Chicana feminism emerged in the 1960s out of the gender inequalities Chicanas experienced during their active participation in the Chicano civil rights movement. Although women supported the struggle for racial and class equality, Chicana feminists challenged the existing patterns of male-domination within the Chicano movement, as well as its ideology of cultural nationalism. An ideology of cultural nationalism among racial and ethnic groups, such as Chicano activists during this historical period, extolled an exaggerated sense of cultural pride as a source of political mobilization and exclusionary collective identity. They demanded, therefore, that Chicanos integrate a gender analysis into their political ideology. Such demands resulted in serious internal political turmoil within the movement and spurred the rise of a generation of Chicana activists, whose writings, organizations, and protest activities remain a testament to feminist struggles.
Beginning in the early 1960s and through the 1980s, the writings by Adelaida Del Castillo, Marta Cotera, Fran-cisca Flores, Dorinda Moreno, Anna Nieto Gomez, Bernice Rincon, Enriqueta Longeaux y Vasquez, and others reveal the tensions and contradictions that they were experiencing as women of color participating in both a nationalist movement and the larger American society. Chicana feminists struggled to gain social equality and put an end to sexist and racist oppression. Like black and Asian-American feminists, Chicana feminists struggled to gain equal status in a male-dominated movement. Their writings addressed a variety of specific concerns, including educational inequalities, occupational segregation, poverty, lack of adequate child care, welfare rights, prison reform, health care, and reforms in the legal system. They also supported the right of women to control their own bodies and mobilized around the struggle for reproductive rights. Chicanas believed that feminism involved more than an analysis of gender because, as women of color, they were affected by both race and class in their everyday lives. Chicana feminism, as a social movement to improve the position of Chicanas in American society, represented a struggle that was both nationalist and feminist.
Chicana feminists engaged in a wide range of activities that stand as landmarks in the development of their movement. Throughout the Southwest, Chicanas developed their own feminist publication outlets. Founded in the early 1970s by Francisca Flores, the journal Regeneracion (Regeneration) became one of the most influential Chicana publications during the late 1960s and through the 1970s. It contained essays, editorials, poetry, short stories, and feature stories written about and by Chicanas. In 1971, students at California State University at Long Beach started a newspaper. With Anna Nieto Gomez and Adelaida Del Castillo serving as the founding editors, Hijas de Cuauhtemoc (Daughters of Cuauhtemoc), provided additional forums for Chicanas to discuss their experiences with male domination, racism, and classism. Although the newspaper only ran a few issues, its coverage of the social and economic marginalization of Chicanas in American society, and of the perpetuation of historical and contemporary stereotypes of Chicanas, provide critical documents of this period. In 1973 the newspaper developed into the feminist journal Encuentro Femenil (Women’s Encounter) but stopped publication within two years.
Enriqueta Longeaux y Vasquez and Elizabeth Martinez, both from New Mexico, edited the newspaper El Grito del Norte (The Cry of the North) from 1968 to 1973. It published many articles, some written by the editors, that shaped the course of Chicana feminism. In 1973 Dorinda Moreno edited La Mujer en Pie de Lucha (Women Ready for Struggle), an anthology of Chicana feminist writings. She also founded the San Francisco newspaper La Razón Mestiza (The Mestiza Cause) in 1974. In 1977 Marta Cotera, a Chicana feminist from Texas, published her very influential Chicana Feminist, a collection of her political essays and speeches.
Chicana artists depicted their feminist ideology in literature, poetry, art, and theater. The creative writings of Gloria Anzaldúa, Ana Castillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Sandra Cisneros, Pat Mora, Cherrie Moraga, Bernice Zamora, and others portray various aspects of Chicana feminism. Yolanda López’s art symbolizes the struggles of Chicanas and the development of a feminist consciousness.
By the late 1970s a small group of Chicanas entered the academy in a variety of disciplines and continued a Chicana feminist discourse within academic publishing outlets. Melville’s Twice a Minority (1980) and Magdalena Mora’s and Adelaida R. Del Castillo’s Mexican Women in the United States (1980) remain classic anthologies that document the struggles of Chicanas. Chicana feminist writings contain common threads. They called for a critique of Chicano cultural nationalism, an examination of patriarchal relations, an end to sexist stereotypes of Chicanas, and the need for Chicanas to engage in consciousness-raising activities and collective political mobilization.
Chicana feminists established autonomous woman-centered organizations that would facilitate their protest activities. In 1969, a group of Chicana university students started Las Hijas de Cuauhtemoc (Daughters of Cuauhtemoc), which served as a consciousness-raising organization, a clearinghouse of resources for Chicana students, and a basis for other feminist activities. The group started their own newspaper two years later and named the newspaper after their group. The Comision Femenil Mexicana Nacional (CFMN, or National Mexican Women’s Commission) was founded in 1970 as a result of a resolution written by a group of Chicanas at the National Chicano Issues Conference. They founded an organization, run by and for Chicanas, that addressed their concerns. The CFMN set up the Chicana Service Action Center, a Los Angeles–based community social services center that focused on job training. Dorinda Moreno formed Concilio Mujeres (Women’s Council), a women’s support group based at San Francisco State University.
Chicana feminists mobilized their efforts by organizing local, regional, and national conferences to address their concerns. Having experienced marginalization and direct antifeminist attacks at many Chicano conferences, Chicana feminists adopted the strategy of organizing their own autonomous conferences. Organized in the early 1970s were the Chicana Regional Conference in Los Angeles, the First National Chicana Conference in Houston, the UCLA Chicana Curriculum Workshop and the Chicana Identity Conference at the University of Houston. These gatherings mobilized Chicanas and deepened their feminism.
At the academic level, an increasing number of Chicana feminists focused their collective effort on continuing the feminist legacy inherited from the early 1970s. In June 1982 a group of Chicana academics in Northern California organized a national feminist organization called Mujeres Actives en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS, or Women Activists in Letters and Social Change) in order to build a support network for Chicana professors, undergraduates, graduate students, and community activists. The organization’s major goal was to fight against the race, class, and gender oppression facing Chicanas in institutions of higher education. In addition, MALCS aimed to bridge the gap between academic work and the Chicano community.
During the 1982 conference of the National Association for Chicano Studies (NACS), a panel organized by Mujeres en Marcha (Women on the Move), a feminist group from the University of California at Berkeley, discussed the legitimacy of a Chicana feminist movement and the need to struggle against patriarchy. In 1983 Chicanas in NACS formed a Chicana Caucus, whose first political demand was that the organizers for the 1984 conference adopt the theme, “Voces de la Mujer,” (Voices of Women). The conference plenary session featured Chicana feminists who addressed sexism in the organization and the community. Their presentations were collected in one of the key anthologies of Chicana feminism: Chicana Voices: Intersections of Class, Race, and Gender (1984).
Not all women who participated in the Chicano movement supported Chicana feminism. Some saw themselves as “loyalists” who believed that the Chicano movement did not have to deal with sexual inequities because both Chicano men and Chicano women experienced racial oppression. A common view among loyalists was that if men oppressed women, it was not the men’s fault but rather that of the larger society. Even if gender oppression existed, the loyalists maintained that this type of inequality would best be resolved internally within the movement. They denounced the formation of a separate Chicana feminist movement on the grounds that it was politically divisive and would undermine the unity of the Chicano movement. Loyalists viewed racism as the most important issue within the Chicano movement. In a political climate that already viewed feminist ideology with suspicion, Chicana feminist lesbians came under even more attacks than other feminists. A cultural nationalist ideology that perpetuated stereotypical images of Chicanas as “good wives and good mothers” found it difficult to accept a Chicana feminist lesbian movement advocated by writers and activists such as Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa.
Chicana feminists considered the possibility of forming coalitions with white feminists after their attempts to work within the Chicano movement were suppressed. Because white feminists were themselves struggling against sexism, building coalitions with them was seen as an alternative strategy for Chicana feminists. Several issues made such coalition building difficult, however. Chicana feminists criticized white feminists for only addressing gender oppression in explaining the life circumstances of women. Chicana feminists believed that the white feminist movement overlooked the effects of racial and class oppression experienced by Chicanas and other women of color. They criticized white feminists who believed that a general women’s movement would be able to over comeracial and class differences among women, interpreting this as a failure to deal with the issues of racism and classism. Without the incorporation of an analysis of racial and class oppression to explain their experiences, Chicana feminists believed that such a coalition would be problematic. Chicana feminists also viewed the white feminist movement as a middle-class movement, while they viewed their struggle as a working-class movement.
Chicana feminism went beyond the limits of an exclusively racial theory of oppression embedded in Chicano cultural nationalism. Through their political mobilization, writings, conferences, and organizations, Chicanas built an autonomous feminist movement. Since its early beginnings in the 1960s, Chicana feminism has followed a trajectory that has combined political activism and academic research, usually rejecting the separation of the two. While the militant politics of protest have ended, Chicana feminism continues in the early twenty-first century, using different venues and strategies to struggle against race, gender, class, and sexual-orientation inequalities.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. 1987 Borderlands: La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
Cordova, Teresa. 1994. “Roots and Resistance: The Emergent Writings of Twenty Years of Chicana Feminist Struggle.” In Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Sociology, edited by Feliz Padilla, Nicolas Kanellos, and Claudio EstevaFabregat, 175–200. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press.
———, et al. 1986. Chicana Voices: Intersection of Class, Race, and Gender. Austin: Center for Mexican American Studies, University of Texas.
Garcia, Alma M. 1997. Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. New York: Routledge.
———. 1989. “The Development of Chicana Feminist Discourse, 1970–1980.” Gender & Society 3 (2): 217–238.
Melville, Margarita B, ed. 1980. Twice a Minority: Mexican American Women. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
Mora, Magdalena, and Adelaida R. Del Castillo. 1980. Mexican Women in the United States: Struggles Past and Present. Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Publications.
Roth, Benita. 2004. Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminists Movements in America’s Second Wave. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Alma M. Garcia
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