Las Hermanas

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Las Hermanas

Las Hermanas, the first national organization of Chicana/Latina Roman Catholics in the United States, was organized in 1971 to challenge overt discrimination toward Spanish-speakers in the church and in society at large. Influencd by the politics of mass protest, religious Chicana women mobilized during a time of intense social upheaval worldwide. The national ethnic movements of the 1960s and 1970s, fighting for civil rights and self-determination; modern American feminism; anti–Vietnam War protests; Latin American liberation movements; and Vatican II all contributed to a milieu of social unrest and radical transformation. As politically conscious religious women, members of Las Hermanas brought the ethnic and gender struggles of the era into the religious realm. Through direct involvement in the Chicano movement, the organization expanded the ministerial role of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, bridging civil rights and religious concerns. Membership grew in the first nine months from two hundred to nine hundred, representing twenty-one states, expanded to include Puerto Rican and Cuban-American women, and by 1976 membership included laywomen. Their class and ethnic diversity has earned them recognition as a highly creative and successful effort for solidarity in a diverse Latina/Latino reality.

Between 1971 and 1985 Las Hermanas influenced the policy decisions of major ecclesial bodies such as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference (NCCB/USCC), the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs of the USCC. Their concerns included institutional representation for the Spanish-speaking, culturally sensitive ministries, educational programs, employment practices, and women's ordination—in short, spiritual and political needs of Spanish-speaking Catholics in the United States. Members also participated actively in the Chicano movement, including student protests for educational rights, the farmworkers' struggle for labor rights, and widespread community organizing. Their activism represents the first time that Chicana/Latina religious leaders systematically challenged both public and private institutions to address ethnic, gender, and class discrimination.

Las Hermanas quickly developed national and international alliances with other groups, including the National Association of Women Religious (NAWR), Padres Asociados para Derechos Religiosos, Educativos y Sociales (PADRES), and the Latin American Conference of Religious Congregations (CLAR), organizations also concerned with justice and social change. PADRES, an organization of Chicano clergy, mobilized in 1969 and collaborated with Las Hermanas for a number of years. Together they provided the primary leadership of the U.S. Latino Catholic Church from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.

A specifically feminist agenda did not shape the organization until 1976; however, early on Las Hermanas espoused feminist ideas. Experiencing the limitations of a "sanctified" hierarchical and male-dominated church made these women particularly aware of the forces of patriarchy. Community-centered consciousness and shared leadership, characteristic of Chicana feminists, describe their early activism. Since 1980 Las Hermanas has focused specifically on issues affecting grassroots Latinas, including moral agency, reproductive rights, sexuality, and domestic abuse. Annual conferences, retreats, and newsletters articulate issues integral to the daily lives of many Latinas. In the process they have articulated a spirituality and a theology rooted in the Mexican/Cuban/Puerto Rican Roman Catholic faith but shaped by their experiences as feminists. Las Hermanas provided the "seedbed" for the production of mujerista theology, a blending of feminist concerns and liberation theology.

The women of Las Hermanas, both religious and laity, defy longstanding stereotypes depicting Latina Catholics as apolitical, asexual, passive bearers of their faith, for in the legacy of Las Hermanas, living one's faith also means living one's politics. The organization currently faces financial constraints yet continues to have a national membership dedicated to the empowerment of grassroots Latinas.

See alsoCivil Rights Movement; Feminist Spirituality; Gender Roles; Latino Traditions; Lived Religion; Roman Catholicism; Vatican II.


Díaz-Stevens, Ana María. "Latinas and the Church." In Hispanic Catholic Culture in the U.S.: Issues and Concerns, edited by Jay P. Dolan and Allan Figueroa Deck. 1994.

Isasi-Díaz, Ada María. Mujerista Theology. 1998.

Medina, Lara. "Las Hermanas: Chicana/Latina Religious-Political Activism, 1971–1997." Ph.D. diss., Claremont Graduate University, 1998.

Ruiz, Vicki L. From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America. 1998.

Lara Medina