|Web Magazine Online|
By Christie Lafranchi
Viva la Raza ... Women!
"In the light of historical underrepresentation of Chicanas/Latinas at UCLA, we, Raza Women, unite in the spirit of a collective movement to achieve sexual, political, educational, cultural liberation and self-determination." This statement is taken from the Raza Women mission statement. Raza Women is the only independent group on campus that is specifically targeted towards women of color. Smaller than the African Student Union or MEChA, Raza Women seems to receive less public attention but provides equally important services.
My interest in investigating Raza Women is also personal. Beginning college and the coinciding death of my grandmother gave me an interest in exploring my Chicana heritage. I wanted to see just what Raza Women had to offer "las mujeres" and me.
The first time I learned of Raza Women's existence was at a rally after the ZBT/rape incident here at UCLA. There, up on stage were women with bandanas tied around their faces, showing only their eyes. I instantly labeled them as tough, hard-core women who, to be honest, intimidated me, as I'm sure many in the crowd felt as well. What I didn't know was that the bandanas can be traced to the Zapatistas in Mexico and are symbolic equalizers, as they hide all identifying characteristics of rich, poor, man, woman, and race, except for the eyes. As there is already a tendency in mainstream society to label women's groups, particularly women of color, as "militant" and "angry," the casual and "impartial" observer would probably have walked away with those stereotypes, as I did. What people would fail to realize is that the symbol of the bandana has something to say for all members of society, not just angry, bra-burning women. Dismissing these stereotypes after learning the true meaning of the bandana was the first step I took in attempting to find the real meaning and purpose in Raza Women.
Raza Women officially began as an independent group in 1981. Gardenia Gonzalez and Cristina Rosiles Gonzales, two Raza Women's coordinators, explained the group's history. Raza Women was born out of a struggle. The struggle was for equal rights and recognition for the women who were members of a Chicano/Chicana group at UCLA but who did not receive the same rights and benefits as the male members. Instead of continuing to be pushed aside and having their specific Chicana issues ignored, in 1981, these women created their own organization, and Raza Women was born.
Dedicated to the empowerment and liberation of all mujeres -- by which they refer to Chicana/Latina women -- Raza Women provides many important services to the Latina community on campus and in the area. Gardenia Gonzalez describes Raza Women as a "safe space" for women to discuss needs and issues that are gender and race-based. She knows from experience how a large school can be hard to deal with when you a minority, and Raza Women was where she found this safe space. Cristina and Gardenia also feel that one goal of Raza Women is to fight the negative stereotypes that portray Chicanas as "gang members" or "baby machines." Raza Women's goal of empowerment extend beyond the UCLA Chicana community to high school and junior high school students and their mothers in the Los Angeles area. Through speaking out and organizing in their communities, Raza Women works to improve all Chicana and Latina lives.
When asked why there is a need for an organization that specifically targets Chicana/Latina women, Cristina Rosiles Gonzalez responded with the question of why there was a need for any gender or ethnic-specific program at all. Because, according to Rosiles Gonzalez, women, particularly Chicana/Latina women, have been pushed aside for so long that an organization specific to their needs is necessary.
Raza Women examines issues that are relevant to women of color, but may not receive mainstream attention, because issues such as junior high and high school girls being targeted for home economics classes, the effects of Prop. 187 on immigrant women, as well as the sterilization issue are not well-known. Their annual Chicana Conference is also important as it brings many private issues into discussion. Gardenia Gonzalez said that most Latina conferences are usually career-oriented. Raza Women, however, brings up issues in their conferences that generally do not receive the same attention or are regarded as private, such as domestic violence, health care, welfare, and the "coming out" process. Both women commented on how in organizations with both sexes, women are told not to bring up their gender-specific issues because "it weakens the movement." For Raza Women, these gender-specific issues are the movement. Thus, the group provides an important space where these topics can be addressed.
For me, researching this article went beyond just looking at the facts. So far, my college career has been a search to learn about and understand my heritage as well as to find a space that would help facilitate these answers. Raza Women not only provides important services to the UCLA community and beyond, but is also that space that I have been looking for. "Why not join Raza Women. You are a Raza woman" -- an inner-voice told me. And so I am thinking about participating in Raza Women here at UCLA.
(Christie Lafranchi is a junior majoring in Anthropology.)