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Showing posts with label summeroffeminista. Show all posts
Showing posts with label summeroffeminista. Show all posts

15 September 2014

Summer of Feminista - Latina Feminist Friendships [video]

Well we've turned on the heat at home, pumpkin spice products have hit the market and we have to wear socks again...this only means one thing, summer is over.

But before we put away the lawn lights (ahem...), let's take some time to view this amazing video that Kat Lazo, Patricia Valoy, Dior Vargas and Raquel Reichard took the time to make in response to my prompt to talk about how your girlfriends fit into your feminism.

Thank you mujeres for this video. It was moving, funny and sums up the summer perfectly. I'm not even going to attempt a summary post.

Thank you to everyone who participated this summer:
Linda Garcia Merchant
Vicky Barrios
Brenda Hernandez
Amy Richard
Lisa Quinones-Fontanez
Lilian Coral
April Lee
Elisa Batista
Sandra Ramos O’Briant
Estela Delgado

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

16 August 2014

Summer of Feminista: Four Friends

Today Summer of Feminista is proud to welcome back, Linda Garcia Merchant. Linda Garcia Merchant, an award-winning filmmaker and Independent scholar, is technical director of the Chicana Por Mi Raza Project, a community partner for the Somos Latinas Oral History Project and the Chicana Chicago/MABPW Collection Project, a member of the LGBT Giving Council of the Chicago Foundation for Women and a board member of the Chicago Area Women's History Council. Watch the trailer for Linda's latest production 'Yo Soy Eva' , being released this fall.

Every year for the past thirty years I get together for a weekend with three women I have been friends with since college. We make it a point each year to get together at one of our homes, catch up and hang out. I first wrote about this weekend fifteen years ago for my own blog site, twotightshoes. At that point it had been fifteen years of getting together; our children were small or teens and not all of us were divorced or orphaned.

At fifteen years there was enough measure of time, change and difference that had occurred that made writing about this important. Important not just to me, but to newer friends I would tell about our weekends.

I never thought it was a big deal to have this weekend, but when I would tell people we did this, they found it fascinating that we had kept doing it. Our careers and relationships had managed to move us to different parts of the state or the country. Our lives should have drifted apart but we managed to stay in touch, to stay together, to show up every year. Why is that?

It is because we love each other like sisters. It is because we have always accepted one other at face value. We have never been judgmental about our shared experiences, personal events or choices. We trust each other; love and respect our friendships. It is hard to find a single person this genuinely motivated to care and give so it is incredible to have found three other women that think this way.
Like sisters, we call each other for the holidays, on (or around) birthdays or in preparation for our annual get together. We don’t spend time as a group, except for that one specific weekend each year. When we do get together, it is as though we haven’t missed a step in each other’s lives.

We didn’t start out agreeing to do this. In fact, every year it is me grousing about my awful schedule and how problematic this next year would be. The more I would complain the less I was heard. Every year at some point in our conference call, my grumblings would become ‘brown noise’, I would give in and get with the plan.

At first, it was at the insistence of one woman, Michele that we make it a point to check in with her in Peoria at least once a year. We all live in different cities; I’m in Chicago, Glenda is in Davenport, Michele is in Peoria and then there’s Trish who we all believe lives on the path of one of the four winds.

Trish has always lived her life on the wind. Even in college Trish followed her own path, separate and apart from the teenage fold. My favorite Trish memory from college was the first time I walked into her dorm room, decorated in what I can only describe as a Stepfordian White French Provincial motif. Missing were the bunkbeds, bolsters and Prince posters. In their place, Trish had knick knacks, fresh flowers and a white wrought iron table and chairs for two with matching tapered candles. I imagined her studying at that table, sipping tea. Trish was and is from another time and I believe, just enjoys our company when she lands in our weekend space. Trish doesn’t always make the weekends, but when she is there, the circle is complete.

Our relationship over the last thirty years has changed as our lives changed. Where once we would get together for weddings and showers, now we gather for the funerals of parents and contemporaries.

In the late seventies early eighties (when we were all young, childless and single) the conversations were exclusively about sex, shoes, boys, shopping for shoes, romance, dating, more sex, bad boys and bad dates. At some point on a Saturday night, we were headed to the nightclubs be it small town or big city. One of us was always lagging (usually Glenda), not wanting to go—the other three of us dragging her along.

The late eighties and early nineties saw our conversations switching to health plans, mortgage interest rates, bad boys, shopping for shoes and furniture, cooking at home, and renting movies with Denzel Washington in them. We seldom went to bars, preferring the cost ratio (to degrees of sobriety) of the home-based mixed drink. At one point we were all married so our spouses were included in some of our weekends.

The end of the nineties and the turn of the century came and went and our conversations turned to health plans, flossing, osteoporosis, boys pretending to be men, challenging partnerships that involved children and ailing parents. Our social forays included at least one conversation reintroducing Glenda and I to the world of popular black culture that always ended with a trip to the local record store. Friday nights were spent doing home mani/pedis and elaborate dinner preparations, then switching between the food network and HGTV. Three of us were divorced so Saturday nights, we still went out.

In 2014, we did something a little different and shared our weekend with one of our children, Michelle’s daughter, Taryn Dior, an adult now, working and living on her own in St. Louis. These days there are quiet moments more than anything. All four of us have been married and divorced. We all have children, one a grandchild, one a mother of three, one with a masters degree, one a teenager and two in college.

We still catch up with each other’s lives, the lives of our children and share photos and stories of their lives. Each year one of us in the middle of some great trauma, usually elder or child care issues. All of us have cared for elder parents, nursing them through a variety of debilitating and ultimately, terminal illnesses. Whatever the situation, we are always there to listen and love and frequently hug the one of us struggling to answer the impossible questions that come with death.

Over the years, we will sit around the kitchen table, the patio table or the fancy restaurant table, catching up on the journals of each other’s lives. We learn things about our own childhoods, our siblings, our mothers and fathers. We give each other advice about houses, spouses, parents and God. God is always there in the middle of us—filling our mouths with the right words and sentiments that each of us needs to hear at the moment that we need to hear it.

To keep up with the people that ‘knew you when’ helps you to know the ‘you’ that you have become. It is sort of like not seeing the forest for the trees and being friends with three vigilant forest rangers. I like getting together with these women because being around them reminds me of what I have become, where I have been, and where I am going. As four friends, we are the most honest and vocal guides to each other’s lives steering each other back to our own truths.

If in a year I have altered my course, compromised my direction or lost site entirely of some personal focus, I will know this. I will know five minutes after I've walked in the door of wherever we are meeting. I will know when one of them hugs me and I don’t hug them back as hard as I should. I will know this because I will look long and hard into a pair of eyes that has seen me at my personal best and worst and that I will not be able to deceive. Friends that will check that ‘faux’ hug with some snappy retort squishing that pretentious moment, then hugging me harder until I hug back just as hard. There are no secrets from old friends; no hidden agendas or realities those old friends miss.

So there is the beauty of having three close friends for over thirty years who make it a point to glue themselves together, once a year, for at least 48 fun and loving hours. I am hoping that by reading this, you will pick up the phone and reconnect with those that you knew and loved 5, 25 or 50 years ago. Those who care about, and know, the real you. The ‘you’ that existed before the world compromised you. The friends that knew you when you still cared about tolerance and understanding.

If you’ve never gathered with your oldest friends, do it. Make it a point to connect with those people that know you best. This year in St. Louis we kept it simple. We caught the James Brown movie, looked at apartments for Taryn, visited the Arch, put up with my ranting about the ‘Westward Ho’ exhibit at the Gateway Arch, enjoyed a decent meal and some R&B at the Rustic Goat then spent half the night talking, catching up and watching the Game Show Network. Every minute of this last weekend has filled my soul and will hold me together for the next 363 days until we meet again.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

07 August 2014

Summer of Feminista: A BFF for All Seasons

Today Summer of Feminista welcomes Vicky Barrios of Kindness and Kisses. You can also find her on Instagram where you can see she's passionate about soccer!

When it comes to feminism, I don't try to do feminism in any prescribed way. I do attempt to embody feminism, specifically womanism.  All my very best friends are amazing women of color and I don't think that's an accident. Still, I believe in respecting the abilities and talents of all women as well as acknowledging their contributions to the community and to our world. That's exactly how my girlfriends fit into my life. We may not be outright feminists but we are women who not only believe in each other, but actively offer each other our individual strengths as support and for actionable inspiration. Whether by karma, divine order, or chance, I have been abundantly blessed with the love, generosity, and depth of authentic sisterhood friendships.  These are real deal have-your-back best friends forever. My life is better because of these BFFs that are powerful mirrors of who I was, who I am, and who I can be.

Fortunately, I am rich with good friends, and a handful are my BFFs. For all parts of my life, I have a BFF that I can count on. I am the single Latina, woman of color, PhD student and clinician that is in her mid 30's and happily single and dating. The single girl in NYC part of my life is best shared with my other single girlees. My long time best friends with husbands or wives and babies just won't be able to pick up and go as we used to, and as it is possible for me to still do. I love my BFF, Sandra for trying though, even with two little ones. My BFFS who don't have children and with whom I get together for cocktails and to talk sex among other things, like Sujeiry and Helen, are also the ones I can bother with random calls about dating mishaps and likely can drop by their home because face-time in person is necessary every now and then.  

In my academic circle of sisters, my BFFs, Isabelle and Tia, keep me accountable and moving on my research and other projects. They also help me celebrate each success with a little wine and good eats. Our conversations can be very intellectual, political, and almost always inherently feminist. We can also be silly, care-free, and irreverent. They have also seen me at my worst because attempting to complete a PhD program will do that. Because so much of my life is the work of the mind, it is a joy to have BFFs who can be there with me as we examine life's problems, seek solutions, and attempt to make a dent in the psychological community as a service to what we can offer the world. 

My world though is bigger than just academia and my love life. For this reason, there is nothing like the safety and security of a friendship that has been tested and survived seemingly improbable circumstances through a span of many years. My long-time BFF, Yana Alvarez (Financial Planning Goddess) is that person for me. We met at an event for high school students close to twenty year ago. Then we would meet again in college. Our time in college would cement our friendship.  She's "my person." At the core of our long-time friendship is the love and respect of allowing each other to be who we are and to commit to being able to face anything that could possibly come between us.
I am blessed many times over because not only do I have MY PERSON, but I have a troop of women who are also my BFFs. Is a BFF essential to have for today's Latina feminist? No, but a good girlfriend can make the journey that much better. For that reason, cultivating these friendships is a way to embody feminism. I have discovered that having women like my BFFs encourages me to reach for my personal goals, examine and find solutions for obstacles and to simply enjoy the spirit and power of the feminine.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

04 August 2014

Summer of Feminista: Feminism and Friendship

Today Summer of Feminista welcomes, Brenda Hernandez. Brenda is a law school diversity professional. She is the Outreach Coordinator for Hollaback! Boston. She is also a Co-Director for The Boston Doula Project. You can read all about her feminism, pop culture musings, and her upcoming Latino Jewish feminist wedding at BoricuaFeminist.com.

I’ve always maintained small tight knit friend circles. I have my group from childhood, my college friends, and my law school friends. Usually these groups max out at about four people. These women have been my rocks. They’ve seen me through the great and most definitely the not so great. I have always valued strong female friendship and that resulted in an immediate connection to feminism. I recognized the importance of a sisterhood and to fight for the rights of those closest to me.

Some of my girls identify as feminists, but not all. This has never been a requirement of my friendship (laughing on the other hand is non-negotiable). In fact, until recently I never needed my feminist community to also be my friends. A common goal was enough to bring us together and I was fine with that. I would attend events alone or show up to volunteer, maybe chit chat a bit, and then go home.

That changed when I moved to Boston two years ago. Being new to Boston and a month from my 30th birthday I wasn’t sure how I was going to meet people. I decided that a good start would be attending feminist and women focused events. It was months before I could make this happen as I was consumed by my new job responsibilities and adjusting to cohabitation. When I finally attended my first event, I met someone who would later become one of my closest friends in Boston. Naturally we bonded over Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And it didn’t stop there. As I immersed myself in the small but mighty Boston feminist community, I also began to build a girl gang like never before. This group of women is fearless. Our conversations slowly turned from the issues at hand to how we fit into the larger picture together. It became about more than just the cause but about us. The personal is political, after all. And what could be more important than helping your friends navigate through the patriarchy together. My friend circle is now much larger than it has ever been and sharing feminism makes it as tight knit as ever. And of course, lots of laughs.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

28 July 2014

Summer of Feminista: Birthing a new world

Today Summer of Feminista welcomes one of my dearest friends, Amy, to the conversation...But anyone who knows Amy & me knows she is not Latina. So why am I letting her in? Just read her piece and I think you can agree that it is in the spirit of SoF.

I am not a Latina. This was something I wrote to the goddess that writes this blog and she wrote back a short email that said, “Yeah, I figured that out 13 years ago!” The fact is, I didn’t even think about that when I volunteered to write here on this blog. I think that is part of who I am. I met one of my BFF’s online through mama blogging. I knew what her name was, I figured she had another ethnicity than my own....but I didn’t even think about it...in fact, I was just pissed I couldn’t spell her last name. (At times I still can’t!) She ended up being an integral part of my life. So when she posted on her blog that she was running this summertime blog series, I volunteered....forgetting that one of the main components was that I share that Latina”ness”. I don’t...but hopefully you’ll read anyway.

I grew up in rural Maine. There wasn’t a lot of choices at the small school I went to for friends. I was the baby of the family to an older set of parents (most of my friends’ grandparents were friends with my parents.) I cried a lot. I lied a lot to get friends. By the time I got to middle school, I had moved up in the food chain to the bottom of the totem pole in the popular girls group. Popularity was built mostly around sports, clothing style and skinniness. I did not play a sport at the time, I wore what my parents let me wear (which most of the time was way out of date) and I was chubby. That put me at the bottom. My middle school years were scarring to say the least. I was teased yet “included” and sometimes, if I was lucky, I was invited over for parties or sleepovers.

As I entered high school, I got involved in sports. I became a 3 sport athlete with field hockey being my strongest one. I lost some weight. I gained some knowledge of style. I moved up in the rankings. Most of my friends liked me because I was the funny one. I was crass, I didn’t care if I offended anyone. I liked hanging with the guys mostly and because I wasn’t thought to be attractive they welcomed me into their fold, mostly for intel on the hot girls that I happened to be friends with. I continued through my high school career trying to prove myself to my friends. If I knew then what I knew now, I wouldn’t have bothered.

College came and went. I barely kept friends, mostly because I was obsessed with men and left a path of broken hearts (mostly mine) and had a slutty reputation. It's weird when I think about it now. But I hated women. I hated the way I always felt as if I was in competition with them and that I always seemed to LOSE that competition.

I got married, I had a child. I started blogging. I started to be introduced to people who didn’t really care about my past but who thought I had something to give to the future. My closest friends live the furthest away. I was separated by miles but felt closer to them than I ever had any of my younger life friends. It made me break down that wall that I had built up between myself and other women. I was encouraged by these new friends to express myself. I was never questioned when it came to my passion or even my own lack of feminism. I know what feminism means....I believe in equal opportunity for all....but I’ve never truly been labeled a feminist. The last time I went to see my friend Roni, I told her that I stood for all that she fought against. I was born white, I was the first to joke about women in my stand up routine, I wasn’t well-read in any sort of feminist theory, and I wasn’t always politically correct.... I said that to her and maybe a day later, she approached me about it. She said that the reason I meant so much to her was because I was ALL the things I was. That I wasn’t a yes person all the time. That I brought about ideas from the other side. She said she appreciated me because of this. She said we remained BFF’s because of this.

Anais Nin once wrote in her diary in the early 30’s that “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” I believe this to be true. My world could have been stunted by growing up in a rural town where shallowness was bred by more shallowness. Instead, I have developed friendships that will laugh forever because it is a mutual respect, a “new world” that we both bring to each other.

Don't let this post fool you, folks. She says she's crass, but I think you can see that it's just a show by one of the sweestest people I know. And I thought that before this lovely post. ~ veronica

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

25 July 2014

Summer of Feminista: One Good Friend

Today Summer of Feminista welcomes Lisa Quinones-Fontanez. She is an award winner blogger. Her blog, Atypical Familia, is a personal blog and family lifestyle site with a focus on autism parenting and work/life balance. Her writing has been featured on several websites including Huffington Post Parents, Yahoo Shine and KatieCouric.com. Lisa is also a contributing writer at Parents.com and Babble.com.

“All you need is one good friend,” my mother used to say. But as a teenager, I liked being surrounded by friends. Going out in groups to the movies, the mall or just hanging out in the park looking at boys - the more friends I had around me, the safer and less lonely I felt. It was all about quantity, quality was an afterthought.

My mother also encouraged independence. If I had to go the mall or library for something, my first instinct was to phone a friend to come with me. “Go by yourself and do what you have to do. You don’t always have to go with a friend.” But I liked having the company.

As I got older, my circle of friends narrowed. We all went our own way – off to school, pursued careers, got married, had children. I learned to do things on my own. And I appreciated one-on-one dinner conversations with a good friend.

After my son was diagnosed with autism, my circle of friends shrunk some more. Having a kid with any kind of disability naturally narrows the people you depend on. Our lives revolved around therapists, doctor appointments and evaluations. And I welcomed any kind of time alone.

Four summers ago, I was pregnant. During my 16th week OB-GYN visit I learned that I suffered a missed miscarriage. And I needed to have surgery the following day. My husband was unable to accompany me. I told my mother and my best friend that I was fine going alone.

When I showed up at the hospital, my mother was waiting for me. She held my hand and stayed with me for as long as she could. The following week, I had to be admitted into the hospital my best friend, Marlo, showed up. We had known each since high school. We vacationed together in South Beach and Jamaica; we even lived together at one point. But we weren’t mushy friends – exchanging cards declaring our love or importance of our friendship. We had seen each other through first loves, breakups, marriages, baby showers and the birth of our children. It’s easy to be friends with someone during those times. Those are the times you want the company.

Losing a child, all I wanted was to be left alone. But Marlo remained with me throughout the day – bringing me ice, reading through celebrity gossip magazines, helping me to the ladies room, making sure my IV wires didn’t get tangled.

Marlo let me cry, something I had a hard time doing in front of everyone else and something I didn’t want to do alone. I told her through out the day that she didn’t have to stay with me, that I would be okay if she left. Marlo knew – without personally knowing – what I was feeling. Marlo didn’t feel compelled to console me or tell me that it will be okay. She didn’t offer cliché sentiments. She just let me be.

There are times in our lives when we want company and when we need it. A good friend will know the difference.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

22 July 2014

Summer of Feminista: When amigas become familia

Today Summer of Feminista welcomes Lilian Coral, a novice at blogging, who wants to more actively dialogue with colleagues on specific issues around technology and improving the American social safety net. She comes to this work as a Colombian immigrant, raised and educated in the United States and deeply committed to social justice issues.

It’s only fitting that I write about girlfriends a day after the death of the mother of one of my oldest girlfriends.

In my home, my parents always encouraged my sister and I to prioritize family over friends. It was always about keeping everything in the family. Don’t tell your friends anything about what goes on in our home; don’t over share your dreams and desires... porque la envidia mata. It never seemed like a judgment on my girlfriends, as much as it was the Latin in us, llenos de agueros, that said that family is always more important than friends, and no one can have your best interests in mind.

But growing up in the U.S., where BFFs are so critical to growing up, I always felt a tension between the cultures, because I was surrounded by the sense that friends really can become like sisters, often as close to, if not closer than. And, in my journey I’ve ended up being surrounded by a great number of girlfriends; more than I can count on my two hands. They are women I’ve grown up with, women I’ve worked with, and those that others have said “you’ve got to be her friend.” We may drift in and out of each other’s lives for periods of time, but it always feels good to get back to them, like no time has passed.

Friendship and sisterhood has been a great source of strength, encouragement and validation. It has been girlfriends that have helped me to shape the path of what’s possible. As an immigrant child, and the daughter of a single mother, my family encouraged and supported my professional ambitions, but it was my girlfriends who helped me chart and strategize the pathway. My Mother has wished nothing but the best for me in my personal relationships, but it’s been from girlfriends, and their relationships, that I’ve learned what successful marriage looks like, or not, which compromises are needed to sustain a relationship, how to co-parent, the importance of Daddy in building up his daughter’s self-esteem as a jewel not to be messed with, etc. The strength of these women has emboldened and shaped my own strength and resolve as a feminist that views feminism broadly to be, the legitimate opportunity to choose to live the life I desire, without impediment because of my gender.

Thinking about feminism and girlfriends, in this very (sur)real moment in life, the death of a mother, and my struggle to figure out what kind of a girlfriend I need to be to support my friend, brings me to notion of strength in vulnerability. It often feels like the most authentic expression of the feminist ideal requires strength, constant strength and struggle. Some of us feminists often fight the perception of frailty and weakness when we fight for our feminist ideals, however we define them. Yet, as I think about one of my closest friends, a very strong woman, and the pain that she must be feeling in losing her mother, or the moments of heart ache that other strong girlfriends, myself included, have gone through, I think that it is in these moments of frailty, when we try to provide strength to each other, that we become the strongest. So, perhaps the beauty of girlfriends and feminism to me is that is as much about strength as it is about vulnerability. The strength required to move towards our dreams, or even just a more peaceful state, requires a vulnerable heart from where to pull that strength from; and for me this has been constantly modeled by the women I call girlfriends.

When we sit together and talk to, learn from, each other we discuss and re-discuss every aspect of our lives. In fact, we often have different girlfriends for different topics. Sex, work, men, husbands, children, health, and death are all a part of it. And even if we don’t define ourselves as feminists, or our ideas as feminist theories, we are my true depiction of Feminists, in that we all struggle together to ensure that we have a legitimate opportunity to choose to live the life we desire, for ourselves and for the children we are giving birth to, the women we are raising and the boys that will grow to love those women. The gatherings reflect the support and encouragement we need to keep going forward! Time and time again, when we talk about what’s missing in the women’s movement, I think we are ignoring the value and foundation that circles of girlfriends provide. These communities are the foundation upon which each of us can launch ourselves to dream big, hurt big, and live the life we desire. So let’s recognize the importance of these circles and encourage, facilitate and support communities of girlfriends getting together and moving forward along the journey. It’s not easy being a woman and life isn’t always fair, but it wouldn’t be as great as it is, if it wasn’t for the girlfriends we gather along the way.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

11 July 2014

Summer of Feminista: For Valeria

Today Summer of Feminista welcomes April Lee. April is an anti-rape culture, sex positive activist located in Seattle. She is the founder of Modern Sex Culture blog. While April is not a Latina, SoF is welcoming her thoughts on this topic.  

Most people didn’t think living with my step children’s mother was going to be a good idea. It’s a little crazy, sure. Two moms under one roof will conceivably get ugly. We have different parenting styles and lead pretty different lives. We have completely different backgrounds. She’s Brazilian. I’m American. I’ve just turned 30 and she’s 15 years my senior. There is potential for combustion. But life happens and here she is living with her ex-husband, his new wife and three out of four of her children. It isn’t an idea situation and I was a bit nervous. I’m sure she was, too.

The children have tried to play the card of “Well mom said,” or “April said.” They’ve tried to take advantage of a parent not knowing something the other parent agreed or didn’t agree to. We’ve all had to wiggle around a little and find our spot with each other. I can’t say I expected things to be awful but there was a period of holding our breaths waiting to see how this would play out. I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect this. There was no need to be nervous because this situation brought out beautiful surprises. Happily, we discovered that not only would the other be cooperative but also that we had some things in common! Like, wine. Yes, we love wine and we love to share it. We trade cooking meals for the family, then pop the cork of the bottle open and share with each other. We serve each other. I tutor the kids, take care of the house and work as an anti-rape culture activist from home. You’d think working at home would be easier but I assure it is every bit as hectic and busy as working outside of the home. When I’ve had a long day, she does the dishes for me which is amazing because she does back breaking work. Because I know that she usually has a long day ahead of her, I like to pick up some coffee for her before she heads out for the day. We do little things like this for each other to show appreciation.

For quite some time, I’ve had trouble embracing my femininity. Then when I was happy with being a feminine person, I had trouble accepting my body. I KNOW. Can’t we just let this body thing go?? I’m sick of the issue. I never thought I had a body issue until I realized I didn’t feel comfortable in a swimsuit anymore. I noticed that when I go dancing, I’m constantly pulling the bottom of my shirt down. Inevitably, I end up comparing myself to the other women on the floor who all, in my eyes, have flawless bodies because they’re Brazilian. It’s my default perception. But spending time with my step-children’s mom and our mutual friends made me realize, actually their bodies are NOT perfect and they’re enjoying themselves anyway. It took me nearly a year to see that. Even without flat bellies they wear tiny bikinis. That was huge for me. I haven’t worn short shorts since I was a teenager but I was so inspired to join her in her confidence about the body she has I went out and bought a pair of my own. Finally, my thighs have seen the sun!

We’ve shared dating stories, dating advice and joked about my husband’s quirks. And the wine. Did I mention the wine?

But our friendship has become more than that. Not every mother would be able to welcome another mother of her children into her life. I’m not even sure I could do that myself. To me, that speaks volumes of her character.

We’ve cried when our son graduated from the 5th grade, when our 2nd grader finally decided to swim on her own, when she learned to play a song on the piano. We take turns throwing birthday parties and babysitting. We’ve recently cried together when the other suffered and stood up for each other through it. For there being a bit of a language barrier, we’ve made a good connection with each other. Really, I can’t ask for anything more. She inspired me and propelled me to deeper levels of connection. I’m so grateful we found ourselves in this precarious situation because we had a chance to get to know each other, to respect each other and to love each other. So this one is for you, Valeria. Saúde.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

03 July 2014

Summer of Feminista: There is no treasure like an honest friend

Elisa Batista co-publishes the MotherTalkers.com blog with her best friend Erika Bleszinski.

“Tiene el se?or presidente

Un jardín con una fuente,

Y un tesoro en oro y trigo:

Tengo más, tengo un amigo.”

-Jose Marti, “Versos Sencillos”

My favorite poem in Spanish is “Versos Sencillos”, written by Cuban “apostle” and poet Jose Martí. I remember my father playing a narration of all 46 verses of Versos Sencillos, which is about friendship, on a record. I will forever associate that record – and that poem -- with my childhood home in Miami: my father in his stained blue jumper suit fixing his mustang while us four kids hooted and hollered with our friends.

Hence, two of the most valuable lessons I gained from my parents were that anyone could enjoy poetry… and an honest friend.

I am 37 years old, and I am still best friends with women I have known since I was 5. They were at my First Communion, and around to celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings and baby showers. Over the years, I’ve been blessed to make other best friends in addition to – not in lieu of – my childhood friends from Miami. And since they are all sisters to me, I’ve introduced them to each other, and they’ve formed relationships with each other!

Please note: I have more than one best friend, but the list is still quite small. I was never a popular girl with a ton of friends and liked by everyone in the classroom. I have always enjoyed deep friendships with two or three other women, and then they’d stay with me for life.

Having grown up in an immigrant household, in which our extended family lived abroad or in faraway states, our friends were our community, our lifeline…our family. I live in Berkeley, California now, on the opposite coast of my blood relatives, and this is especially true for me today. The people that have helped me raise my children, attended my children’s birthday parties and family-style get-togethers have been…my friends. And they’re not just “friends.” They are hermanos and tios and tias as that is the role that they have played.

It isn’t a blood relative that recently taught my seven-year-old daughter how to sew. It was Tia Amy. Two of four of my children’s godparents aren’t blood relatives. My daughter’s godparents are Tio Will and Tia Nancy. And for every single one of my children’s birthdays, without fail, they receive phone calls from my college best friend or Tia Erika.

We go on vacations together, we are madrinas and honorary tias to each other’s children, and every time we get together – no matter how long it’s been – we start from where we left off, as if no time has passed. We are friends with each others’ friends and blood relatives on Facebook. We are one familia.

For me, there is no greater treasure.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

30 June 2014

Summer of Feminista: The Other Women

Sandra Ramos O’Briant is the author of The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood, winner of Best Historical Fiction and Best First Book at the ILBA, 2013. Visit her on Facebook and Blood Mother Blog.

The Other Women

I almost called this piece Girlfriends, Slutdom and Mom because they’re all of a piece, a patchwork perhaps, that once assembled became me. Boys were always easier for me. We liked being outside and played rough, whereas I was never sure how to engage girls in anything beyond dolls, which didn’t interest me. They also tended to stay in the kitchen with their moms.

Mom proudly announced that she’d been a tomboy, too, and followed her twin brother in his rough and tumble play. As she grew older, mom embraced the “sexy” Latina image. I think it gave a boost to her self-esteem, but it meant that her goal was to get a man which invited competition from other females. At her core she embraced a 40’s cinematic femme fatale role model and distrusted all women . . . possibly even me. A girlfriend who is of my mother’s vintage recently gave me advice on how to deal with my husband over some petty argument. “Have great sex and then do what you want anyway.” Manipulative, I said. She expressed no distaste with that word. “There’s a long line of women just waiting to steal him from you,” she said.

She reminded me so much of my mom that I only felt affection and pity for her generation. And wonder. Could she be right? I’ve seen that look–threatened, possessive, and defensive–on other women’s faces when they’ve watched their husband’s reaction to a beautiful woman standing in front of them. No, the beauty wasn’t me. My preferred role is observer, and I love women, need them even. Women are the leads in The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood, and sisterhood is explored in all its contexts: childhood friends, lovers, girlfriends who think nothing of cheating with your husband, a sinister mother-in-law, witchy ex-girlfriends, daughters, blood sisters, maidens, mothers and crones.

I’ve written previously of the bullying I experienced in elementary and middle-school (Bullied: Diversity, Differentiation, Distinction). That experience effectively isolated me and I stopped trying to make girlfriends. I had a brief respite in 9th grade when I lived with my father and stepmother in East Texas. A few girls in my neighborhood actually seemed to like me and we rode the bus to school together. No one was really dating then, but there was adolescent flirtation.

Back to New Mexico for high school and the pressure was on to date. Fortunately, I liked nerdy boys with a sense of humor. An assortment of males liked me; the girl’s locker room became hazardous when a boy sought after by one of the “popular” girls asked me to prom. Sometime in the 10th grade I was labeled a slut and I don’t think the slur came from a boy. It was the girls who shunned me.

The irony is that even though I’m now an outspoken feminist and embrace my inner slut, I remained a virgin all through high school. I refused to French kiss until I’d cleared it with the nun who taught an after-school religion class. “No it’s not a mortal sin,” she said. I’m forever grateful that she didn’t follow up that statement with what it could lead to. Perhaps she didn’t know, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I wouldn’t allow my boyfriend to touch my emergent breasts because of the pimples on my chest.

The slut-shaming worked. I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong, but in order to remedy the situation I let down all the hems on my skirts, stopped dating, and stayed home from school as much as possible. The problem with that was 1) my mother’s fear–not that I might not graduate– but that I might not get in enough practice to find my future husband. “You’ve got sex appeal,” she said, which only terrified me more. The second part of that phrase was fine, nothing wrong with appeal. But the “sex” part was a problem made all the more complicated by 2) my extreme horniness.

What to do?

Fortunately, I got to go to college in the late 60’s. The Second Wave ruled! Birth control was readily available and there were savvy girls from all over the world at UNM. What was even better, they knew nothing about me. Sure, I was a little weird, but weird was in. I could blend. Somewhat.

I’d always had opinions, but had feared speaking out. My task was to overcome that sense of powerlessness, to embrace outcast status and make it work for me. Learning to do that was huge and the women’s movement helped me. Not only were there plenty of outspoken women from whom to learn, but I recognized the other me, before emergence, in women who came to consciousness-raising meetings. I could help them.

In grad school, my girlfriends and I had brunch every Sunday and read women’s sexual fantasies out of Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden. Our laughter could be heard from down the street and we could have written our own book of sexual exploits, real and imagined. Peggy, one of the brunchers, met me recently in Venice Beach (A 70’s Redux).

Girlfriends are still not easy. More often that not, I let them pick me. When I started a business, almost all of my clients were male. Female friends were rare. If it hadn’t been for my friend Susan, I wouldn’t have had a baby shower for my first child or a partner in my new business.

More women entered the workforce. Now I had female employees and a new challenge balancing friendship and business: I didn’t always make the right decision. As often happens, friendships with women grew easier when I entered my 50’s. I’d relaxed, accepted that some women were not going to like me, and that it wouldn’t hold me back from expressing myself or reaching out to them. Older women have experience, both good and bad, and we all just want to have a good time. Here are some vintage thoughts from some of my girlfriends. They reflect my experience now. I’m so grateful to have arrived at this point, something I don’t think my mom ever achieved:

Susan: “My women friends have outlasted everything in this life: husbands, parents,
youth, and now . . . Even if we're not together, our laughter still rings in my ear.”

Bonnie: “No matter what I was slogging thru in terms of family stuff, work, life in general, girl friends sustained and supported me more than any other relationships.”

Melody: “Laughter; tears; support; brutal honesty; fun; sharing of wisdom; gossip; fashion help; basic survival; boy-friend hating; physical, mental & spiritual healing; having someone really listen to our story-telling without judgment; reminders that we are worth loving, even if we do not love ourselves at times!”

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

09 June 2014

Summer of Feminista: Friends During Hardships

Summer of Feminista kicks off with a provocative piece by Estela Delgado. Please share your respectful thoughts in the comments.

I have plenty of friends but few are or have been my close friends, fewer are or have been my best friends because for me the forever part has not worked out. I do not know if I should be sad because my childhood dream and desire of finding a BFF did not come to fruition or over coming to the realization that sometimes I outgrow people and others I have only needed in certain situations and or for certain periods of time. Unfortunately, after giving it some thought I have to admit that as I have grown older I have let go of some people.

With that being said, I suppose that as I have gotten older so has my personality and perspective have changed and with them so have my friends. I know we are all different and I value and appreciate it. I am open to learning from everyone, thus I am open to all people from all walks of life. But these differences do make a difference sometimes and it is then when I move on. Nonetheless, I still am in search of those people or that one person who embraces all of who I am, strengths and weaknesses, in my good days and bad days. More importantly someone with patience to understand my weaknesses and is not afraid to challenge them and vice versa.

I have also found myself having more guy friends than girls. Guys talk about everything and do not over think things; it is what it is with them. And I especially like the fact that I get a guy’s perspective on things, and they like getting my perspective too. Unfortunately, I’m not very fond of some women. For starters because I personally think some women are overdramatic. I get it that we are emotional but some overdo it. And secondly, I especially hate it when they speak badly of their bodies and constantly talk about dieting. And if that was not enough they compare themselves to other women and put them down. I do have girlfriends that do that but they do it subconsciously. They are not satisfied with their own body but do not put down others so they feel better about themselves. Regrettably, some women waste their time being in constant competition with each other instead of being friends.

Sadly, I have not been able to find a girl BFF who I can truly say is my partner in crime; someone who I can have girl talks with and who is a little crazy like me. However, I am grateful that there have been women in my life that I have been able to go to and have been there when I have faced life’s challenges. I have to admit that there are moments in life that feminism kicks-in in most all women and rise to the occasion. It is astonishing how when women face hardship differences are overridden and we get support from someone you least expect it from. It is very disappointing for me that I have outgrown or moved away from certain people because we are different. And I hope I can find the BFF of my dreams someday but if it does not happen I’m sure someone will be there for me when I most need them. Friends have always been there for me in their own way during my hardships and I am grateful for that.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

02 June 2014

Summer of Feminista on Breaking Through with Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

27 May 2014

Summer of Feminista 2014: Girlfriends

 Why yes my dear readers, it is that time of the year! 

Memorial Day is in the books and as we wonder what summer will bring us, we do know it will bring us a conversation between Latinas about feminism. To facilitate that conversation, I am proposing this theme:


And to clarify, I don't mean the romantic "girlfriend." But your friend who is a girl. The one who pop culture tells us we sit around drinking martinis with talking about our sex lives. Also the one that pop culture warns us about -- The catty woman in our lives who might turn on us. 

What is Summer of Feminista?

It is my annual summer blog event where I ask you, yes, you! to share your thoughts on an idea related to feminism and being Latina. Although not all those who share consider themselves feminists or Latina. You write a blog post and I post it here. And if you have a blog,  can post it there too. If you don't have a blog, that's ok! You can read about SoF 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010...Yes, making this the fifth annual Summer of Feminista! It's pretty simple. And it leads to some great conversations over the summer.

Back to our theme...In the realm of feminism, girlfriends are often synonymous with sisters or the sisterhood. Yet, as we know not every woman is a girlfriend and not every girlfriend is a sister. 

As you can tell, the concept of girlfriends is a tricky one. One that changes as we move through our lives, especially in times of crisis when we need them the most. Sometimes they rise to the occasion, sometimes not so much.

When I think of my BFF girlfriends, for me, feminism is central to our relationships. One of them I met online on a feminist listserv back in the late 1990s. The second time I met another was at a Planned Parenthood volunteer orientation sealing her BFF potential. Others get how sports fit into my life and world view. They are the ones I fall back on when I am wrestling with ideas. In many ways they are my sisters.

Prompts to get you thinking...
How do your girlfriends fit into your life? Into your feminism? 

Were you the girl who didn't get along with other girls growing up? How has that changed? Or not changed as you have gotten older?

Do you & your girlfriends actually sit around drinking wine & talking sex? 

Is your girlfriend always your plus-one at feminist events? 

Do you still have trouble trusting women? Do you think this impacts how you view feminism?

If you want to participate in this year's Summer of Feminista, just sign up for a week and ponder these prompts. Take the theme of "Girlfriends" anywhere you want to. I do reserve the right to not publish, but most of the time we'll chat before I say no. 

Looking forward to this discussion! 

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.

24 September 2013

Seasons Change...

My plans for writing an epic closing post for Summer of Feminista faded along with the season. But I swear I'm going to write an epic mentoring/"Lean In" post for y'all by the end of the year.

For those of you keeping track of my PhD journey, next month are my comprehensive exams. They are a set of three exams that are supposed to test us on everything we should know. And yes this means that this blog is most likely (should!) go to radio silence.

So as I crawl off into the study sunset, I leave you with a list of all of this year's Summer of Feminista posts for your reading pleasure. Thank you to the amazing Latinas who shared their stories with this blog over summer 2013.

27 August 2013

Summer of Feminista: The Antidote to the Mentoring Poison

Francesca Escoto, Founder & CEO of the Innovators Institute and author of “Divorce Your Drama: Courage To Make The Tough Choices That Are Worth Every Tear”, is a startup coach, helping people turn their ideas into money.

I don’t want to lean in, lean forward, stand up, stand out, be assertive. I don’t want to show up, show off, toot my horn or speak up. I also don’t want to stay quiet, nor play the game, pay my dues, climb the ladder, or get off the ladder.

I want to be me. Is that too much to ask?

I am just sick and tired of people – both men and women – treating women as if there is something wrong with us and we need to get fixed.

When you add to the mix that I am Latina, well, I might as well get paid for breathing: I am a walking human experiment. The problem with Latin women are endless – health, education, social justice, economic access, biculturalism, ambiculturalism (WTF?), not enough Spanish, not enough English, asthma, diabetes, and apparently, a higher incidence of gall bladder disease after the age of 30. Who knew?

All the statistics, “the movement”, “la causa”, leave me feeling invisible and exposed at the same time, like a cadaver undergoing an autopsy: she’s dead anyway, we’re just trying to find out why.

Mentoring will certainly help Latinas play the corporate game and climb the ladder. It is something related to knowing the right people, having the right people sponsor you, and increasing your likeability and credibility factors for promotion. But I don’t want to talk about the corporate game. I play a different game altogether, and so for me, mentoring is not the answer. At least not mentoring as we typically describe it.

I’m not dead. So please let’s not go through the autopsy, trying to find out why I’m dead or dying. So, if I’m not trying to climb a ladder, I’m not trying to be the richest or most famous or most accomplished, there is nothing wrong with me. I am competitive, yet the rules of the game I compete in are different. I am on a race to make room for more winners, to make “the top” bigger by redefining it altogether.

And so it is with all of this as a backdrop that I finally approach the topic of mentoring. Mentoring is awesome, but not as a solution to any of the above conditions of the female species. Nothing cures a nonexistent illness. Mentoring can do absolutely nothing to resolve problems that don’t exist.

When mentoring is treated as solution to the problem of being female, it becomes part of the problem.

When mentoring is used as a tool to promote or even defend being a woman, it continues to be part of the problem because it is engaging in the same conversation, where being a woman is the topic, as if that was the real issue.

I believe the content of our conversation is skewed, focused on “the problem with women”, and not nearly enough emphasis is placed on the problem with humanity.

Here is my very bold observation: Men and women, equally, have yet to learn to get along and work together.

Our workplace relationships only mimic our social relationships – and they might even be a bit more civilized thanks to laws against sexual harassment. Women are part of the problem as much as men, but neither gender is inherently defective or in need of fixing. Both genders are humans, and humanity is the issue we are dealing with. So long as there is the capacity for greed, martyrdom, domestic violence (against men, women and/or children), envy, jealousy, abuse (sexual, mental, emotional, economic, etc.), women will be at risk. And boys. And girls. And men. We tend to forget that women are raising boys, and that women are passing on the very skewed values that they resent living by. This is not an oversimplification of the problem. On the contrary, I’m about to cry here with overwhelm when I consider the depravity of the human condition. Here are some of the issues that plague our species:

Personality disorders
I have to name this one first, because we seem to talk about issues in the workplace and at home and in the world, without taking into account that many humans are mentally unfit (and undiagnosed) not only for leadership, but also for basic human relations. Period. But it is their very personality disorder that makes them more attractive. Narcissists can be so charming! And bipolars are so creative (on the high side), and histrionics can be just so entertaining… Borderlines can be such great sales people. And on we go with the kinds of madness we must learn to live with. (Because we really do have to learn with it).

Character issues
Some people are not ambitious, they are unscrupulous. Some others have a hard time apologizing, and others take responsibility for stuff they didn’t do. Some people are pessimistic, and others are unrealistic. A few people are unreasonably happy all the time, and you wonder when the nervous breakdown is gonna hit. Some people are undisciplined and disorganized, and others are easily angered. Others are controlling about everything. Every human I know, males and female, including myself, has character flaws. Big ones.

Animal instincts
There is part of humans that is not so intellectual, orderly, or even rational. Chemistry is strong, but instincts can be stronger. Humans do more to avoid pain than to seek enjoyment. I would argue that addictions have more to do with avoiding the reality of pain than it does with the intent to feel good all day. Sometimes our instincts get the best of us in the worst of situations. And vice versa.

Until further notice, men cannot become physically pregnant nor breastfeed. Furthermore, breastfeeding releases into the body the same hormone that is released after sexual intercourse, which makes a person feel more attached and “cuddly”. Until men can breastfeed, they will rely on sex to feel something that women can feel without intercourse. Then again, not all women choose to breastfeed, and when they do, they do so for different lengths of time. In a similar manner, until further notice, men are not in control of having children. They are (truly, regardless of the law) completely powerless when it comes to procreation. They can impregnate a woman, but they can do very little after that. And what they can do, they have to do with her consent. Being a woman, I empathize with the pain of many men who want their children and the women either choose to abort them or limit his parental involvement. (C’mon ladies, you know this is true!). The burden and the blessing is in both sides.

Now, I’m not defending sexism, nor am I knocking mentoring. And I do consider myself a feminist – a defender of being feminine. I am a life coach for goodness’ sake! I believe in this stuff. Its just that mentoring cannot fix personality disorders, character flaws, nor biology. Here is what I would love to see in a mentoring relationship: an honest-to-goodness conversation about character flaws, a celebration of strengths, and genuine caring for people, going both ways, between mentor and mentee.

When mentoring focuses on anything other than the human experience, it loses its power to be transformative. And don’t get me started on paid mentoring. If you are paying for mentoring, what you are getting is a sub-standard coach who didn’t want to get certified or doesn’t genuinely care enough for you to help you, for free. If they don't have time for you, they should not make time for money. If a mentor wants to charge you, ask them for a coach certification or a therapist license. The last time I paid for friends was in college, when I joined a sorority, and while it was worth the fun, I'm too old for that.

But I digress.

The antidote to mentoring is relationship. I want to see Latinas being who they are, and allowing themselves to forge relationships with others, at any level of professional or personal development, based on a genuine interest in who the person is and in their story. There is no intimidation, no insecurity, no artificial distance between mentor and mentee.

This looks like an invitation for coffee, a daring phone call to someone that you don’t know but wish to know, a happy-birthday card to someone that you barely know but believe is adding something to the planet by being alive. Relationships look like tough conversations with people we disagree with, in an effort to understand them, not necessarily to change minds. Relationships look like an effort to meet people who are living the lives we want to be living (or so we think), and asking them questions about that life. Relationship looks like wanting more for the world we live in, and nurturing one, two, ten leaders in our lifetime because we believe in their dream and vision for this planet.Some of these relationships will become friendships, even sisters. Some will become co-workers, bosses, employees, and others will die right after “hello”. After all, we are dealing with the human condition (see the list above).

In a world of strata, asking a question has gotten expensive and complicated, and it has been labeled “mentoring”. But that’s their game, not mine. In my game, asking questions is free, it is simple, and you just do it. And you approach people who have the answers to your questions. And you answer the questions that are asked of you, to the best of your ability.

Yes, this game has fewer players. True, not everybody plays by these rules. My response is “So what? How is that working for me?” This is my game. These are my rules. And in my game, there are no losers. So when someone turns down my offer for coffee, or a phone call, or a visit, or advice, I just keep playing my game. In my game, the one who always asks questions and helps others, wins.

Summer of Feminista 2013 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing mentoring and what it means to them. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.

22 August 2013

Summer of Feminista: On Mentoring: La Luzma, La Pixie and Me

Linda Garcia Merchant founded Voces Primeras, LLC, a production company dedicated to creating and distributing documentary-style features of pioneering Latinas to the educational, political and retail markets in 2006.

It began with a Facebook post asking the two of us to work on putting together some presentations for her in Chicago.

It began with her excitement at connecting with a generation of young people at SUNY Binghampton and their enthusiasm toward what she had known all along—that to fight injustice one needs the passionate songs of the poets. Words sung as wisdom, as fuel, as beacon and lightpost both illuminating the way towards change and as sentry against resistance.

It began with a question. ‘I don’t know if you know each other, but I would like to present at a few venues, sell some books, spend some time in Chicago—it’s been too long’. “She” is Dr. Luzma Umpierre Herrera, iconic second wave profa from Bryn Mawr—veterana of too many battles, too much challenge, and too many wars between the sexes. “We two” included myself and Sandra “La Pixie” Santiago, creator of the Butterfly Poetry Project.

We knew each other, “La Pixie” and I. Sandra is a wonderful example of the large range of talent and ability packaged in equal parts whimsy and beauty that is Latina performance art in Chicago. Sandra belongs to a flourishing community of women writers, poets and performance artists housed in variety of collectives around Chicago. The Butterfly Poetry Project is her ‘arts incubator’ where Latina performers of all types and levels of ability can perform in front of an eager and generous audience.

Sandra and I didn’t know each other well, but in the lifetimes that can pass as seconds in art years, we were almost old friends. I had once performed at the Butterfly Poetry Project, where I was allowed to ‘howl’ with La Dulce Palabra Spoken Word Ensemble. We’d made a film that she appears in called ‘Yo Soy Eva’; that counts as an instantly long history.

Sandra and I worked well together I think. We met all challenges head on, talked a lot, strategized even more and in the end, accomplished a pretty good weekend of events. We were able to count on one another, navigating all that is required of producing not one but three events over one weekend.

We shared something else we would discover in the hurried moments between our introduction and those presentations—that neither had ever met our mentor, Dr. Luzma Umpierre Herrera. I’m sure we both thought the other had some great extensive history with La Luzma. We laughed when we discovered our shared reality. Ah, the power of Facebook—a world filled with the virtual lives of overbooked people.

Luzma had mentored me before we had ever spoken. When I was a teenager, she had taught of my mother’s political campaign for Congress in her courses at Bryn Mawr. The teenage challenge of my life was being presented to young women that only knew of Gloria and Bella and Betty as the architects of feminism. Luzma introduced these young women to the possibilities of Betita, Martha, Anna and Rhea, expanding their understanding to include women of color in the collective construction of the women’s movement. I wonder how many of those students left those courses open to, and seeking out, the possibilities of future collaborations with women of color.

The book she was selling, ‘I’m Still Standing’ was self published. I was in awe of this fact because all my mentors were self published. During the Chicano and Feminist movements, Martha Cotera, Rosemary Roybal, Dorinda Moreno, Felicitas Nunez and Anna Nieto Gomez had self published seminal works. This was at a time when all women of color could do was to self publish and sell their work at conferences.

I suspect that Luzma’s greatest gift as a mentor is in identifying like minded spirits and pointing them in each others direction, giving them some daunting task or moment to complete and then watching them shine. It is the only way I can explain how seamlessly Sandra and I were able to work together in fun and sisterhood. Sisterhood, La Luzma knew it in her teaching and in her living that concept to so many, for so long.

I saw this in Luzma’s face when we finally met at lunch before the first of her three presentations. It was the mischievous twinkle in her eye once we all sat down to eat. For the longest I couldn’t figure out what that meant, that all knowing slight grin she kept as we ate. Momma shared her growing up in Chicago, stories of her mother and grandmother—all foundational feminists. I just watched and wondered how I had gotten so lucky to live the life I’d been given, sitting at a table with three phenomenal Latinas.

Reading her book continues to be a challenge. She had sent a copy of her book to momma, signed with a lovely dedication. That book is still on my mother’s nightstand, read cover to cover, sometimes parked under the Spanish dictionary. “She has such a command of Spanish” momma would say. “I want to make sure I understand this”.

I still haven’t read the book.

I did however get to experience the book, come to life in Luzma’s performance of her work at DePaul. I said as much afterwards, when she and I had a moment alone. I sat down next to her and stumbled through my praise of her performance, not making eye contact. I was still processing what I had just witnessed; still reeling from the dimensions of prose in movement, in sound, pouring from the infinite depths of hurt and joy and triumph and tragic steps along a time line of defiant challenge. A lioness roared, and we all paid attention. I can say all these things now, much removed from the moment—safe in the distant comfort of memory. Then, all I could say was thank you. All I could do was look at my feet.

I was troubled by my inability to articulate in the moment, how thrilled I was to experience La Luzma and her work. This followed me to the MALCS Summer Institute at Ohio State University a few months later where we were both presenting. I was premiering a new film ‘Yo Soy Eva’ at the conference and she was in the audience.

I knew I would see her and wanted to clear that up, more for my own benefit—or so I thought. I didn’t get to go to her panel, but I saw her between sessions the next day where she introduced me to a colleague with a big smile and high praise for my work.

I realized at that moment how fragile the creative spirit can be, because in that simple compliment, I felt complete and nourished. When we acknowledge each others creative efforts, we cultivate the space where the essence of us lives. La Luzma understood and respected that in both Sandra and I in her request for assistance. We understood and accepted the task with the honor of being asked. We worked together and made it happen.

Maybe this is the road all journeys of mentoring should travel. We as women, as Latinas, as artists, as activists, need to find and cultivate the creative spirits in one another. We meet all battles, all challenges, and all wars with the same fearless energy. That energy has to be replenished and that fuel has to come from the cultivation and fulfillment of our creative spirit.

Mentoring, in its structured and unstructured forms, is about being open to shared experiences. It is about recognizing how we are being for one another as women. It is about having a perspective that acknowledges our collective connection to the human condition within each other. It is about reaching out in every moment to say, ‘I am here to tell you that you are great’. To know we live in a world where anyone of us can say to one another ‘I would like to present at a few venues, sell some books, spend some time in Chicago—it’s been too long’ and be honored to be a part of the acknowledgement and cultivation of another creative spirit that is far too often running low from too many battles, and too many wars.

Summer of Feminista 2013 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing mentoring and what it means to them. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.

05 August 2013

Summer of Feminista: A Responsibility

Brenda Hernandez is a law school diversity professional. She is also a feminist activist and blogger at boricuafeminist.com.

I am Latina. I am a feminist. I am a first generation college graduate. I am a first generation law graduate. I am a young professional. It is because of these identities that I feel a responsibility to my community, to all the communities in which I can be a mentor. I have always sought out opportunities whether formally or informally to be a mentor. Mentoring isn’t just helping people achieve their school or work goals, but also helping them discover who they want to be.

Mentorship is important because it gives people the opportunity to hope, to see themselves or who they want to be, as possible. When I lived in NY, I became a mentor to a Latina senior in high school through a mentorship program. Did we have everything in common? No. But for her to see a person who grew up with a similar socio-economic background, be able to successfully complete college was very important. Could she have developed a successful mentor relationship with someone completely different? Sure. However, I think understanding the pressure she felt from her community to succeed not only brought us closer but made her listen to what I had to say.

As I look around my own profession as a higher ed administrator, I do not see many people that look like me or have a similar background. My former boss at my previous job was a white woman however she had worked her way up in twenty years from a receptionist to Dean. Her knowledge in the field and also her experience as a young ambitious woman made her an amazing mentor. I learned so much from her, not only about my job but how to be a professional. Despite the lack of people of color, I do see many powerful women. I have found mentors in them and their advice has been invaluable. But knowing what it feels like to be the only [fill in the blank] keeps me motivated to reach out to those looking for direction and support.

I am never one identity at a time. Each identity factors into how I see the world. Being able to exist in an intersectional space allows me to support many different people. It lets me seek support from different spaces. Strengthening these networks through mentorship is a responsibility not because I fall into these labels but because I embrace them.

Summer of Feminista 2013 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing mentoring and what it means to them. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.


This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.
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