Memoirs of a Chicana
Interview and Analysis of Margarita’s views on growing up Chicana
May 1st, 2017
Who is this Chicana?
Margarita is an Assistant Professor of History at Loyola Marymount University. Since she was a young girl, she has had many people try to define her and tell her what she can and can’t achieve. I greatly admire her for her perseverance and dedication to what she believes in. I chose to interview Margarita because I was curious about the trials and tribulations of other Chicana women, and how similar and different their stories are to mine. I also wondered about the advice she could give to a younger generation of Chicana women, like me, based on her experiences. After hearing from Margarita, the concepts from our class readings that came to mind were internalized oppression, discrimination at the institutional level, and listening with raw openness. These concepts are important in understanding when, how, and where discrimination is experienced throughout a person’s life. It’s important for people to share their stories with others because it brings a personal aspect to concepts most have only read about and connects people in a way that can’t be replicated.
She attended the University of UCLA from 1993-1998, where she began as a biochemistry major, planning to one day become a doctor, as a way of helping her community and giving back. In order to complete her graduation requirements, she needed to take a history class that sparked her interest and redefined her thoughts on her ethnicity.
“…I never considered history as a, as a major, right, it, it didn’t even make sense to me, not in my world view at the time and, uh, I thought if anything right, they’re, they’re kind of easy days, I hate to say that but that’s kind of what it felt it like. Um, and so I started just poking around taking different history courses and then I took a history of Latin America course and I remember, I remember the readings were, were teaching me a history about a people of, of this part of the world that was in that history, was very different from my own upbringing and what I have been told about what it meant to be me, what it meant to be Mexican, what it meant to be Mexican-American, what it meant to be my parents, who were immigrants from Mexico. Um, it was a dramatically different story, it was complex, it was long, it wasn’t insulting and I was just drawn to it and after that, I took several Latin American history courses and, uh, and ultimately of course, I, I went on to go get a Master’s and a PhD, in, in the history of Latin America but, um, but it spoke to me in such a way that, uh, I realized, um, here was my real calling, um, I had some sort of calling to, to right a wrong that was going, at least in the Central Valley of California.”
Margarita went on to continue exploring her passion for Latin American history at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, where she received her Master’s and PhD in Latin American history. She has joined the few women of color who have achieved a high level of academic and professional success, by becoming an esteemed member of academia, in a predominantly white supremacist capitalist patriarchal society. To hear Margarita’s full response to why she chose to study Latin American history, click the link below:
Growing Up in the Central Valley of California
Margarita was born in Planada, CA in 1975 and grew up in a Catholic family of 5 half-siblings and 2 biological siblings, along with her mother and father. Her parents were both heavily involved in labor activism and the community, along with her life-long mentor Gloria Sandoval. Margarita grew up alongside those who were fighting for their rights and disseminating information among their community, in order to raise awareness. This introduced her to the understanding that if something is unjust that you must find an avenue and make it work regardless of your status.
“In the case of Gloria, um, I think that having a person around like that, um, through the community organizing that my parents were involved in with her, you know as a veteran of the Chicano students movement, um, I think that had she been you know a person of color and not, um, the fact that she was there, um, mobilizing and that my parents were involved that my mother was involved, um, that motivated me right to, to seek other, to have other goals despite, you known, despite the, the interesting sort of a dynamic of our household where, where my mother again was really the authority figure and was heavily involved in community organizing and labor organizing and specifically organizing women to know their rights, when men were threatening to take their children, for example or threatening them but with violence. Here she is right this strong mover, right, the strong community organizer and yet when it comes time for me to apply to university she’s like oh no, no, no, that’s not what girls do (laughs), it’s like, wait, so wait, we don’t, but you’re doing this, this is, this is the context I grew up in.”
To hear Margarita’s full response to the impact of her mentors’ social identities on her goals, click the link below:
Margarita’s mother is also a huge role model in her life, she has overcome many difficult circumstances and continues to fight for what she believes. Margarita’s mother fled from an abusive relationship in her home country with her seven children at the time and made a new life for them here in the U.S. She has continued to show Margarita the importance of being involved in making change happen throughout her life.
“So, she as, you know, as I’ve said in the past, sometimes in a very vulgar fashion, she in essence went to, a, to the registro nationale, registro civil, to the, you known, a civil registry office and bastardized my siblings in essence, reregistered them as having an unknown father and you know only a mother and they all have her maiden name and she got a family visa and she left Tijuana and came to LA and, uh, never looked back and, and worked, uh, worked, so that, um, if, if that man ever came, um wouldn’t find her. Uh, she thanks, you know God and all, you know whatever stars and whatever is out there that she never legally married him so that she wouldn’t even have to deal with him afterwards.”
These two women are women who I would say, and can safely assume Margarita would say as well, are women who embody Audre Lorde’s concept of transforming silence into language and action. These women have faced their own trials and tribulations, yet continue to make an effort to educate people and work towards change. Audre Lorde believes that “the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation,” and “in the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear – fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgement or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation.” These women are inspirational because they are facing their fears and helping others discover their own self-revelations.
To hear Margarita’s full response to who influenced her on what being a woman means or can mean, click the link below:
Discrimination at a Young Age
Margarita grew up in a household of people who spoke Spanish and wasn’t introduced to English until she started school. Through her primary and secondary education because the dominant language spoken in her home was Spanish, her proficiency in the English language was continually doubted and ignored by the U.S. public education system. This discrimination at the institutional level is something that many Chicanas face while growing up, which causes them to become ashamed of their own ethnicity. In turn, many begin to disguise their ethnic practices in order to be more accepted by those around them.
“Spanish was the only language we spoke, telenovelas were, was all the TV we saw, I didn’t grow up with cable, um, uh, (laughs) and at school the fact that every year when we took exams or just about every year, uh, when I was asked, right, what my primary, what the dominant language was that I spoke at home or what language was spoken at home and I and Spanish was always identified as that language that that was then, sort of, then used as the standard by which to then say that that Spanish was thus my primary language and so English was my second language, right, this system, right, said that because Spanish was spoken at home then English is my second language, then my English abilities were, right, deficient and so I was always placed, despite how I scored on exams, was always placed inside of these lower reading, right, groups, if you will, was told in essence because you speak Spanish you don’t understand English, that’s what I was understanding and I thought how the hell does that make sense, it was very confusing for me growing up…”
Discrimination at the institutional level is harmful because it can lead to an internalized oppression. To hear Margarita’s full response on what her ethnicity means to her, click the link below:
From her nine other family members, Margarita was the first to attend university, exploring a world that was unfamiliar to her and her family. Racial prejudice become a factor in her life once again in the form of her eighth grade teacher and high school counselor. These people who were supposed to encourage her and support her couldn’t look past one part of her identity:
“I was dependent on the one college and university counselor that was available in my high school at Merced High and unfortunately, uh, for me, and, uh, for him, I would say now looking back, um, he only had time to see me once during my entire junior and senior year of high school. Um, and, and I, and I’m saying this, right, with a, with a bit of a tone here because, uh, he had time to see, uh, the students in my other courses, in courses with me right, in my AP classes and so on but somehow didn’t have time to see this Chicana. And so, uh, so, so it was, so the process of even applying was difficult, um, I chose to only apply to a couple of schools mostly schools I had heard of like UCLA, uh, schools that my eighth-grade teacher who introduced me to the name of that school, told me that was only for smart people, not for me and you known, and laughed at the thought of me, you know, deciding that that’s the kind of school I wanted to go to. Um, so that was difficult, I didn’t know about financial aid either, um, again right, the counselor who was (laughs) charged with providing information to students like me, didn’t, didn’t quite have it for me.”
Many people don’t realize all the places in which racism, sexism, and classism occur and at how young an age people can be exposed to this discrimination. In the case of Margarita, she experienced oppression at a young age, the main perpetrator being the institution in which she was receiving her education. In Patricia Hill Collins’ “Toward a New Vision,” she states that “the workings of the institutional dimension of oppression are often obscured with ideologies claiming equality of opportunity, in actuality, race, class, and gender place… [groups of people] in distinct institutional niches with varying degrees of penalty and privilege.” For Margarita, her instructors in school were placing those who spoke English as their first language above those who didn’t, creating a hierarchy within the institution. This can then domino to affect the individual dimension of oppression. Patricia Hill Collins affirms that “each of us carries around the cumulative effect of our lives within multiple structures of oppression.” This is seen in the form of an internalized oppression in people of color. People of color who have been exposed to discrimination begin to assimilate within the dominant culture and end up perpetuating the oppression founded by those who are dominant in society. AnaLouise Keating sums up this argument best in her article “Beyond Intersectionality,” when she argues that “those of us raised and/or educated in western systems of thought have been trained to read and evaluate ourselves and others according to status-quo stories. We have been indoctrinated into a supremacist worldview– and overreliance on rational thought, scientific empiricism, and hierarchical binary thinking that creates a restrictive framework that labels, divides, and segregates based on socially defined difference and sameness.”
To hear Margarita’s full response on what the challenges she faced either academically or personally, click the link below:
Torn Between Two Cultures
Many times, people of color, immigrants, and children of immigrants in the U.S. often feel stuck between their two cultures. Often they feel as if they aren’t accepted by either culture and have no place to fit in. Expressing one culture can result in backlash from the other culture, perpetuating the oppression of all cultures other than the one that’s dominant.
“…when I struggled to convince my family that going to university and moving out of the house, not because I was getting married, but because I was going to university, was something that was okay and normal and should be encouraged. Um, she championed it and really sort of helped, um, my mother, who really is the authority in the family, to, um, to sort of, to see um, my desire to go to university from a different perspective and one that’s more positive.”
Growing up, I had a hard time accepting my ethnicity and the practices that came along with it. When around my friends and peers, anything that didn’t fit with American culture was seen as weird and different, making me feel less American in some way. When around my family, especially my extended family, anything non-Mexican was seen in the same way, making me feel like I really didn’t fit into either culture and left me thinking wondering where I stood and who did I stand with. It caused me to start to hide my Mexican culture since the American culture was more dominant, and even at a young age I knew that being Mexican somehow made you less in the U.S. It really wasn’t until college where I was on my own and the most independent I had been in my life that I started to see the benefits of being Mexican and started to openly embrace my culture.
To hear Margarita’s full response about her mentors in college that largely impacted her education, click the link below:
Working Towards Change
I want to acknowledge the connections that she is making with students here on campus and the support she is providing to those who are enduring the same challenges she faced throughout her life. After experiencing discrimination throughout her life, Margarita is working towards reversing the damage that Western society has inflicted upon people of color. With role models, like her mother and Gloria, she is continuing their legacies by working towards change and helping others who have experienced her same struggles.
“…being here, also meant that I would have the chance, right, to, to engage in conversations with students about, right, about what I was loosely referring to as the “system” or, a, you know the socialization that happens to students in public education…”
“What mentoring those students reminded me of was that initial passion I had when I finished university right, when I finished UCLA, of like, I got to change this fucked up system right. I got to stop this messaging because it’s, it’s so bad, if anything it’s holding students back from, from you know, achieving, right, from realizing their true potential because we’re filling their heads with nonsense because that’s what it is, it’s porqueria, it’s nonsense, um, and so I all of a sudden that was turned on and now, and sometimes I have a hard time turning it off (laughs) but that was turned on and, and so I, I’ve really learned, uh, to, to one, become a mentor and to see, um, to see the work that I do now, not just in the classroom or in the archive right, but to see the work that I do as a mentor as, as giving back, um, into the community in a way that I had never envisioned…”
To hear Margarita’s full response to what the most important thing she has learned while working at Loyola Marymount University, click the link below:
The Long Road to Acceptance
Margarita’s road to accepting and openly embracing her ethnicity has been eye-opening and reflective of some of the struggles that I too have faced. Hearing stories from a woman who have been in my position and learning how she dealt with her struggles has been the most rewarding part of my interview with her. I truly believe that hearing the stories of those who have faced the same oppressions that you have help you feel less isolated and reaffirm your identity.
“…so you know your question of what you know my ethnicity means or has meant to me growing up it was it was really complicated and I don’t think my story is unique to me I think if anything right feeling learnt being taught through these multiple avenues right that what you are is not something to be proud of really takes a toll on you so thankfully right obviously right this this never left me so that when I found history and took that Latin American history courses in under grad I realized hey that shit was wrong I mean I didn’t realize it in the moment but I but something was changing right I was hearing something different and it was really resonating with the inner messages and stories that I was telling myself…”
“It’s good and bad, um, I would say that it’s only been in the past, uh, maybe decade and a half that I’ve grown to be comfortable in my skin. And, um, and proud of my Mexican heritage. Um, I’m going to qualify that, doesn’t mean I have been, you know, ashamed of my Mexican heritage but, um, but I will say that in my formative years especially through elementary and junior high there was a sense of shame and embarrassment. Um, I, I, some of my major and most important goals for me when I. uh, in, in elementary and junior high were learning to speak English in such a way that, at least, I, I, I hoped in such a way that, I, it was, it was not evident to anyone that I also spoke Spanish. I wanted to deny that part of me as much as possible… as a child I was being messaged with very right clear messages that speaking Spanish was holding me back that being Mexican and Mexican-American was holding me back…”
“I know there’s a lot of people who’ve had these kinds of experiences but jeez to feel as aware of how these years of formative activism and being Mexican and the negative messages associated with it despite my parents trying to champion our culture right you know that that’s oh man that is such a complicated state that has that really sort of makes me the person I am today proudly Mexican-American…”
For me, there is still progress to be made in terms of accepting my ethnicity and rejecting the racism that has been continually reinforced throughout my life. Hearing and reading others’ stories goes a long way towards continuing this progress and combating the messaging from those who are dominant.
To hear Margarita’s full response on what her ethnicity means to her, click the link below:
Intersectionality and the Conversations that Need to be Had
Intersectionality is an underlying theme in many social movements and is an important tool of analysis when working towards change. By analyzing the interconnectedness of a cause, we can better understand said cause, in this case the Chicana movement.
“So, I would say, um, that the sort of development of gender studies within Chicano Studies and in its influence in gender studies right, in related fields like, the history of Latin America. That is something that I most identify with, um, one I identify intellectually with it, I just, because it’s Latin America because it’s gender, uh, but two because I like the idea of sort of trying to make sense of what, what on the one hand is supposed to be our traditional gender roles and on the other hand the fact that we are not truly living those traditional gender roles, yet the rhetoric right, yet we talk of them, we perform macho-ness or femininity but the reality is that we’re you know, both our men and women are, um, as involved right, in everyday activities as you known, as, as if you known, gender were not an issue many times. So uh, so I think that is, um, that aspect of the Chicano movement is something that I most identify with.”
To hear Margarita’s full response to what issue or topic she identifies with most and why, within the Chicana movement, click the link below:
“It is, but for me when it comes to the Chicana Movement, the Chicano Movement in general, the feminist movement associated with this, I think for me the most important talking point is actually talking. It’s actually discussing the issues, it’s actually sharing and understanding the multiple experiences of what we all are and how we are all members of the same group and then sort of understanding to a certain extent into the history of why we are here.”
“So always having a conversation that ultimately allows us to be the ones who define who we are, that is what I think is most important about any movement. Whether it’s the original Chicano Movement, whether it’s this feminist Chicana movement, I think that we can talk about it, that we are aware of it, that we are defining ourselves, that is the most important.”
An important point that Margarita made during our interview was not allowing others to define us. Many of us are so accustomed to the domination of those with power and privilege in society that we begin to accept their assertions. We allow them to define us within our own context, which in turn gives them power and perpetuates our subordination to them. By defining ourselves, we take back part of their power and can see that “even in the worse circumstances of domination, the ability to manipulate one’s gaze in the face of structures of domination that would contain it, opens up the possibility of agency,” as bell hooks asserts in “The Oppositional Gaze.”
To hear Margarita’s full response to what topic should be the most important of the most talked about, in reference to the Chicana movement, click the link below:
Advice to the Next Generation of Chicana Women
One of the most important tools we have is our ability to listen to yourself, as well as others. By asking the advice of older generation we learned from their experiences and make progress towards change.
“You know, what advice could I possibly give you, that your life experiences aren’t already teaching you? I guess that would be my advice, not that I can’t give you advice but no matter the struggles, listen to your own inner voice, listen to what you know you actually are.”
“I don’t know if it’s natural in all of us but I developed a sense of who I thought I was despite what I was being told was right. Despite all of that I remember always thinking that’s not true, you guys don’t know me. No, you know what, actually I can do it and I am going to do it. So, a piece of advice I’ve always shared with my mentees whether they are male or female or members of the LGBT community or whatever, is always know who you are, listen to your voice because you’re always going to have critics but especially when you’re daring to do something different. Always going to have critics but listen to your inner voice because you know who you are and it’s gotten you this far and listen to the ones who are also there and around you, who’re in the same struggle as you because they are the ones, they are in the same struggle as you, they understand where you’re at…listen to that inner voice of you know because you know who you are and share with those who deserve to hear your story, those who are in the struggle with you.”
The concepts of listening with raw openness is a fundamental principle in creating change in any movement. Many people like to believe that they are listening to others but many times their own opinions and ideas prevent them from fully hearing what the other person is saying. AnaLousie Keating talks about “interpret[ing] the phrase ‘serious intent’ to represent a type of deep, self-reflective listening that takes tremendous effort, demands vulnerability, and requires a willingness to be altered by the words spoken,” in her work “Beyond Intersectionality.” This is what Margarita is telling the next generation of Chicana women to do. She believes the most important tool is to listen to our inner most parts that are as untainted by our oppressors as can be, as well as to those who are sharing our struggles and being oppressed as well.
To hear Margarita’s full response to what advice she would give to the next generation of Chicana women, click the link below:
Collins, Patricia Hill. “Toward a New Vision: Race, Class and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection.” Integrating Race and Gender into the College Curriculum: a workshop, Center for Research on Women, 24 May 1989, Memphis State University, Memphis TN. Keynote Address.
hooks, bell. “The Oppositional Gaze.” Black Looks: Race and Representation, South End Press, 1992, 115-131.
Keating, AnaLouise. “Beyond Intersectionality: Theorizing Interconnectivity with/in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.” Transformation now!: toward a post-oppositional politics of change, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013, 29-59.
Lorde, Audre. “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, contributed Cheryl Clarke, Crossing Press, 2007, 40-44.