Bernice Zamora (b. 1938)

    Contributing Editor:
    Juanita Luna Lawhn

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    To make Zamora more accessible, translate Spanish phrases, refer students to outside reading that explains the religious beliefs of the Penitents, and encourage students to read poets--such as Robinson Jeffers, Gullivec, Shakespeare, and Hesse-- whose works serve as the intertextual basis for some of Zamora's poetry.

    I recommend that Zamora's work be viewed from a feminist perspective, giving special attention to the serpent motif that is present throughout her work and relating the serpent motif to the symbolism associated with goddesses.

    I would also recommend that her work be studied from a third world perspective. From this perspective, the student can take into consideration race, class, and gender.

    Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues

    The major themes that the writer develops are freedom, justice, love, hate, violence, death, assimilation, and isolation. Some of the issues that the writer develops are the entrapment of women in a man's world, socially and politically; the violence that permeates communities that are deprived economically and educationally; the violence that women as well as men suffer because of the double standards in social values and mores.

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    I recommend Bruce-Novoa's article, "Bernice Zamora y Lorna Dee Cervantes: Una estetica feministra."

    Original Audience

    When I speak of Zamora's work, I give a brief background of the Chicano literary movement. I indicate that Zamora's work was published and distributed by a Chicano publishing company and its audience was an ethnic audience, especially one that was well versed in American literature. I also indicate that she was one of the first major Chicana poets who published her work in book form. While her work is not limited to a feminist audience, it does lend itself to be read by one who is a feminist in the U.S. as well as by third world women. Because of the present trends to include minority writers in American literature anthologies, her audience has been expanded to reach a cross section of U.S. society.

    Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

    Since Bernice Zamora is presented as one of the representatives of the Chicana poet, it would be wise to recommend readings by other Chicana poets. The following is a representative list of works by Chicana poets:

    Cervantes, Lorna Dee. Emplumada. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981.

    Cisneros, Sandra. My Wicked Wicked Ways. Bloomington, Indiana: Third Woman Press, 1987.

    Corpi, Lucha. Palabras de Mediodia/Noon Words. Trans. Catherine Rodriguez-Nieto. Berkeley: El Fuego de Aztlan Publications, 1980.

    Moraga, Cherríe. Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca paso por los labios. Boston: Southend Press Collective, 1983.

    Villanueva, Alma. Bloodroot. Austin: Place of Herons Press, 1977.

    I recommend that her work be compared and contrasted with the work of Adrienne Rich, Marge Piercy, and Judith Ortiz Cofer.

    Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing

    1. (a) Define Aztlan.

    (b) Define Nahault.

    (c) Define community.

    (d) Define ritual.

    (e) What is the universal symbolism of the serpent?

    2. (a) Discuss several feminist issues that Zamora confronts with her poetry (the entrapment of women in a man's world, the issue of double standards in society, the exclusion of women from sacred rituals in a community, the exclusion of women in arts, and the function of women in society as objects to be utilized by men to serve their own needs).

    (b) Trace the serpent leitmotif in Zamora's work.

    (c) According to Zamora's poetry, what is the artist's role in society?

    (d) Trace the androgynous images in Zamora's poetry.


    Eger, Ernestina N. A Bibliography of Criticism of Contemporary Chicano Literature. Berkeley: University of California Chicano Studies Library Publication, 1982.

    Lawhn, Juanita. "Victorian Attitudes Affecting the Mexican Woman Writing in La Prensa during the Early 1900s and the Chicana of the 1980s." In Missions in Conflict, edited by Renate Von Bardeleben, Dietrich Briesemeister, and Juan Bruce-Novoa. Tübingen, W. Germany, Gunter Narr Verlag, 1986.

    Penitentes of New Mexico, edited by Carlos E. Cortez. New York: Arno Press, 1974.