Let’s talk about chicana feminism and how we might apply it today

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Dolores Huerta, ‘Huelga’, during a grape strike, Delano, California, September 24, 1965, Courtesy of Harvey Wilson Richards. Harvey Richards Media Archive via Smithsonian.

As we navigate the turbulent waters of inequality today, perhaps it’s prudent to take a look back in history and look at other movements that faced the same Goliath. For Latinas, Chicana Feminism is a great example of women standing up for equal rights and respect in their communities and beyond.

What is Chicana feminism and why might it be beneficial today?

The Chicana Feminist movement has had – and still has – a significant impact on society. Despite past progress, much more needs to be done for women’s rights, especially in the Hispanic community.

The Chicana feminist movement really took off and gained momentum in the 1970s, shortly after the broader Chicano movement. was taking shape in the 1960s. As Mexican Americans fought for equal rights — from greater representation in education to labor rights and the training of the United Farm Workers, led by César Chavez — Latinas of Mexican descent realized that they too were faced with their own inequalities.

Although they fought alongside their male counterparts and were very involved and vocal about Chicano rights, their needs were not taken into account. They even perpetuated the inequalities that Latinas faced at the time.

Sociologist Alma M. Garcia explains that women believed that the social, gender, and racial disparities faced by Chicana women in the 1970s were actually impeding the progress of the larger movement—sexism prevented Chicana women from being truly effective.

According to labor rights activist and feminist Francisca Flores, the Chicanas could “no longer remain in a subordinate role or as auxiliary forces.” They “must be included in the front lines of communication, leadership and organizational accountability,” she says in 1971.

Yes, the broader Chicano movement encouraged pride in Mexican culture and promoted equal rights for Latinos in America. But the problem was that these “equal” rights were not equal for everyone.

Sexism and the oppression of women were rampant in the Latin American community; women’s roles were deeply limited by machismo and, let’s be honest, women’s rights were far from equal. Unfortunately, this reality is something many Latinas still experience today.

In unity there is strength

It was in May 1971 that hundreds of Chicana women reunited for the first national Chicana conference in Texas. Together, they called for legislative changes, including the legalization of abortion and the creation of free child care, among other goals.

At the height of the Chicana Feminism movement in the 1970s, women fought for a wide range of rights – from representation in education to sexism within families and women’s health issues.

Women were tired of being forced into subordinate roles where the men in the household dominated them. They wanted a voice. They wanted access to health care and control over their own bodies. They fought for access to abortion and diversity in health care.

Bilingual education and representation in schools were essential for Chicanas, as was access to bilingual and bicultural child care. Chicanas spoke out against rape and domestic violence against Latinas. They fought for women’s rights and raised awareness of the unique struggles faced by Chicanas, who navigated the difficult intersection of cultural norms and gender stereotypes.

While these issues were prevalent in the Chicana community, not all Latinas agreed with the Chicana feminist movement.

Chicana feminists were not necessarily welcome within the larger national Chicano movement. Nor were they supported by the larger feminist movement among white women in America. Of course, they have sometimes found common ground with other feminists, fighting for access to birth control and abortion, and other health issues. Yet there were criticisms that white feminists did not care about farm workers or undocumented workers.

Additionally, there were divisions within the Chicano movement. There was a big divide between Chicana feminists and “loyalists” who focused more on protecting the Chicano family force. Many of these “loyalists” saw Chicana feminists as focusing too much on assimilation into white culture rather than fighting for equal Chicano rights.

Ultimately, the Chicana feminist movement forced people to look deeply within their communities at the shortcomings, inherent racism, and sexist tendencies that existed.

As most of us are painfully aware, these systemic issues persist today, which is why learning about other feminist activists and movements is essential. There will always be a need to speak out and stand up for marginalized groups, and if we are to break the cycle of inequality, we need the knowledge and inspiration to bring about change.

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