Let’s Talk About Chicana Feminism and How We Might Apply It Today

Chicana feminism BELatina Latinx
Dolores Huerta, “Huelga,” during a grape strike, Delano, California, Sept. 24, 1965, Courtesy Harvey Wilson Richards. Harvey Richards Media Archive via Smithsonian.

As we navigate the turbulent waters of today’s inequality, it is perhaps prudent to cast an eye back in history and look at other movements that faced the same Goliath. For Latinas, Chicana Feminism is a prime example of women mobilizing for equal rights and respect in their communities and beyond.

What is Chicana Feminism, and why could it be beneficial today?

The Chicana Feminist movement had —and still has— a meaningful impact on society. Despite the progress of the past, there is still much work to be done for women’s rights, especially in the Hispanic community.  

The Chicana Feminist Movement truly launched and gained steam in the 1970s, shortly after the larger Chicano movement was taking shape in the 1960s. As Mexican Americans fought for equal rights — from more representation in education to labor rights and the formation of the United Farm Workers, led by César Chavez — Latinas of Mexican descent realized that they, too, were facing their own inequalities.

Although they were fighting alongside their male counterparts and were highly involved and vocal about Chicano rights, their needs were not being addressed. They were even perpetuating the inequalities faced by Latinas at the time.

Sociologist Alma M. Garcia explains that women believed that the social, gender, and racial disparities faced by Chicana women in the 70s were actually impeding the progress of the larger movement — sexism was preventing Chicana women from truly being effective. 

According to labor rights activist and feminist Francisca Flores, Chicanas could “no longer remain in a subservient role or as auxiliary forces.” They “must be included in the front lines of communication, leadership, and organizational responsibility,” she said in 1971. 

Yes, the more general Chicano movement encouraged pride in Mexican culture and promoted equal rights for Latinos in America. But the issue was that those “equal” rights were not equal for all. 

Sexism and oppression of women ran rampant in the Latino community; women’s roles were deeply restricted by machismo, and, let’s be honest, women’s rights were far from equal. Unfortunately, this reality is something many Latinas are still familiar with today.

In unity, there is strength

It was in May of 1971 that hundreds of Chicana women gathered for The First National Chicana Conference in Texas. Together they called for legislation changes, including legalizing abortion and establishing free child-care centers, among other goals.

During the peak of the Chicana Feminism movement in the 70s, women fought for a wide range of rights — from representation in education to sexism within families and female health concerns. 

Women were fed up with being forced into subservient roles where males in the household dominated them. They wanted a voice. They wanted access to healthcare and control over their own bodies. They fought for abortion access and diversity in healthcare. 

Bilingual education and representation in schools were essential to Chicanas, as was bilingual and bicultural childcare access. Chicanas stood up against rape and domestic violence against Latinas. They fought for women’s rights and raised awareness for the unique struggles faced by Chicanas, who were navigating a challenging intersection of cultural standards and gender stereotypes. 

While these issues were prevalent in the Chicana community, not all Latinas were on board with the Chicana Feminist movement. 

Chicana feminists were not necessarily welcome within the larger Chicano National Movement. They also were not supported by the larger feminist movement among white women in America. Sure, they sometimes found common ground with other feminists, fighting for access to birth control and abortion, and other health issues. Still, there was criticism that white feminists were not concerned for farm workers or undocumented workers. 

In addition, there was division within the Chicano movement. There was a big split between Chicana feminists and “loyalists” who were more focused on protecting the strength of the Chicano family. Many of these “loyalists” viewed Chicana feminists as focusing too much on assimilating into white culture rather than fighting for equal Chicano rights. 

In the end, the Chicana Feminist movement forced people to look deeply within their communities at shortcomings, inherent racism, and sexist tendencies that existed. 

As most of us are painfully aware, those systemic issues persist today, which is why learning about other activists and feminist movements is essential. There will always be the need to speak out and stand up for marginalized groups, and if we want to break the cycle of inequality, we need the knowledge and inspiration to bring about change.