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Chicana feminism, also called Xicanisma, is a sociopolitical movement in the United States that analyzes the historical, cultural, spiritual, educational, and economic intersections of Mexican-American women that identify as Chicana. Chicana feminism challenges the stereotypes that Chicanas face across lines of gender, ethnicity, race, class, and sexuality. Most importantly, Chicana feminism serves as a movement, theory and praxis that helps women reclaim their existence between and among the Chicano nationalist movements and American feminist movements.
Emerging out of the identity movements of the 1960’s, Chicana feminists created a distinctive trajectory and mapping of feminist political thought and practice that centered their unique experiences with gender, race, class and sexuality. Since many feminist methodologies are similar in practice, Chicana feminists distinguished themselves from other feminists by centering their unique lived experiences with gender, race, class, sexuality and nationalism-offering critiques and responses to their exclusion from both the mainstream Chicano nationalist movement and the Second Wave feminist movement. One important way they were able to do this was through inclusion of different varieties of the Spanish language, a vital component to the preservation of Chicano/a culture.
"Social upheaval dominated the 1960s and 1970s as newly mobilized communities fought for equality in the U.S. As domestic protests against the Vietnam War increased, civil rights organizations would win important political battles against institutional racism, while "Second Wave" American feminism would emerge from its infancy as a full-fledged movement. The Chicano movement gained similar momentum during this moment, but within it many women felt their unique identity – both intertwined with their brothers in struggle, but specifically distinct as Chicano women – was being ignored. A Chicana feminist movement galvanized in reaction to the complexities of Latina empowerment, often facing resistance from male Chicano leaders and organizers.
While many forms of gender inequality exposed by mainline American feminism were relevant to women of color, overall the race and class experiences of white and brown women did not correlate. White feminists enjoyed access to racial privileges and simply did not speak to the injustices experienced by women of color. Moreover, they often failed to define themselves in terms that positively or proactively involved men, while many Chicanas remained invested in the struggles of the men in their community despite the patriarchy of traditional Mexican-American culture. Rather than acceding to the common request that they wait their turn, Chicana feminists saw that the sexism within the Chicano Movement intersected with racism in the larger society, and made addressing both simultaneously as a central component to their ideology."
Chicana Feminism rejects the traditional role of Mexican-American women and serves as a middle ground for the Women's Liberation Movement and the Chicano Movement. Chicana Feminism addresses inequalities within and outside of the Chicano movement. The Chicana feminist paradigm has taken on different roles, redefining its meaning from its inception until present day. However, the multi-faceted movement remains one that continues to recognize and give Mexican-American women a space to unapologetically celebrate and reclaim their identities.
Chicana feminist consciousness grew from the intersections they [Chicanas] faced not only outside their culture, but within. They challenged their prescribed role in la familia, and demanded to have the intersections they faced recognized. Chicanas identify as being consciously aware, self determined, proud of their roots, heritage and experience and prioritize la raza. With the emergence of the Chicano Movement, the structure of Chicano families changed dramatically. Specifically, women began to question the role that they were assigned within the family and where their place was within the Chicano national struggle. In the seminal text, La Chicana by Elizabeth Martinez, Martinez writes “She [La Chicana] is oppressed by the forces of racism, imperialism, and sexism. This can be said of all non-white women in the United States. Her oppression by the forces of racism and imperialism is similar to that endured by our men. Oppression by sexism, however, is hers alone.” Women also sought out to battle the internalized struggles of self-hatred rooted in the colonization of their people. This included breaking the mujer buena/mujer mala myth, in which the domestic Spanish Woman is viewed as good and the Indigenous Woman that is a part of the community is viewed as bad. Chicana feminist thought emerged as a response to patriarchy, racism, classism, and colonialism as well as a response to all the ways these legacies of oppression have become internalized.
Political organization (1940s – 1970s)
Beginning in the 1940s, Mexican-Americans led a civil rights movement with a goal of achieving Mexican-American empowerment. By the 1960s, the Chicano Movement, also known as "El Movimiento", became a prominent campaign in the lives of many Mexican-American workers and youth.
Between the late 1960s through the 1970s, The Chicano Student Movement began in which students fought and organized for better educational quality. These events and more mark a cultural turning point for Mexican-American youth.
The first efforts of organizing the Chicana feminist movement began in the later part of the 1960s. During the Chicano Movement, Chicana women formed committees within Chicano organizations. Similar to the organization of other groups in the Women's movement, the Chicana feminist organized consciousness-raising groups and held conferences specific to the issues that Chicana women faced.
Although community organizers were working toward empowering the Mexican-American community, the narrative of the Chicano Movement largely ignored the women that were involved with organizing during this time of civil disobedience.
Chicanas in the Brown Berets
The Brown Berets were a youth group that took on a more militant approach to organizing for the Mexican-American community formed in California in the late 1960s. Like other 1960s and 1970s political movements, Chicano mobilizations were not free of internal divisions and contradictions. Narratives of the women who were a part of the organization were often left untold. A major point of contention was the movement's misogyny. As Chicana feminists have argued, women in the movement played a foundational role in building community institutions but rarely received recognition for their work. Gloria Arellanes, for example, revealed the pivotal role women played in maintaining the clinic. As Arellanes recalled, "While we were doing that clinic...the men were not involved in it...They let the women do it."
Chicana feminist organization
The 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation Conference began the Chicano Movement and eventually, MEChA. At the conference, women began to get involved in the male-dominated dialogue to address feminist concerns. After the conference, women returned to their communities as activists and thus began the Chicana Feminist Movement.
At the first National Chicana Conference held in Houston, Texas in May 1971, over 600 women organized to discuss issues surrounding regarding equal access to education, reproductive justice, formation of childcare centers, and more (Smith, 2002). The conference is where Chicana women first gained a platform for themselves and declared themselves an integral part of the Chicano Movement. "With their growing involvement in the struggle for Chicano liberation and the feminist movement, Chicanas are beginning to challenge every social institution which contributes to and is responsible for their oppression, from inequality on the job to their role in the home."
Revolutionary chicanas during this time period while critiquing the inability of the mainstream Chicano nationalist movements to address sexism and misogyny, simultaneously renounced the mainstream Second Wave feminist movement for its inability to include racism and classism in their politics. Chicanas during this time felt excluded from mainstream feminist movements because they had different needs, concerns and demands. Chicanas demanded free day-care centers and a reform of the welfare system, they sought to fight against all three structures of oppression they faced, including sexism, but also prioritizing racism and imperialism.
One of the First Chicana organizations was the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional (CFMN). Formally established in 1973, the organization was created to address political and economic issues affecting Latina women throughout the nation, including longstanding assaults such as forced sterilization. The concept for the CFMN originated during the National Chicano Issues Conference when a group of attending Chicanas noticed that their concerns were not adequately addressed at the Chicano conference. The women met outside of the conference and drafted a framework for the CFMN that established them as active and knowledgeable community leaders of a people's movement.
Political/community organization (present)
To date, the Chicana feminist movement has developed as an extension from the original movement, mainly becoming a more inclusive movement. Presently, there are various organizations that continue to work toward deconstructing institutions of intersection oppression. AF3IRM is an anti-imperialist, transnational feminist organization that is committed to grassroots organizing, trans-ethnic alliance building, education, advocacy and direct action. AF3IRM LA is a proactive group of multi-ethnic women, including Chicanas. Every year in Downtown LA, an International Women's Day march is led, organized, and celebrated by community organizations and women of color that want to bring attention to a range of issues affecting women including healthcare, immigration, militarism, state violence, trafficking, and reproductive justice.
Central to much of Chicana feminism is a reclaiming of the female archetypes La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Llorona, and La Malinche. These archetypes have prevented Chicanas from achieving sexual and bodily agency due to the ways they have been historically constructed as negative categories through the lenses of patriarchy and colonialism. Shifting the discourse from a traditional (patriarchal) representation of these archetypes to a de-colonial feminist understanding of them is a crucial element of contemporary Chicana feminism, and represents the starting point for a reclamation of Chicana female power, sexuality, and spirituality.
La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Malinche have become symbolic means of suppressing Chicana women’s sexuality through the patriarchal dichotomy of puta/virgin, the positive role model and the negative one, historically and continuously held up before Mexican women as icons and mirrors in which to examine their own self-image and define their self-esteem. Gloria Anzaldúa’s canonical text addresses the subversive power of reclaiming indigenous spirituality to unlearn colonial and patriarchal constructions and restrictions on women, their sexuality, and understandings of motherhood. La Malinche is a victim of centuries of patriarchal myths that permeate the Mexican woman’s consciousness, often without her awareness.
Malintzin (also known as Doña Marina by the Spaniards or "La Malinche" post-Mexican independence from Spain) was born around 1505 to noble Indigenous parents in rural Mexico. Since Indigenous women were often used as pawns for political alliances at this time, she was betrayed by her parents and sold into slavery between the ages of 12-14, traded to Hernan Cortés as a concubine, and because of her intelligence and fluency in multiple languages, was promoted to his "wife" and diplomat. She served as Cortés's translator, playing a key role in the Spaniard's conquest of Tenochtitlan and, by extension, the conquest of Mexico. She bore Cortés a son, Martín, who is considered to be the first mestizo and the beginning of the "Mexican" race.
After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, a scapegoat was needed to justify centuries of colonial rule. Because of her relationship with Cortés and her role as translator and informant in Spain's conquest of Mexico, she is often seen as a traitor to her race. By contrast, Chicana feminism calls for a different understanding. Since nationalism was a concept unknown to Indigenous people in the 16th century, Malintzin had no sense of herself as “Indian”, making it impossible for her to show ethnic loyalty or conscientiously act as a traitor. Malintzin was one of millions of women who were traded and sold in Mexico pre-colonization. With no hope of escape from a group of men, in the face of inevitable rape, she saw her best hope of survival in Cortés and showed loyalty to him to ensure her survival.
La Malinche has become the representative of a female sexuality that is passive, “rape-able”, and always guilty of betrayal. Rather than a traitor or a "whore", Chicana feminism calls for an understanding of her as an agent within her limited means, resisting rape and torture (as was common among her peers) by becoming a partner and translator to Cortés. Placing the blame for Mexico’s conquest on Malintzin creates a foundation for placing upon women the responsibility to be the moral compasses of society and blames them for their sexuality, which is counterintuitive. It is important to understand Malintzin as a victim not of Cortés, but of myth. Chicana feminism calls for an understanding in which she should be praised for the adaptive resistance she exhibited that ultimately led to her survival.
By challenging patriarchal and colonial representations, Chicana writers re-construct their relationship to the figure of La Malinche and these other powerful archetypes, and reclaim them in order to re-frame a spirituality and identity that is both decolonizing and empowering.
One critique of Chicana feminism was that it was a separatist movement that would divide the Chicano Movement. Loyalist Chicanas felt that the creation of a separate Chicana feminist movement was a dangerous and divisive political tactic, influenced too heavily by the Anglo women's movement. Loyalists believed that racism was the most important issue Chicanos and Chicanas were facing. They felt that the sexual oppression Chicanas faced from Chicanos was the fault of the system rather than the men, and breaking down the racial oppression affecting both Chicanos and Chicanas would resolve the sexual inequality the women experienced.
Similarly, Chicana feminists have been blamed for tearing at the values of Chicano culture. The first reason for this is that loyalists believed Chicana feminists were anti-family, anti-culture, and anti-man, thus pitting them against the Chicano movement. Furthermore, feminism itself was viewed by many as individualistic and as something that was taking away from other issues, such as racism.
However, following the contributions of Chicana feminist writers, including Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, Chicana feminism has gained the support of feminists of diverse backgrounds. The emergence of queer theory and intersectionality in feminist movements has challenged the misogyny of the Chicano movement and has broaden and strengthened the Chicana/o movement to be in solidarity with other people of color in the United States.
Cultural identities and spirituality
The term "Chicano" originates from Aztec indigenous peoples who pronounced it "meshicano" in the native Nahuatl language. However, historically the Spaniards had no "sh" in their vocabulary and pronounced it "mexicano" (spelled mexicano), a pronunciation that has been carried into the present. Historically, the term Chicano has not always been positive and empowering. The term Chicano was for a long time used in a demeaning manner, and was associated with newly arrived Mexican immigrants in the early twentieth century. Many white Americans used the word Chicano to describe Mexican immigrants as poor, unskilled, and ignorant people. Later, the term was used to distinguish first-generation, American-born Mexican-Americans from the older generations of Mexican immigrants; two groups that were often separated by a language barrier. Most first-generation American Chicanos adopted English as their first language, with some Chicanos blending both English and Spanish to create a hybrid dialect or slang argot called caló (also called pachuco). The U.S. media, not being able to fully understanding these emerging American identities, stigmatized Chicanos and Mexican in propagating the notion that came from a country of corruption, and that they were criminals, thieves, and immoral people.
The definitions of Chicana/o in the United States are contested. Because many Chicana/os are born to parents who are immigrants from Mexico, one definition of Chicana/o is rooted in the idea that this identity straddles two different worlds. The first world is that of the country of origin from which their families descended from, such as Mexico, Guatemala, or El Salvador. Many Chicanos today, for example, continue to practice the religion, language, and culture of their respective family's countries of origin. Another definition of Chicano is rooted in the identity being completely embedded within the "American" culture. Many Chicana/os have assimilated into "American" culture and use English as their primary language. Despite these two distinctions in definition, some might argue that Chicanos are stigmatized by both cultures because they don't fit into either one completely. For this reason, one view of Chicano identity is that a new culture is created in order to resist oppression and navigate both worlds.
Contemporary renditions of the word Chicano have been to replace the “C-H” beginning with the letter X, making the word Xicano. This is significant because it recenters the Nahua language and pronunciation of the sound “ch”, tying the Xicana/o to indigenous roots and decentering Eurocentric ties to identity.
Duality and "The New Mestiza"
The concept of "The New Mestiza" comes from feminist author, Gloria Anzaldúa. In her book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, she writes: "In a constant state of mental nepantilism, an Aztec word meaning torn between ways, la mestiza is a product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another. Being tricultural, monolingual, bilingual or multilingual, speaking a patois, and in a state of perpetual transition, the mestiza faces the dilemma of the mixed breed: which collectivity does the daughter of a dark skinned mother listen to? [...] Within us and within la cultura chicana, commonly held beliefs of the white culture attack commonly held beliefs of the Mexican culture, and both attack commonly held beliefs of the indigenous culture. Subconsciously, we see an attack on ourselves and our beliefs as a treat and we attempt to block with a counterstance." Anzaldua presents a mode of being for Chicanas, that honors their unique standpoint and lived experience. This theory of embodiment offers a mode of being for Chicanas who are constantly negotiating hybridity and cultural collision, and the ways that informs the way they are continuously making new knowledge and understandings of self, often time in relation to intersecting and various forms of oppression. This theory discloses how a counterstance cannot be a way of life because it depends on hegemonic constructions of domination, in terms of race, nationality and culture. Being solely reactionary means nothing is being created, revived or renewed in place of the dominant culture and that the dominant culture must remain dominant for counterstance to exist. For Anzaldua and this theory of embodiment, there must be space to create something new. The “new mestiza” was a canonical text that redefined what it meant to be chicana. In this theory, being chicana entails hybridity, contradictions, tolerance for ambiguity and plurality, nothing is rejected or excluded from histories and legacies of oppression. Further, this theory of embodiment calls for synthesizing all aspects of identity and creating new meanings, not simply balancing or coming together of different aspects of identity.
Nepantla is a Nahua word which translates to "in the middle of it" or "middle". Nepantla can be described as a concept or spirituality in which multiple realities are experienced at the same time (Duality). As a Chicana, understanding and having indigenous ancestral knowledge of spirituality plays an instrumental role in the path to healing, decolonization, cultural appreciation, self-understanding, and self-love. Nepantla is often associated with author Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldúa, who coined the term, "Nepantlera". "Nepantleras are threshold people: they move within and among multiple, often conflicting, worlds and refuse to align themselves exclusively with any single individual, group, or belief system." Nepantla is a mode of being for the Chicana, and informs the way she experiences the world and various systems of oppression.
Chicana feminist theory evolved as a theory of embodiment and a theory of flesh due to the canonical works of Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga, both of whom identify as queer. Queer interventions in chicana feminist thought called for an inclusion and honoring of the cultures’ joteria. In La conciencia de la mestiza, Gloria Anzaldua wrote, “the mestizo and the queer exist at this time and point on the evolutionary continuum for a purpose. We are blending that proves that all blood is intricately woven together, and that we are spawned out of similar souls” This intervention centers queerness as a focal part of liberation, a lived experience that cannot be ignored or excluded.
In Queer Aztlan: the Reformation of Chicano Tribe, Cherrie Moraga interrogates the construction of Chicano identity in relation with queerness. Offering a critique on the exclusion of people of color from mainstream gay movements as well as the homophobia rampant in Chicano nationalist movements.
In 1991, Carla Trujillo edited and compiled, the anthology Chicana Lesbians The girls our mothers warned us about was published by Third Woman Press. This anthology was controversial and banned because of its cover art which was a piece by Ester Hernandez titled La Ofrenda. Since its original publish date, the book has been re-published however, the cover art has changed. This anthology includes poetry and essays by Chicana women creating new understandings of self, through their sexuality and race.
Through different art mediums both past and contemporary, Chicana artists have continued to push the boundaries traditional Mexican-American values.
- Ester Hernández references the sacred Virgen de Guadalupe in her painting, La Ofrenda (1988). Painting recognizes lesbian love, challenges traditional role of la familia. It defied the reverence and holiness of La Virgen by being depicted as a tattoo on a lesbian's back. La Virgen de Guadalupe Defendiendo los Derechos de Los Xicanos (1975)
- Alma Lopez – Our Lady of Controversy "Irreverent Apparition" (2001). This image is mixed media and is a sacrilegious depiction of La Virgen. See L.A. Times article
Since the 1970s, many Chicana writers (such as Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa and Ana Castillo) have expressed their own definitions of Chicana feminism through their books. Moraga and Anzaldúa edited an anthology of writing by women of color titled This Bridge Called My Back (published by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press) in the early 1980s. Cherríe Moraga, along with Ana Castillo and Norma Alarcón, adapted this anthology into a Spanish-language text titled Esta Puente, Mi Espalda: Voces de Mujeres Tercermundistas en los Estados Unidos. Anzaldúa also published the bilingual (Spanish/English) anthology, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Mariana Roma-Carmona, Alma Gómez, and Cherríe Moraga published a collection of stories titled Cuentos: Stories by Latinas, also published by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
Juanita Ramos and the Latina Lesbian History Project compiled an anthology including tatiana de la tierra's first published poem, "De ambiente," and many oral histories of Latina lesbians called Compañeras: Latina Lesbians (1987).
Chicana literature is also known as the Chicana literary renaissance. Anglo women authors have been successful in making their voices heard, although Chicana authors and poets have seldom had their voices heard. Chicana's continue to be under represented in the education community, especially in the literacy section. Many chicana authors write their poems and stories in a mix of Spanish and English. Chicana artists purposely do this to express who they are through stories and poems. The mix of language in their literature reflects the distinct dual life they lead: both living in America and practicing their roots through religion, language and culture. By the 1900s, Mexican American literature began emerging in the United States as part of the literature culture with rich backgrounds of originating from Mexican and Spanish descent. During the 1900s a few writers such as Eusebio Chacon, and Maria Cristina Mena began to write in English.
The bilingual English Spanish of the chicano renaissance and brought force history making publications, such as Aztlan: International Journal of Chicano Studies Research (Berkeley, 1967–present), and El grito: A Journal of Contemporary Mexican American thought (Berkeley, 1967–1974). This era was of great excitement in the chicano renaissance era because gathering of committed activists both regional and local were taking place and leaving its political mark in the era. Also many national conferences,literary festivals, mural and paintings, as well as college and communities related to projects to Corky Gonzales's gatherings. In the mid 1960s Chicano literature became an open door to freely talk about growing up Mexican-American in an Anglo society. Chicano literature became an important part of the chicano movement when chicanos began to write and clear up discussions on human rights, discrimination, by mentioning their opinions on the civil rights movements. Short stories are very popular among chicano writers where they share short stories to describe their lives and life experiences living in the United States. They explain, in great detail using their lived experiences, to help others understand the life of a chicano living in the United States. There are many writers such as Raymond Barrio who wrote The Plum Pickers(1969) this particular novel gave insight into the horrible living conditions many migrant farm workers lived through in order to make a living . Soon after Peregrinos de Aztlan was released and gave a huge impact on the human rights being abused toward Chicanos and people of Hispanic descent. This novel also described the discrimination and abuse as well as terrible security on the Mexican American Border.
Chicana dyke-feminist poet Gloria Anzaldua points out that labeling a writer based on their social position allows for readers to understand the writers' location in society. However, while it is important to recognize that identity characteristics situate the writer, they do not necessarily reflect their writing. Anzaldua notes that this type of labeling has the potential to marginalize those writers who do not conform to the dominant culture.
Continually left absent from Chicano music history, many Chicana musical artists, such as Rita Vidaurri and María de Luz Flores Aceves, more commonly known as Lucha Reyes, from the 1940s and 50s, can be credited with many of strides that Chicana Feminist movements have made in the past century. For example, Vidaurri and Aceves were among the first mexicana women to wear charro pants while performing rancheras.
By challenging their own conflicting backgrounds and ideologies, Chicana musicians have continually broken the gender norms of their culture, and therefore created a space for conversation and change in the Latino communities.
There are many important figures in Chicana music history, each one giving a new social identity to Chicanas through their music. An important example of a Chicana musician is Rosita Fernández, an artist from San Antonio, Texas. Popular in the mid 20th century, she was called "San Antonio's First Lady of Song" by Lady Bird Johnson, the Tejano singer is a symbol of Chicana feminism for many Mexican Americans still today. She was described as "larger than life", repeatedly performing in china poblana dresses, throughout her career, which last more than 60 years. However, she never received a great deal of fame outside of the San Antonio, despite her long reign as one of the most active Mexican American woman public performers of the 20th century.
Other Chicana musicians and musical groups:
- Chelo Silva – Tejana Singer
- Eva Ybarra – Tejana Accordionist (1945–)
- Ventura Alonzo – Chicana Accordionist (1904–2000)
- Eva Garza – Tejana Singer
- Selena Quintanilla-Pérez – Tejana Singer (1971–1995)
- Gloria Ríos – Hispanic Singer
- Girl in a Coma – Tejana indie rock band from San Antonio
- Quetzal – East Los Angeles Chicano alternative rock band
- Bags – Los Angeles punk rock band, led by Alice Bag.
- Norma Alarcón – Influential Chicana feminist author
- Gloria Anzaldúa – Scholar of Chicana cultural theory and author of Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, among other influential Chicana literature
- Martha P. Cotera – Activist and writer during the Chicana Feminist Movement and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement
- Alma M. Garcia – Professor of Sociology at Santa Clara University
- Cherríe Moraga – Essayist, poet, activist educator, and artist in residence at Stanford University
- Chela Sandoval – Associate Professor in the Chicano and Chicana Studies Department at University of California, Santa Barbara
- Sandra Cisneros – Key contributor to Chicana literature
- Michelle Habell-Pallan – Associate Professor, Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington
- Anna Nieto-Gómez – Key organizer of the Chicana Movement and founder of Hijas de Cuauhtémoc
- Martha Gonzalez (musician) - Chicana artivist and co-leader of Grammy-award winning Quetzal (band)
- Chicas Rockeras South East Los Angeles – Promotes healing, growth, and confidence for girls through music education
- California Latinas for Reproductive Justice – Promotes social justice and human rights of Latina women and girls through a reproductive justice framework
- Las Fotos Project – Empowers Latina youth, helping young girls to build self-esteem and confidence through photography and self-expression
- Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) – Located in Long Beach, CA this museum expands knowledge and appreciation of modern and contemporary Latin American art.
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