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The Chicana Feminist Movement as Part of the Chicano Movement

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The Chicana Feminist Movement came to be as a result of other identity movements that emerged from the 1960s in the U.S. With the combination of their unique experiences with race, gender, sexuality, and class, the Chicana women were able to fuel their fight against not only the Chicano men in their nationalist movement, but to also differentiate their stories from the Second Wave Feminist movement. Like many of the African American feminist movements, the Chicana movement had more than one oppression in which to focus on. Their intersectionalities held them back because they were Mexican American and they were women. To have to choose between one characteristic and thus choose one group to fit into would be difficult- to have pick their ethnic or gender identity. The question I intend to research is how the Chicana Feminists organized to challenge their intersectionalities within the wider Chicano Movement and Second Wave of Feminism during the 1960s and 1970s.

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The term “Chicana,” coming from the masculine “Chicano,” is an identifier for anyone of Mexican descent born in the U.S. It was often used as derogatory labels for sons and daughters of migrants from Mexico. Instead of letting it negatively define them, Mexican Americans reclaimed the term as a symbol of pride during the 1960s, the height of the Chicano Movement. However, Chicano was mainly a word to be heard in the Southwest more than anything, by journalists and writers describing demonstrations of the Mexican Americans on the streets and college campuses. “Chicana Feminists,” often referred to as Xicanismas, also stemmed from the origin of Chicana, but instead it implied that a certain women’s movement would be attached to the term. It was taking a step farther into what it meant to be a female Mexican American during that decade. These women defined their own identifier just as they would go on to define what exactly they wanted to be considered in the Second Feminist Wave, as “feministas” instead of simply feminists.

Chicana Feminists are often caught in the middle in every aspect of their lives. They are Mexican in their traditions, but American in their current geographical status. They speak Spanish, but also must assimilate to the U.S. by speaking its native English. They are Chicano women but not Chicano men. It seems as though they are truly minorities in everything that they do, making it extremely difficult for them to find comfortability or consistency in their lives. The idea of a border is so much more than just the division between the two counties. For the Chicana woman to find her true identity in the world would employ her to join a group of like-minded women to create some kind of change. Flores explains that “Chicana Feminists construct an identity that runs counter to that created for them by either Anglos or Mexicans, … begin the process of carving out a space for themselves where they can break down the constraints imposed by other cultures and groups”.1 In this way she is reinforcing the idea that Chicana women are stuck in the middle, not truly belonging to any particular group. Through their movement they can finally find a sense of community with likeminded women to destroy the barriers that other groups have imposed upon them.

1 Flores, Lisa A. “Creating Discursive Space through a Rhetoric of Difference: Chicana Feminists Craft a Homeland.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 143.

As Chicana Feminists were attempting a movement of their own, around the U.S. other

women were beginning to take a stand as well. Roth argues that “Chicana Feminists maintained

organizational distance from white feminists, while being sympathetic to many of the issues raised by white women’s liberationists, especially socialist ones”.2 Although often their overall goals would certainly align, what was most important to the Chicana Feminists was that they were first allowed a wider presence in the Chicano political movement. They had to prioritize certain aspects of their goals towards equality to find what was most important at that particular time. It just goes to show the oppression these women were enduing in that they had to focus most on only the main intersectionality in their lives. While white women were fighting against issues like reproductive rights, Chicana Feminists were tackling basic human rights issues. One can see how the women were all affected differently through the lens of race.

Along with the feeling of a split identity, Chicana women often became feminists during times where they felt most vulnerable, were around the most change and judgement, and could often (luckily) continue to educate themselves on what was going on. This change in the women even further pitted them against the other Chicano men who were struggling with their identity as Chicanos in a country that outcasted them. Meanwhile, these women turned feminists, were often to be found at colleges and universities in the southwest and west where students began to rise up. Protesting sparked more protesting, especially when the United Mexican American Students (UMAS) was created in the late 1960s on the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Their goal was deeply in line with that of the Chicana Feminists, and the youth now had a platform in which to exercise their voice and opinions on cultural nationalism, self-determination, and education. What is particularly interesting about the demographics of these areas, being mostly immigrants from Mexico, made it so that these women were left out of all the other student protests/women’s movements of the east and now had to make their own name for themselves.

Also emerging from the wider Chicano Movement of the 1960s was the Brown Berets, a pro-Chicano organization that remains active even to this day. This group’s focus rested heavily on farm workers’ struggles, police harassment, education reform, and anti-war activism. Experiencing constant discrimination in the U.S., this organization came to be as a result of shared experiences. They practiced unity and resistance by wearing brown berets, hence the name. Unlike most of the Chicana Feminists but similar to UMAS, however, they also practiced direct action with protests, communicating with the Black Panther Party also in the West. Many assume that women had no place in the Brown Berets, but actually they were heavily involved as much as they could, regardless of the sexism they often encountered. The concept of Machismo was even found here rather than just its typical place of the home. Machismo is passed down through one’s family experience, and it is a learned thing from childhood that women are domestic servants. They are the primary nurturers, cleaners, and housekeepers. Men in the Brown Berets assumed that the women who joined were it helped the Chicana Feminists’ case by the highlight and emphasis put onto the Chicanos; they received more of a voice after being in the media more than ever before.

Another aspect of the Chicana Feminist movement that sparked great change was the traditional family roles that were challenged. The family has always been at the heart of Chicano cultural politics. However, deeply rooted into these dynamics is also those of heteronormative, patriarchal norms that have set precedents over time. The center of the Chicano culture and the most important part of their lives was the family, but how were the Chicana Feminists to make any changes at all without first delving into the issues within the most constant aspects? Longauex y Vasquez wrote that Chicana’s activism should focus on “a total commitment of a family unit living what it believes to be a better way of life in demanding social change for the benefit of humankind. When a family is involved in a human rights movement, as is the Mexican American family, there is little room for a women’s liberation movement alone … The Raza movement (race movement) is based on brother- and sisterhood. We must look at each other as one large family”.3 It was extremely frustrating to analyze the family roles for fear of assimilating into the exact Anglo culture that the U.S. intended them to. In fact, the Chicano family was the locus of resistance to Anglo cultural domination.

Additionally, stemming from the family also came the question of gender roles in Chicano culture. Many activists argued that change indeed needed to occur but not at the sake of the traditions of their culture. Others countered by saying that only the best aspects of the culture should be preserved. As a reaction to Anglo domination came Machismo that reflected the heteronormative, patriarchal norms that were affecting the family as well. Men felt as though they needed to defend their ethnicity and sexuality by being even more overpowering of the women in their lives. Hence the women were not only fighting against the white men but also the men in their own culture who had turned them into submissive beings.

The idea of assimilating into Anglo culture is a common theme experienced (even today) by all men and women of color. It is as if white people just assume that if you are going to live in the U.S. then everyone must all look the same, act the same, speak the same language, wear the same clothes, and go home to the same types of households. There is an unmistakable pressure for all “outsiders” to uproot their history and traditions to be more like everyone else. Even so, in her personal story of her Chicana mother, Moraga concludes “But this is something she would like to forget (and rightfully), for to her, on a basic economic level, being Chicana meant being “less.” It was through my mother’s desire to protect her children from poverty and illiteracy that we became “anglicized”; the more effectively we could pass in the white world, the better guaranteed our future”.4 The idea of being “less” is something that Chicana women experienced often. They felt it would be best in the long run to surrender to Anglo culture for their children’s sake.

In terms of changing the narrative for Chicanas’ future empowerment, they looked to historical, feminist role models to support their case. In this way, they were able to receive the support and/or reassurance that they needed from loyalist men and women. By finding iconic Chicana Feminists throughout their history, and thus proving that feminists were indigenous rather than alien, they were able to convince others that they (Chicana Feminists) belonged in the Chicano movement. Unearthing these historical feminists also became a really important form of Chicana Feminist expression for the upcoming 1970s. These women used history as well as the present to their advantage in gaining support and justifying their actions, feelings, and reasons for change. On television they were additionally able to prove their points by featuring strong female leads from the past- people often like to see the historical contexts from which these movements arise, and it was clear that the Chicana Feminist Movement was something that had

been brewing over time, waiting for change. On top of everything, though, it was important for these feminists to see they had a history. It gave them courage, and a purpose for all the trouble they went though, knowing the cause was something much bigger than just themselves.

Another aspect of the Chicana Feminist Movement that is essential to consider is their use of resources. Once they eventually gathered enough support to start a movement of their own, they began to develop unique ways of joining together and gaining support and attention all over the U.S. Through marches and rallies they were able to grab people’s attention to their cause and show that it was separate from any of the other movements specific to their intersectionalities of oppression, such as they Chicano Movement and Second Wave of Feminism. They began to use art in their favor; art is a unique part of their heritage as Mexican Americans, and as part of their culture they could use it to their advantage to fight for change while bringing with them an important part of their past. Art was/is seen as a way to express their political and social resistance. The Chicana women wrote poems and short stories explaining their troubles, created pictures and murals as well as showcased real life art through photography. These mediums gave the women the chance to utilize methods and spaces in which they showed great passion and interest for to arguably protest through a different means than the others. It was iconic enough to stop people and make them look rather than listen. Even today, Chicana Feminists utilize the platform of social media to showcase their art and to gain attention and spread awareness for their cause. Word is able to spread to all areas of the world through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and more so that other women are able to join the cause.

As was an issue with many things of the time, the idea of organizing was not the easiest thing for Chicana Feminists to accomplish. They knew that the conversation needed to be had by likeminded women in their area, rather than the white feminists, but to all meet would be difficult in and of itself. The 1971 Houston Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza/First National Chicana Conference was considered to be somewhat of a turning point for the Chicana Feminists. Over 600 Chicanas from 24 states came together for the first time in Texas, as organized by Houston’s first Hispanic television reporter. This was a time of many firsts. Instead of being cast aside as they had constantly been in the 1960s, these feminists finally had the chance to merge stories and ideas. They changed the stereotypes of Chicanas to being strong and determined as they passed many essential resolutions including legalizing abortions, childcare, equal education, and eradication of typical arranged marriages. All these successful changes were beneficial to the oppressions the women had previously faced based on their gender and race. These Chicana Feminists were able to organize with the help of the ever-increasing presence of the media to show the world they had a clear political platform.

The impact this conference made on the Chicana Feminist movement was surreal. Many regional groups formed as a result to talk about issues that were faced on their college campuses, which prompted the youth to become even more involved. It often takes a large conference or meeting like the First National Chicana Conference to spark conversation over more space than just one. Additionally, the impact that the media had made on the movement was definitely worth noting. Chicana Feminists took advantage of this idea and spread the word of their movement through the publications. One of the most influential was the Regeneración, a journal named after the anarchist newspaper from the 1900s, that published articles based on Chicano life into a magazine. Topics included were abortion, employment, and welfare, all common issues in the Chicano communities. The magazine also stayed in line with their culture featuring personal artwork and poetry created by Chicano men and women. One of the most notable women involved with Regeneración was Francisca Flores who also helped found the Hermanas de la Revolución. This group served as a safe space for women to talk about politics and activism. Through the use of the media and support groups women finally had the chance to speak their minds and discuss issues faced as Chicanas in their community. It was very smart to employ these tactics to come together and organize peacefully.

In conclusion, the Chicana feminist movement was such an important part of feminism that is often unheard of and underrepresented when considering the Second Wave of Feminism. Not only did these feminist attempt to challenge gender roles, but they chose to uproot some of their traditional values in order to achieve the types of equality the wished to have. The movement started from colleges and universities and eventually reached even the most personal places, such as the privacy of the household. The most astounding thing was that these children of immigrants chose to step completely out of their comfort zone, especially because it had to be better than the exclusion they experienced in every aspect of their lives. As mentioned, they were not equal in terms of gender as well as race. The peaceful and iconic ways in which they organized, using the numbers at large schools, the media, and conferences helped for them to pave the way to make change. These Chicana Feminists were more times than not the underdogs, yet they still persevered for the future generations of women to come. There are still protests occurring today in 2019 for low income minority groups like these Chicana women. The fight towards equality is still a fight to be won as long as intersectionalities keep certain groups oppressed.

At first, I thought this movement did not really affect me; None of my ancestors are Chicano, I am from the east coast, and we as a society have come a long way since the 1960s and 1970s. But then I considered what it means to be a feminist and also what these Chicana Feminists’ whole point of the movement was. If we, those who hold more privilege over others, turn a blind eye to issues and movements, we will never grow as a people. There will obviously always be those privileged and those oppressed, but I believe it is our duty to do what we can to hear the voices of others and do what we can to allow them more individual freedoms. The reason why this particular movement might not have achieved what it intended to achieve was arguably because of my ancestors (white men and women). To be a feminist is defined as many things, but most importantly it is the goal is to be supportive of others and stop oppressing those who are different than you.

I would consider this a feminist movement rather than a women’s movement, although I think the distinction at the time was unimportant. Because the Chicana Feminists were all but left out of the wider white feminist movement, it would have been difficult for them to label themselves feminists- they were excluded from the mainstream feminists who were taking flight and seeing more changes. I can infer that it would not be easy to consider oneself a part of a group if the majority of the group leaves one out and does not consider one’s people just because of skin tone and country of origin. I think many women at this time had difficulty considering themselves feminists because the of the connotation being negative, extreme, radical, and crazy. These Chicana women were fighting for more than the right to be more than a housewife, but rather for racial and sexist rights everywhere they went.   

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