The field of Chicana studies was born out of the experiences of Mexican-American women in the southwestern United States. Chicana leaders, such as Dolores Huerta were central activists in the Chicano civil rights movement in the 1960s, working alongside leaders like Cesar Chavez and cofounding the UFW. Others were involved in social movement activity in New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas with activists Reies Tijerina, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles, and José Ángel Gutiérrez. While fighting for labor, political, and educational rights, Chicanas contested the machismo, sexism, and heterosexism that they experienced from Chicanos. Chicanas were urged to perform stereotypical feminine roles or activities, while men served as the public face of the movement. They were disciplined further by the invocation of the virgin/whore dichotomy, based in Catholicism around the Virgin of Guadalupe; and Malintzin Tenépal, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes’s translator and lover. In addition, Chicanas were encouraged to take a single-axis approach to social justice and keep silent about their concerns in order to highlight the fight against ethnocentrism and racism, which were deemed by male leaders to be of the utmost importance. Similarly, Chicanas who looked for solidarity in the mainstream women’s movement were encouraged to put aside their racial concerns in favor of an agenda that focused solely on their identity as women. Put in the untenable position of lacking a space in which their complex and intersectional experiences were honored, and of being subjected to the virgin/whore dichotomy and its unrealistic expectations, Chicanas needed to create a space of their own.
The late 1970s and 1980s saw the birth of Chicano Studies departments in academia, as well as the rise of Chicana studies and Chicana feminism. Chicana studies blossomed through works by artists such as Yolanda Lopez, Judy Baca, Patssi Valdez, and Ester Hernández, and scholarship by Deena J. González, Antonia Castañeda, Angie Chabram, Rosa Linda Fregoso, Sandra Cisneros, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Ana Castillo. The publication of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color became an important benchmark for Chicana feminist writings, and women of color feminism in general. In addition, Moraga’s Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios and Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza were foundational texts in the development of Chicana feminist thought. Moraga’s work (originally published in 1983 and republished in an expanded edition in 2000) addresses her experiences as a queer Chicana born to a White father and Mexican mother, while Anzaldúa’s book (published in 1987) theorizes about the possibility of a mestiza consciousness or borderlands identity. A central theme in Chicana feminist writings is the reinterpretation of Malintzin Tenépal, also referred to as La Malinche, through poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, while Chicana feminist artists have visually reimagined the Virgin of Guadalupe queerly and in their own images as everyday women. Through the reinterpretation of these figures, Chicanas have created possibilities for Chicana identifications that resist the binary virgin/whore dichotomy.