Felicia Santizo: A Case Study of Hemispheric Feminisms and Empire in the Cold War

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM
Bowery (Sheraton New York)
Katherine Marino, University of California, Los Angeles
This paper will use the case study of Felicia Santizo (1893-1963), Afro-Panamanian feminist, educator, and leader of Panama’s Communist Party, to explore hemispheric feminisms from the 1920s through the 1960s. In the 1920s, Santizo helped co-found the first organization to demand women’s suffrage in Panama. Throughout her life she campaigned for access to education, jobs, and welfare for poor women in Colón, the predominantly Afro-Panamanian and West Indian city on Panama’s Caribbean coast. In 1947, she helped lead the successful protest against the Filos-Hines treaty that would have authorized U.S. military bases to remain in Panama outside the Canal Zone. As Santizo organized with Panama’s labor and feminist leaders, domestic workers, and indigenous women from the San Blas islands, she gained critical support from transnational feminist groups. In the 1930s, she worked with the Inter-American Commission of Women, the inter-governmental organization promoting international women’s rights treaties through the Pan American Union. After the Second World War, she joined the Women’s International Democratic Federation, the large Communist-International-affiliated transnational group that opened new collaborations for Santizo with leftist feminists in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, and elsewhere. Santizo’s example demonstrates how vital transnational organizing was to Latin American feminism, and the important roles that Afro-Latin American women played in both. It also connects and complicates the “first” and “second waves” of feminisms. Rather than abruptly ending feminist collaborations, the politics of the Cold War in fact generated new transnational connections around an array of political goals that leftist women had been cultivating since the 30s: anti-imperialism; anti-fascism; and women’s social, economic, political, and civil rights. Examining these continuities helps us understand the contributions that inter-American feminisms have made to local and global politics, and challenges the idea that the U.S. and Western Europe were at the vanguard of international women’s rights.
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