Monthly Archives: January 2014

We Need Documentaries About Latina Americans, Too

Chicana Power by Flickr User Kris Kables

Chicana Power by Flickr User Kris Kables, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

By Miroslava Chávez-García

A few months ago, while I screened Sylvia Morales’s La Chicana (1979), a film about the historical and contemporary roles of Mexican and Mexican American women in the United States, it hit me that before this film no one had pieced together a comprehensive look at the continuities between Chicanas and Mexicanas on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Sitting in my class, along with ninety of my students, I realized that Morales was among the first to create a documentary on the lives of women of Mexican- and indigenous-descent as they shaped and influenced the histories of their families, communities and societies through the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It also struck me that no one had done anything similar since then. Morales’s follow up thirty years later, A Crushing Love (2009), for instance, focused primarily on a smaller group of Chicanas. Today, we have yet to see a comprehensive film tracing women’s roles and relations in areas of the economy and polity as well as in the cultural and social life of Spanish-speaking peoples. In my view, this is a sad commentary on the state of Chicana and Mexicana history in film.

Unfortunately, the PBS Latino Americans (2013) series does little to rectify the gaping hole in the filmic representation of Chicanas, Mexicanas and Mexican American women, particularly in the first two episodes. It is true that women are mentioned and do appear in the Latino Americans series, but it is as members of the elite or as “women worthies.”  Seldom are the ordinary women’s lives rendered in a way that gives us a sense of what their lives were like in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Moreover, in no instance do the early episodes in the series focus on the role of gender and sexuality in shaping conquest and colonization – a theme explored by many historians of Spanish-speaking women in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Antonia Castañeda for instance, has described vividly the ways in which Spanish soldiers’ rape of California Indian women was part and parcel of the Spanish Crown’s attempt to retake control of its northern territory. Those same acts of war, however, nearly threatened the entire enterprise when California Indians launched repeated reprisals against the indignities suffered by their communities. Gender, as many scholars now agree, was pivotal to many other areas of life, including family and community formation, inheritance, and family networks as well migration and immigration. However, the film granted little attention to the ways in which ideas about men and women’s roles in their families, communities and societies influenced Spanish-speaking communities.

As a historian, I recognize that Latino Americans addresses many of the themes I cover in my Chicana and Chicano Studies introductory courses, and does so in a way appealing to a general audience. I enjoyed, for instance, learning about the personal experiences of repatriation as told through the eyes of the woman whose family was returned in 1935 when she was a young girl. I found her story heart breaking and not just because she — along with up to 500,000 peoples of Mexican-descent – were forced to go to a country many of them had never known before, but also because of her mother’s earlier death to tuberculosis, a disease that ravaged Mexicanos living in Los Angeles at the time. Motherless and now landless, she and her family were forced to come to terms with survival. I was left wondering as to how the loss of her mother had re-arranged their family dynamics and how it impacted her in the long term. While we learned that she left school to help her father, we know less about how that experience shaped her future as a young woman coming of age in Mexico and later, the United States.

I note these gaps not to blast the “failures” of the Latino Americans series, but rather to remind us and everybody else that we – as members of the public — still have little understanding of the ways in which gender and sexuality shaped Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S. Southwest. What we need is a richly textured, nuanced and in-depth filmic representation of Chicanas, Mexicanas and Mexican American women in the past and present. We currently lack representations of Latinas in all their diversity, including regional, racial/ethnic and class status. Such representations are long overdue. It is my hope that the Latino Americans series has inspired others to take a long look at the role and relations of mujeres shaping their families and communities as well as the larger society. These are stories that still need to be told.

Dr. Miroslava Chávez-García is a Professor in the Department of Chicano Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Chávez-García is the author of States of Delinquency: Race and Science in the Making of California’s Juvenile Justice System (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012) and Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Power in California, 1770s to 1880s(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2006).

What the Film “Latino Americans” Offers and Misses

Orozco, Cynthia02

By Dr. Cynthia E. Orozco

Kudos to all the people who developed the PBS six part Latino Americans (2013) film series. The lenses of race, class, nationality, transnationalism and citizenship are successfully woven throughout six different eras. Despite the inclusive voices of Chicana and Latina historians Vicki L. Ruiz, Maria Cristina Garcia and Virginia Sánchez-Korrol, and despite excellent stories about women like Apolinaria Lorenzana, Rita Moreno, Dolores Huerta, Julia Alvarez, Gloria Estefan, and Maria Elena Salinas, the film series lacks a focused lens on gender and sexuality throughout the film. The problems of sexism, heterosexism and homophobia are ignored.

I will look at each episode highlighting key aspects of each episode and offer ideas as to what could have been included. Educators may supplement their teaching accordingly.

Episode 1: “Foreigners in Their Own Land” (1565-1880) provides a broad sweep though most attention is to post-1836. A focus on 1492 to 1821 or 1848 would have been more appropriate. The “Spanish colonial era” included Spanish presence in twenty-five states of the current U.S. and key civil settlements. Their interaction with Indian nations is essential in accounting for the pandemic that European disease brought to the Americas; Spanish genocide of Indians; Spanish slavery (encomienda system); mestizaje as well as the foundational race/caste/gendered/sexed status of Spanish, mestizo, caste and Indian peoples; and sexual violence. “Our” Spanish lands were Indian homelands.

Episode 2: “Empire of Dreams” (1880-1942) should have been two episodes. This episode provides excellent treatment of the Spanish American War and U.S. incorporation of Puerto Rico, the Mexican Revolution and resulting immigration to the U.S., and deportation of Mexican descent people in the 1930s. An 1898-1941 episode is needed to address the rise of racial segregation, the struggle for women’s suffrage, the rise of the Mexican American civil rights movement, and school desegregation cases in the 1920s and 30s. Adelina Otero Warren, suffragist and Congressional candidate is missed as was Concha Ortiz y Pino, state legislator in New Mexico in the 1930s.

Episode 3: “War and Peace” (1942 to 1954) addresses the “birth” of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, the rise of Dr. Hector Garcia, the Bracero Program, Operation Wetback, and Rosita the Riveter. World War II is the focus so as to provide redress for what filmmaker Ken Burns did not do in his PBS World War II series. In fact, this six part series resulted from numerous Latino and Latina protests of Burns’ film. Yet, the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement did not just emerge from World War II, the American GI Forum, and Dr. Hector Garcia. Instead, a focus on World War I is needed to explain this historical development that includes LULAC and activist/lawyer Alonso S. Perales. Garcia was a LULACer and without LULAC there would be no American G.I. Forum. Civil rights activism in the 1920s and the 1930s, including significant political activism by Ladies LULAC and in New Mexico is unfortunately ignored. Moreover, a Latina/o film focus on World War II must mention U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez and the Federal Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), the first federal civil rights agency which outlawed racially-defined wages for people of Mexican descent and Puerto Ricans.

Episode 4: “New Latinos” (1946-1965) is excellent. It addresses the second major migration of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. due to Operation Bootstrap; reveals the welcome of Cubans by anti-Communist U.S. forces; the rise of Herman Badillo, Puerto Rican Congressman; and the arrival of Dominicans in the U.S. due to the dictatorship in their country. The film mentions how women took on gender-prescribed employment. Birth control experimentation on Puerto Rican women is excluded from Latino Americans as is any mention of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first out lesbian organization.

Episode 5: “Prejudice and Pride” (1965-1980) focuses on the rise of the Chicano Movement.  Much like the 1996 documentary Chicano! the focus here is on regional movements and well-known male leaders although Latino Americans also includes Willie Velasquez. Attention to movement machismo/sexism/homophobia is, however, ignored as is the rise of Latina feminism. How are we to explain the rise of Latinas in the 1970s including Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor without this? No Stonewall Uprising either.

Episode 6: “Peril and Promise” (1980-1910) covers the second wave of Cuban immigration; the arrival of Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, and Nicaraguans; and the diaspora of Latina/os into every U.S. state. Likewise it shows the rise of English-only efforts and anti-Latina/o immigrant sentiment/policies. Linda Chavez, Republican, speaks favorably toward immigrants and Dreamers. Feminist moments and LGBT activism are ignored.

The year is 2013; filmmakers must account for sexism and homophobia in the history of communities of color. These added lenses would have made a good film great.

Dr. Cynthia E. Orozco is Chair of History, Humanities and Social Sciences at ENMU Ruidoso. She is the author of No Mexicans, Women or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement; associate editor of Latinas in the United States: An Historical Encyclopedia; co-editor of Mexican Americans in Texas History; author of 80 articles in the New Handbook of Texas; and author of over 50 newspaper articles and letters. She is also co-founder of the Chicana Caucus in the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies and the daughter of Mexican immigrants.


The Goal is Simple: Protect, Conserve and Archive the Chicano/a and Latino/a Experience in the Southwest

2011 photo "Miner Mural, Detail (Superior, Arizona)" by Cobalt123

2011 photo “Miner Mural, Detail (Superior, Arizona)” by Cobalt123

By Dr. Christine Marin

Chicano and/or Mexican American student activism during the era of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement was the “mother” of that creation known in 1969-1970 as Chicano Studies Collections, usually housed in university library departments called Ethnic Studies or Archives and Special Collections. Since then, the southwestern states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas have seen the rising interest in the research and scholarship of Chicana/o, Mexican American, Hispanic, and Latina/o students and faculty, and others of course, who continue to press their libraries to collect and house primary and secondary sources in Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies. For example, the Chicano/a Research Collection at the Hayden Library at Arizona State University; the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the Library, University of Texas-Austin; the Chicano Studies Library at the University of California-Berkeley; the Chicano Studies Research Library in Los Angeles; and the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at the University of California-Santa Barbara have enjoyed great success in the decades following the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.

Archivists at Chicana/o and Latina/o repositories and university libraries seek to document and protect the rights of these cultural communities by capturing their collective memories. Through these efforts, we work to ensure access to Hispanic/Mexican/Mexican American and Latina/o histories and expand future opportunities. We work, in short, to preserve these legacies for students, faculty, researchers, writers, and scholars today and in the future. It is easy to understand why it is the duty of the archivist to value and appreciate the complexity and diversity of Mexicana/o and Latina/o communities and to collect, preserve, and make accessible materials that are representative of their culture and history. Materials acquired are often unique, specialized or one-of-a-kind. For example, they might be rare legal or business documents in Spanish; or written letters that describe life experiences across the U.S.-Mexico border; or marriage, school or religious documents of the late 1890s or early 1900s. They are to be preserved for use today and also for future generations of researchers. They are to be protected from theft, physical damage, or deterioration. It stands to reason that Chicana/o and Latina/o archival repositories are now the intellectual gate-keepers of cultural knowledge with archivists playing a significant role in their university’s ability to attract and retain Latina/o faculty and students.

At the Society of American Archivists’ (SAA) Annual Meeting at the University of California in Los Angeles in 2003, a pre-conference event titled Memoria, Voz y Patrimonio (Memory, Voice and Heritage) challenged participants to consider their roles as archivists and representatives of local communities in Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies. The gathering addressed questions about the acquisition, preservation, and maintenance of archival materials in light of new technologies in archiving Latina/o history, identity, and spirit. Those present discussed the importance of preserving primary sources in print, but also addressed the necessity of preserving and archiving films, photographs, ephemera, broadsides (posters), videos, cassette tapes, and reel-to-reel tapes.  This work requires archivists to learn new technologies, and in 2003 those at the SAA pre-conference were coping with new challenges in using computers, electronic databases and records, and other new technologies — all so that they could teach patrons and students how to access information in their archival repositories. Those of us working in Chicana/o and Latina/o archival repositories or libraries learn to interweave our duties and responsibilities in collection development, reference services, outreach, research, publishing, and service. This interdependence represents the highest level of professionalism in the work of an archivist, historian, or librarian. The 2003 SAA pre-conference made it clear, too, that financial and human resources are important tools in calling attention to the importance of Chicana/o and Latina/o archives and libraries in the southwestern region and elsewhere. That point is still important to consider today in these times of lean archives and library budgets.

Chicana/o and Latina/o archivists take very seriously their role in supporting repositories and libraries and in ensuring access to collections that house the cultural achievements and records of contributions to state and regional development of Chicana/o and Latina/o communities. They work with potential donors, community activists, labor organizers, teachers, educators, entrepreneurs, performing artists, writers, historians, and others whose personal archives provide meaning and context to their own legacies.

Many archivists work with local high schools and programs aimed at increasing the admission rates of Latina/o students to community colleges or universities and their success in higher education. A case in point: an archivist at an Arizona university provides workshops on oral history and methodology and helps high school teachers learn how to train students in capturing the stories and narratives of Latina/o and Chicana/o community members. The completed oral histories or filmed documentaries produced by these students and gathered by the teacher are placed in the university library’s Chicana/o and Latina/o archival repository where they are accessible to researchers and others with an interest in that community’s history. In so doing, high school students gain a better understanding of how and why their research becomes an important resource for others. Another archivist might provide orientations or tours of a Chicana/o and Latina/o archival repository to high school students as a way for them to understand the importance of using the resources in a university library and archives.  In 2004, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) conducted the “Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States.”[1] At least 108 Latina/o or Hispanic SAA members reported that they “learned about the value of archives from using them.”  Perhaps these archivists were exposed to archival repositories as high school students and grew to understand the role they would play in their own experiences as college and university students. Today, our work with K-12 students may spur them on to want to become archivists in a Chicana/o and Latina/o collections.

There are new challenges, however, on the western horizons of Chicana/o and Latina/o history and its archives that may impact their continued availability to researchers. These new challenges are not merely financial ones. Instead, they are political challenges to Chicana/o and Latina/o communities that are also linked to the work of the archivists. In 2010, for example, new controversy and tensions surrounding Chicana/o Studies and recent legislation in Arizona makes archivists question their work in a southern Arizona high school district. Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction said the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program taught in the public high school in an urban center violated a state law banning courses that “promote resentment toward another race or class.”[2] The school district appealed and in late 2011, a state administrative law judge affirmed the decision and the MAS program was eliminated from the public school curriculum. Elimination of a high school curriculum not only makes it more difficult for students to be successful at a community college or university level, but it also curtails a successful collaboration between the university library and high schools in collecting archival materials.

In 2010, political tensions in the Chicana/o and Latina/o communities of Arizona surrounding immigration laws began anew. Individuals of Mexican or Latina/o heritage currently represent over thirty percent of Arizona’s citizens.[3] They make important contributions to Arizona in many ways. Arizona’s history is rich in cultural diversity and its history must be preserved in order to enable as complete an understanding of the state as much as possible, yet these new tensions impact the collection of primary source materials, relationships with donors, and funding or endowment projects to preserve individual and family archives. Would monetary donations for the preservation of Chicana/o and Latina/o collections need to be returned? Are Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies programs, courses and archives all at risk? Is financial support for and use of Chicana/o and Latina/o archival repositories at these university or community college libraries also at risk?

The political ramifications of questions like these impact a wider range of constituents,  archivists and major university libraries outside the state of Arizona. These risks have been met with another wave of Chicana/o and Latina/o student and faculty activism that has created fresh  support for new Chicana/o and Latina/o archival repositories and programs and for new positions and appointments at major university libraries. For example, in the summer of 2010, the Chicana/o archival collection  “Unidos Por La Causa: the Chicana and Chicano Experience in San Diego,” made its debut in the San Diego State University Library.[4] This Chicana and Chicano Studies Archive was created through the efforts of a committee of librarians, archivists, library staff, professors, and community activists. In another example, the California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) Library recently celebrated the establishment of the East Los Angeles Archives to “advance scholarship in Chicano/Latino studies and Los Angeles history through the collection of primary research materials.” Other university libraries are seeking Chicana/o and Latina/o archivists to fill newly created academic positions and appointments. Their main responsibilities are to begin and build new Chicana/o and Latina/o archives in folklore, music, rare books, and manuscripts. We can see this at the University of Texas-Pan American, which offers a new archivist opportunities to engage in research and writing and to develop manuscript collections that focus on Latina/os, Border Studies, and Mexican folklore. The University of North Texas Libraries in Denton sought a Latina/o archivist to coordinate with a high-level university library administrator in acquiring new Chicana/o and Latina/o archival collections. The Mexican Studies Institute opened at the City University of New York (CUNY) with a goal of establishing Mexican, Mexican American, and Chicana/o Studies courses in New York City high schools. A Latino/a archivist or librarian will most likely assist faculty in the creation and implementation of this endeavor and begin to collect books and materials for the Institute.

At the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists in San Diego, titled  “Beyond Borders,” Latina/o archivists engaged in discussions and presentations about the importance of collecting the experiences of Latinas whose stories continue to remain invisible or ignored; the collection of  Spanish-language primary sources to tell the history of the American West and Mexico; and the  importance of collaboration between archivists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border in order to gather research on the experiences of undocumented Mexicans in today’s politically-charged borderlands environment, one that views Mexican immigrants unfavorably.

Archivists are guided by professional core values and codes of ethics that outline their professional responsibilities. These include collection of a “diversity of viewpoints on social, political, and intellectual issues, as represented…in archival records.”[5] That is our commitment, because we know that the public will benefit from the knowledge and insight generated through study of these materials.

[1] Beaumont, Nancy P, and Victoria I. Walch. Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States, 2004. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2005. Internet resource.  [2] Grado, Gary. “Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Attorneys Use TUSD Officials’ Words Against Them.” Arizona Capitol Times [Phoenix, AZ] 22 Nov 2011.  [3]  [4] “A New Chicana/o Archive at SDSU: Unidos Por La Causa.” La Prensa San Diego [San Diego, CA] 08 Oct 2010: 8.  [5]

Dr. Christine Marin is a Professor Emeritus of Arizona State University where she led the Chicano/a Research Collection in the Department of Archives and Special Collections at the Hayden Library.

We’ve Moved!

January 16, 2014

Mujeres Talk has moved to a new location. We are now hosted by the OSU Knowledge Bank as an independent site. We hope you will visit us at the new location and continue to follow, submit and comment there by clicking on the link embedded in this message.  We are working on getting the archive of all previous posts up on our new site and plan to have everything on this site up on the new site soon as archive. Thank you for your continued interest in Mujeres Talk. Wishing all our readers a wonderful 2014!

Dictionary for a New Century

By Kimberly Blaeser

What would housework mean

to women who haul water from springs,

use lye soap and scrub boards,

who hang flypaper on ceilings

and sew cloth cupboard curtains

on the family treadle machine?

What does kitchen appliance mean

to those toasting bread in ovens

of old wood stoves,

or bathroom appliance

to those donning snow boots

to walk to the outhouse?

Somewhere between microwave pancakes

and the state-of-the-art mixmaster

I trip over the kitchen slop pail

retch at the smell of lard rendering.

Just as my fingers settle on the dvd remote

I remember to empty the ash can.

At three my daughter kisses and releases her fish

at four she asks if chicken is a dead bird.

At forty like Billy Pilgrim I come unstuck in time

still wait to take my turn in a three-foot washtub,

then light candles and soak in a warm whirlpool

now camped uneasily between progress and nostalgia.

With a heavy duty vacuum and a lightweight canister

I cruise the air-conditioned floors of my house

sweep away unearned guilt or hire a cleaning lady.

With electric everything and my computer whirring

I work my way through memories and philosophies

Try to recollect that proverb about idle hands.

What does convenience mean in a country of prosperity?

Should we use or release our histories?

Can education repay old debts?

If science and technology are the answers

who have we hired to ask the questions?

And what was it you said about women’s work?

Kimberly Blaeser is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she teaches Creative Writing, Native American Literature and American Nature Writing. She has published three books of poems, including Apprenticed to Justice (Great Wilbraham, Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing Ltd., 2007), where this poem appears; a scholarly study, Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition; and numerous articles and book chapters. Blaeser is of Anishinaabe ancestry and an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe who grew up on the White Earth Reservation.