A Chicana movement began as a series of actions through which women organized collectively in the late 1960s and 1970s to challenge unequal treatment within the Chicano civil rights and power movements of that era. In the mid-1960s Mexican Americans in the United States experienced an awakening of consciousness, identity, and ethnic pride in a broad-based "Chicano movement" that encompassed several efforts toward social change, including farm workers', land grant, urban, youth, and student movements.
Those efforts raised awareness of the conditions facing Chicano communities as a result of long-standing racism and discrimination, including unequal access to education, discrimination in housing, underemployment, police brutality, and a lack of political power. The term Chicano referred to a collective identity based on militant cultural and political consciousness of a history of racialization of Chicanos as Mexicans in the United States.
Early in the development of the Chicano movement at the First Annual Denver Youth Conference, March 27-31, 1969, Chicana student activists called for a thoughtful consideration of their roles in the movement. After hearing the declaration "The Chicana woman does not want to be liberated," many women activists began to question the limitations inherent in that statement, pointing out the significant involvement and contributions of women to the Chicano movement in actions such as the 1968 high school walkouts in East Los Angeles and the formation of student organizations on college campuses.
Subsequently, the ideology of cultural nationalism emphasized the maintenance of culture as a form of resistance to pressure from the dominant society to assimilate by promoting an image of the traditional family as an ideal to be upheld by movement participants. In that traditional family, men were the breadwinners and women were helpmates whose role was to raise the children and maintain the home. Chicanas adopted a variety of strategies for reconfiguring the symbolics of male-centered and male-dominant cultural nationalism, including the recovery and reinterpretation of key figures in Mexican history such as the soldaderas and soldadas—women who participated in the Mexican Revolution of 1910—and Malintzin Tenepal, or la Malinche—the indigenous woman translator for the Spanish conquerer Hernán Cortés.
As Chicana students and community activists observed patterns of inequality in the treatment and inclusion of women in organizations such as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, La Raza Unida Party, and the Brown Berets, they began to develop their own spaces to challenge gender inequality and sexism. For example, in Texas women in La Raza Unida Party organized as Mujeres por la Raza Unida and sponsored women candidates for political office. In California Chicana students at California State University at Long Beach founded Hijas de Cuahtemoc, an autonomous women's organization. Also in California, Comision Femenil Mexicana was founded to advocate for women's advancement in the community and the workplace. Comision Femenil Mexicana also sponsored the Chicana Service Action Center, a resource for employment opportunities as well as services for survivors of domestic violence. A Chicana rights project gathered information about the economic, educational, and employment status of Chicanas and litigated cases for women.
Many women activists wrote poetry or essays expressing their critique of unequal treatment by men in the movement, racism in U.S. society, and racism in the mainstream women's movement of that era. Among the prominent activist women who raised their voices and pens from the late 1960s to mid-1970s were Francisca Flores, founder of Comision Femenil Mexicana; Ana Nieto-Gómez, a student at Long Beach and an educator in southern California; Marta Cotera, the Texas-based author of Diosa y Hembra and a participant in Mujeres por la Raza Unida; and Enriqueta Vasquez, a writer for El Grito del Norte, a newspaper in New Mexico. Although there were differences among women in the movement, a broad-based Chicana movement advocated for women's perspectives on a variety of issues, including child care, reproductive rights, welfare rights, educational justice, employment opportunities, and an end to the war in Vietnam.
The main period of organizing as a broad-based movement tapered off in the middle to late 1980s, but a Chicana movement continued to evolve in the late 1980s and early 1990s through the higher education organization Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social [Women Active in Letters and Social Change] and the literary emergence of writers such as Cherríe Moraga, Sandra Cisneros, Helena Maria Viramontes, Ana Castillo, and Gloria Anzaldúa, whose work continued and extended the tradition of poetry writing begun by Chicanas in the movement era of the 1970s. Chicana lesbian thought and the internal critique of homophobia in the Chicano community also contributed to the evolution of the movement. From the 1990s through the first decade of the twenty-first century Chicana activists and academics continued their critical examination of the impact of race, class, gender, and sexuality on women's lives and advocated for more just social conditions in the United States and in transnational contexts.
Arredondo, Gabriela F.; Aida Hurtado; Norma Klahn; Olga Nájera-Ramirez; and Patricia Zavella. 2003. Chicana Feminisms: A Critical Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Garcia, Alma M. 1997. Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. New York: Routledge.
Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. 1981. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Watertown, MA: Persephone Press.