What is the Chicana Movement?

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What is the Chicana Movement?

What is a Chicana?Chicana
The most popular definition of a Chicana is a Mexican-American female who is raised in the United States.  La Chicana “has minority status in her own land even though she is, in part, indigenous to the Americas and a member of one of the largest (majority) ethnic groups in the United States.  She is a woman whose life is too often characterized by poverty  racism, and sexism, not only in the dominant culture, but also within her own culture”1
The term Chicana was coined during the Chicano Movement by Mexican American women who wanted to establish social, cultural, and political identities for themselves in America.  Chicana refers to a woman who embracers her Mexican culture and heritage, but simultaneously, recognizes the fact that she is an American.  It is a self-selected term that usually applies to those Mexican-American women who acknowledge a dominance of males in society, and a history of discrimination and neglect in both the household and the workplace.

A modern depiction of a Chicana stereotype: Exotic, sexual, and alluring.



What is Chicana Feminism?
Chicana symbolChicana Feminism, also referred to as Xicanism, is an ideology based on the rejection of the traditional “household” role of a Mexican-American woman.  In challenges the stereotypes of women across the lines of gender, ethnicity, class, race, and sexuality.  Most importantly, it serves as a middle ground between the Chicano Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement. 


What was the Chicano Movement?
Also known as “El Movimiento,” the Chicano Movement was a continuation of the 1940’s Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.  It challenged the ethnic stereotypes that existed in America about the Mexican culture and heritage.  The Chicano Movement was comprised of many separate protests, which included ones that sought educational, social, and political equality in the United States. 

UFWOne of the first organizations that gave strength to the movement was the United Farm Workers organization, formed in 1962.  This labor union was formed by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Philip Vera Cruz, and UFW fought for equality of Mexican-American workers in the agriculture business. By using non-violent tactics such as boycotts, marches, and strikes, the UFW attempted to better the working conditions of farm workers. Insurance benefits, workers rights, and safer work environments were just a few of many demands of the UFW. This union continues to be successful in protecting the rights of its members. (Click here to view the official UFW website and learn more about its history.)

Eagle Symbol of the United Farm Workers


The Chicano Movement also was inspired by other civil rights movements during this time period, like the African-American Civil Rights Movement.  Many Chicanos fought alongside African Americans during this time of radical activism and the quest for equality.  “When Chicanos first became involved in the civil rights movement, their goal was to openly confront discrimination, correct historical conflicts, and seek retribution.  They joined these efforts in a variety of elements, including education, politics, the criminal justice system, art, the church, health, employment and economics, and housing.”2 Other organizations that inspired the Chicano Movement included the Young Lords, Brown Berets, and the Black Panthers.

Another highlight of the 1960's-1970's Chicano Movement was the Chicano Student Movement.  The Chicano Student Movement formed as a result of the educational inequality that Mexican-Americans faced during this time period. Many schools in America were segregated, and as a result, Mexican American students were not receiving quality education in their schools. The Chicano Student Movement began as an organized collection of high school and college age students. They fought for educational equality in their communities by asking for better textbooks, more Chicano teachers in their schools, better educational services, and classes that related to their own Chicana history and culture. On March 3, 1969, students began to take action, and they organized the first of the Los Angeles School Blowouts. More than ten-thousand students walked out of their schools in protest of the poor education systems. That same year, in 1969, the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez was founded.  Out of the conference, a doctrine, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan", was written that would later become the framework for the movement. The conference also resulted in the formation of many different organizations, including El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or MEChA. (Click here for MEChA's national website.)

All of these events that took place in the Chicano Movement impacted the Chicanas within it, and eventually propelled them to speak out against the inequalities that they faced not only outside their culture, but also within it.


Why didn’t they become a part of the White Feminist Movement?

Anglo FeministIn the beginning, Chicana women were inspired by the efforts of those in the white feminist movement.  They too wanted to fight against gender inequality, and the domineering male/female gender roles that controlled limited what they could or could not do in America.  Eventually, however, Chicana women began to feel uncomfortable in this movement, since it refused to address their racial concerns as well.  The white feminist movement refused to focus on class inequalities as well, so Chicana women separated from it.  They considered themselves as Chicano first, and women second.  Also, they felt as though the white feminist movement was a middle-class movement only , and for this reason, many felt like they couldn’t relate to these women. 


Women's Liberation Protestor

How did the Radical Chicana Feminist Movement Take Form?

One of the main events that sparked the Chicana movement was the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation Conference. More than 1500 young men and women gathered over Easter weekend in March of that year.  The conference was held in Denver, CO and was sponsored by the Crusade for Justice.  It was at this meeting that “Chicano  issues first gained a national platform,” and this is where the self-defining term “Chicano” was adopted. 
The conference focused on The Plan del Espiritu Aztlan, and was led by leaders such as Corky Gonzalez, and workers like Juanita Dominguez, Pricilla Salazar, and Marcella Lucero Trujillo.  At this conference, women began to incorporate themselves into the male-dominated discussions, and rallied together to address feminist concerns at the meeting.  They wanted to deal with not only issues of racism, but also sexism within their households.  After leaving this conference, women went back to their communities as activists, and as a result, this signified the beginning of the Chicana Feminist Movement. 

After this 1969 conference, women across the U.S. organized many small activist groups in their community.  This resulted in the formation of many different organizations, such as La Raza Unida Party. This party was founded in Crystal City, Texas, a town of about 10,000 Mexican Americans, who made up 80% of the town’s population.3  Because of the segregation practices at the local high school, community leaders began to protest against the educational inequality between whites and Mexican-Americans.  Leaders such as Luz Gutierrez, Martha Cotera, and Rosie Castro took action beyond Crystal City and fought to reform the education system through the use of laws and public policy. 

Women: New Voice of La Raza (Photograph Taken From Mirta Vidal Reading)


In May 1971, the First National Chicana Conference took place in Houston, Texas.  It was here that Chicana women first gained a platform for themselves, and formally declared themselves an integral part of the Chicano Movement.