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5.6: Activist Scholarship and Chicana and Latina Studies

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    Fighting for a Feminist Agenda in Chicano Studies

    As noted throughout this chapter, Chicana/Latina feminist activism has taken place in homes, in the streets, at the workplace, and in cultural production. Chicana/Latina feminists have also been active in academia. As noted in Chapter 8: Education and Activism, the number of people of color entering higher education increased as a direct result of student and community activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Activists called for a more relevant education that highlighted their community’s knowledge systems, histories, struggles, and contributions, leading to the formation of ethnic studies programs and departments across the country. The first Chicano studies programs that emerged out of El Movimiento were guided by the ideology of Chicanismo, often suppressing topics of gender and sexuality, leaving feminist and queer faculty and students to address the oppressive aspects of the burgeoning discipline. In this section, we explore stories of the trailblazing activist scholars who fought to include a feminist agenda within Chicano studies and establish the field of Chicana/Latina studies.47

    At a joint Chicano studies/MEChA conference at California State University, Northridge in 1972, a resolution passed that called for all Chicano studies majors to take at least one course on “La Chicana” for graduation and in June 1973, the first Chicana curriculum was developed for colleges and universities (adaptable for high schools) at a Chicana workshop at the University of California, Los Angeles. During this time, activist-scholar and journalist Anna NietoGomez called for Chicana-specific classes to be developed that would provide Chicanas a space to develop a new empowered identity and facilitate others’ understanding and acceptance of her new role in society. She would go on to teach one of the first courses on “The Chicana Experience” at California State University, Northridge and co-found the first Chicana feminist scholarly journal Encuentro Femenil with Hijas de Cuauhtémoc in 1973.48 From the onset, the founders worked with community leaders to document issues and struggles to build awareness and rally support. The journal provided a space for Chicana cultural production and activist scholarship, which were then moved into the classroom, along with manifestos and newspapers from different sectors of the movement and other anticolonial and socialist texts.   

    Post-Movement Feminist and Queer Interventions 

    After the height of the El Movimiento (1968-1975) and the formative years of Chicana studies, many feminist and queer activists and scholars “abandoned nationalist claims and nationalist imaginaries to create alternative ways of belonging.”49 The feminist struggle against sexism in Chicano studies, while operative since the inception of the field, was on full display at the National Association for Chicano Studies (NACS) conference in 1982 when Mujeres en Marcha, a group of Chicana scholars from UC Berkeley, organized a panel on gender inequality.50 The Chicana Caucus of NACS was established the following year. The caucus focuses on gender equity, sexism, patriarchy, and the needs and interests of women, whether queer or straight, in the association and in everyday life. Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS), also formed in 1982, is a professional organization for Chicana/Latina/Indigenous women and gender-expansive academics and activists “dedicated to building bridges between community and university settings, transforming higher education, and promoting new paradigms and methods.” MALCS flagship biannual publication, Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, “publishes groundbreaking interdisciplinary scholarship, creative works by and about Chicanas/Latinas and Indigenous women of the Americas, and is receptive to all scholarly methods and theoretical perspectives that examine, describe, analyze, or interpret our experiences.” 

    Moreover, Chicana/x feminist lesbian writers began emerging in greater numbers in the 1980s and 1990s. Their work centered queer women’s perspectives in both fiction and non-fiction, critiqued heterosexism and heteronormativity, and addressed the exclusion of gender and sexuality in the field of Chicano studies. Through and despite the resistance, queer caucuses were established at NACS in the early 1990s including the Lesbian Caucus (now Lesbian, BiMujeres, and Trans Caucus) and the Joto Caucus, consisting of men who are gay, bisexual, and trans. After decades of feminist and queer interventions, NACS finally changed its name from National Association of Chicano Studies to National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) in 1995 and numerous resolutions were passed in the 90s that addressed issues of gender, sexuality, sexism, and homophobia in the organization. Over the years, Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x gender and sexuality have become the fastest-growing areas of study within the field and scholarly and political explorations have become more complex and consequential. Visit Chapter 6: Jotería Studies for a history of Jotería studies and a discussion of the activist scholars who have expanded the Chicana/o/x studies canon. Since the 2000s, NACCS and MALCS have broadened their membership and missions as a result of interventions by Indigenous Latinxs, Afro-Latinxs, and trans and gender-non-conforming Latinxs. In conclusion, a distinct feature of Chicana/Latina studies is its commitment to community-engaged activist scholarship that “links research to community concerns and social change,” centering Chicana/xs Latina/xs as multifaceted agent-subjects.51


    47 Section 5.6 draws on a timeline by Wiliam Calvo-Quiros, News From Nepantla, University of California, Santa Barbara Chicana and Chicano Studies newsletter 7, (Fall 2012): 7, which was originally based on Antonia Castañeda’s 2012 MALCS plenary presentation “MALCS’ Decolonizing Work: Naming and Undoing Institutional Violence, from SB 1070 to Chicana/o Studies.”

    48 Anna NietoGomez, “The Chicana––Perspectives for Education,” in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, ed. Alma M. García (New York: Routledge, 1997), 130-131; Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power!, 145. To learn more about and from NietoGomez, review “Interview of Anna NietoGomez,” Center for Oral History Research, UCLA Library; and “Anna Nieto-Gomez,” Chicana Por Mi Raza.

    49 Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power!, 210.

    50 Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power!, 204.

    51 Adela de la Torre and Beatríz M. Pesquera, eds., “Introduction,” in Building With Our Hands: New Directions in Chicana Studies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 1.

    This page titled 5.6: Activist Scholarship and Chicana and Latina Studies is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Amber Rose González (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .