Who are Chicanas?
Chicana refers to women of Mexican descent born and/or raised in the United States. The term Chicana (and Chicano) came into popular usage during the Chicano movimiento of the 1960s and 70s as Mexican-American activists sought to define a cultural and political identity for themselves. Some believe that the term derives from the indigenous Mexica (Meh-sheik-a) tribes of Mesoamerica; others point out that the term was used as a derogatory reference to Mexican-Americans in the Southwest U.S. for many years, until it was reappropriated by activists.
In the 1960s, the term was picked up by a generation of activists to signify their uniquely American identity which meant two things: 1) acknowledged and took pride in their Mexican heritage, and 2) demanded that white America acknowledge historic and persistent patterns of racial inequality in legal, political, educational, and social opportunities for Mexican-Americans. A Chicana or Chicano identity specifically rejects the idea that we must deny our Mexican heritage in order to be a 'real' American. To identify as Chicana means we are both Mexican and American.
Further, Chicana feminists have made significant critiques of the Chicano movimiento, and a patriarchal Mexican-American culture in general, for subordinating the needs and concerns of women within an ideology of "familia." Along with Chicana gays and lesbians, we are taking a long hard look at what it means to be Chicana and Chicano.
I use Chicana in the spirit of a continued multi-faceted critique of racial and gender inequality in the United States. For the record though, it's important to realize that many women of Mexican descent call themselves Mexicans, Mexicanas, Latinas, Mexican-American, or even Hispanic for a variety of significant, often personal, reasons. Some of us are immigrants, some of us are third generation descendants of Mexico, and some of us have been on this land since before it was the United States. We call ourselves different names because we are diverse people--we are students, housewives, factory workers, lawyers, mothers, grandmothers, professors, administrators, educators, domestic workers, daughters, and so much more.
As Gloria Anzaldua writes, "This land was Mexican once...always will be."