Latina feminism(s) describes a range of historical political collaborations among Latinas and culturally specific Latina-led political struggles for gender and social justice in the United States. “Latina” is an umbrella term for women living in the United States whose families have current or historical ties to Spanish-speaking regions of the Caribbean, Central America, South America and North America. Latinas trace their heritage to Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Panama, Texas, New Mexico and other Spanish-speaking regions and countries in the Americas.
Similarly, “Latina feminism” describes political projects and social practices that reflect commitments to women’s rights, sexual and reproductive autonomy, anti-imperialism and/or racial, gender, education, linguistic and economic justice in the United States and transnationally.
Many of the political projects that Latina activists and cultural workers have led since the 1800s in the United States reflect a commitment to gender justice as part of broader struggles for racial, immigrant and economic justice, but Latinas have not necessarily described their work using the term “feminism” due to the history of racism and elitism with U.S. white-dominated feminist movements.
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Many Latina political projects also have often not used the pan-ethnic term “Latina” due to a focus on addressing the experiences of a specific national, racial or ethnic group often grouped under the umbrella term “Latina.” Another important concept in Latina feminisms is “Borderlands,” a non-binary understanding as location that transcends and transgresses boundaries and borders.
For example, New Mexico suffragettes in the 1910s and Puerto Rican writers in New York concerned with the “New Woman” in the 1920s allied with national U.S. feminist campaigns and international women’s organizations. They also described their political projects as addressing the specific struggles of New Mexico women and Puerto Rican women in New York.
Chicana labor organizers in California in the 1950s, Puerto Rican and Chicanas anti-sterilization activists in the 1970s, Cuban American writers critiquing gender norms and U.S. imperialism in the 1980s, and Afro-Dominican and Afro-Panamanian writers in the 1990s often framed their work in the particular context of distinct and specific experiences of racism, imperialism and economic exploitation intersecting with national, regional or community gender and sexual codes.
Just as the term “Latina feminism” links together distinct political and cultural projects, Latina feminism(s) can also describe the pan-ethnic, interracial and transnational feminist coalitions formed by Puerto Rican, Nuyorican, Mexicana, Chicana, Dominican, Cuban, Salvadorean, Nicaraguan, Colombian, Panamanian and other Latina women in the United States.
Since the 1910s, Latinas have collaborated to develop feminist analyses and organizing strategies for shaping U.S. Latino and Latin American social justice struggles and developing Latina feminist, Chicana feminist, and Puerto Rican feminist decolonial theories and practices. In the 1920s, for example, Salvadoran feminist Ella Ruth Rostau called for fellow Central American women and Mexicanas living in San Francisco to jointly advocate for women within Central American and Mexican organizations in the Bay Area.
Almost sixty years later in the Bay Area, the National Hispanic Feminist Conference convened in San Jose, California in 1980 where Puerto Rican, Chicana, Cuban, Central and South American feminists discussed solidarity with the American Indian Movement, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), class divisions among Latinas and integrating lesbian leadership in building national alliances.
Central to the Latina feminist theories and cultural production guiding and generated from these collaborations is a commitment to exploring the borderlands and identifying intersections of “Latina” experience in order to collectively challenge the interlocking structures of patriarchy, heterosexism, racism, ableism, imperialism, colonialism, national borders and capitalism in the Americas.
Juanita Ramos and the Lesbian History Project, Compañeras: Latina Lesbians (1987)
Latina Feminist Group, Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (2001)
Marta Moreno Vega, Marinieves Alba and Yvette Modestin, Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora (2012)