Latino Heritage Month Meets Reproductive Justice 2011: Gloria González-López

Latino Heritage Month is in October, so we are a bit late, but the issues no less pertinent.

This post is part of a series for Latino Heritage Month. Read about the other folks highlighted which include Harmony Santana.

When I first read about Gloria González-López’s work it was through her first published book called Erotic Journey’s: Mexican Immigrants and their Sex Lives. Although published in 2005, I had not heard of or read the book until several yeas later. How my own graduate and doctoral work could have been influenced and evolved because of her work I’ll not know. What I do know is that González-López asks important questions, collects thoughtful responses, and gives us a new framework for thinking about Latinos, sexuality, immigration, citizenship, pleasure, and privacy. 

Gloria González-López is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Faculty Associate at the Center for Mexican American Studies, and affiliated with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her second book is an anthology co-edited by AnaLouise Keating called How Gloria Anzaldúa’s Life and Work Transformed Our Own published this year by the University of Texas Press. Her essay in the book “Conocimiento and Healing: Academic Wounds, Survival, and Tenure” discusses her experiences applying for tenure and she hopes it may act as a supportive piece for those who are applying for tenure as well. She writes that this experience “reminded me of nepantla: I was in the process of transforming myself through an ambiguous and unknown state of consciousness” (p. 92). González-López believes that her sharing “this journey is also a practice of spiritual activism” (p. 93). For those of you who are not familiar with Anzaldúa’s work, one of the last areas of focus she was working on prior to her death was spiritual activism. 


González-López work at the University of Texas at Austin focuses on “conducting an in-depth sociological examination of incest and other forms of sexualized contact (i.e., voluntary and involuntary) within the context of the family in Mexican society. I have a special interest in exploring ways in which feminist-informed epistemologies and methodologies in the social sciences have the potential to facilitate individual and collective healing, and social justice through dialogue with emerging critical theories of feminism and engaged research across disciplines.” I am always interested when those professors who are not in a psychology field are interested in healing. This challenges us all to consider healing a public health issue that goes beyond “traditional” fields of study.

While reading Erotic Journey’s several things became more clear for me as someone working directly with Latinos living in the US and our sexual and reproductive health. The first thing I realized was that there is a space in the academy for such discussions. Historically, and when I was in higher ed, I was led to believe that discussions and testimonios of pleasure, intimacy, and sex were limited to certain spaces and communities. Many of the times when Latinos were brought into the discussion it was without a pleasure focus. We were included to discuss teenage pregnancy, HIV and STI rates, how oppressive our culture is and how if we assimilate to US values and rules/expectations we would be more liberated. 

González-López gives us the testimonios of her participants who show us in the US that the assimilationist ideas around sexuality for Latinos is erroneous. Her work also demonstrates how approaches to sexuality, Latinos, and immigration from feminist perspectives may also use an assimilationist approach which must be challenged. There were three guiding questions González-López had for her book and these included:

  1. How does immigration and life in the United States affect the sex lives of heterosexual mexican immigrant women?
  2. What sexual beliefs and practices do Mexican immigrant women bring to the United States, and how do these change in the new social context?
  3. How do various dimensions of migration, such as social networks and the changing experiences of work, media, motherhood, and religion, reshape sexual ideologies and practices?

Here are just a few of the things I learned and was inspired to include in the work I do while reading Erotic Journey’s:

  • González-López’s focus on Mexican immigrants follows the work of feminist Chicana scholars such as Lea Ybarra and Maxine Baca Zinn that have been extremely influential in understanding the Mexican and Latino family structure and dynamics while also challenging stereotypes about Mexican and Latino families.
  • She introduces the term “capital femenino” to “explain how women and men assign a higher or lower value to a woman’s premarital virginity depending on the socioeconomic context in which they grow to maturity” (p. 5).
  • Argues through the term “regional patriarchies” demonstrates that patriarchy is not uniform or monolithic (p. 5).
  • Changing conversation on machismo, macho, and machista among Latinos. Instead of introducing the term “machismo” to participants, González-López “deliberately did not use these terms in my interviews, and I discussed them only to probe after my informants used them” (p. 7). This is a topic I’ve been working on in my own personal and professional life and this simple approach really showed me a freedom not yet represented in the literature about Latinos. 
  • By including Latino men and women and using feminist research and ethnographic methodologies to understand sex, pleasure, and intimacy there are some fantastic findings González-López shares. These include: 
  • “The women’s narratives, for instance, suggest the existence of multiplefemininities and heterosexualities within the context of Mexican society.” (4)
  • Privacy and safety were found in the bedroom of many of the women who participated in the interviews. González-López writes that “the bedroom offered my informants privacy, safety, and a sense of protection. It also provide symbolic freedom and a censure-free environment in which to talk about their sex lives” (15).  I thought about how often immigrants and poor people don’t often have privacy in US society (if you’ve ever had to apply for medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance, etc. you know a little of what I’m talking about). 
  • González-López defines sexuality as “attitudes and behaviors, beliefs and practices, emotions and feelings, and fantasies and acts they engage in as they experience the erotic” (p. 19). I appreciate this definition as it recognizes culture, not just US culture but a culture that folks bring with them and are a part of. Rarely do definitions of sexuality include so many aspects of our identities. 
  • Sexual initiation among Latino men had several components that seem to cross boundaries. The ones González-López noticed included that for the men interviewed their enthusiasm for a first sexual encounter was more exciting than the actual experiences; peer pressure played a important role in their sex lives; and sex is an important part of constructing a masculine identity of which heterosexuality is essential (p. 70).

I’m looking forward to reading about González-López’s work with and on sexual violence and survival as well as her work on healing collectively. Her work is that which will give us more frameworks and ways to utilize the tools we have today to create new and more knowledge.