Mujeres Talk: On the Significance of Women of Color Groups in Academia

In 1980-81, a group of women, mostly Chicana, some Native/indigenous, mostly graduate students, some undergraduates and at least 2 faculty, founded an organization still in existence today, called Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS). Initially, it received funding from many sources, small amounts from student funds, research monies, and UC Davis’s Chicana/o Studies Research Center. It grew from an initial interest in presenting research before a hospitable, sharp group of Chicana/Latinas into an annual gathering now approaching 30 years in standing.

The co-founders of the organization, as the only academic organization begun by and for Chicanas/Latinas and Native women, also went on to help create a journal, and still the only academic journal dedicated to the same idea, of, by, and about Chicanas/Latinas and Native women in the academy.

As one of the 8-10 co-founders and assistants to the funding of the organization I offer this advice: think small, specifically, strategically, and dream big. I am still dreaming big, hoping that one day there will be a National Association of ChicanA Studies; much has changed on the academic landscape, for one, seeing the word Chicana and Chicano in print today when it was once considered a nasty word by the dominant societies and groups of the time. The idea, just a nugget, prevailed and it was armed with the ingredients that today seem common sensical—dedication to equity, diversity, gender and sexual equality, and to social, political, and cultural justice. More women are being hired with expertise in the study of Mexican origin people in the U.S., and of Chicanas in particular. With Antonia Castañeda, also a co-founder of MALCS, we launched a book series with University of Texas Press, Chicana Matters Series. We are approaching out 20th book, and many other presses are publishing work on Chicanas. Another lesson: dream, act, and do because it is possible to create this body of work and leave it for any who care to continue the task of shaping a field.

About your mentoring question: we in MALCS all had to mentor one another; our two women faculty members were either untenured or had not received tenure. No fair evaluators of their work could be found. But because we had each other, we learned, through sponsors (some of them men, some of them Euro-American, some of them heterosexual!), through example, and through sheer, unmitigated will to survive. It was a struggle and those first Chicanas who made it into the academy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of whom were fired, dismissed, or moved over into “women’s work,” offered lessons and hope with a message that only we could do this work and pass it on. We did, and many of our elders today continue to publish, write, speak, and encourage the new voices of younger women. None of us established this field alone, another lesson learned, and that’s what being mentored and mentoring today means to me.

I enjoy the privileges today of safety, economic, political, cultural; yes, a price has been paid, but I am a full professor in a Department of Chicana/o Studies and also get to do administrative work in an environment cognizant of the above contributions. So, I encourage the readers to continue their work even when it seems beyond hopeless, when misunderstandings dominate, when allies are few and far between. And, pass on your good fortune and blessings because someday, you will look back and see that the reward comes from jobs well done with friends. Structure your efforts so that they are sustained across space and time for many more generations. Think beyond the self or the egos that will inevitably get in the way. Love what you/we do—my mentors taught me this, too!

This post was originally circulated on the listserv of the Ford Foundation Fellows in response to a query about the history and experiences of groups organized by women of color in the academy and is republished here with the permission of the author. 

Professor Deena J. González is on the faculty of Loyola Marymount University.