¡Despierten Hermanos! in Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement: Writings from El Grito del Norte

El Grito del Norte

El Grito del Norte

Through the wonders of social media, namely Twitter, I have been sharing and recommending hundreds of Chicana/o books and film titles amongst my “followers” for the last four years in order to promote Chicana/o literacy, encourage students to major or minor in Chicana/o Studies, to dispel the myth that Chicanas/os are not creating scholarly and literary works by and for Chicanas/os, and lastly to facilitate an expansive list of works for people to search out these titles in their local bookstores and libraries for personal reading enjoyment or academic research purposes.

Knowledge is our weapon. Knowledge is power. Specifically, knowledge is Chicano Power.

Chicano Power, then, demands that we work towards dismantling racist and sexist institutional structures that negate our human rights as Indigenous peoples. Knowing our history, also, forces us to challenge false assumptions about Chicanas/os that are falsely spread in academic circles and in social media spaces.

We have been omitted from the historical record, and when we do appear we are depicted as passive, docile, and only participating in the social landscape as a result of outside assistance. We are never allowed to exist as original inhabitants. Nearly every time the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o experience is discussed, especially on social media, it is done thru a racist filter that usually describes some outside ethnic/racial group discovering or influencing us, thus revoking our autonomy, sovereignty, and agency as a people.

And so what I wanted to do for this particular blog space was to highlight several Chicana/o books and film titles that our people might find of interest and meaningful as they search for their own knowledge and self-determination. These reviews and those of other contributors are written from a Chicana/o-Mexicana/o frame of reference.

If you are interested in sharing a written review of your favorite Chicana/o book, film, art exhibit, etc. please feel free to contact via email at clshc@me.com – Resistance Through Knowledge, one book at time.

cultural sovereignty

La Familia de la Raza

As a site of resistance against conquest and colonization, La Familia has taken on an air of mythological proportions within Chicana/o cultural politics and texts, from the film Salt of the Earth (1954) to the document El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán (1969) to the feature film Mi Familia/My Family (1994), and most recently with the tv show Cristela (2014).

Although each of these Chicana/o cultural productions interrogate the lack of representation and the in(ex)clusion of the Chicana/o body politic within American institutions, they do so within a traditional heteropatriarchal family framework. This is especially evident in texts created during and after the Chicano Movement, whereby Chicana/o academics and community activists mapped a kinship discourse of Indigenous continuity.


Next of Kin

In Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics (2009) Richard T. Rodriguez analyzes how La Familia de La Raza has been mobilized by patriarchal discourses to obscure questions and challenges posed by the disenfranchisement of La Chicana within the community’s historical and cultural formation since the Chicano Movement.

As Rodríguez sees it, Chicanos were intent on reformulating the Chicano family through a spirit of resistance that in time would create the catalyst for socio-political change. This romanticized view of the Chicano family, however, was approached through a masculine lens at the expense of the larger portrait of what really constituted La Familia de la Raza.

By complicating La Familia de la Raza, Rodríguez hopes to “envision a complex genealogy that hinges on historical disjuncture and cultural difference for at stake is a genealogy of Chicana/o cultural production that is both enduring and potentially transformative” (Next of Kin, pg.11, 2009).

As one reads Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement: Writings from El Grito del Norte it is apparent that the Chicano Movement, and its ideological constructs, such as Chicanismo (cultural nationalism), Aztlán (the lost/stolen homeland), self-determination (political/economic independence and community control) and La Familia de la Raza (a return to nature and humanity based on Indigenous roots) were complex and nuanced, and which cannot be easily reduced and dismissed as naive, quixotic, or backward.

Through her writings, Enriqueta Vasquez believed that to achieve self-determination it was, first and foremost, to be found in Chicano cultural nationalism, whose first line of advocacy and defense was La Familia de la Raza. Vasquez’s personal experiences, prior to the rise of the Chicano Movement, helped shape her political consciousness from which she drew inspiration for her writings.

Enriqueta involved herself in the Chicano Movement in large part through her friendship and collaborative work with both Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales in Colorado and Reies López Tijerina in New Mexico.

Recentering Chicanas

Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement: Writings from El Grito del Norte is an anthology of Chicano Movement articles written between 1968 and 1972 by Enriqueta Vasquez, a Chicana activist originally from Colorado, for El Grito del Norte, the newspaper of La Alianza Federal de Pueblos Libres.

Through her written column entitled ¡Despierten Hermanos!, Enriqueta Vasquez focused on environmental causes, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, the need for Chicana/o Studies, the role of La Chicana within the family and movement, the mental health and well-being of Chicanas/os, the need for equality, the need to dismantle capitalism, the need to reclaim land and Indigenous roots, and the building of international coalitions all written from the perspective of a Chicana who believed in self-determination and a better world.

Enriqueta’s writings left a permanent political and cultural imprint not only in New Mexico, but throughout Aztlán, whose work was widely read and disseminated among Movement activists in the Chicana/o, Black, Native American, New Left, and Asian American movements in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yet, Enriqueta’s writings along with her activist work have remained outside of the purview of the Civil Rights Movement, including the Chicano Movement. Most Chicano Movement histories have mostly centered on the experiences and achievements of Chicanos. Chicanas, meanwhile, have been omitted from the historical record. Chicana scholars, such as Dolores Delgado Bernal, Maylei Blackwell, Alma M. García, Lorena Oropeza and Dionne Espinoza have been researching and interviewing Chicana activists from the 1960s and 1970s to correct historical wrongs and re-center Chicanas.

El Grito del Norte

Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement: Writings from El Grito del Norte is divided into six sections, each thematically organized through forty-four articles reflecting on the state of the Chicano Movement as Enriqueta Vasquez understood it.

– Land, Race, and Poverty
– Culture and History
– Nation and Self-Dtermination
– Chicanas, Organize!
– Corporate Institutions and Industrial Society
– International Politics

Writings from El Grito del Norte is at its root an examination in the formation of Chicana/o identity and cultural nationalism as it intersected with ideas of race, class and gender. The ideological and political narratives introduced through Enriqueta Vasquez’s writings helped document and define for the Chicana/o Generation the historical and cultural experiences as well as the struggle for self-determination.

I am Joaquin and El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán are appropriate cultural nationalist focal points for analyzing the period of 1967-1972 for they underscore the potential for revolutionary nationalism while at the same time unwittingly reproducing gender inequality.

In the pages of El Grito del Norte, Enriqueta Vasquez firmly resolved to inform the Chicano Movement, the American New Left, and American society of its limitations in recognizing gender issues and the question of La Chicana, as well as the larger societal issues affecting the Chicano community as a colonized people in the United States.

Enriqueta Vasquez used the language of Chicanismo to argue for the centrality of La Chicana within movement discourses without ever compromising the tenets of the idealism behind the creation of a Nation of Aztlán. Vasquez was adamant about stressing the importance of strengthening the concept of Chicanismo. Vasquez’s writings analyzed La Chicana not only through the lens of race, but through the intersection of class and gender as well.

¡Soy Chicana Primero!

In the article ¡Soy Chicana Primero! [April 26, 1971] Vasquez asserted that Chicanas must not identify with the White Women’s Liberation Movement because it would alienate her from her own people (130). Enriqueta was not shy about questioning Chicanas and Chicanos who would betray the movement for individual success. Enriqueta never distanced her identity as a Chicana from that of being a muXer. Both could co-exist.

Enriqueta challenged the Chicanas and Chicanos who reduced and simplified Chicana feminist ideas and radical politics as losing “some of your femininity as a woman” (129). Vasquez described how “Vietnamese women fight for survival with a gun in one hand and a child sucking on her breast on the other arm” (129).

In envisioning that “The Chicana women resolve not to separate but to strengthen Aztlán, the family of La Raza!” Enriqueta sought to create political and revolutionary awareness among muXeres to “free themselves as inferior beings, and to educate themselves so that they too can implement the Plan of Aztlán” (128).

In early 1969, at the National Chicano Youth Conference, sponsored by the Crusade for Justice, several Chicanas attempted to articulate a gendered position of empowerment by focusing on the question of the “traditional role of the Chicana in the Movement and how it limited her capabilities and her development” (Sonia A. López, 1977).

Chicanas recognized the impending ideological dichotomies internalized within the Chicano Movement. Yet, Enriqueta, like most Chicana feminists at the time, was disheartened when at the conclusion of the Chicano Youth Conference, the Chicana representative reporting to the general conference group declared: “it was the consensus of the group that the Chicana woman does not want to be liberated” (Next of Kin, pg.25, 2009).

As Enriqueta describes her feelings, “it was quite a blow. I could have cried. Surely we could have at least come up with something to add to that statement. I sat back and thought, Why? Why? I understood why the statement had been made and I realized that going along with the feelings of the men at the convention was perhaps the best thing to do at the time. Looking back our history, I can see why this would be true. The role of the Chicana has been a very strong one, although a silent one” (116).

In retrospect, it is easy to critique the official position taken not only by some of the women at the conference, but by the men as well. Ultimately, the contradictory position taken in 1969 has not been resolved nearly fifty years later, and has been used as an example of Chicano sexism and homophobia by those seeking to discredit the Chicana/o Movement, a point I have discussed in other reviewed works of the period.

Vasquez challenged the patriarchal structures of both Chicano nationalism and American racist institutions. Vasquez framed the sociopolitical conditions of the Chicana/o community through an historical and cultural context that ultimately required Chicanas to begin the process of “soul-searching” and “self-development” because Chicanas could not afford the luxury of the “generation gap” with her community (135).

Most importantly, Vasquez challenged the men to look at liberation of the Chicano people as an equal revolutionary partnership (121). Vasquez left no doubt what she meant about liberation when she wrote, “when we talk of equality within the Mexican-American movement we better be talking about TOTAL equality right where it all starts. AT HOME…: (121).

The Woman of La Raza

The activist work and writings of Enriqueta Vasquez illustrate the balance that was struck between Chicano nationalism and the growing awareness by Chicanas regarding their identity as muXeres and role within the Chicano Movement. The Orange County Chicana Brown Berets, for instance, described the role of La Adelita in the Chicano Movement to “stand by their men; to encourage them, and at times where it calls for, physically assist them.”

The social construction of Chicana/o nationalism and identity was rooted in the historical complexities of the Mexican experience since their forced incorporation into American society 1848. Heteronormative cultural nationalism was challenged, yet for the most part, as Enriqueta Vasquez and the Orange County Chicana Brown Berets make clear, it was also strengthened because the enemy that needed to be eradicated was American imperialism while the Nation of Aztlán or Family of La Raza needed to be preserved.

Enriqueta Vasquez’s recognition is well overdue. It is often suggested that it was the men who developed and refined the ideological concepts of Chicanismo and what it meant to be a Chicana/o in American society. But it should be made clear that many of the Chicano Movement newspapers were led by Chicanas whose writings articulated many of the ideological, historical and cultural positions that are being debated fifty years later.

Although by today’s standards Enriqueta’s writings would not be considered militant or confrontational, they actually speak louder and more defiantly than many of the writings found today.

Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement: Writings from El Grito del Norte edited by Lorena Oropeza and Dionne Espinoza is an excellent addition to any Chicana/o Studies collection. Lorena Oropeza and Dionne Espinoza are two of the leading Chicana scholars who are (re)covering the much neglected voice and history of La Chicana. In particular, I consider Dionne Espinoza to be the premiere expert in Chicana Movement history.

cultural sovereignty

— D.Cid

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