This collection of inspired and thoughtful articles, originally published in Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies from 1980 to 1999, examines not only Chicana leadership, but also Chicana activism, history, and identity. According to the primary editor, Yolanda Flores Niemann, chair, Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies at Washington State University, Chicanas are virtually invisible to U.S. society and oftentimes even to their own communities. Nevertheless, from leading boycotts, challenging injustice, and shaping the creative and performing arts to carving out sexual, cultural, political, and national identities in public and not-so-public ways, Chicanas are ubiquitous.
The problem is that we do not see Chicanas’ work, their creative output, the results of their daily activities, because leadership has been defined within traditional concepts of male characteristics and pursuits. In this view, one recalls such charismatic, public, and political figures as the “four horsemen of the Chicano Movement, Cesar Chavez, Corky Gonzalez, Jose Angel Gutierrez, and Reis Tijerino.” As Josephine Mendez-Negrete points out in her article on gendered leadership in Milagro County, California, these models are individualistic in their approaches. “Chicanas . . . concluded that leadership is more than believing or speaking a certain way; it is acting out a philosophy that creates change to benefit the many over the individual. For them, it is not enough to talk about change; leaders actively work to create it,” she writes.
Successful leadership is often overlooked, because women’s work may be taken for granted, attributed to their nurturing capacities and generally applied to the culture of the group, as Angela Valenzuela’s study indicates of young Chicanas “checking up on [their] guys,” or to specific “traditional” styles of female activism and leadership as described in Margaret Rose’s study of women activists in the United Farm Workers. Mary Pardo’s classic study of the mothers of East Los Angeles similarly ties Chicanas’ roles as activists with traditional roles as mothers, suggesting that traditional cultural values are complex and elaborate systems that develop and strengthen social networks in communities that often suffer institutional discrimination.
As suggested in these and other chapters, patriarchal structures evident in educational institutions, labor unions, political organizations, and gender relationships must be addressed and challenged if we are to bring about authentic social justice and change. Opening doors for others, pulling others up and pushing forward, improving life chances, advocating, educating, and fighting for democratic processes and rights are all part of the framework of leadership that must be considered in new research.
Chicana Leadership is a significant resource both for general readers and students of Chicana/o studies, women’s studies, sociology, history, literature, and political science. Perhaps readers will become motivated to utilize the extensive bibliographical references in this compilation and learn more about Chicanas. This author would hope so.
—Maria Cuevas, doctoral candidate in sociology and instructor, WSU Tri-Cities.