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Chicana feminism, also called Xicanisma, is a group of social theories that analyze the historical, social, political, and economic roles of Mexican American, Chicana, and Hispanic women in the United States.
Chicana feminism maintains that throughout history, women have been oppressed, and sometimes even abused, in many different societies. In Latin America, just as in Europe and Asia, many women were, for centuries, treated by their fathers, brothers and husbands with discrimination. Women in Latin America, Mexico included, were seen as child-bearers, homemakers, and caregivers. These women had to watch their children, perform household chores, and cook for their husbands. Many men did not consider women to be capable of working outside the home, which is part of the reason why the term "weaker sex" was coined.
In Latin America, women at those times had to act according to some social standards. In many Latin American cities, for example, women were not seen with good eyes if they spoke to men they did not know. Meanwhile, prostitution, for example, was legal in many Latin American areas, and men were not criticized, but rather seen as heroic, if they had several girlfriends, even if the man was married.
In 1848, with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Mexico ceded to the US: Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and part of Colorado and Wyoming. Former citizens of Mexico living in those territories became US citizens. During the twentieth century, Hispanic immigration to the United States began to slowly but steadily change American demographics. By 1940, Los Angeles was one of cities with the largest group of Chicanos in the United States.
Euro-American women also had their own problems: they were also stereotyped as homemakers, caregivers, and child-bearers. Unlike women of minority races, however, white women largely evaded dealing with racism, unless they or their husbands befriended people of Black or Hispanic background.
Mexican-American men often spoke about La Familia (the family). Mexican and Mexican-American women felt they were being left out by men when they spoke about La Familia.[clarification needed]
Though evidence of Chicana feminist thought can be traced as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, it was not until the 1970s that the Chicana feminist movement truly began. The Chicana feminist consciousness grew from "a struggle for equality with Chicano men" and displeasure with Chicanas’ prescribed role in la familia. 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. One of the main movements in Chicana feminism is La Malinche.
During the 1970s, a feminist movement took place across the United States. Chicanas wanted to be part of the movement, and so, in 1973, the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional was formed. This commission became an important part of Chicana feminism, as many Chicanas viewed the commission's presidents as heroines. Former United States President Jimmy Carter spoke with one of the commission's former presidents during the early 1980s. Central to much of Chicana feminism is a rewriting of female and maternal archetypes in the form of La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Llorona, and La Malinche, that have prevented Chicanas from achieving sexual, bodily agency. In this light, motherhood and mother-daughter relationships have been negatively portrayed, making a Chicana feminist revision of these mother figures a crucial element of contemporary Chicana feminism. Understanding this shift from traditional (patriarchal) representation to feminist Chicana revision, we may clearly see its influence on the mother-daughter dynamic. In re-thinking the duality of mothers and challenging this traditional context of motherhood, Chicana writers strive to create a complex rendering of the mother-daughter bond. Reclaiming the three mothers is a symbolic reclaiming of the maternal relationship. For it is only by modifying their cultural foremothers that contemporary Chicanas may come to terms with their own maternal relationships. By challenging patriarchal representations, Chicana writers re-construct their relationship as symbolic daughters of these mythic mothers.
Chicana feminist organization
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 groups that were being formed focused on furthering the feminist agenda. They organized consciousness-raising groups and conferences specific to the issues that Chicana women face.
One of the first Chicana organizations was the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional (CFMN), created in 1970. 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.
At the first National Chicana Conference held in Houston, Texas in May 1971, over 600 women organized to discuss calls regarding equal access to education, legalization of abortion, formation of childcare centers, and more (Smith, 2002). During the conference, the issues being debated caused its attendees to split into opposing camps; one being the "loyalists" and the other being "feminists". The "loyalists" focused their struggle against race/class domination, while the "feminists" focused theirs against male domination. The debate over reproductive rights, for example, caused much conflict between the opposing sides. While the "loyalists" felt that legalization of abortion and birth control would tear that la familia, "feminists" argued that the Chicano culture that subordinates Chicanas must no longer be romanticized.
Criticism of Chicana feminism
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 felt.
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 the more important issues such as racism that Chicanos were facing.
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.
- 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
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