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Life Making room for Xicanisma

Oct. 16, 2019
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I started to learn about feminism toward the end of high school, but it was only in college that I began to discover the different kinds of feminism. At first, it was presented to me in three whitewashed waves. Then, slowly but surely, black and intersectional feminism were squeezed into the curriculum as well. They were treated as single units—as if they didn’t fundamentally shape mainstream feminist ideology at large. With the help of identity politics, I started to redefine what feminism meant for me, but I still felt like something was missing. 

The identity politics we learn in school acknowledge the differences we all have, but in practice, it’s a little more complicated. Identities surrounding gender, sexuality, race, and class often overlap or are intertwined, and not all of these identities are immediately visible. I understood this feminist framework, but I never 100% identified with it. I was able to find myself in individual categories, such as queer, mixed race, and Latina, but I had trouble finding academic writing that spoke to all of those identities at the same time. 

It seemed to me that in a lot of social situations, to be able to claim a specific identity, you had to visibly present it. This happens so that visible minorities are prioritized to be able to get support and to have their voices heard. While this works for visible minorities, it’s unrealistic to think that everyone will fit perfectly into categories. This also creates unspoken judgment by the community in question, as they can decide whether someone is “enough” of their identity. This leaves out mixed-race people, as well as genderfluid and GNC folks.

If you were to look at me, for example, you might not know that I’m a queer Mexican-Canadian. To most people, I don’t “look” Mexican or queer. That doesn’t mean that these identities aren’t valid or real, but I often get asked for “proof” of my identities. But there’s no one way to be or look queer. If you were to go to Mexico, you would see an enormous amount of diversity in people’s appearances. The majority of Mexican families are very diverse. One family can be made up of members from different Indigenous people, with some members from Spain and others from outside of the country. To be Mexican is to be mixed. It seems that in an attempt to be more diverse in our feminist ideology, we’ve left out more ambiguous and complicated identities.

In my third year of university, I started to question why identity politics don’t account for people like me. People who don’t quite fit in one box or another, but in many at the same time. I also noticed that there weren’t any Latinx writers included in the texts we were reading. I asked my professors if they knew of any Latinx scholars, but the typical response was “I’ve just never come across that kind of work.” I knew that there must be Latinx academics out there somewhere, representing people like me who were queer, mixed, and left out of the conversation. I wondered why that kind of writing wasn’t being included in the feminist discourse I was learning. 

These thoughts were always in the back of my mind, despite professor after professor telling me that the writing I was looking for didn’t exist. It was only in my last year of college that I discovered Chicana feminism, also known as Xicanisma. I found it entirely by accident. I was doing research for a summer course on anti-colonial feminist zines. After many hours of Googling, I discovered Teresa Córdova’s text “Anti-Colonial Chicana Feminism.” It was exactly what I had been searching for, and it validated everything I had been feeling about mainstream feminism. 

In simple terms, Chicana feminism started out as a feminist ideology for working-class queer Mexican women. Chicana feminism is about everything from acknowledging and valuing mixed identities to recognizing the complicated identities that emerge from immigration. 

One of my favorite writers is Gloria Anzaldúa, a Chicana scholar known for her book Borderlands La Frontera. The book is written in English, Castilian Spanish (a North-Mexican dialect of Spanish), Tex-Mex, and Nahuatl to reflect the inherently mixed identities of Chicanas. The book navigates illegally crossing the border, being away from your home-country, and struggling to reconnect with your culture as a second-generation immigrant. 

Anzaldúa speaks from personal experience as a Chicana, validating our shared emotions and difficulties. She describes the struggle of learning Spanish while simultaneously being actively encouraged to only speak English in public. She knows the pain of never being able to speak “real” Mexican Spanish or the Indigenous languages of her family back in Mexico. 

She recognizes the pressure to look more “white-passing,” the yearning for a home that second-generation immigrants were never able to grow up in, and the understanding of the incredible privileges that come along with that. The complicated emotions that come along with our mixed identities are unraveled by Anzaldúa’s reassurance that our experiences are valid. She encourages us to reconnect with our family and ancestors; she tells us to be stronger than the colonial forces that have tried to keep us down.

Chicana feminism teaches us that to speak is to oppose. When we speak, we are actively deconstructing harmful stereotypes surrounding Mexican women; we are telling our own stories. As Xicanistas, we are making space for ourselves in mainstream feminism by sharing our stories through music, activism, artwork, and writing. 

Xicana feminist work doesn’t just exist in academic writing, either—it’s all across the Internet! One of the popular hashtags used by the movement is “ni de aquí, ni de allá,” which translates to from neither here nor there, acknowledging the intersectionality and diversity of Xicanistas’ backgrounds. Mexican rapper Snow Tha Product uses the phrase in her song “Bilingue,” which explores being bilingual as a Mexicana in Trump’s America, as well as being bisexual. The podcast Latinx Supernatural talks about the inherent spirituality present in many Latinxs’ lives. Xicanistas know that using social media is essential to educate and inform others on Xicanisma—whether about spirituality or protests or immigration issues.

I want to keep educating myself about Xicanisma and sharing what I find in the hope that it will reach others like me. Others who don’t feel like they had a place in mainstream feminism, but know that there must be something out there for them. I refuse to let the feminist narrative that surrounds my body, culture, and spirituality be left out of the mainstream discourse. I’m using my voice to tell other Latinx people that their feelings are valid and that Xicanisma exists to help us come together, heal, and support each other.