Tag Archives: Ethnicity

Day 31- Connecting the Dots

As Women’s History Month wraps up today I want to express my deep gratitude for all of the support I have felt from readers over the past 31 days. I hope that you have enjoyed the discussions and have learned something. I also hope that you can see how interconnected every individual’s struggle for justice is with everyone else’s. I welcomed you all to Feminist Activism with this quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As I conclude my personal goal of writing everyday, I want to focus on the overarching ideas of justice and equality.

In the web of humanity everyone’s fate is intertwined with everyone else’s, so even if we personally are not facing injustice or persecution, we must stand up for those who are. Fighting to secure basic rights and freedoms for everyone will someday protect you, or someone you love. This statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller comes to mind.

Human rights covers a huge range of things, from women’s rights to access to education to the rights of the disabled to access to health care, etc. Merely fighting for each individual human being to have equal access and opportunity will not fix what is wrong with our world though. Environmental issues and the rights of other species to not only exist but to thrive need to be priorities as well, for even the most equal of societies will fall if the planet cannot sustain it.

A look into one individual’s life will clearly illustrate how dependent all living beings are on each other. Let’s look at an average white American woman: 30s-40s, two teenagers and a shelter rescue dog, one expensive abortion, Christian with no time for church, divorced because her alcoholic ex-husband broke too many of her ribs, high school graduate, working class–living paycheck to paycheck, no retirement fund to speak of, paying a mortgage, lives in the suburbs downwind from her job, tries to help take care of her disabled mother who lives in a run-down nursing home, health insurance only covers cervical cancer screenings every two years instead of the recommended annual screenings, her gay brother lives with her because he was forced out of his home when his partner passed away and their home was automatically given to the legal “next of kin,” her mid-90s car has tons of miles on it and is just as hard on her wallet as it is on the environment, and her best friend is the Mexican woman with whom she can barely communicate who is charged with her mother’s care. This story of “middle America” could go on and on.

Every aspect of an individual’s life–sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, education, class, religion, ability, language, environment, legal status, criminal record, and age–affects her/his reality. Each of these factors individually can be cause for discrimination but when more than one factor is “abnormal” the individual can feel hopeless. The norm for American society is male, white, straight, man, some college, middle-upper class, Christian, nondisabled, English-speaking, suburban, US citizen, non-convict, 30s-40s. Imagine how harsh someone’s reality is if these are the facts: female, Latino, bisexual, transgender FTM, some high school, working class, atheist, disabled, Spanish-speaking, urban, undocumented, ex-convict, 60s. Obviously this is an extreme case of being at the bottom of the food chain but this man does exist, many times over!

Let’s go back to our “average” American woman. Her Christian upbringing lead her to get married at age 20 and have children by age 22. After her youngest child went to school she tried to get back into receptionist work but found she had been out of the game too long and no one would hire her. The family couldn’t survive on her husband’s paycheck alone so she took an entry-level job at a manufacturing plant where she was often sexually harassed for being a woman and doing a “man’s job.” Despite missing work for three weeks because her husband put her in the hospital, she worked her way up in the union and, since she left her husband, luckily makes enough money to get by every month. Her brother helps with some of the bills but his employers give him just enough hours to qualify for health insurance, out of pity, because they know if he ever lost his health insurance his HIV status would make him “uninsurable.” Her children, whom she would sacrifice anything for, are in high school, sexually active, average students, mildly involved in extra-curricular activities. She’s straight but sometimes wonders what it would be like to be with a woman. Her mother’s illnesses are taking a toll on her and the Mexican caretaker at the nursing home is the only person she feels comfortable being honest with, partly because she believes the caretaker can’t understand her. She’s been having some pains in her stomach lately which could be attributed to cervical cancer or could be a result of years of inhaling pollution, but she can’t afford to take the time off work to see a doctor during normal business hours, and couldn’t afford her co-payment anyway.

We must all fight each other’s battles. My only word of caution is not to fight for what we think someone else wants, but to fight for what she says she wants, otherwise we’re repeating colonialism all over again. If you are interested in fighting injustice in any (or all) of its many forms, get involved in your community. The old feminist adage to “think globally and act locally” is still true. Always consider what effect your actions will have on the global community and start to make changes in your life and at the local level. This explanation may help.

Some organizations with whom you can explore the birdcage of oppression include The Connect the Dots Movement focused on human, animal and environmental well-being, The Connect the Dots Network which teaches green/sustainable environmental practices to social justice non-profits, 100% Renewable Energy that explains the folly in ageist discrimination in relation to the environmental movement, Counter Quo which examines how a multitude of factors compound oppression and sexual violence, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights that is a legal service that understands how race and security issues affect environmental issues, and L.O.V.E. Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation which explores the necessary links between veganism and feminism, and on combating speciesism, racism, sexism and rape culture.

Tomorrow is April 1st and the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I will not be writing everyday but hope to be able to post at least 2-3 times per week, so check back often for new discussions, or subscribe so you’ll automatically be notified when I post something new. As always, any ideas, links, information, etc. is more than welcome. Thanks y’all. Keep fighting the good fight!

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Day 6- Mixed Women’s Activism in the US

All Children.  One Love.

Image by Keo 101 via Flickr

“Identity, loyalty and belonging are issues which reside at the very heart of our existence and it is up to us to define who we are and identify our needs.”[1]

Most Americans who are not recent immigrants have some Native American ancestry, whether they know it or not. If this heritage is not visible it is often overlooked or even concealed.

Self-definition can be problematic and difficult for women who identify as mixed-race in the United States because the dichotomous and superficial nature of American society assumes that whatever a person looks like is all she is.

All minorities are marginalized in the media and mainstream U.S. pop culture but mixed-race people may be the most invisible of all. Even when a mixed-race person does achieve notoriety they are usually referred to as the most visibly apparent aspect of themselves–like Barack Obama is the first black President: Obama is half Kenyan and half white (English and German).

Because light skin, hair, and eyes tend to be recessive and darker features tend to be dominant, this most likely accounts for the assumption that someone who “looks black” is only black in American culture. Many mixed-race celebrities have risen to fame in the U.S. but often their mixed racial or ethnic heritage is unknown.

A victory for mixed-race Americans came in 2000, when, for the first time, people were allowed to “check more than one box” to describe their race on the national census. Chairman of the Census Advisory Committee of Professional Associations, David Swanson states, “There is no set definition as to what race and ethnicity is. There’s social categories, social constructs, self-identification, maybe some voting-rights acts, but there’s no hard and set definition as to race and ethnicity.”[2] This is clearest for people of mixed heritage.

Often if a woman is mixed white and “colored,” the non-white ethnicities in her background are seen to taint the “purity” of her white blood, and commonly her white heritage is denied her. Denying women their white European heritage harkens back to the racism of the “one drop rule,” but because of their appearance many women with mixed white and “colored” heritage are not afforded the privileges of whiteness. “Though there exist stereotypes of people of all races and cultures, negative stereotypes are often attributed to people of colour.”[3] For this reason, and others, passing is a difficult and emotionally charged idea for many mixed-race people, especially if others in one’s family, such as siblings, are not able to “pass” for white.

Mixed-race women’s identities occur “in the context of a racist, classist, sexist society which places greater value on people who are fully able-bodied and young. Our personal experiences often parallel the experiences of women with whom we identify. Yet, because of the way in which skin colour and physical characteristics are socially graded, despite these parallel experiences, the mixed race experience is seen as different. However, this perceived difference does not place it outside the experience of racism. When we foster discussion as to who is the most racially oppressed, we encourage the colonialist tactic of divide and conquer.”[4]

Because of their similar experiences with racism, many mixed-race women who participate in social movements and strategic nonviolence do so within the context of groups aimed at women of color in general. Few organizations exist to specifically address mixed-race women, which may be another explanation for their likely participation in women of color groups.

Some of the organizations for mixed-race people were started by interracial couples who have mixed-race children, and later organizations were founded by mixed-race adults. Few movements are so forward thinking and proactive, and because they also address transracial adoption, there seems to be little homophobia in the burgeoning mixed-race movement.

Many organizations for mixed people that exist cross national in addition to racial boundaries. Since 2004, June 12 has marked Loving Day around the world, the celebration of multiracial people and couples, commemorating the end to anti-miscegenation laws in the United States.

The first organization to address the needs of mixed-race people in America began in 1978, iPride, or Interracial Intercultural Pride. In 1988 the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA) was established and remains the most visible and active mixed-race advocacy organization in the U.S. today. Project Race was founded in 1991, Mavin began in 1998, Blended People America (BPA) was founded in 2007 and My Gene Mix (MGmix)[5] and Swirl, Inc. started in 2008. MixedChildMixed Folksthe Mixed Heritage Center, and the Mixed Network are all collaborative sites of resources for mixed-race people.

One group specifically for mixed women is Mixed Chicks Chat, a live weekly radio show that addresses what it is like to be a woman with mixed racial and ethnic heritage in the U.S. This group hosts the annual Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival, “an inclusive event targeting the growing population of multiracial and multicultural individuals and families.”[6]

The Topaz Club, established in 2004, is another organization specifically dedicated to mixed women, more specifically women with African heritage.

Despite the relative lack of organizations dedicated to mixed-race women, there is no shortage of heroines for mixed women to identify with. Unfortunately many mixed-race celebrities, politicians, and athletes are only identified as mixed within the blogosphere and not in mainstream media.

In addition to the mixed Native American and white women named yesterday, some notable mixed-race women include Linda Chavez, a mixed Hispanic/white politician and labor organizer; Marie Laveau and her daughter Marie Laveau II, both black and white creole Voodoo priestesses; anarchist and socialist activist Lucy Parsons of African, Native American, and Mexican heritage who married a white former Confederate soldier; Frida Kahlo, renowned Mexican and Hungarian artist; Japanese and white television journalist Ann Curry; painter Pashyanti Carole Hand, of African-American, Native American and white heritage; Miss America 2003, Erika Harold of Greek, German, Welsh, Russian, Native American and African-American ancestry; model, actress and AIDS awareness supporter Karin Taylor of Brazilian, Jamaican and Chinese heritage; black and Japanese model and businesswoman Kimora Lee Simmons; Dr. Maria P.P. Root, a clinical psychologist who specializes in mixed-race issues and created the Bill of Rights for People of Mixed HeritageMildred Loving, the black and Native American plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court ruling that allowed interracial marriages; Queen Noor of Jordan who is Arab and white; Alice Walker’s daughter, bisexual black and Jewish feminist author Rebecca Walker, founder of the Third Wave Foundation; and María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien, a television journalist of Afro-Cuban and white heritage who uses her position to showcase stories that would otherwise go untold in the mainstream media due to bigotry.

In 2010 California elected the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American Attorney General in it’s history, and the first Indian-American Attorney General in the United States, when marriage equality supporter Kamala Harris won by more than 55,000 votes.

There are also many famous mixed-race actresses, singers, and athletes in the U.S. including Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Jennifer Tilly, Jessica Alba, Raquel Welch, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Hudgens, Alicia Keys, Foxy Brown, Mariah Carey, Martha Redbone, Norah Jones, Alexandra Stevenson, Jamila Wideman and Tasha Schwikert.

These women, in embracing and naming their own racial and ethnic heritages, are making a political statement and becoming activists for equality. As non-famous mixed-race women stand up too, they will pave the way for more acceptance in America, and less racism. Women and men are always more than one portion of their identity, and race is no different.

“Rather than criticize barriers imposed externally, women must be vigilant about ones over which we have control and include our surmount of them as integral to our political work.”[7] This politicizing of the personal is important–as one woman explains, “I am tired of being afraid to speak who I am: American and Palestinian, not merely half of one thing and half of another, but both at once–and in that inexplicable melding which occurs when two cultures come together, not quite either, so that neither American nor Arab find themselves fully reflected in me, nor I in them.”

For women who have mixed heritage each of their racial and ethnic identities is as different and as integrated into their whole being as their sexual orientation, religion, age, class, and ability.


[1] Camper, 1994.

[2] Cordova, Randy. 23 March 2010. “Some Hispanics puzzle over race question on census form.” The Arizona Republic. 6 July 2001. http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/03/23/20100323census-form-hispanic-question.html

[3] Camper, 1994.

[4] Camper, 1994.

[7] Camper, 1994.


Day 5- Native American Women’s Activism

2005 Powwow

Image by Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

Native American women, like their Arab, Asian, black and Latina sisters, have also struggled in naming their own identities. Christopher Columbus’s geographic muddling typed the indigenous people of the Americas as “Indians” for centuries. Today Native American and Indian are used fairly interchangeably, but there is growing awareness as to the number and diversity of remaining tribes.

Many Latinas of indigenous heritage, from tribes that reigned from Central America up into modern-day Colorado, unlike activists in MEChA, do not identify as indigenous people or Native Americans because of the racism that plagues American societies. This is largely due to white supremacy and linguistic bigotry–Spanish-speaking indigenous people do not identify with English-speaking indigenous people and vice versa, but again, white, patriarchal society also has a stake in keeping minorities from unifying.

“Women who wish to share their similar experiences ought to be able to do so but [they should] do so within the context of being mindful that we are part of a larger body of people under siege and all of us are needed in the struggle.”[1]

Native American women were the first people to experience the violence, racism and sexism the English, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Germans brought with them from Europe. Very few women’s histories have been recorded from the time of European invasion and those stories that have been retold are suspicious in their details.

“Along with Pocahontas, Sacajawea is the best known of Native American women; the fact that both are remembered for the assistance that they rendered to white men is an aspect of national history that deserves more thoughtful attention than it has received.”[2]

These two Native American women have received the highest “honors” available in U.S. culture: Sacajawea was immortalized on a coin and Pocahontas got her own Disney movie.

“By implying that ‘noble’ Indians like Pocahontas recognized the superiority of non-Indian culture and consequently wanted Europeans to overrun their lands, it allowed whites to rationalize their illegal and immoral seizure of Indian lands.”[3] Indeed, the whitewashed storytelling about Native Americans nearly always places European culture in a superior role, and only when the “savages” recognize this are they “saved” and brought into Christianity.

The sheer number of people who were killed by violence and disease after the arrival of Europeans limits the available historical examples of Native American women but, anthologies of Native American women have recorded stories from tribes across the country about remarkable and heroic women.

Among them is Lozan, “the only Apache woman known to have devoted herself fully to the life of a warrior.”[4] Because she took on a traditionally masculine Apache role she disregarded the traditional feminine role she would have taken on if not for her prowess as a warrior.

Many Native American cultures were far more accepting of variation in gender roles than Europeans ever were. Most Native American cultures throughout North America recognized and often revered the possibility of gender variation. The modern term for those people who felt both masculine and feminine is two-spirit. A transgender person, or two-spirit, is one who is born with one sex but feels that her/his gender role should be closer to that of the other sex. Two-spirits and those who are born intersexed, were historically seen as special, intellectual beings in many Native American cultures because they embodied both masculine and feminine spirits. In essence they were more whole as a person than anyone who was solely male or solely female could be. Recognition of this cross-gender identification has been documented in over 155 tribes in North America.

It was not uncommon for a woman who dressed and acted like a man to engage in sexual relationships with other women and historically there was much more acceptance of fluidity within identity and orientation in Native American cultures. While Europeans often conflate gender roles and sexual orientation, many two-spirit people were celibate, and therefore would not fit into the modern “homosexual” box.

Today Native Americans who identify as two-spirit “face homophobia and sexism from [their] own people, racism from lesbians and gays, and racism, homophobia, and sexism from the dominant society, not to mention the classism many Native Americans have to deal with.”[5]

Many Native Americans who identify as either lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or two-spirit are active in combating homophobia in hetero-normative societies, including Native American societies, and in combating racism in predominantly white societies, including the LGBTQAI society.

Those Native American women who are now fighting for equality and an end to racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and ableism have an amazing repertoire of heroines to look up to from the middle of the 17th century on. Unfortunately the oral traditions that would have carried stories of heroes and heroines from before the European invasion were lost to racism, disease, and death.

One of the first Native American women to make it into the European historical records was Cochacoeske, the village leader of the Pamunkey, who signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation of 1677. “Unlike most agreements between whites and Indians, it attempted to be fair to both sides…. During the negotiations, she insisted that the treaty identify her as the leader, not only of the Pamunkeys, but also of several neighboring tribes.” Cochacoeske “chose to use negotiation rather than weapons to realize her ambition.”[6]

Another historical sister Native American women can look to is Molly Brant. The sister of Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief, she “was perhaps the most politically powerful Native American woman during the late eighteenth century.” Even if she had not been the sister of the chief, “In traditional Iroquois society, women enjoyed a good deal of economic and political power,”[7] and were the owners of the land and what it produced.

While women did not commonly perform the same tasks as men, the tasks they did perform were generally as valued as men’s–something very different from the way women’s work is valued in modern American society. The status of women in many Native American societies was such that “suffragists regularly cited their status as evidence that women and men could and should have balanced roles.”[8]

Native American women, like all women of color in the United States, have historically been forced to choose whether their primary fight is against racism or sexism. Possibly because women already had some political sway within their own communities and had rights that were denied most white women, many Native American women chose primarily to fight for their rights as Natives.

Susette La Flesche Tibbles, an affluent woman of mixed Ponca, Iowa, and French descent, fought for the rights of Native Americans as a reporter and interpreter during the case of Standing Bear v. General George Crook in 1877 when, for the first time, Native Americans “were legally recognized as human beings.”[9] This landmark ruling was a major step forward for Native Americans, but legal recognition as human beings did not necessarily result in more humane treatment by the U.S. government.

Since the European invasion Native Americans were pushed off their land and forced to sign treaties that reserved only a small piece of their homelands for them and still today Native American reservations have some of the highest crime and poverty rates in the country.

Ten years after Standing Bear the Dawes General Allotment Act was signed into law. In trying to compel Native Americans to assimilate to white culture it did irreparable damage to the tribal structure of Native American communities by allotting small parcels of land to individuals in each tribe and then distributing the “surplus” amongst white colonizers. Heads of household received 160 acres, other adults 80, and minors 40, but until an 1891 amendment to the act married women were ineligible to receive land. After the amendment all adults regardless of sex or marital status were treated equally but the size of the allotments was halved.[10]

“The allotment policy depleted the land base, ending hunting as a means of subsistence. According to Victorian ideals, the men were forced into the fields to take on what had traditionally been the woman’s role and the women were relegated to the domestic sphere. This Act imposed a patrilineal nuclear household onto many matrilineal Native societies. Native gender roles and relations quickly changed with this policy since communal living shaped the social order of Native communities. Women were no longer the caretakers of the land and they were no longer valued in the public political sphere. Even in the home, the Native woman was dependent on her husband. Before allotment, women divorced easily and had important political and social status, as they were usually the center of their kin network.”[11]

“By dividing reservation lands into privately-owned parcels, legislators hoped to complete the assimilation process by forcing the deterioration of the communal life-style of the Native societies and imposing Western-oriented values of strengthening the nuclear family and values of economic dependency strictly within this small household unit.”[12]

Until the Indian New Deal overturned the act in 1934, some 90,000 Native Americans were made landless and an estimated 90 million acres of treaty land was taken from tribes across the country.[13]

“By the late nineteenth century U.S. policies toward Indians had deeply impoverished most tribes, particularly those confined to reservations in the West.”[14]

During the period in which the Allotment Act was active many women were working for more fair and just treatment of Native Americans such as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, a mixed Nakota Sioux and white activist who worked in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the government agency responsible for dealing with tribes in America.

Bonnin supported the Society of American Indians, an organization established by Oneida activist Minnie Kellogg in 1911 to support pan-Indianism, or the unification of Native Americans for the rights of all tribes. The pan-Indianism movement began strong steps towards organizing various Native American tribes in 1912 when the Four Mothers Society, made up of people from the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw nations banded together to take political action against the policy of allotment. In the same year the Alaskan Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood was formed to protect tribes’ natural resources.

Meanwhile Bonnin continued to be active in working for Native American rights until her death in 1938. She worked with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs to form the Indian Welfare Committee in 1921 and with the help of the Indian Rights Association persuaded the government to begin what would be the Meriam Report. Even though all Native Americans were finally granted U.S. citizenship in 1924, because Bonnin still felt Native Americans were being severely discriminated against by the government, she formed the National Council of American Indians in 1926.[15]

The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, also known as the Indian New Deal and the Wheeler-Howard Act, restored some sovereignty to Native American nations by allowing tribes to create their own governments and have input into reservation schools.

Even after this Native American children were forced to live in boarding schools far from their families. “The government still operates a handful of off-reservation boarding schools,”[16] and some students who attend them now are grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by other Native Americans and practice their cultures. The reality of today’s Native American boarding schools lies in sharp contrast to the program implemented in 1879 that was based on a prison education system.

When Army Captain Richard Pratt opened the first Native American boarding school, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, he did so with this philosophy: “all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”[17]

Indeed many students were killed in the century in which Native Americans were forcibly removed from their parents, renamed, forbidden to speak their own languages, and imprisoned in off-reservation boarding schools. Hard manual labor and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse were rampant in these schools and rules and discipline were often inappropriate and dangerous.

The Problem of Indian Administration, commonly referred to as the Meriam Report, published in 1928 was a scathing review of the U.S. government’s handling and treatment of Native Americans in all aspects of life. One comment on the teaching methods utilized in the boarding schools stated:

“If there were any real knowledge of how human beings are developed through their behavior, we should not have in the Indian boarding schools the mass movements from dormitory to dining room, from dining room to classroom, from classroom back again, all completely controlled by external authority; we should hardly have children from the smallest to the largest of both sexes lined up in military formation; and we would certainly find a better way of handling boys and girls than to lock the door to the fire-escape of the girls’ dormitory.”

After the Meriam Report, in the 1930s, “educated Indians were determined to fight for the rights of Indian people…. Indian women, such as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin and Ruth Muskrat Bronson, rose to prominence in this movement, which became known as Pan-Indianism because it encouraged Indians of many different tribes to work together to solve their common problems.”[18]

Bronson, a Cherokee woman who worked for the BIA, wrote Indians Are People Too and “she cautioned non-Indians that romanticizing Indian people could be just as destructive as stereotyping them. In the 1940s she also became involved with the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), a national tribal organization dedicated to defending Indian rights.” Formed in 1944, today the NCAI is one of the largest organizations working for the welfare of Native Americans in the UNited States. [19] She also worked to improve living conditions on Native American reservations through her creation of the women’s group Ee-Cho-Da-Nihi.

Another Native American woman who was actively fighting for civil rights during this time was Alice Mae Jemison, of mixed Cherokee and Seneca heritage. Because the BIA had “promoted several policies that were meant to ‘protect’ Indians but that had ultimately helped to make them the poorest minority group in the nation,” Jemison published a newspaper article in 1933 which demanded the government “Abolish this bureau with its un-American principles of slavery, greed and oppression and let a whole race of people, the first Americans, take their place beside all other people in this land of opportunity as free men and women.”[20] In 1935 Jemison also served as the official spokesperson for the American Indian Federation.

The latter half of the 20th century saw major participation by Native American women in fighting for justice. Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, of mixed white and Seminole heritage, made history in 1967 when she became the first elected female tribal chief of any Native American tribe.[22] Her success helped to pave the way for other Native women.

The American Indian Movement (AIM), “Largely composed of young urban Indians inspired by the African-American civil rights movement of the early 1960s… advocated a renewed respect for Indian traditions and sought to make the U.S. government live up to the treaty promises it had made to Indians throughout the country.”[23] Also known as the Indian Rights Movement and Red Power, AIM included many female activists who were integral to its key campaigns such as the occupation of Alcatraz Island, the Trail of Broken Treaties–a protest march at the nation’s capital, and the occupation of Wounded Knee, amongst other activities.

One young mixed Lakota Sioux and white activist, Mary Brave Bird, even gave birth at Wounded Knee as “a symbol of renewal, a tiny symbol, a tiny victory in our people’s struggle for survival.”[24]

Wilma Mankiller, a disabled, mixed white and Cherokee woman, was vital in organizing and fundraising for the occupation of Alcatraz by Native Americans. She would go on to be elected the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985-1995, despite concerns that “electing a female deputy would be an affront to God and would make the Cherokees a laughingstock among other Indian groups.”[25]

Other prominent Native American women active during the 1970s included Ramona Bennett, chairperson of the Puyallup Tribal Council whose “combative brand of activism during this turbulent period helped prevent the dissolution of her tribe,”[26] and Ada Deer who founded Determination of the Rights and Unity of Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS) and has thus far been the only woman to head the BIA as the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, from 1993-1997.[27][28]

Choctaw activist Owanah Anderson was also an integral member of the fight for Native American women’s rights in the 1970s. She served in 1977 as a co-chairperson of the Texas delegation to the Houston Women’s Conference, and then joined the Committee on the Rights and Responsibilities of Women under the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. “From 1978 to 1981, she also served on the Advisory Committee on Women organized by President Jimmy Carter, [and she] founded the Ohoyo Research Center in 1979.”[29] In the past she also served as a project director for the National Women’s Development Program and on the board of directors of the Association for American Indian Affairs. While Anderson is well known throughout Native American communities for her activism, her Micmac contemporary, Anna Mae Aquash has achieved legendary status.

Aquash participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties and was married during the Native American occupation at Wounded Knee to showcase “her commitment to the fight for Indian rights.”[30] Aquash was an effective organizer and leader, drawing Native American women into the causes of AIM when its male leaders could/would not. Tragically, Aquash was murdered shortly after participating in Wounded Knee with AIM leadership claiming it was the work of the FBI and many Native American women claiming it was the work of the male leaders of AIM “who incorrectly believed she was a traitor.”[31]

Today the group Indigenous Women for Justice[32] fights for an answer in Anna Mae Aquash’s murder and follows the events of the trials of those men who have been accused with involvement in her murder nearly 35 years ago.

Native American women today are just as active in fighting for their rights as Native Americans and as women as they were 40 years ago. In 1970 white and Comanche activist LaDonna Harris created Americans for Indian Opportunity and has served as its president ever since. Her active involvement in environmental issues and feminism in conjunction with indigenous issues have made her a force to be reckoned with. She chaired the National Women’s Advisory Council of the War on Poverty in 1967; served as a representative of the Inter-American Indigenous Institute; was a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year,[33] the National Council on Indian Opportunity, the White House Fellows Commission, and the Commission on Mental Health; has served on dozens of national and advisory boards dealing with women’s and indigenous issues including NOW and the ACLU; and participated in the founding of the National Indian Housing Council, the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, the National Tribal Environmental Council, the National Indian Business Association, Common Cause, the National Urban Coalition, and the National Women’s Political Caucus.[34]

Another environmental activist, Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe and Jewish woman, founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project,[35] the Indigenous Women’s Network, and Honor the Earth.[36] She was previously involved, as were many of the above-mentioned activists, with WARN– Women of All Red Nations, to prevent forced sterilization among Native American women.

Other women like Paula Gunn Allen, a mixed Laguna Pueblo, Sioux, Lebanese and Scottish author, worked to increase tolerance for gays and lesbians within Native American communities. Gunn Allen did so with her work The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions[37] while Chyrstos, a Menominee, Lithuanian and French two-spirit has done so with her work Not Vanishing and by contributing to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

Another two-spirit activist, Ojibwe Carol LaFavor fights for Native Americans with HIV/AIDS and founded Positively Native to support the Native American community. Other organizations in which Native American women fight for their rights include the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation,[38] the American Indian Institute,[39] and the Native American Rights Fund.[40]

Native American have fought since their first interactions with white invaders for their rights and will continue to do so within whatever women’s/indigenous/women of color framework they choose. “Like women everywhere, indigenous women do not want others defining for them what it means to be a woman.”[41]


[1] Camper, Carol ed. 1994. Miscegenation Blues: Voices of Mixed Race Women. Sister Vision: Toronto, Canada.

[2] American Women’s History Doris Weatherford. 1994. Prentice Hall General Reference: New York.

[3] Sonneborn, Liz. A to Z of Native American Women. Facts on File, Inc.: New York. 1998.

[4] Sonneborn, Liz. A to Z of Native American Women. Facts on File, Inc.: New York. 1998.

[5] Laframboise, Sandra and Michael Anhorn. 2008. The Way of the Two Spirited People: Native American Concepts of Gender and Sexual Orientation. Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society. 30 June 2010.  http://www.dancingtoeaglespiritsociety.org/twospirit.php

[6] Sonneborn, 1998.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Mankiller, Wilma. 2004. every day is a good day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women. Fulcrum Publishing: Golden, Colorado.

[9] Sonneborn, 1998.

[10] “Indian General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) (1887).” Major Acts of Congress. Ed. Brian K. Landsberg. Macmillan-Thomson Gale, 2004. eNotes.com. 2006. 1 Jul, 2010 http://www.enotes.com/major-acts-congress/
indian-general-allotment-act-dawes-act

[12] Gibson, Arrell M. “Indian Land Transfers.” Handbook of North American Indians: History of Indian-White Relations, Volume 4. Wilcomb E. Washburn & William C. Sturtevant, eds. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1988.

[13] Case DS, Voluck DA (2002). Alaska Natives and American Laws (2nd ed. ed.). Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Press.

[14] Sonneborn, 1998.

[15] Sonneborn, 1998.

[16] Bear, Charla. 12 May 2008. “American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many.” National Public Radio. 1 July 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865

[17] Bear, 2008.

[18] Sonneborn, 1998.

[19] Sonneborn, 1998.

[20] Sonneborn, 1998.

[22] Sonneborn, 1998.

[23] Sonneborn, 1998.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[29] Sonneborn, 1998.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[33] Sonneborn, 1998.

[37] Sonneborn, 1998.

[41] Mankiller, 2004.


Day 4- Latina/Chicana Women’s Activism in the US

Like their black sisters, women of Spanish/Hispanic/Latina/Chicana/Tejana heritage in the United States grapple with the naming of their own identities, and in the past, faced overt racist violence in the form of segregation and lynching. While northern cities may not have had “White Only/Black Only” signs (usually because there were too few blacks) many businesses had signs that read “No dogs or Mexicans.”

Like their Native American sisters, Latinas have been robbed of their land, deprived of their language, and marginalized where they were once the majority. States from Florida to California have large Latino populations, due in large part to the fact that these states belonged to Spain and Mexico for many years, but Latinos are still routinely discriminated against in healthcare and education.

Like their Asian sisters, Latinas have struggled and continue to struggle with sweatshop labor practices, racist attitudes and immigration laws. Latina women earn the lowest income out of any other group, and face ridiculous obstacles to legal immigration to America.

Like their Middle Eastern sisters, Latinas in the United States are assigned an identity. Mexican on the West Coast y en la frontera or Cuban or Puerto Rican in Florida, any Spanish-speaker in the U.S. is assumed to be from one of these three places, with white Americans completely disregarding the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Latinas are also extremely racialized when they are (rarely) seen in the media and almost exclusively objectified as sex symbols. In fact, Selma Hayek was turned down for the role of El Salvadorian Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind because she was seen as too sexy, and the casting director thought it would be unrealistic for a Latina to be that intelligent (never mind that the film is based on a true story).

Despite the fact that the economy of the United States runs on the hard labor of ill-paid Latino immigrants, states like California have made bilingual education illegal, and Arizona is taking the lead on legalized racism.

Latinas have faced racism in what is now the United States since the 1840s, before much of the western territories even became states. As early as 1911 Mexican women, like Jovita Idar, in the United States were working towards equality with La Liga Feminil Mexicanista (the Mexican Women’s League).[1]

In the same year Puerto Rican feminist and socialist Luisa Capetillo wrote Mi opinión sobre las libertades, derechos y deberes de la mujer como compañera, madre y ser independiente, (My opinion about the freedoms, rights and responsibilities of woman as companion, mother and human being) in which she analyzed “the situation of women in society, focusing on what she viewed as the oppression and slavery of women and affirming that education is the key to freedom.”[2] She fought for universal suffrage and had an uncanny ability to “interweave the issues of the private world (such as the family, single motherhood, and women’s rights in general) with those of the public world (such as politics, wages, and education).”[3]

In 1915 the Plan de San Diego was drafted, it “called for a force of Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Japanese to liberate the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Colorado from the United States and create a free society comprised of people of color.”[4]

From then on Latinas have been active in the fight for social justice and equality in the United States.

Because Mexican Americans form the largest portion of the Latino population in the U.S, nearly 65 percent,[5] their activism is the most visible with groups such as LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, forming in 1929.[6]

Although LULAC was formed by Mexican Americans today the organization fights for the advancement and rights of “all Hispanic nationality groups.” This trend is common throughout Latino organizations, most of which sprang from the Chicana/o (Chican@) rights movement or El Movimiento.

El Movimiento began in the 1960s as an extension of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement in the 1940s. Mexican American veterans returning to the United States after WWII formed the American GI Forum (AGIF)[7] in 1948 to fight for medical benefits they were being denied because of their ethnicity. AGIF is still active today and has expanded their cause to serve all Hispanic veterans and fight for all civil rights.

In both LULAC and AGIF, women’s participation in auxiliary groups soon transformed the organizations themselves to fight for equality for all people. These two organizations were also actively involved in the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1954 of Hernandez v. Texas, which extended equal protection under the 14th Amendment to all racial groups.

The Chican@ movement, though fraught with controversy, has been an important part of the fight for all people’s civil rights since the mid 20th century. The term Chicana, (sometimes Xicana) once used to degrade children of Mexican immigrants, is now a label of pride for many Mexican and other Latino Americans. Tejanas are women of Chicana heritage from the state of Texas.

“Almost from the very beginning of the Chicano Movimiento, Chicana activists and scholars criticized the conflation of revolutionary commitment with manliness or machismo….”[8]

Chicana feminists are largely responsible for the push for women’s visibility within El Movimiento; a clear example of this is the use of Chican@ to mean both Chicano men and Chicana women. Because in Spanish the male form of any adjective is assumed to be applicable to women, Chicana activists rejected this linguistic sexism and pushed for the use of Chicana/o to identify any group made up of Hispanic men and women. The @ symbol came to simplify the term.

Many organizations that originated in the 1960s Chican@ Rights Movimiento started out working for the rights of Mexicans in the United States but soon expanded their reach to all Latino Americans. MEChA is one such group.

Formed in 1969, the Movimiento Estidantil Chican@ de Aztlán is a student group that fights for the rights of all people of Aztlán (the Southwest United States that was annexed from Mexico during the Mexican-American War and was named in recognition of the fact that the Mexica and Aztec people were indigenous to this area) and strives “for a society free of imperialism, racism, sexism, and homophobia.”[9] Though the MEChA website urges political participation and education, mainstream, white America sometimes sees them as a militant group.

La Raza is another controversial term used by Latino Americans, meaning “The Race.” Within El Movimiento it is understood to be a term of endearment for Mexicans but is sometimes interpreted as racism against non-Latinos. Again, ideas, terms, and political goals that once applied specifically to Mexicans in the U.S. now apply to all Latinos in America.

Other important and active groups in the fight for civil rights from education to legal issues include the National Council of La Raza (NCLR),[10] the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF),[11] both founded in 1968, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)[12] formed in 1976, and the National Hispanic Institute (NHI),[13] established in 1979.

While the above organizations and others like the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) created in 1967 and the Raza Unida Party (RUP) created in 1970[14] had women in their ranks, some, like the Chicana/Latina Foundation formed in 1977[15] and the Association of Chicana Activists (AChA) established in 1991,[16] were specifically formed by Chicanas to work for the needs and rights of Latina women within the United States. Both the Chicana/Latina Foundation and AChA were formed by college women in California who recognized the need to support other Latina women who may not have the same opportunities they had, while fighting against the racism and sexism of the educational system in the United States.

The work of Chicana feminists both within and without the university system has been key to cross-class activism. Much of the criticism faced by the Chican@ movimiento, especially by groups like the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA),[17] formed by Cesar Chavez, Larry Itliong, and Dolores Huerta,[18] related to the educated, middle-class position of many Chican@ activists. The UFWA remains a powerful working-class union and a strong bond between the Latino and Asian farming communities.

Chicanas have used many types of nonviolent action to realize their goals, from marches, rallies, strikes, boycotts and walk-outs to the highly successful “Day Without a Mexican” campaign and are learning just how much power they wield. All of the moderate and liberal Latino organizations in the United States have voiced their opposition to Arizona’s new discriminatory laws, with some supporting a full boycott of the state.

Currently the UFWA is heading the “Take Our Jobs” campaign,[19] a play on the complaint by white Americans that Latinos are taking all of the available employment in the U.S. They are encouraging unemployed white Americans to take to the fields and sustain agriculture in the same way the Latino community does.

The UFWA is unique among Chican@ organizations in that it clearly states its commitment to nonviolence and taking disciplined action as one of its founding principles. Other organizations do not promote violence but are not as explicit in their call for nonviolence as was Cesar Chavez who “had very little patience for expressions of machismo among his activists.”[20] Chavez’s commitment to nonviolence and equality made the struggles against classism, racism, and sexism more legitimate to the mainstream Chican@ Movimiento despite the fact that Chavez was so radical in his fight against classism and racism that he disassociated himself from El Movimiento.

“In his view, the idea Chicano/a identity promotes does not operate to ease racial prejudice in society but, rather, reinforces the patterns of thinking that underlie it. He takes the idea of Chicano/a identity promoted by such nationalism to be an oppositional identity. That is, Chicano/a identity derives its content primarily by defining itself against, or by rejecting, white mainstream culture.”[21]

By openly combating the dichotomous way Chican@s and other working-class people see race, Chavez and the UFWA helped open the door to fighting against other social constructions that promote bigotry.

Chicana activists and feminists have had much to fight for and against recently, including forced sterilization due to racism and linguistic discrimination. In 1983 the director of the National Latina Health Organization (now the National Latina Health Network, NLHN) Luz Alvarez Martinez, decided “to create a health information service for Hispanic women” because economically disadvantaged Spanish-speaking women were not being offered any other form of birth control besides sterilization.[22] She was also one of the first women in the Chican@ community to raise the need for services in Spanish in women’s shelters.

Journalist Yolanda H. Alvaro also combats racism, classism and sexism against Latina women within the fight for the rights of the disabled. She understands that “the women’s movement is a great training ground for Hispanic women in organizing and… a lot of women’s concerns are Hispanic concerns.”[23]

2010 was a historic year for addressing women’s concerns and Hispanic concerns in the United States as the first Latina woman was appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Like all their American sisters, Latinas have been subjected to sexism and misogyny under the hierarchy of patriarchy in the United States and have actively and strategically worked against sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism to create a more just society.


[1] Palomo Acosta, Teresa and Ruthe Winegarten. 2003. Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History. University of Texas Press: Austin, Texas.

[2] Notable Hispanic American Women Eds. Diane Telgen and Jim Kamp. Gale Research Inc. Detroit, Michigan. 1993.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Palomo Acosta, Teresa and Ruthe Winegarten. 2003. Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History. University of Texas Press: Austin, Texas.

[5] Pew Hispanic Center. 2007. “Table 5. Detailed Hispanic Origin: 2007.” Statistical Portrait of Hispanics in the United States, 2007.  Pew Hispanic Center: Washington, D.C. 28 June 2010 http://pewhispanic.org/files/factsheets/hispanics2007/Table-5.pdf

[8] Orosco, José-Antonio. 2008. Cesar Chavez and the Common Sense of Nonviolence. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque.

[14] Palomo Acosta and Winegarten, 2003.

[18] See http://www.chicanas.com/chingonas.html for a list of other Chicana activists who have left their marks on the civil rights movimiento.

[20] Orosco, 2008.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Notable Hispanic American Women Eds. Diane Telgen and Jim Kamp. Gale Research Inc. Detroit, Michigan. 1993.

[23] Telgen and Kamp, 1993.


Day 2- Asian American Women’s Activism in the US

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Image by karmacamilleeon via Flickr

At some point in American history every racial minority group has faced discrimination similar to what Middle Eastern women are now being subjected to and Asian women are no exception. In fact, “Japanese Americans spoke out against the proposal to intern Arab Americans during the Persian Gulf War.”[1]

This is not to say that racism against other minorities in the U.S. has ended, rather, it has evolved into a subtle systematic oppression where it was once a glaringly obvious hatred.

The United States has a long, varied and unpleasant history of blatantly racist legislation restricting not only immigration from the Asian continent, but also the freedoms granted to Asians already in the country. The forced internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II is one of the biggest blemishes on American history, and America’s sordid actions in the Philippines and Vietnam have created tense and complex relationships with immigrants from both nations.

 

Yet white Americans seem to think Asian Americans have not been affected by their racism. Author Emily Woo Yamasaki explains, “Asians in the U.S. are portrayed as especially adept at ‘making it.’ Vilified as cunning and dangerous on one hand, they are gushed over as the ‘model minority’ on the other.”[2]

Now “Asian immigration laws have changed such that the new Asian immigrant is not educated and professional but working-class or poor. Trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT have broken down protections for workers and the environment in order to secure a free-wheeling capitalist global economy, and Asian workers, especially women, are suffering the worst of it — laboring under worse working conditions and being forced to compete for the most degraded, worst-paying jobs.”[3]

Much like how the laborious toil of individual Chinese immigrant men built the railroads, today the work of Asian immigrant women singlehandedly keeps the U.S. garment industry afloat.

“Activists have responded to these new changes with a renewed labor movement that cross borders and industries. Asian women organizers have been at the forefront of these campaigns.”[4]

Springing out of Asian American movement of the 1960s that was inspired by the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, the “first wave of Asian women’s organizing” formed because “Leftist Asian women in Yellow Power and other Asian American groups often found themselves left out of the decision-making process and their ideas and concerns relegated to ‘women’s auxiliary’ groups that were marginal to the larger projects at hand.”[5]

Asian American women remain active in the fight against patriarchy and domestic violence with groups like Korean American Women in Need (KAN-WIN)[6] and by participating in all facets of American feminism from writing to conferences to protests.

In the past, interned Japanese American citizens protested their treatment and fought for their rights even from within the walls of American concentration camps. Later, Asian Americans were instrumental working alongside Chicanos to organize the United Farm Workers Union and labor strikes demanding fair pay. They were also vital to the fight for Affirmative Action and Ethnic Studies programs.[7]

Today groups like the Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (AIWA),[8] the National Asian Women’s Health Organization (NAWHO),[9] the National Association of Professional Asian American Women (NAPAW),[10] the South Asian Women’s Network (SAWNET)[11] and the Asian American Women Artist Association (AAWAA)[12] all serve the diversity of women who make up Asian American communities across the country.

Asian American women of all sexualities marched alongside their sisters of all colors to protest the grotesque treatment of Rodney King in the early 1990s[13] and continue their nonviolent activism today within organizations like the Women of Color Network (WOCN)[14] that works to stop violence against women. Asian American women are also prominent in ACT UP, an organization committed to solving the AIDS epidemic by utilizing civil disobedience,[15] and various LGBTQAI organizations as well.

Like their Arab American sisters, Asian American women are often invisible to the public eye–left out of all forms of media and racialized when they are seen.

Even though the Asian continent spans from Japan and Malaysia in the East all the way to Turkey in the West and includes nations full of Caucasians like Russia, Azerbaijan and Latvia, Asians in the United States are generally assumed to be Chinese or Japanese. Recognition of people as Filipina, Indonesian, Korean, Laotian, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, Hmong, Indian, Tibetan, or any other national or ethnic distinction, is not something most white or black Americans could do.

That most Americans cannot differentiate between the various Asian nationalities has long been true. In King of the Hill, white Texan and main character Hank Hill asks his new neighbor about his ethnicity:

“So are you Chinese or Japanese?”

To which Kahn Souphanousinphone replies,

“I live in California for last twenty years but first come from Laos.”

Seeing Hank and his other white Texan friends’ confusion he explains where Laos is geographically and gives some facts about it such as the population.

Still not understanding, Hank again asks, “So are you Chinese or Japanese?”[16]

White Americans are so ignorant of Asian cultures that they assume, as stated yesterday, that all Muslims are Arab; Southeast Asian immigrants, and black American converts to Islam, form the largest portion of the Muslim population in the United States and all of the nations with Muslim populations exceeding 100,000,000–Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh–are in Asia.

Bisexual Korean American actress and comedian Margaret Cho fights for Asian American women’s visibility in the media as an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQAI and Asian communities throughout the U.S. She was also the first Asian American actress to star in a television sitcom.

Far from the stereotypes of Asian women as docile and submissive (geisha girl) or evil and plotting (dragon lady), Cho allows her audiences to see the humor in everything from politics to fat. Some of her jokes revolve around people confusing her for Lucy Liu, the Chinese American actress famous for Charlie’s Angels, or Sandra Oh, the Korean Canadian star of Grey’s Anatomy, and in this way combat typical American ignorance of the differences within the Asian American community.

While anthologies of black, Hispanic and Native American women can easily be found in the public library it is difficult, if not impossible, to find the same kind of documentation of the lives of individual Asian or Arab American women. Literature compilations by Asian and Arab women are available but biographies of women important to those groups’ fights for equality are not yet in America’s public libraries.

Compilations of feminist essays by women of color are careful to include Middle Eastern and Asian women but their voices are still too far and few between. Women must have access to their own histories and be able to draw upon the strengths of others in their communities to be able to learn and grow from past actions; Asian American women are no exception.


[1] Alaniz, Yolanda and Nellie Wong, eds. 1999. Voices of Color. Red Letter Press: Seattle, Washington.

[2] Alaniz, Yolanda and Nellie Wong, eds. 1999. Voices of Color. Red Letter Press: Seattle, Washington.

[3] Shah, Sonia. 1997. “Women and Gender Issues” Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. June 15, 2010 http://www.asian-nation.org/gender.shtml

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. 2006. Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology. South End Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

[7] Alaniz and Wong, 1999.

[13] Alaniz and Wong, 1999.

[16] “Westie Side Story.” King of the Hill. Fox. 2 May 2006.


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