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.

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