Evidently, her experience as an organizer and the position she held within the UFW distinguished her from other Latina women in the movement, as well as rendered her visibility in the public. However, one can clearly see that her recognition as a leader stems from the positions she held as well as the dominance and power that she exerted. Consequently, this reinforces the existentialist masculine-based notion that political leadership is restricted to an individual’s position. Even though Huerta’s political visible contributions were extremely valuable to the UFW, it is important to recognize as well that of others’ which have remained concealed.
The unique practices of Latina women, their involvement within the public and private spheres simultaneously, helped sustain the farmworkers movement. The way in which Latina women exercise leadership as mentioned before varies from the traditional conception of leadership, which is defined by dominance and power. Contrary to this, Latina leadership is defined as a relational process. It is based on the relationships made within the community rather than by the authority and power one holds.
The UFW was built and maintained by the support of union members and supporters, including many Mexicanas and Chicanas who strengthened and built relationships within the community. An example of this is the contribution of several women through their development of consumer boycotts as a gendered strategy, such as the Philadelphia boycott led by Hope Lopez in the1960s.
Lopez designed “a gender-specific strategy that enlisted the loyalty of a large segment of ‘respectable’ housewives… [along with] her two assistants, Antonia Saludado and Carolina Franco, launched a successful appeal to the local community to support the farm workers’ campaign for social justice” (Rose, 1995). These women were able to achieve this by devising a way to use the roles they have been assigned to as mothers and nurturers to lure middle-class female supporters who “possessed a ‘female’ morality”. This female morality is understood and referred to as “an ethic of care”, and is shared by both Latina and non-Latina women who have been socialized all their lives to develop a sense of maternal thinking and community care work.
By making white middle-class women identify with other women from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, they created a sort of coalition whose purpose was to work together for social change. Lopez and others’ made a critical contribution to the cause, yet “historians of the UFW have essentially ignored it…the achievements of female UFWOC organizers rarely appear in historical writing on the UFW. This anonymity they share with many other women of color who were significant contributors to a contemporary movement, the black struggle for civil rights (Rose, 1995). Nonetheless, although small-scaled, the contribution of many other Latina women to the movement had a critical importance as well.
Through a more supportive and behind-the-scenes form of activism, Latina women find different ways to exercise their leadership skills. Helen Chavez’ efforts exemplify the significance of small yet impactful acts of leadership. Dr. Hortencia Jimenez, a sociologist professor at Hartnell college, argues that there are three different modes that Latina women do leadership.
According to her sociological framework, Latina women do leadership by “nurturing [it] behind the scenes and mentoring emerging leaders” (Jimenez, 2012). This is a very different understanding of what leadership entails. A clear example of this in action is Helen Chavez as her husband’s main support system. Ruiz and Sanchez recount how, “To advance his career, she spent her evenings writing in longhand the daily reports he dictated to her, as well addressing envelopes and postcards and helping prepare for chapter meetings” (2006).
She did this besides all other domestic tasks. Once in an interview, Cesar Chavez acknowledged that “Helen did most of the worrying about money for food and clothing”, freeing him to concentrate on the union (Ruiz & Sanchez, 2006). Clearly, Helen as well as all the other women, daughters, mothers and wives of those men who were active and visible participants of the movement, were one of the main reasons behind its success. It is because of them that the union kept going as they were one of the major engines behind it. However, these significant efforts are never truly acknowledged as such. Why?
One possible reason for this is because these actions are taken for granted as expected behaviors that women should have. There is an assumption that Latina women are all naturally selfless, caregiving and dedicated. Consequently, because their contributions to the union reflect these values and traits, they are not considered to be as significant. The unpaid labor that women in general do on a daily basis, such as taking care of their household, children, and partner, is never recognized with the same level of respect and admiration as paid labor. In the case of the UFW, even though men were neither financially rewarded they did receive a form of symbolic recognition by society at large and by academic literature.
The practices mentioned before are not considered to be acts of leadership, however, as the essay has shown, they are in fact driving forces behind the success of both political movements and those men in positions of power within them. Helen, like many other Latina women, by mentoring and nurturing emerging leaders as mentioned above, contributed to la causa in immense ways through what appeared to be small actions. What is important to recognize is that these actions, these nurturing and motherly behaviors never stop. In other words, Latina women are constantly “doing leadership” in their everyday lives, not only when they go on marches and strikes.
Their leadership roles do not end when they get home from the fields, they continue and expand into the domestic and private sphere. It is because of this that Jimenez argues that “Chicana/Latina women live in-between and inside both [private and public] spaces ” (2012). However, the political leadership of women is rendered invisible because the focus continues to be on position-derived leadership which tends to take place in a public and organized structure. Carol Hardy-Fanta makes an important point by suggesting that “women’s activism in arenas that reflect their concern for their children, their families, and their neighborhoods is identified as ‘community activism’ at best or ‘disorderly’ at worst, but rarely is it defined as political leadership to the same degree as male-focused activities” (1995).
Evidently, issues associated to the public sphere tend to be placed above those of the private sphere. When in reality, as this essay has shown, these forms of activism are in fact leadership practices in action. The diverse experiences of Latina women in politics are one of the main factors that first allowed the movement to develop into what it is today. It is time to take into consideration the different ways in which leadership was and is exerted by Latina women and acknowledge their efforts and collaboration to the cause. There is a clear “need to make the ‘invisible visible’ by moving away from traditional notions, so as to identify the ways in which women offer their leadership” (Jimenez, 2002).
The experiences of Latina women during the rise of the UFW are testament of the powerfulness and influence of feminine collaborative effort. Moreover, they are proof of the importance of recognizing diverse ways of showing leadership. The results achieved from Lopez and Chavez’s distinct efforts show that these practices are in fact leading to the empowerment of Latino communities. For instance, Lopez along with many other women were able to build bridges with middle-class women in Philadelphia, because they knew that making connections with one another was the key to succeed.
They used the commonalities between these different groups to create social change. Moreover, another understanding that Latina women have internalized is that leadership is shared. “With shared leaderships, everyone is accountable to each other, thus preventing individuals from usurping power or co-opting the broader collective”, argues Jimenez (2012). An example of this shared leadership in action is reflected in a study conducted by Delgado Bernal of nine Chicanas involved in the 1968 walkouts in Eats Los Angeles.
According to the interviews, leadership was divided into five dimensions: networking, holding office, developing consciousness, organizing, and acting as a spokesperson. There was no hierarchical order since “all dimensions [were] of equal importance and not every leader [needed] to participate in every dimension” (Jimenez, 2012). The latter is an important aspect that should be emphasized in regard to Latina leadership, which is collaborative effort. Certainly, leadership here is not defined by the authority one dimension or an individual has over another. Rather, there is a clear understanding that a key to success and the achievement of one’s goals is through cooperative-based efforts.
Latina women are “driven to participate in politics by their belief in interdependence and connectedness of human beings, by the value they placed on inclusivity and participation, and by their desire to make the world a better place” (Prindeville, 2002). They are not seeking personal gain, because if they had they would not have continued fighting even when they knew that their efforts would go unnoticed. These women understood that their actions had consequences, and in the case of the UFW, they knew that each time they went on the streets, marched, put food on the dinner table for their husbands and children after a tiring day on the field, helped register voters, and so many different tasks, they were making a difference.
Today, Latina women continue to embrace this form of leadership and to encourage others to feel empowered by it. For instance, a statewide women’s farmworker organization in Pomona, California, known as Lideres Campesinas “teaches women to recognize that they are leaders since they have all at one point organized a family event (i.e. a wedding, a birthday party) and have also advocated for relatives, friends, or co-workers” (Jimenez, 2002). They incorporate women’s gendered activities as part of leadership. Because the association with masculinity is “embedded in our experience of history, religion, and politics; our upbringing and experience of families, schools, and workplaces”, efforts like these will eventually help reframe this concept to reflect not only male concerns, but women’s as well (Jimenez, 2002). The masculinity of leadership and its self-perpetuating cycle will be broken through the prioritization of collaborative practices over hierarchical ones and of universal concerns over solely male ones.
The expansion of the concept of political leadership to capture the diverse experiences of Latina women will benefit not only those women practicing it but the Latino community at large. By redefining it not only by status and positions, but by the relationships formed within the community, the gender gap in Latino politics will begin to close. As Hardy-Fanta argues, “by virtue of the women’s connectedness to the community, Latina political leadership may well be the key to Latino community empowerment” (1995). The stories of Lopez, Chavez, and Lideres Campesinas are proof that there are variations to the traditional white male concept of leadership which can achieve the same or even higher levels of success.
A key aspect behind this was their use of “political leadership based on the community members’ seeing themselves ‘in charge’ [which] empower[ed] the community in ways that leadership based on dominance [might not have been capable of]” (Hardy-Fanta, 1995). One of the greatest benefits of this leadership style that I must stress out is the empowerment that it provides to those who have felt marginalized or left out of the conversation regarding issues they care about. Moreover, “it gives voices to Latinos who have not previously participated in politics; it encourages them to speak out at meetings and to decide on a course of action” (Hardy-Fanta, 1995). Consequently, this strengthens the community as a whole as everyone’s voices are represented, not just of those holding positions of authority.
The traditional definition of leadership commonly used in various literatures does not really encompass the experiences of Latina women. This paper showed that despite a lack of recognition and their invisibility in mainstream Latino literature, Latina women were and still are important driving forces behind various political movements. Their relational and collaborative-based ways of exercising leadership in between both the private and public spheres strengthened social movements and Latino communities. Although their means of being politically active differ from the androcentric norm, they are still crucial in the maintenance of the movement’s mentioned above, specifically the UFW. Helen Chavez and many other Latina women were indeed the backbone and engine of the union. It is time to acknowledge their efforts as not only supportive or auxiliary, but as definite acts of leadership.