Latinas, much like our fellow hermanas of color, are the unsung heroes of feminism. Many of the phrases touted by women’s groups and the concepts discussed everywhere from gender studies courses and feminist websites to grassroots organizations come from the work of U.S. Latina and Latin American thinkers, writers and activists.
From rape culture and femicide, the killing of women because of their gender, to sex positivity and what we now know as intersectionality, here are some feminist lessons, as taught by mujeres Latinas.
1. Cherríe Moraga
Most feminists are familiar with the concept of intersectionaility, which explains the ways oppressions like racism, sexism and transphobia are interconnected; however, fewer are aware that this term, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, was actually influenced by Chicana feminist Cherríe Moraga’s earlier concept of "interlocking." Moraga taught us that our social identities overlap – or interlock – impacting our experiences with oppression and discrimination.
2. Sylvia Rivera
On the topic of overlapping identities, Puerto Rican-Venezuelan activista Sylvia Rivera was one of the first trans women to bring interlocking feminism into the LGBT+ movement, unapologetically advocating for trans and queer impoverished women of color. She taught us that feminism belongs to trans women, too, and her life in the movement can be considered a guide on how marginalized people can (and should!) disrupt spaces that exclude their identities.
3. Lídia Puigvert
Colombian sociologist Lídia Puigvert instructed us that each woman’s voice matters, not just those with income and academic privileges, and that feminist discourse must be accessible to those outside of the classroom, those who have long been excluded.
4. Myriam Merlet
Before her unfortunate death in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the fearless and brilliant Haitian activist Myriam Merlet spent her life teaching us about rape culture, the way it creeps up in our everyday lives and how this sexualized violence is used as a political weapon.
5. Gloria Anzaldúa
Through stories of La Virgen de La Guadalupe, La Malinche and La Llorona, queer Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa reminded us that society places Latinas in three limited roles: chaste women, putas and wailing ladies. But she taught us that, as mujeres, we embody all three of these characteristics simultaneously, among so many others. We are so much more than the one-dimensional tales sexist and racist media share of us.
6. Julia Alvarez
Dominican writer Julia Alvarez has uplifted generations of dispirited Latinas searching for representations of themselves. Through books like "In the Time of the Butterflies," she dispelled the myth that Latin America and the Caribbean do not have feminist heroines. Through "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents," she showed us we are our own damn heroes.
7. Aurora Levins Morales
Aurora Levins Morales’ lessons on disability justice is one that most able-bodied feministas need to revisit. The Puerto Rican feminist activist, along with other folks of color like Sins Invalid, Patricia Berne and Leroy Moore, writes: "All bodies are unique and essential. All bodies are whole. All bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them.”
8. Sandra Cisneros
Through Sandra Cisneros' short story “Guadalupe the Sex Goddess,” the Chicana feminist shows us what it means to reclaim our sexuality, something so long shunned in our Latino communities. By recovering the de-sexed virginal Lupe, she offers us lessons on pleasure, a response to society’s teachings on female subordination.
9. Julia de Burgos
Through the poetry of early 20th century Afro-Puerto Rican poeta Julia de Burgos, we learned to question gender roles, with powerful lines like, "Don't let the hand you hold, hold you down," still important today.
10. Marcela Lagarde
Mexican academic Marcela Lagarde redefined the U.S. concept of femicide so that it reflected the experiences of Latin American women who have systemically been killed and brutalized. She taught us that the state, whether directly or indirectly, plays a role in the mass abductions, disappearances and deaths of mujeres, reflecting the experiences of the women victims of Latin America’s drug wars and civil conflicts.