The History and Rise of the Chicano Movements

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The Chicano Movement of the mid-twentieth century marked an era of revolution, resistance, and re-organization as there was a far-reaching cry for equality by Chicanx individuals. People from different generations, genders, and sexualities in the Chicanx communities joined in the movement, however, their contributions have yet to be recognized. Dione Espinoza, María Eugenia Cotera, and Maylei Blackwell’s anthology, Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era, provides a space for individuals to voice their experiences, engagement, and understanding of the different movements in which Chicanas and individuals from the LGBTQ communities participated.

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All three editors are accomplished scholars in their respective fields of interest. Dione Espinoza is a Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. Espinoza is known for the award-winning book, Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement: Writings from El Grito del Norte (2006), which she co-edited with Lorena Oropeza. María Eugenia Cotera is the Director of the Program in Latina/o Studies and a Professor of Latina/o Studies, Gender Studies, Digital Studies, Social Movements, and Comparative Ethnic Studies at the University of Michigan. Cotera is the author of Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita Gonzalez and the Poetics of Culture (2008) and the director of “Chicana por mi Raza,” a digital archive used to preserve Chicanx and Latinx memories and histories. Maylei Blackwell is a Professor of Chicana/Chicano Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, the author of ¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (2011), as well as an activist. The anthology Chicana Movidas, edited by Espinoza, Cotera, and Blackwell, provides readers with an impressive selection of essays penned by a wide range of scholars and activists, covering the experiences of Chicanas and LGBTQ individuals during both the Chicano Movement and the Civil Rights movement from the late 1950s to the late 1980s.

The editors outline the different movements or “movidas” in which Chicanas from different parts of the Western Hemisphere participated, suggesting that there was a wide range of small, individual movements, some of which are hidden and not widely known. The editors define movidas as “outside of the specular range of large-scale political and social relations. Enacted in backrooms and bedrooms, hallways and kitchens, they are collective and individual maneuvers, undertaken in a context of social mobilization, that seek to work within, around, and between the positionings, ideologies, and practices of publicly visible social relations.” (2) The goal of this anthology is to examine the key role Chicanas played in the Chicano Movement through their daily acts of work and support within and around organizational spaces.

The anthology is divided into four sections based on four different types of movidas: “Hallway Movidas (33-119),” “Home-Making Movidas (123-224),” “Movidas of Crossing (227-296),” and “Memory Movidas (299-374).” Hallway movidas is both a literal and metaphorical term that refers to the strategy that Chicanas used by meeting in discreet locations to oppose hypermasculine and oppressive scenarios (12-14). Home-making movidas alludes to instances when Chicanas had to make their own spaces when they felt that they were being excluded and it was not possible for them to create inclusive spaces within organizations or movements (15-20). Movidas of crossing occur when Chicanas crossed the borders of different movements, the borders of race and gender, or the borders of nation-states. Individuals from the Chicanx community participated in movidas of crossing when they organized with and fought for Third-World countries, women of color, against imperialism, against poverty, for warfare rights, and for immigrants (21-23). Memory movidas involve writings (including poetry and “testimonios”), archives, and oral histories (23-30).

The anthology contains a total of twenty-one different essays in its four sections. One essay that I find especially compelling and inspiring is chapter 6 (“La Causa de los Pobres: Alicia Escalante’s Lived Experiences of Poverty and the Struggle for Economic Justice” by Rosie C. Bermudez 123-137) in the anthology’s second section (“Home-Making Movidas”). Alicia Escalante was a single mother who lived in Los Angeles, California. She understood the oppression that lower-class Chicanas had been enduring and wanted to better their circumstances. She did so by creating the “East Los Angeles Welfare Rights Organization” (ELAWRO), one of the earliest Chicana advocacy organizations of the period to challenge public policies and address their negative impact on women. The “East Los Angeles Welfare Rights Organization” fought to give single Chicana mothers the resources they needed to care for their children and homes. Bermudez’s essay is placed in the section on home-making movidas as Escalante had seen that Chicanas did not have a secure space and were being oppressed in their then current circumstances, which is why she sought to create a space where Chicanas could be independent and free from poverty, as well as racial and sexual oppression.

The anthology’s essays utilize oral histories (“testimonios”), photographs, artwork, and archival material. In the introduction, the editors refer to Gloria Anzaldúa’s analysis of “movimientos” and Chela Sandoval’s definition of “movidas” to explain how they have organized their anthology on the contributions that Chicanas and LGBTQ individuals have made to the Chicano Movement (1-6).

Espinoza’s, Cotera’s, and Blackwell’s anthology moves beyond the idea that the different Chicana and LGBTQ movements and organizations of this period were not interconnected, as they examine how Chicanas and individuals from the LGBTQ communities interacted and connected with movements and organizations that ranged from male-oriented Chicano organizations to other ethnic organizations. An example of this is chapter 14 (“‘La Raza en Canada’: San Diego Chicana Activists, the Indochinese Women’s Conference of 1971, and Third World Womanism” by Dionne Espinoza 261-275) in the anthology’s third section (“Movidas of Crossing”). This essay examines how a group of Chicanas from San Diego, California, attended two conferences in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, known as the “Indochinese Women’s Conference” of 1971 and organized to discuss the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. The goal of the conference was to unite women from different organizations against the Vietnam War and against U.S. imperialism. According to Espinoza’s findings, Chicana women reached out and connected with organizations and individuals outside the Chicanx community in order to unite around a common goal. Espinoza demonstrate that political organizations during the Civil Rights Movement did not operate in insolation from one another.

The editors also break down barriers between generations and types of engagement as they explain in the introduction: “while the volume includes essays by established and emerging scholars from a variety of disciplinary fields (history, religious studies, anthropology, media studies, creative writing), added to this mix are new essays by an earlier generation of Chicana feminists [...] who offer not only critical firsthand perspectives on the organizations, individuals, and events that shaped Chicana movidas in the 1960s and 1970s but also their own historical analyses of the events and organizations in which they were involved.” (4) Such differences between the essays’ individual authors offer to readers a wide range of voices and perspectives. The use of transgenerational networks of scholars (4) lays out the scope of the Chicanx Movement as each essay pertains to a different sequence of events and is written with different objectives. Readers will appreciate that much of the information provided in the anthology has not been previously published, as many of the details and events described in the essays had, in the past, “been exiled [...] to spaces of extrainstitutional memory.” (4)

Chicana Movidas is centered around a national scale as the anthology transcends the common portrayl of the Southwest or, as it is referred to, Aztlán (5). Chicana Movidas takes into account other locations that saw activities of the Chicanx movement, such as the Pacific Northwest (for example, chapter 8, “Feminista Frequencies: Chicana Radio Activism in the Pacific Northwest” by Monica De La Torre 159-173) and Texas (for example, chapter 10, “The Space in Between: Exploring the Development of Chicana Feminist Thought in Central Texas” by Brenda Sendejo 189-206). By moving beyond Aztlán and the narrative of the Southwest, the anthology not only examines the movements in a wide range of locations but also during different decades of the twentieth century.

Despite the fact that there are a couple of books available on Chicana activist movements there are none that are truly comparable to Chicana Movidas. Prior to publishing Chicana Movidas one of the editors, Maylei Blackwell, had previously published, ¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement. In this book she analyzed the role a Chicana organization known as Hijas de Cuauhtémoc played in the Chicano Movement (1960-1970). Blackwell uses oral histories and archival material to describe the experiences that Chicanas faced during their fight to secure civil rights. However, as Chicana Movidas states, “because such historical practices fail to engage an intersectional understanding of power and oppression they cannot apprehend the nature of “multiple feminist insurgencies”. (page 9)¡Chicana Power! is the first book to present Chicana involvement in the Chicano Movement and provided a base for future works like Chicana Movidas. Chicana Movidas is unique as it describes the connections and overlapping that occurred between movements. Also, Chicana Movidas provides a wide array of movements all presented by a diverse group of individuals. This book embodies the Chicana movement.

Individuals with a passion for gender studies and history who are looking for a book that is unique should pick up a copy of Chicana Movidas. The essays and narratives in this anthology give a voice to those who were and are different and have been told to remain silent. During the Chicano Movement, many individuals in the Chicano community treated Chicanas and individuals who identified with the LGBTQ community as outsiders and pariahs. Their testimonies, involvement, and contributions were silenced and hidden behind the images and movements of the Chicano organizations. However, it is through the work of scholars like Espinoza, Cotera, and Blackwell that some of the individuals previously hidden from the world are now brought into the light. Chicanas and LGBTQ individuals played an integral and necessary role in the Chicano Movement. Their participation, though at times unnoticed, was revolutionary and indispensable, much like this anthology. 

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