In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latina Political Participation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Mestizaje, Hybridity, and Intersectionality
  • Critical Anthologies

Latino Studies Latina Political Participation
Anna Sampaio
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0063


Contemporary Latinas and Latinos constitute a growing political influence in American politics. Moreover, in 2000 Latinas/Latinos reached a demographic milestone, surpassing African Americans in becoming the largest ethnic minority group in the United States (see Ennis, et al. 2011 and Grieco and Cassidy 2001 under General Overviews). However, despite important political gains made over the past thirty-five years, Latinas and Latinos continue to experience significant structural and resource barriers to their political incorporation, resulting in enduring forms of marginalization for the population. Latinas specifically inherit a long history of political activism dating back to early resistance against US expansion both in Mexico and the Caribbean and encompassing traditional forms of political behavior including voting and holding elective office. However, because their participation has been concentrated in nontraditional and nonelectoral activities, accounts of their leadership and contributions are frequently overlooked if not diminished. This article provides an overview of Latina political participation beginning in the late 19th century, highlighting literature on the two largest populations of Latinas in the United States: Mexican American and Puerto Rican women. Whether organizing immigrant activists in response to restrictive legislation proposed in Congress, providing feminist critiques of leaders in the Chicano movement, or mobilizing voter turnout in key elections, Latinas have always engaged in politics, and their history of participation is central not only to our understanding of racial, ethnic, and gender politics specifically, but American politics generally.

General Overviews

Publications by or about Latinas in the United States, particularly their political activism, were infrequent until the late 20th century, when social-protest movements gave rise to a surge in Chicana and Latina scholarship. Occasional references to Latinas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries exist in anthropological accounts of immigration (Gamio 1931). However, initial efforts to account for Chicano and Latino history in the United States relegated questions of gender and Latinas specifically to secondary status (Acuña 1972). In short, most of what we know about Latina politics in this early period comes from biographical sketches and archival research produced since the early 1980s (see also Latina Responses to Colonization and US Expansion). Historical accounts of Latina political engagements followed the history of Latina/o immigration, labor activism, and resistance to assimilation through the early 20th century. The formation of Chicana and Latina feminist movements in the 1970s and the institutionalization of this discourse in universities, conferences, small presses, and research centers generated a wave of new scholarship by Latina activists (see Chicano and Latino Social Movements and Chicana and Latina Activism). The publication of biographical data, bibliographies, and an encyclopedia dedicated to historic Latina figures and organizations shed light on significant contributions and filled gaps in US history (National Women’s History Project 1991, Ruiz and Sánchez Korrol 2005, Ruiz and Sánchez Korrol 2006, Stoner 2000). However, such comprehensive accounts don’t interrogate the technologies of politics and power or attend to questions of agency, organizational mobilization, and activism. In effect, they lack the focus on political history, theory, process and development, and what Latinas’ engagement and marginalization from American politics say about the nature of democracy in the United States. A critical body of literature documenting much of Latinas’ involvement in nontraditional politics exists in the humanities, while a separate body of scholarship on Latina political behavior and electoral politics has emerged in the fields of political science and social science. The decentralized nature of this research has yielded little consensus with regard to methods, terminology, or even the meaning of “politics.” Thus, as the population of Latinas and Latinos expands, resulting in greater demographic and political diversity, the need to properly understand the history of Latina activism also increases (Ennis, et al. 2011; Grieco and Cassidy 2001). This article provides a pathway to understanding various forms of Latina political participation in the United States, bringing together resources across time (highlighting the late 19th and 20th centuries), topic (nontraditional and traditional forms of political participation), population (highlighting Mexican American and Puerto Rican women), and discipline.

  • Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle toward Liberation. San Francisco: Canfield, 1972.

    The first broad historical account of Chicanos in the United States, documenting conflict from the colonization of the Southwest to the Chicano movement. Subsequent editions were substantially revised and expanded, but the first edition was highly critiqued for its failure to address gender and substantially include Chicanas and Latinas.

  • Ennis, Sharon R., Merarys Ríos-Vargas, and Nora G. Albert. The Hispanic Population: 2010. United States Census Bureau 2010 Census Brief. Washington, DC: Economics and Statistics Administration, US Department of Commerce, 2011.

    Review of census data on Hispanic-origin population from the 2010 US Census.

  • Gamio, Manuel. The Mexican Immigrant: His Life Story. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931.

    One of the earliest published studies of Mexican labor in the United States, produced by a noted Mexican anthropologist and sociologist. Provides analysis of statistics and autobiographic material, highlighting economic conditions, context of migration, and racial and ethnic tensions in the United States, with passing reference to women and family. Republished in 1971 (New York: Dover).

  • Grieco, Elizabeth M., and Rachel C. Cassidy. Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin. United States Census Bureau 2000 Census Brief. Washington, DC: Economics and Statistics Administration, US Department of Commerce, 2001.

    Review of census data on Hispanic-origin population from the 2000 US Census. Documenting the substantive increase of Latinas/Latinos in the United States, specifically surpassing African Americans as the largest racial/ethnic minority population.

  • National Women’s History Project. Las Mujeres: Mexican American / Chicana Women. Windsor, CA: National Women’s History Project, 1991.

    Biographies of seventeen Mexican American women whose lives significantly shaped US history, including land, labor, and civil-rights activists. Figures include Doña María del Carmen Calvillo, Jovita Idár, María L. de Hernández, Alicia Dickerson Montemayor, Luisa Moreno, Romana Acosta Bañuelos, Dolores Huerta, and Martha Cotera.

  • Ruiz, Vicki, and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, eds. Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    A critical reading of US history as told through the lives of prominent Latinas in the 19th and 20th centuries. Useful as an analytical accompaniment to the Latina Encyclopedia by Harold Augenbraum and Ilan Stavans (Danbury, CT : Grolier Academic Reference, 2005), particularly the interpretation of the early development of the United States and the way race, class, and gender figured centrally in this history.

  • Ruiz, Vicki, and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, eds. Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. 3 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

    Comprehensive overview of Latinas in the United States includes nearly six hundred entries (and three hundred photographs) highlighting prominent Latinas, organizations, and events. Includes introductory essays elucidating regional, generational, ethnic, and cultural differences between subgroups.

  • Stoner, K. Lynn, ed. Cuban and Cuban-American Women: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

    Comprehensive review of primary and secondary sources, documenting history of Cuban women on the island and in the United States. Part II is most relevant to understanding Latina politics in the United States, highlighting Cuban American women’s history from 1868 to 1997 and including themes of exile, family, labor studies, political organization, and race.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.