In Between La Malinche and Gloria Anzaldúa: Feminism of Mexican and Mexican American Women in the United States, 1910-1950

Turi Luziris


In 1976, Martha P. Cotera published what has been identified as the first official history of Chicanas: Diosa y hembra: The History and Heritage of Chicanas in the U.S. One of its most notable and perhaps least talked about characteristics is its chapter on Chicanas’ historical legacy in the United States from the beginning of the twentieth century to the 1950s. In Chicana and U.S. anthologies these years are often depicted as silent or non-active for Mexican and Mexican American women in the United States. Specifically, Chicana history often references pre-Columbian imagery and then jumps to the social movements of the 1960s in the United States. Cotera’s work identifies and links twentieth century working-class activists Mexican and Mexican American women to the contemporary Chicana discourse and history. With the recent recuperation of publications and social activism of intellectual elites from this era, their legacy can now also be added. Scholars rarely include Mexican women in narratives about the Chicana legacy in the United States or in collections on the history of Chicana feminist thought because the history of Mexican feminism in the United States is so rarely linked to Chicana feminism or mainstream feminism, either in the United States or Mexico. These figures and their work continue to suffer this kind of critical rootlessness, displaced perpetually and never quite fitting neatly into U.S., Chicana or Mexican feminist history.

Despite Cotera’s brief treatment of the link between these Mexican women and Chicana history, no comprehensive exploration of the relationships, parallels, and connections between Mexican women in the United States pre-1960 to Chicana feminism has yet been produced. My work inserts itself precisely within a discussion of how Mexican women’s history in the U.S. helps to better conceptualize Chicana, Mexican and U.S. feminism, and highlights the theoretical benefits of placing these histories in dialogue. The aim is not to lend the label “Chicana” to Mexican women living in the United States prior to the Chicano movement, but rather to expand the conception of what constitutes both Chicana and U.S. feminisms. The inclusion of the experiences of Mexican women in the U.S. prior to the 1960s proves not only enriching but actually essential to understanding both feminisms.

By taking a panoramic view of Chicana and U.S. feminism, and ultimately signaling the ways in which this figures can be reinserted into the history of both these feminisms, my approach presents a methodology and theoretical tools with which other scholars can approach the work of Mexican and Mexican American women in the U.S. between 1910 and 1950.

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