Latina Activists across Borders

Women’s Grassroots Organizing in Mexico and Texas

Latina Activists across Borders

Book Pages: 192 Illustrations: Published: April 2007

Author: Milagros Peña

Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Sociology

Over the past twenty-five years, nongovernment organizations (NGOs) run by women and devoted to advancing women’s well-being have proliferated in Mexico and along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. In this sociological analysis of grassroots activism, Milagros Peña compares women’s NGOs in two regions—the state of Michoacán in central Mexico and the border region encompassing El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. In both Michoacán and the border region, women have organized to confront a variety of concerns, including domestic violence, the growing number of single women who are heads of households, and exploitive labor conditions. By comparing women’s activism in two distinct areas, Peña illuminates their different motivations, alliances, and organizational strategies in relation to local conditions and national and international activist networks.

Drawing on interviews with the leaders of more than two dozen women’s NGOs in Michoacán and El Paso/Ciudad Juárez, Peña examines the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and liberation theology on Latina activism, and she describes how activist affiliations increasingly cross ethnic, racial, and class lines. Women’s NGOs in Michoacán put an enormous amount of energy into preparations for the 1995 United Nations–sponsored World Conference on Women in Beijing, and they developed extensive activist networks as a result. As Peña demonstrates, activists in El Paso/Ciudad Juárez were less interested in the Beijing conference; they were intensely focused on issues related to immigration and to the murders and disappearances of scores of women in Ciudad Juárez. Ultimately, Peña’s study highlights the consciousness-raising work done by NGOs run by and for Mexican and Mexican American women: they encourage Latinas to connect their personal lives to the broader political, economic, social, and cultural issues affecting them.


Latina Activists Across Borders provides the reader with an understanding of the world from ‘the bottom up’ by documenting the triumph of spirit of women who had lived on the margins of society. Pena lets their voices be heard and in so doing enriches the lives of the reader.” — Alma M. Garcia, Labour/Le Travail

Latina Activists across Borders: Women’s Grassroots Organizing in Mexico and Texas provides a window into neglected aspects of Mexican and Mexican-American women’s activism on behalf of themselves and their communities.” — Benita Roth, Contemporary Sociology

Latina Activists across Borders is a must read for anyone interested in feminist theory, grassroots social movements, transnational feminist networks, and Latina communities. Engaging and lively, this book is suitable for both undergraduate and graduate seminars.” — Nancy López, NWSA Journal

Latina Activists across Borders is well researched using a solid selection of source material. . . . The work is also nicely written, clearly presenting the author’s concepts. . . . Latina Activists across Borders is a valuable resource for those interested in Latina women’s activism, NGOs, grassroots organizations, and contrasts between organizations working in border and interior communities.” — Deb Wilson, H-Net Reviews

“An insightful look into the challenges, tensions, and strategies at work in building global feminism and serve as important contributions to the field of feminist scholarship.” — Anna Sampaio, Signs

“Impressively, Peña has produced a text that will have broad appeal as it can easily circulate in academic as well as non-academic contexts to inform readers about grassroots activism, social change, gender consciousness, and coalition building in local and transnational contexts. It is a text that can be used in the classroom as well as community centers and NGOs interested in grassroots community organizing and mobilizing for social change.” — Adela C. Licona, Latino Studies

“Peña uses an extensive collection of oral interviews to illuminate the development of non-governmental organizations devoted to women’s issues in two regions of southern North America. . . . Latina Activists Across Borders offers ample rewards for those seeking a fuller understanding of the dynamics of grassroots feminism in Mexico and the U. S.-Mexico borderlands.” — Laura Gifford, Southern California Quarterly

“Peña’s book is a rich addition to the growing literature on Latinas’ political participation, organizations, leadership, and influence in the policymaking process. . . . Her work adds an interesting cultural dimension to the study of comparative politics by contrasting the organizing activities and feminisms women who share a similar cultural, linguistic, historic, and colonial heritage but straddle a national border.” — Diane-Michele Prindeville, Gender & Society

“Peña’s book offers richly detailed, engaging accounts of the ways in which women strategize to make feminism relevant to working class women’s lives. . . . Undergraduates and feminist and social movement scholars will find the book moving and insightful.” — Mary Pardo, Mobilization

“This book is worth reading for those who work in NGOs, study feminist theory or consider themselves feminists. . . . There are varied ways of practicing feminism and this book underscores those multiple practices as being necessary for surviving a patriarchal and capitalist reality.” — Denise Menchaca, Feminist Review blog

Latina Activists across Borders is a significant contribution to research on gender and grassroots social movements. Milagros Peña’s analysis of the tensions between faith-based organizing, different types of feminisms, and class-centered ‘popular’ social movements challenges ahistorical paradigms of women’s grassroots activism. And her narratives of women self-consciously developing gendered senses of self are remarkable illustrations of the ways feminism and spiritual agency interact on both sides of the border.” — Denise A. Segura, coeditor of Women and Migration in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: A Reader

“Through powerful narratives and context, Milagros Peña finds a common and collective voice for Mexican, Mexican American, and Latina women. This work is groundbreaking because it provides a new vista by which to understand and assess the local and the global women’s movements from a feminist perspective. Peña tells a story that has never been told and tells it very well.” — Alberto López Pulido, author of The Sacred World of the Penitentes


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Milagros Peña is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research at the University of Florida. She is the author of Theologies and Liberation in Peru: The Role of Ideas in Social Movements; a coauthor of Punk Rockers’ Revolution: A Pedagogy of Race, Class and Gender; and a coeditor of Emerging Voices, Urgent Choices: Essays on Latino/a Religious Leadership.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Nongovernmental Organizations Studies xi

Introduction. Mexican and Mexican American Women’s Activism in NGOs: Background on the Michoacán and El Paso/Cuidad Juárez Communities 1

1. Women’s Activism in Michoacán 31

2. Women’s Activism in Greater El Paso/Cuidad Juárez 70

3. The Religious Connection 108

4. Are NGOs a Panacea? Some Observations on the Future of NGOs 134

5. Despite Limitations Women’s NGOs Push Forward 146

Notes 153

Bibliography 157

Index 163
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3951-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3936-6
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