Hispanic Women in History and Activism: Collections

The Chicano movement began as a demand for civil rights among Mexican Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. Inspired by the political activism of African Americans, Mexican Americans also began to demand equality and civil rights across the United States. Mexican Americans faced combinations of racial discrimination, disenfranchisement, educational segregation, and economic hardships. In confronting these challenges, Mexican American activists—some recently arrived immigrants from Mexico and others with long-standing generational ties to the United States—began to organize themselves and their communities. As part of this growing activism, the term “Chicano” began to be reclaimed by Mexican American civil rights activists in the 1960s as a way to express political solidarity and pride in their culture and community. Important figures in this fight for social and political justice included civil rights activists, such as César Chávez and Dolores Huerta and their United Farm Workers organization. 

Although the Chicano movement succeeded in bringing the challenges and hardships of Mexican Americans to the forefront of the political conversation, many Chicana activists felt excluded from the predominately male leadership of the Chicano movement. They believed that the opportunities and gains won by the Chicano movement were not reaching Chicana and Latina women, and that the networks, connections, and leadership opportunities for Chicana and Latina activists and professional women weren’t being created. Despite the prominence of figures like Dolores Huerta, Chicana and Latina women were being ostracized from the gains of the movement. 

One organization that was started to correct this imbalance was the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional. Begun in 1970 by feminist activists who, having attended the annual National Chicano Issues Conferences, felt that the issues of women weren’t being fully addressed by the larger Chicano movement—that the Chicano movement was unwilling to address the issues of Mexican American women because its leadership was predominately male. Unhappy with the outcome of the Issues Conferences, led by Francisca Flores, they started the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional in an attempt to avoid the sexism of the male-dominated Chicano movement and the racial discrimination of the broader feminist movement in the country. 

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Other groups also emerged with a focus on addressing the issues of Hispanic women. The National Network of Hispanic Women, for example, began in 1980 to provide support to professional Latina and Hispanic women. Like the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional, the organization  believed that there was a lack of groups, organizations, and infrastructure to help young Hispanic and Latina women advance in their careers. The National Network of Hispanic Women served as a resource center for Hispanic and Latina professional women in the public and private sectors. It provided nationwide mentorship to Hispanic and Latina women working in fields in which they had traditionally not been allowed to be part of. The group also worked to identify promising candidates for leadership positions in national activism. 

Along with these organizations, individuals also emerged who championed the importance of women within the Chicano movement. One of the individuals, Chicana feminist activist Alicia Escalante, was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1933. She eventually moved to Los Angeles. In California, she soon found herself supporting five children on welfare alone. She viewed the welfare system as harsh and lacking respect or dignity toward Latina. She decided to throw herself into the emerging Chicano movement. In addition, she vowed to continue to help support Latina and Hispanic women, particularly single mothers like herself, in her community through advocacy and education. As an activist, she was particularly focused on issues such as police brutality and violence, opposition to the Vietnam War, and social and economic justice. 

The emergence of Chicana and Latina feminist activism is told through the archival material available in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive. The records of the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional and the National Network of Hispanic Women show how the organizations worked to improve the lives and careers of Latina and Chicana women. The opportunity to read and study the personal papers of Alicia Escalante provides the chance to better understand the life and activism of an important and influential figure in American Latino history. The history of Chicana and Latina women has consistently been absent in the study of the history of the Latino and Chicano communities in the United States. These collections, offered as part of Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive, provide a much-needed opportunity to examine the history of Chicana feminism through organizational archives and personal papers. 

  • Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional Archives

    The Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional is an organization of women who work to enhance and promote the image of Chicana and Latina women in all levels of society. Founded in 1970 to organize and network with women so that they might assume leadership positions in the Chicano movement and their community, it helped to spread news and information regarding the achievements of Chicana and Mexican women across the United States. It also promoted programs that provided benefits for the women and their families. The collection contains administrative and event files, correspondence, newsletters, articles, research, reports, conference materials, meeting reports, publications such as newspaper articles and newsletters, interviews, and projects that reflect the effort and work of Chicana and Mexican women in the Chicano civil rights movement—women whose involvement is often obscured.

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  • National Network of Hispanic Women Archives

    The National Network of Hispanic Women was a nonprofit corporation founded in 1980 with a mission to push for the identification and advancement of Hispanic, Latina, and Chicana women for positions of leadership in the public and private sectors. In the past, primary sources documenting Chicana and Latina women have been confined to unpublished dissertations and government documentation. This collection includes organizational records, correspondence, photographs, publications, reports, and ephemera that allow the personal voices of these women to be heard. By putting the sociopolitical experiences of Hispanic, Latina, and Chicana women in American society at the center of the narrative, these materials promote the continuation of ethnic and gender studies, gender research, and debate.

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  • Alicia Escalante Papers

    Alicia Escalante was a Chicana feminist activist who championed welfare rights, economic justice, and women’s rights in Los Angeles during the 1960s Chicano civil rights movement. She was involved in the fight for, and arrested for, participation in multiple social and economic justice movements. The collection includes correspondence, speeches, articles, publications, and internal organizational files that document her activism and sociopolitical involvement.

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