Chicanas Speak Out in the Context of the Women’s March

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On this dark day I am preparing for lectures next week, focusing on my students rather than paying any attention to Trumplestiltskin (the name I have chosen to refer to him). I am not American, but I teach literatures of the Americas, especially those works written by citizens that Trumplestiltskin wishes to forcibly remove from the U.S. Next week we are studying two manifestos that stem from the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 70s: “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” and Chicanas Speak Out | Women: New Voice of La Raza (1971) by Mirta Vidal.

Front cover of "Chicanas Speak Out: Women: New Voice of La Raza" by Mirta Vidal
“Chicanas Speak Out Cover Image.” Women’s Liberation Movement Print Culture, Duke University Libraries Digital Collections. Accessed 20/01/2017. Link to the full text is in the blog post.

It is always a pleasure to teach Chicanx literature. This year, I am updating my lecture notes in the wake (and I mean wake in the funerary sense of the word) of the election of a man who has expressed xenophobic views of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, aggressive, misogynistic statements about women and our bodies, and threats to the autonomy of anyone who is not a white, heterosexual, cis member of the patriarchy. It feels surreal, but the work also feels more important than ever before.

Chicanas Speak Out is a response to the male-centred narratives championed by the Chicano Movement. The manifesto demands emotional, sexual, and bodily autonomy from patriarchal structures, including religion, marriage, and cultural myths. Studied alongside “El Plan” it highlights the androcentrism of the Chicano Movement and we will use text analysis tools to further illuminate this. The document is the product of 600 Chicana women who came together to voice the concerns that are left out of “El Plan.” Both documents also demonstrate the heterocentrism of the movement.

It is interesting to consider these issues on the eve of the Women’s March, an event that holds much promise for those of use left bewildered, frightened and disenfranchised by the election of Trumplestiltskin. Lauded as a deeply intersectional movement, the Women’s March echoes Hillary Clinton’s Beijing address and states that

“We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. We must create a society in which women – including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women – are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.”

The Chicana Speaks Out manifesto is a response to the stifling patriarchy that faced Chicana women within and outside of their community at the time in which it was written, a rallying call for liberation and recognition. Today, the Women’s March signals another response against the stranglehold of Trumplestiltskin’s misogynist platform. As he prepares to “drain the swamp” using oppressive, abusive strategies that only benefit those who reflect his image of what is “great” and “American,” marchers descend on Washington to swamp him in a non-violent act that has human rights, equality and an intersectional recognition of identity diversity at it’s core:

“We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”

In 1971, Chicanas Speak Out asked for the intersectional nature of their identity and experience of oppression to be recognised in terms of race, gender, class, labour, but not sexual orientation:

“The oppression suffered by Chicanas is different from that suffered by most women in this country. Because Chicanas are part of an oppressed nationality, they are subjected to the racism practiced against La Raza. Since the overwhelming majority of Chicanos are workers, Chicanas are also victims of the exploitation of the working class. But in addition, Chicanas, along with the rest of women, are relegated to an inferior position because of their sex. Thus, Raza women suffer a triple form of oppression: as members of an oppressed nationality, as workers, and as women. Chicanas have no trouble understanding this. At the Houston conference 84 percent of the women surveyed felt that ‘there is a distinction between the problems of the Chicana and those of other women.’

On the other hand, they also understand that the struggle now unfolding against the oppression of women is not only relevant to them, but is their struggle.”

In 1987, Gloria Anzaldúa states that

“As a mestiza I have no country, my homeland cast me out; yet all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover. [As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.] I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective cultural/religious male-derived beliefs of Indo-Hispanics and Anglos; yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet.” (102-103)

Anzaldúa champions the voice of the queer mestiza, the androgynous and butch women of colour, the ostracised LGBTQIA Chicanxs, introducing and including these voices in the Chicano Movement two decades after it began. The universality and planetary reach of her vision speaks to the intersectionality that has become a key part of feminist, human and civil rights issues today. While my lecture on Chicana/o manifestos is usually rooted in the context of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, the context of today, here and now, cannot be ignored.

"La conferencia de mujeres por La Raza under the auspices of the YWCA t-shirt (front)."
“La conferencia de mujeres por La Raza under the auspices of the YWCA t-shirt (front).” Midwest Chicano/Latino Activism Collection, MSU Libraries. Accessed 20/01/2017 (Click the image to redirect to the MSU webpage)

Anzaldúa often uses the metaphor of the crossroads in her work, invoking the myth of La Llorona. At this contemporary global crossroads as we enter the age of Trumplestiltskin, anyone teaching American Studies has a new and challenging context to take into account. I am glad that I can thread my lecture into the Women’s March and offer students a liberatory, nuanced study of the development of intersectional feminism through decades of work  and action by third world feminists like the 600 Chicana women who met in May 1971 in Houston, TX, for the first national conference of Raza women, Chicana, lesbian theorists and writers like Anzaldúa, Kimberlé Crenshaw (who coined the term, intersectionality as we understand it today), and the women who march today, tomorrow and onwards through the next four years.

(PS: Looking for something to do as you boycott viewing the inauguration, why not read Chicanas Speak Out, and/or these manifestos also available via Duke University Libraries Digital Collections: The Bitch Manifesto, the Black Women’s Manifesto, or any of the other items in the Women’s Liberation Movement Print Culture Collection.)

 

Select Bibliography

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. SF: Aunt Lute, 2007. Print.

“El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán.” 1969. Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland. Ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya and Francisco Lomeli. Albuquerque: U of NM P, 1998. 1-5. Print.

Pratt, Mary Louise. “‘Yo Soy La Malinche’: Chicana Writers and the Poetics of Ethnonationalism.” Callaloo 16.4 (1993): 859–873. JSTOR. Web.
Vidal, Mirta. 1971 “Chicanas Speak Out – Women: New Voice of La Raza :: Women’s Liberation Movement Print Culture.” Duke University Libraries Digital Collections. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

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