Defining Chicana Feminisms
In Their Own Words
Chicana and Latina feminists have struggled to articulate a Chicana
Feminism which acknowledges both the similarities and differences with
other critical frameworks of social inequality, including issues of race,
gender, class, and sexuality. The following is a brief sampling of
some of the more recent texts in which Chicanas move toward defining Chicana
Feminisms and the project of Chicana Feminist Theory....
While it is true that the unity of La Raza is the basic foundation of the Chicano movement, when Chicano men talk about maintaining La Familia and the 'cultural heritage' of La Raza, they are in fact talking about maintaining the age-old concept of keeping the woman barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. On the basis of the subordination of women, there can be no real unity....The only real unity between men and women is the unity forged in the course of struggle against their oppression. And it is by supporting, rather than opposing, the struggles of women, that Chicanos and Chicanas can genuinely unite. (Vidal, 31-32)
From Mirta Vidal, "Chicanas
Speak Out. Women: New Voice of La Raza" in Feminism and Socialism
New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972.
The Chicana's socio-economic class as a non-Anglo Spanish-speaking, low-income Chicana woman determines her need and therefore her political position. The low-income Anglo woman does not have to deal with racism nor is she punished because she speaks another language. The middle-class Anglo woman only shares with the Chicana the fact that they are both women. But they are women of different ethnic, cultural, and class status. All these factors determine the different socio-economic needs and therefore determine the different political positions of these women. (Nieto-Gomez, 39)
From Ana Nieto-Gomez, "La Feminista," Encuentro Femenil 1:2 (1974)
"A theory in the flesh means one where the physical realities
of our lives-our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual
longings-all fuse to create a politic born out of necessity. Here,
we attempt to bridge the contradictions in our experience.
From Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, This Bridge Called My Back:
Writings by Radical Women of Color San Francisco: Aunt Lute Press,
"In this country, lesbianism is a poverty-as is being brown, as is being a woman, as is being just plain poor. The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place." (Moraga, 52-53)
From Cherrie Moraga, Loving in the War Years/lo que nunca paso por
sus labios Boston: South End Press, 1983.
"The actual physical borderland that I'm dealing with in this book is the Texas-U.S. Southwest/Mexican border. The psychological borderlands, the sexual borderlands and the spritiaul borderlands are not particular to the Southwest. In fact, the Borderlands are physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy.
...Living on borders and in margins, keeping intact one's shifting and multiple identity and integrity, is like trying to swim in a new element, an "alien" element. There is an exhilaration in being a participant in the further evolution of humankind, in being "worked" on. I have the sense that certain "faculties"-not just in me but in every border resident, colored or non-colored-and dormant areas of consciousness are being activated, awakened. Strange, huh? And yes, the "alien" element has become familiar-never comfortable, not with society's clamor to uphold the old, to rejoin the flock, to go with the herd. No, not comfortable but home...." (Anzaldua, preface)
....'Not me sold out my people but they me. So yes, though "home" permeates every sinew and cartilage in my body, I too am afraid of going home. Though I'll defend my race and culture when they are attacked by non-mexicanos, conosco el malestar de mi cultura. I abhor some of my culture's ways, how it cripples its women, como burras, our strengths used against us, lowly burras bearing humility with dignity. The ability to serve, claim the males, is our highest virtue. I abhor how my culture makes macho caricatures of its men. No, I do not buy all the myths of the tribe into which I was born. I can understand why the more tinged with Anglo blood, the more adamantly my colored and colorless sisters glorify their colored culture's values-to offset the extreme devaluatio of it by the white culture. It's a legitimate reaction. But I will not glorify those aspects of my culture which have injured me and which have injured me in the name of protecting me.
So, don't give me your tenets and your laws. Don't give me your lukewarm gods. What I want is an accountig with all three cultures-white, Mexican, Indian. I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails. And if going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture-una cultura mestiza-with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture." (Anzaldua, 21-22)
From Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,
San Francisco: Aunt Lute Press, 1987.
"Theory originally meant a mental viewing, an idea or mental plan of the way to do something, and a formulation of apparent relationships or underlying principles of certain observed phenomena which had been verified to some degree. To have theory meant to hold considerable evidence in support of a formulated general principle explaining the operation of certain phenomena. Theory, then, is a set of knowledges. Some of these knowledges have been kept from us-entry into some professions and academia denied us. Because we are not allowed to enter discourse, because we are often disqualified and excluded from it, because what passes for theory these days is forbidden territory for us, it is vital that we occupy theorizing space, that we not allow whitemen and women solely to occupy it. By bringing in our own approaches and methodologies, we transform that theorizing space.
What does a thinking subject, an intellectual, mean for women-of-color from working-class origins? It means not fulfilling our parents' expectations, it means often going against their expectations by exceeding them. It means being in alien territory and suspicious of the laws and walls. It means being concerned about the ways knowledges are invented. It means continually challenging institutionalized discourses. It means being suspicious of the dominant culture's interpretation of 'our' experience, of the way they 'read' us. It means being what Judy Baca terms 'internal exiles.'
What is considered theory in the dominant academic community is not necessarily what counts as theory for women-of-color. Theory produces effects that change people and the way they perceive the world. Thus we need teorías that will enable us to interpret what happens in the world, that will explain how and why we relate to certain people in specific ways, that will reflect what goes on between inner, outer and peripheral 'I's within a person and between the personal 'I's and the collective 'we' of our ethnic communities. Necesitamos teorías that will rewrite history using race, class, gender and ethnicity as categories of analysis, theories that cross borders, that blur boundaries-new kinds of theories with new theorizing methods. We need theories that will points out ways to maneuver between our particular experiences and the necessity of forming our own categories and theoretical models for the patterns we uncover. We need theories that examine the implications of situations and look at what's behind them. And we need to find practical application for those theories. We need to de-academize theory and to connect the community to the academy. 'High' theory does not translate well when one's intention is to communicate to masses of people made up of different audiences. We need to give up the notion that there is a 'correct' way to write theory.
Theorists-of-color are in the process of trying to formulate 'marginal' theories that are partially outside and partially inside the Western frame of reference (if that is possible), theories that overlap many 'worlds.' We are articulating new positions in these 'in-between,' Borderland world of ethnic communities and academies, feminist and job worlds. In our literature, social issues such as race, class and sexual difference are intertwined with the narrative and poetic elements of a text, elements in which theory is embedded. In our mestizaje theories we create new categories for those of us left out or pushed out of the existing ones. We recover and examine non-Western aesthetics while critiquing Western aesthetics; recover and examine non-rational modes and 'blanked-out' realities while critiquing ratinal, consensual reality; recover and examine indigenous languages while critiquing the 'languages' of the dominant culture. And we simultaneously combat the tokenization and appropriation of our literatures and our writers/artists.
Some of the tasks ahead of us then: to go beyond explaining why women-of-color aren't writing more theory, why our work isn't being published or distributed, and instead, to strategize about ways to get our work out; to change the focus from the topic of whitewomen's exclusionary practices to address the quality of what has been included and the nature of this inclusion. If we have been gagged and disempowered by theories, we can also be loosened and empowered by theories." (Anzaldua, "Introduction," 25-26)
From Gloria Anzaldua, Haciendo Caras/Making Face, Making Soul:
Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color San Francisco:
Aunt Lute Press, 1990
"...what I am proposing would be considered a 'science of oppositional ideology.' This study identifies five principal categories by which 'oppositional consciousness is organized, and which are politically effective means for changing the dominant order of power. I characterize them as 'equal rights,' 'revolutionary,' 'supremacist,' 'separatist,' and 'differential' ideology forms. All these forms of consciousness are kaleidoscoped into view when the fifth form is utilized as a theoretical model which retroactively clarifies and gives new meaning to the others. Differential consciousness represents the strategy of another form of oppositional ideology that functions on an altogether different register. Its power can be thought of as mobile-not nomadic but rather cinematographic: a kinetic motion that maneuvers, poetically transfigures, and orchestrates while demanding alienation, perversion, and reformation in both spectators and practitioners. Differential consciousness is the expression of the new subject position called for by Althusser-it permits functioning within yet beyond the demands of dominant ideology. This differential form of oppositional consciousness has been enacted in the practice of U.S. third world feminism since the 1960s.
This essay also investigates the forms of oppositional consciousness that were generated within one of the great oppositional movements of the late twentieth century, the second wave of the women's movement. What emerges in this discussion is an outline of the oppositional ideological forms which worked against one another to divide the movement from within. I trade these ideological forms as they are manifested in the critical writings of some of the prominent hegemonic feminist theorists of the 1980s. In their attempts to identify a feminist history of consciousness, many of these thinkers believe they detect four fundamentally distinct phases through which feminists have passed in their quest to end the subordination of women. But viewed in terms of another paradigm, 'differential consciousness,' here made available for study through the activity of U.s. third world feminism, these four historical phases are revealed as sublimated versions of the very forms of consciousness in opposition which were also conceived within post-1950s U.S. liberation movements.
These earlier movements were involved in seeking effective forms of resistance outside of those determined by the social order itself. My contention is that hegemonic feminist forms of resistance represent only other versions of the forms of oppositional consciousness expressed within all liberation movements active in the United States during the later half of the twentieth century. What I want to do here is systematize in theoretical form a theory of oppositional consciousness as it comes embedded but hidden within U.S. hegemonic feminist theoretical tracts.....
It is important to remember that the form of U.S. third world feminism it represents and enacts has been influenced not only by struggles against gender domination, but by the struggles against race, class, and cultural hierarchies which mark the twentieth century in the United States. It is a mapping of consciousness in opposition to the dominant social order which charts the white and hegemonic feminist histories of consciousness...while also making visible the different ground from which a specific U.S. third world feminism rises. It is important to understand that this typology is not necessarily ''feminist' in nature, but is rather a history of oppositional consciousness.
I propose that the hegemonic, feminist structure of oppositional consciousness be recognized for what it is, reconceptualized, and replaced by the structure which follows. This new structure is best thought of not as a typology, but as a 'topography' of consciousness in opposition, from the Greek word 'topos' or place, insofar as it represents the charting of realities that occupy a specific kind of cultural region. The following topography delineates the set of critical points around which individuals and groups seeking to transform oppressive powers constitute themselves as resistance and oppositional subjects. These points are orientations deployed by those subordinated classes which have sought subjective forms of resistance other than those forms determined by the social order itself. They provide repositories within which subjugated citizens can either occupy or throw off subjectivities in a process that at once both enacts and yet decolonizes their various relations to their real conditions of existence. This kind of kinetic and self-conscious mobility of consciousness is utilized by U.S. third world feminists as they identify oppositional subject positions and enact them differentially." (Sandoval, 2-3, 10-11)
From Chela Sandoval, "U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and
Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World" Genders
10 (Spring 1991).
"...I first re-claim a nationalist intellectual legacy that has a long history in the U.S. Southwest. I trace my genealogy to the nineteenth century when the population of Mexican origin first confronted Anglo-white immigrants who would later conquer the U.S. Southwestern territories. This indigenous intellectual legacy of symbolic cultural forms and practices includes written essays, folk songs, music, and poetry. I have come to understand these social symbolic acts in their mutual determinations and interrelations with historical forces, as cultural forms mixed with and within relations of power. In its nationalistic tendency to ignore questions of gender and sexuality, my legacy reaches its impasse.
Second, I draw from feminism's critical discourse on film, in particular its insights on the role of cinema in the construction of gendered subjectivities, that is, the relationship of human gender to representation. I retreat from feminist film discourse when it lodges itself in a male/female binary, thus eliding racial, class, and sexual subjectivities: the crucial differences among women, rather than simply between men and women. Third, from poststructuralism I have learned about subject formation and difference. Its shortcomings include the lack of rigor in theorizing about the subject positions of non-Western subjects. More often, in Euro-American incantations of poststructuralism, 'difference' is a new word for the good ol' American concept of pluralism. As a critique of Eurocentrism, the critical discourse on postcoloniality has been helpful. But it too has certain drawbacks, especially when its nationalism is informed by earlier geopolitical configurations of the nation-state. Postcolonial intellectual angst, say, its sentiment of 'transcendental homelessness' (to quote Saidiya Hartman) is particularly useless for 'subalterns' like myself who feel pretty much at home in the 'belly of the beast' (the U.S. of A.).
In naming these intellectual and political traditions, I hold onto their strengths and move away from their shortcomings. In so doing, I embrace the rebel spirits of U.S. Third World feminists who reside 'between and among' subject positions and critical cultural discourses. And so it is with these hybridized eyes that I re-view and re-read Chicano films. For as these cultural forms are hybrid productions, so too is my cultural studies approach a mestizaje, a bricolage." (Fregoso, "Introduction," 21-22)
From Rosa Linda Fregoso, The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film
Culture Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
"The people from whom I descend as a Chicana, are mestizo/as. Our history is inextricably tied to United States history because of the Mexican-American war whereby half of Mexico's territory was appropriated by the United States over one hundred fifty years ago.
As a poet, writer, and educator, my own educational process led me to accommodate Paulo Freire's philosophy to my status as a mestiza in the United States. I will add that as a Chicana, my process has not been singular but indeed one shared collectively by Latino/a activists. Paulo Freire's significant book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was not recommended to me by chance. His work was enormously popular among Latino/a activists in the seventies. The concept of the conscientización process was initially intended for all poor people.
By the beginning of the new decade, however, many Chicana/Latina activists, disenchanted, if not simply worn down, by male-dominated Chicano/Latino politics, began to develop our own theories of oppression. Compounding our social dilemmas related to class and race were gender and sexuality. For the brown woman the term feminism was and continues to be inseparably linked with white women of middle-and upper-class background. (This is also the case, by and large, in México.) Feminism, therefore, is perhaps not a term embraced by most women who might be inclined to define themselves as Chicanas and who, in practice, have goals and beliefs found in feminist politics. Therefore, I use the term conscientización as it has been applied among Spanish-speaking women activists.
Along those same lines, many women of Mexican descent in the nineties do not apply the term Chicana to themselves seeing it as an outdated expression weighed down by the particular radicalism of the seventies. The search for a term which would appeal to the majority of women of Mexican descent who are also concerned with the social and political ramifications of living in a hierarchical society has been frustrating. In this text I have chosen the ethnic and racial definition of Mexic Amerindian to assert both our indigenous blood and the source, at least in part, of our spirituality.
I also use interchangeably the term mestiza, which has been used among Mexican intellectuals as a point of reference regarding our social status since the Mexican colonial period. When discussing Mexican culture and traditions, I may use mejicana for both nationals and women born in the U.S. When discussing activism I often use Chicano/a. I introduce here the word, Xicanisma, a term that I will use to refer to the concept of Chicana feminism. In recent years the idea of Chicana feminism has been taken up by the academic community where I believe it has fallen prey to theoretical abstractions. Eventually I hope that we can rescue Xicanisma from the suffocating atmosphere of conference rooms, the acrobatics of academic terms and concepts and carry it out to our work place, social gatherings, kitchens, bedrooms, and society in general." (Castillo, Introduction, 10-11)
From Ana Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers, New York: Plume/Penguin Books, 1994