May 25th in (Feminist) History

rosario_castellanosOn this day in 1925 was the birth of Rosario Castellanos, a Mexican poet and author, who was considered one of the most important literary Mexican voices in the last century. Her work, which went on to influence cultural studies and feminist theory, featured writing about themes of cultural and gender oppression. It could be said that her beliefs began at a young age, both in the attention she paid to the plight of the indigenous Maya people who worked for her family, and also in the way her family treated her as compared to her brother. Once, when a soothsayer foretold that one of her mother’s children would die, Rosario stated that her mother exclaimed, “Not the boy!”

At the age of only 16, just a year after her parents lost their land (to land reform and a peasant emancipation policy) and moved to Mexico City, both of Rosario’s parents died and she was left on her own. Joining a group of Mexican and Central American intellectuals, she began to read extensively, and started to write as well. She attended the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and studied literature and philosophy (she would later teach there) and also joined the National Indigenous Institute, where she wrote scripts for puppet shows that were performed in impoverished regions in Mexico, in an attempt to promote literacy. She was also appointed ambassador to Israel in 1971, in recognition for her literary achievements.

In her literary career, Rosario wrote three novels, one major play, essays, and numerous poetry. She is known for taking a good deal of care in writing of indigenous people, writing about them and their plights with understanding and concern, despite not being indigenous herself. Her poem, “Valium 10” is considered a great feminist poem on the level of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”. The poem– perhaps made even more understandable today by changing the title to “Prozac” or “Zoloft”– is about women who are frustrated and anxious, trapped in the roles they are forced to play. Here is an image of the full translated poem (source, but you have to scroll a bit), and here is an excerpt:

And in the dark, at the beginning of your sleep,
You realize what has been lost:
the most expensive diamond,
the navigating map, the book
with one hundred basic questions (and its respective
answers) for at least a basic, simple, elemental
dialogue with the Sphinx.

and you have the painful sensation
that in the crossword puzzle
an error slipped,
that made it impossible to solve.

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