Thoughts of a Chicana Feminist

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Claiming My Identity

On Sunday night I happened upon a paper I wrote a while back...10 years ago, in fact. I titled it "XICANISTA POR VIDA". The title's font is stylized, tacky, in all caps... Evidentally I wrote it for a Chicana/o Studies 120 class. Turned it for a grade on April 22, 1997.

Thought I'd republish it here because they are words worthy of reflection and a true representation of how I first came to claim my xicanista identity.

Xicanista is the newest term I use to describe myself. It most accurately portrays who I am. I have not always identified this way. It has taken me 21 years to find this term and even now I wonder if it incorporates my complexity. I am a woman, a feminist, a Chicana. I am also the eldest child in my family and college educated. And now, more than ever, as I approach graduation, I fear the future, but desire it anyway.

I chose to identify with the term Xicanista after reading Ana Castillo's Massacre of the Dreamers last summer. Before that I identified with the term Chicana and before that I identified with the term feminist. In high school I did not have a word for myself. My dad would tell me that I was Mexicana. You have to pay attention to the "a" at the end. That meant I had to help my mom keep the house clean, help take care of the kids, and treat men con respeto. I hated that. I was never treated with the same respect. Wearing dresses, crossing my legs, and putting everyone's needs before my own made me hate being Mexicana. For a while I thought that this was all being Mexican had to offer me.

I attribute my feminist ideology to my dad's twisted views of femininity. I rejected his expectations of me in subtle ways. It started with me refusing to play with dolls. It slowly progressed to me refusing to close my legs when I had jeans on. He would walk by and slap one of my knees in. This would make me mad. My mom supported his efforts. She wanted me to be a "girly-girl" I did not want to. So when I first heard the word feminist in high school I took it as my own. It was my way of openly defying my mom and dad. I called myself feminist at the dinner table and I swear my dad almost choked on his tortilla from laughter. Everyone else laughed, too. He insinuated only lesbians were feminists. That scared me, but I stood by my position. I suppose I really just wanted to piss him off. I told him he was sexist and that got him mad. He told me I could not call him a sexist until I was financially stable. He told me I did not know what I was talking about and that one day I would fall in love with someone more sexist than him. That would be my punishment. He laughed some more. After that I really stood by the term feminist. I felt like I was rejecting my Mexican-ness, but I felt it was necessary.

Garza and Gallegos's discussion of environmental influences and personal choice partially explain my rejection of ideals of femininity. Brunswick's lens model suggests that "in any given situation an individual is faced with a large number of stimuli, each with a varying respective probability occurrence, along with associated repertoire of possible behavior, also with varying probabilities of enactment"(1) Although my family stressed repressive standards of femininity, I also received other "stimuli" from peers outside of my racial group. I saw that other fathers did not treat their daughters in the same way. For this reason I began to think patriarchy was specific to being Mexican. Obviously my conclusion was misguided. However, it demonstrates how "a highly Americanized Chicano, in comparison to a highly Mexicanized Chicano, would have a higher probability of exposure to and hence adopting Anglo cultural constructs, resulting in behavior congruent with Anglo norms."(2) In other words it serves as an example of how multicultural individuals such as myself, feel as though they have a broader range of choices.

I was never sure what it meant to be Mexican. Other than believing it meant male control of my life, I thought it meant low riding, family violence, being poor, uneducated, and (ironically) hard working. In a way I felt like I was all of these things. But at the same time I did not feel Mexican enough. Other Mexicans criticized my inability to speak Spanish fluently, the way I dressed and my choice of friends. I understand Spanish but native speakers have always made me feel self-conscious of my inability to speak it fluently. I did not feel it made me less Mexican. I eat beans and tortiallas for dinner and go to quincenearas. I never dressed Mexican enough for other people in my neighborhood. I was considered white washed because I did not dress like a chola. I tried being a hair-bear, but my straight hair would fall to one side no matter how much hair spray I used or how tight my perm was. My parents would not let me wear make-up so I definitely did not fit in with the other girls my age.

The issue of language still bothers me. As Hurtado and Gurin suggest, as a self-identified Chicana I "downgrade standard English and favor Chicano dialect."(3) I cannot speak perfect Spanish but I can seak Spang-lish. I believe that my Spanish-English combination does not make me less Chicana. Some believe that my inability to speak soley Spanish is a sign of "selling-out". I am no perceived as having strong ties with my ethnic identity. But as Hurtado and Gurin point out "approval of bilingualism is thus conceived here as a reflection not of stronger ethnic identity but of particular meanings that ethnicity has assumed for Mexican-origin people".(4) It represents a range of values and traditions in Chicana/o culture and all cultures in general. I believe Chicanos sometimes fall into the trap of essentializing culture. The criticism of my Spanish speaking ability is an example of that.

My chicanisma is not a reflection of bi-culturalism. It is a reflection of multiculturalism. I decided to make friends with other "marginalized" kids throughout my years in school. My best friend is Lakota Indian. She has been my best friend since I was nine. Her family is very similar to mine so I always felt at home with her. My other friends were generally of mixed race (Japanese and White, Mexican and Black) and/or extremely poor. None of us fit "our" category well, so we lumped ourselves together. Although I did not realize it at the time, we exchanged a lot of cultural practices and values. We all learned how to be comfortable outside of the group we claimed membership. Looking back, I think this may have been the best thing that happened to me because it has taught me how to interact with groups of people that are not my own. I believe it has made me more multi-culturally minded. I see people in relation to one another, or in relation to socially constructed categories. I believe it also allowed me to be tracked into college bound classes. Since I was not the "typical", teachers and administrators paid some attention to my educational needs.

I began to re-embrace mi mexicanidad when I came to college. Being Mexican means more than I thought it did. It also means having a rich, complex heritage. It means it is o.k. to be me, especially in the Chicano context. I have come to believe that I am "Mexican enough" for myself. This is partially due to being socially accepted by my peers in Davis. I have met people born and raised in Mexico for most of their lives. I have also met people that speak less Spanish than I do. They all call themselves Chicano. I represent a "version" or "form" of Chicano culture. I "have generally positive feelings abou it but exhibit few specific ethnic behaviors associate it".(5) I feel I am helping the culture evolve. Most of the theories regarding Chicano psychology seem as though they cannot get beyond the dichotomous division of Mexican/American. My identity as a Chicana is more than that. My version of Chicana identity is more fluid, salient and multicultural, but nonetheless I grew up in a Mexicano home and identify with the culture.

Coming to UCD also made me realize that patriarchy is not limited to Chicano culture. Patriarchy pervades all societies in different ways. As evidence of this I poit out that "feminism was not correlated with indicators of Latino(a) identity or American identity."(6) My feminist title is no longer a reaction to my patriarchal upbringing. It is an articulation of my female experience. It is a term of empowerment. I do not have to adhere to perversed ideals of femininity or sexist cultural practices. As a Chicana y feminista, I feel I am acting on my own terms. I am the center of my personal universe. No man or ethnocentric person has the power to rule or rock my world. I have always thirsted for this personal power and now I have it. I have gained respect for myself. I cannot attribute these feelings to Anglo or Chicano values. In my mind, it is simply who I choose to be.

What it means to be a feminist, to be a Chicana, to be a woman is not merely one thing. Definitions of myself are fluid and salient. I cannot be one thing without simultaneously being another. Although psychological analysis attempts to account for simultaneous, multiple identities, I believe semantic limitationswill never allow any field of student to essentialize behavior and attitudes into an accurate science. For now, I refer to myself as Chicana feminist or Xicansita. It is a term not widely used. It allows me the flexibility to be who I am and who I want to become.

Garza, Raymond T. & Placida I. Gallegos. "Environmental Influences and Personal Choice: A Humanistic Perspective on Acculturation" In Hispanic Psychology Edited by Amado Padilla. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, pp 5.

IBID, pp 8-9.

Hurtado, Aida & Patricia Gurin. "Ethnic Identity and Bilingualism Attitudes" In Hispanic Psychology Edited by Amado M. Padilla. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1995, pp 92.

IBID, pp 93.

Phinney, Jean S. "Ethnic Identity and Self-Esteem: A Review and Integration" In Hispanic Psychology Edited by Amado M. Padilla. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1995, pp 60.

Felix-Ortiz de la Garza, Maria et al. "A Multicultural Dimensional Measure of Cultural Identity for Latino & Latina Adolescenes" In Hispanic Psychology Edited by Amado M. Padilla. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1995, pp 33.