The Chicana Caucus of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) has a beginning, that could be in 1971, with the invitation of Chicanas Lupe Anguiano and Gracia Molina de Pick to the first organizing meeting in New York City with Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug where Lupe mentions, “they didn’t even know what a Chicana was.” Officially it could be Lupe’s invitation to the Policy Committee that would govern and develop the NWPC prior to the first convention in February of 1973.
Maybe it was 1969 in Crystal City with the election of RUP candidates to take over a Texas town that up to this moment had being the “spinach capital of the world” its entire claim to fame—when former college student members of MAYO decide “ya basta” because a Chicana couldn’t be a cheerleader and their town 80% Mexicano should have a government that reflects its demographic. When Juan Cotera says to future Chicana Caucus member, Martha Cotera, “I heard this guy (Jose Angel Gutierrez) talking about a third party…” and the young couple, an architect and a librarian, move to “Crystal” to help make a new Chicano villita happen.
I suspect 1970 isn’t when it happens for Martha Cotera—as a child in El Paso, Martha wondered why there were “white” and “colored” water fountains in her public school, since there were no students of color in the building. Martha believes being Chicana starts at same time as feminism, when little girls discover they are physically different from little boys (find clip from Mujeres for this. “If you think you’re not a feminist, with your woman parts and your woman mind, you’re fooling yourself.” Martha has only known being a Chicana, a feminist and a foot soldier on the many fronts of social justice.
It could have been in 1937 when future Chicana Caucus member Margaret Cruz sits in the back of her first college classroom at Mills College in California and her professor, Dr. Cook from Texas, suggests that Margaret shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom. Margaret suggests to Dr. Cook that she return to Texas since in California, Margaret has a right to her seat, in that classroom and will not run away from that moment because as her dean reminds her, “she will be running for the rest of her life.” Dr. Cook’s rejection sets in motion Margaret’s social justice journey working with in some capacity for every United States president from Truman (1948) to Clinton (1996).
Perhaps it is 1971 when future Chicana Caucus chair Rhea Mojica Hammer, agrees to a job in television because she has always been smart and bilingual in a Chicago that has frowned on both for students who are children of color. A job in television, helping the Spanish speaking community of the city which at that moment number 250,000 and is part of the third largest urban Latino population in the country behind Los Angeles, California and San Antonio, Texas. As a television personality, Rhea is presented the opportunity to run for Congressional office as an Independent Democrat in defiance of the Democratic political machine of Chicago. The opportunity offers death threats, teamster bodyguards, a failed race but an introduction to the Raza Unida Party meeting in South Bend Indiana where hears MAPA president Burt Corona speak about the disenfranchised relationship Chicanos have with the main U.S. political parties describing them as “drinking from the same trough.”
The Chicana Caucus can thank Jane “Juanita“ Gonzalez of Muskegon Michigan and the Midwest Council of La Raza (MWCLR) at Notre Dame University, for creating the perfect storm that begins the six year action that is the Caucus. Jane, a councilwoman from Muskegon Heights, Michigan and the first elected Latina in Michigan’s history, meets Rhea, Martha and Lupe at “Mi Raza Primero” the first Midwest conference focused on Latino issues. Jane and her mentee Olga Villa offer a resolution at the conference to address Chicana issues, inviting the three women back for “Adelante Mujer” in June. Olga coordinates the June conference, meeting with over 100 women from 8 states in the South Bend VFW Hall, that the women agreed to clean up once the day-long meeting was over. While Chicanas from 8 states mopped, washed dishes, folded chairs, collected trash and tossed it in the bins behind the building, they also strategized—considering gatherings and initiatives from the agreed upon set of Chicana issues determined by the group—the first of its kind in the Midwest.