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  • “To Live a Humanity under the Skin”:Revolutionary Love and Third World Praxis in 1970s Chicana Feminism
  • Natalie Havlin (bio)

Love, naming both affection and an expression of ethical commitment, is often considered foundational to feminist and queer frameworks of collective social change. As Maria Lugones argues, a feminist practice of love that recognizes interdependence and seeks to understand other women’s perspectives can serve as the groundwork for coalition building, particularly among women of color in the United States (1987, 8). Scholars and activists have typically followed Lugones and subsequently Chela Sandoval in tracing the emergence of love as a radical ethic and political methodology to the interventions of U.S. third world feminism and women of color coalition building in the 1970s (Lugones 1987; Sandoval 2000; Nash 2011; Moore and Casper 2014). As Sandoval explains, U.S. third world feminists developed a “hermeneutics of love,” a method and mode of resistance rooted in collective care and transformation (2000, 140). In this article, I contribute to elucidating U.S. third world feminist love politics by tracing what I describe as a revolutionary love-praxis in the work of Chicana feminist writer Elizabeth “Betita” Sutherland Martínez and her collaborations with fellow Chicana journalists Dolores Varela and Enriqueta Vasquez during the 1970s.

Active in the civil rights movement, women’s liberation organizations, and the Chicano movement, Martínez also contributed to left and emergent political formations of Chicana feminism and U.S. third world feminism during the 1970s.1 Martínez’s collaborators and movement scholar-activists such as Tony Platt and Angela Davis have celebrated Martínez’s dedication to and influence on Chicana/o and interracial movements for social justice (Platt 2013; Davis 2013). Yet Martínez’s [End Page 78] contributions to theorizing and practicing Chicana feminism, third world feminism, and Black and Latina/o coalition building have not been examined in-depth in feminist scholarship. Through an analysis of Martínez’s journalism about transnational alliance building in relation to writing by fellow Chicana feminists Varela and Vasquez, I trace an emergent Chicana feminist praxis that links interpersonal feeling and affection to the project of revolutionary internationalism, the latter a political commitment to global proletarian struggle against capitalism and imperialism most often associated with third world Marxist theorists, U.S. Black Power, and Asian American and Chicano radical politics during the 1970s (Pulido 2006; Wilkins 2007, Watkins 2012; Young 2006).2 The revolutionary love-praxis that I locate in the work of Martínez and her collaborators reflects an alternative framework to left paradigms of revolutionary discipline and political love popular in the 1970s. Martínez and fellow Chicana feminist writers Varela and Vasquez portray experiential feeling and expressions of interpersonal care as constitutive of, rather than incidental to, collective struggles against capitalism, imperialism, racism, and sexism.

Love and the Dilemma of Revolutionary Discipline

In May 1967 leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a key civil rights organization known for leading lunch counter sit-ins and the Mississippi Freedom Summer project, voted to transition to an all-black staff and membership. In the months following the decision, Elizabeth “Betita” Sutherland Martínez, the director of the New York City office of SNCC and one of two Chicanas on staff, offered a singular analysis of the shifting political vision in SNCC.3 In a series of notes titled “Black, White and Tan” submitted to the SNCC Atlanta offices in June 1967, Martínez provides a “personal and incomplete attempt to think things out” with respect to SNCC members’ growing black nationalism and exploration of third world revolutionary struggles as models for social change. In Martínez’s assessment, the growing “ideology of blackness” in SNCC and emergent “consciousness of peoplehood” among black Americans represents a stage of struggle necessitating a consideration of the “price of revolution, the human toll of righting wrong” (1967, 2). She recounts that prior to and during her work in SNCC she traveled to Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Cuba to understand what a revolutionary struggle to fundamentally restructure a society [End Page 79] would require. The armed revolutionary struggles that she studied and observed often entailed a “moratorium on humanism (sometimes...


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