Chicana feminism

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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, Asia and Africa, 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.[citation needed]

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 1960s and 70s 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.[1] One of the main movements in Chicana feminism is La Malinche.[2] A main event that sparked Chicana feminism was the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, which 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.[3]


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.[4] 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.

Chicana feminist organization[edit]

First efforts of organizing the Chicana feminist movement began in the later part of the 1960s. During the Chicano Movement,[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

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".[6] 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.[6]

Culture and Identity[edit]

The term “Chicano “ originates from the Aztec Indians who pronounced it “meshicano” in the native Nahuatl language. However, the Spaniards had no “sh” in their vocabulary and pronounced it "mechicano" (spelled mexicano), a pronunciation that has been carried into the present. The origins of the term Chicano were not positive and empowering, however. 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 Hispanic immigrant parents, 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 (and language) is created in order to resist oppression and navigate both worlds. , ,

Criticism of Chicana feminism[edit]

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 other issues, such as racism, that Chicanos were facing.[1]

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.


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 many oral histories of Latina lesbians called Compañeras: Latina Lesbians (1987).

Chicana literature is also known as 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 1900’s 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 1900’s 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 1960’s 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 the human rights , discrimination, and 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 explained in great detail using their life experiences to help other 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 Alzaldua 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. Alzaldua notes that this type of labeling has the potential to marginalize those writers who do not conform to the dominant culture.[8]

Chicana Music[edit]

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 Aceyes were among the first mexicana women to wear charro pants while performing rancheras.[9]

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.[10]

Other Chicana Musicians and musical groups:

Notable people[edit]

  • 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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Garcia, A. M. (June 1, 1989). The Development of Chicana Feminist Discourse, 1970-1980. Gender and Society, 3, 2, 217-238.
  2. ^ A N Harris (2005). "Critical Introduction". In Rolando Romero. Feminism, Nation and Myth: La Malinche. Arte Publico Press. p. ix. ISBN 9781611920420. 
  3. ^ "Exploring the Chicana Feminist Movement". The University of Michigan. Retrieved 2015-06-09. 
  4. ^ Herrera, Cristina. Contemporary Chicana Literature: (Re)Writing the Maternal Script. Amherst: Cambria Press, 2014.'
  5. ^ Smith, O. C. (2002, Fall). Chicana Feminism. Retrieved May 11, 2014, from Emory University website.
  6. ^ a b c Segura, D. A., and Pesquera, B. M. (January 1, 1992). Beyond Indifference and Antipathy: The Chicana Movement and Chicana Feminist Discourse. Aztlan: a Journal of Chicano Studies, 19, 2, 69-92.
  7. ^ Leon, K. (2013). La Hermandad and Chicanas Organizing: The Community Rhetoric of the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional. Community Literacy Journal, 7(2), 1-20.
  8. ^ Anzaldua, Gloria. (1994). To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritoria y chicana. from Betsy Warland, Ed., Inversions: Writings by Queer Dykes and Lesbians, 263-276. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers.
  9. ^ Vargas, Deborah (2012). Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of la Onda. The University of Minnesota Press. p. vii. ISBN 978-0-8166-7316-2. Retrieved 2015-06-09. 
  10. ^ Vargas, Deborah (2012). Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of la Onda. The University of Minnesota Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8166-7316-2. Retrieved 2015-06-09. 
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Further reading[edit]

  • Anzaldúa, Gloria, and Cherríe Moraga, editors. This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color. Watertown, Massachusetts: Persephone Press, c1981., Kitchen Table Press, 1983 ISBN 0-930436-10-5.
  • Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Aunt Lute Books, ISBN 1-879960-56-7
  • Anzaldúa, Gloria. Making Face. Making Soul: Haciendo Caras: Creative & Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color, Aunt Lute Books, 1990, ISBN 1-879960-10-9
  • Arredondo, Gabriela, et al., editors. Chicana Feminisms: A Critical Reader. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8223-3105-5.
  • Castillo, Adelaida Del. "BETWEEN BORDERS: ESSAYS ON MEXICANA/CHICANA HISTORY." California: Floricanto Press, 2005.
  • Castillo, Ana. Massacre of the dreamers : essays on Xicanisma. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8263-1554-2.
  • Cotera, Martha. The Chicana feminist. Austin, Texas: Information Systems Development, 1977.
  • García, Alma M., and Mario T. Garcia, editors. Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. New York: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 0-415-91800-6.
  • Garcia, Alma M., "The Development of Chicana Feminist Discourse, 1970-1980" in: Gender and Society, Vol. 3, No. 2. (June 1989), pp. 217–238.
  • Hurtado, Aida. The Color of Privilege: Three Blasphemies on Race and Feminism. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-472-06531-8.
  • Ramos, Juanita. Companeras: Latina Lesbians, Latina Lesbian History Project, 1987, ISBN 978-0-415-90926-6
  • Roma-Carmona, Mariana, Alma Gomez and Cherríe Moraga. Cuentos: Stories by Latinas, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
  • Roth, Benita. Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America's Second Wave, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-52972-7
  • Vivancos Perez, Ricardo F. Radical Chicana Poetics. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

External links[edit]