MALCS Institute Paper: The Case of the Second Chicana

This paper was written for and given at the 2011 MALCS Summer Institute held last weekend at Cal State LA. It was wonderful and energizing conference. I’m including some of the slides as images — we’ll see how that goes.

In the introduction to her anthology, Chicana Feminist Thought, Chicana sociologist Alma Garcia gives her criteria for the selection of writings:

the substance of a document;
the historical importance of a particular document; and
the historical importance of a particular writer.

I would further argue that writings coming from the underground presses and newspapers of political and cultural resistance movements — like the Chicano and feminist movements — can be said to gain intellectual capital by both the frequency of their publication (and re-publication) and the extent of their distribution.

On those terms Enriqueta Vásquez’s variously titled article can be counted as one of the most influential essays of the Chicano movement. Certainly it qualifies as one of the most widely read and republished Chicana-authored pieces, crossing and criss-crossing Chicano and feminist boundaries, including its publications in Sisterhood is Powerful and Liberation Now!.

On my first readings of Robin Morgan’s anthology I assumed that the single Chicana author included in Sisterhood Is Powerful was Enriqueta Vasquez. I believed that Vasquez’s piece stood alone in representing Chicana feminists, as if saying that Vasquez was the solitary Chicana feminist not only in the text, but perhaps also in the larger feminist community. Its inclusion in Sisterhood Is Powerful does not stand on its own, however, but the five-page article is powerfully mediated by Elizabeth Sutherland in a three-page introduction explaining the article’s context. An identical version of “The Mexican American Woman,” complete with the same introduction by Sutherland, appeared in the 1971 anthology Liberation Now! under the title “Colonized Women: The Chicana.” However, in the case of the version in Liberation Now! the article is indexed as being by Sutherland, with the Vasquez article appearing as though within it.

The inclusion of Sutherland’s introduction is significant and striking. Among the anthology’s sixty-nine articles, only the contribution by Vasquez merits an introduction by another author. The structure of the introduction is itself interesting. Elizabeth Sutherland, in the tradition of the slave narrative, appears to function as an Anglo authenticating feminist voice. As such, she seems to vouch for Vasquez’s inclusion in the text as a feminist, as if otherwise there would be some doubt about the article — or even about Vasquez herself belonging in this community of sisterhood. Sutherland explicitly calls on the — presumably white — readers to “listen for her [Vasquez’s] own voice, not merely for echoes of their own.” The assumption, based solely on her name and the fact that Sutherland does not identify herself as ‘of-color’ — that Sutherland herself is white is one that should be examined, but is one that readers (myself included) would be likely to make.

However, a careful reading of the contributors list at the anthology’s end gives more information, (re)naming and identifying the author as “Elizabeth Sutherland (Martínez),” giving a clue she may not be as Anglo as her name would make her seem, though again it would take both careful reading and some insider knowledge or research to decipher the clues. The (Martínez) addition is not included in either the table of contents or the article text. It can only be read by going to the “Contributors” biography section at the end of the anthology. There she is further identified as the editor of the New Mexican based Chicano movement newspaper El Grito Del Norte. Further research into El Grito — reveals that Sutherland to be the second Chicana contributor to Sisterhood Is Powerful, Elizabeth (Betita) Martínez. Martínez was the founding editor of El Grito where Vasquez wrote regular columns and where the article was originally published. The name “Elizabeth Sutherland” is Martínez’s Anglo pseudonym, one that, by 1969, she had employed for several years.

Betita Martinez - Photo by Margaret Randall

Sutherland’s curious mediation, and the editor’s feeling that the introduction should be — or needed to be — included would be interesting in its own right. However, it is all the more so when one realizes that “Elizabeth Sutherland” is not in fact an Anglo feminist, but Vasquez’s Chicana editor writing under her Anglo-assumed name. Read with this knowledge, Martínez becomes the second Chicana contributor to the anthology; one with an extensive publication history, both before and subsequent to this contribution, and one arguably far better known (to the east coast Left community) than Vasquez would have been.

Continue reading

Mixed Daughter

Being my parents’ first child has always been a large part of my identity. I am their mixed daughter; the result of a 1960s high school romance between an eastside Chicano boy and westside Anglo-Catholic girl. I attended Catholic school from first grade until college — Catholicism formed the bulk of my my cultural identity through out my childhood.

My parents, whose racial divide had brought them social discomfort in the 1960s and 1970s, including difficulties renting and buying homes in parts of Los Angeles, did their best to shelter my sister, brother and me from the worst of their experiences. I knew I was Chicana and identified as such, but my identification didn’t mean anything more to me than my mother’s distant identity of “Irish.” When my teachers commented on my speaking and writing in perfect English, I didn’t recognize the loaded compliment in their words. Later, when I struggled in high school Spanish (as did both my siblings and most of my cousins), I never considered why the Spanish language was so hard for me, why when my bilingual father helped me, my accent was somehow considered “wrong” and “too Mexican.” It would be years before I realized my struggle with Spanish was, in part, due to an ingrained distrust of the Mexican side of myself.

Then, coming onto UCLA’s campus as an undergraduate in the late 1980s, my Chicana identity became much more of an issue. Attracted to Left student politics, I first joined, or tried to join, the campus MEChA organization. It made sense to me. I was a lonely Chicana student, lost on a huge campus. Leaving Catholic education and its sense of belonging to a common religion suddenly made me feel much more of a racial outsider on the campus. Among white students it was clear, despite my middle class West Los Angeles upbringing, that I wasn’t quite white enough. But the other students in MEChA saw me as not really Chicana either, not like them. As one said “maybe you’re not quite white, but you’re too close for me.” My skin color wasn’t the issue, or at least not the main issue. The leadership of MEChA looked like me or my cousins. The division came on issues of language and culture. I didn’t speak Spanish, had grown up in the white part of the city, had a white mother, had attended a West Los Angeles private girls school. In short I was weighed and found wanting in nearly every way (while my abuelita’s house in East Los Angeles counted in my favor it was deemed not nearly enough). In their eyes I wasn’t truly a Chicana.

It would be poetic to say I railed against this redefinition of my identity, that I told them my father wasn’t a sell-out for loving my mother or for having me. I wish I could claim that I argued and convinced all of them or any of them of my Chicana-ness. But the truth was, at their words, I was mostly silent and felt exposed as a fraud. There was part of me that could see their point. What did I, with my West Los Angeles upbringing, know of their Eastside experiences? East Los Angeles, apart from trips to Liliana’s for tamales, was my father’s and abuelita’s home place, not mine. Maybe they were right that I only identified as Chicana because of affirmative action, had only experienced it as a positive without experiencing either the poverty or racism which they had collectively suffered. Worst of all though, I felt like they had been able to look inside me and see the traitorous part of myself, that secret place that wished I were whiter. The part that envied my blond-haired cousins, knew their fairness was in mine and my family’s eyes, more beautiful. The same part that wished I had inherited my mother’s blue eyes and willowy frame instead of my own stocky darkness. I felt like the other Chicano/a students could see there was something inside of me that found my darkness as ugly and even worse, as unclean and wished it away. Feeling stung and exposed, I slunk away from MEChA. I instead became the comfortably not-too exotic other in the white / Anglo students’ anti-apartheid movement on campus. Academically I moved away from any part of Chicano/a studies and into British and Celtic history and literature.

I came back to my Chicananess through reading This Bridge Called My Back and Borderlands when I was taking English literature classes at The Ohio State University. At the time I was homesick for California, for my family, constantly feeling exotic and other socially. I saw myself in the definitions of mestiza, in the notion of being torn between ways.  When I read Cherríe Moraga’s Loving In the War Years, it sort of all came together for me and I realized I could and should claim Chicana as my identity, however uncomfortable it might be.

All of this anxiety came back to me at NACCS — not in a bad way, but I realize I associate hearing Spanish (which I generally understand if it’s spoken slowly enough, but can’t speak) with being found out to be not Chicana. This is ridiculous and I recognize it as such, but still get caught up in this sense of belonging / not belonging. It makes me wonder how much I’ve changed, whether for all my study and research I’ve really embraced this part of myself.

Saturday NACCS: Roundtable on Hijas de Cuauhtémoc

[I was tweeting this roundtable on Hijas de Cuauhtémoc but lost wifi so I decided to blog it. These are my notes taken as the discussion was going on and is probably both disjointed and incomplete. Session was recorded for classroom use at CSULB.]

Introduction by Maylei Blackwell. (see tweets)

Discussion by Anna NietoGomez, Sylvia Castillo, Leticia Hernandez, Audrey Silvestre.

ANG: My purpose in being here is because I’m trying to create a more coherent picture of what was going on in the 1970s. We were motivated to start Hijas because Chicana contemporaries were experiencing sexual harassment w/in Chicano movement. Chicanas and Mexicanas were dismissed as irrelevant. Male leadership seeking freedom and civil rights for himself and not for the we that included Chicanas. The sense of being othered by own community.

Fredrick Turner’s book influenced by having section on role of women in the revolution, women called Hijas de Cuauhtémoc. This small piece of Chicana history made us realize that feminism was our history. Used the model of press as a way to raise awareness, to encourage Chicanas to express their ideas through writing and art, to confront issues of discrimination.

First issue not well received. MEChA organized a mock funeral for members of Hijas, funerals were depicted with names of Hijas on it. Hostile environment. Apology when coffins were found 20 years later.

Sought funds through community financial solicitation. Spoke at Norwalk senior citizen community center. Supported by parents / families. They raised $250 so they could publish.

Three events announced through the newspaper: March 1971, state committee on higher education implementation of Chicana studies through curriculum. History about Chicanas written by Chicanas. Announcement of national conference in Houston. University regional conference at CSULB.

Used the newspaper as a tool to mobilize women to attend the conference. 250 women attended. Hijas became national vehicle to communicate.

Publication ceased because life intervened. Students needed to study and work. Hijas never became a statewide or national magazine. In 1973 some Hijas reunited and organized a journal Enquentro Feminil. Art, criticism, education. Main thrust, concern about high dropout rate of Chicanas, double the dropout rate of women. 1974 Chicana feminist, Chicana welfare rights, obtaining resources from the community for course on Chicana.

Models of feminism focusing on Chicana issues.

Notion that writing by Chicanas was valuable. Journal could not continue but was completely sold out. Seen as a treasure by those who have them.

LH: Authoritarian father, submissive mother, everything geared toward making a living. Going to school and getting a job. Was threatened with bodily harm for walking out / blow outs. Stuck between doing what was the right thing in the fight but being torn between family. Didn’t walk out

Recruited out of Clearing House. Living off campus dorm at Long Beach — none of the women graduated. Campus did not take care of them. Treated as nothing, not considered not count. Guys were always coming on to them, seduced by EOP director which lead her into Chicana politics. Met Hijas, always going the menial stuff at meetings. Detested the machismo, wanted them to be on the arm, be in the kitchen, be secretary, be quiet.

But still idealistic, totally committed to movement. Hijas as a way to get women involved to get them to fight for the movement. Called them dirty word, labeled them feminist “no better than white women.”

Retreated faced with attack. Quit everything, quit MEChA, quit school got a job, pushed it all down into a dark place. Look at the world around us. Women are being restricted by their society.

SC: Personal story. Family was attacked by the John Birch society and Klan when they integrated Lakewood. Understood race and being the other, but at the same time, understood that white people would defend as well as attack. Critical formation. Later found out they were in the communist party USA. Women as part of “my people’s” history. My people didn’t always have cover but they always had class, the have nots.

Had politics, had sexuality already when she got to CSULB – already trained as agitator. Disappointed at being sexualized and working mimeograph machine. Organizing and studying Marxism which gave a framework and a way to anchor herself, see as historical. Led international movement.

MEChA disappointing, being treated like the other for being a woman. Fighting and being called a feminist. Silenced by moratorium times — men’s sense that it was a time of male issues. Feminist, social justice, working class, wanted society wide impact. Wanted to take our place in rise of third world movement. Releasing the energies of our people to move into the 21st century. Not about taking over MEChA.

Reproductive rights clinic / information. Self defense course due to Chicanas being assaulted by both Chicano men and men on campus. Not be involved with oppression olympic. SC participated in building an alternative school when she was 19 in Hawaiian Gardens.

This story is about a particular time but writ large in story of struggle of women and struggle of women with men. Here because we’re trying to find our own history.

AS: contemporary organizer of the group Conciencia Femenil both now and in honor of their communities. History re-discovered by students in 2009. Looking for history.

March 2010 Conference on where Chicanas are now. Homophobic and sexist attacks talking about how they should be killed. Filed police report as hate speech to get editor of student newspaper to remove the hate speech comments.

Responded by trying to give context to the conference, statement to Chicano/ Studies, La Raza and women’s studies departments. Calling for an intervention to see the intersection of racism, sexism, heterosexism. More backlash but they were ready to respond with petition and social media to hold institutions accountable. Because attacks were online they were dismissed in some respects by the administration until the students petitioned to have their concerns taken seriously. Connected the oppression to what had come before regarding Las Hijas De Cuauhtémoc. Sexism / old school Chicano lineage. See Facebook page.

Discussion of the linage of violence, university as a site of violence as well as education. History/memory related to Anna NietoGomez’ while at CSUN.  Chicano studies unhappy that NietoGomez approved reporting child abuse by campus leader to authorities. [Report violence against children!] Sylvia Castillo pointed out that some of the people who were responsible for the funeral at CSULB are here and there never has been an apology from those actually involved. Antonia Castañeda made the point that it’s not too late for there to be a public acknowledgement of the wrongs done.

Friday Shopping and Lunch at NACCS

This conference feels a bit like a marathon. There’s so much to see and hear, so many people to talk to. Today I miss the first morning session (wasn’t feeling great) but then went to the first plenary (great talks by student scholars) and then got some cash and headed to the book exhibit.

I’m not sure what I was expected, but this was much much more. The book exhibit at MLA is cool — lots of publishers, lots of books. But the NACCS book exhibit, while smaller in space is full of not just wonderful Chicano/a books, but ART. I bought some lovely stuff — didn’t stop ’til I ran out of money

Apologies for the low quality pictures — I took them with my iPhone and I don’t have the steadiest hands. My first purchases — a NACCS t-shirt — for $5 the deal of the decade as far as I’m concerned. Then I saw a copy 500 Years of Chicana History by Elizabeth Martinez. I hadn’t even heard about the book yet which shows how out of it I am as it came out in 2008. I had to have that too.

At about that moment I got swept up into the friendly and powerful table that MALCS was running. I’d been meaning to join, so I did right then, signing up and paying for my membership. That got me signed up to submit an article next month for review to see if I can take part in a writing workshop in August. In the midst of all of this I saw this beautiful signed framed poster by Lalo Alcaraz for $30. Yes, I bought it.


In the midst of this shopping frenzy, I ran into Deena Gonzalez who I knew from years ago at the a Ford Conference. It was really flattering to hear that she’d been following my progress a bit and she gave me nice praise for (finally) finishing. We chatted a bit and I asked her if I could sit with her at the lunch. She told me I could, that there was room at the table she had planned but there was also going to be a surprise. I was intrigued but then she got swept away and I went over the CSRC table to talk to Lizette and admire the center’s books. As she talked with me, I admired her necklace then saw next her a table full of wonderful jewelry by Mayan Inspirations.

I fell in love with these. Aren’t they great? They look good with my new short hair too.

Lunch was, well quite surprising. I ended up at a table full of people I’d cited in my dissertation. Seriously I was kind of star struck: Alma Lopez, the artist, was next to me, Arturo Madrid was on the other side. Also at the table were Deena, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Emma Perez, Ramon Gutiérrez and Antonia Castañeda. The conversation at lunch was inspiring and full of good humor, as was the speech by Norma Alarcón, the NACCS scholar of the year.

The surprise? After Norma’s speech, Deena, Alicia and Emma took the stage and they announced a new award for an article written by a graduate student, new Ph.D. or young faculty member. It was to be named in honor of Antonia Castañeda. She was stunned and brought to tears by the news. I was so honored to be there at that amazing moment.


[In celebration of my dissertation being accepted today by my university’s library, I’m put up its abstract. Don’t worry, I’m probably not going to post the whole thing.]

Title: ”Splitting Aztlán: American Resistance and Chicana Visions of a Radical Utopia”

My dissertation researches American resistance movements, focusing on nineteenth-century Transcendentalism and the Chicano/a movements of the 1960s through 1990s.  It is concerned specifically with the emergence of Chicano/a literature from the late nineteenth century through the twentieth century, especially Chicana authorship and editorship as part of a tradition of U.S. resistance literature.

The 1960s was a period of renewed interest in the literature of American Transcendentalist communities, especially the writings of David Henry Thoreau regarding resistance and civil disobedience.  This re-reading shaped and informed American civil protest literature of the 1960s, including that of the Chicano Movement. Reverberations connect the two periods in the area of non-violent social protest.  Further resonances may be heard now between the nineteenth-century suffrage and abolitionist movements and the 1960s civil rights and anti-war movements, as they questioned the United States’ role as an imperial nation — a role begun with the nineteenth-century policy of Manifest Destiny.

The replication of and discursive focus on nation and universalized communities of men, opened space for women as editors and authors.  Chicana writers and editors of the late twentieth century, like the protofeminists of the nineteenth-century suffrage movement, split the single “divine soul” by pointing out the contradictions and flaws in a discourse on the nation which presumes only masculine subjects.  Both ultimately created textual communities as sites for feminist, cosmopoetic and cosmopolitical interventions.  At the same time, like African American feminists of the same period, they resisted the essentialist and universalizing feminist gaze, creating out of this a U.S. differential feminism of color.

The opening section of my dissertation, comprising the first two chapters, is an introductory discussion of textual communities and resistance literature, focusing on both United States Transcendentalism and the emergence of Chicana feminist authors and editors.  Chapter Two is a reading of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s 1872 text, Who Would Have Thought It?, as both a satire of United States northeastern culture and politics, and a statement of resistance to Manifest Destiny.  Ruiz de Burton’s work resists the westward gaze of northeastern U.S. literature, instead looking east from western / Californian eyes, specifically at the New England northeast.  A satire, the novel was explicitly written to resist the author’s sense of cultural annihilation, against both the Californios’ sense of their own invisibility and the larger national policy of Manifest Destiny.

The second section of my dissertation, comprising Chapters Three and Four, looks at the emergence of Chicana authorship and editorship during the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  Chapter Three examines late twentieth-century Chicana authorship and editorship, using close textual readings from diverse archival sources, including the Chicano newspaper El Grito del Norte and its collective of writers and editors, especially Elizabeth Martinez and Enriqueta Vásquez, to explore the evolution of Chicana editorship and the development of textual communities within and around the developing mythology of Aztlán.  Chapter Four focuses on Chicana edited anthologies in the 1980s, especially This Bridge Called My Back and Chicana Voices.  The two anthologies, though different in many respects and created for different purposes, created  textual communities of writers which participated in the project of developing and defining a specific new feminism by women of color, as well as Anzaldúa’s border theory.  This research examines and participates in the discussion of emergent writing and editorship by women of color, and how these feminists fit into the larger tradition of textual communities in the United States.

The dissertation concludes with a re-examination of Aztlán as a site of resistance, a borderland cosmopolitan and cosmopoetic space.  While “cosmopolitan” traditionally speaks of urban sensibilities, recent scholarship on the modern and postmodern evolution of cosmopolitanism offers a new and renewed vision that utilizes pre-Kantian cosmopolitanism.  This vision imagines a world city space and citizenship which exists outside the confines of borders, while also tempering the effects of globalism; a space which acts against the confines of nationalism and outside the power of the state.  This new type of cosmopolitanism has been named “borderland cosmopolitanism,” one which exists at rural crossroads as well as in cities; it is a cosmopolitanism of the indigenous as well as the elite.  Borderland cosmopolitanism does not just attack the nation; it also destabilizes citizenship and, in doing so, endangers the authority of the state and nation.