The Strong Chicanas Before Me by Celeste Ramirez
The Chicana woman has fascinated me ever since I was a little girl. I remember listening to artists such as Selena Quintanilla, Jenni Rivera, JLo, and admiring how powerful their voices were and how big their presence was on stage. Their style, dance moves, lyrics, all made them fierce and unstoppable in my young eyes -- I wanted to be exactly like them. I even remember how excited I was to go to my older cousins’ college graduations and see how accomplished they looked with their diplomas in hand. I looked up to both those legendary artists that seemed unreachable, and to the strong, powerful women right beside me. For a second, my young self thought “Maybe I could be them someday.”
As I got older, I’ve been inspired by so many other powerful Chicana women, particularly Dolores Huerta. Dolores is a leader, activist, shero to many, including myself, and of course a rebel. She is most known for her revolutionary work in the United Farm Workers Movement and is one of the three founders of the United Farm Workers Union. But, to no surprise, many people are unaware of her achievements and activism. For years, she has been overshadowed by fellow co-founder of the UFW, Cesar Chavez, solely because of gender. He is constantly given credit for the success the United Farm Workers Movement had and Dolores is just an afterthought, or belittled to simply “Cesar’s girlfriend,” although she did the same amount of work.
During the United Farm Workers Movement, this sexist mentality was very much present in the Chicano community. It was not uncommon for sexist comments to be said very casually, and for women to be steered away from positions of power and into being the stereotypical obedient woman. The second women used their voices, they were immediately silenced.
Concurrently with the UFW was the Women’s Liberation Movement; at the time it was predominantly comprised of white, middle class women. As these women began speaking up, many Chicanas wanted to join in the conversation about gender discrimination, sexism, etc., but they were people of color and typically of a lower socioeconomic status. Though the focus of the Women’s Liberation Movement at the time was not on issues of race and class, many Chicanas advocated for its inclusion in discussion as it pertained to their daily lives.
Due to the simultaneity of the Chicano and Women’s Liberation Movements, Chicanas were put in a difficult position. In picking one movement to take part in, , they needed to silence another part of their identity. Because neither movement fully represented Chicanas or met their needs, the Chicana Feminist Movement was born.
This movement was truly inclusive, radical, and empowering. It gave Chicanas a place to “reclaim their existence” in American society and speak on the racism, classism, and sexism they experienced. One of the accomplishments that emerged from this movement was the the first ever Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza, the first National Chicana conference. Similarly, organizations such as La Raza Unida Party and the Mexican American Youth Organization, to name some well known ones, met for the first time ever to discuss issues that directly affected Chicana women.
I personally am so thankful for and inspired by all the women in this movement because it paved the path for me and my Chicana sisters. The Chicanas before me not only stood up for themselves but they created spaces for conversations about gender, sexism, feminism, etc. to take place and be more accepted in Chicano culture. They were all strong enough to keep fighting until they were respected, until they were able to speak about all aspects of their identity. They were not afraid of the people who would retaliate or not approve of what they wanted to change. I am able to talk about what I go through as a Chicana woman and stand up for myself because of them and their tireless commitment to creating a platform for girls like me.
Chicana women are some of the fiercest people to ever live. They have been oppressed for so long and on so many levels, but have still overcome these things and stand tall. Because of that, I say I am a Chicana with pride.