Chicana feminism

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Chicana feminism, also called Xicanisma, is a sociopolitical movement in the United States that analyzes the historical, cultural, spiritual, educational, and economic intersections of Mexican-American women that identify as Chicana. It challenges the stereotypes they [Chicanas] face across lines of gender, ethnicity, race, class, and sexuality. Most importantly, Chicana feminism serves as a movement that helps women to reclaim their existence between the Chicano and American feminist movement.


"Social upheaval dominated the 1960s and 1970s as newly mobilized communities fought for equality in the U.S. As domestic protests against the Vietnam War increased, civil rights organizations would win important political battles against institutional racism, while "Second Wave" American feminism would emerge from its infancy as a full-fledged movement. The Chicano movement gained similar momentum during this moment, but within it many women felt their unique identity - both intertwined with their brothers in struggle, but specifically distinct as Chicano women - was being ignored. A Chicana feminist movement galvanized in reaction to the complexities of Latina empowerment, often facing resistance from male Chicano leaders and organizers.

While many forms of gender inequality exposed by mainline American feminism were relevant to women of color, overall the race and class experiences of white and brown women did not correlate. White feminists enjoyed access to racial privileges and simply did not speak to the injustices experienced by women of color. Moreover, they often failed to define themselves in terms that positively or proactively involved men, while many Chicanas remained invested in the struggles of the men in their community despite the patriarchy of traditional Mexican-American culture. Rather than acceding to the common request that they wait their turn, Chicana feminists saw that the sexism within the Chicano Movement intersected with racism in the larger society, and made addressing both simultaneously as a central component to their ideology."[1]

The Chicana feminist paradigm has taken on different roles, redefining its meaning from its inception until present day. However, the multi-faceted movement remains one that continues to recognize and give Mexican-American women a space to unapologetically celebrate and reclaim their identity.


Chicana feminist consciousness grew from the intersections they [Chicanas] faced not only outside their culture, but within. They challenged their prescribed role in la familia, and demanding to have the intersections they faced recognized. 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.[2]

Political Organization (1940s - 1970s)[edit]

Beginning in the 1940s, Mexican-Americans led a civil rights movement with a goal of achieving Mexican-American empowerment. By the 1960s, the Chicano Movement, also known as "El Movimiento," became a prominent campaign in the lives of many Mexican-American workers and youth.

In 1962, The United Farm Workers organization was founded by César Chávez,[3] Dolores Huerta, and Philip Vera Cruz. UFW fought for equality of Mexican-American workers in the agriculture business.

Between the late 1960s through the 1970s, The Chicano Student Movement began in which students fought and organized for better educational quality.[4] These events and more mark a cultural turning point for Mexican-American youth.

The 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 organized consciousness-raising groups and geld conferences specific to the issues that Chicana women face.[6]

Although community organizers were working toward empowering the Mexican-American community, the narrative of the Chicano Movement largely ignores the women that were involved with organizing during this time of civil disobedience.

Chicanas in the Brown Berets[edit]

The Brown Berets were a youth group that took on a more militant approach to organizing for the Mexican-American community formed in California in the late 1960s. Like other 1960s and 1970s political movements, Chicano mobilizations were not free of internal divisions and contradictions.[7] Narratives of the women who were a part of the organization were often left untold. A major point of contention was the movement's misogyny. As Chicana feminists have argued, women in the movement played a foundational role in building community institutions but rarely received recognition for their work. Gloria Arellanes, for example, revealed the pivotal role women played in maintaining the clinic. As Arellanes recalled, "While we were doing that clinic...the men were not involved in it...They let the women do it."[7]

Chicana Feminist Organization[edit]

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.[8]

At the first National Chicana Conference held in Houston, Texas in May 1971, over 600 women organized to discuss issues surrounding regarding equal access to education, reproductive justice, formation of childcare centers, and more (Smith, 2002). The conference is where Chicana women first gained a platform for themselves and declared themselves and integral part of the Chicano Movement.[4] "With their growing involvement in the struggle for Chicano liberation and the feminist movement, Chicanas are beginning to challenge every social institution which contributes to and is responsible for their oppression, from inequality on the job to their role in the home."[9]

One of the First Chicana organizations was the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional (CFMN). Formally established in 1973, the organization was created to address political and economic issues affecting Latino women throughout the nation, including longstanding assaults such as forced sterilization.[1] 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.[10]

Political/Community Organization (Present)[edit]

To date, the Chicana feminist movement has developed as an extension from the original movement, mainly becoming a more inclusive movement, less militant. Presently, there are various organizations that continue to work toward deconstructing institutions of intersection oppression. AF3IRM is a diverse, multi-ethnic transnational organization that is committed to grassroots organizing, trans-ethnic alliance building, education, advocacy and direct action. AF3IRM LA is a proactive group of multi-ethnic women, including Chicanas. Every year in Downtown LA, an International Women's Day march is led, organized, and celebrated by both community organizations and women of color that want to bring attention to a range of issues affecting women including healthcare, immigration, and reproductive justice.[11]


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.[12]

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.

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.[2]

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.

Cultural Identities and Spirituality[edit]

The term "Chicano" originates from Aztec indigenous peoples 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.

Duality and "The New Mesitza"[edit]

The concept of "The New Mestiza" comes from feminist author, Gloria Anzaldúa. In her book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, she writes: "In a constant state of mental nepantilism, an Aztec word meaning torn between ways, la mestiza is a product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another. Being tricultural, monolingual, bilingual or multilingual, speaking a patois, and in a state of perpetual transition, the mestiza faces the dilemma of the mixed breed: which collectivity does the daughter of a dark skinned mother listen to? [...] Within us and within la cultura chicana, commonly held beliefs of the white culture attack commonly held beliefs of the Mexican culture, and both attack commonly held beliefs of the indigenous culture. Subconsciously, we see an attack on ourselves and our beliefs as a treat and we attempt to block with a counterstance."[13]

Nepantla Spirituality[edit]

Nepantla is a Nahua word which translates to "in the middle of it" or "middle." Nepantla can be described as a concept or spirituality in which multiple realities are experienced at the same time (Duality). As a Chicana, understanding and having indigenous ancestral knowledge of spirituality plays an instrumental role in the path to healing, decolonization, cultural appreciation, self-understanding, and self-love.[14] Nepantla is often associated with author Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldúa, who coined the term, "Nepantlera." "Nepantleras are threshold people: they move within and among multiple, often conflicting, worlds and refuse to align themselves exclusively with any single individual, group, or belief system."[15]

Artistic Mediums[edit]

Chicana Art[edit]

Through different art mediums both past and contemporary, Chicana artists have continued to push the boundaries traditional Mexican-American values.

Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (September 26, 1942 – May 15, 2004)

Chicana Literature[edit]

This Bridge Called My Back (1981)

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 1900s 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 1960s 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.[16]

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 Aceves were among the first mexicana women to wear charro pants while performing rancheras.[17]

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.[18]

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
  • Anna Nieto-Gómez - Key organizer of the Chicana Movement and founder of Hijas de Cuauhtémoc

Notable Organizations[edit]

See also[edit]

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]


  1. ^ a b "Yo Soy Chicana". KCET. Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  2. ^ a b Garcia, A. M. (June 1, 1989). The Development of Chicana Feminist Discourse, 1970-1980. Gender and Society, 3, 2, 217-238.
  3. ^ "UFW: The Official Web Page of the United Farm Workers of America". Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  4. ^ a b "What is the Chicana Movement?". Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  5. ^ Smith, O. C. (2002, Fall). Chicana Feminism. Retrieved May 11, 2014, from Emory University website.
  6. ^ 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. ^ a b "¡La Lucha Continua! Gloria Arellanes and Women in the Chicano Movement". KCET. Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  8. ^ "Exploring the Chicana Feminist Movement". The University of Michigan. Retrieved 2015-06-09. 
  9. ^ "Chicanas Speak Out - Women: New Voice of La Raza". Duke Digital Collections. Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  10. ^ Leon, K. (2013). La Hermandad and Chicanas Organizing: The Community Rhetoric of the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional. Community Literacy Journal, 7(2), 1-20.
  11. ^ See L.A. Times Article
  12. ^ Herrera, Cristina. Contemporary Chicana Literature: (Re)Writing the Maternal Script. Amherst: Cambria Press, 2014.'
  13. ^ Anzaldúa, Gloria (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. ISBN 9781879960749. 
  14. ^ Medina, Lara. Nepantla Spirituality: My Path to the Source(s) of Healing. p. 168. 
  15. ^ Keating, AnaLouise (2006). "From Borderlands and New Mestizas to Nepantlas and Nepantleras Anzaldúan Theories for Social Change" (PDF). 
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ 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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