Recent Histories of Mexican American Women and Men
Elizabeth R. Escobedo. From Coveralls to Zoot Suits: The Lives of Mexican American Women on the World War II Home Front. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. 256 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index. $34.95.
Jeffrey Marcos Garcílazo. Traqueros: Mexican Railroad Workers in the United States, 1870–1930. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2012. 256 pp. Tables, maps, endnotes, bibliography, and index. $49.95.
Scholars of Mexican American history have been very productive in the past two decades expanding our historical knowledge of Mexican Americans in the United States. Elizabeth Escobedo and Jeffrey Garcilazo make two welcome contributions to this body of scholarship. Each in his/her own way offers a detailed interpretation of the Mexican American historical experience that enriches our understanding of the American past in an essential way.
Historians well know that World War II has been immensely popular among U.S. history buffs and the general public. Popular culture venues such as the History Channel, for example, regularly feature programming on various aspects of the Second World War, focusing primarily on military history and the men who fought and the weapons on each side of the war. Women have been less visible in both popular and academic historiography, and Mexican Americans as an ethnic group even less so. Indeed, Elizabeth Escobedo ends her book with the controversy around Ken Burns’ glaring omission of Latinas and Latinos in his epic PBS documentary The War. This seems a fitting place to begin a discussion of her book, which expands our view of which “Americans” were impacted by the war and how. From Coveralls to Zoot Suits makes an invaluable contribution to World War II history by elaborating on the experiences of Mexican American women during this era. The book is a beautifully written account of the changing roles that Mexican American women played during the war. Escobedo outlines both the opportunities and challenges women faced as they entered newly available defense employment, enjoyed higher wages, encountered increasingly liberalized gender mores and [End Page 478] racial liberalism, but also persistent racial and gender discrimination.
The text captures the complexity of Mexican American women’s experiences by documenting how women capitalized on newfound freedoms and possibilities to improve their lives and seek pleasure and self-fulfillment at the same time that traditional gendered divisions of labor and racial hierarchies also made those opportunities temporary and finite. Women experimented with new fashions (including the “zoot suit” look of the 1940s), enjoyed greater freedoms for interracial and heterosexual social contacts, had disposable incomes to purchase consumer goods, and discovered within themselves skills and strengths that wartime employment and volunteerism helped reveal. At the same time, however, they also experienced the brutal pace and work conditions of the defense industry, encountered sexual harassment and resistance from male coworkers, and occasional friction and tensions with family members.
Escobedo begins with an overview of what she calls “the Pachuca panic”: the hysteria in the 1940s over Mexican female juvenile delinquency, especially as embodied by the “Pachuca” or young woman who donned the zoot-suit style. Most scholarship on zoot suits and Mexican American youth culture during this era has focused on young men. Escobedo adds to the work of Catherine Ramirez (The Woman in the Zoot Suit, 2009) with a focus on women. Pachucas, or young women who dressed in the ostentatious and risqué style popular among many Mexican American youth at the time, became increasingly visible in the media and associated with crime and juvenile delinquency. Escobedo reveals how some young women adopted the style of dress and associated social practices (heterosexual dating and socializing in public), much to the consternation of traditional immigrant parents and local authorities. Ironically, while immigrant parents lamented this as evidence of their daughters’ “Americanization” and adoption of more liberal gender and sexual norms, Anglo officials saw the adoption of “pachuquismo as a distinctly Mexican identity” (p. 33). While these young women were simply adopting the fashion of the age and distinguishing themselves from their parents’ generation, Anglos saw these practices as deviant and morally dangerous. Juvenile delinquency among all youth became...
Ana Castillo archives at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Bio, Ana Castillo, http://www.anacastillo.com/a/index.php?page_id=6
This is Ana Castillo's official website that includes various interviews, archives, biographical information and contact information.
Anderson, Karen. Changing Woman: A History of Racial Ethnic Women in Modern America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
This excellent sociological resource shows the progress of Mexican-American women through the last 100 years, from immigrant Mexicana to progressive Chicana. It details the macho culture inherited by Mexican-Americans from Mexico and the fight by American Latina women to break out of that gender role.
Arredondo, Gabriela F., et al., 2003. Chicana Feminisms. 1st ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Chicana Feminisms is a collection of essays written by scholars in many different fields--including psychology, anthropology, folklore and history. Each essay highlights the diversity of the chicana experience, and gives an analysis on a specific Chicana ideology/expression. It also gives historical information about the
Chicana Movement, and includes work by famous authors like Norma Alarcon, Aida Hurtado,
Anna Nieto Gomez, Marcia Stephenson, and Jose Manuel Valenzuela
Blea, Irene I. U.S. Chicanas and Latinas within a global context: women of color at the Fourth Women's Conference. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1977.
This book outlines the history of La Chicana,and how their ideologies have deviated from prescribed gender roles in their communities, to modern ideologies that have been influenced by the Anglo-feminist and the Chicano Movements. The text gives a historical timeline of their development, from the Mexican-American War era to the present. It further studies how racism, sexism, classism, and ethnicity have intersected their progress throughout history.
Cotera, Martha P. The Chicana Feminist. Austin, Texas: Information Systems Development, 1977.
This was the first book we read and proved to be a great jumping off point for all our research. Written by activist Marta Cotera in 1977, this book lays out excellently the contemporary Chicana feminist’s position. Describing their unique concerns as Chicana women, it discusses as well the politics involved with the Chicana and Anglo women’s feminist organizations. Interestingly, she also describes the need to get Chicana women into powerful positions, so as to be able to champion her cause to a greater audience. Her argument can be summed up on page 9, “With this intellectual freedom a Mexicana can continue to move more easily toward a positive, workable, one-to-one relationship with males. In other words, we feel we are progressing from a more advanced state than other women in other cultures toward a full development of women.”
Garcia, Alma M., ed. 1997. Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. New York, NY: Routledge.
This book gives an excellent chronological overview of the activism in the Chicana Movement. It highlights the struggles and conflicts that Chicanas had to overcome in the Chicano Movement--including gender disparities, their
relationships with Anglo-Feminists, and sexual politics. In general, it gives a great
overview of the formation of Chicana ideologies throughout history.
Garcia, Alma M. “The development of chicana feminist discourse, 1970-1980.” Gender Society 3 (1989): 217-238.
This article discusses the broad history of the Chicana movement. It addresses such issues as race, class, and gender. It also talks about the tension between the Chicana feminists, the Chicano nationalist movement, and the women’s liberation movement. The article discusses idea of the mother and the wife, contrasted against the idea of the empowered women. A very good source that provides a nuanced account of Chicana thought.
Hernandez, Ester, "Biography", http://www.esterhernandez.com/index.htm
This website is a resource page for the well-known artist Ester Hernandez. The page include a sample gallery of her work, and a brief bibliography.
Vicki l. Ruiz, Ed., Las obreras: Chicana politics of work and family. Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Publications, 2000.
This book contains a collection of essays describing all spheres of the Chicana woman's life. Issues covered include: work, church, neighborhood, struggle within the movement, community organizaing, and politcal organizing. This well-researched book also has a multiplicity of quotes that would be usefull to anyone researching on Latina feminism.
Ortega, Mariana. "Being lovingly, knowingly ignorant: white feminism and women of color." Hypatia 21.3 (2006): 56-74.
Discusses her idea of the “arrogant perceiver” or one who arranges the world to fit his/her needs, rather than seeing the relative objective truth. Mentions how white feminist women, still today, do not “truly” accept or understand minority women in the movement. She uses the idea of “listening,” but not “checking” and “questioning” to illustrate the problem of the lack of voice in the movement for minority women. The article discusses as well the history of Latina thought, such as their rejection of machismo in the Chicano movement.
Quintana, Alvina E. "Home Girls: Chicana Literary Voices." Temple University Press, 1996.
In Alvina E. Quintana's Home Girls, she explores the literary works of Chicana writers,
and how these works reflect the beliefs and culture of the movement. She analyzes various
forms of literature, from poetry to drama. She looks at various topics such as sexuality,
radicalism, and politics. By examining different genres, Quintana's book gives a holistic
perspective on Chicana literature.