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500 Years of Chicana Women’s History, by Elizabeth S. Martinez.

February 22, 2012

500 Years of Chicana Women’s History/500 anos de la mujer Chicana, by Elizabeth S. Martinez. Rutgers University Press (2008), Edition: Bilingual, Paperback, 340 pages.

This is a big, rich celebration of images and information about Chicanas, past and present. I read it for the Read and Resist Tucson Challenge of books currently being banned in Arizona.

500 Years is not your usual history book with lots of connected text, impartial prose, and interpretation. Instead this is like a scrapbook, full of drawings and photos, usually two to six per page. The text is brief and in both Spanish and English. People and events are identified enough to raise curiosity, but often not enough to satisfy it. The accompanying bibliography is a starting place for further research.

The book starts with the period before the arrival of the Spanish, but most of the coverage is about later periods. There is extensive discussion of Chicanas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We see women in the Mexican revolutions, as labor organizers and teachers, and creating their own societies to assist each other. More than half of the book devoted to topical chapters about Chicana activities in recent decades. These include women in the grape boycott, in feminist organizations, as lesbians, as writers, and as elected officials.

This is not a book to be read straight through or used as a reference book. It is meant to be browsed and savored over and over in schools and homes so that the photographs of all those empowered Chicanas can soak in. Because it is bilingual and full of pictures it can be appreciated by individuals of various ages and with a variety of language skills.

I recommend 500 Years strongly. This is a book that belongs in school rooms where it can be absorbed by all students, not simply the Chicana ones. Perhaps then no one, regardless of gender or ethnic background, would try to censor such books.

One last observation: WordPress does not include the word “Chicana” in its dictionary.

Related books:

From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America, by Vicki L. Ruiz.
A more standard history of the subject.

Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia (3 volume set), edited by Vicki L. Ruiz.

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