Poetry Review

In Cantadora Ravenswood Channels a New Mestizá Ghostchild

Linda Ravenswood’s second collection (one of four books that culminated from the dreadful years of our global pandemic), Cantadora: Letters from California, is a deeply profound journey of personal identity, family lineage, and state history. On the surface, her collection honors the ramifications of the West 500 years after Cortez’s brutal Conquest of Mexico. Ravenswood delineates passage through voices affected by genocide and colonization with 44 hybrid texts sampled from maps, dream fragments, and manifestos. Her book exposes redacted dreams and documents that may have remained unnoticed if not for the poet’s ability to elucidate the violence we often overlook in our fast-paced, technological society.

In Spanish, La Cantadora is a folksinger, a singer of popular songs, which means Ravenswood’s speaker has raptured into a storyteller of the Mestizá: a ghostchild moving through the walls of her poems with echoes of Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestizà. In Anzaldua’s inimitable voice, she asserts, “The struggle is inner: Chicano, indio, American Indian, mojado, mexicano, immigrant Latino, Anglo in power, working class Anglo, Black, Asian–our psyches resemble the bordertowns and are populated by the same people. The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in outer terrains.” Like Anzaldua, Ravenswood’s speaker recognizes theimplications of colonization and how a white invasion’s most fatal victory lies within.

If we are to forget our mother tongues, who are we but the result of a melting pot named Americ&n? Ravenswood confronts her memory of pre-language, the words of her people that exist in her blood, and carries loss due to the language she learned from her external environment.

In “When you’re Latino,” Ravenswood’s speaker demonstrates an account of what it means to be “passing” and the invisibility it carries. We are reminded of Anzaldua’s insistence on this form of invisibility, a dual-plated expulsion. She writes, “Hispanic means white (ish) / Unless you’re white / then Hispanic means I don’t see you.”

One of the most haunting obsessions displaced immigrants face during their childhood is the yearning to be white when all the other kids on the playground look the same: blond hair and blue eyes. Ravenswood’s speaker hails, “I want to be / that white.” Ravenswood is willing to cross her inner border of shame; the fact that she is simultaneously white and not white is part of her healing process of intergenerational trauma. In the shadows of Anzaldua’s seminal work, Cantadora becomes Borderland’s inner child.

However, being Hispanic in a white world means Cantandora is a story about race in a world with binaries. Ravenswood offers a third space that compliments Anzaldua’s diagram of what it feels to be truly invisible. The poet writes, “When you’re Latino / you work the kitchen.” The intersectionality of being a woman and a passing immigrant positions Ravenswood’s speaker as someone three or four times removed from the dominant culture’s ideas of desire. To be a woman of color is hard enough in our Anglo-favored patriarchy, but to be a woman of color that feels out of place in their own culture is another form of removal that compounds an already complicated relationship with one’s community. She writes, “When you’re Latino / finishing high school / means you’re a sellout / to some of your friends.” The hatred for being white to the Hispanic community and not being “Latino” enough to the Latinx community is a double invisibility familiar to Anzaldua and many of us who face displacement from our homelands.

In “Data is extremely limited, amounting only to four words & ten place names,” Ravenswood examines the crossing of her identities via research. In a series of definitions, the speaker raises questions of whiteness imprinted with state and family history: “a settlement & / not a town / you can only have a polis / if you are white / or part white.” The many burdens and perks of being passing white are the privilege to enjoy all the benefits that come with whiteness, all the while feeling the loss of identity as part of internal colonization. This invasion also disconnects us, like a walking ghost searching for a host to claim its body.

Cantadora: Letters from California explores so much more than this review. Ravenswood is a child of many borderlands, which engage us in a conversation with our upbringings. Other themes include Jewishness, Colonialism, BIPOC, Latinidad, Chicanx Studies.


cover of Linda Ravenswood’s Cantadora – Letters from California
Cantadora — Letters from California by Linda Ravenswood

Purchase Cantadora — Letters from California by Linda Ravenswood

What are you looking for?