Confronting predators and shadow-beasts: Representations of working-poor Chicanas in contemporary young adult literature
Young adult Chicanas, both real and fictional, occupy a unique interstitial space, the space "in-between" adolescence and adulthood where vast physical and emotional transformations take place, and where identity development solidifies in important ways, such as in the further acquisition of agency and sense of efficacy. These processes are mediated by interlocking social forces of race, culture, gender, and class making this transitional space filled with power struggles for young adults as they maneuver in the primary social environments of family, school, and community. Similar to the scholarly praxis of many past and present Chicana cultural critics, this dissertation takes a multidisciplinary approach to literary analysis. Drawing primarily from the theory and practice of Gloria Anzaldúa, as well as theory and research in the disciplines of sociology, psychology, and Chicana and Latina historians and cultural critics such as Cherríe Moraga, Aurora Levins Morales, and Rosa Linda Fregoso, this dissertation analyzes the literary representations of young, working-poor Chicana protagonists in contemporary young adult (YA) literature. I analyze four YA novels that have been published within the last five years: Belinda Acosta's Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over (2010), Sandra C. López's Esperanza: A Latina Story (2008), Kelly Parra's Graffiti Girl (2007), and Alan Lawrence Sitomer's The Secret Story of Sonía Rodríguez (2008). I purposefully include novels written by both cultural insiders and one cultural outsider to complicate issues of representation and discursive analysis on young girls of color. These literary representations reflect the social reality of young, working-poor Chicanas from the Millenial generation, in particular the significant threat of confronting physical and sexual violence on a daily basis in the family and community. Moreover, confrontations amidst sociopolitical hierarchies in the family, school, and the larger community during the period of late adolescent development cause these young adult Chicanas to be positioned as outsiders within these social institutions with the accompanying feelings of alienation, exclusion, and mistreatment. These "ruptures," as Anzaldúa calls these violent, soul-startling events, direct a young Chicana down the "path of conocimiento," an Anzaldúan concept of transformative consciousness and identity shift that begins with living in a contentious and contradictory "in-between" state and can lead to facultad consciousness, a deeper understanding of how the world operates around her. Propelled down this path, young Chicanas also come to experience the Anzaldúan concepts of Shadow-Beast and Coatlicue state that can create or delay a progressively transformative identity development. Ultimately, this path has the potential to create a new vision of these young adult Chicanas' places in the world, one with unity, purpose, and agency.