This analysis of Chicana/o social movements of the 1970s reveals the numerous transnational connections that inspired anti-imperialism across borders and fostered organizers, poets, journalists, and others on the front lines of social change.
Bringing to life the stories of political teatristas, feminists, gunrunners, labor organizers, poets, journalists, ex-prisoners, and other revolutionaries, The Revolutionary Imaginations of Greater Mexico examines the inspiration Chicanas/os found in social movements in Mexico and Latin America from 1971 to 1979. Drawing on fifteen years of interviews and archival research, including examinations of declassified government documents from Mexico, this study uncovers encounters between activists and artists across borders while sharing a socialist-oriented, anticapitalist vision. In discussions ranging from the Nuevo Teatro Popular movement across Latin America to the Revolutionary Proletariat Party of America in Mexico and the Peronista Youth organizers in Argentina, Alan Eladio Gómez brings to light the transnational nature of leftist organizing by people of Mexican descent in the United States, tracing an array of festivals, assemblies, labor strikes, clandestine organizations, and public protests linked to an international movement of solidarity against imperialism.
Taking its title from the “greater Mexico” designation used by Américo Paredes to describe the present and historical movement of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Chicanas/os back and forth across the US-Mexico border, this book analyzes the radical creativity and global justice that animated “Greater Mexico” leftists during a pivotal decade. While not all the participants were of one mind politically or personally, they nonetheless shared an international solidarity that was enacted in local arenas, giving voice to a political and cultural imaginary that circulated throughout a broad geographic terrain while forging multifaceted identities. The epilogue considers the politics of going beyond solidarity.
- Introduction: Chicana/o Radicalism, Transnational Organizing, and Social Movements in Latin America
- Chapter 1. Cartographies of the Chicana/o Left
- Chapter 2. Mexico, Anticommunism, and the Chicana/o Movement
- Chapter 3. Nuevo Teatro Popular across the Américas
- Chapter 4. “Somos uno porque América es una”: Quinto Festival de Teatro Chicano/Primer Encuentro Latino Americano de Teatro
- Chapter 5. “Por la reunificación de los Pueblos Libres de América en su Lucha por el Socialismo”: Mexican Maoists, Chicana/o Revolutionaries, and the Dirty War in Mexico
- Chapter 6. Puente de Cristal (Crystal Bridge): Magdalena Mora, the 1975 Tolteca Strike, and Insurgent Feminism
- Epilogue: Solidarity/Beyond Solidarity
Chicana/o Radicalism, Transnational Organizing, and Social Movements in Latin America
Political movements in Mexico and Latin America during the 1970s inspired a Chicana/o Left politics that created nuanced and politically astute forms of international solidarity. This book focuses on how the participants in these trajectories of the Chicana/o movement saw themselves as part of a larger hemispheric and global political community, and how that political perspective led them to intentionally look outside the borders of the United States to create connections with political movements, artists, and revolutionaries that were anticapitalist and anti-imperialist. The Revolutionary Imaginations of Greater Mexico uncovers and highlights the contours within the Chicana/o movement that inspired solidarity with political movements and connections between artists in Mexico and Latin America. It addresses what it meant to be Chicana/o in Mexico and Latin America, and how Mexico and Latin America existed in the political imaginations of Chicanas/os in the United States. Through an analytic of international solidarity enacted in local contexts, this book brings together the different perceptions and meanings of the Third World within the Chicana/o movement. It reveals how anticapitalism, socialism, insurgent feminism, radical creativity, and global justice influenced the ideas, imaginary, and political practices of the Chicana/o Left during the 1970s. Exploring transnational connections, cultural imaginaries, and political events, the book’s seven chapters focus on the stories of little-known activists and artists, tortured revolutionaries, feminists, gunrunners, labor organizers, poets, journalists, former prisoners, and their “freedom dreams” for social change enacted through diverse and creative forms of solidarity.
International solidarity as concrete actions, and as a political imaginary, conditioned the possibility for the Chicana/o movement such that “the existence of a Chicana/o internationalism . . . was present at the movement’s very origins, e.g., solidarity with socialist Cuba and Vietnam.” In dialogue with the postnationalist turn in American studies, the influence of Chicana/o and Latina/o studies on Latin American studies, and the highlighting of postnationalist political activity in the 1970s, this book uncovers and examines intimate encounters between activists and artists across borders who shared a socialist-oriented, anticapitalist politics. Specifically, it uncovers Chicana/o participation in the hemispheric movement Nuevo Teatro Popular (New People’s Theater); the Revolutionary Proletariat Party of America (Partido Proletario Unido de América—PPUA) in Mexico; and the Marxist-Leninist organization Centro de Acción Social Autónomo.
The solidarity politics of Chicana/o leftists included socialist, anarchist, and anti-imperialist imaginaries and represent different “apprenticeship[s] with Marxism” inspired by political struggles in Mexico, Cuba, and Latin America, as well as a long history of leftist organizing by people of Mexican descent in the United States. Organizing festivals, assemblies, and united fronts; circulating information in newspapers, press conferences, art, and public protests; and directly joining revolutionary organizations during the 1970s, their efforts connected the Chicana/o movement with leftist struggles in Mexico and Latin America. At its most basic, this book is a social history of a political and cultural imaginary and the people, places, events, and organizations that, inspired by this imaginary, produced different articulations of solidarity with the Chicana/o Left.
The late Chicano scholar Américo Paredes inspired the book’s title. His concept “refers to all the areas inhabited by people of Mexican culture—not only within the present limits of the Republic of Mexico but in the United States as well—in a cultural rather than a political sense.” His term “Greater Mexico,” a cultural geography, was also a political imaginary, I argue, a space and place inhabited by people of Mexican descent in an imagined community created through shared cultural and historical pasts, memories, and practices. Solidarity politics inspired revolutionary imaginaries. My use of the term “Greater Mexico” is not intended to center the nation-state, identity, or citizenship. Inhabiting a proto-postnationalist position during the 1970s while merging a critique of racial capitalism in the United States and antiimperialism, Greater Mexico provides a political and discursive analytic to trace how multiple revolutionary and radical imaginaries that inspired political activity circulated through people and organizations that made anti-imperialism, antiracism, and transnational organizing the center of their political analysis and practice.
A political imaginary and geographic space, Greater Mexico encompasses places where people of Mexican descent lived, worked, dreamed, and struggled to make their lives better. Tracing specific geographic, political (revolutionary), and creative (imaginary) terrains requires consideration of the relationship of people of Mexican descent living in the United States to Mexico and its people as a country or nation-state. This is already a challenging proposition, for the very notions of Mexican identity, citizenship, and race, for example, are highly contested in Mexico with regard to indigenous peoples, peoples of the African diaspora, and the complicated and contradictory history of mestizaje—as evidenced in nation-building social policy.
Locating Chicana/o Left Imaginaries in the Américas
Revolutionary Imaginations, in the plural, emphasizes the multiple ways that an anticapitalist critique inspired solidarity through the creation and deployment of an array of political and cultural practices deeply rooted in everyday relationships of power, and geared toward organizing people for social justice and political change. These cultural and political practices underscore connections between artists and activists that shared an anti-imperialist politics. Together they worked to create a new world, enacting those conceptions in creative labor and imaginings as political projects and political struggles. Political imaginary is also a specific and differentiated way of talking about culture, a specific designation that indicates how a person, organization, or movement understands the relationship between what is considered possible, and how that possibility can, through collective work and struggle, have specific intentional results. The political imaginary functions as a political weapon, analytical tool, and narrative arc: “culture is political because meanings are constitutive of processes that, implicitly or explicitly, seek to redefine social power.” By invoking the imaginary, I want to emphasize how political movements created new narratives, experimenting with new (and sometimes forgotten) retrofitted tactics often inspired by previous movements, ideas, theories, and experiences. Counterhegemonic and autonomous (from state and capital) narratives of change can challenge the dominant story and inspire action to change the relationships of power that scaffold and create dominant stories.
By the 1970s, the language of civil rights no longer sufficiently represented the political desires and demands of political movements, which were now composed of constituencies that had new goals and targets and employed a range of different tactics. Changing political laws did not necessarily alter behaviors or lead to equal economic opportunities, nor did reforming rules result in structural changes to access to opportunities, fair treatment, or freedom from state-sanctioned and extralegal violence. As a result, Chicanas/os looked to other Third World peoples in the United States and solidarity with social movements in Mexico and Latin America, as well as inwardly, to challenge the limitations, contradictions, and oppressive characteristics of movement culture.
Leftist politics and international solidarity connected seemingly disparate places that were intimately linked through people in struggle, as well as political and cultural organizations. Connecting experiences and analysis across geographic and political differences, these histories demonstrate how big ideas have a local impact on political and social conditions, historical patterns of change and continuity, and organizational forms and cultural imaginaries. The following chapters emphasize an internationalist perspective that cuts across ethnic and area studies approaches in the context of state violence, geopolitics, and human rights violations on the one hand, and political movements, anti-imperialism, cultural politics, and solidarity on the other. Political movements became internationalized and changed both the terms of engagement with state institutions (police, prisons, schools, the military, state houses, etc.) and themes that were central to the Chicana/o movement. A denser social history of radical anticapitalism and socialist-oriented ideas and politics during the Chicana/o movement paces the narrative, expanding what we know and offering a reconsideration of the significance of these transnational connections.
Similar to how activists and artists crossed geopolitical, cultural, linguistic, and creative borders, chapter 1, “Cartographies of the Chicana/o Left,” maps key terms and methods within their historical context. It also introduces some preliminary responses to these questions as a way to situate this remapping of Chicana/o movement history. Chapter 2, “Mexico, Anticommunism, and the Chicana/o Movement,” contextualizes the forthcoming chapters within post–World War II US/Mexican/Latin American history, focusing on how solidarity created from below by political movements threatened hemispheric security. By way of introducing the reader to the world of Chicana/o leftists, this chapter also addresses the national question, returning-home narratives of Chicanas/os, and the influence of Aztlán on the Chicana/o imaginary and the Chicana/o movement.
Chapter 3, “Nuevo Teatro Popular across the Américas,” examines political solidarity and cultural production through the lens of the Nuevo Teatro Popular in Latin America, in Mexico, and among Chicanas/os in the United States. The chapter tells of Latin American theater festivals, the politics of post-1968 protest art and theater in Mexico, and Chicana/o Theater and the emergence of TENAZ (Teatro Nacional de Aztlán) in 1971.14 Inspired by the ideas of “art-based community making,” cultural workers “sought to push beyond the limits of the nation form, their struggles g[iving] rise to a ferment of aesthetic and cultural innovation.” 15 Theater functioned as a social, cultural, and political dialogue. The chapter emphasizes the hemispheric nature of a movement that developed new methods of collective creation, public performances, and audience participation, as well as a trenchant antiimperialist socialist analysis and political inspiration.
Chapter 4, “ ‘Somos uno porque América es una’: Quinto Festival de Teatro Chicano/Primer Encuentro Latino Americano de Teatro,” examines a transcontinental theater festival. This unique Chicana/o-driven festival took place in Mexico City and Veracruz, Mexico, during July 1974. The gathering brought together theater groups from the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America, and more than seven hundred actors and artists from across the continent. The festival offers insight into the contentious relationship between revolutionary politics and art as revealed through the discussions, performances, and political encounters that took place during the two-week gathering.
Chapter 5, “ ‘Por la reunificación de los Pueblos Libres de América en su Lucha por el Socialismo’: Mexican Maoists, Chicana/o Revolutionaries, and the Dirty War in Mexico,” begins by addressing San Antonio’s legacy of radical political organizing during an understudied period in Mexico’s political history. In 1975, Maoist-inspired Mexican revolutionaries founded the Partido Proletario Unido de América (the United Proletariat Party of America—PPUA), and Chicanas/os from the US Southwest joined the movement. The PPUA was one of more than forty rural and urban guerrilla organizations in operation during the 1960s and 1970s in Mexico, and the only one (so far as we yet know) that included Chicanos. It was in this context that Chicano activist Ramón Raúl Chacón was arrested, tortured, and imprisoned in October 1975. Chacón was a student and worked as a teacher at the Chicano university Colegio Jacinto Treviño in Mercedes, Texas. Arrested with two others just south of Monterrey, Mexico, Chacón and his companions were accused by Mexican federal police agents of transporting arms to incite revolution in Mexico. The three arrestees and Mario Cantú, a well-known Chicano activist and businessman from San Antonio, who along with Chacón had been politicized while imprisoned in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, in the late 1960s, were publicly accused of being members of the PPUA. Chacón was tortured into signing a confession. Cantú self-exiled to Europe, where he and other exiled Mexican artists and activists founded the European Committee in Solidarity with the Chicano People, which attempted to take the cases of human rights violations in Mexico and the United States to the international human rights community in Europe. This chapter demonstrates how Chicana/o activists were directly involved in creating a transborder socialist revolution against both the US and Mexican governments, and how the Chicana/o movement expanded to a European context.
Chapter 6, “Puente de Cristal (Crystal Bridge): Magdalena Mora, the 1975 Tolteca Strike, and Insurgent Feminism,” examines a 1975 labor strike at the Tolteca Foods factory in Richmond, California, through the writings and political activity of Magdalena Mora. Most of the workers at Tolteca were women from Mexico, many undocumented, who had worked for years at the factory. They had tried to organize with local unions, yet their efforts were ignored by male leaders. The factory’s owner, S&W Fine Foods, a subsidiary of the Canadian transnational corporation IMASCO, had purchased the family-owned factory in 1974. The leaders that emerged during the struggle not only sidestepped the union representatives, but also developed their own culture of leadership and organizing. These leaders took the meetings from the union hall to the community center while expanding the political discussion to include issues that directly affected undocumented women outside of the workplace. Local Marxist-identified activists and organizers (members of CASA—the Centro de Acción Social Autónomo—and the October League) were also instrumental in organizing community support for the strike and influential in supporting the development of leadership among the Tolteca workers. One of these participants was Magdalena Mora, a student leader at the University of California, Berkeley, who joined CASA after graduating from college in 1974. The second half of the chapter provides a close reading of Mora’s articles and editorials published in CASA’s newspaper, Sin Fronteras, between 1975 and 1978. Connecting international capitalism, public policy, and union organizing with cross-border movements in Mexico, Chile, and other parts of Latin America, Mora’s writings and political work were an example of an insurgent feminism. While the gender politics and participation of women in CASA have been well documented, chapter 6 discusses how the role of undocumented women and insurgent feminist journalism transformed notions of transnational solidarity and community justice.
The epilogue, “Solidarity/Beyond Solidarity,” probes the legacy of the Chicana/o Left, exploring how themes in the narrative relate to the present, particularly solidarity in an age of globalization and neoliberalism. The epilogue also explores the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in 1994 and how it resonated with Chicanisma/o. Following others, I conclude that we should look at the 1970s for the emergence of what are now referred to as antiglobalization movements in a time of neoliberal security regimes of racial control.
This book is an attempt to circulate these transnational and transcultural histories of solidarity in a manner similar to the way that these movements circulated the struggles at the time. By focusing on the political reference points that oriented peoples, places, events, and organizations, we can unpack and more fully understand the relationship between rhetorical, ideological, and cultural influences and the human dimension of political action and engagement. Political imaginaries, cultural exchanges, and the contradictions of the ideological and human dimensions of international solidarity help reimagine transnational and transcultural mapping of the Chicana/o movement, introducing a political and cultural cartography and a newly recovered genealogy. A genealogy, rather than historical recovery, recognizes that organizations have beginnings, but the influences that are inherited from previous struggles and passed on through people, organizations, ideas, political practices, memory, and experimentation condition the possibility of new social movements in specific moments of rupture.
Whereas the literature on transnationalism is varied and robust, I specifically draw on Inderpal Grewal to emphasize the complex and multiple characters of transnational “connectivities” rather than focusing on specific connections and the autonomous Marxist literature on the circulation of struggle.21 Exploring how Chicana/o leftists and artists created a variety of strong, weak, and often unevenly connected relations with people and organizations in Latin America simultaneously opens up the category of political solidarity in relation to transnationalism. This, in turn, allows for a deeper understanding of the varied and diverse ways that people enacted solidarity and created the conditions for connectivities and connections—whether at a march or protest, a theater festival, or a land takeover or through textual acts of solidarity in articles, press releases, and artistic production. These connections and connectivities in turn circulated ideas, struggles, and cultures that affected the political analysis of capitalism, for example, or led to further cross-border collaborations. Ideas and struggles circulate through people, through organizations, and in cultural creativity (rather than only through products). These circulating struggles helped shape a transnational imaginary and identity that in turn influenced the political decisions of Chicana/o leftists and the political imaginary of the Chicana/o movement.
Period and Themes: Solidarity Politics and the Politics of Solidarity
While the narrative is paced by the decade and discussion of solidarity, the chapters are neither linear nor specifically contemporaneous. Not all chapters span the entire decade, and chapters overlap and diverge in time, theme, and geographic location. The events in the book happen between roughly 1973 and 1980, years characterized by global political, economic, and social crises. During the transition years to neoliberal capitalism, insights into how Chicana/o leftists interpreted, responded to, and in some cases accelerated the crises reveal significant strains of leftist political, social, and intellectual history in the United States. While events, places, and processes also pace the narrative, the social history approach provides a human dimension to the political engagement, exchanges, and disagreements that made up the Chicana/o movement experience, particularly issues involving solidarity, gender, and anticapitalism.
As in all social movements, there were differences, disagreements, and contradictions. For example, the strategies and tactics by which these changes were brought about; gender roles, sexual violence, and patriarchy in movement politics; issues of sexuality and homophobia; the means and compromises involved in raising funds; and the level of interaction with the state all worked as sites of political tension and possibility. While they have their uses, dichotomies and binaries limit the imaginary that expands what is possible, as “politics is not separate from lived experience or the imaginary world of what is possible; to the contrary, politics is about these things. Politics comprises the many battles to roll back constraints and exercise some power over, or create some space within, the institutions and social relationships that dominate our lives.”
I understand solidarity as direct action and a political weapon, a form of praxis, a social tool, and a space of knowledge production. Solidarity can include but is not limited to direct aid, circulating information about struggles, political interventions, and personal and organizational engagement with political movements in other countries. Why do we know so little about the anticapitalist Chicana/o Left? Despite their small numbers, Chicana/o activists from across the United States created organizations, projects, and political cultures inspired by socialist imaginaries that had a significant impact on US social movement history during the 1970s as well as political and cultural movements in Mexico and Latin America. Why did Chicanas/os look to Mexico, Central America, and Latin America, even traveling there to engage with its movements? What did they do once they arrived? How did the experiences of engaging and connecting with political movements from Mexico and Latin America influence, shape, and reshape the political and cultural imaginary, as well as the political practices of the Chicana/o movement? What did the Chicana/o movement look like to activists and artists in Mexico and Latin America? How were Mexican and Latin American leftists influenced by their engagement with Chicanas/os? How and why did Chicana/o artists go global? How did the involvement of Chicanas/os in Mexico and the politics of returning home influence their experiences and political imaginary? How were the different interpretations of the national question among Chicana/o leftists manifested in their political activities? Given that the Chicana/o Left is a “site of gender struggle,” how did gender influence the ways that revolution was imagined and solidarity enacted?
How did radical and/or revolutionary politics influence gender relations? How did culture, theater, and performance function politically?
Engaging these questions, this book demonstrates how the Chicana/o Left, socialist imaginaries, and the Chicana/o movement changed throughout the 1970s by looking at different forms of solidarity over the decade, not as an evolution or progression, but in regard to the selfactivity and collective organizing of openly leftist artists, organizers, journalists, and self-identified revolutionaries. Chicana/o artists and activists were in search of new forms and content, new political inspirations and projects. Inspired by the Mexican and Cuban revolutions and the larger terrain of the Latin American Left, solidarity translated into social justice, anti-imperialist art, and creative political organizing. Mexican and Latin American leftists saw Chicanas/os as potential allies, sources for political support and international solidarity, and voices against empire inside the belly of the US beast, complicating the idea that Chicanas/os are “junior partners” in empire. In addition, Chicana/o leftist politics opened possibilities and inspired the political imaginaries of Mexican and Latin American leftists to include Latinas/os living in the United States as part of their political analysis. To be clear, this book does not propose to provide systematic answers to all these questions, and in fact it intends to generate more questions than answers. Each chapter is part of a whole that offers some first responses to these inquiries. Chapters 2 through 5 are set in Mexico City, several states in Mexico, and central and south Texas, while chapter 6 is largely situated in California.
For folks involved in struggles that aimed to change society and themselves in the process, contradictions were both messy and generative. We cannot and should not romanticize, create heroes from, or pathologize the behaviors and decisions of people involved in political movements with socialist dreams, revolution, or radical politics; nor can alliances and coalitions be assumed to form naturally or “obviously,” or to exist without their own contradictions. Solidarity required struggle, and it was a struggle to create and maintain solidarity. Alliances, coalitions, networks, and connections were not characteristics of only radical, revolutionary, or transnational politics. People and organizations that shared a political perspective on power, transformation, and change also cultivated alliances and coalitions, as well as other forms of solidarity politics. A particular identity does not have an a priori relationship with a specific political position, belief, or analysis. Nor does it automatically imply solidarity with other people experiencing similar conditions, whether nearby or far away. Solidarity, alliances, long-term coalitions, and sustained political movements were built through struggle and trust. These networks also circulated struggles, and that presupposes time spent together and collaboration.
The participation of women changed the course of these histories. At the same time, there were many different forms of feminism and antifeminism within the movement. I focus on insurgent feminists who formed a structural critique of the emerging security state in relation to capitalism, also examining their actions on individual terms. In defining insurgent feminism, I draw from Denise A. Segura and Beatriz M. Pesquera: “a political tradition that contests the social relations of production and reproduction. Women who articulate these sentiments call for Chicana self-determination which encompasses a struggle against both personal and institutional manifestations of racial discrimination, patriarchy, and class exploitation.” Insurgent feminism exists in relation to Chicana liberal feminism. The political trajectories of insurgent feminists transformed the view that women had of themselves, of how they participated in spaces, the written analysis, and cultural production and simultaneously created spaces for Chicanas to create and develop their own political imaginaries. In turn, these efforts affected social movement activity, leadership styles and decisions, the political imaginary of what was possible, and how to make those possibilities materialize in everyday life.
An internationalist, leftist political imaginary, characterized by particular political practices and cultural forms, made possible a politics of solidarity. Solidarity is a political relationship that helps reframe social movements as a category. To narrate the category of solidarity through Chicana/o internationalist histories of the 1970s, employing an analytic of circulation of struggles and cycles of struggles, is to reframe the periodization of the Chicana/o movement in relation to the long 1960s in the United States and Latin America and reconsider the impact of 1968 as a global(izing) narrative.28 This book emphasizes that social movement activity continued in the context of the economic crisis of the 1970s, a decade that witnessed the increased momentum of “law and order” politics, anti-immigrant organizing, the rise of a “New American Right,” and the recomposition of global capital. In other words, political movements created and accelerated crisis. The Chicana/o movement, though locating its own origins in the mid-1960s, continued headlong into the late 1970s and early 1980s, a continuity of the civil rights, cultural nationalism, and community power–based organizing characteristics combined with an emerging internationalist and leftist trajectory and a move toward the language of human rights. The point is not to replace 1968 with 1973, or 1975 with 1980, as the “end of the movement,” but to emphasize cycles of struggles that recompose civil society and the specific acceleration of historical moments (elongated in years) which condition the possibility that “crisis [will] occur when the social formation can no longer be reproduced on the basis of the previous system of social relations.”
Solidarity was a weapon of the US Third World Left, a political strategy, analytical tool, and way of envisioning action and participation on a variety of interrelated levels. The politics of solidarity is a conceptual tool for investigating political connections, social networks, and direct action during the 1970s. To make solidarity observable, and to build on the work of the Center for Convivial Research and Autonomy, I propose that solidarity was a political weapon, a form of praxis, a social tool, and a space of knowledge production about struggle and prefiguring a different society.32 International solidarity was about the local, even as the imaginary (and the minds imagining) crossed borders, sojourning with new ideas, possibilities, and inspirations.33 It was enacted locally—in domestic spaces, political organizations, community centers, street corners, restaurants, and the localized politics that were the consequence of national and international political decisions.
Studies of political solidarity must confront its contradictions with its own political histories, including the often unexamined power relations between people situated in different political, social, and economic conditions (as between the United States and Latin America, or in the designation of north-to-south solidarity rather than southto-south). Examining how Chicanas/os reimagined and deployed the political practice of solidarity during the 1970s helps explain how solidarity is articulated as an intellectual tool, as well as how it is limited if not closely examined for relations of colonial domination— even between people of color and black people in the United States and people in the Third World. Solidarity that does not confront the structural issues of economic, political, and social control can instead replicate notions of charity, infantilization, and relations of colonial violence and domination.34 Solidarity politics was already conditioned by contradictions—between participants, and often between organizations across borders. These encuentros—at festivals, community centers, and homes; in organizational meetings and prisons; or during a land takeover—provided the possibility for new political, personal, and cultural relationships. In narrating the category of solidarity, we have to read through a politics of solidarity at different moments, when the Chicana/o Left could decipher their more prescient questions about capitalism, nation, and revolution.
As a way to open up the category of solidarity as a weapon, praxis, tool, and space to prefigure new possibilities, five elements of solidarity politics highlight the political function and practice of solidarity: (1) direct or indirect aid, (2) active elements/interventions, (3) circulation of information and ideas, (4) the more complicated issue of involvement/ participation, and (5) the moments of articulation of an internationalist solidarity. Moments of articulation, which include the previous four characteristics, specifically focus on how struggles that resonated with and influenced the politics of the Chicana/o movement reconfigure the historical timeline of movement activity. Aid includes everything from printing newspapers and books, to providing weapons and ammunition, to other monetary support, including offsetting travel expenses or supporting the material necessities for organizing festivals, protests, or long-term campaigns. Active elements and/or interventions pertain to the festivals, protests, public performances, press conferences, and other actions done in the name of solidarity. The circulation of information and ideas was a way to inform, educate, and provide the opportunity for people to become more aware of a particular movement or issues through newspaper articles, editorials, theater, community gatherings, or house meetings, but the emphasis is on the content as much as the context (active elements).35 Rather than levels of participation, the focus is on what people did, how they did it, and the meanings given to their actions. This is the more complicated element of solidarity—participation and involvement. Said another way, the difference between active elements/intervention and involvement/ participation depends on the organization and its intention or mission. The difference is both political and strategic, but it is not about integrity or political astuteness. Interventions could be made by individuals who were or were not part of organized political formations. But to consider involvement and participation in regard to organizational affiliation, specifically socialist anti-imperialist Chicana/o-Mexicana/o organizations, offers analytical and political nuance in understanding the complex and layered elements of international solidarity as they played out between people in organizations. Not everyone in this book engaged or enacted all five elements of solidarity, but those who were part of organizations or artists collectives did have multiple moments of articulation that in turn had numerous and diverse impacts and consequences. Solidarity as a conceptual tool can renovate academic and political debate in the context of globalization.
Solidarity is situated knowledge and political action. It can also be antiblack if it erases the distinct and particular struggles of the black diaspora, specifically the antiblack nature of coalitions and the notion of people of color. Solidarity is also a “site of gender struggle.” As H. L. T. Quan specifies in relation to the feminist analysis and methods of the black radical tradition, “gender as an infrastructure of resistance” offers a both political and analytical reading of power and political movements, as well as engaging a feminism without borders that is simultaneously attuned to differently situated people and politics.
As a way to talk about the politics of refusal and the participation of people in international solidarity and leftist political organizing outside of established leftist parties or unions, I use social factory, a political/conceptual tool developed by the Italian autonomist Left in the 1960s and 1970s.39 The social factory is a way to critically analyze and map how capitalist social relations have attempted to colonize all of life, that is, the time and space when not at work, as well as how people have refused these impositions and in turn created new forms and practices of political organizing. A post-Fordism concept, the social factory is the terrain of political struggle where different types of solidarity unfold and where solidarity is always emerging. The social factory helps to center events and rallies not tied to official parties or organizations, and to look at how people organize with each other in all types of spaces. More complex than building space, the social factory is where people can possibly refuse the imposition of capitalist relationships of hierarchy and coercion, including patriarchy, homophobia, and antiblack racism, simultaneously creating new social relationships, cultural imaginaries, and political possibilities.
A Note on Archives
This is a subaltern history “from way, way below.” 40 Effecting this recovery required investigating a wide variety of sources. At the more formal level, I combed through archives held in special collections at formal academic institutions; at Lecumberri, the federal prison in Mexico City that was transformed into the National Archives; in the homes of former political prisoners in Mexico; and under “pyramids” in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In addition, I sought out and recovered testimonios, poems, recordings, posters, remnants of archives created in struggle, living archives, and other forms of memory. Interviews and questions were based on personal and political relationships. These relationships and questions frame not only the “stories for the book” but also the leftist political imaginary that inspired my own politics, hemmed in and limited by contradictions and blind spots. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own. Some quotations are rendered in a mixture of Spanish and English. For primary sources, I have conserved the grammar and the use of accent marks of the documents themselves. Preserving bilingual, bicultural code switching is part of a decolonial methodology.
In 2002 the Mexican government’s intelligence agency, CISEN, declassified and made public the archives of the Secretary of National Defense. These archives include extensive, detailed documentation of the Guerra Sucia (dirty war) against political organizations in Mexico during the 1960s and 1970s. “Despite [their] limitations,” writes Tanalís Padilla, “these sources . . . are the eyes and ears of the state, the sum of the views of these agents often determined official policy . . . [and] it is possible to glean campesino voices from these documents, as infiltrators reproduced speeches, reconstructed meetings, and detailed planned actions.” 41 I appreciate the willingness of some of the participants to revisit and analyze these times and to speak about outlawed political activities. Not everyone I contacted responded, and out of respect for their political decisions and lives, I have not named them other than by alias.
The anticapitalism of the past was dismissed by many of the same social forces (and people) that dismiss anticapitalism in the present; whether on the streets, across borders, in the academy, or in the neighborhood, alternatives to the status quo, including Chicana/o Left politics, continue to grow in strength.
This book does not directly address the relationship between Chicanas/os and indigenous peoples in Mexico or the United States. The absence of references or discussion of black people in Mexico within the histories recovered here does not mean that black people— Afro-Mexicanos—were not present. Though way beyond the scope of this book, and though race plays out in different ways in Mexico with regard to indigenous and (denied) black populations, the views that Chicanas/os had of México Profundo—indigenous and black Mexico— are vital to any scholarship that would build on the recent studies of multiracial alliances between African Americans and Latinas/os in the United States.
“More than any of its predecessors, this book provides a new cartography of the Chicana/o Movement. It is a tour de force that illumines a rich and contradictory web of cultural politics, anti-imperialism, anticapitalism, and feminism in a Chicana/o Movement that was as internationalist and multiracial as nationalist and ethnic-based.”
Luis Alvarez, University of California, San Diego, author of The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II
“In this long overdue work, Alan Eladio Gómez recovers the lost progressive history of our Chicano/Mexicano community, and, by placing it in context, rediscovers who we are. His research is not only groundbreaking and multifaceted, ranging from cartographies to teatro, but it expands our vision and imagination of what the Chicano/Mexicano community truly is: revolutionary, progressive, and with a multilayered history in which we stand not as victims, but as creators of history. The Revolutionary Imaginations of Greater Mexico is destined to be the standard in Chicano/Mexicano history for a long time to come. An excellent text for anyone in the field of Chicano studies.”
Alejandro Murguía, Chair of Latina/Latino Studies, San Francisco State University, and San Francisco Poet Laureate
“In The Revolutionary Imaginations of Greater Mexico, Alan Eladio Gómez illuminates the capaciousness, complexity, and contradictions of the constellations of struggle that propelled the Chicano movement of the mid-twentieth century. Deftly blending empirical depth with theoretical breadth, Gómez explains the movement as not merely a political cartography of national resistance and refusal, but also, and centrally, a transnational project of emancipation aimed at creating new social relations and social identities. His identification of the theatrical stage as a key locus of popular education and political mobilization powerfully illuminates how the ferocious theatricality of state violence provokes aggrieved groups to produce new kinds of oppositional signs, symbols, and spectacles.”
George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place
“In this luminous work of historical recovery and interpretation, Alan Eladio Gómez revives the most expansive vision for Greater Mexican solidarity in the hemisphere. Refusing the constraints of nationalism and protectionist labor movements, Chicana/o artists and activists of the 1970s invented novel political forms for contesting state violence and economic exploitation. The Revolutionary Imaginations of Greater Mexico combines impressive archival discovery with deft analysis to provide a new narrative for understanding the tumult and contradictions of the Chicana/o Movement. Gómez offers insightful readings of how popular theater, poetry, and feminist critique became vehicles for unleashing new social agency in diverse sites of popular mobilization, with effects that often exceeded the formal politics of the larger movement. Through Gómez’ account, we may appreciate the methodological innovation and political daring with which radical unionists and teatro artists constructed new cartographies of interdependence and struggle against class power and racial subjection. More important, Gómez makes visible the longstanding connections and aspirations to transborder unity that continue to animate the communities of Greater Mexico in our time. A landmark work in Chicana/o history, this book opens new vistas for students of social movements in the Americas.”
Alicia Schmidt Camacho, author of Migrant Imaginaries: Latino Cultural Politics in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands