Chicana Portraits edited by Norma Elia Cantú pairs portraits with critical biographies of twelve key Chicana writers, offering an engaging look at their work, contributions to the field, and major achievements.
Artist Raquel Valle-Sentíes’s portraits bring visual dimension, while essays delve deeply into the authors’ lives for details that inform their literary, artistic, feminist, and political trajectories and sensibilities. The collection brilliantly intersects artistic visual and literary cultural productions, allowing complex themes to emerge, such as the fragility of life, sexism and misogyny, Chicana agency and forging one’s own path, the struggles of becoming a writer and battling self-doubt, economic instability, and political engagement and activism.
Arranged chronologically by birth order of the authors, the book can be read cover to cover for a genealogical overview, or scholars and general readers can easily jump in at any point and read about an individual author, regardless of the chronology.
Biographies included in this work include Raquel Valle-Sentíes, Angela de Hoyos, Montserrat Fontes, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Norma E. Cantú, Denise Elia Chávez, Carmen Tafolla, Cherríe Moraga, Ana Castillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Sandra Cisneros, and Demetria Martínez. Read an excerpt from the book below.
It is a balmy May evening in Laredo, Texas, in 2001 when we gather in el Café del Barrio, a small café/bookstore that the artist and poet Raquel Valle-Sentíes owns and operates out of her Victorian-era home on Matamoros Street. At this particular gathering, we are celebrating the writers from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and Laredo, Texas, who are attending the IV Letras en el Borde (Letters on the Border) conference. The brainchild of José Luis Velarde and Guillermo Lavín, a couple of writers from Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, the annual transnational event has taken place for several years with support from Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), Laredo Community College(LCC), and the cultural affairs office of the city of Nuevo Laredo under the direction of Héctor Romero Lecanda. Like any other literary festival, Letras en el Borde features writers reading their work and academic papers by critics and scholars; because it is being held in the two Laredos and the organizers want to emphasize the transnational aspects of our region, the conference focuses on border writing. The meal and performances—readings and music—at Café del Barrio are a highlight of the conference.
Our host, Raquel Valle-Sentíes herself, is active in the local literary scene. Her dream of owning a bookstore has come true, and it is all she had hoped it would be. In the 1980s Valle-Sentíes had begun writing poetry and taking art classes at Laredo Community College (now Laredo College) with Martha Fenstermaker. I was then a professor at Laredo State University (now Texas A&M International University), and we—the literatontos, as some jokingly referred to us—were a handful who were keeping Chicanismo alive as we engaged with community projects that addressed the raging problems of the day: immigration, illiteracy, erasure of our history, historic preservation, et cetera. By the 1990s, we had coalesced into a force engaged in important interventions, launching a chapter of Amnesty International to do our work in the migrant detention center run by the private carceral company Corrections Corporation of America and establishing the Refugee Assistance Council to provide legal services to migrants. It was the days of massive migration from Central America due to the United States incursions into that region of the Americas. Many of our members were also involved in the feminist group Las Mujeres, and we hosted an annual women’s conference, Primavera, to promote and recognize the accomplishments of women in our community. I discuss Las Mujeres below as I contextualize the work of Café del Barrio and Raquel Valle-Sentíes.
Cordelia E. Barrera
Mary Pat Brady
Norma E. Cantú
María Jesus Castro Dopacio
Carlos Nicolás Flores
Maria Magdalena Guerra de Charur
Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs
María Esther Quintana
Eliza Rodríguez y Gibson