Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 24.2&3 (2003) 51-74
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The Articulation of Gender in the Borderlands in the Early Twentieth Century
The U.S.-Mexico border area, especially the urban centers of Laredo, San Antonio, El Paso, and Los Angeles, served as center stage for a vital part of the precursory work for the Mexican Revolution of 1910. At the boundaries of these two nation-states issues of liberalism, anticlericalism, anarchism, nationalism, class, race, and identity were addressed with revolutionary fervor and articulated through periodical publications, autobiographical narratives, and memoirs by women who became involved not only in Mexico's nationalist strife for a more democratic country but also in calling attention to gender issues. Within the counterdiscourses articulated by the divergent factions of the Mexican revolutionary movement, a small but significant number of Spanish-language periodicals published in the United States expounded concern for women's emancipation and subverted patriarchal authority by including women as part of the struggle for justice, at times by manipulating gender for their own particular nationalist ends. Through unsigned articles and editorials, the periodicals La Voz de la Mujer (Women's Voice ) and El Obrero (The Worker ) proclaimed themselves as political tools of the precursor revolutionary movement, and Pluma Roja (Red Pen ) did the same for the internationalist anarchist movement. The writings of specific women, such as Jovita Idar's writing in her family's periodical La Crónica (The Chronicle ) and Leonor Villegas de Magnón's autobiography/memoirs, further problematized the articulation of gender by their "erasure of the geopolitical border," focusing on political/cultural practices across the border and consciously developing a transborder discourse.
Despite the twentieth-century political imposition of a physical national boundary to mark a clear division between two sovereign nation-states, each seeking to develop its distinct national culture, the social position of Mexican women in the borderlands was still dictated by traditional nineteenth-century Mexican social mores. As the revolutionary movement developed, it provided [End Page 51] a fertile field for the resurgence of nationalist sentiment among the U.S. Mexican population and created the space to recode the role of women in society. 1 The liberalism of this movement reinforced the secular perspective that openly defied the master narrative of the Catholic Church. Although few women in the borderlands had the cultural capital required to express themselves in writing, the women who did were able to create alternative means to do so. Until now, these women's work as activists and their intellectual, written contributions have remained virtually unrecognized. Either due to their political affiliations or to gender discrimination, their work has not been recognized in Mexico. In the United States, these factors, as well as racial and linguistic biases, have relegated their work to oblivion. Nevertheless, these women's stories and their publishing efforts capture the realities of a people, the significance of whose daily existence transcends the limitations imposed by national, political, gender, and class boundaries. This study begins to trace various instances of their gendered transborder discourse.
The Alternative Press in the Borderlands
In 1910 the U.S. Consul in Mexico, Luther E. Ellsworth, wrote:
I have the honor to report increasing activity of the very intelligent class of Mexican exiles in the Cities and Towns along the Mexican-American Border line, between the Gulf and the Pacific Ocean.... [They] are busily engaged [in] writing and publishing inflammatory articles intended to educate up to date, in new revolutionary ideas, the thousands of Mexicans now on the American side of the Border line, and as many as possible of those on the Mexican side. 2
Indeed, the intellectual political refugees who were forced to migrate north of the border, some with members of their respective families, immediately became engaged in U.S. local community political activism to rally support for their own nationalist cause, to support transborder labor organizing, or both. From 1900 to 1910, the movement to unseat the three-decade-old Porfirio Díaz dictatorship in Mexico was...