Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement

The paper at hand is going to analyze Chapter 2 of ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement, written by Maylei Blackwell. The author of the book (a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, interdisciplinary scholar, oral historian, teacher, and social activist) has already contributed a lot to the expansion of the women of color theory by investigating controversial and deep-rooted problems such as Chicana feminism, queer national social movements, and other feminism-related topics.

¡Chicana Power! is a unique book presenting a profound study of the Chicano movement, which relies on the research of oral history and archives related to one of the first and the most powerful feminist organizations in Chicano, called Las Hijas de Cuauhtémoc. The genre is therefore the history of feminism. The book in general (and Chapter 2 in particular) covers the late 1960s (with occasional reference to earlier periods) since the group was established and especially active during this period. The major topic is repudiation and marginalization of women in the community, which resulted in the emergence of the Chicano movement.

The argument used by the author relies on two major aspects. On the one hand, she reveals injustices done to women and focuses on the ways the group implemented to respond to discrimination coming from men (meetings, publications, community involvement, etc.) as well as their attempts to investigate interconnections of race, gender, sex, and class issues (Blackwell, 2016). This allows her to prove that the movement was deeply rooted in history. On the other hand, the unique thing about Blackwell’s argument is that she approaches the political nature of these historical events and raises the problem of political memory, which has been erased, resulting in the present-day ignorance of these pressing realities.

The book has six chapters, the author’s commentaries and notes, bibliography, appendix and an index. Chapter 2 is organized retrospectively. It begins with the description of the Chicano movement of the 1960-70s and proceeds with investigating the historical roots of the insurgency, exploring social conditions and gender political scripts. Blackwell uses a bundle of evidence, including both, self-reported information obtained during interviews with the participants and documents related to youth activism starting from the beginning of the 20th century. Numerous sub-arguments are cited to prove the influence of the society on making young women join the movement. Blackwell claims that they needed to redefine themselves in all aspects of their lives. Moreover, they had to create new interaction models with their families and the community (Blackwell, 2016). She makes a special emphasis on how El Plan de Santa Barbara tried to shut down the feminist movement and mitigate their achievements.

The book has a number of strengths; however, the major one seems to be the author’s bold decision to allow the group members directly communicate with the reader, telling their personal stories. The evidence the author uses to show all atrocities is particularly vivid due to the participants’ reminiscences (e.g. those of self-abortions). This allowed Blackwell to show her multifaceted vision on feminism and liberation, grounded not only in the historical documents’ research but also in stories of real people. Another evident strength is the detailed analysis of the role of sexual politics since it shows all the fault lines and subjectivities. The only weakness observed is that the author’s active engagement in the problem resolution makes the reader doubt of her own total objectiveness in reporting the facts.

The audience of the book is practically unlimited since it can be read by all people interested in the topic. However, it is particularly recommended to people with radical patriarchic or sexist views to reassess their position. The author’s contribution is significant since it added a lot to the process of arranging all the events connected with the Chicano movement. The uniqueness is in the author’s highly involved attitude to the problem.


Blackwell, M. (2016). ¡Chicana Power!: Contested histories of feminism in the Chicano movement. Austin: TX: University of Texas Press.