Esteemed writer Ana Castillo began to write as a young activist in the 1970s. She used her poetry as a form of social protest by exploring the political and ethical implications of her personal experience. Her work seeks to challenge notions of not just Latinos and Latin culture, but ideas about gender roles, sexuality, spirituality, family and culture. She was recently hosted by the PCC English department for an evening of reading and discussion in the Creveling Lounge where students, faculty and staff gathered to hear her read some of her work such as “So Far From God” and “Watercolor Women, Opaque Men.”
She has been influential in the Chicana feminist movement by exploring issues of identity, racism, and classism. She uses the term ‘xicanisma’ to signify Chicana feminism and to illustrate the politics of what it means to be a Chicana in this society. She grew up in a Mexican Indian immigrant family during the 1970s and wanted to share what it was like traveling from Mexico City to Chicago in her writing.
To this day, she enjoys traveling and sharing her poetry with her readers.
She is a self taught poet who spoke of the many disadvantages in society but one advantage she spoke of, is that all writers should be able to read whatever they want.
Castillo noted American poet and novelist, Hilda Doolittle’s novel “Helen in Egypt,” as an inspiration that led her to write her next book. “Helen in Egypt” ties in great figures, history, royalty and people with great wealth; themes that influenced Castillo’s novel, “Watercolor Women, Opaque Men.” This novel contains episodes that range from the Mexican Revolution to modern-day Chicago and reflects a deep pride in Chicano culture and the hardships immigrants endured.
Castillo felt liberated to write about themes relating to socio-political oppression of third world women and men and Chicana feminism. The most important thing for her when it comes to telling a story is to write collectively and to understand that to make change in society, we all have to do it together.
“One person isn’t the only one to rally everybody,” she said. “Everyday a person of color is negotiating. It’s important that we situate ourselves almost in a warrior like position. Only you can identify yourself or label yourself.”
As a young child, Castillo loved to read but noticed that there weren’t any books that portrayed women that she looked up to such as her mother and aunt. Once she began writing, her objective was to create and stay faithful to creating characters like the women she knew and admired in her life.
She hopes that society continues to evolve enough to be open to new ideas of what acceptance is, what is beautiful, and what is normal. Castillo herself struggled to be accepted by others.
She shared a time in her life where she tried to get a job as a receptionist in a dental office but learned that they would not hire a woman of color. The reason for that was they didn’t want a person of color representing their business.
“We still have so much work to do,” said Castillo. “Everyday is a renewal of acceptance.”
“Choose something that you want to wake up to and and give everything to,” she continued. “Continue to get up one step at a time and know that what you’re doing is important.,” she continued. “We have to start with ourselves and our inner circle and pick that thing that you know is something you know you can’t live with and fight for it or fight against it.”
Castillo went on to share a collection of essays from her last book called “Black Dove.”
“A memoir, to distinguish that from a autobiography, is something that you carry in your heart that’s a conundrum,” Castillo said. “This conundrum takes you on a journey, a writing journey, a research journey, a traveling journey, in search of the answer.”
Castillo pointed out that when writing a memoir, there usually isn’t an answer, therefore it remains a mystery but as humans we come up with many other answers.
Toward the end of the readings and discussion, student, Benjamin Falto-Armiajo, mentioned that he really enjoyed the poetry readings, in that it was both informative and helpful. He also liked that Castillo focused on her mother and family ties as a way of unveiling her struggle through writing.
“It was helpful because it helped me begin to process some of the stuff I’ve been going through at home and my own struggle as well with intergenerational trauma along with what my family’s been through,” he said.
Falto-Armiajo said he liked the idea of going to an event like this rather than watching a panel discussion on television because it’s a much more open space.
“It puts the ‘community’ in community college because as people who are searching for answers, we’re all here for a variety of reasons such as coming together to hear this work,” he said.
Castillo left the audience with a piece of advice for all aspiring writers.
“Read, read, read. Write, write, write,” she said. “Then rewrite.”