Dissonant Narratives of Womanhood: Pachucas and Chicana Feminist History by Ivonne Gonzalez
By Ivonne Gonzalez
The project of Chicana history is one that is fairly recent in development, emerging only with the advent of Chicanas entering graduate programs in history in the 1980s. Since then, Chicana historians such as Vicki L. Ruiz, Emma Perez, Catherine Ramirez, and Elizabeth Escobedo have undertaken the radical task of unearthing and rewriting the history of Chicana women in the United States. The influence of Chicana feminist thought comes through in their work, as they craft feminist histories that include analyses of gender and sexuality, thus challenging dominant male-centric Chicano historical narrative.
Another endeavor that Chicana historians have made clear in their work is the nuancing of Chicana/Mexican American identity. There have been histories written on a range of Chicana experiences, from cannery and factory workers to Pachuca zoot suit women. Writing about revolutionary women in the earlier part of the 20th century enriches our understandings of how gender intersects with cultural and national identity, and disrupts monolithic stereotypes about Chicana/Mexican American women in historical writing and media. Instead of looking at Pachuca women as “dangerous gang members”, for example, Ramirez and Escobedo have highlighted the ways in which these women transgressed gender norms through their mobility across gendered spheres, and through their style and lifestyle choices.
Below, in this Prezi presentation, we can see how this work has already impacted the way that young women engage with this history.. Keeping this in mind, I have set out to explore how Mexican American women in the 1940s are represented through different digital media sites. I will focus on an e-book, The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory, CaliSphere, and Tumblr as sites of scholarly reference. I will be examining how these sites portray Mexican American womanhood in the 1940s, and the (implict and explicit) arguments being made about gender and identity formation among Chicana women in this particular era. I chose these sites to glean insight on how different mediums of convey this knowledge and construct arguments about Chicana/Mexican womanhood. A book such as The Woman in the Zoot, for example, provides a straightforward analysis of zoot-suit wearing Pachuca women during WWII and allows the author to craft a social history buttressed by oral histories and archival research. CaliSphere, a site for digital primary sources, offers a digital exhibit on the cultural traditions of “Hispanic Americans” from the1930s-1960s that also offers us a visual narrative about Mexican American women. The historical narrative on Tumblr is the most eclectic of the three, since Tumblr operates as a site of self-fashioning and personal blogging, yet I argue that the authors of particular blogs are critical in their delivery of Mexican American women’s history to their cyber publics. However disparate, these three sites allow us to engage with the subject of Chicana identity in the 1940s through various lenses.
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