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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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.