Maria Cotera

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Maria Eugenia Cotera
BornJuly 17, 1964
OccupationHistorian, educator, professor

Maria Eugenia Cotera (born July 17, 1964) is a Chicana feminist, activist, author, researcher, and professor. Cotera spent most of her childhood in both Austin and El Paso, Texas due to her parents' work and involvement with the social movements during the 1960s and 70s. After editing her first novel Life Along the Border, Cotera went on to obtain her Ph.D. in Modern Thought & Literature at Stanford University in 2001.[1] Maria married artist Jason Wright (1999), and in 2002 the couple had their first daughter Penelope. Cotera and her family currently reside in Ypsilanti, Michigan although most of her research and current projects involve working in Southwest Detroit and Ann Arbor.


Early life[edit]

Maria Cotera was born in Austin, Texas on July 17, 1964 to Chicana activist Martha P. Cotera and urban renewal architect Juan Cotera. Both of her parents received most of their primary education in Mexico, but went on to obtain their college degrees from Texas Western College, which is now University of Texas at El Paso. It was during this time that Maria's parents met, and they have been married since 1963. As a first generation Mexican-American Maria had the opportunity to travel to Mexico several times as a child and still has an extensive part of her family in many parts of Mexico including Chihuahua, Mexico and Juárez. Many of Maria's summers were spent in Mexico visiting friends and family, which she describes is where she had some of her fondest childhood memories with her younger brother Juan Cotera. Maria and Juan (1972–1996) would spend every summer in Mexico, and continued to do so until Maria reached college. Although Maria was born in Austin, Texas her family moved to several other parts of Texas throughout her childhood. Shortly after Maria was born her parents became active with the civil rights movement and politics of Texas.

As a little girl Maria became aware of how much her parents were concerned with issues centering on the treatment of Mexican Americans. At a very early age Maria was exposed to the issues facing most Latinos, Hispanics, and Chicanos of the 1960s. Maria recalls seeing signs in local restaurants, movie theaters, as well as other businesses that read "No Mexicans or dogs". Elizabeth Martinez's 500 Years of Chicana Women's History (500 Años de la Mujer Chicana) describes an example of this type of discrimination, "Without a warrant, on May 26, 2951, about 10 club-swinging Los Angeles police invaded a baptismal party for a Chicano baby, saying that they had come "to see the party was broken up". They beat up an 8-month-pregannat woman and threw a paraplegic man who protested to the floor, then hit him with a nightstick...In 1957 it [the Los Angeles Civil Rights Commission] filed a petition to the United Nations requesting an investigation into the many violations of human rights of over 5 million people of Mexican origin in the U.S. ".[2] Some places, such as stores and restaurants offered service to white men and women, so signs that read, "No Mexicans allowed" and "We serve White's only, No Spanish or Mexicans.[3] This type of discrimination also existed in many other parts of the state, especially before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Soon this type of treatment was seen in other states and eventually spread to most of the United States. Maria began to learn about the increasingly high levels of violence, poverty, and police brutality in the "barrios" and witnessed her parents fight for these issues. Most of this was seen in the Southwest areas of Texas.

During the late 1960s Maria and her family witnessed and took part in many of the movements that were taking place such as the L.A student blowouts, farm workers movement, youth movement, and Mexican movement. Many of these movements were initiated due to a lack of educational opportunity for Chicanos, Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans. Rodolfo F. Acuña describes the East L.A Blowouts in his book Occupied America (2007) by saying, "By the 1968-1969 academic year, Latino Students in East L.A made up 96 percent of Garfield High School, 83 percent of Roosevelt, 89 percent Lincoln, 76 percent of Wilson, and 59 percent of Belmont. Sal Castro, a teacher at Lincoln High School, had considerable credibility among students, and he initially conceived the strike..By early 1968, the group had evolved into the Brown Berets, led by David Sanchez. Their goals was to stop discrimination and other injustices suffered by Chicanos"[4] The large number of Latino students in East L.A schools was a large part of what made such movements a success. It was these type of radical movements that Maria witnessed as a child, in some instances in person but also these were issues she paid attention to through the media and television. In 1868 Maria and her family went to join the movements and activists in Mercedes, Texas. In school Maria witnessed teachers punish students for speaking Spanish and was aware of the high number of deaths of Chicanos due to police brutality. Acuna recalls, "When students walked out, sheriff's deputies and police overreacted by treating the protest as an insurrection, beating students and arresting those who did not move fast enough"[5] Maria's parents began to teach and give college training to people with GED's at Jacinto Treviño College in Mercedes, Texas. The community where Maria and her family lived in was composed of approximately 80% Mexican and 20% White-Anglo. During this time student blowouts were also taking place in Los Angeles, California. Once both of Maria's parents became involved in the social movements Maria began to witness and become victim to discrimination first hand.

All throughout her life Maria saw her parents attend meetings and participate in marches for reasons she learned more about over time. " She was not afraid of anyone" recalls Maria and," I saw my mother confront very powerful people". Maria describes her mother as the type of women "you don't mess with". Maria's consciousness was raised at a very young age because she was in one of the center locations of many radical movements. Maria remembers traveling to Guanajuato, Mexico with her family during one particular summer and as she stared at the statue of El Pipila she recalls something coming over her. Immediately after staring at the statue of Juan Hose de los Reyes Martinez Amaro she began marching around the statue chanting "Chicano power" with her fist held high. In 1972 Maria and her family moved back to Austin, Texas that at the time was considered liberal and predominantly consisted of White-Anglo Americans. At this point in time Maria was very aware and conscious of racism unlike other children her age, and her change in environment was somewhat of a shock to her. Coming very an extremely radical environment to a liberal one like that of Austin was a big change in Maria's life. By the 1970s the social movements had become less radical due to an increase of involvement from the CIA and FBI's part. This was significant because many of the leaders were not U.S Citizen and risked being sent back to their country if they were not born in the U.S. Maria's mother became a beacon of Chicano feminism in the following years, and was writing two books at the same time. Maria recalls seeing her mother write for most of her life and saw how important it was for her mother to publish her first novel in 1977. Maria's mother Martha was an influential activist among many other things, and someone who greatly influenced Maria's life for many reasons. Maria's interests include the U.S third World Feminist Theory, Latino studies, ethnic mondernisms in the United States, literature by women of color, and history of Anthropology & Folklore.


Through her experiences, Cotera learned that education was the tool her parents used to gain upward mobility. As the first generation in their family to obtain higher education, Maria's parents instilled the value of education in Maria since she was born. Martha and Juan also had a strong appreciation for academics. In fact, Maria recalls many intellectual discussions and dinners revolving around topics such as politics, which they thought were important in any person's life. Maria attended Texas public schools, including Linder Elementary, Travis Heights 6th Grade Center, Fillmore Junior High, and Austin High. She describes her schooling experience as very "conventional". During that time, Cotera was in school and she remembers being discriminated against at a very young age and in school by the school's lunch lady who demanded that she [Maria] pronounce her name in English instead of with a Spanish accent. This was during the time that language was being challenged and Proposition 63, also known as the California Language Amendment was being debated, "Proposition 63, the "English is the Official Language" initiative. After the initiative passed, legislators[who?] attacked bilingual education, the Spanish-language ballot, merit increments given to the government workers for knowing the Spanish language, and so on (Acuna book citation). Due to these types of attitudes, many Spanish-speaking children were discriminated in frequently in the school system, including Maria. In this way, native Spanish speakers were punished in a sense for being "different" although the language was part of their culture and heritage. The belief[by whom?] was that by controlling language the United States would maintain control of the country as a whole. During high school, Cotera became interested in the increasing levels of homelessness and poverty. However, it was in college that Maria was able to come back to her roots and started to think about "Chicano feminism, Chicanismo, and Latinidad". More importantly,[according to whom?] she started to think about her legacy.

Cotera attended public schools in Texas where she spent most of her childhood with her parents. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas-Austin in with a Bachelor's in Liberal Arts in 1986, and continued on at the University to receive her master's degree in English by 1994. Maria Cotera went on to earn her Ph.D in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University in 2001. Cotera traveled to Michigan and the University of Michigan for the first time in 2001 shortly after receiving her Ph.D., Her postdoctorate, which she received after completing her dissertation. This award meant that soon Maria would be able to teach, was very important to her. Cotera asserts that the University of Michigan's reputation as a valued interdisciplinary is one of the reasons that led her to come to Michigan to complete her postdoctorate research. Cotera was intrigued by the university's American Culture Program and explains how this related to her work. She describes her work as a mixture of historical and literary analysis, which is why she looked for a school that valued that kind of work.[citation needed]

"Chicana feminism is a form of critical thought and praxis that recognizes the intersectional nature of oppression. Chicana feminists are critical of racism, classism, sexism, colonialism, heterosexism, and see these as intertwined systems of oppression"[attribution needed]

-Maria Cotera


Cotera began her professional career at the Chicana Research and Learning Center, located in Austin, Texas. Her work was primarily writing for the CRLC about issues and researching past works by women of color. In 1989, she played a role in helping produce the documentary "Crystal City: A Twenty Year Reflection." The documentary's main focus was on the impact of the young women involved with the 1969 Chicano student walkouts of Crystal City, Texas. In 1992, continuing her research work with Dr. José Limón (University of Texas), Cotera recovered the lost manuscript of Jovita González, a female, Texas folklorist, who contested that the foundation of Texas was marked by Spanish exploration and settlement, not the Texas Revolution. Cotera's published works include the critical epilogue to Jovita González manuscript, Caballero, essays on more recently discovered Jovita González's works, also essays surrounding ethnographer Ella Deloria. Her last completed novel, Native Speakers, illuminates the ethnographic fiction of Ella Deloria, Jovita González, and Zora Neal Hurston.

Currently, Cotera is employed as a professor of American Culture and Women's Studies, and the Director of Latino Studies, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her individual research centers on the recovery of cultural productions and theoretical writings of Chicana Feminists from 1965–1985. As a professor in the Great Lakes region, Cotera has initiated a museum project, El Museo del Norte, in order to bring out the pride and history of Latino Americans in the Midwest, and chiefly in Michigan. Her other current work includes another project underway, entitled, Chicana Por Mi Raza: Uncovering the Hidden Art of Chicana Feminism, which includes the collection of oral histories and other material depicting Chicana feminist thought.

Published works[edit]

  • Caballero: An Historical Novel, by Jovita González and Margaret Eimer, Editor (with Dr. José Limón) and Critical Epilogue (Texas A&M Press, 1994)
  • Jovita González Mireles: A Sense of History and Homeland, in Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community, Editors Vicki Ruíz and Virginia Sanchez-Korrol (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) 158-174.
  • Life Along the Border: A Landmark Tejana Thesis by Jovita González, Editor & Introduction (Corpus Christi: Texas A&M Press, 2006)
  • The book describes ethnographic fiction of three women: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jovita Gonzalez
  • (Give introduction, plot summary of entire book, Maria Cotera's thoughts on book and how this book has contributed to her current research.)
  • "The Story of Her People: Ella Cara Deloria's Decolonizing Methodology" in Out on Their Own Frontier: Women Historians and the Revisioning of the American West, Ed. Shirley Leckie and Nancy Parezo (University of Nebraska, 2008)
  • Crystal City: A Twenty Year Reflection
  • Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita Gonzalez and the Poetics of Culture, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008)

Part Analysis of Native American Speakers: Writing in the Margins of the Twentieth Century[edit]

One of the more recent publications of Maria Cotera is Native Speakers. In the first part of this text Maria Cotera discusses the implications of the works created by Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jovita González. During the 1920s and 1930s these women became well known in the fields of ethnolinguistics, folklore studies, and anthropology. Each collaborated with leading intellectual men in their respective disciplines in order to produce accounts and writings about their respective communities. The resiliency that these women displayed is evident in the fact that they were active in their communities assisting in both political and cultural movements. Ella Deloria attempted to alter both public opinion and policy with respect to Indian and Dakota people; Ella worked with and supported Indian youth for over fifty years. Zora Neale Hurston always believed that "Black people needn't look to Anglo American culture for models of beauty, political citizenship, or identity, a sentiment vividly expressed in her works of folklore, drama,and creative fiction.[6]" Jovita González attempted to revive the past of the culture of Mexicano ranching. Jovita was both a political and educational activist who was involved in fighting against segregational policies in South Texas that hindered her people from having success in the regional economic uprise in South Texas. The struggles that each of these three women endured during their careers is very real and historically, is fairly similar to many other women writers during this time period.

Special projects[edit]

Professor Cotera has undergone and coordinated many projects while studying and researching throughout her career as a student and now as a professional in the Latina Studies, American Culture, and Women Studies fields. Cotera's first major project came during her graduate student years while assisting a researcher/literary scholar that was looking for information on Jovita González. While reviewing letters from González to J Frank Dobie, Cotera became enchanted by the relationship between the young, Latina, Mexican folklorist and the elder, White, American folklorist. Cotera was deeply interested in how the two differing scholars maintained such a relationship despite such conflicting ideologies of how the history of the Southwest was conducted. Cotera reports that this, along with the actual findings of González's letters that she had written a novel of Latino-based folklore, was the spark for her career and future in Latina Studies.

El Museo del Norte[edit]

That future in Latino Studies has led Maria Cotera to work on her current projects that aim to educate the public of Michigan to the Latino impact and history that has long been overlooked, if even mentioned in past decades. Through the efforts of the Latino/a Studies Program and the Fronteras Norteñas organization, "El Museo del Norte" museum project was able to receive funds from the University of Michigan Arts and Citizenship Program. Cotera, and other spear headers for the museum, are currently set on developing a "museum without walls," that can be made available to all community members in hopes to demonstrate the folk art that shows the Latino presence that has always been in the state.

Chicana Por Mi Raza[edit]

"Chicana Por Mi Raza" is the other current project that Cotera is working on. This topic particularly pertains to the role of Latina women and their numerous contributions to literature, thought, and the art of American history. Cotera recognizes the "overarching objective of the project is to provide broad‐based public access to oral histories, material culture, correspondence, and rare out‐of‐print publications for both scholarly and pedagogical purposes."[7]

It is important to recognize that throughout the history of America, racism has always been evident. This project may bring about the most change seeing how it highlights the issue of feminism through the lens of a Latina author, artist, or speaker. What is often forgotten about is the sexism that has always played a role in the history of the country. "Like Marxism and nationalism, feminism had numerous variants. Critics dwell on the fact that Vázques declared herself a "Chicana primera," claiming that race should take precedence over gender in analyzing oppression."[8] It should be always conscious in our minds that gender is just as important as sex, and that one does not over ride the other. Chicana Por Mi Raza makes this lesson stick and gives clout to the Chicana feminist that stepped up and made strides for their literature, art, and the feminist view in general.


  1. ^
  2. ^ ^ Martinez, Elizabeth. 500 Years of Chicana Women's History. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2008. Second Peperback
  3. ^ ^ Martinez, Elizabeth. 500 Years of Chicana Women's History. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2008. Second Peperback
  4. ^ ^Acuña, Rodolofo. Occupied America 6th Edition A History of Chicanos. New York:Pearson Longman, 2007.Paperback.
  5. ^ ^Acuña, Rodolofo. Occupied America 7th Edition A History of Chicanos. New York:Pearson Longman, 2011.Paperback.
  6. ^ Cotera, Maria. Native Speakers. University of Texas Press, 2008, p. 5.
  7. ^ ^ Cotera, Maria. "Maria Cotera, Questions." E-mail interview. Nov. 2011
  8. ^ ^Acuña, Rodolofo. Occupied America 6th Edition A History of Chicanos. New York:Pearson Longman, 2007.Paperback.
  1. Cotera, Maria. "Maria Cotera, Questions." E-mail interview. Nov. 2011.
  2. Martinez, Elizabeth. 500 Years of Chicana Women's History. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2008. Second Peperback
  3. Acuña, Rodolofo. Occupied America 6th Edition A History of Chicanos. New York:Pearson Longman, 2007.Paperback
  4. Acuña, Rodolofo. Occupied America 7th Edition A History of Chicanos. New York:Pearson Longman, 2011.Paperback
  5. Cross Currents: Transdisciplinary Dialogues on the Museum
  6. Los Repatriados: A Decade of Mexican Repatriation
  7. University of Michigan Women's Studies Faculty Bio
  8. Los Repartidos a Decade of Mexican Repatriation
  9. Minority Archives and the Politics of Textual Recovery
  10. Latinas in the United States: a historical encyclopedia, Volume 1
  11. ""