Martha P. Cotera is a feminist activist and historian known for her work in representing and archiving Chicanx culture in Texas and surrounding areas. This essay will be analyzing her philanthropic work before 2000, including her work in important civil rights movements and her leadership within the Chicana Research and Learning Center (CRLC) and the Information Systems Development. Both projects curated information, articles, and projects surrounding cultural movements and grassroots organizations in the Austin area, Texas, and nationally. These organizations were both founded by Martha Cotera and other Chicana women. They focused on helping women of color by finding and curating resources (such as other local organizations and grant funding) for community projects and research (Dreeze, 2015-2018). Her work as a community leader and writer has uplifted woman of color working in the nonprofit sectors, thus supporting the Texas minority community that the women from these nonprofit organizations were advocating for. Martha Cotera is a key representative of a minority woman doing essential philanthropic work in Texas. She represents Chicana women in Texas and her contributions to Texas philanthropy are essential to the current status of Chicana representation in the nonprofit world. This essay will assess how her work affected local, state, and national representation of the Chicanx minority by discussing her involvement in the feminist and civil rights movements of the 1970s.
The Chicanx presence in Texas has always existed, since existing communities persisted in the area before Texas became a state. Yet, Chicanx people are persistently minorities oppressed in our society, making up a large portion of those in need of services provided by nonprofits. According to Cotera in her book The Chicana Feminist (published in 1977) over .25 million Chicanas were in the labor force. Now, about 11.1 million Hispanic women are in the labor force Nation-wide (U.S. Dept. of Labor, 2015). Albeit their long-standing cultural presence, the Chicanx people were largely placed in lower socioeconomical communities. An example of such placement, can be seen in the acts of segregation embedding in the early history of Austin, thus causing Chicanx families to live and exist in limited lower-class areas of the town. For example, the Santa Rita Housing Project was a specifically Mexican American affordable housing complex created in 1939 (Humphrey, 1985). This establishment still exists (though not segregated) and is an example of how segregation was an assumed normative which continues to shape the socioeconomic differences in Austin today. Another way in which the Mexican- American people created a place for themselves in the community, was in the food industry. Particularly in Austin, there were several restaurants, such as Matt’s El Rancho or Cisco’s Bakery (both still in business) in which Chicanx people were able to sustain business, family, and growth (Humphrey, 1985). These businesses and organizations were made easily accessible via Cotera’s curational work in Information Systems Development, which will be discussed further momentarily.
Regarding the role of Chicana women during the 1970s, Martha Cotera’s short book The Chicana Feminist, gives key insider perspective of the time. Developed by the program she ran, the Information Systems Development. “A series of essays and public presentations prepared for Chicana feminist activities and events during the period 1970-1977.” (Cotera, 1977). She asserts in her book that the presence of Chicana woman in the philanthropic field held their place largely in conferences, particularly throughout the 1970s (Cotera, 1976). Martha assesses how the conferences shaped a path for Chicana women. “Women conferences are a big catalyst for us,” she states in her 1975 keynote address, “…we need to strive to eliminate the negative factionalism. We need to identify those things that are going to make us stronger” (Cotera, 1977). She is referring to inner conflicts within different organization and encouraging them to work together. These conferences, she asserts, created a safe space for woman of color to speak up and create community, (Cotera, 1977). She also mentions the importance of Chicana women in the feminist movement of the 1970s: “If feminism is defined as the development of women and as the force which liberates women to be what they should be and must be as human beings, then every Chicana who helps herself… who helps her sister and her brother is a feminist.” (Cotera, 1976). This movement had its impacts on the philanthropic endeavors of the Texas community, which Cotera documents in several of her writings.
When looking at specific influential cases, Cotera’s work with the Information Systems Development and CRLC stands out as the two organization ultimately provided resources for and compilations of Chicanx culture. The Information Systems Development, founded by Cotera in Austin, Texas, was an organization which published directories and other documents for public education purposes. For example, it published the Mexican American Directory in 1978, which served as an “attempt to identify the persons, institutions, organizations, and businesses that are contributing on a day-today basis to public and private services, programs and development in the Mexican American community of Austin, Texas” (Cotera & Nella, 1978). As for the Chicana Research and Learning Center, it’s primary work was in the archival and historical work. The CRLC was Cotera’s longest standing service project, which was a nationally founded organization run by and for Mexican American women, running from 1974-1976 (Acosta). Though CRLC may seem short lived, the center was able to recognize barriers faced by Chicana women and provide insight in how these women could overcome such obstacles (Acosta). A notable publication developed at the CRLC is La Mujer Chicana: An Annotated Bibliography. Its purpose, according to co-founder Evey Chapa’s introduction, was to act as “a preliminary step in the development of research projects to examine the realities of being Chicana…” (Chapa & Cotera, 1976). La Mujer Chicana documents the experience of Chicanas by organizing several research projects and activities pertaining to the people. Evey goes on to say that “It is hoped that the scholarly attempts demonstrated by this document will facilitate this process and encourage more Chicanas to become involved in research” (Chapa & Cotera, 1976). This sentiment is a notable example of how the CRLC was an organization that supported minority women whom were in the non-profit sectors of Texas. Both organizations pioneered by Cotera and other Chicana women were staples for providing education and resources to the Chicanx and general community. In Cotera’s keynote address in the Chicana Identity Conference (1975), she states “…our Austin organization, for instance, started as an organization to better women’s position, and it has evolved into something that works for everyone”.
To Summarize, Cotera’s involvement in movements throughout the 1970s and her work and research as a historian have been essential to the representation of women of color (specifically Chicanas) in Texas philanthropy. She wrote other notable books, such as Diosa y Hembra: The History and Heritage of Chicanas in the U.S. The book gives a historical overview of Chicana socioeconomic background, achievements in organizations, labor, work in feminism movements, and education. She also created a typescript titled Outline of the Mexican American History in the Austin Area which gives compiled information including “illustrations from secondary sources for the outline of Mexican American history in the Austin area” (Cotera, 1976). She also worked as a Special Consultant with the University of Texas’s Mexican American Library Projects, which continues to collect archival collections at UT Austin. Austin now even celebrates Cotera as Austin’s current mayor, Mayor Adler declared August 25th “Martha P. Cotera Day” (The Vortex, 2018). Though her endeavors were not strictly focused in non-profit business, Cotera’s work was and still is a voice for the minority community. Her major work in organizations in Austin and Texas based itself largely on the concept of grassroot community work efforts. She continues to this day working as a translator for research and an archivist. Her work is testimony to the idea that philanthropic endeavors can create social change particularly in social justice, minority representation, and civil rights.
Valarie Gold is a filmmaker based out of Austin, Texas. She is currently pursuing a MA in Media Studies & a Nonprofit portfolio at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on youth and media literacy. She also works as a community assistant at the Austin School of Film. You can connect with her through Facebook.
How to definite "nonprofit organization"? Here are some of the class answers, what's yours? #lbjphilanthropy