Chicanas played a large role in the political history of the United States, a postdoctoral researcher said Oct. 13 in an online lecture hosted by Texas A&M University San-Antonio.
Tiffany Gonzalez, the Bonquois postdoctoral fellow in women’s history at the Newcomb Institute of Tulane University, discussed how Chicanas have been involved in American politics throughout the 20th century.
“When we think about Chicanas in politics, they are part of American politics, they are part of the history of this nation,” Gonzalez said.
The lecture, “‘Women Make Policy, Not Coffee’: The Fight for Women’s Political Representation,” attracted 30 attendees. It was presented by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program and the President’s Commission on Equity at A&M-San Antonio.
With early voting beginning in Texas, this election could be historic. Although Kamala Harris is the first woman of color to be a vice presidential nominee, women of color’s involvement in politics is not new. Many Latinas and Chicanas have paved the way for modern-day politicians like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib.
“We think that Latinas in office is such a recent history and that’s something that I’ve always heard,” Gonzalez said. ”But we know that Latinas, Chicanas and Mexican American women have been political in different areas.”
Many Chicana and Latina women were essential in this change in structure, such as activist María L. de Hernández, educator Dr. Clotilde García and Texas native Irma Rangel. Rangel was a former teacher and lawyer, who chose to pursue a career in Texas politics. Rangel was the first Mexican American woman in the Texas House of Representatives. Rangel’s success was not only important because she was a woman, but a woman of color whose campaign victory was different from the average male politician.
“She changes what we think about leadership and who is allowed to lead,” Gonzalez said of Rangel. “By relying on confianza (trust) and family networks, it’s changing the political process.”
However, the right to have a seat at the political table did not come easy for Latinas and Chicanas. When Texas passed laws to enhance Mexican-American voter suppression, many organizations were founded to combat discrimination. Although the roles for women of color were limited within these foundations, they allowed female Mexican American to get involved in the fight for equity.
“They were doing the everyday grassroots work of it by recruiting more members despite gender segregation.,” Gonzalez said.
When studying the history of Chicanas and Latinas in politics, the scope is typically narrow, focusing only on their resistance. However, it’s important to know their fight was not against the system but to be a part of it.
“A lot of historians have looked at the movement against the American political system… and to an extent, Chicanas and Latinas were challenging it; but they were also fighting to be a part of this structure,” Gonzalez said.
Dr. Philis Barragán Goetz, event coordinator and assistant professor of history, says understanding the history of women of color in politics is vital to understanding the current political climate.
“(Knowing) history is important and makes you an engaged citizen,” Barragán Goetz said in a Zoom interview Oct. 7. “It gives you a more profound understanding of various dimensions in our society today.”
Despite the growing number of women of color in politics today, many are still facing barriers due to their gender and ethnicity. However, by continuing to study their history, more change can be made in effort to gain equity.
“Hopefully with this history, we can create not just a political change,” Gonzalez said, “but a societal and cultural change of how we’re viewing leadership, and how that leadership is funneled in to create change in laws and public policy.”
This is the third event organized by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at A&M-San Antonio. Although the program is small, it is expanding. This semester “”Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies” is a new course available to all students. For more information on the Women and Gender Studies program, contact Barragán Goetz at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Merritt Rehn-Debraal at email@example.com.