Latina Feministas: The Historical Legacies of Latina Activism in the Nuevo South, 1930–41

Sunday, January 10, 2016: 12:00 PM
Crystal Ballroom A (Hilton Atlanta)
Sarah J. McNamara, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
During the summer of 1937, Latinas in Ybor City and Tampa, Florida organized three months of public demonstrations. These women marched in solidary with the Popular Front, staged sit-ins for economic justice, and protested local political corruption. As immigrant women living in the Jim Crow South, gaining political representation required constant negotiation between ethnic and racial politics that stretched across borders. These women, unlike their male counterparts, found a power in their gender that allowed them to evade vigilante violence and challenge Jim Crow for themselves and their community.

This paper examines how Latinas rose as political strategists and movement leaders in the early struggle against southern racial and nativist politics. In the decade between 1930 and 1940, immigrant Latinas stood at the center of the movement for economic justice through their involvement in labor organization and political protest. These women rallied with the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA); organized strikes for labor equality; marched against fascism; and publicly criticized American foreign policy. The actions of Ybor Latinas were dually radical and feminist. From the perspective of Tampa’s white majority, however, such public demonstrations marked Latinas as nothing more than filthy, foreign tramps. This gendered stereotype confirmed racial prejudices, but working-class Latinas persisted in their activism to secure economic opportunity, social dignity, and political representation for their families, communities, and cross-national networks. Because scholars have too often overlooked how women of color influenced the worlds in which they lived and the movements that they shaped, the history of Latina activism in the South has existed only on the fringes of feminist scholarship. By examining how these Latina feministas made choices based on both local and global cultures, this discussion shows how Latinas' understanding of transnational feminism shaped the labor, women, and civil rights movements.

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