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Book on Chicana Activists Honors The Women History Has Ignored

In Chicano history, the women who formed a vital part of social justice movements have often been swept aside; forgotten or ignored as their male counterparts receive the bulk of the praise for their collective work. Their visibility is imperative as Chicanas continue to work in social justice, fighting the good fights within various movements.

“Chicana Tributes: Activist Women of the Civil Rights Movement” aims to share those untold stories of the women who formed an important part of the movement.

Chicana Tributes/San Diego State University Chicano Archive

The book documents the experiences of 61 Chicanas from the ’60s to the present who have paved the way in the fight for human rights as educators, attorneys, activists, artists and more. Some of the women featured have passed, while others remain active. Each of their stories were written by an author of their or their loved ones’ choosing, creating beautiful pieces that bring together women for the purpose of honoring women.

The project came about by the Chicano Archive Committee at San Diego State University, which works to document the people and historical events that have occurred around the Chicano movement. Committee members and co-editors Sonia Lopez and Rita Sanchez selected the women featured in “Chicana Tributes” to document what they believe is missing from the history books.

“These stories need to be told so people can know that some of the things they take for granted, a lot of people fought for,” says Lopez. “Most of the time, the men are the ones who are recognized. Any advancement in the Chicano community, the credit is mostly given to the men.”

Notes from Aztlán

Lopez, a longtime activist and educator, was the first person to teach a Chicana history class at San Diego State back in 1972. Back then, she found a need to address Chicana issues, and still sees the need today.

“There’s still not enough information on Chicanas that have contributed to history, society and the community,” she says. “They need to be recognized.”

Among the women featured are ACLU leader Norma Chavez, Laura Rodriguez, matriarch of the National Historic Landmark Chicano Park, Charlotte Hernandez Terry, the first woman to paint a mural at Chicano Park, and Delia Moreno, who along with her daughters form Trio Moreno, which played protest trio music during important events in the Chicano movement.

In telling the stories of these trailblazers, Lopez says young women will have one more book they can see themselves in, which is necessary as there are few books that offer that. Especially as the women featured have overcome many struggles in their life and come out on top.

Chicana Tributes/San Diego State University Chicano Archive

“It’s amazing that these women still had the courage and resilience in spite of all their hardships,” Lopez says. “We’re trying to teach people this is life. Life is a struggle. Part of becoming who you are is a struggle. And for us, especially, as Mexicanas on this side of the border. We chose the word ‘chicana’ to define our own identity, tell our history, tell our story and tell our roots. By reading this story people will learn, people will appreciate and feel inspired.”

“I think young women today are looking for role models,” she adds. “I don’t feel that we have enough role models out there of people that are doing things or have done things to inspire, to motivate. With this book, young women can see that it’s possible to do. The groundwork has been laid by the women featured in this book.”


READ: This Chicana Is Taking Over The Instagram Page Of A Major Art Museum To Show Off Chicano Art

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Latina Reads: 13 Mexican And Chicana Escritoras Whose Books You Need To Add To Your Reading List

Fierce Boss Ladies

Latina Reads: 13 Mexican And Chicana Escritoras Whose Books You Need To Add To Your Reading List

Mexican literature is one of the most prolific and influential throughout Latin America. From narratives on revolution to the more contemporary concept of intersectional feminism, works by Mexican and Mexican-American women — spanning centuries — are truly seminal.

At the heart of much of the writing is the desire to combat social norms and create a new inclusive and equal reality, and that’s what the amazingly talented women on this list do with their words.

Here, Mexican and Mexican-American authors you need to make room for on your bookshelves.

1. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

One of the most famous and bold Latina writers of all time, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was born Juana Ramírez de Asbaje on November 12, 1651 in San Miguel Nepantla, Tepetlixpa, Mexico. She was a self-taught scholar and poet who faced prejudice and oppression for being a female writer during a time when women weren’t viewed as intellectual beings. Some of her most famous poems include “Primero Sueño,” a 975-line piece about a soul’s quest for knowledge, and “Hombres Necios,” which accuses men of exhibiting the illogical behavior that they claim is innate in women. One of her most powerful poems, though, is “Respuesta a Sor Filotea,” where she defends a woman’s right to an education. The late writer is recognized as the first published feminist of the New World and remains an icon. Recently, her story was told in the Netflix miniseries Juana Inés.

2. Sandra Cisneros

Today’s badass female writer is Sandra Cisneros. Sandra Cisneros is a Mexican-American writer. She is best known for her first novel The House on Mango Street (1984) and her subsequent short story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991). Her work experiments with literary forms and investigates emerging subject positions, which Cisneros herself attributes to growing up in a context of cultural hybridity and economic inequality that endowed her with unique stories to tell. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, was awarded one of 25 new Ford Foundation Art of Change fellowships in 2017, and is regarded as a key figure in Chicana literature. I love not only her work, but her decision to be childless by choice. I support all women’s reproductive choices and I’m proud she went public with hers. #womenwhowrite #womenshistorymonth #sandracisneros #childlessbychoice

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Self-proclaimed chingona Sandra Cisneros, 63, is best known for her first novel “The House on Mango Street,” which published in 1984. But she continues to connect with Latinx readers through social media, amassing a following of more than 41K on Instagram. Her work — including “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories” — deals with issues like poverty, the formation of Chicana identity, belonging to multiple cultures and misogyny. In 1998, Cisneros established the Macondo Writers Workshop, which provides socially conscious events for writers, and in 2000 she founded the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation, which awards talented writers connected to Texas.

3. Gloria Anzaldúa

"The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react." – Gloria E. Anzaldúa Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa was an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She was a poet, activist, theorist, and teacher. Anzaldúa described herself as a Chicana/Tejana/lesbian/dyke/feminist/writer/poet/cultural theorist, and these identities were explored in her work. She loosely based her best-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, on her life growing up on the Mexico–Texas border. She also developed theories about the marginal, in-between, and mixed cultures that develop along borders. Throughout the 1980s, Anzaldúa traveled to workshops and speaking engagements, participated in political activism, consciousness-raising, and groups such as the Feminist Writers Guild. She also looked for ways to build a multicultural, inclusive feminist movement. Anzaldúa edited two anthologies that collected the voices of feminists of many races and cultures. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color was published in 1983 and won the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award. It's been said that some readers struggle with the multiple languages in her writings – English, Spanish, and variations of those languages. However Anzaldúa has said, when the reader does the work of piecing together fragments of language and narrative, it mirrors the way feminists must struggle to have their ideas heard in a patriarchal society. Anzaldúa has won many awards for her work, including the National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award, the Lambda Lesbian Small Press Book Award, the Lesbian Rights Award (1991), the Sappho Award of Distinction (1992), and the American Studies Association Lifetime Achievement Award (Bode-Pearson Prize – 2001). Additionally, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza was recognized as one of the 38 best books of 1987 by Library Journal and 100 Best Books of the Century by both Hungry Mind Review and Utne Reader. In 2012, she was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the LGBT History Month. #HERstory #WomensHistoryMonth #GloriaAnzaldúa #AmericanHistory #OurHistory

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Gloria Anzaldúa is a sixth-generation Mexican-American who popularized the mestiza experience with her book, “Borderlands / La FronteraIn it, the queer Chicana scholar examines the literal and figurative borders that exist for Latinas and lesbians in U.S. society. Born in the Rio Grande Valley at the southern foot of Texas, she drew inspiration from her childhood along the Mexico-U.S. border. Anzaldúa, considered a prominent figure in Chicana feminist literature, also edited texts like, “This Bridge Called My Back,” “Making Face, Making Soul” and “This Bridge We Call Home.”

4. Elena Poniatowska

#ElenaPoniatowska hoy cumple 86 años. Nació en Paris, luego de que la familia de su madre, Dolores Amor, fue exiliada de México por apoyar el Porfiriato. En 1955 su primera novela vio la luz; Lilus Kikus. y también conoce al dibujante Alberto Beltrán, quien influyó en que diera voz de los más marginados. En 1971, el entonces presidente Luis Echeverría le concedió el premio literario Xavier Villaurrutia por su novela “La noche de Tlatelolco”, sin embargo, la escritora lo rechazó. La escritora heredó el título de Princesa de Polonia gracias a su padre Jean Evremont Poniatowski Sperry, quien era heredero a la corona polaca. Poco importó para ella, y confesó que no visita a su familia europea, que la llaman “La Princesa Roja”. Sus textos fueron calificados por El Rey Juan Carlos de España como “literatura rebelde”, y de “gran compromiso social y humano”. ????: Carlos Aranda 98.5 FM | #TRIÓN #SéDiferente

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While born in France, Elena Poniatowska is considered one of the most iconic Mexican authors of all time. Activist, journalist and author, she was born in 1932 after her mother fled the Mexican revolution. Poniatowska returned to her family’s homeland in 1942, later beginning her journalism career at Excelsior. As an author, her books cover social events, including the Tlatelolco Student Massacre, with “La Noche de Tlatelolco” published in 1971, and the catastrophic Mexico City earthquake of 1985, with “Nada, Nadie. Las Voces del Temblor” published in 1988. One of her most famous texts is Here’s to You, Jesusa,” which is based on more than a year’s worth of interviews with a poor laundry woman living in rural Mexico who struggles after the revolution in Mexico and the abandonment of her husband. Poniatowska is the recipient of the 2013 Miguel de Cervantes Prize in Spain for her contributions to Spanish literature and, at 86, she continues to write and is known as “Mexico’s Grande Dame Of Letters.”

5. Cherríe Moraga

Cherríe Moraga is is a prominent Chicana feminist writer who was one of the first to introduce the theory of Chicana lesbianism. She’s perhaps most famous for co-editing the feminist anthology “This Bridge Called My Back” with Gloria Anzaldúa in 1981, but the California-born poet, essayist and playwright has written, edited and contributed to others. Among them: Her first sole-authored book, the autobiographical “Loving in the War Years,” which mixes prose and poetry. She is currently an English professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  

6. Ariana Brown

Ariana Brown has developed a reputation as a “part-time curandera” with her powerful and raw poetry. The Mexican-American-African-American poet has received numerous awards and thousands of views on YouTube for her spoken word poetry on topics like class, gender, racism and mental health. In 2017, she released the chapbook “messy girl,” drawing from her own experience with depression, heartbreak and healing. Through her poetry, including “Volver, Volver,” Dear White Girls in My Spanish Class” and “Supremacy,” she discusses her mixed-race heritage, colonialism and racism.

7. Laura Esquivel

She is the mastermind behind one of the biggest international best-sellers that blended magical realism with a passionate love story. Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate” was released in 1989 in Mexico and later translated to multiple languages and made into an award-winning film in 1994, with Esquivel in charge of the screenplay. She has written eight books, including the acclaimed “La Malinche,” which recounts the arrival of Spaniards in Mexico from the perspective of the controversial historical figure who played a key role in the conquest of the Aztec Empire. She’s now serving in the Chamber of Deputies for the Morena Party in Mexico.

8. Ana Castillo

Ana Castillo is a Chicana novelist, poet and playwright. The Chicago-born writer tackles issues on race, class and gender through an experimental style. A leader in Chicana feminism, which she refers to as “Xicanisma,” Castillo has written several books, including “So Far from God,” a supernatural novel about family hardship and love, “Black Dove,” which offers a look at what it’s like to be a single, brown, feminist parent, “Give It To Me,” a sexy novel about an adventurous, recently divorced woman, “Goddess of the Americas,” a collection of essays about the Virgin of Guadalupe, and “Sapogonia,” which was named New York Times’ Notable Book of the Year. She is also the editor of La Tolteca, an arts and literary magazine.

9. Erika L. Sanchez

Good morning, Mexico City. ❤️

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Erika L. Sánchez is a Chicago-based poet and novelist. In 2017, she published her bestselling debut novel “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” which was a National Book Awards finalist. She also has a fierce poetry collection, “Lessons on Expulsion,” which is a candid and powerful exploration of themes on sex, shame, race, violence and xenophobia as she tells her story of being the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants.

10. Laureana Wright de Kleinhans

A feminist pioneer, Laureana Wright de Kleinhans defied the ideals of what a woman of her time should be like by establishing her magazine Violets of Anahuac in 1887. The publication’s content completely shifted ideas about womanhood by reimagining the feminine ideal as a cultured and educated wife and mother. She was one of the first feminist theorists in Mexico and wrote patriotic poetry while theorizing on women’s suffrage and equality for men and women.

11. Anna Marie McLemore

(Photo Credit: Anna Marie McLemore / Facebook)

Author Anna Marie McLemore‘s is a self-described queer Christian. Her books present LGBTQ fairytales, with women of color as protagonists. Much of her writing draws heavily on magical realism and family dynamics, which can be seen particularly in the upcoming “Blanca &  Roja,” which centers on two rivalrous sisters bound to a group of swans through a century-old spell. Her other novels include her critically acclaimed debut “The Weight Of Feathers,” about family rivalries, “Wild Beauty,” a magical exploration of love, loss and family, and “When The Moon Was Ours,” which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. “I’d love to see more intersectional stories! I’m always excited to hear about books with respectful representation of LGBTQ characters, but especially ones that have characters who are also of color, who are of faith, who also have disabilities, and so many more intersecting identities,” she told YARN.

12. Valeria Luiselli

Valeria Luiselli is a contemporary superstar in the literary world and one of the most celebrated Mexican writers today. Producing work in both English and Spanish, the New York-based author is behind the critically acclaimed novels Sidewalks,” “The Story of My Teeth” and “Faces in the Crowd.” Several of her books are inspired by her personal life, with themes of loss and absence (she spent her childhood traveling with her father, a Mexican ambassador), or taken from real-life experiences. In the 34-year-old’s latest release, “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions,” she was inspired by her work as a volunteer interpreter for children seeking asylum. In 2014, Luiselli received the National Book Foundation “5 under 35” award.

13. Cristina Rivera Garza

#cristinariveragarza

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A border child born in Tamaulipas, Cristina Rivera Garza developed a career writing on both sides of the frontera. Much of her work focuses on mental illness in early twentieth-century Mexico. Still, she is best known for her novel “Nadie Me Verá Llorar,” which won numerous literary awards in Mexico. Rivera Garza is the only author to win the international Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz prize twice. She has taught history at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Tec de Monterrey, Campus Toluca and the University of California, San Diego. In 2014, Rivera Garza started a blog, which she continues to contribute to.

Read: Latina Reads: 14 Dominican And Dominican-American Escritoras Whose Books You Need To Add To Your Reading List

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How Hurricane Maria Has Impacted The Mental Health Of Puerto Rican Mothers

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How Hurricane Maria Has Impacted The Mental Health Of Puerto Rican Mothers

On a Caribbean island like Puerto Rico, rainfall is a usual occurrence. But for many throughout the archipelago, downpour has become a reminder of September 20, 2017, the day Hurricane Maria ravaged their nation, leaving countless people with the loss of homes, cars, jobs, loved ones and their sense of normalcy. As storms erupt — many times leading to the loss of recently returned electricity — each raindrop, flood and thunderclap triggers a people experiencing a severe mental health crisis.

According to the Department of Health in Puerto Rico, suicide on the island is on the rise post-Hurricane Maria. Reports show that self-inflicted deaths are up 29 percent and calls to suicide hotlines have surged by 246 percent, compared to the year prior. Officials believe that the devastation caused by the Category 4 storm, including the massive displacement it sparked and the substandard relief the people received from local and federal governments, is a factor in these increases.

Ivelisse Torres Fernandez, an assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology at New Mexico State University (NMSU), visited her home island twice after the hurricane, providing material aid as well as mental health assistance.

“I feel like we need to keep this issue at the forefront. That it’s not spoken much about anymore doesn’t mean that the people aren’t suffering. For me, I feel like I have a need to advocate for people on the island,” the Las Cruces, New Mexico-based Puerto Rican told Fierce.

Torres Fernandez, whose program at NMSU is rooted in social justice and multiculturalism, recently returned from her second trip to Puerto Rico, where she, alongside Counselors Without Borders, provided locals with self-help tools and also conducted research on the looming mental health plight.

We chatted with her about the spike in suicide, depression, anxiety and PTSD post-Maria, the psychological needs of the people of Puerto Rico, the demands for more aid and how you can help during this crisis.

1. You recently returned from a trip to Puerto Rico, where you were from March 16 to 23, conducting research on the mental health impact of Hurricane Maria as well as providing assistance with counseling, cleaning and rebuilding. Why did you feel an urgency to travel to the island to do this work?

Immediately after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans everywhere felt a need for something to be done. The magnitude of the catastrophe called for that, but with the slow response it was pretty obvious that we had to do something. This was my second trip to Puerto Rico post-Maria. The first one was in early December, and I was there for five weeks doing peer relief efforts, like providing basic needs to the people. During that trip, it was clear to me, though not surprising, that there was a lot of emotional suffering, too. That’s why I decided to come back in March. This spring break trip was focused more on mental health. I did take supplies to communities, but this time around I went with Counselors Without Borders, a group based in George Mason University that offers humanitarian counseling in post-disaster emergency situations, and we worked with counselors, people, camps and churches on the ground, giving them tools to cope, but also collecting data for my research.

2. Who did you speak with while you were there, and in what parts of the island were you conducting this research?

(Courtesy of Ivelisse Torres Fernandez)

I mostly stayed with a community in Maricao, a mountainous area on the western part of the island that was hit very hard. We talked to people of all ages, mostly adults, but also several elderly and children. We separated groups by ages, and I spent significant time with youth, because that’s my speciality. We asked them how the experience was for them, how they’re coping and what would be helpful for them.

3. As you know, studies have already shown an increase in depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal ideation and suicides. What, from your research, would you say is triggering this?

It’s a combination of several things. Many of the people are frustrated, and most of the frustration comes from a sense that they feel that the local government and federal agencies have not been good with dealing with the crisis, and some of the people we talked to were very angry with FEMA. There have been a lot of people who were denied claims because they lacked the proper paperwork to claim their homes. There are also undocumented families who can’t prove ownership of many things. So you have people who lost everything — homes, jobs as well as their sense of security and safety — and, in addition to that, now they feel forgotten. That’s where a lot of the frustration comes.

The people are also extremely exhausted, which we consider the third stage of disaster-related trauma. While most of the island has gotten electricity back, about 80 thousand still don’t, six months later. In Maricao, the electricity returned last month, but there are still outages every day. So even if people are wanting and trying to regain that level of normalcy, they can’t. People told us they have panic attacks every day that it rains, fearing their homes will flood again. These are people who lost their jobs because the storm ruined the business they worked at, people who know what it’s like to literally be stuck, waste-deep, in mud. They are terrified that hurricane season is just months away.

So, yes, the level of depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicide has escalated since then. The data is there and I saw it.

4. What are the psychological needs of the people of Puerto Rico following the storm?

(Courtesy of Ivelisse Torres Fernandez)

It sounds simple, but people really need to be listened to. It doesn’t always have to be a mental health expert; they just want to vent. They want to feel like people care about them, that they matter. They need to be understood and validated. They also need someone to reassure them that things will get better. That instillation of hope is core to disaster mental health work. We help individuals be hopeful and identify resources they can use to help themselves. We show them self-care strategies. Then, of course, there are people who still need water, food, a roof, a place to live, the basic needs, because how can you feel safe without that?

5. More than six months later, what are the challenges that remain to serve them?

Not everyone has access to mental health services, whether because they lack insurance or the stigma tied to it prevents them from seeking help. You often hear, “no estoy loco, so I’m not going to see a therapist.” Another problem is that they can’t physically access that help. There are wonderful groups going into the streets, providing free services, but if you have no way there, either because you’re an elder, you lost your vehicle or the roads still haven’t been cleared up, you can’t receive it.

6. Does the mental health impact vary across different regions?

In areas less impacted, the people have been able to go on easier. In places that were hit really hard, it’s been harder to regain that sense of normalcy. There are providers across the island, from FEMA personnel and the Department of Health to crisis hotlines, but, again, sometimes it can’t be accessed. In these cases, churches, of all denominations, have really stepped up and are restoring people with a sense of meaning for life. This is important, especially for the elderly, who have the highest rates of suicide post-Maria. They feel isolated. Their families left, they’ve been displaced and it’s hard to adjust to staying behind.

7. How has this impacted women in particular?

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard)

Many of the women I spoke with are single mothers, and they’re depressed and anxious. They are constantly worrying about their kids and grandkids, and about what happens when the next storm hits. There is so much that remains unknown. Oftentimes, these same women are the ones becoming leaders in their community. They are motivating, nurturing and caring for others. When we were there, we were sure to ask them how they were coping for themselves. If you’re not OK, if you’re broken, how can you give yourself to others?

8. What would you say is the most shocking thing you learned or witnessed while there?

Two stories stick out to me. One is of a woman who spent the storm away from her home. After the hurricane hit, she walked 12 hours in the mud to check in on her house and pet. When she got there, she didn’t have a house. She, like so many others, had to collect the valuables she found and just take her homelessness as yet another loss. Imagine walking that long to find that you have nothing. That’s wild. Another story is one I heard from a mental health specialist. He said an elder man had lit himself on fire. He burned himself — he has third-degree burns — because he wanted to die. That’s shocking, and speaks to the desperation that’s there.

Another thing I saw, though, that’s not necessarily shocking but reaffirming, was communities organizing more than ever. There is so much Puerto Rican pride and a will and determination to build and be stronger and better.

9. You’re a scholar. Why was it important for you, in addition to your research, to send a group of students who could also help with counseling, cleaning and rebuilding?

I think that, for me, as a Puerto Rican living in the U.S., this was a no-brainer. Every Puerto Rican suffered. This was horrendous. So in this moment of difficulty and tragedy, I thought, how can I give back in a way that’s meaningful? As an academic, I have the ability to empower others to do good things. For me, that was my students, who took it upon themselves the day after the storm hit to ask how they could help. As a scholar and professor, people want to talk research and pedigree, but, for me, the most important and satisfying part is that I’m mentoring the next generation of mental health professionals. The research is important, but that’s secondary. How I’m providing to my community is first. From there, I use what I learn, my research, to advocate for them.

10. How can readers who want to assist the people of Puerto Rico struggling with mental health after Maria help?

(Courtesy of Ivelisse Torres Fernandez)

If you know someone, displaced on the island or living here, provide a safe space for them to talk about what is happening. Support them, whether they went through it directly or not. Also, if you’re here and are a citizen, advocate for us. Call your representatives and push for things to get done. Ask them why it’s taking so long to get Puerto Rico help. Demand them to remove the red tape. The U.S. government is strangling our economy and killing us slowly. If you want change, use your voice.

Read: Donald Trump Said Puerto Rico Wants ‘Everything To Be Done For Them,’ But These Women Are Proving Him Wrong

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