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Vidal, Mirta. Chicanas Speak Out

Women: New Voice of La Raza. NY: Pathfinder Press, 1971



Chicanas Speak Out

 

Women: New Voice of La Raza

by Mirta Vidal

 


CONTENTS

 

Women: New Voice of La Raza by Mirta Vidal --3

Statement by Elma Barrera --12

Workshop resolutions from first national Chicana conference --13

 

 

The article by Mirta Vidal first appeared in the International Socialist Review, October 1971, copyright 1971, and is reprinted by permission. Mirta Vidal is the national director of the Chicano and Latino work of the Young Socialist Allaince. She is the author of the pamphlet Chicano Liberation and Revolutionary Youth (Pathfinder Press, 1971).

Elma Barrera was the organizer of the first national Chicana conference, held May 28-30, 1971, in Houston, Texas. The statement reprinted here was made at a national abortion conference of over 1,000 women held July 16-18, 1971, in New York City. It was first printed in the weekly socialist newspaper The Militant (June 4, 1971).

The first national Chicana conference was attended by over 600 Chicanas. The major resolutions included here were approved with the following motion: To take these back to the communities as suggestions and see if they are accepted; to vote on them at the next conference in 1972.

 

First Edition, December 1971

 

Pathfinder Press, Inc.

410 West Street

New York, N. Y. 10014

Manufactured in the United States of America

 


Women: New Voice of La Raza

By Mirta Vidal

 

The Chicana Women's Lib is here and here to stay. It is for every Chicana who wants to be treated as a human being. (From a letter to the editor of the Chicano magazine La Raza (Vol 1, No. 5.)

At the end of May 1971, more than 600 Chicanas met in Houston, Texas, to hold the first national conference of Raza women. For those of us who were there it was clear that this conference was not just another national gathering of the Chicano movement.

Chicanas came from all parts of the country inspired by the prospect of discussing issues that have long been on their minds and which they now see not as individual problems but as an important and integral part of a movement for liberation.

The resolutions coming out of the two largest workshops, "Sex and the Chicana" and "Marriage—Chicana Style," called for "free, legal abortions and birth control for the Chicano community, controlled by Chicanas." As Chicanas, the resolution stated, "we have a right to control our own bodies." The resolutions also called for "24-hour child-care centers in Chicano communities" and explained that there is a critical need for these since "Chicana motherhood should not preclude educational, political, social and economic advancement."

While these resolutions articulated the most pressing needs of Chicanas today, the conference as a whole reflected a rising consciousness of the Chicana about her special oppression in this society.

With their growing involvement in the struggle for Chicano liberation and the emergence of the feminist movement, Chicanas are beginning to challenge every social institution which contributes to and is responsible for their oppression, from inequality on the job to their role in the home. They are questioning "machismo," discrimination in education, the double standard, the role of the Catholic Church, and all the backward ideology designed to keep women subjugated.

This growing awareness was illustrated by a survey taken at the Houston conference. Reporting on this survey, an article in the Los Angeles magazine Regeneracion stated: "84% felt that they were not encouraged to seek professional careers and that higher education is not considered important for Mexican women . . . 84% agreed that women do not receive equal pay for equal work." The article continued: "On one question they were unanimous. When asked: Are married women and mothers who attend school expected to also do the housework, be responsible for childcare, cook and do the laundry while going to school, 100% said yes. 88% agreed that a social double standard exists.''1 The women were also asked if they felt that there was discrimination toward them within La Raza: 72% said yes, none said no and 28% voiced no opinion.

While polls are a good indicator of the thoughts and feelings of any given group of people, an even more significant measure is what they are actually doing. The impressive accomplishments of Chicanas in the last few months alone are a clear sign that Chicanas will not only play a leading role in fighting for the liberation of La Raza, but will also be consistent fighters against their own oppression as Chicanas, around their own specific demands and through their own Chicana organizations.

Last year, the women in MAPA ( Mexican-American Political Association) formed a caucus at their annual convention. A workshop on women was also held at a Latino Conference in Wisconsin last year. All three Chicano Youth Liberation Conferences— held in 1969, 1970, and 1971 in Denver, Colorado—have had women's workshops.

In May of this year, women participating at a Statewide Boycott Conference called by the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee in Castroville, Texas, formed a caucus and addressed the conference, warning men that sexist attitudes and opposition to women's rights can divide the farmworker's struggle. Also in May, Chicanas in Los Angeles organized a regional conference attended by some 250 Chicanas, in preparation for the Houston conference and to raise funds to send representatives from the Los Angeles area.

Another gathering held last year by the Mexican American National Issues Conference in Sacramento, California, included a women's workshop that voted to become the Comision Feminil Mexicana (Mexican Feminine Commission) and function as an independent organization affiliated to the Mexican American National Issues Conference. They adopted a resolution which read in part: "The effort of Chicana/Mexican women in the Chicano movement is generally obscured because women are not accepted as community leaders either by the Chicano movement or by the Anglo establishment."

In Pharr, Texas, women have organized pickets and demonstrations to protest police brutality and to demand the ousting of the city's mayor. And even in Crystal City, Texas, where La Raza Unida Party has won major victories, women have had to organize on their own for the right to be heard. While the men constituted the decision-making body of Ciudadanos Unidos ( United Citizens)—the organization of the Chicano community of Crystal City—the women were organized into a women's auxiliary—Ciudadanas Unidas. Not satisfied with this role, the women got together, stormed into one of the meetings, and demanded to be recognized as members on an equal basis. Although the vote was close, the women won.

The numerous articles and publications that have appeared recently on La Chicana are another important sign of the rising consciousness of Chicanas. Among the most outstanding of these are a special section in El Grito del Norte, an entire issue dedicated to and written by Chicanas published by Regeneracion, and a regular Chicana feminist newspaper put out by Las Hijas de Cuahtemoc in Long Beach, California. This last group and its newspaper are named after the feminist organization of Mexican women who fought for emancipation during the suffragist period in the early part of this century.

These developments, by no means exhaustive of what Chicanas have done in this last period, are plainly contradictory to the statement made by women participating in the 1969 Denver Youth Conference. At that time a workshop held to discuss the role of women in the movement reported to the conference: "It was the consensus of the group that the Chicana woman does not want to be liberated." Although there are still those who maintain that Chicanas not only do not want to be liberated, but do not need to be liberated, Chicanas themselves have decisively rejected that attitude through their actions.

In part, this awakening of Chicana consciousness has been prompted by the "machismo" she encounters in the movement. It is adequately described by one Chicana, in an article entitled "Macho Attitudes":

When a freshman male comes to MECHA [Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan—a Chicano student organization in Californial he is approached and welcomed. He is taught by observation that the Chicanas are only useful in areas of clerical and sexual activities. When something must be done there is always a Chicana there to do the work. "It is her place and duty to stand behind and back up her Macho!" . . . Another aspect of the MACHO attitude is their lack of respect for Chicanas. They play their games, plotting girl against girl for their own benefit.... They use the movement and Chicanismo to take her to bed. And when she refuses, she is a vendida [sell-out] because she is not looking after the welfare of her men. 2

This behavior, typical of Chicano men, is a serious obstacle to women anxious to play a role in the struggle for Chicano liberation.

The oppression suffered by Chicanas is different from that suffered by most women in this country. Because Chicanas are part of an oppressed nationality, they are subjected to the racism practiced against La Raza. Since the overwhelming majority of Chicanos are workers, Chicanas are also victims of the exploitation of the working class. Hut in addition, Chicanas, along with the rest of women, are relegated to an inferior position because of their sex. Thus, Raza women suffer a triple form of oppression: as members of an oppressed nationality, as workers, arid as women. Chicanas have no trouble understanding this. At the Houston conference 84 percent of the women surveyed felt that "there is a distinction between the problems of the Chicana and those of other women."

On the other hand, they also understand that the struggle now unfolding against the oppression of women is not only relevant to them, but is their struggle.

Because sexism and male chauvinism are so deeply rooted in this society, there is a strong tendency, even within the Chicano movement, to deny the basic right of Chicanas to organize around their own concrete issues. Instead they are told to stay away from the women's liberation movement because it is an "Anglo thing."

We need only analyze the origin of male supremacy to expose this false position. The inferior role of women in society does not date back to the beginning of time. In fact, before the Europeans came to this part of the world women enjoyed a position of equality with men. The submission of women, along with institutions such as the church and the patriarchy, was imported by the European colonizers, and remains to this day part of Anglo society. Machismo—in English, "male chauvinism"—is the one thing, if any, that should be labeled an "Anglo thing."

When Chicano men oppose the efforts of women to move against their oppression, they are actually opposing the struggle of every woman in this country aimed at changing a society in which Chicanos themselves are oppressed. They are saying to 51 percent of this country's population that they have no right to fight for their liberation.

Moreover, they are denying one half of La Raza this basic right. They are denying Raza women, who are triply oppressed, the right to struggle around their specific, real, and immediate needs.

In essence, they are doing just what the white male rulers of this country have done. The white male rulers want Chicanas to accept their oppression because they understand that when Chicanas begin a movement demanding legal abortions, child care, and equal pay for equal work, this movement will pose a real threat to their ability to rule.

Opposition to the struggles of women to break the chains of their oppression is not in the interest of the oppressed but only in the interest of the oppressor. And that is the logic of the arguments of those who say that Chicanas do not want to or need to be liberated.

The same problem arose when the masses of people in this country began to move in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Because Black people did not until recently participate in massive numbers in antiwar demonstrations, the bourgeois media went on a campaign to convince us that the reason Blacks were not a visible component of these demonstrations was because the antiwar movement was a "white thing." Although, for a while, this tactic was successful in slowing down the progress of the Black nationalist movement, for whom the question of the war is of vital importance, Black antiwar activity is now clearly rising.

But once again the white males who run this country are up to their old tricks. Only this time around it is the women's liberation movement which is a "white thing." Again, the bourgeois media is a key tool for perpetrating this myth. As one Chicana explains, in an article entitled "Chicanes Speak Out" in Salsipuedes, published in Santa Barbara, California: "The real issue of the women's liberation movement is fighting the established female role in society which has kept women enslaved as human beings. But the news media portrays women's liberation people as karate-chopping, man-hating hippies." 3

Among the many distortions about the feminist movement is the argument that women are simply fighting against men. One such statement appeared in an article by Enriqueta Vasquez some months ago in El Grito del Norte. Vasquez wrote:

In looking at women's lib [sic] we see issues that are relevant to that materialistic, competitive society of the Gringo. This society is only able to function through the sharpening of wits and development of the human instinct of rivalry. For this same dominant society and mentality to arrive at a point where there is now a white women's liberation movement is dangerous and cruel in that that social structure has reached the point of fracture and competition of the male and female.

Thus, since the feminist movement is "antimale," when Chicanas attempt to organize against their own oppression they are accused of trying to divide the Chicano movement.

The appeal for "unity" based on the continued submission of women is a false one. While it is true that the unity of La Raza is the basic foundation of the Chicano movement, when Chicano men talk about maintaining La Familia and the "cultural heritage" of La Raza, they are in fact talking about maintaining the age-old concept of keeping the woman barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. On the basis of the subordination of women there can be no real unity.

This attitude is vividly illustrated in an article entitled "El Movimiento and the Chicana" which explains:

The political and economical struggle of the Chicana is the universal question of women. The difference between the liberation of Chicana women and other Third World women is cultural. The Chicano culture has very positive effects and very bad ones. We have to fight a lot of Catholic ideas in our homes and in the movement. For example, the idea of large families is very Catholic. The Pope says no birth control, abortions, lots of kids (and make me richer). So what do the guys say in the movement, have lots of kids, keep up the traditional Chicano family. 4

The point is made even clearer by Francisca Flores in the issue of Regeneracion cited earlier when she says: "The issue of birth control, abortions, information on sex and the pill are considered 'white' women's lib issues and should be rejected by Chicanas according to the Chicano philosophy which believes that the Chicana women's place is in the home and that her role is that of a mother with a large family. Women who do not accept this philosophy are charged with betrayal of 'our culture and heritage.' OUR CULTURE HELL!" 5

Far from turning their anger and frustrations against individual men, what Chicanas, and all women, are saying is that men should support their struggles. This, too, has been repeatedly expressed by Chicanas. For example, an editorial in Regeneracion says in part:

It is hoped that women who disagree with any aspect of the new role of the Chicana will be willing to discuss the issue or the difference of opinion within the group. This is the only way many of the questions will be dealt with. Primarily . . . that the Chicana feminist movement is not antimen! The Comision Femenil Mexicana in California welcomes men members—but the men who have joined to date are men not threatened by women. Rather, they represent a small but growing nucleus who recognize and appreciate the power of women in action. 5

The only real unity between men and women is the unity forged in the course of struggle against their oppression. And it is by supporting, rather than opposing, the struggles of women that Chicanos and Chicanas can Genuinely unite.

Stripped of all rationalizations, when Chicanos deny support to the independent organization of Chicanas, what they are saying is simply that Chicanas are not oppressed. And that is the central question we must ask: are Chicanas oppressed?

All other arguments aside, the fact is that Chicanas are oppressed and that the battles they are now waging and will wage in the future, are for things they need: the right to legal abortions, the right to adequate child care, the right to contraceptive information and devices, the right to decide how many children they do or do not want to have. In short, the right to control their own bodies. As Flores points out:

Mexican women who bear (large) families beyond the economic ability to support them, suffer the tortures of damnation when their children die of malnutrition, of tuberculosis and other illnesses which wipe out families in poverty stricken or marginal communities in the Southwest.... IF A WOMAN WANTS A LARGE FAMILY ... NO ONE WILL INTERFERE WITH HER RIGHT TO HAVE ONE . . . even if they cannot personally afford it . . . that is their right. However, to stipulate this right as a tenet of La Causa for all women of La Raza is to play a dangerous game with the movement. It means—stripped of its intellectual romanticism—that Chicanas are being condemned to wash diapers and stay home all of their youth. 6

She goes on to say, "As stated before, the question of large families is the choice each person or family will make for themselves. That is their inalienable right. A woman who wants a large family should not be denied. What we are saying is that the woman should have the right to participate in making that decision." 7

At the National Abortion Action Conference held in New York in July, a Third World Women's Workshop, attended by close to fifty Blacks, Asian-Americans, Chicanas, and Latinas, voted unanimously to support the national abortion campaign and passed a resolution which reads in part:

There is a myth that Third World women do not want to control our bodies, that we do not want the right to contraception and abortion. But we know that Third World women have suffered the most because of this denial of our rights and will continue to suffer as long as the antiabortion laws remain on the books. We know that more Third World women die every year from illegal back-street abortions than the rest of the female population. We know that Third World women are the first victims of forced sterilization. And we know that we intend to fight for our freedom as women.

Coupled with this campaign to repeal all abortion laws, women are fighting to end all forced sterilizations, a campaign in which Chicanas will play a central role. This demand is of key importance to Chicanas who are the victims of forced sterilizations justified by the viciously racist ideology that the problems of La Raza are caused by Raza women having too many babies.

In line with other brutal abuses of women, Chicanas have been used as guinea pigs for experimentation with contraception. This was done recently in San Antonio by a doctor who wanted to test the reaction of women to birth control pills. Without informing them or asking their opinion, he gave some of the women dummy pills (placebos) that would not prevent conception, and as a result some of the women became pregnant. When questioned about his action, his reply was: "If you think you can explain a placebo test to women like these you never met Mrs. Gomez from the West Side."

The feminist movement today provides a vehicle for organizing against and putting an end to such racist, sexist practices. And that is what women are talking about when they talk about women's liberation.

Another essential fight that Chicanas have begun is around the need for adequate child care. While billions of dollars are spent yearly by this government on war, no money can be found to alleviate the plight of millions of women who, in addition to being forced to work, have families to care for.

The following figures poignantly demonstrate the seriousness of this problem and the pressing need for adequate child-care facilities. Nancy Hicks, writing in the November 30, 1970, New York Times, reports: "There are more than 11.6 million working mothers in the country today, more than 4 million of these with children under 6 years old. However, only 640,000 licensed daycare spaces are available. More than one-third of these are privately run." These figures do not include the women who, because of lack of child care, are unable to work and are therefore pushed onto the welfare rolls. In addition, although such figures are not available for Raza women specifically, it is safe to assume that they are much higher.

Demands such as twenty-four hour child-care centers financed by the government and controlled by the community, are the kinds of concrete issues that Chicanas are fighting for. As Chicanas explain in "A Proposal for Childcare," published in Regeneracion, "Child care must be provided as a public service, like public schools, unemployment insurance, social security, and so forth. The potential for a mass movement around this initiative is clear." 8

An important aspect of the struggles of Chicanas is the demand that the gains made through their campaigns be controlled by Chicanas. The demand for community control is a central axis of the Chicano liberation struggle as a whole. Thus, when Chicanas, as Chicanas, raise demands for child-care facilities, abortion clinics, etc., controlled by Chicanas, their fight is an integral part of the Chicano liberation struggle.

When Chicanas choose to organize into their own separate organizations, they are not turning away from La Causa or waging a campaign against men. They are saying to Chicanos: "We are oppressed as Chicanas and we are moving against our oppression. Support our struggles." The sooner that Chicanos understand the need for women to struggle around their own special demands, through their own organizations, the further La Raza as a whole will be on the road toward liberation.

It is important to keep in mind that many of the misunderstandings that have arisen so far in the Chicano movement regarding Chicanas are due primarily to the newness of this development, and many will be resolved through the course of events. One thing, however, is clear—Chicanas are determined to fight. As Flares states, the issue of equality and freedom for the Chicana "is not negotiable. Anyone opposing the right of women to organize into their own form of organization has no place in the leadership of the movement. FREEDOM IS FOR EVERYONE." 9

In the spirit of Las Adelitas, Las Hijas de Cuahtemoc, and all the unrecognized Mexican women who fought valiantly for their rights, who formed their own feminist organizations, and who fought and died in the Mexican revolution, Chicanas in this country will take the center stage in the advances of La Raza.

The struggle for women's liberation is the Chicana's struggle, and only a strong independent Chicana movement, as part of the general women's liberation movement and as part of the movement of La Raza, can ensure its success.


FOOTNOTES

1. Regeneracion, Vol. I, No. 10, 1971, p. 3.
2. Las Hijas de Cuahtemoc, unnumbered edition, p. 9.
3. Salsipuedes, Vol. 1, No. 5, p.
4. 4. Liz Raza, Vol. I, No. 6, p. 41.
5. Regeneracion, op. cit. ,p. 1.
6. Ibid
7. Ibid.,p. 2.
8. Ibid.,p. 11.
9. Ibid., inside cover.

 


Statement by Elma Barrera

I have been told that the Chicana's struggle is not the same as the white woman's struggle. I've been told that the problems are different and that . . . the Chicana's energies are needed in the barrio and that being a feminist and fighting for our rights as women and as human beings is anti-Chicano and anti-male.

But let me tell you what being a Chicana means in Houston, Texas. It means learning how to best please the men in the Church and the men at home, not in that order.

You know, it's really funny the way that the Church has . . . grasped onto this "sinful" thing about abortion and birth control. It's really funny how the laws only apply to the woman and not to the man.... Chicano men ... fool around, have mistresses, and yet, when it comes to abortion or birth control with their wives, it's a sin....

I will take just one minute to read the two resolutions which came out of the Sex and the Chicana workshop: "Free, legal abortions and birth control for the Chicano community, controlled by the Chicanas. As Chicanas, we have the right to control our own bodies."

And then out of the workshop on Marriage: Chicana style . . .: "We as majeres de La Raza recognize the Catholic Church as an oppressive institution and do hereby resolve to break away and not to go to them to bless our union. So be it resolved that the national Chicana conference go on record as supporting free and legal abortions for all women who want or need them."


Workshop Resolutions—

First National Chicano Conference

 

SEX AND THE CHICANA

We feel that in order to provide an effective measure to correct the many sexual hangups facing the Chicano community the following resolutions should be implemented:

I. Sex is good and healthy for both Chicanos and Chicanas and we must develop this attitude.

II. We should destroy the myth that religion and culture control our sexual lives.

III. We recognize that we have been oppressed by religion and that the religious writing was done by men and interpreted by men. Therefore, for those who desire religion, they should interpret their Bible, or Catholic rulings according to their own feelings, what they think is right, without any guilt complexes.

IV. Mothers should teach their sons to respect women as human beings who are equal in every respect. No double standard.

V. Women should go back to the communities and form discussion and action groups concerning sex education.

VI. Free, legal abortions and birth control for the Chicano community, controlled by Chicanas. As Chicanas we have the right to control our own bodies.

VII. Make use of church centers, neighborhood centers and any other place available.

"Liberate your mind and the body will follow...."

"A quitarnos todos nuestros complejos sexuales para tener una vida mejor y feliz" ( Let's cast off all our sexual complexes to have a better and happier life).

 

MARRIAGE-CHICANA STYLE

Reaffirmation that Chicano marriages are the beginnings of Chicano families which perpetuate our culture and are the foundation of the movement.

Points brought up in the workshop:

1. Chicano Marriages are individual and intimate and solutions to problems must be primarily handled on an individual basis.

2. A woman must educate and acquaint herself with outside issues and personal problems (sexual hangups, etc.).

3. It is the responsibility of Chicanas with families to educate their sons and thus change the attitudes of future generations.

4. Chicanas should understand that Chicanos face oppression and discrimination, but this does not mean that the Chicana should be a scapegoat for the man's frustrations.

5. With involvement in the movement, marriages must change. Traditional roles for Chicanas are not acceptable or applicable.

 

RESOLUTIONS:

I. We, as majeres de La Raza, recognize the Catholic Church as an oppressive institution and do hereby resolve to break away and not go to it to bless our unions.

II. Whereas: Unwanted pregnancies are the basis of many social problems, and

Whereas: The role of Mexican-American women has traditionally been limited to the home, and

Whereas: The need for self-determination and the right to govern their own bodies is a necessity for the freedom of all people, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED: That the National Chicana Conference go on record as supporting free family planning and free and legal abortions for all women who want or need them.

III. Whereas: Due to socio-economic and cultural conditions, Chicanas are often heads of households, i. e., widows, divorcees, unwed mothers, or deserted mothers, or must work to supplement family income, and

Whereas: Chicana motherhood should not preclude educational, political, social, and economic advancement, and

Whereas: There is a critical need for a 24-hour child-care center in Chicano communities, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED: That the National Chicana Conference go on record as recommending that every Chicano community promote and set up 24-hour day-care facilities, and that it be further resolved that these facilities will reflect the concept of La Raza as the united family, and on the basis of brotherhood ( La Raza), so that men, women, young and old assume the responsibility for the love, care, education, and orientation of all the children of Aztlan.

IV. Whereas: Dr. Goldzieher of SWRF has conduced an experiment on Chicana women of westside San Antonio, Texas, using a new birth control drug, and

Whereas: No human being should be used for experimental purposes, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED: That this Conference send telegrams to the American Medical Association condemning this act. Let it also be resolved that each Chicana women's group and each Chicana present at the conference begin a letter writing campaign to:

 

Dr. Joseph Goldieher
c/o SW Foundation for Research & Education
San Antonio, Texas
and
Director
SW Foundation for Research and Education
San Antonio, Texas


 

RELIGION

I. Recognize the Plan de Aztlan
II. Take over already existing Church resources for community use, i.e., health, Chicano awareness-public information of its resources, etc.
III. Oppose any institutionalized religion.
IV. Revolutionary change of Catholic Church or for it to get out of the way.
V. Establish communication with the barrio and implement programs of awareness to the Chicano movement.


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