Throughout history, women were often considered second-class citizens, lacking the right to vote and oftentimes valued predominantly for their ability to take care of a home and reproduce. It is only within fairly recent history that women in the Western Hemisphere have achieved some level of equality with men, demanding acknowledgement as autonomous human beings with minds and rights and goals. And while modern feminism as we know it may have its beginnings in white feminists, in many ways Latinas have taken up the mantle of the feminist cause. Non-Latina American feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped earn American women the right to vote in 1920 but But many Latin American feminists (i.e. Nisia Floresta and Lydia Cacho) soon followed suit, gaining females in their own countries similar recognition and opportunities. Fast forward to the present, there is a strong Latina presence in issues of female empowerment as various female political leaders work hard to prove their worth in a masculine arena. What’s more, female Latin America has now politically surpassed the United States in some ways.
But while the USA has yet to witness its first female president, one Latina in particular stands out in American politics as a prominent and powerful figure that will pave the way for future women. She is Sonia Sotomayor, a political powerhouse and a household name. Currently a Supreme Court Justice, she was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents. Her father died when she was a child and her mother forced to raise her alone. But despite this childhood tragedy she went on to achieve greatness, graduating sumam cum laude from Princeton University and attending Yale Law School. Then in 2009 she achieved national fame when President Obama nominated her to Supreme Court, where she still resides as she oversees major national legislation. But while Sotomayor is certainly paving the way for future women in politics and providing them ample inspiration, multiple countries in Latin America have already seen their first female President.
Dilma Roussef, the current President of Brazil, is the country’s first woman to be elected to the position. As a young woman Dilma fought against a military dictatorship, risking her life when she was captured, jailed and tortured for her beliefs. Upon release she became involved in politics and quickly moved up the power-ladder. She was Chief of Staff for the preceding President until her election in 2011. She has seen her share of career ups and downs but is internationally credited with pulling Brazil out of an economic slump through her support of business entrepreneurship. In this way her leadership provided opportunity for countless Brazilians who were suffering financially.
In 2006 Chile also witnessed its first female elected president. In fact, Michelle Bachelet was the first female elected president in all of Latin America. She knew from a young age that her life goal was to help others cope with pain and improve national health. She originally thought she would become a doctor but political turmoil in Chile turned her focus towards politics. In fact when Pinochet, a dictator, took control of the country in 1973 Bachelet joined a revolt against him. She was discovered and jailed, tortured, and beaten for months. Somehow she emerged with her soul stronger than ever and determined to find a way to redeem Chile and its people. Flash forward to the present she is now serving her second presidential term after having served for a time as executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Not only is Bachelet a remarkable person who endured great suffering, she actively works to promote female wellbeing in a country still marked by traditional machismo.
Argentina has seen not one but two female presidents. Isabel Perón [1974-1976] was the first female president of Argentina but she was not elected, simply assuming power because she was Vice-President when her husband Presidente Juan Perón died. The current President, Cristina Kirchner, is the first elected female president. Her first term, however, was marked with difficulties as she faced accusations of inflation and poor management of infrastructure and public security. In her current term she is facing charges in an alleged cover-up of a terrorist attack. In the case of Kirchner she does not present a fully uplifting example of female empowerment in the political arena: while figures like Sotomayor and Bachelet inspire other girls to achieve good, Kirchner presents a different lesson. Not only is it important to empower women and support their political successes, it is equally important to choose whom to support based on their character and record rather than on their gender alone.
In conclusion, Latina feminism is politically present and growing in both the United States and Latin America. The women who rise to power often do so despite obstacles and tragedies, proving that women can overcome any hardship and compete and win in male-dominated fields. What’s more Latina feminism is still a work-in-progress and current Latinas chasing their dreams will one day be a part of the history of Latina feminism.