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The Emergence of Chicana Feminism, 1967-1981

Marisela Chavez
Department of History
Stanford University
December 2001

In the late 1960s and through the 1970s, many Mexican Americans in the U.S. were engaged in what is known as the Chicano movement. The Chicano movement was a quest for power based on a common Mexican American identity and called for self-determination, equal access to education, and celebrated a renewed cultural pride. My dissertation explores the historical development of feminist thought among the many women involved in the Chicano movement, a topic not yet examined in American history. I investigate men and women's experiences in various aspects of the movement such as political organizations, and as writers and artists, to show how their experiences influenced them to think about their roles in society as Mexican American men and women and consequently, to think about feminism.

This study is important for the following three reasons. First, in the field of American history, it will be the first study focused solely on Chicanas in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s; it will therefore broaden our knowledge of Mexican American women's experiences. Second, it will modify our definition of American feminism. The history of American feminism has been written without a substantive analysis or investigation of Chicanas. Therefore, we do not have a complete picture of what American feminism is. Thus, I question the standard definition of feminism, especially in terms of race, ethnicity and class. Third, my research will place Chicanas into the historical narratives of American feminism, Chicano history, and social movement history. Histories of this era have not fully appreciated the contributions and experiences of women. As a parallel, the Chicano movement has not been incorporated into analyses of the 1960s and 1970s.

The primary questions guiding this research are as follows: How did women's experiences in the Chicano movement influence them to develop feminist ideologies? How did ethnicity play a part in this process? How were political ideas of feminism manifested? As a historian, I will use traditional sources such as newspapers, journals, and organizational records to answer these questions. I will also use sources such as artwork and poetry to show that political ideas were evident in areas beyond political organizations. In addition, one of the most important sources for my work will be oral history interviews with women and men who were politically active in the Chicano movement.

I have found, in my preliminary research, that Chicana feminism did not have only one form. Different forms of Chicana feminism emerged, sometimes competing with one another, depending on influences such as cultural nationalism, region, class, and sexuality. For example, in 1969, 3,000 young Chicanos and Chicanos gathered at the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver, Colorado. After the Chicana Workshop, attended by approximately thirty young women, the spokeswoman reported back to the general assembly and stated, "It was the consensus of the group that the Chicana does not want to be liberated." What did "liberation" mean to these women? My research reveals that most Chicanas active in the movement disavowed any connection to Euro-American feminism. Most Chicanas viewed this type of feminism as one-dimensional because it only took gender into consideration, not race, ethnicity or class, issues that were vital issues for Chicanas. Yet twelve years later, self-identified Chicana feminists Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua published the anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. They introduced their anthology by stating, "We named this anthology 'radical' for we were interested in the writings of women of color who want nothing short of a revolution in the hands of women." How did Chicanas, over the span of twelve years, come to such radically different conclusions about feminism, if in fact, these conclusions were distinct?

My research explores these questions about Chicanas and feminist ideology in order to further illuminate how gender, class and race influence the relationships between social movements, ethnic identity formation and the emergence of feminism.