Inside the Complex Framework of Latina Feminism in the U.S.: What BlackFem Learned On the Way to Servicing A New Community

“However, effectively impacting this community requires more than good will, it requires a commitment to understanding the unique struggles of the intersectional feminist movement of Latin Americans as well the peculiar crossroads this community finds itself in — being oppressed by ethnicity, race, gender, and class.”

by Leslie Maria Aguilar

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What is intersectional feminism in the U.S.? To answer this question more clearly we need to ask another question, one that is becoming increasingly difficult, if not dangerous to answer — What does it mean to be American? While there are many valid answers to this question, let’s suppose the answer belongs to each American individually — at least to those who can’t be stamped American by the privilege of their phenotype or heteronormative cultural-ethnic roots — as such I have the right to answer only what it means to be American to me — a young Latina-Americana from Los Angeles whose ancestral roots grow across our increasingly controversial border, past Mexico to the small Central American country of Guatemala. In the experiences of Americans, especially women, who identify as other than white is where intersectional feminism is conceived. Our oppression lies within experiences as both women and racial and ethnic minorities in America. Previously, I had written on intersectional feminism with regard to Black women in America, specifically in connection with the Combahee River Collective because they are a particularly good example of what intersectional feminism has historically meant, and continues to mean to, Black intersectional feminism today.

Similarly, intersectional feminism exists within the Latin American community. It is utilized to combat the multiple levels of oppression Latina women face based on both sex and racial origins, broadly speaking, as well as socioeconomic oppression. However, much like during the forced migration of African Blacks to the U.S. during their historical period as enslaved people who, at least for some generations, retained their individual ethnic separateness, so too do the current immigrants from Latin American into the U.S. retain the individual ties to their ancestral homelands. This is because Latin American immigration to the States, despite its presence in the earliest days of America, has dramatically increased in recent decades, growing from six-million in 1960 to more than sixty-million by the turn of the century. Conversely, and put quite simplistically, by virtue of time and the stabilization of their (primarily forced) migration into the US, Blacks have congregated more closely with one another and have developed a culture that is, while different regionally, by and large cohesive. As such, Black intersectional feminism can be captured relatively well by one group, like the Combahee River Collective. However, Latin Americans’ migration into the US is ongoing and nation specific allegiances and transnational connections continue. Additionally, there is the question of race and ethnicity within the Latin American community with most claiming Latin as an ethnicity with a multitude of races including Afro-Latina, Euro-Latinas, Indigenous, and a mix of each of these abundant throughout the Hispanic community. Latin American feminism is reflective of three primary aspects: national allegiances, ethnic-racial allegiances even within the same country of origin, and the continued connections many Latin American immigrants retain to their birth or ancestral countries — all of which influence the way Latina women in the US respond to a plethora of injustices.

While Latin American intersectional feminism cannot be represented as neatly in the goals of any one group, there have been many groups and organizations that properly display the complexity of this movement. In the post-civil rights movement period Latina Feminism began to emerge as a reactionary force against the predominately white, upper-middle-class feminism that was becoming increasingly prevalent in the US. The Women of the Young Lords were an American based feminist group with primarily Puerto Rican, especially Afro-Puerto Rican, members. They were prominent in El Barrio (East Harlem) and published a Ten Point Health Program that included everything from self-determined health rights, inspection of local hospitals, especially maternity wards, to more Hispanic people employed in El Barrio.

Of course, Latin American feminism in the US permeates beyond strictly feminist groups. Dolores Huerta is perhaps one of the most renowned and revered civil rights advocated within the US Latin American community. Though Cesar Chavez is widely remembered as the head of the National Farm Workers Association and the farm workers rights movement, Dolores is often overlooked in mainstream conversations with regard to her partnership with Chavez, including criticizing the farm workers rights’ movement for gender discrimination. Furthermore, there is the lesser known but no less impactful Sylvia Rivera who, as a bisexual herself, advocated for the inclusion of those who had previously been excluded from the LGBTQ movement, including those who identified as latino and Hispanic. Like all people, Latinas vary from individual to individual, and they choose to fight the battles closest to their personal experiences, whether it be farmworkers rights or the LGBTQ movement, but they do so with the added oppression of ethnicity and race, along with class discrimination, and it’s for this reason that intersectional feminism is needed not only in purely feminist movements, but in all movements. This is something all Americans might need in our increasingly active lives as citizens and protesters of justice in Trump’s America.

In all of these vastly different experiences, Latin American feminism within the United States has strong linkages, not least of which is the shared struggles Latin Americans face, in particular with regard to systemic economic oppression. In this respect, BlackFem, Inc. is prepared to stand and share our resources with this community. Access to wealth and financial literacy means focusing not on being rich but rather on ensuring that women of color understand what it means to be financially stable. While this may include being rich, it doesn’t necessarily have to. What it does require is a deep understanding of the intricacies of the finance and wealth world and how it specifically affects everything from generating savings, understanding banks and interest rates, to creating balance sheets, learning what a credit score really means in terms of financial stability, and much more.

This goal is especially important within the larger feminist movement of Latina women in America because there exists what is knows as the racial wealth gap between women of color and whites. It’s incredibly difficult for Hispanic women to build wealth because they have been historically excluded from financial institutions and access to wealth and financial education. To give just one example, there are no Latina CEOs in any of the fortune 500 companies and only a measly combined five percent of managerial and executive positions in these companies are held by Latinas. With this in mind, BlackFem takes in young girls who, despite being committed to learning, have been afforded little to no chance of proper wealth and financial education, not to mentioned the type of educations that is specifically crafted by and for women of color. Currently, BlackFem, Inc. is trying to more adequately incorporate families of Latin American origin, which includes providing educational services in languages they have noted as preferred and bringing on team members with direct links to the Latin American culture and community. However, effectively impacting this community requires more than good will, it requires a commitment to understanding the unique struggles of the intersectional feminist movement of Latin Americans as well the peculiar crossroads this community finds itself in — being oppressed by ethnicity, race, gender, and class. For the average person, the burden of this multifaceted systemic oppression would be too enduring to continuously fight, especially in light of the makeup of those who have in the past few months come into powerful positions in our country. However, within the complexities of Latina intersectional feminism are women who find resilience and resourcefulness in their diversity and multiple layers of oppression and use this to continue the fight — and that is a spirit BlackFem, Inc. is honored to celebrate.

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