Category Archives: Politics

Las dos alas de un pájaro: The Cuban Refugee Program and Operation Bootstrap

by Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo and Cheris Brewer Current

Cuba y Puerto Rico son
(Cuba and Puerto Rico are)

De un pájaro las dos alas,
(Two birds of a feather)

Reciben flores y balas
(They receive flowers and bullets)

Sobre el mismo corazón…
(Over the same heart…)

—From Mi libro de Cuba by Lola Rodríguez de Tió


One Bird, Two Wings

Sometimes attributed to Cuban revolutionary José Martí, the verses by Puerto Rican revolutionary Lola Rodríguez de Tió were first published in 1893, while she was exiled in Cuba. Martí and Rodríguez de Tió became good friends and avid advocates for the independence of their own and each other’s country, as Cuba and Puerto Rico remained the last bastions of Spain’s Empire in the Caribbean. The verses were a testimony of the similar histories the two islands developed under four centuries of Spanish rule. They can also be seen as a chilling presage of what was to come after the U.S. won the Spanish American War in 1898 and became a consistent presence in the future of both countries, as U.S. decisions and U.S. policies have affected the way Cubans and Puerto Ricans live their lives on both their respective islands and the US mainland as well.

The islands were forced into different routes during the 20th century with the Platt Amendment (1901) steering Cuba in one direction (i.e., eventual independence), and the Foraker Act (1900) and Jones Act (1917) gearing Puerto Rico in another (i.e., an entrenched colonial status). Later, when Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth of the U.S. in 1952 and Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959, this bifurcation seemed to be irreversible. The effects of U.S. policies toward Puerto Rico and Cuba have been critical in shaping the positions that both islands occupy globally, and in the living conditions of Cubans and Puerto Ricans on the mainland.

This essay presents a brief comparative sketch of two distinctive immigrating and incoming Caribbean groups resulting from two specific structural programs: the Cuban Refugee Program (CRP) targeting Cubans in the U.S.; and Operation Bootstrap (OB) involving Puerto Ricans on the island. Both programs had their genesis in the mid-twentieth century, at a moment when the U.S. was attempting to re-vamp its racial politics in response to both domestic and international pressures. Yet, it is noteworthy that both CRP and OB were operational before the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which ended explicit race based preferences in entrants.

Thus Puerto Rican incomers and Cuban immigrants of the 1950s and 1960s are a precursor to the increasingly diverse group of immigrants who were to follow. Movement from Latin American and the Caribbean to the US contains a peculiar history shaped by individual relationships between countries of origin and the US. Immigrants from countries with closer political, economic, and social ties to the US were (and are) granted advantages in entrance, settlement, and employment that are unavailable to immigrants from countries who do not share the same intimacy with the US. This is clear when you compare Cubans with other political immigrants of the period—Haitians and Dominicans, for instance—who, because of racial and political reasons were not granted refugee status. This essay focuses on two relatively privileged groups of Latino immigrants: Puerto Ricans who entered with citizenship status, and Cubans who were granted legal status, provided financial assistance, and structural assimilation. Tracing the reception of these two groups illustrates the ways in which the U.S. government eased and aided the process of migration for some, while it outright neglected other newcomers.

Bootstrapping the Island

As an economic policy and as a development initiative, OB was not a U.S. policy per se, but rather, the effort of Puerto Rican leaders, who sought to develop Puerto Rico economically (Maldonado, 1997). The program was funded, almost entirely, by the island’s government. However, U.S. involvement was at the heart of its conception and implementation, for the companies targeted by the program were exclusively U.S. companies. U.S. policy was also at the heart of the program by way of specific tax exemptions that these companies would enjoy, as “Puerto Rico had been exempted from U.S. taxes since 1900” (Maldonado, 1997: 46). Those exemptions were the core of the program, so OB was possible, fundamentally, because of already existing U.S. policy. In addition, the massive movement of Puerto Ricans to the mainland that ensued after OB was also only possible, again, because of U.S. policy (in this case, policies ruling citizenship and territories).

Using an “industrialization by invitation” approach (Dietz, 1986; Whalen, 2005),
Operación Manos a la Obra (as it is known in Spanish) began in the 1940s, and had among its main objectives to eliminate extreme poverty on the island, and to develop the island economically (Morales-Carrión, 1983). Initially, the project included federal tax incentives and exemptions to entice American businesses with cheap and abundant labor. OB turned into an export-oriented form of absentee capitalism that overhauled the economy in Puerto Rico in unprecedented ways. By the 1950s the island had largely left its agricultural past behind, for as James Dietz (1986) tells us, agriculture came to be regarded as an obstacle to progress.

OB prompted a massive exodus of Puerto Ricans to the mainland US that has literally divided the Puerto Rican population in half, and has prompted poet Nicolasa Mohr to thoughtfully proclaim that “Puerto Ricans are no longer an island people” (in Rodríguez, 1991). The movement of Puerto Ricans alleviated the large-scale unemployment produced by the sudden shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy. The mainland Puerto Rican population went from 53,000 in 1930 (before OB), to 1.5 million in1964, roughly 20 years after OB began (Briggs, 2002). Although the set of initiatives, policies, and practices that came to be known as Operation Bootstrap did not institute or formally encourage island to mainland movement, we are suggesting (as have others before us—see, e.g., Briggs 2002; Dietz 1986; Maldonado 1997; and Whalen 2005, etc.) that Operation Bootstrap created a de facto form of movement to the U.S. by “pushing” migrants northward.

When the U.S. is Pulling the Bootstrap

The post-1959 migration of Cubans was part of an immigration continuum that had brought Cubans to Florida whenever political or economic strife hit the island (Mirabal, 2003; Poyo, 1989). Given this history, the U.S. became a natural refuge for former supporters of Batista and other Cubans who quickly became politically and financially disillusioned with the revolution, but discerning why the U.S. chose to accept over 650,000 refugees by 1977 is a more complicated challenge (Whorton, 1997). The acceptance of Cubans, first as immigrants and then as refuges, marks an anomaly in US immigration policy, as they arrived during an era of restrictive immigration (1924-1965).

Accepting Cuban refugees was merely one aspect of the U.S.’s developing policies directed at incoming exiles. Early on, many Cubans leaving the island managed to take money and other forms of capital with them and were able to support themselves –if only temporarily– in their exile. The restrictions Castro imposed on what Cubans could take with them became increasingly stringent over time as concern grew that assets in the forms of cash and jewelry were being sent northward. Eventually luggage was limited to a change or two of clothing.
As Cubans began entering the U.S. early in 1959, private agencies and local church groups offered aid to impoverished refugees. Federal aid increased greatly in 1961 with the creation of the Cuban Refugee Program, providing the needed resources for the programs many aid-based goals. The CRP, administered by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), provided funds for resettlement, and “monthly relief checks, health services, job training, adult educational opportunities, and surplus food distribution (canned meat, powdered eggs and milk, cheese, and oatmeal, among other food products)” (García, 1996).

Based on number of dependents, place of residence, and employment status, CRP staff calculated a monthly financial benefit for deserving refugees – primarily the unemployed – and granted refugees a maximum of $60 a month for a single person and $100 for a family (Voorhees, 1961). These payments were substantially more than the welfare payments available to U.S. citizens (including Puerto Ricans). The CRP also provided additional assistance, including medical insurance, assistance with employment readjustment, and college scholarships. This comprehensive program ensured that Cuban refugees were provided with structural assistance that extended beyond the stopgap needs of early exile.

Final Thoughts: Of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Republicans, and Latinos

The unequal power relations that typify U.S.-Latin American exchanges mark the admittance, treatment and integration of Latin American immigrants, as all migrants from the region have been subject to the whims of the U.S.’s shifting relations with Latin America. Similarly, the complex histories that individual nations share with the U.S. have dictated the response to immigration policy and immigrants (Taft, et al, 1979 ). This in part explains that although Puerto Ricans and Cubans are all categorized as “Hispanic” in the eyes of the U.S. government or Latinos in the U.S. popular imagination, for instance, specific historical, political and perceived racial differences have produced great disparity in U.S. policy and reception of immigrants or incomers from the country and territory respectively.

This discrepancy becomes patently obvious when one compares the reception of Cuban refugees to that of Puerto Ricans workers during the mid-twentieth century. On the one hand, during the Puerto Rican movement to the U.S., the U.S. government benefited from the cheap labor that ended up manning its factories and processing plants. It was assumed that Puerto Ricans, who were U.S. citizens after all, could access welfare if needed—yet the racialized welfare system discouraged if not outright barred people of color from accessing services (DeParle, 2004). Meanwhile, unlike Cuban refugees from the same period, Puerto Ricans did not receive a hero’s welcome, or assistance to find a place to stay, or to learn English. They were given no free vocational training, or medical services. In sum, Puerto Ricans were not presented with an aid package tailored to their needs. As citizens, they were assumed to have access to the U.S. government resources, when the reality seemed that they were here only to fulfill the needs of an economic system that thrived on cheap labor. The massive migration turned out to be a “win-win” for both governments (US’ and Puerto Rico’s), while it became a “lose-lose” for Puerto Ricans, including Puerto Ricans in the U.S., who ended up at the bottom of the economic ladder.

On the other hand, the US government not only allowed Cubans entry, but it also provided direct assistance that exceeded any welfare program available to its own citizens, including Puerto Ricans. Some of the motives behind this benevolence remain unclear; what is clear is that the Cold War and anti-communist rhetoric shaped governmental discussions of Cuban immigration; ensuring the well-being and success of people fleeing communism held important ideological value. The direct assistance that Cubans received was, indeed, helpful in some form, as they still have the highest net worth of any U.S. Latino group. Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, continue to lag behind, and are experienced as a problem group, one immersed in poverty—and racialized as non-White. Regardless of the historical, social, and racial similarities shared by Cuba and Puerto Rico pre-1898 (the two birds of a feather), an act of American exceptionalism elevated (and perhaps continues to elevate) the status of Cubans, while Puerto Ricans and other Latino/as remain(ed) marginalized. This unilateral decision predisposed Puerto Ricans to a different treatment by mainstream U.S. culture, and hence, a different future from that of Cubans.

Over half a century into that future, the 2016 presidential election campaign has produced (thus far) two Republican hopefuls of Cuban descent, while not one Puerto Rican has ever made a bid for the presidency (on either party). Something to note here is that the candidates in question are both the offspring of Cubans who migrated to the U.S. before Castro took office, meaning, they are not CRP babies. This fact brings us to a crucial, final argument: the CRP seems to have “lifted the boats” of Cubans as a group, even those who did not participate in it (and perhaps even those who came after the program was terminated). This point is important, for the net effect of the CRP extends beyond the assistance granted to individuals, as the program collectively elevated the economic and social status of Cubans. The CRP argued that these heralded newcomers were capable of accessing the American Dream and political self-determination (as it was assumed that the future leaders of Cuba were temporary sojourners, who would return to the island eventually and take control). Puerto Ricans were pushed to the margins as they were denied structural assistance and viewed as political and economic dependents, creating a long-lasting, major chasm between both groups.

But now the chasm seems to be closing, and Republican candidates notwithstanding, second and third generation Cuban Americans are shifting politically, presumably joining Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in less conservative spaces (Fisher, (2015). Thus, regardless of their bifurcated histories, and their still dissimilar class status, Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the U.S. seem to be finally converging not only geographically, but in their ideals and aspirations as well. There is also the collective imagination of Americans who sees both groups as part of that collective known as Latinos/as, and whether that is a good thing or not, is a question for another essay.


Briggs, Laura. 2002. Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Boswell, Thomas and James Curtis. 1984. The Cuban American Experience: Culture,
Images and Perspectives. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman & Allaheld Publishers.

DeParle, Jason. 2004. American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive
to End Welfare. Penguin Books: New York.

Dietz, James L. 2003. Puerto Rico: Negotiating Development and Change. Boulder:
Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Fisher, Marc. 2015. “Cuban Americans’ Shifting Identity, and Political Views Divides
Key Block.” The Washington Post. June 12.

García, M.C. 1996. Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959-1994. Berkley: University of California Press.

Maldonado, A.W. 1997. Teodoro Moscoso and Puerto Rico’s Operation Bootstrap.
Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Masud-Piloto, F.R. 1996. From Welcomed Exiles to Illegal Immigrants: Cuban Migration to the US, 1959-1995. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Mirabal, N. R. 2003.“‘Ser de Aquí’: Beyond the Cuban Exile Model.” Latino Studies vol. 1: 366-382.

Morales Carrión, Arturo. 1983. Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History. New
York: W. W. Norton and Company.

Poyo, G. 1989. With All, and for the Good of All: The Emergence of Popular Nationalism in the Cuban Communities of the United States, 1848-1898. Durham: Duke University Press.

Rodríguez, Clara E. 1991. Puerto Ricans: Born in the U.S. Boulder: Westview Press.

Taft, J.V., North, D.S.& Ford, D.A. 1979. Refugee Resettlement in the US: Time for a New Focus. Washington DC: New TrasCentury Foundation.

Thomas, J.F. 1963. “US Cuban Refugee Program.” (December) Records of Health, Education, and Welfare, RG 363, Carton 12, File CR 18-1, National Archives II.

Whalen, Carmen Teresa. 2005. “Colonialism, Citizenship and the Making of the Puerto
Rican Diaspora.” In The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives edited by Carmen Teresa Whalen and Víctor Vázquez-Hernández. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Whorton, B. 1997. The Transformation of Refugee Policy: Race, Welfare, and American Political Culture, 1959-1997. PhD Dissertation. Sociology, University of Kansas.

Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender,  and Race Studies at Washington State University. Her research focuses on Latinos in the US, “the War on Terror,” and the representation of Latinas/os and other minorities in popular culture. Cheris Brewer Current is Associate Professor of Sociology and Social Work
at Walla Walla University’s Wilma Hepker School of Social Work and Sociology. Her research focuses on Cuban Immigration to the U.S., and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Reports from NWSA “Feminist Transgressions” Conference

Photo by Susy Zepeda. CC BY-NC-ND.

Photo by Susy Zepeda. CC BY-NC-ND.

Feminisms in the World

by Susy Zepeda

In November 2014, I attended the National Women’s Studies Association conference, “Feminist Transgressions” in San Juan, Puerto Rico along with scholar-activists in the fields of women and gender studies, feminist studies, queer studies, and critical race studies. Critical discussions of transnational feminist methodology, a stellar plenary panel on “Imperial Politics,” and the reformulated practices of solidarity emerging through out the conference space made this gathering a particularly memorable one in terms of critical feminist history.

Perhaps the most vivid and relevant discussion to the current moment was an inspiring, yet extremely complicated and eye-opening discussion on the possibility of passing a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolution by NWSA members. There were several panels that offered space for critical discussion on the politics surrounding the underpinnings of this solidarity work, a key one being, “Solidarity Delegations to Palestine & Indigenous/Women of Color Feminists: Reflections, Impact and Assessment” featuring Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Barbara Ransby as former participants in solidarity delegations to Palestine. Briefly mentioned, yet illuminating, was the need for collaboration among social movements based in different geopolitical locations to be more connected due to implicating imperial logics—particularly highlighted were the cases of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, and the targeted arrest and imprisonment of Rasmea Odeh[1], associate director of Arab American Action Network (AAAN), who has since been released due to mass protest and organizing.[2]

The plenary session titled, “The Imperial Politics of Nation-States: U.S., Israel, and Palestine,” featuring Chandra Talpade Mohanty as moderator, and Islah Jad, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and Angela Davis as panelists continued this critical discussion by involving over 2,000 NWSA members in the rethinking of critical feminist solidarity politics.  It was perhaps Rebecca Vilkomerson, from the organization Jewish Voice for Peace[3], whose disruption of whiteness through her own life testimony and activism that gave new life to a much-needed discussion on revised racial and solidarity politics in this organization. She questioned accusations of anti-Semitism while asking: who can speak for Palestine? Angela Davis echoed these critiques by suggesting we methodologically pay attention to the “intersectionality of resistances” as we contemplate how police in Oakland are trained by Israeli military.

For a conference that has been widely critiqued for upholding white heteronormativity, and western-centered practices, among other injustices[4] it was great to walk into a space with gender neutral restrooms that read: “Baños de Género Neutro.”  This conference experience seems to be a reflection of changing energy and politics due to the leadership of radical women of color in the last decade or so in this feminist organizing space.[5]  The photo booths near the registration table were an ingenious part of this gathering to document the critical feminist gathering moments in San Juan, Puerto Rico.[6]

Theory and Activism

by Theresa Delgadillo

The NWSA Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico drew over 2,000 participants and presented a special opportunity to learn more about feminist movements in Puerto Rico, but it was also a conference schedule filled with panels, workshops, roundtables, and discussions on feminist research around the globe. As outgoing NWSA President Yi-Chun Tricia Lin wrote in her welcome letter to the event: “the conference endeavors to take up the histories, geographies, affective dimensions, and political stakes of various feminist insubordinations in the spaces they occupy: intellectual and institutional, local and global, public and intimate, by choice and under duress.” The focus on “transgressions,” therefore, was an invitation to participate in analyzing actions and interventions of multiple kinds and in varied sites. The number of panels focused on Chicana and Latina Studies research seemed higher this year than in previous years, and so the conference presented an opportunity for networking both within and across fields. I took full advantage and attended, among others, a panel retrospectively examining the significance of the work of Barbara Smith (a co-author of the Combahee River Collective’s statement), a panel of women from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques (for many years, used by the U.S. for bombing practice) who have shifted into activism around economic opportunity in light of development trends on the island, Latina scholars presenting research on queer arts activism in Puerto Rico and Latina media pioneers in the U.S., and Asian American scholars examining affective labor and human rights discourses within Asian diasporas. NWSA was a place to engage with rich and interrelated work. At the 2014 American Studies Association conference it was reported at the evening keynote address that one session on the “keywords” trend in critical studies had proposed the elimination of “intersectionality” from the keywords vocabulary. However, at the NWSA conference the influence of the contributions of women color to critical theory were recognized and rigorously engaged across disciplines, geographies, and fields.


[1] For the words “Rasmea Odeh” please link:
[2] for the words “mass protest and organizing” please link:
[3] for the words, “Jewish Voice for Peace” please link:
[4] Sandoval, Chela. (1990). “Feminism and Racism: A Report on the 1981 National Women’s Studies Association Conference.” Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color. G. Anzaldúa. San Francisco, Aunt Lute.
[5] The 30th Annual NWSA Conference, “Difficult Dialogues,” with keynote speaker Angela Davis resonates this shift.
[6] Photos can be found the National Women’s Studies Association Facebook timeline.  Also, available is the bell hooks keynote at:

Enriching our Educational Advocacy for Latino Students and the Community

Public Meeting in Texas on HB5.

Public Meeting in Texas on HB5.

by Maricela Oliva

Those of us involved in education have for years focused on school achievement or college success, foci that are conceptualized in terms of lower (K-12) or higher (post-secondary) education. I propose that we need to evolve and enrich our educational advocacy from a school or college issue to one that re-imagines educational success as a P-16 endeavor. This seems easy enough to do, but I argue that it is actually more difficult because it requires our involvement in efforts to impact educational achievement with cross-level and systemic rather than level-focused interventions. These broader interventions require collaboration and interdisciplinary boundary-spanning work. Furthermore, necessary and cross-level systemic change is best achieved with the participation not only of individuals and groups working on issues from the inside of key educational organizations but also of allies working from outside them, in the broader community.

An illustrative example for those of us in Texas is the HB 5 statute that passed the Texas Legislature in Spring 2013. This bill packaged two large objectives in one instrument: a reduction of testing at the school level (as advocated by school level educators and scholars) and a change in the high school preparation curriculum. Changes to the curriculum eliminated the common high school preparation curriculum while putting in place a foundational curriculum for all with additional voluntary endorsements that schools could also offer their students (multidisciplinary, arts, STEM, other). The statute had multiple stakeholders of support: teachers, school-level scholars, technical-vocational educators, corporations, employers, and a Republican governor. Higher education was not among those supporting changes in the curriculum. Focusing on college readiness, the Commissioner of Higher Education actually argued against changes in the high school preparation curriculum because of the negative impact on the college readiness of all, especially Latino students.

Paradoxically, educators at both lower and higher education argued that their opposite views reflected concern for the well-being of students. How can this be so? Advocates and detractors of the bill were looking at it from their unique perspective and often failed to see the issue or concern from the level different from their own. In other words, school advocates did not understand or think the higher education critiques important enough to hold back their support of the bill. From the higher education side, Higher Education Commissioner Paredes was not able to convince supporters that they might be helping themselves in terms of testing reduction but hurting themselves by eroding college readiness and access for students.

Bill sponsors were smart, in my view, to package the two issues (testing reduction and curricular change) in the same bill. They anticipated that supporters of the testing issue would overwhelm critics of the curricular change issue; indeed, this is what happened. School-level educators were so keen on getting the school testing reduced that they did not listen to or hear concerns from higher education about the new high school graduation requirements. For example, they did not hear that 8th graders from low-income and first generation families might not select the high school curriculum that would be in their long-term best interest and that would promote their readiness for college. They did not pay attention to concerns that high achieving graduates in the foundational curriculum would no longer be eligible for Texas’s automatic college admissions program for students in the top ten percent of their graduating class, undermining a program that has enabled access to elite state universities for new students, including Latina/o students. They did not pay attention to the fact that colleges and universities would still look most favorably on students who demonstrate traditional college-readiness, nor to others’ equity concerns given that not all schools would be able to offer all of the voluntary endorsements. In the end, bill sponsors with sleight of hand, managed to create a scenario that almost guarantees that in the future, fewer Latino students will be college ready and college admitted to an institution of choice when they graduate high school. If young people and their families are allowed to pick their high school curriculum in 8th grade, quite a few may not understand the consequence of choosing a curriculum that makes room for employment in high school rather than college ready courses, one that allows them to avoid Algebra II rather than challenge themselves with rigorous coursework to make themselves an attractive applicant when they apply to college, etc. Since the various curricula are often incommensurate, young people will find it difficult to recover from the wrong choice once they later better understand its impact on their college access and readiness.

I recently sat in on a conference session in which school counselors and other school level educational personnel learned about and asked how to implement HB 5. School curriculum directors and higher education admissions officers made up a panel that presented their view of how HB 5 would impact their work. My understanding of what I saw and heard in that session is that implementation will be very complicated at the school level. Furthermore, those districts and schools in which personnel already have a handle on facilitating college readiness (i.e., those with a college-going culture) will do their best to implement the unfunded mandate in ways that anticipate students’ mistakes and that leave their college readiness options open until students fully understand the impact of their decisions. They plan to do this with face to face meetings with each individual child and their parents to explain the curricula and what they mean. However, at schools with overwhelming counselor-to-student ratios, such as at schools that are majority minority or that do not have a college-going culture, it was not clear that they could be so effective. Students there, the ones that we already have the biggest challenge getting to college, probably will not get this high level interaction as they choose their high school curriculum. For us in Texas, the largest and fastest-growing group in the school pipeline is Latino students, who are now the most at risk from these curricular changes.

How could this happen in Texas, a relatively policy savvy environment in which we already recognize the importance of promoting college-going among Latinos and where we have long acknowledged the importance of Latino youth to the future well-being of the state (see Closing the Gaps). This happened because first, analysts focused on issues at K-12 or post-secondary levels of education and did not have a sufficiently developed P-16 view of the issues that impact our community. Second, conservative policy-makers packaged the two issues in the same bill so that concerns about proposed changes to the high school preparation curriculum would be overwhelmed by support for testing reduction. And it worked.  So now, is it possible to “make a silk purse out of [the] pig’s ear” that is, potentially, the curricular part of HB 5?

Those of us in education and community advocacy have learned to be vigilant about what happens with schools and to better understand the need to talk to young people in concrete ways about the school to college pathway. In San Antonio, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) had already created OurSchool Portal ( as a program that allows parents and families to understand educational impacts and outcomes at area high schools. The intent was to help parents and families advocate for changes that would improve children’s educational success and college readiness. At the state level, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board created Compare College Texas ( so that families and prospective college students can look for institutions that are a good fit for their needs and interests. Nationally, The College Board has created a comprehensive online program for exploring colleges and college choice throughout the US. BigFuture ( encourages children and parents to explore their options early and together. In this way, parents can be part of the college readiness and choice process, even if they did not themselves go to college. A few weeks ago in March, the College Board also announced that they are giving four test report waivers to low-income high achieving students to encourage them to apply to four colleges, which is likely to improve college fit and student success. The College Board has made other changes recently to encourage more low-income and minority students to prepare for college and apply to institutions that meet their needs. Research has shown that highly prepared young women, Latina/o and other minority students sometimes do not apply to selective colleges even when they are well prepared to succeed there. This can limit not only their college options but prospects for future professional success.

So what is my take-away from this discussion and the HB 5 illustration? To better serve Latina/o and other community youth, we need to develop our understanding of how school issues impact college readiness and success. As a post-secondary educator, I am making time to study how local schools provide adult guidance for college to their students. In this way, I walk my talk by learning how I can be an effective partner to schools in my area, in order to promote college-going for Latino and other youth.

Can you take on an initiative in your area to promote student success along the school to college/university pathway?  Whether we are school or college educators, doing so will require that we study and learn more about the educational level that is different from the one in which we now work or in which we were trained. If we do, we can be better advocates for the educational success of our youth. Only our future depends on it.

References: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (2000). Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan. Austin: THECB.

A native of Texas from the Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Maricela Oliva is Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her scholarly work focuses on issues impacting college access for students; namely, policy, race, class, first generation status, and school-university linkages. She is a member of the Association for the Study of Higher Education and the American Educational Research Association. With AERA she has served on national conference planning committees for Divisions J (Higher Education) and L (Policy) and was elected Council Member At Large for the 1800-member Division J (Postsecondary). Dr. Oliva serves or has served on four journal Editorial Boards, including The Review of Higher Education, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, and the Journal of Research on Leadership Education. She has published articles and chapters as well as a book, Leadership for Social Justice: Making Revolutions in Education, now in its second edition. She currently serves as an elected member of the Academic Assembly Council of The College Board.

¡Ya Es Tiempo!: A Latina for Governor of California

February 4, 2013

Photo from Flickr. Untitled, Marcin Wichery, April 2008.

Photo from Flickr. Untitled, Marcin Wichery, April 2008.

By Adaljiza Sosa Riddell, Ph.D.

Mujeres compañeras, feministas Chicanas, Latinas y mas:
 Have you had enough of electoral politics? Did those congressional wiri wiri’s con bastantes pendejadas(rhetoric, hot air and plenty of stupidities) push you well beyond anger with the two-party system to somnambulist alienation? Politics in the Golden State, now revealed as a solid Democratic state, were not any more exciting, even as California underwent a demographic change unmatched in any other state. Although two women were on the ballot, the California gubernatorial elections of 2010 left me beyond bored and rather angry. Perhaps this is because neither woman, both of whom are CEOs of major companies, met my minimal criteria for candidacy.

A LATINA FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA IN 2014? Would a Latina on the ballot make any election more engaging and more meaningful to me? Perhaps, but only if it is a position with the ability to alter the relationship between the rulers and the ruled, entrelos de abajo y los de arriba. How might this work? Inspired by the people of Arab Spring, I submit that an interested group might use the internet and social media toward this end. I proposed this entire plan to my family. My brother, the civil engineer, asked me, the social scientist, how I could even believe this could happen. He argued that my political science knowledge was just so much nonsense. Usually I concede intellectual knowledge vs. community experience arguments in the interest of peace and often end in agreement with him. This time I did not concede.

I refer you to a rapidly growing body of literature demonstrating, among other things, that women continue to develop feminist consciousness and do act on this thought process. In short, class, race/ethnicity, and gender do make a difference in politics. Traditional literatures such as political science, as well as emerging literatures including Women’s Studies and American Studies, affirm a Latina political consciousness. This specific consciousness is made up of a seamless cloth in which women’s personal development is intertwined with their roles in the family, the community, and their emergence as political activists.[1] Most importantly, the literature in Chicana and Chicano Studies has grown rapidly, with a sizeable body of work on Chicanas/Latinas and politics.[2] Since the theory that Chicana/Latina political consciousness is real, well-known, well-documented and reflects experience, then it is time to turn the pyramid upside down and share power rather than continuing to hold up pyramids and bridges on our backs.[3]

THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION. The next California gubernatorial election is in November 2014. I invite you to join me in nominating and supporting one Chicana/Latina feminista to run for and win the Governorship of the state of Alta California. I propose that this is performed “democratically” through the Internet and social media.

Although it is not my intent to encourage anyone to participate in electoral party politics, I am indeed searching for strategies that can actually foster meaningful change in the nature of the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. While American political ideology, including ideals of equality, individual freedoms, and government of the people, by the people and for the people, as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, may have inspired many of us, the marriage of such lofty ideals to raw, unregulated capitalism has rendered the original ideals and everyday practices hollow and harmful. However, the American electoral system occasionally provides some truly democratic moments.

Another such moment is now before the Latino population in California, specifically in the next gubernatorial election. Despite the fact that the U.S. Census seriously undercounts the Latino population, the 2010 U.S. Census and the resulting redistricting plans have given Latinos an unprecedented voice in the electoral process as shown in the 2012 elections. Proposition 11, Voters First Act, passed in 2008, established an entirely new process for reapportionment plans based on the 2010 census. However, the effort to take the reapportionment process out of the California State Legislature ended by increasing representation for new populations, cultural groups, and historical communities previously ignored or underrepresented. This process may not survive the next election. Conservative groups are presently working on changing that process through California’s citizens’ initiative to disallow “overwhelming” power for California’s former minorities. Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders especially cannot allow the underrepresentation in state governance to intensify nor continue because it means our communities will be wrongly served and/or underserved.

The 2010 U.S. Census also contains another important figure: Latinas are 51% of the Latino population. This number signifies that mujeres Latinas hold up more than half the sky. Coupled with knowledge and experience of Chicanas/Latinas in the workplace, the home, and the community, this does mean that mujeres do more than half the work. Mujeres should thus have an opportunity to have some of the power. And I expect men, brothers, and partners to wholeheartedly endorse this endeavor. I paraphrase a quote by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1982 Nobel Laureate in Literature, in a January 2000 issue of Time magazine: “Men have run the world for well over 2000 years. Women deserve to try their hand at governance in the 21st century.” The eyes of the world are on us. Women must rise to the challenge. California is perfectly poised to meet that challenge.

The following are some of my ideas for this project. If you would like to join me in creating a group, a Comité, separate from MALCS to advance this idea, please email me at

STRATEGY. A first round of work will identify a Latina candidate then gather support and verify interest of the candidate in running for governor by signing up for the Primary. This first round should generate a short list of possible Latina candidates gathered by consensus exclusively from among women. The second round will begin with one Latina name, and one only. The Comité will then reach out to all Hispanic, Latino, Mexican American and Chicano organizations in California via listservs and social media, in an effort to recruit male compañeros, to endorse and work for the one consensus candidate.


1.     Demonstrate a Latina women’s political consciousness
2.     Possess electoral politics experience
3.     Have statewide recognition
4.     Exhibit a clean record (no major scandals)
5.     Display support for and from Latina/o grassroots groups including especially non-traditional sexualities
6.     Be highly knowledgeable on California issues
7.     Be familiar to and with large urban centers including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and in its most rapidly growing areas such as Fresno, Visalia, and the Inland Empire

Again, I welcome other suggestions for criteria. The Comité will need these later for extensive outreach to garner support.

WHAT YOU CAN DO. If you are interested, join me in forming the Comité, you can:

1.     Nominate a candidate
2.     Volunteer for the Comité to receive names from first round of contact; work with me (or someone else) to come up with one name; conduct second round of outreach
3.     Work on campaign itself
4.     Suggest other forms of participation

¡Ya es tiempo! I look forward to your ideas, suggestions and concerns.

Adaljiza Sosa Riddell, Ph.D., is the founder of MALCS and Chicano Studies Professor Emeritus at The University of California, Davis. She lives in Los Angeles and studies politics, Chicana/o issues, and class struggle. She can be contacted via email at

[1] This is a shortened version of the definition of Latina political consciousness from Carol Hardy-Fanta in Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader, ed. Cathy Cohen et al. (New York: NYU Press, 1997), 223-237.

[2] See Carol Hardy-Fanta, Latina Politics, Latino Politics: Gender, Culture, and Political Participation in Boston (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993); P. Cruz-Takash inWomen Transforming Politics, 412-434; Christine Sierra and Adaljiza Sosa-Riddell, “Chicanas as Political Actors,” National Political Science Review 4 (1994): 297-317; Mary Pardo, Mexican American Women Activists (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998); Maylei Blackwell¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (Austin: UT Press, 2011), among others.

[3] Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1981).


  1. Rita Urquijo-Ruiz    February 6, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Querida Adaljiza.

    Mil gracias for your writing this. Although I am now living in TX (another state that could us much of what you propose here). The first woman that comes to mind is Hilda Solís. Other than that, I can’t really think of anyone else.



  2. Anonymous    February 8, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    I definitely think we should see a Latina on the ballot–it would not be too difficult to put someone there but whether or not she would be elected would be difficult given the two party monopoly. For a while I was a member of the Green Party and had some hope for an alternative space that forwarded progressive folks and that was a diverse group. In the past, I believe some RUP folks in Califas became part of Peace and Freedom. And there has been Latina representation on Peace and Freedom. Unless I’m mistaken, Yolanda Alaniz has been a major figure there in past. I also think we need to be clear about what the platform of a “Latina woman’s political consciousness would be” e.g. worker rights, support for public education, etc. You are certainly on to something, Ada! I agree that Hilda Solis would be a strong candidate–she is democratic party all the way but that could also be strategically useful in her election. But a true challenge should come from someone outside of those circuits who offers a completely different approach to leadership and policy and I think that’s what you are calling for. –Dionne