An Interview with Ana Castillo

By: Cat Hubka on Friday, December 19th, 2014

Ana Castillo, one of Chicana feminism’s strongest voices, gave it to the University of New Mexico at the 2014 Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya Series, reading portions of her new novel, Give It To Me (Feminist Press, 2014) and the 20th Anniversary Edition of Massacre of the Dreamers (University of New Mexico Press, 2014). She also spoke with Blue Mesa Review.

In Give It To Me, Palma, a forty-two year old fashionista embarks on a steamy midlife journey, engaging in an emotionally ambiguous relationship with her twenty-something cousin and navigating the complex intersection of race, gender and sexuality, themes that figure prominently in her body of work. It is a witty, gritty, and very erotic read for which there is, as Castillo puts it, “a lot of excitement over a character who owns her own sexuality.” We asked Castillo to expand on the protagonist’s sexual empowerment and the subject of her age:

Blue Mesa Review: Would you comment on the passage from page 34: “There are things you might imagine a thirteen-year-old girl doing, a young coed doing, young being the operative term. Most people didn’t fantasize about a forty-two-year-old woman in a small bathtub fondling herself…”

Ana Castillo: As disturbing as some of us may find it there seems to be some evidence that the age men are most attracted to is a young teen, 13 to be specific.  Women especially are subjected to ageism.  Once she is past her twenties, I think a lot of women, let’s say in contemporary Western culture, still fear losing their sexual appeal, i.e., their worth as women.  Palma Piedras is over 40, so she falls well past the age of conventional ‘sexiness.’  Today, with baby-boomer women and Generation X women well into middle age like to pass back middle age.  ’50 is the new 40, 40 is the new 30, etc.  Still, a multi-billion beauty industry that includes a multitude of anti-aging treatments and products tell us we fear looking older.  Palma Piedras as a modern woman, fashionista, urban savvy is aware of all that but doesn’t care what others think.

BMR: The novel is saturated with a sardonic tone, à la Charles Bukowski.

Ana Castillo: I was in fact re-reading Bukowski when I decided to try a short story.  I’ve also mentioned other influences, one is Georges Bataille.

BMR: At the Anaya lecture you read from Chapter 6 (hilarious chapter, by the way) that concludes with , “A macho had to be the loneliest creature on earth. He never let anyone in. Women mistook the aloofness as the result of a man being wounded…And like the snake the old lady cared for…people were surprised when they got hurt by such a man. The macho could not let people get close because he perceived himself at war with the world.”

I think that women all over the world could relate to that passage, and if that is a common experience for women, why do you think women keep getting involved with them, and why do men keep playing the macho if their ultimate experience is isolation?

Ana Castillo: We all participate in patriarchal patterns.

BMR: That leads us to the 20th Anniversary Edition of Massacre of the Dreamers that includes a foreword by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and a new chapter, “Afterword: The Real and True Meaning of Our Lady of Guadalupe.” How do you feel the addition of each nuances the original version?

Ana Castillo: The introduction is an endorsement of the work by a world-class psychologist and writer known for her themes on women.  I am privileged and honored for her introduction. Since Women Who Run with the Wolves, Pinkola-Éstes has become known for her empowerment of women through the use of the very mythology that has been long used to dismiss women in society.  The afterward continues the theme of women needing and desiring affirmation of their deep spiritual connections with the divine.

BMR: You conclude the new chapter with two ideas: In Lak Ech, and tu eres mi otro yo. I’m wondering if you could clarify both of those phrases for us.

Ana Castillo: In Lak Ech/tu eres mi otro yo–teaches about the ‘other’ and that we are all each other’s reflection.

BMR: Thank you for time, Ms. Castillo. We wish you success with Give It To Me and the 20th Anniversary Edition of Massacre of the Dreamers.

Ana Castillo is a noted Chicana novelist, essayist, poet, and scholar. Her award winning, best sellling novels include: So Far From GodThe Guardians, and Peel My Love like an Onion, and poetry: I Ask the Impossible. Her novel Sapogonia was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and she received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for her first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters. She is the recipient of the Carl Sandburg Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in fiction and poetry. In 2013, Ms. Castillo was awarded the American Studies Association Gloria Anzaldúa Prize to an independent scholar.

 

Cat Hubka is a first-year MFA student in Creative Nonfiction at the University of New Mexico.