CHICANA FEMINIST WRITINGS: ROOTS AND RESISTANCE

This comment was originally posted over at Yolanda Carrington’s blog,  http://www.genderracepower.com,  on January 4, 2007, under the post:   “Yolanda’s Politics Shift in a Major Direction”, on her website, “The Primary Contradiction.”

 Black women are not the only women whose well-being and thoughts are on my mind.

I do not want to forget the many other women of color who have suffered for so long in this world under white domination. Like black women, Latina, Asian, Native American, Australian Aboriginals, Pacific Islanders, Central and South American, and women at the top of the world, ALL  women have stories to tell.

 And it does not hurt to tell their side of the story.

 As one woman to another.

As one woman for another.

CHICANA FEMINIST WRITINGS:   ROOTS AND RESISTANCE

Chicana feminists have struggled and fought to find their voices in the world of feminism. Their struggle had been vastly ignored and rendered almost invisible. And it is a challenge for them to be heard and recognized for their part in the liberation of all women, as they too have a part and a voice in feminism that is uniquely theirs.

The political roots of Chicana feminism began in the 1960s and 1970s. These roots are based in a political knowledge of the historical emergence of the Chicano people and their connection to their Indian ancestry. It is also based on an understanding of 500 years of resistance, an understanding of contemporary aspects of class and race relations in America, particularly the American Southwest, known as Aztlan.

Much needed is an understanding of the Chicana outlook/dimension to assess the experiences of Chicanos and thus a perspective that is the intersection of race, class and gender.

STRUGGLING TO SPEAK

Contrary to people’s opinions of them, Chicanas were never passive nor entirely submissive to cultural restraints, yet these restraints did limit their voices. They were born into a culture of silence where they were to be seen, not heard. The religion of Catholicism brought to them by missionaries influenced many of their world views and taught them values of piety, humility and bearing their crosses in silence “for blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Consuelo Nieto noted:

“For the most part, the Church has assumed a traditional stance toward women. It has clearly defined the woman’s role as that of wife and mother, requiring obedience to one’s husband. . .

“Marianismo (veneration of the Virgin Mary) has had tremendous impact upon the development of the Chicana. Within many Chicana homes, La Virgen—under various titles, but especially as La Virgen de Guadelupe—has been the ultimate role model for the Chicana woman.

“Mary draws her worth and nobility from her relationship to her son, Jesus Christ. She is extolled as mother, as nurturer. She is praised for her endurance of pain and sorrow, her willingness to serve, and her role as teacher of her son’s word. She is the Queen of the Church.

“Some Chicanas are similarly praised as they emulate the sanctified example set by Mary. The woman par excellence la mother and wife. She is to love and support her husband and to nurture and teach her children. Thus may she gain fulfillment as a woman.”

When Chicana women sought to bring forth their voices in the women’s liberation movement, the feministas were told they were “anti-family, anti-cultural, anti-man and therefore, anti-Chicano movement.” Within the Chicano movement, Chicanas struggled for political equality and escape from the relegated tasks of dishwasher and secretaries. Similar to Stokely Carmichael’s statement that “the only position in the movement for women is prone”, Chicanas faced the same problems that black women faced in their quest for a more equal feminist outlook on class, race and gender struggle. A lot of Chicanas felt alienated, if not exploited by certain organizations of the Chicana movement in the types of jobs that she was being given or relegated to:

“When a freshman male comes to MECHA (Movimiento Estudiantil de Aztlan—a Chicano student organization in California), he is welcomed. He is taught by observation that the Chicanas are only useful in areas of clerical and sexual activities. When something must be done there is always a Chicana there to do the work. “It is her place and duty to stand behind and back up her Macho.”. . . Another aspect of the MACHO attitude is their lack of respect for Chicanas. They play their games, plotting girl against girl for their own benefit . . .They use the movement and Chicanismo to take her to bed. And when she refuses, she is a vendida (sell-out) because she is not looking after the welfare of her men.” (1)

It was an act of boldness for Chicanas to reject the role restrictions placed upon them and an even stronger step to address the “triple oppression” they face. Many Chicanas looked at the feminist movement in suspicion, viewing this search for identity as an “Anglo-bougeois trip”. Some confronted what they felt they had to decide what they valued more, the culture or the individual. A Chicana activist from New Mexico shared a similar experience:

“[In 1971] I was called a white woman for organizing a Las Chicanas group on the University of New Mexico campus. I was not only ostracized by men but by women. Some felt I would be dividing the existing Chicano group (the United Mexican-American Students, UMAS), some were simply afraid of displeasing the men, some felt that I was wrong and my ideas “white” and still others felt that their contribution to la Causa or El Movimiento was in giving the men moral support from the kitchen.” (2)

Chicana feminists articulated a support for political unity:

“While it is true that the unity of La Raza is the basic foundation of the Chicano movement, when Chicano men talk about maintaining La Familia and the “cultural heritage” of La Raza, they are in fact talking about maintaining the age-old concept of keeping the woman barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. On the basis of the subordination of women there can be no real unity. . . .The only real unity between men and women is the unity forged in the course of struggle against their oppression. And it is by supporting, rather than opposing, the struggles of women, that Chicanos and Chicanas can generally unite.” (3)

In the areas of health, Chicanas were acutely aware of the discrimination they faced:

“Anglo women contend with the cruel prejudice doctors have towards women patients. Chicanas must contend with doctor’s racism, insensitivity to the Chicano culture and the lack of bilingual medical staff. In addition, economics limit her choice of medical facilities to state and county health clinics which usually have inadequate health services. Depending on the availability of a bilingual volunteer among the patients, most doctors treat monolingual Spanish-speaking patients with less than adequate diagnosis.” (4)

The extent to which the law served the needs of Chicanas was also called into question by Chicana feminists. Del Castillo, for example, tells of a story of a Mexican woman who was in the process of divorcing her husband when he broke into her house and raped her. She took her case to court but found that because she couldn’t speak English she faced a situation of ridicule in which the lawyers and the judge laughed at her:

“That’s an insult to me as a Mexican woman and to that woman and to all Chicanos because here is a Mexican woman who is hoping that she can depend on the law, on the judge, to set this matter straight and he laughs at her in addition to which he admonishes her and tells her off for not knowing English. Furthermore, he wanted her to pay him, the husband, damages when he raped her in front of her children! So is there in fact any justice, or does racism impede justice for us?” (5)

The experience of Chicana prisoners was also an issue for ChicanA feminists. An article entitled “Chicanas in Prison” appeared in the “Regeneracion” in 1975 (Madrid), and another appeared in “Encuentro Femenil” in 1974 entitled “La Pinta: The Myth of Rehabilitation.”

Chicanas wrote about sexual stereotypes (Gonzalez 1973; Suarez 1973) and the “Chicana: The Forgotten Woman” (Delgado 1971). Bernice Rincon wrote “La Chicana: Her Role in the Past and Her Search for a New Role in the Future”.

The working class perspective of many Chicana feminists led them to an analysis of Chicana employment issues and labor struggles. Anna Nieto-Gomez wrote “Chicanas in the Labor Force” (1974). A 1971 volume of “Regeneracion” contained a testimonial by Maria Moreno, an agricultural worker. She entitled her statement, “I’m Talking for Justice.”

CHICANA WRITINGS:   1975-1981

Chicana feminists continued to write about feminism. Rita Sanchez addressed the development of the Chicana voice in “Chicana Writer Breaking Out of Silence” (1977). In 1977, Martha Cotera published “Chicana Feminist”, which was a collection of essays she had written between 1970 and 1977. Martina Cruz “Essays on La Mujer”, (1977).

The combination of these and other writings established four major points:

1. The Chicana is not inherently passive—nor is she what the stereotypes say she is;
2. She has a history rooted in a legacy of struggle;
3. Her history and her contemporary experiences can only be understood in the context of race and class analysis;
4. The Chicana is in the best position to describe and define her own reality.

Writing by the Chicana, by its very act, is a rebellious move against a traditionally imposed silence; a rebellion against other’s definitions of who she is and what she should be.

The result was a new Chicana. In Chicana poetry, “La Nueva Chicana”, is captured in a poem by Viola Correa:

“Hey,
See that lad protesting against injustice,
Es mi Mama.
That girl in the brown beret,
The one teaching the chidren,
She’s my hermana.
Over there fasting with the migrants,
Es mi tia.
These are the women who worry,
Pray, iron
And cook chile y tortillas.
The lady with forgiving eyes
And the gentle smile,
Listen to her shout.
She knows what hardship is all about
All about.
The establishment calls her
A radical militant.
The newspapers read she is
A dangerous subversive
They label her name to condemn her.
By the F.B.I. she’s called
A big problem.
In Aztlan we call her
La Nueva Chicana.”

THE STRUGGLE TO BE HEARD

To declare themselves was one thing. To be heard was another.That struggle still continues and it is tied to a past which had to create elaborate mechanisms to channel their voices. The National Association for Chicano Studies, formed in 1972, brought together Chicana scholars “in order to encourage a type of research which it felt could play a key part in the political actualization of the total Chicano community” (from the Preamble). The most notable example was the panel at the 1982 National Conference organized by Mujeres en Marcha from the University fo California, Berkeley.

Interestingly, some of the same issues discussed were prevalent during the seventies, in particular the notion that Chicanas were divisive and duped by the “white women.” The men did not like the way the women raised issues. Women responded with considering the men as “stepping on their toes.” Some of the discussion centered around whether Chicanas should be shaking up the status quo and causing conflict or whether they should have refrained and thus avoided the defensivness and discomfort of the men. While many of the men of the NACS were resistant to those issues, those who were present were at least making an effort to engage in dialogue with the women in confronting the issue of sexism in the Latino community.

Ironically, while women in NACS were insisting on the distinction between their feminism and that of white women, women of color were faced with the racism and class discrimination at the annual National Women’s Studies Association and within the association in general. In 1982 Chela Sandoval wrote a report on behalf of the Women of Color who attended the 1981 NWSA conference. The group called themselves the National Third World Women’s Alliance and the report was entilted “Feminism and Racism: A Report on the National Women’s Studies Association Conference”. (6)

While NWSA and the women’s movement in general had been fraught with contradictions and limitations for women of color, many had hoped that this conference would make possible a dialogue to deal with the many differences. But there was dissent and internal turmoil between the women of color and the white women.

On the fourth day of the conference, the Third World women initiated a coalition meeting with an equal number of white women—nearly two hundred women altogether. The enthusiastic meeting resulted in the following resolution:

“This has been a racist conference in its structure, organization, and individual interaction despite its theme. Be it resolved. . .next year’s conference be organized around the same theme, with the leadership of Third World women, in cooperation with NWSA organizers, and that the location of the next conference be changed from another rural area, Humboldt, California, to a place more accessible to Third World women, such as Los Angeles.” (6)

According to Sandoval, “The coalition’s resolutions were met with a great deal of irritation” and that for many, “the issue of racism was worn to the bone.”

“By the last assembly meeting most delegates were ready to move onto, as they called it, “more pressing issues.” The continued “haranguing” by the Third World delegates was seen as “idiosyncratic,” “selfish,” and as “unnecessarily divisive to the movement.” The resolution was not passed.In spite of the one successful coalition, by the end of the conference the division between the Third World and white women had become intensified and cemented with antagonism. It was an ironic ending to a movement conference on racism.” (6)

The same problems continued at the NWSA conference in 1990 with a mass walkout of women of color. The 1981 conference, however, was significant for what had become a women of color alliance among Chicana, Black, Puerto Rican, Asian and Native American women.

White feminist theory which often excludes the life experiences of women of color, functions as a prevailing theme. Dominant discourses generally fail to allow for and accept the differences of different viewpoints that women of color can bring to the table. Chela Sandoval, calls this “academic apartheid”, “methodology of the oppressed”, and “hegemonic feminism” and juxtaposes it with “U.S. Third World feminism.” Third world feminists object to hegemonic feminism’s sole focus on gender, always at the exclusion of the just as important realms of race, class and culture. “Ain’t I a woman” is a question that women of color have been asking since Sojourner Truth first raised this question with the white suffragists of her time. The racial conflict of the suffragette movement of the 19th Century (and the 20TH Century) happened because of the priviledged position of white women to white men, and the jockeying for social/and economic acceptance of white men in positions of power alongside, if not completely equal to white men, by white women, a factor that still continues to plague, and influence race relations between white women and women of color.

This “oppositional consciousness”, in that white feminists present an opposition to the varied aspects of Chicana feminism (race, gender, class), leads to a repression and disregard for the experiences of Chicanas, and, serves as a basis for Chicanas alliances with other women of color (Black, Asian, Native American).

Chicana women have confronted many issues that have affected them in their lives. Racism, sexism, classism, to name just a few. These and other concerns have served as the basis of not only Chicana activism but also of the further development of Chicana writings. In light of the many struggles to speak and be heard, it is a great triumph that Chicanas have continued to speak and have continued to develop a rich collection of poetry, literature, humanities and social science writings.

The benefits are there for those who wish to discover them. For those who wish to seek them out.

REFERENCES:

1. Mirta Vidal, “Chicanas Speak Out. Women: New Voice of La Raza” in “Feminism and Socialism.” ed. Linda Jenness. New York: Pathfinder P, pp. 48-57.

2. Jennie V.Chavez, “Women of the Mexican-American Movement.” Mademoiselle (April) 1972, pg. 82.

3. Mirta Vidal, “New Voice of La Raza: Chicanas Speak Out.” In “International Socialist Review,” October, 1971, pp. 79, 31-33.

4. Anna Nieto-Gomez, “La Feminista.” “Encuentro Femenil”, 1974. 1.2:34-37

5. Adelaida R. Del Castillo, “La vision chicana.” “La Gente de Aztlan” (UCLA), Vol. 4, No. 4 (March): 8-10.

6. Chela Sandoval, “Methodology of the Oppressed”. University of Minnesota Press (October 2000).

ALSO:

Chela Sandoval, “The Chicano Studies Reader: An Anthology of Aztlan, 1970-2000 (Aztlan Anthology Series, V. 2), et. al. UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Publications (November 2001).

posted by Ann

1 Comment

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One response to “CHICANA FEMINIST WRITINGS: ROOTS AND RESISTANCE

  1. Rosie

    A wonderful share! I’ve forwarded this great post onto a coworker who had
    been conducting a litle homework on this. He actually bought me breakfast simply because I found it for him…lol.

    So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this issue here on your site. Not many people are aware of the contributions Latinas have made to feminism.

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