizaje is a second thematic focus of Delgadillo's work. The novels, memoirs, and documentaries discussed in Spiritual Mestizaje subvert the mind/body dualism by re-visioning the body as an essential part of spirituality. Delgadillo demonstrates the many ways that this subversion occurs: the documentary film Flowers for Guadalupe focuses on women's pilgrimages as physical as well as spiritual journeys; Face of an Angel and Mother Tongue focus on the physicality of characters' physical, emotional, and intellectual labor. Other works (such as Kathleen Acalá's novels or Norma Cantú's Can?cula) foreground the body and bodily experiences as a repository for memories. The liberatory and transformative process of (re)discovering these bodily and communal memories is essential to spiritual mestizaje. Delgadillo points out the ways that these texts avoid glossing over the violent aspects of Chicana border experiences, and avoid simplistic or reductive narrative resolutions. As such, they reflect the Coatlicue state--the breach birth--of mestiza consciousness and spiritual mestizaje.

[7] Despite different approaches, the authors and filmmakers in Spiritual Mestizaje use their characters and narratives to critique and challenge to systemic and structural oppressions and gendered violence. The documentary films Flowers for Guadalupe and Se?orita Extaviada explore gendered violence on a macro- or social level, revealing the structural forces that maintain this violence as well as its lived implications on women's lives. Similarly, the characters in Face of an Angel must negotiate physical and sexual violence in their home/family and work lives. All eight works Delgadillo discusses can be seen to address (gendered) violence—religious violence, sexual violence, and structural violence. Across these narratives, characters' experiences of violence result in the critical and creative process of spiritual mestizaje. Delgadillo understands this process as a feminist process that challenges and reworks characters' relationships to religion, family, and community. All of the texts use narrative focus on Chicana lives to subvert the erasure of Chicana experience—erasure within the Chicano movement and US feminisms, as well as dominant discourses.

[8] As Delgadillo demonstrates, the feminism that appears in contemporary Chicana narratives develops from the above themes. Although the specifics of Chicana experiences with physical, sexual, and spiritual borderlands are important to spiritual mestizaje, Delgadillo shows that spiritual mestizaje is not limited to a particular geopolitical region. The processes that allow spiritual mestizaje to develop can occur in any border experiences, particularly those of women of color. For example, by referencing the work of postcolonial feminist scholars in India, Delgadillo locates her scholarship in relation to larger narratives of globalization, colonialism, identity, power, and politics. Spiritual Mestizaje, then, exists as a broadly applicable model of scholarship. Like Borderlands, Spiritual Mestizaje is located in specific and particular geopolitical experiences, but its utility extends far beyond those borderlands. Delgadillo adeptly incorporates multidisciplinary methodologies and theoretical frameworks, giving Spiritual Mestizaje the necessary depth and breadth for thorough textual analysis.

[9] Feminist, Chicana, postcolonial, and queer scholars continue to study and interpret Anzaldúa's work. However, Delgadillo suggests that many of these scholars overlook the importance of spiritual mestizaje. Through her analyses of contemporary Chicana narratives, Delgadillo provides a novel application of Anzaldúa's theoretical work that focuses on this important critical process. Spiritual Mestizaje is significant for the depth it adds to critical Chicana studies, and, by extension, the depth it adds to literary and cultural studies. As Delgadillo notes, academic analyses of spirituality in Chicano/a and Latino/a literature are a relatively recent phenomena, however, themes of embodiment, hybrid spirituality, alternative subjectivities and feminist agency have been present in Chicano/a and Latino/a literatures for quite some time. As she further notes, Chicano/a and Latino/a literatures have recently entered into the academic and popular mainstreams, making critical analyses of these works particularly salient at this geopolitical moment. Hence, Delgadillo's model of analysis can be useful for scholars of Anzaldúa, Chicana feminists, postcolonial theorists, and others working in philosophy, cultural studies, or literary studies.