Tag Archives: Chicana Feminism

Recent Raza Unida Party Commemorations: Chicanas Claiming a History of Progressive and Grassroots Organizing

October 15, 2012

Panel on "Raza Unida Party Legacy"

Panel on “Raza Unida Party Legacy”

By Dionne Espinoza

Over the last three years there have been a spate of “reunion” and “commemoration” gatherings around major moments in the Chicano movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This past summer I attended two such gatherings in Texas, one in Austin and one in El Paso organized by raza in each place to reflect upon the historic third party effort to organize as La Raza Unida Party. RUP was founded in Texas to increase the political representation of Chicanas and Chicanos in elected offices and to assert the political voice of the raza community. For me, attending these events was part of my continuing research on women in the Chicano movement and a chance to listen to the veteranas and veteranos about their experiences. I am fortunate to do research that reflects my passion and personal commitment to know this history and to continue to learn about it and from it.

I have to admit that I do sometimes idealize el movimiento to some extent even as my studies have provided me with a strong sense of its limitations, particular with respect to mujeres. While the movement demonstrated limitations, it still stands as a powerful example of a Chicana/o progressive political culture that was forged through grassroots and community based organizing. (Certainly to be credited for the existence of, among other things, Departments of Chicano Studies, like the one where I make my academic home).  My interviews with RUP women and studies of the archive have given me a stronger appreciation of the possibilities of working through the electoral process. Listening to the activists at these conferences was inspiring especially for someone like me who had been rather cynical about electoral politics due to my experience living through the long conservative era (Reagan, Bush, and Bush)—so much so that, while I voted in the 2008 Presidential election, I felt rather distanced from the process.

Of course, we must be specific about the political culture of Texas at the time of Raza Unida’s founding, a state where Governors had been mostly Democratic party candidates since 1874. During the 1970s, the work of RUP was not only to assert a third party option as a challenge to the two party system (famously described by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales as “like a monster with two heads feeding out of the same trough”), but also to send a message to the Democratic party of Texas which still reflected pretty deep traces of the race politics of the post Reconstruction-era Southern political culture of exclusion and disenfranchisement including the existence of poll taxes. Poll taxes were in place until the Black Civil Rights Movement called attention to the various forms of disenfranchisement enacted at the polls and subsequent legislation made poll taxes unconstitutional. (For a current debate on a “poll tax by any other name” see http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-ackerman-texas-poll-tax-20120715,0,6684651.story)  Additionally, in a city like San Antonio, the existence of “at large” elections served to reproduce practices of exclusionary representation on the city council until district based elections were instituted in 1977 (an issue that the Committee for Barrio Betterment–an early form of Raza Unida–raised when it ran candidates, including Rosie Castro and Mario Compean, in the early 1970s).

At the Austin event, there was a sense of the past in the present when it came to gender politics—as was the case in the 1960s & 1970s, it appeared to be mostly mujeres who set up the logistics and worked behind the scenes to help pull the event together. These included many who had been among the most committed RUP activists of the time running for elected office, serving as Precinct Chairs, and, even as the Chair of the Party such as Martha Cotera, Maria Elena Martinez, Lindo Del Toro and Alma Valdez. Then and now, these women can always be counted on to follow through, a sign of a true activista. While women were working the tables (many comadres of the above named women), they were also on stage: Luz Bazan Gutiérrez, the first Chair of RUP in Zavala County, served as an MC and there was at least one woman on each panel (where before there were usually none unless Chicanas called out the lack of representation). I was especially struck by the words of Maria Jiménez, who had been involved in RUP in Houston and had run for State Representative against Ben Reyes (who ran on the Democratic ticket). She reflected upon the legacy of RUP (and I paraphrase from my notes), “electoral politics is seen as reformist but the process was radical.” Her words underscored the massive grassroots character of the RUP effort in Texas, a process that required the construction of a state-wide  infrastructure to gain party recognition, not to mention voter education and identification of candidates willing to undertake the hard work of campaigning.

The Raza Unida concept, which had been circulating in the national movimiento by the late 1960s, brought hope to the movement and in short order RUP’s crystallized in California, Arizona, Colorado, and included Midwest states such as Michigan. It was this national conversation that brought activists to El Paso, Texas during Labor Day weekend in 1972 to create a national party. Forty years later in 2012 a panel at this conference entitled, “Prospects for Reviving RUP or Creating a New Partido” moderated by Armando Navarro and featuring Herman Baca, Ernesto Vigil, Maria Jiménez, José Angel Gutiérrez and Juan Jose Peña, sought to evaluate our present moment and possible next steps. I found the panel riveting as the speakers, each of whom commands a wealth of knowledge from activist work and movement history as key actors in those times, presented their thoughts in elegant, concise and powerful words. While there were some differences among the speakers, what they held in common was a call to “educate, politicize, and organize our people” (Baca) and for the “creation of critical consciousness” (Vigil). Other speakers underscored the importance of the grassroots and “social movement strategies” and cited the work of the Dreamers and the immigrant rights movement as offering recent examples of the ongoing viability of mass movements (Jiménez), the need for more use of social media such as the internet (Gutiérrez) and a communication network (Peña). While there was some optimism voiced by the panelists, it was slightly muted as the enormity of reviving a movement became quite clear–there was not a large attendance although the panel was on a Friday afternoon in a community space and, as one panelist pointed out, he was very tired and quite ready to hand the torch over.

Despite the historiographic creation of “four horseman” and the actual history of male dominance in the leadership of RUP at its higher levels, the organizers of this conference worked hard to make space for Chicana voices. A panel beautifully titled, “Raza Unida Party Legacy” by its organizer, Martha Cotera, featured an intergenerational range of women’s voices –Cotera herself, who stated that Raza Unida provides a “political framework;” Linda Garcia Merchant, a filmmaker whose work has begun to share previously unheard stories of Chicana involvement in the movement; Lydia Hernandez, a school board member in Phoenix now running for State Representative in Arizona; Maria Cotera, a university professor who is not only doing the academic work of documenting Chicana lives but involving her students in the work; Avina Gutiérrez, whose mother and father founded the party and is now involved in grassroots politics in Austin; and, Mary Gonzalez, recently elected as a State Representative for El Paso and also proudly identifying as “pansexual,” pointing to a new context in which LGBT perspectives are included in notions of Chicano electoral politics. Across these voices, it is clear that the RUP legacy continues for Chicanas, who played an equal role in building the party in Texas in the past, and are making their presence known not only in current electoral activism but also in a number of projects that carry out the legacy.

It is important to honor and to remember significant projects and events of the movimiento—perhaps more than anything else to share these projects with new generations that are facing trying times politically and economically in the US. There is a need to convey the continuity of struggles by Chicanos and by Latinos in the US that provide models, lessons, and reservoirs of hope that link into current day issues (and are in the process of being updated and revised, especially around gender and sexuality). The immigrant rights marches of 2006 recalled both Chicano movement marchas and Latin American traditions of social protest manifesting this kind of continuity while also intersecting with the changes in demographics including the pan-Latino constructs that have emerged. Ultimately what I walked away with left me with a sense that the consensus, at least among those who attended both El Paso and in Austin, lies firmly with a commitment to the grassroots—and this to me, is the strength of the Chicana/o political culture manifested in Raza Unida Party, the Chicano movement, and ideally, Chicana/o Studies. This is the emphasis that will keep us relevant beyond 2012.

Maybe we can see hope in new generations of elected officials such as the Castro brothers, Lydia Hernandez, and Mary González (all in Texas, interestingly enough) who are asserting the legacy of a Chicana/o progressive political culture. During the Austin gathering Rosie Castro arrived with her two sons, Julian and Joaquin, named as “rising stars” in the Texas and national Democratic party, a symbol, in my view, of the party’s longer term legacy (even if, ultimately, most of the electoral successes of that time were at the local rather than statewide level.)  (See historian Cynthia Orozco’s brilliant commentary on the Castro’s: http://historynewsservice.org/2012/09/no-julian-castro-without-mother-rosie-castro/). Maybe I have to put aside my cynicism about electoral politics but, as was affirmed at the events, elected officials can only be the voice of the people when there are grassroots efforts and social movements that not only support them but also assert and reflect the needs of the people.

Dionne Espinoza, Ph.D. is on the faculty of California State University, where she teaches Chicano Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies.

Brenda Sendejo  October 15, 2012 at 12:58 PM

Dionne, thank you for this wonderful reflection on the Raza Unida commemorations and the legacy of Chicana participation and activism. I so enjoyed reading it and will most definitely share it with my students. Mil gracias for your work!

Notes from a Trans* Chicana/o Survivor

by  J. Frank Galarte

This is an excerpt from a plenary talk delivered at the 2011 MALCS Summer Institute at Cal State Los Angeles. Trans* is used here as a more inclusive and encompassing term for those who would be included under the umbrella term “transgender” but do not necessarily fully identify with the term. This term is being used more frequently among trans* communities in an explicit effort to acknowledge that there is a multitude of trans*identities.

To be honest as a trans*masculine identified person, when I was asked to write about the future of MALCS as a “woman only” space, I had many reservations about proposing solutions to what must be a collective discussion and decision. Historically, in both MALCS and other spaces, discussions and debates about trans and genderqueer inclusion in “women only spaces” have been contentious and extremely difficult to have.[i] Before I begin, I want to underscore how important it is for me to respect the struggle and historical context for the sitio from which MALCS emerged. As I looked for the most logical and practical way to approach this short essay, I began to think about my own personal history and how I came to be where I find myself now, as a trans* identified Chicana/o feminist scholar. Rather than solutions, here I want to posit new strategies and approaches for thinking and talking about Chicana/o and Latina/o Trans* populations and the bridges that our communities need to make, as we refocus the discussion toward community survival, sustenance, empowerment, and healing rather than simply inclusion.[ii] Inclusivity may run the risk of blanketing over difference, as well as the histories and experiences that spring from varied origins. As I thought about my journey, I thought mostly about the different emotions that have imprinted themselves upon my own body and memory as I faced and encountered both the uncertain and the unfamiliar in intimate spaces and places.

For that reason, I would like to propose expanding and/or shifting the sitio y lengua first posited by Emma Pérez in her essay, “Sexuality and Discourse: Notes from a Chicana Survivor” that appears in Carla Trujillo’s edited volume, Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About, published twenty years ago in 1991 by Third Woman Press. Starting here makes sense since this discussion can be unfamiliar, uncertain and even uncomfortable, though it is necessary because for some it means survival. When we think about claiming, creating and asserting space it is often just that — survival (both emotional and physical) – that is at stake.  By weaving my own position and experience as a trans* identified Chicana/o feminist scholar into a discussion of the key arguments made by Pérez twenty years ago, I hope to highlight the necessity to revisit how we define and delineate which spaces are for whom and perhaps what happens when one’s positionality no longer is fully encompassed by the limits and the terms of inclusion. I believe this is the challenge that trans* identified persons present to both the sitio (“women only” space) and lengua (discourse for talking about sexuality and gender) of Pérez’s essay.

It is a privilege for me to build on one of the many groundbreaking works by Chicana feminist scholars without which I would not be able to engage in a kind of feminist scholarship that attends fully to intimacies at play in the intersections of race, gender and sexuality. In her essay Pérez argues that “pervasive homophobia constructs sociosexual power relations in society and pervasive homophobia in our Chicana/o community limits the potential for liberation and revolution” (163). She looks to French feminists for a paradigm to interpret “sociosexual relationships and hierarchical structures between and among heterosexuals, lesbians and gay men,” and highlights the significance of sexuality to observe how sexuality is expressed for colonized people, especially women – because she notes that at that moment (and even today), sexuality remains an obscure controversy in the Chicana/o academic community (Pérez 160). Pérez most importantly in this essay highlights how Chicanas seize sociosexual power to create their own sitio y lengua. Pérez notes that Chicana feminist works emerge from un sitio y una lengua (a space and language) that rejects colonial ideology and the by-products of colonialism and capitalist patriarchy -sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. The space and language is rooted in both the words and silence of Third-World-Identified-Third-World-Women who create a place apart from white men and women and from men of color, if only for a weekend now and again (in the footnotes she cites MALCS as one of these spaces). Pérez offers simple solutions, faith and hope for the future – which must be embodied in our spoken words and in our writings and have the possibility to lay the foundation for a future of change, and bridge our fears of what we have never been or known before (if we let them).

In an effort to illustrate Pérez’s solutions, I’m going to offer a cuento that speaks to the complications that a trans* identified Chicana/o body represents to this sitio y lengua. This summer I was invited to participate as a speaker on the LBT Plenary at the MALCS Summer Institute and this occurred as I checked in at the registration table:

I have not legally changed my name and on most “official” documents go by my first initial – J. and my middle name “Frances.” I had registered as J. Frances Galarte, which the registration staff could not find, but I happened to notice a name tag that read “J. Frank Galarte.” I pointed at the name tag and said “J. Frank Galarte, that’s me,” to which the staff person responded, “oh, then the name must be wrong,” to which I responded “no, Frank Galarte, that’s me.” As I was handed my program and name tag I realized that I had confirmed my gender to the staff as male and was no longer being registered as a participant, but a guest. The staffer then informed me of MALCS’ women-only policy at workshops, panels and the banquet. At this moment, I clarified I was indeed both “Frank” and “Frances.” The name confusion shed light upon the gender confusion and after an awkward moment of silence it was determined that I was indeed welcome at all the “women only” spaces.

In the back of my mind I questioned whether I was really welcome: “Am I only welcome as Frances, but not as Frank?” Interlaced with the name confusion was gender confusion, and to me it was certain that I was only admissible upon the symbolic refusal of my trans*masculine identity. Therefore, it was okay that I looked like or was read as a man, but I was welcome only if I refused the male reading. I was left with so many questions, anxieties and a sense of discomfort as if I was trespassing in a space that I had always assumed as a safe one for myself – but then I wondered: did my presence all of a sudden make the space unsafe for other conferences participants? I began to reckon with the possibility that I could be read as an intruder, someone who was compromising this sitio for others because of my trans* identity. These name/gender trouble situations are the hardest for me when it is with Chicana and Latina elders whom I respect and admire. I was not offended or angry, just concerned about my presence. I know I don’t identify as a woman, but I cannot deny 25 years of experiencing the world as a woman, which will always inform the ways in which I inhabit the category of “man” (not a category I totally self identify with either). How we understand “man” does not reflect a the type of trans*masculinity that resists the assumption that “manhood” can only ever mean access to varying degrees of power and privilege to exert upon women. This is an example of the limitations of both the site and discourse that we are working with and this is how trans* identities complicate “women only” sitios. We really don’t know how we’re going to be read or what kind of (safe/unsafe) encounters we’ll have on a given day.

I recently completed my dissertation and my journey through graduate school has been just as much about living theory as it has been about reading and learning theory, as I have crafted my own theories, born from the intimate spaces of oppression and fear that largely framed my livelihood. Being an academic who writes about a community that is continually disavowed and described as vulnerable and “at-risk “while being a part of that community is a difficult task. Why? Because I know the numbers, or rather I know that myself and trans* women of color specifically are more likely to be victims of transphobic and homophobic violence.[iii] This is why I know that I am a survivor and significantly privileged to be able to do the work I do. From my research, and knowing the very little literature there is about trans* Chicana/o and Latina/o populations, I know that most of what we know we learn in relationship to rates of violence and death among trans* people. At this point, I think we can no longer ignore the circumstances bequeathed to us by colonialism. We need to acknowledge transphobia’s role alongside homophobia, sexism and racism – they all work systematically to control and condition our communities – and we as a community further that violence and damage by ignoring transphobia because we do not fully understand trans* identities and practices or because they simply make us uncomfortable.

This is why I began to develop my own theory of the flesh in my dissertation, where I theorize the concept of “el sabor del amor y del dolor.” This is work that I will continue to research, write about and share.[iv] This work is my effort to develop a lengua for talking about the emotions, or affects that we experience as we experience oppression, desubujugation and dehumanization. “El sabor del amor y del dolor” acknowledges emotions as the decolonizing movida that can push us to consider new sitios y lenguas. The first step is that we must be open to our feelings of discomfort, fear and even loss that accompany change, which is what I have attempted to articulate in this brief essay. In Borderlands: La Nueva Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa writes, “we all respond to pain and pleasure in similar ways,” therefore, we must be open to our feelings with each other especially when we are trying to work together to lay foundations for a future of change (5). We must inevitably bridge across our fears because building bridges is an act of will and an act of love. As a trans*masculine Chicana/o feminist, I am an ally to Chicanas in the struggle against dehumanization, desubjugation and oppression both within and outside Chicana/o and Latina/o communities. Now I turn to you in solidarity and admit that I too seek faithful allies…

J. Frank Galarte was born and raised in Brawley, California.  He recently received his PhD in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and is currently a Visiting Adjunct in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona.

[i] During the height of second wave feminism there was a backlash against transgender women who sought inclusion in feminist women only spaces – this is well documented in Janice Raymond’s book The Transsexual Empire: the Making of the She-male (1979) and contested in Sandy Stone’s famous essay, “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto” (2006). Many transgender lesbian feminists have also critiqued the prohibition of Transgender and transsexual women at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

[ii] I use Chicana/o rather than Chicana/o as it is posited by Sandra K. Soto in her book, Reading Chicana/o Like a Queer: The Demastery of Desire.  She describes Chicana/o as a ”queer performative,” a “departure from certainty, mastery, and wholeness while still announcing a politicized collectivity, and refusing “the norms of legibility and the burdens of visibility” (3).

[iii]See the National Coalition for Anti-Violence Programs Annual Reports for more info: www.ncavp.org

[iv] See For more on “el sabor del amor y del dolor” see my dissertation:

Galarte, J. F. “El Sabor Del Amor Y Del Dolor: Violence, Affect and the (Trans)Body in the Chicana/o Historical Imaginary.” Diss. University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, 2011. https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/26393

My critical article that more fully addressees these issues is in progress and as an extended version of this blog, will elaborate further on “el sabor del amor y del dolor.”

Email: galarte@email.arizona.edu


  1. Maylei Blackwell  October 25, 2011 at 3:29 AM

    This is so powerful and way overdue. Thank you for your courage, insight, the inspiration … let’s keep the discussion moving forward. Maybe the name of the MALCS blog should be changed to Chicana/o speak! ¡Adelante Frank!

  2. Frank G  October 26, 2011 at 9:11 PM

    Maylei, thanks for your comments and thanks for reading!

  3. lasandrella  November 1, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    What an amazingly beautiful and poetic act of courage, Frank. Your words will help open the door for others. –Sandy Soto

  4. Mujeres Talk Moderator  June 2, 2012 at 6:27 AM

    Frank, your blog essay has had 915 pageviews on Mujeres Talk so it continues to be a source of enlightenment and empowerment for MALCSistas and others. Thank you for writing it!