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Red de Revistas Científicas de América Latina y el Caribe, España y Portugal
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Memories and Migrations: Mapping Boricua & Chicana Histories
Edited by Vicki L. Ruiz and John R. Chávez
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008
248 pages; $20.00 [paper]
Yolanda Nieves
Wilber Wright College
I am asking my readers’ forbearance, especially those who are scholars and who prefer or
enjoy the intellectual traditions as dictated by the academy. I want to introduce the book
Memories and Migration: Mapping Boricua and Chicana Histories
by way of storytelling—a
technique, of course, that is better appreciated in the oral tradition around our mothers’
or grandmothers’ kitchen table while rice and beans boil on the stove.
Central to every history book ever written there is a deep subconscious historical
background that is recalled by the reader. This subconscious construction of
knowledge of the historical background floats to the surface in the consciousness
of its readers by way of memory and experience. Here is mine as it relates to
the book that is being reviewed,
Memories and Migrations: Mapping Boricua and
Chicana Histories
. When I was a young girl growing up in Chicago’s Puerto Rican
neighborhood, Humboldt Park, we had one neighborhood movie theater called El
Teatro San Juan. It was in this theater where I got a glimpse of the possibility that
there were little pieces of history and little parts of me embedded in undefined and
unwritten events. It was 1964, and the movie
West Side Story
was playing. All the
issues, misconceptions, and grand narratives of the movie aside, it was the face of
Rita Moreno that struck the deepest cord in me, as well as the idea that other Puerto
Ricans might actually be suffering the same kind of marginalization my family was
experiencing in Chicago’s Northwest Side neighborhood. Moreover, for the first
time in my life I saw a woman who looked like my mother and who looked like me
on the big screen. Consequently, for the first time in my life I didn’t feel invisible.
At such a young age, how was I to know that Puerto Ricans had a rich cultural
history and a history of struggle? How could I know that thousands of miles away
a Chicano community was experiencing parallel struggles? In 1964 Puerto Rican
transnational migration was just beginning to be considered as having a possible
historical significance for the Puerto Rican community, which was caught in a
whirlwind of a diaspora in an unwelcoming metropolis. El Teatro San Juan was part
of a physical landscape that established an anchor for those families who migrated to
the metropolis and who, for various reasons, had decided to grow roots in Chicago
instead of returning to the island. El Teatro San Juan was also used for concerts
where Puerto Rican artists from the island came to perform. Thus, in this manner,
our ties from Chicago to the island were solidified. Less than a decade later, this
landmark theater, a place for the Puerto Rican community to gather, was torn down
because it became an eyesore to city officials. They had bigger and better plans
by way of gentrifying the Puerto Rican neighborhood. Now the question arises:
Why should my story of this building have historical significance to the Puerto
Rican community in Humboldt Park? And what does this have to do with the book
being reviewed? First, because the power of El Teatro San Juan was in its ability to
represent a place and space where the Puerto Rican people of Humboldt Park could
gather, talk, and sustain themselves through their cultural and political art forms.
Second, because El Teatro San Juan is, in brief, a piece of erased history. The formula
for colonization is simple: Should no one remember the significance of the building,
of its cultural and political importance, then its significance never existed. Ergo,
if this memory is forgotten, history is consequently erased, and the implications
are that the Puerto Ricans in Chicago don’t have history there. My point is this:
in the book
Memories and Migrations: Mapping Boricua and Chicana Histories
, eight
authors excavate stories just like mine. They bring to the forefront of the reader’s
consciousness what might have been lost if not for feminist Puerto Rican and
Chicana researchers navigating archives for marginalized history about women
who made significant contributions to the memory of their communities.
History has always been about critical cultural and gendered politics.
History as text is text that is never politically neutral. Using McConaghy’s idea,
that “history is a discursive regime which …incorporates rules for inclusions and
exclusions, for speaking and for being silent” (2000: 45), this book counters what
is outside the scope of what we know to be true. Scripted history, as we have seen
it manifested in school books written for all ages, manipulates theoretical, cultural,
and racial assumptions about Puerto Ricans and Chicanos that purport serious
implications for knowledge and our self-determination. Privileged history is about
the eradication of Others’ history. Clearly, history is about those whose knowledge
is privileged and those whose knowledge is marginalized. In this book, we have
eight Latina authors who privilege the historical activism of Puerto Rican and
Chicana women, highlighting women in the early twentieth century who lived their
lives and raised families in a hostile landscape, while struggling against injustices.
Thus, the research articles in the book
Memories and Migrations: Mapping Boricua and
Chicana Histories
might strike a very deep cord in readers.
The book actually piqued my interest in a rather unconventional way. It did so
by way of an apology. Regretfully, many Latinos also subscribe to dominant culture’s
grand narratives in a dangerously unconscious fashion. To prove this point, on the
very first page of the book, Chavez, one of the editors of the book, issues a formal
apology in the preface. Chavez, making a reference to a book he had previously
Lost Land
, admits to his gross omissions related to Puerto Rican women
and Chicana women’s voices. These omissions relate to his forgetting of Chicanas’
significant historical participation. Chavez states, “I had not consciously looked for
female perspectives and had simply missed most, to put it mildly. With this present
book, however, I’m making up for my mistake…” (p. ix).
Muy bien
, I thought.
Let’s see how you made it up to Puerto Rican women and Chicanas.
As a history professor of Chicano history, Chavez’s “making up for my mistake”
statement demonstrates how deeply embedded are the gendered patterns that
both men and women perform on a daily basis. All types of scholars have indeed
participated in gendered choices and gendered exclusions in the documentation
of history, thus reproducing the marginalization of women’s work and their
activism in history. Chavez’s omission also demonstrates how normative it is to
exclude women’s perspectives in research, even by Puerto Rican and Chicano
scholars. Thanks to Ruiz, the second editor of the book, who, through a review
she wrote about Chavez’s
Lost Land
, called into question his omission of women’s
contributions to Chicano history. In
Memories and Migration
, and to Chavez’s
credit, both Ruiz and Chavez purposely take the women’s side to highlight
Puerto Rican women’s and Chicana’s participation in acts of democracy,
civil disobedience, self-determination, and autonomy in spite of the personal
consequences suffered by each in their line of action.
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The book’s concept was born at a symposium in 2004. Originally, the intent of the
book was to “…push geographical analogies further—to consider regions, sub-regions,
and localities across interstate, international, and conceptual boundaries” (p. x).
The women scholars, who were asked to submit proposals, challenged the editors to
revise the original intent of the book. A more specific perspective emerged from the
writings submitted, one that focused on the experiences of twentieth-century Puerto
Rican women and Chicanas, as well as how they marked their communities. Ruiz, one
of the editors, speaks rightly of these contributions when she stated in the preface that
“Latina histories reveal how transnationalism does not require travel across vast oceans
but occurs within and across the Americas” (p. 7). Her comment has deep implications
for Latina scholars, for it is a call for more research on ourselves.
The contributors to the book, two Puerto Rican women scholars and six
Chicana scholars, all with unique writing styles and approaches to research, provide
the reader with various historical contexts for examining what might be forgotten.
Thematically, the eight chapters relate pieces of forgotten history, events, and
under-reported activism enacted by Latinas. Powerfully, the collective writings of
the book contradict the Anglo-centric scripted imaginings of who Puerto Rican
women and Chicanas are. The chapters collectively point to the way external
political influences interacted violently with Latino communities, affecting those
who had been here long before Anglos arrived, and the more recent twentieth-
century Puerto Rican settlements in New York and Chicago. Together the book
aspires to be more than just a fact-finder’s treasure chest. It points to progressive
movements that lay a foundation for the social activism conducted by Puerto
Rican women and Chicanas in various parts of the United States. It also points to
the reality of our diverse histories in the U.S. On the one hand, the book features
case histories on how groups of women protested against anti-union companies,
like the women who had to raise families in the Rockefeller company towns and
the women who actively participated in the 1958 New York garment strike.
On the other hand, some of the chapters focus on distinct women, like Alva Torres,
who through singular action made contributions to their communities. Together,
the authors break through the whitewashed neutrality of scripted history, while countering
the pigeonholed image of the essentialized and passive role of Puerto Rican women
and Chicanas in history. All of the contributors deliberately point to the recovery of
various Latina perspectives in the U.S. with their scholarly work.
One of the book’s strengths is the investment of the individual authors to
excavate information that might otherwise be lost. In the first chapter, Montoya
unveils how women whose husbands worked for the Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel
& Iron Company during the 1930s had to negotiate an existence in an oppressive
company town in light of the shadow of the Ludlow Massacre that shocked the
nation in 1914. Montoya shines a light in the face of the company’s Industrial
Representation Plan, which literally held the Chicano families hostage to strict
behavioral controls and surveillance within the family camps, and which enforced
a strict racial hierarchy among the different racial and ethnic groups in the camps.
This chapter is thoroughly researched and emerges as a finely written interrogation
of Rockefeller’s company towns, as well as Chicanas’ various forms of resistance
inside the company-controlled communities.
In chapter two, “La Placita Committee: Claiming Place and History,” Otero
provides her readers with the historical account of Alva Torres’ immersion into the
politics of gentrification, otherwise known as urban renewal. By way of initiating
a grassroots movement to save memory and sacred space, Otero uses a flawless
narrative style to share the information garnered in interviews, photographs, and
data, while recounting Torres’ efforts to save the heart of her community, La Plaza
de la Messilla, located in the old center of Tucson, Arizona. By identifying what is
significant to her community, Torres forces town officials into a discourse about
power, influence, and marginalization. Otero, in relating Torres’ narrative, does
something even more important as well. Otero identifies for the reader how critical
it is for Latinas to name, identify, and bring into public discourse what is important
to us. The issues of displacement, gentrification, power, and resistance are key
themes, and Otero’s analysis clearly establishes the importance of those points.
Leyva, in chapter three, “Cruzando la Linea: Engendering the History of Border
Mexican Children during the Early Twentieth Century,” reveals the significance of
scripting children into history. Leyva states that “centering children’s experiences and
representations… enables us to realize more clearly the obstacles faced by the Mexican
community and the strategies employed by adults and children to assert agency” (p. 72).
Leyva’s idea is that children cross many borders: physically, developmentally,
culturally, and racially. Her research is composed of a myriad of case studies of children
who crossed the Mexican-U.S. borders. She provides the reader with an amazing
supply of quotes from interview transcripts of children and their relatives, as well as
documents, policies, even U.S. government officials’ comments that all together weave
a wider perspective of what it was like to cross the Mexican-U.S. border during the
early decades of the twentieth century. What amazes most is how arbitrary those turn-
of-the-century immigration policies were instituted, and how threatening the children
were viewed by the U.S government. Even more, in the midst of uncertainty about
their future in the U.S., children who crossed the border, whether they crossed alone
or with relatives, represented the process of translation and representation of culture,
language, and resilience that have brought us into the twenty-first century, as it relates
to our current turbulent and nebulous immigration policies.
Chapter four, “Lived Regionalities: Mujeridad in Chicago, 1920–40,” by Arrendondo,
takes the reader into a different direction. In this chapter, Arrendondo addressed the
concept of
, which she defines as “the competing visions and beliefs about
what Mexican women could and should do” (p. 94). Overall, issues of cultural, gendered,
and generational clashes paint this chapter’s discourse. However, after analyzing some of
the generalizations proposed in this chapter by the author, I had to raise the question:
Can mujeridad also include the competing visions and beliefs about other Latinas?
With photos and interviews Arrendondo supports the idea that “mujeres traveled across
many geographic and psychic spaces in their journeys to Chicago” (p. 113). However,
our author makes and re-states generalizations about Mexican women that can be true
of other Latinas. For instance, Arrendondo makes several interesting claims in this
chapter. One is that, “At any given historical moment, the Mexicanas included here
were accumulations of the many experiences and the knowledge of the places they
had lived” (p. 96). Another is that “…Mexicanas living in Chicago during the 1920’s and
1930’s helped spin a transnational/multiregional web that extended throughout the
Midwestern and southwestern United States to parts of northern and central Mexico”
(p. 97). Somewhere in me I resist privileging the notion that this is true only for Mexicanas,
especially since I was born and raised in Chicago, and I also have the accumulation of
many experiences. Mohanty (2006) has acknowledged that, “After all, the point is not
just to record one’s history of struggle, or consciousness, but how they are recorded;
the way we read, receive, and disseminate such imaginative records is immensely
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[ 287 ]
significant” (p. 78). Sometimes assumptions like these are written as a means of countering
the grand narratives that have been written by non-Latinas. Yet, paradoxically, it may
result in ostracizing other realities and other truths. Nevertheless, Arrendondo’s research
is a testament to women’s struggles against transnational patriarchal cultural values.
Whalen, addressing the 1958 Dressmaker’s Strike in chapter five, effectively relates
the ILGWU’s walkout and rally that convened over 105,000 members in Madison
Square Garden. Whalen’s reconstruction of the event and her use of interviews,
as well as public and private sources, results in a magnificent flow of different yet
parallel experiences. Taking complex and seemingly scattered pieces of history,
her account of this one event is a superb compilation of all of her sources. She brings
to life various personalities that influenced the strike, both Puerto Ricans and others,
who struggled for better wages and working conditions for more than 100,000 workers
employed in the garment industry while building a tightly woven narrative.
In the remaining chapters of the book, Elizabeth Salas, Marisela R. Chavez, and
Virginia Sánchez Korrol continue to interrupt dominant discourse with their research
on Puerto Rican women’s and Chicanas’ activism. Salas’s “The Floating Borderlands:
Identity, Farmwork, and Políticas in Washington State,” Chavez’s “Pilgrimage to the
Homeland: California Chicanas and International Women’s Year, Mexico City, 1975,”
and Sánchez Korrol’s “The Star in My Compass: Claiming Intellectual Space in the
American Landscape” make outstanding contributions to the voices of the subaltern.
What these Puerto Rican women and Chicanas’ research indicate is that there is a
close relationship between the struggles that Puerto Rican women and Chicanas have
endured. Our authors help us to see the embedded-ness of essentialism, gendered
discrimination, and racism. Additionally, these women scholars have shown that doing
research is a phenomenon that is socially and culturally situated. Each woman scholar
has spoken from a position of gratitude and consciousness while reminding us that our
history—too often ignored, marginalized, or erased—is waiting for us to excavate it.
Unveiled history, what we know about ourselves and what we uncover about ourselves,
can reconfigure entire communities of people. The authors show that it is morally right
and just to name ourselves and do research in our own names.
The book does suffer from some limitations. First, it only has eight chapters, which
is rather short for an anthology of women’s scholarly work. Second, in the preface
Chavez mentions that during the initial stages of the book the editors received
proposals from only Puerto Rican scholars. Why then are there only two represented?
My last critique of the book is more ideological in nature. My concern is that the
book attempts to indirectly engage in cultural mediation between Puerto Rican
women’s history and Chicana history. The book does elevate the importance of
women’s struggles, and there are commonalities about agency and the women’s
ability to confront and, at times, to overcome their struggle with distinct forms of
marginalization. Each of the chapters has a unifying effect of bringing together distinct
perspectives of women’s histories through the common oppressor—the Anglo-centric
grand narrative. However, as readers, we need to consider the danger of normalizing
our own essentialization. There exist different discourses and unique historical events
that produce different political and/or social consequences for Puerto Rican women
and Chicanas. Additionally, within these discourses there exist predicaments,
historical and contemporary, that drive us in different political directions. What I
would have liked the editors to consider is the inclusion of a final chapter—one that
would discuss the idea of Puerto Rican women and Chicanas having oppositional
cultures that, at times, are dictated by dominant culture policies. There are radical
and conservative positions that make us distinct, and as a reader, I would have liked to
theorize on the possibilities and limitations of women’s agency to effect social change
in light of racism, ethnocentrism, classism, and the impact of globalization.
As Maura I. Toro-Morn has noted, “Research conducted by feminist scholars…
shows how women’s experiences with capitalism, colonialism, and migration
differed from mens’ and how the intersection of social class, gender, race, and
sexuality further differentiates the Puerto Rican experience in profound ways”
(2008: 269). We can conclude that this is also true for Chicana history. Focusing
on Puerto Rican women and Chicanas’ histories across the United States, the
editors provide the readers with a collection of essays, each of which is dedicated
to a piece of history that has been overlooked, erased, and forgotten. Each of the
eight authors focuses on resurrecting a piece of feminist history taken literally
from the bottom drawer of archives. The history is embodied in struggles to
maintain buildings, homes, and communities. The research by the various authors
also portrays the cultural tensions experienced by first-generation and second-
generation mothers, fathers, and daughters. In this way,
Memories and Migrations:
Mapping Boricua and Chicana Histories
, provides a forum for discussion, while we
search, perhaps even recover, forgotten truths about ourselves as Puerto Rican
women and Chicanas—as activists, truth-tellers, and scholars.
Finally, for the subaltern scholar, there is a profound understanding of how for
more than five hundred years the history of indigenous and colonized communities
has been marginalized and erased, both abroad and here. The book is a testament
of how women of color, in our case Puerto Rican women and Chicanas, have
been especially excluded from historical records, thereby rendering their activism
unrecognizable and nonexistent. According to history, as interpreted and scripted
by dominant culture, Puerto Rican women and Chicanas’ imprint of activism is
null and void in the grand narratives of historical documentation. Thankfully, the
authors who contribute their research to this book highlight the participatory
nature of history-making in the U.S. by Latinas; they reframe and reclaim Latina
history. My hope is that the editors continue to make up for a mistake by
considering another volume by Puerto Rican women and Chicana scholars.
McConaghy, C. 2000.
Rethinking Indigenous Education: Culturalism, Colonialism
and the Politics of Knowing
. Brisbane, Australia: Post Pressed.
Mohanty, C. 2006.
Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity
Durham: Duke University Press.
Toro-Morn, M. I. 2008. Review of
Emotional Bridges to Puerto Rico. CENTRO: Journal of
the Center for Puerto Rican Studies
20(1): 269–71.
Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women’s Struggle
for Reproductive Freedom
By Iris López
New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008
208 pages; $25.95 [paper]
Hilda Lloréns
, Institute for Community Research
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