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“Revolutionary Sisters”: Women’s Solidarity and Collective Identification among Chicana Brown Berets in East Los Angeles, 1967-1970 Dionne Espinoza ABSTRACT: I examine women’s participation in the East Los Angeles chapter of the Brown Berets in order to unpack the dynamics ofwomen’s inclusion and exclusion in an organization proclaiming a commitment to liberatory social change. I argue that the organization’s structure and ideology, which originally appeared to support participatory democracy- albeit in tension with paramilitary procedures and selfrepresentations- progressively devolved into the segregation and subordination of women participants. This structuring of gender inequality, and the self- representations and behaviors that supported it, created the conditions for women Berets to recognize each other as hermanas en la lucha who could organize on their own terms. Chicana Brown Berets’ gender consciousness and woman-identified solidarity enabled them to break with the organization and develop a new political identity that implied a linked, but autonomous, relationship to the Chicano movement as well as a feminist reconstruction of la familia as based in women’s community. In late February 1970 a letter was sent to “Aron Mangancilla, Minister of Education for the Brown Berets,” explaining that the minister of correspondence and finance for the East Los Angeles chapter, Gloria Arellanes, had resigned. The letter stated, “There has been a great exclusion on behalf of the male segment and failure of the ministers to communicate with us, among many, many other things.” It went on to de- clare that “ALL Brown Beret women” were leaving because they had been treated as “nothings, not as “Revolutionary Aztldn 26: 1 Spring 200 1 17
Espinoza sisters.”’ Signing the letter “Con Che!”, the authors implied that their leaving was a revolutionary act of self-determination. But the most significant claim they made was that their resignation did not indicate the end of their activism. Rather, the authors declared that they would organize themselves. A few days before this letter was sent, a group of women had met at the Euclid Heights Center. They included former women Berets as well as others attracted by a flyer that proclaimed: “Chicanas, find yourself! Do you have a part in the Movement? Are you satisfied? Are your ideas suppressed? Come and CREATE your ideas! HELP CREATE Las Adelitas de Aztlan.” After providing information about the time, place, and date of the meeting, the flyer ended, “Join Las Adelitas de Aztlan .. . porque somos m a familia de hemanas” (because we are a family of sisters).2 The organization they founded, Las Adelitas de Aztlan, was short-lived, no doubt a casualty of the disillusionment, persecution, and fragmentation that occurred in the Chicano movement after the 29 August 1970 march against the Viet- nam War. But this move to organize by a group of grassroots Chicanas-lower middle-class, working-class, and poor- represented the culmination of