Dear Denise Chavez,

I hope that this letter finds you well. My name is Nicole Allen and I am doing an Internet project on you for my Chicanas and Latinas in the U.S. class at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles California. I have read a few books in the class and I would like to take some time to explain some concepts that I learned from my readings as well as discuss what has been said about your own writings. At the end, I hope to make some connections between the concepts and your work and what has been said about your work.

The first book that I read in my Chicana/o Studies class is called, Chicana Art: The Politics of Spiritual and Aesthetic Altarities written by Laura E Pérez. One important topic that I want to tell you about is place and space, specifically among Chicana/o society. There has been a long battle between Mexican/Mexican Americans and where the “space”  or “place” is. It is apparent from when Mexicans lost their lands after the U.S. Mexico War and “racialized segregation of Mexican Americans into ‘Mexican towns,’ neighborhoods, or ghettos” (Pérez 149). Pérez discusses art that deals with such struggle or ideas of Mexican Americans keeping within “their place.” One artist that Pérez focuses on in this section of the book is Celia Herrera Rodríguez. Rodríguez presented and installation and performance at Stanford University in May of 1998. The performance caught my attention and is something I was interested to read more about. Pérez writes that the performance called What Part Indian Am I? “engages the interrelated questions of history, the sacred, the politics of space, and discourses of identity” (Pérez 152). The performance embodies the idea of space because it raises the issues of the Indigenous community and how their space may be taken from them, or it can also mean the political space that they take in society, or it could also mean the space that the Indigenous takes in our own bodies as a Chicana.

Another aspect in understanding space and place is to look at the place that women have been placed into. Pérez states in the book that “Queer feminist artists in particular have asked what people, land and ideology we can call home amid the persistence of heteronormative male-centered visions of the nation, the family, and even of the female body and its desires” (Pérez 151). This society has been very male driven and women have questioned their place in society. Pérez wants women to find their own place and not be afraid to express themselves through art or any other means.

The second book that I read in my university class is called, Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza written by Gloria Anzaldúa. In this book she explores her identity as a Chicana Lesbian, her journey to find the strength to leave home for what she wanted to do in life, and the question of what is socially appropriate for Chicana women in society. One of the chapters, chapter 7, in the book specifically talks about a “New Mestiza Consciousness.” First Anzaldúa discusses the topic of “border” and Mestiza. The idea of being a Mestiza comes with the idea that a person has to be involved in more than one culture and the complexities of that culture. There are consequences to this as Anzaldúa states as how “The new Mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity” (Anzaldúa 101). Basically she means that Mestiza woman know how to be one way when they are around their Indian/Mexican side and is an anglicized Mexican when they are around Anglos. They accept the fact that they are not fully one thing or fully another and are able to cope with it. She then talks about the crossroads that she has to pass through as a Chicana lesbian. She is not embraced into the Chicana culture that easily in society but she is “cultured because [she is] participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet” (Anzaldúa 103). These are her crossroads; she gains knowledge from a culture that may not be accepting of her sexuality, but she is completely accepted into another culture and is able to call herself a cultured person because of this.

Basically, Anzaldúa wants woman to have new ideas about their identity. One section in the 7th chapter relays the most important ideas about the new Mestiza consciousness and it says:

Seeing the Chicana anew in light of her history. I seek an exoneration, a seeing through the fictions of white supremacy, a seeing of ourselves in our true guises and not as the false racial personality that has been given to us and that we have given to ourselves. I seek our woman’s face, our true features, the positive and the negative seen clearly, free of the tainted biases of male dominance. I seek new images of identity, new beliefs about ourselves, our humanity and worth no longer in question.

She wants the “New Mestiza” to understand where the constructions of the Mestiza identity have come out from, and understand who created the constructions. Once these ideas stated above are realized, then the way will be paved for the “New Mestiza.”
There has been many great things said about your own work. You have many themes in your short stories, novels, and plays that are similar in idea or topic of Anzaldúa’s and Pérez’ work. For example, in The Last of the Menu Girls, you have written seven separate stories that are related to each other. Each story focuses on the character of Rocio Esquibel and her journey in high school and later in college. She encounters many people and situations that shape who she is as a person, and in finding her identity. In the first story for example, Rocio works at restaurant in a hospital and encounters many differing people and is exposed to their experiences. In a biography page that I found on you in my university’s articled database called Biography Resource Center, originally taken from Contemporary Authors Online, it states that Rocio’s “impressions are shaped, in large part, by the ordinary individuals whom she daily encounters: the local repairman, the grandmother, and the hospital staff, among others” (Contemporary Authors Online).

Your dramatic work of The Last of the Menu Girls has themes greatly similar to Pérez and Anzaldúa because they both deal with identity and finding a place in the community or society. Anzaldúa specifically states, “It is imperative that mestizas support each other in changing the sexist element in the Mexican-Indian culture” (Anzaldúa 106). She wants women to stand up for themselves and be active in their identities as women, lesbians, Indian, Mexican, or what ever identity is closely related to who they feel they are as people. Pérez says, “With respect to women, it [social space] involves challenging the racialized assumptions that we belong in a border town bordellos, in service as cleaning women, childcare workers, waitresses, hotel chambermaids, farmworkers, factory workers, or exploited sweatshop laborers” (Pérez 149). She uses art to explain how women can defy such constrains that are place onto women, and how women can achieve anything that a man can. Contemporary Authors Online states this about your work The Last of the Menu Girls:

The Last of the Menu Girls [is] a series of dramatic vignettes that explore the mysteries of womanhood. In fact, she envisions all her work as a chronicle of the changing relationships between men and women as women continue to avow their independence. This assertion has led to the creation of non-stereotypical Chicana heroines like Rocio, who Women's Studies Review contributor Maria C. Gonzalez described as "an individual who fights the traditional boundaries of identity that society has set up and expects her to follow."

This show the requiring themes about women and where their proper place in society is considered to be proper and how they are striving for a “new Mestiza consciousness” while finding their “space or place” in society that has been often times confined by the dominant male or Anglo society. Your book The Last of the Menu Girls deals with the idea of Chicana identity, just as Anzaldúa and Pérez, but through fiction. Your stories are relatable to women that read them because they appeal to their entertainment side but also their intellectual side as well.

Overall, I have learned a lot about myself through reading about you and your work as well as reflecting on what I have read for my Chicano Studies class at Loyola Marymount University. Thank you for The Last of the Menu Girls and your other plays and stories. I plan to read and reflect on your writing for many years to come. I hope that you enjoy the website project that I am making about you and if there are any problems with it feel free to contact the Chicano Studies Department at Loyola Marymount University.


Nicole Allen