Martha P. Cotera

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Martha P. Cotera (born January 17, 1938) is a librarian, writer, and influential activist of both the Chicano Civil Rights Movement and the Chicana Feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Her two most notable works are Diosa y Hembra: The History and Heritage of Chicanas in the U.S. and The Chicana Feminist. Cotera was one of six women featured in a documentary, Las Mujeres de la Caucus Chicana, which recounts the experiences of some of the Chicana participants of the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas.


  • We are completely aware that the condition-if you want to call it that of Anglo women can't help but affect us, since Anglo women teach our children and provide most of the input for all media in this society.
    • "Feminism as we See it" (1972 speech)
  • What is stronger: racism or sexism? I believe racism. Anglo women must analyze their emotions and intellect and think clearly on this. Is the women's movement a move to place just another layer of racist Anglo dominance over minority peoples?
    • "Feminism as we See it" (1972 speech)

"Our Feminist Heritage" (1973)


"Cotera gave this as a speech in 1973 and then published it in her anthology, The Chicana Feminist (Austin: Information System Development, 1977: pp. 1-7). Anthologized in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings

  • The social and economic upheavals which deposed the Díaz regime and produced the 1910 revolution gave Mexican feminists another arena for action. Revolutionary supporters established women's organizations like the Hijas de Cuauhtémoc and newspapers like Vesper which helped the cause and raised women's consciousness about their own status. Juana Belen Gutiérrez de Mendoza was an outstanding feminist and journalist of the period.
  • In terms of women's rights, the Mexican revolution of 1910 had enormous impact. During the revolution men and women developed relationships of partnership and mutual regard very seldom seen in most societies. Through their activities as clerks, secretaries, smugglers, telegraphers, journalists, financiers, and soldiers, women had a rare opportunity to develop their potential on a large scale, beside the men, and won their respect and recognition as partners. Perhaps within the Mexican culture this phenomenon was only to be repeated in the U.S. with the Chicano farmworker and civil rights struggles of the twentieth century.
  • From Frances Swadesh's research on southwestern cultures we know that mestizas in the southwest enjoyed a very liberalized existence as compared to Mexico and other parts of the United States in the 1850s. Women like pony rider mail carrier Candelaria Mestas and "La Tules" in New Mexico blew the Chicana stereotypes. In the 1880's socialist and labor organizer Lucy Gonzales Parsons was actively organizing women workers in Chicago. Her very presence and activity as a leader in the labor movement for thirty years propelled both the feminist and labor causes.
  • The P.L.M. and its publication Regeneración became important vehicles for the espousal of women's rights in the U.S. within the Chicano community.
  • The 70s has seen an upsurge in activity and development for Chicanas without parallel. Chicanas have made enormous contributions in the fields of education, journalism, politics and labor. They have certainly added depth and new dimension to feminist philosophy and literature in this country.
  • if feminism or a women's liberation movement continues its activities in this country, Chicanas seem ready to make certain it is a multicultural movement, especially in educational institutions and in the political and socio-economic arena.

"La Nueva Hispana e Hispanidad" [The New Hispanic Woman and Hispanicity] (1979)


From La Luz, Vol. 8, No. 4, Oct.-Nov., 1979: pp. 8-10. Anthologized in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings

  • Both movements and both decades provided impetus, opportunities and vehicles for women's development, although, unfortunately, in both cases development was selected and often controlled by others-by our men in the Sixties and by Anglo women in power in the Seventies.
  • Instead of optimisim, I am inspired by Erma Bombeck, universal humorist, whose words seem singularly directed to us: "If life is a bowl of cherries, what are we doing in the pits?"
  • We can choose to repeat ancestral practices or to break with them.
  • Whether we are Cuban, Puerto Rican, Bolivian, or Mexican-American we have uncannily similar historical backgrounds, including an American or Caribbean indigenous culture, conquest by Spain, a period of colonialism, mestisaje struggles for independence, nationalism-and for Hispanas in the United States, another colonial experience.
  • Hispanas should no longer leave unchallenged the irresponsible expressions of ideologies and rhetoric that both disregard the basic tenet of individual worth and ignore women's continued contribution to culture and to the political, artistic, and intellectual evolution of the Hispanidad. Until we do this, the detractors of womankind will continue to promote bastardized machismo as basic and inevitable in the Hispanic culture. Unless we do this, the majority society, and many of our own people, will continue their fantasized portrayals of Hispanas as objects; passive nonentities, social reactionaries, and nonproductive members of society.
  • we must maintain the perspective that our overriding priority must be the redemption of the documented history of the Hispanic woman-a history rendered illegible by the cultural, sociological, economic, and political confrontations between colonizer and native of the New World.
  • Our strategies should be aimed at educational institutions-those depositories for young people where racism, extreme chauvinism, and anti-female feeling is the strongest. We need to address ourselves aggressively to educational textbooks in which Hispanas are the invisible minority.
  • Media, communication, and group action are urgently needed if we're going to control our lives in the Eighties and beyond.
  • Hispanas and Hispanos together must confront the subject of equal rights. No one else is going to come in and resolve the situation for us.
  • as long as Hispanos are not prepared to deal with women's equality they will be handicapped in their relationship with Hispanas.
  • one of the challenges for Hispanas in the Eighties is to raise the consciousness of the community toward full and equal rights for all persons regardless of sex, to claim rights to personhood, which our Indian and Hispanic cultural heritage has never denied us.
  • We cannot hide the facts from men any longer. We will not use the proverbial shawl to protect them from reality. There is a new revolution to face together, a new independence to be fought for, together.

"Feminism: The Chicano and Anglo Versions-A Historical Analysis" (1980)


Anthologized in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings

  • Chicanas' involvement with the women's movement in the 1890 to 1920 period was limited by the barriers that impeded all women with similar backgrounds: the antilabor, antiminority attitudes of the leadership of the women's movement. They were affected also by the antisocialist and anticommunist attitudes of the movement in the early twentieth century, since many Chicana workers and leaders were ardent socialists.
  • The greatest victory for the women's movement was not victory for minority women. The suffrage amendment did not enfranchise Chicanas and black women. Chicanas were affected by the aftermath of the suffrage amendment, when women's movement activities slowed down, because white women achieved their desires, but Chicanas, like other minority women, had to continue to struggle for mere survival. They were affected when middle-class women were given preferential treatment in war industry, but blacks and Chicanas had to continue with unskilled, low-paid agricultural work and other service occupations. Chicanas were affected when white middle-class women went back home in the fifties, but minority women did not, and Chicanas, to boot, continued to suffer repression and deportation for their continued labor and civil rights advocacy. Chicanas have been affected when their community and their own gains in the 1960s have taken a back seat to the women's movement just as the black movement and black suffrage took a back seat to the suffrage movement in the latter part of the last century.
  • One of the first Chicanas to come into contact with the suffragist movements in the 1880s was Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, a Chicana socialist labor organizer.
  • Jane Addams and others spoke and acted on behalf of women labor leaders like Lucy Parsons, assisting them in rallies, providing bail when they were arrested, and using their tremendous power and influence on behalf of working women.
  • Although many social workers like Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, and Sophonisba P. Breckenridge, and socialists like Emma Goldman advocated the rights of immigrants and working women, in most instances during the 1890 to 1910 period their advocacy had little or no effect on the suffragist movement's attitude toward minority or working-class women
  • the promotion of barriers to universal suffrage such as literacy and educational requirements disenfranchised Black women, Chicanas, and poor and immigrant women until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • like Chicanas today, the women found, then, that while few battles were won in civil rights on behalf of their communities, fulfillment and the gains of the women's movement were never their gains. The suffragist movement had been manipulated since the 1870s to benefit those that eventually benefitted from it and noone else.
  • Chicana feminist activities in the 1904 to 1920 period were channeled through civil rights activities and labor organization work. Some outstanding women were Jovita Idar, a journalist and civil rights worker from Laredo, Texas; Soledad Peña, orator and educator; María Renteria; and María Villarreal. These women were speakers and participants in a historical civil rights conference, the Primer Congreso Mexicanista. On October 15, 1911 they also founded the Liga Femenil Mexicanista.
  • Polling places in the southwestern states were almost always on the Anglo side of the tracks, where Mexicans were allowed for domestic work or other service jobs only.
  • Chicana labor leaders and politicians, like Denver's Dolores McGran González, testified before congressional committees, ran for local office, and served as national delegates to the Progressive Party Convention in the late 1930s. Other women who have become models of female-inspired activities of the period are Dolores Hernández, who was killed on October 10, 1933 during a strike of 15,000 farm workers in Visalia, California. Another woman labor union leader made history in 1936 when she led pecan sheller strikers in San Antonio in a successful strike effort. Emma Tenayuca Brooks, then a 17-year-old labor organizer and orator, became a beacon of hope to beleagured workers throughout the United States. For her efforts, she has had to live 40 years in obscurity and anonymity. In civil rights and educational reform, a strong women's advocate, Mariá L. Hernández of Lytle, Texas, worked tirelessly throughout the 1930s demonstrating, speaking, and protesting the educational status of Mexican-Americans in the United States.
  • Some of the women who led the movement in its early days were Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, Alicia Escalante with the Welfare Rights Organization, and Gracia Molina de Pick and Anna Nieto-Gómez with feminist activities. Women politicians like Virginia Muzquiz of Crystal City, Texas, Mariana Hernández, and Grace Davies put Chicanas in the political forum. Like these women, there have been hundreds of others who, in the late 1960s and 1970s, have proved that Chicanas have come of age politically in this country.
  • Minorty women could fill volumes with examples of put-downs, put-ons, and out-and-out racism shown to them by the leadership of the [women's] movement.
  • The Chicana is "together" but her progress is not commensurate with her her goals as a woman. The two great barriers to her achievement are: 1) the opportunism in the women's movement that has forced lower priorities to be set on public policy and governmental programming for minority populations and the poor, and 2) the conservatism of Chicano males.
  • It is always easier to battle strangers than one's family.
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