What is Chicana scholarship?

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A brief statement from Elisa Facio’s faculty bio

Works by Gloria Anzaldua, Ana Castillo, Emma Perez, and the anthology, Building with Our Hands: New Directions in Chicana Studies, have been most influential in my development as a Chicana sociologist. As racial/ethnic women scholars, I feel our works are attempts to explore our realities and identities (since academic institutions omit, erase, distort and falsify them) and to unbuild and rebuild them. Our writings and scholarship, built on earlier waves of feminism, continue to critique and to directly address dominant culture and “white” feminism. However, our works also attest to the fact that we are now concentrating on our own projects, our own agendas, our own theories, in other words on our own world views. This process is recognized by racial/ethnic scholars as “de colonization of the voice.” For others, it is considered unscholarly, unscientific; words of colonization associated with a monocultural society.

Chicana scholarship reveals our struggles as Chicanas in the United States, and expresses in a society which attempts to render us invisible. Historically, Chicana voices have not been chronicled. They have gone largely unnoticed and undocumented. In spite of the academic claims of “value-free inquiry,” Chicanas have not been deemed worthy of study. When they have been studied, stereotypes and distortions have prevailed. Yet Chicanas have spoken out around kitchen tables, in factories, labor camps, in community and political organizations, at union meetings. Rooted in the political climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s, our scholarship, like other currents of dissent is a Chicana critique of cultural, political, and economic conditions in the United States. It is influenced by the tradition of advocacy scholarship, which challenges the claims of objectivity and links research to community concerns and social change. It is driven by a passion to place the Chicana, as speaking subject, at the center of intellectual discourse.

Although we are all trained in traditional disciplines, our intellectual enterprise compels us to stretch our disciplinary boundaries, discover new methodologies, and formulate new directions in theory building, in order to comprehend our complex position in a society stratified along lines of class, race/ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Chicana academics work many angles of academia; a situation imposed by the need to maintain our presence in our own disciplines, our historical roots in Chicana studies, our political interest in women’s studies and feminist theory and our own “protected” space.

The vitality in Chicana scholarship springs from its insistence on developing new categories of analysis that reshape and expand established intellectual boundaries. For the first time in the short history of Chicana/o scholarship, a visible, viable group of Chicana academics are confronting the complex intersection of class, race/ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in their scholarship.

Over the past twenty years Chicana scholarship, its development and establishment, has been and continues to be a struggle for representation and voice in the realm of knowledge. Obviously, I would want to see this knowledge contribute to change not only in our own communities but in the larger society. But, like most scholarship, ours is not developed in a vacuum. Its most important contribution has been the integration of a gender analysis of the Chicana/o experience. The methods of investigation of Chicana/o lives, both past and present, are being seriously questioned, challenged, and tested. And they continue to be part of a larger academic process in building theory and seeking new methodological approaches. Chicana scholarship has not only contributed to the building of knowledge about the Chicana/o experience but has also helped Chicanas develop as scholars.

I view my own work as part of a larger collective effort in building Chicana scholarship. My book, Understanding Older Chicanas: Sociological and Policy Perspective, (Sage, 1996), is such an effort. In this book, I attempt to provide a feminist perspective of the socioeconomic conditions of older Chicana lives with an interpretation of their cultural expressions. The work defines and describes the parameters under which older Chicanas/Mexicanas socially construct the meaning of old age. It is an attempt to understand the meaning older Chicanas attribute to their total life situations. The book provides an analysis of how feminism and gender simultaneously structure individual and collective experiences for older Chicanas.

In addition to my work on older Chicanas, my research interests have turned toward understanding the relationship between socialism, nationalism, and feminism in Cuba. Currently I am working on a manuscript titled, Jineteras: Gender and Sexuality in Post-Soviet Cuba. With respect to teaching, I find the classroom an exciting pedagogical arena. For racial/ethnic scholars, I feel our greatest challenge is defining, establishing, and maintaining ourselves as activist scholars within an institution in which we have not had legitimate presence. Obviously, achievements have been made, but there are also major obstacles confronting our work. As the educational pipeline narrows, the works of racial/ethnic scholars speaks to the contradictions they face in their lives that threaten and mold the future direction of their scholarship. Within these contradictions of barriers and success, acceptance and disdain, recognition and indifference, our scholarship will be produced and will continue to flourish.

Elisa Facio, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies
University of Colorado, Boulder

Dr. Facio served MALCS as chair during 1996-97 and 2001-02  

Selected Publications
* “The Queering of Chicana Studies: Philosophy, Text and Image,” in Reversing the Lens, Ethnicity, Race, Gender and Sexuality Through Film (Eds). Jun Xing and Lane R. Hirabayashi. University Press of Colorado, 2003: pgs. 185-195.
* “Jineterismo during the Special Period,” in Global Development Series. Vol. 1, Numbers 3-4, 1999; pgs. 57-78. Reprinted in Cuban Transitions at the Millennium (Eds). Eloise Linger and John Cotman. International Development Options, 2000: pgs. 55-74.
* Understanding Older Chicanas: Sociological and Public Policy Perspectives . Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA, 1996.

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