Women, bombs, and war: Remapping Mexican American women's home front agency in World War II literature, theater, and film




Portales, Patricia

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Through an examination of Mexican American cultural production about the World War II era, this project maps complex Mexican American women's negotiations of ideology and feminist agency at home, at work, on stage and on screen. In my readings of Severo and Judith Pérez's play Soldierboy, Luis Valdez's Zoot Suit, Lupe Vélez's World War II era Mexican Spitfire films, and the testimonio of my aunt, World War II bomb welder Juana Portales Esquivel, I remap shifting gender relations and cross-racial solidarity to historicize heretofore unacknowledged models and levels of agency by Latinas. Specifically, I analyze the roles by which Mexican American women used language, dress, and industrial skills to facilitate social and economic mobility. I am informed by Emma Pérez's model of "the dialectics of doubling," which she claims creates a contradiction for women acting within nationalism, to consider how these contradictions also invoke complex agency. By extending Pérez and also drawing upon the cultural theory of Gloria Anzaldúa and Chela Sandoval, as well as the labor theory of Patricia Zavella, I seek to transcend binary models of agency and identity to propose "liberatory layering," which enables the simultaneity of Mexican American women's multivalent roles as patriotic and subversive without dismissing their agency and autonomy due to ever present contradictions. I argue that Mexican American women of the World War II era, though marginalized and ostensibly contained within patriotic and patriarchal confines, engaged in subversive acts through their labor that allowed them to layer several roles--factory worker, wage earner, mother, patriot, wife, caregiver--instead of trading or shedding one role for another.


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Chicana, Mexican American, World War II