Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

"Que Se Pudieran Defender (So You Could Defend Yourselves)": Chicanas, Regional History, and National Discourses

Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

"Que Se Pudieran Defender (So You Could Defend Yourselves)": Chicanas, Regional History, and National Discourses

Article excerpt

Chicana lives, inscribed on roadways and waterways, link people, rivers, communities, valleys, and regions in histories embedded, since long before the sixteenth century, in northward migrations from Mesoamerican valleys to Inuit shores. (1) Where and how do these lives, linked across time, space, and place, fit into regional histories that, at best, reinforce a fragmented understanding of a Chicana/o presence in the region as well as in U.S. history? This fragmented understanding is rooted in a historiography that has excluded Chicanos, a population annexed to the United States by military conquest and international treaty in the mid-nineteenth century, from the conceptualization of both region and nation.

The power of place is in its ordering, and the ordering of space entails the operation of gender, race, and class. In this context, how does a history that recognizes the presence and continuity of Chicanas in these landscapes long before the nineteenth-century annexation reorder the regional and national space that has rendered their historical experience invisible? (2) The presence and migrations of Chicanas challenge current constructs of regional history and speak to larger epistemological, methodological, analytical, and interpretive questions and categories in the construction of U.S. history. How do we conceptualize, tell, and write the story of the United States and its regions? Who tells the story and how? Who is authorized to tell the story? Whose story gets told? Who controls the ordering of time, space, and place?

To concretize the issues relative to Chicanas and regional history, this essay centers gendered, racialized, sexualized, and historicized working-class Chicana bodies and the transregional migration of farmworkers from Texas to Washington State during the mid-twentieth century. My examination of migration draws heavily on historian Emma Perez's theory of Chicanas' "diasporic subjectivities" and of Chicanos as a "diasporic population." (3) I use both terms--migration and diaspora--throughout this paper. Perez's proposition of diasporic subjectivity as the "oppositional and transformative identity that allows these women to weave through the power of cultures, to infuse, and be infused, to create and re-create newness" is critically important to the discussion. (4)

This essay argues three main points:

Chicana migration within the boundaries of the United States challenges current conceptualizations and categories of analysis of U.S. regional history;

Definitions of regions are contingent on people's sociopolitical and geographical location; and

The imposition of regional boundaries distorts the narrative of the experience of women's lives.

The article focuses on the twentieth-century "internal migration" of Chicanas from Texas to Washington. This migration, I argue, is an outgrowth of the consolidation of U.S. military conquest, of capitalist development, and of state and national politics in the western half of the United States and must be understood within that context. It cannot be understood within a strictly regional context.

CHALLENGING REGIONAL BOUNDARIES

In the battle over history, which is fundamentally about who gets to define the stories being narrated, will the defining come from the realities of lived experiences, like those of my mother and other Tejana farmworkers, or will it come from the abstract principles that have ordered and organized U.S. history to date? Rethinking Chicana history means rethinking regional history, and this ultimately requires rethinking the history of the United States.

Constricted by imperialist mappings of the Americas, as well as by the categories, language, and triumphanist historiography of its consequent nation-states, the act of writing Chicanas into history--to borrow historian Emma Perez's title--requires deconstructing or rejecting existing categories of analysis, including "regional history" and the "women's West. …

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