The Discrimination of Chicanas in the Southwestern United States in the 20th Century

HomeEssaysHistory and PoliticsThe Discrimination of Chicanas in the Southwestern United States in the 20th Century

Racial discrimination in the United States has been always been a burning problem in perceiving immigrants arriving in the country under various social and political circumstances. However, less attention has been paid to gender discrimination within a particular race or ethnic society, and how this particular community shapes its own view of discrimination. According to cultural considerations, Chicanas are of particular interest for the analysis in the above context, considering their progressively changing perceptions of the national and personal identity in the 20th century. Hence, it is further argued that under the objectives of the Chicano movement, Chicanas were more successful in changing their community status as compared to the national identity because of the consistent advocacy of both sexist and racist issues natural to their ethnicity.

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The establishment of the Chicana identity in the United States was largely influenced by the rise of the U.S. imperialism in the late 19th century. As Mexico was accumulating more debt to foreign financial institutions because of the country’s intentions to support wealthy landlords rather than the general population, farmers were losing their lands and experienced progressing poverty. The growing dissatisfaction led to the burst of the Mexican Revolution in November 1910 that eventually developed into a rage of civil wars that had lasted for ten years. This upheaval caused a mass migration of the local population to the neighboring United States, which was roughly estimated at one million people during the period between 1910 and 1930.

The migration process coincided with a significant economic growth in the Southwestern United States. This process was largely empowered by the enactment of the Reclamation Act of 1902 that bolstered the agricultural sector through the establishment of dams and water reservoirs in the desert-like areas and further improvement of the labor-intensive agricultural enterprises (Estrada et al. 111). Considerably, many areas in California, Texas, and New Mexico were converted into the cotton cultivation territories, thus increasing the demand worldwide. As Chicanos were populating these areas, they were ultimately considered a source of cheap labor and perceived through the lenses of the racial hostility as inferior beings unable to assimilate (Estrada et al. 112). In pursuit of agricultural treasures, Chicanos were forced to engage in a dual-wage system, receiving considerably lower compensation as compared to the native workers and being barred from supervisory positions (Estrada et al. 112). This racial prejudice certainly had an impact on the wellbeing of the immigrant families by altering the perception of male and female roles. In the traditional Mexican society, women would live under the authority of men in terms of both the job and dominion of males over females in terms of sexuality. Hence, women were historically deprived of their social rights, having no ability to express their social identities through being engaged in any work outside their homes. Meanwhile, the need to adapt to small wages earned by men eventually led women to the workplaces, both in factories and domestic service.

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The Evolution of the Feminist Behavior

Despite the progressive assimilation of Mexican women at the workplace, men were not taking these changes easily. A common opinion expressed by Mexican males was that in the case their wives went to work, they would meet there another man and will leave the family; eventually, males would blame themselves for not taking control over their females. In this way, married Mexican females considered work outside their homes a desperate necessity while still experiencing the gender discrimination and sexual oppression. Meanwhile, Ernesto Chaves admitted that the social history and community focus not only were the reasons for the development of the feminist behavior but also inspired the developments of the U.S. women history, including work segmentation for other minority groups such as African Americans, for example (510). Similarly, Garcia mentioned that while the feminist consciousness emerged from the need to reassess their family roles under sexist oppression, their further progression was much equal to the ideologies expressed by other racial minorities as a part of the equal rights movement (219). Consequently, when speaking about the Chicano movement, it is critical to speak about embracing the cultural nationalism of the Chicano communities, while the Chicana movement should be seen as a separate female-centric movement to recognize own rights despite opinions of Chicano males.

The Chicano Movement and Chicanas

The objectives of the Chicano movement were to struggle for better working conditions, welfare rights, government-funded versus the community-controlled child care, nondiscriminatory health care services, and expanded legal rights (Moya 447). However, in this context, Chicanas were primarily struggling for the ability to control their reproductive capacities, primarily through preserving themselves from racial and sexual stereotypes, articulating connection between discrimination as a woman and discrimination as a worker (Moya 447). Considerably, Chicanas voiced about being dissatisfied with the need to defer and serve the Chicano brothers, as they still had to perform the disproportionate share of work related to the successful political organization of their future (Moya 447). While the objectives of Chicano movement were largely communicated through the discourse of nationalism, it soon became clear that the views of Chicanas were not consistent with the value of the family loyalty in the context of their cultural survival. Specifically, the cultural reality promoted by Chicanos popularized the female icons of La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Malinche, and La Llorona, which were parts of the traditional and symbolical perception of the female role in the Mexican community. However, in fact, Chicana feminists were against iconizing the biological reproduction as their social role, eventually criticizing the macho attitudes of Chicano males as their contribution to ideological values. Specifically, Chicana feminists expressed skepticism concerning the cultural interpretation of machismo, which was one of the ideological tools used in the Anglo society to justify inequalities present in the Chicano culture (Garcia 222). According to this view, machismo is a cultural trait that defines Chicano as the internal colony exploited by the larger society pursuing the ideals of the capitalist economy (Garcia 222). In line, Chicanas argued that machismo was a myth that had been earlier propagated at times of the Mexican colonization and had created insulting stereotypes of the Chicano males (Riddel 21). Garcia supported this claim and suggested that machismo was a type of the social control tool imposed on Chicanos that was distorting gender relationships in Mexican communities and forming stereotypes of Chicanas as docile women and the subordinate status of the ethnic group overall (223). Hence, Chicanas mostly disagreed that machismo could be viewed as the positive value in their cultural value system and the source of masculine pride, as well as a form of defense mechanism against the racism in the dominant society. It called to seek alternative forms of cultural resistance that would respect the social position of both males and females.

While the majority of Chicanas were expressing anxiety about their overall role in the Chicano movement, they still were active supporters of their key national objectives. However, in the late 1970s, some Chicanas started actively collaborating with liberation movements organized by the white women (Moya 449). Meanwhile, there is no evidence of any long-term coalitions established as a result, primarily since racial prejudices were still expressed by the white women leading to certain biases in communicating common ideas. Specifically, the white feminists were insisting on the idea of the gender oppression, while Chicanas included other class and race-related ideologies into the top of those agendas (Moya 449). In addition, Dicochea mentioned that comparing Chicana feminism to Anglo feminism is not justified at all since this approach was another ideological tool to keep Chicanas quiet about their own distinct cultural issues (83). One of the most contradictory opinions was the comparison of a good girl with bad girl in two movements, eventually finding that while Chicanas were protesting for their equal part in the community, the Anglo feminism was revolving around the idea of encouraging a woman to achieve independence and active socialization in the privileged world of men, eventually taking advantage of the male masculinity (Dicochea 84). Some explanation of this disparity was also provided by Erlinda Berry; she stated, “Chicana woman cannot separate her ethnicity from her womanness” (3). Therefore, Berry called females to struggle equally against both sexism and racism. It means that if Chicanas dedicated themselves solely to the war with sexism, they would turn back to the oppressed men in their communities, eventually failing the ethnical commitment. Finally, Berry admitted that while Chicanas in the Southwest were progressing towards the development of the self, the white women in other territories were moving towards the improvement of the group consciousness and recognition (3). This opinion was also supported by Rodriguez, who admitted that the Chicano movement in the Southwest, ideologically, was deeply rooted in the fight for a sovereign nation and building Aztlan, the lands stolen from Mexico during Mexican-American Wars. Meanwhile, the role of Chicanas was more a form of spiritual building of themselves (1). Consequently, by the beginning of the 1980s, Chicana feminists theorized multiple forms of their oppression with other non-white feminists from similar ethnic nationalist movements. Eventually, this process led to the formation of a new political identity known as the women of color.

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While the majority of views focus on the opinion that Chicanas were an inseparable part of Chicanos, there is still some evidence of the ideological conflicts existing among Chicana feminists and loyalists in the 1970s. It is important considering that feminism was majorly seen as the divisive ideology, which was particularly evident at the Chicana conferences held in Southwestern states. The most critical confrontations resolved around the Chicana lesbian feminism since it was seen not as a political idea but a combination with the sexual lifestyle (Garcia 226). Not surprisingly, feminist lesbians were considered outcasts in the common stereotypes of good mothers and good wives applied to females according to the doctrine of the Chicano movement. Such feminist-baiting and lesbian-baiting attacks were also experienced by other groups of women of color such as the Black Americans and Asian Americans, who viewed them as “little more than an ‘anti-male’ ideology” (Garcia 226). Hence, in the Chicana society, as well as other minority groups, lesbianism was identified as an extreme expression of feminism. Eventually, this attitude associated feminists with lesbians and vice versa because of the homophobia that existed in these communities (Garcia 226). Nevertheless, public proclamations of Chicana feminists being responsible for assimilating an alien culture into the national ideology were quickly responded and argued through the birth control, abortion, and sex education, which were missing in the existing culture. This event was followed by the establishment of the slogan “Our culture hell,” which had been symbolic of the Chicanas feminist campaign.

It is also important to consider theoretical views related to how Chicanas in the Southwestern United States responded to the efforts of discrimination in both sexual and racial context. The previous discussion points at considerable efforts among Chicanas, as well as other minority groups, which Moya named the commitment to truth (479). Meanwhile, Moya specified that in their commitment, these women were acknowledging that their search for truth is informed by own culturally constructed conceptions of the truth as the subject to revise against the difference existing between personal and family goals. If such commitment is reviewed through the lenses of postmodernist approach, Chicana identity should be seen as a product of ambiguity and fragmentation, eventually resulting in considering Chicana as the figure for marginality and contradiction (Moya 479). However, under the realist perspective, Moya suggested viewing Chicana as an abstract oppositionality; win such a manner, the case of Chicanas in the Chicano movement streamlined the development of the progressive social theory (480). Based on this statement, it is also worth exploring whether Chicana efforts in the general movement were successful for the national objectives on the one hand, and for the promotion of equal rights among Chicano males and females on the other hand.

Discrimination of Chicanas after the 1970s

In the aftermath of the 1970s, Chicana feminists increasingly joined efforts to carry out the legacy developed through the movement foundation. For instance, in 1982, Chicana academics organized a national organization Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS). It aimed to establish a support network for Chicanas among professors, students, and undergraduates and pursuing the objective of fighting racial, social, class, and gender oppression faced by Chicanas at higher education facilities (Garcia 233). A notable achievement of the organization included the establishment of the Chicana summer research institutes, and publishing a series of academic working papers. In 1984, at the conference held by the National Association for Chicano Studies (NACS) in Texas, a report on the topic “Voices de la Mujer” that addressed the issue of women was delivered first since 1972. The major difference from the previous report was that a large number of Chicanas were invited to present their reports and participate in the moderating panel. It was concluded that the issue of sexism was an unsettled issue of concern that required further elaboration and action planning. Meanwhile, these efforts were not productive in terms of practical changes in life and social impact since the decade of the 1980s primarily witnessed the rephrasing of the previously described issues without specific community-based interventions (Garcia 234). Another issue is that discrimination issues among women of color remained within their domain, while the white feminists were more active and successful in achieving their ultimate campaign targets. There was still the aspect of racial tolerance and income inequality that prevented Chicanas from receiving financing for their ideology promotion outside the community, suggesting that the academic research and conferencing might be the only chance of attracting external attention. Hence, as of the beginning of the 21st century, while the discrimination of Chicanas in terms of social identity had certainly decreased, little effect on the ethical recognition and sexual freedom was achieved.


The rise of the U.S. capitalism, poverty, and civil war in Mexico triggered a massive outflow of immigrants to the Southwestern United States during the period between 1910 and 1930. Having many opportunities to earn a living with the rise of the agricultural sector, Chicanos faced racial oppression from the locals that treated them as a cheap labor. This issue had contributed to the reformulation of the functional responsibilities in the Chicano society, calling females to seek for the jobs against the will of males. While the racial intolerance continued, females strived to equate male and female rights, eventually joining the equal rights movement. Pursuing the national ideas in line with the male worldview, Chicanas were still not recognizing machismo as the driving community principle and developed feminism ideas in line with other racial minorities during the 1970s. While these efforts certainly brought some improvement in terms of sexism, it had a small effect on racism overall, thus achieving the Chicano movement objectives only partially. In the light of the contemporary political rhetoric in the US, it is also evident that Chicanas were more successful than the Chicano movement in national terms. The progression of feminism is still worth researching in the context of the present century to refine this statement.

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