Chicanas persevere

Matthew Koch, Staff Writer

The Chicana artists of the 1970s brought the Chicana Feminist Movement to its true potential with the artwork they created, serving as the first representation of political activism for the movement.

A mix of more than 30 individuals between history instructor Allison Baker’s students and those who are interested in the movement met at the Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma campus to honor Chicanas during Women’s History Month.

The Chicana feminist movement emerged as the direct result of the Chicano Movement. Chicanos oppressed Chicanas, believing they should remain in their gender roles as stay-at-home mothers, as opposed to being a part of the workforce.

“It was interesting learning of Chicana empowerment within the culture,” said SRJC student Lillian Seidlin.

In 1969, 1,500 men and women attended the first Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver where the Chicanos declared women were opposed to their own liberation. Fifty percent of the Chicanas were loyalists to the Chicano movement, believing ethnic immunity was greater than gender immunity.

The Chicanas were unique; they faced what Baker referred to as “triple oppression,” because they constantly faced sexism, racism and classism. The Chicanas held the first national conference in Sacramento in the early 70s.

Cesar Chavez’s wife, Helen Chavez, worked behind the scenes writing daily reports, addressing daily postcards, helping prepare chapter meetings, caring for eight children and working in the fields. She also participated in demonstrations, was arrested four times, marched in picket lines with her family and worked 30 years as a secretary, bookkeeper and treasurer manager for the United Farm Workers Union. Chavez provided important services to credit union members who would otherwise be denied, helping a whole generation of farmworkers raise themselves out of poverty.

During this time, many political activists came forth. They expressed their thoughts and concerns through art because there were no representations of Chicana women in art before. Such artists included Yolanda Lopez, Frida Kahlo and Barbara Carrasco.

Carrasco painted the iconic picture of civil rights activist Dolores Huerta; a member of the United Farmworkers Union led by Chavez. Carrasco chose the colors in her painting of Huerta very carefully. 

“[I] used a yellow ochre for her face, representing sunshine, the essence of her energy: a rose-colored blouse to symbolize her femininity and gentleness, ” Carrasco said.

SRJC student John Bedell said, “I thought it was really good, informative, [I] learned a lot about Chicana art that I didn’t know about.”

Through striving to accomplish gender-neutral conditions in the workforce, the Chicana Feminist Movement paved the way for women and activists alike, acting as a powerful source of inspiration.