FESTIBA! The International Festival of Books and Arts at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Where else? 

The week long tradition, influenced by predecessors, International Week and Pan American Days, just concluded. 

It was prophetic and appropriate that a moving conclusion for the festival was a panel of illustrious authors, sharing background about their new book, Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era,” UT Press, Austin, 2018.

Martha P. Cotera

As many bi-lingual readers are aware, “movida” can mean a “mistress,” and/or “tricks” (by politicos). But the authors steal it back from the vernacular, using it to mean “small movements” within the larger (civil rights) movement—that is, strategy. Honored guest was Martha P. Cotera, famous activist and writer, the “founding madre” of the Chicana Movement (Dr. Noreen Rivera, Assistant Professor, UTRGV, quoted by Nadia Támez-Robledo, Monitor, 28 Feb 19). 

Other panelists/co-authors included: Dionne Espinoza, María Eugenia Cotera, and Merylei Blackwell, eds., and contributor, Brenda Sendejo. Their anthology was reviewed as very “readable and theoretically sophisticated” by Dr. Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández, UT Austin Professor, writing for Ms. Magazine Blog, 5 Dec 18. The authors stayed for Q and A and book-signing. They continue on to the Brownsville and the Austin campus on their tour.

The participants were original in their research and illuminating in their power point presentations; they were proud of “breaking barriers.” We, in south Texas, should be proud so much of our history, which had been assumed lost, was recovered by the intrepid journalistic and anthropological methods of these innovative scholars. Through researching numerous personal archives and conducting oral history interviews in Spanish and English, they have helped recover much of that history, uncovering data too long ignored by mainstream scholarship. 

These scholars, themselves, have faced gender and ethnic prejudice but clearly gave place to their forebears (Cotera and especially Gloria Anzaldúa), trail-blazers who led the way, combining progressive scholarly experimentation with on-the-ground, in-your-face sociopolitical activism, inside and outside the Chicano Movement for civil rights. That is, the women they write about “struggled against racism in the Women’s Movement, which was largely White and middle class, and against sexism in their own Chicano/a Movement.” They affirm neither battle is completely over; they encourage other young scholars to continue.    

The group spoke as one regarding “iconic moments” which define a social movement, emphasizing the “many smaller moments that make them possible” (Rivera). Some of those moments happened right here, Thursday night, at the International Trade and Business Room of UTRGV. Martha Cotera gallantly “called out” for praise a member of the audience, Mr. Jesus (Chuy) Ramírez, Valley lawyer and long time activist. She spoke of his key role in the Chicano Movement—always ahead of his time, and mindful of the need for inclusiveness. 

My take-away goes back to my own “town-gown” connections with Chuy, working with activist Chicano youth, on and off campus. He was always one of the more popular speakers in my classes at the University of Texas—Pan American. Also, his “coming-of-age” book, based on his early life as a migrant, Strawberry Fields, stands as a model of literature and as a vivid personal account of the crushing persistence of class and ethnic discrimination. It was, at this reunion, at this “movida,” heart-warming to see Chuy connect with memories of his past, and with strong, activist women, who are leaders for our times as well.            

Editor’s Note: As part of FESTIBA 2019, a special book talk was held Friday, March 1, featuring the nationally acclaimed co-editoras of “Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism in the Movement Era.” This is the first collection of scholarly essays and testimonies based on Chicana organizing, activism, and leadership in the movement years of the 1960s and 1970s. Pictured is one of the authors autographing a book for a fan on the UTRGV Brownsville Campus. The book talk was also held in Edinburg on Thursday, February 28. (Photo courtesy of UTRGV).