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Struggles & Protests in 21st Century USA

Edited by

Iris Morales

Red Sugarcane Press, Inc.

New York, New York

Latinas: Struggles & Protests in 21s t Century USA

Copyright © 2018 by Iris Morales

Published by Red Sugarcane Press, Inc.

534 West 112th Street, #250404

New York, NY 10025

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher or the authors, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Each author in the anthology maintains the copyright in her respective work. For performance rights, including amateur and stock performances, and uses of these works by educational institutions, permission must be secured directly from the author.

Cover Artwork: Mia Roman

Layout Design: Iris Morales

ISBN: 13: 978-0-9968276-5-2

Library of Congress Control Number: 2017961956

First Edition

Printed in the United States of America

I dedicate this book to the memory of

my sister Minerva Morales who understood the relation between healing and transformation,

and believed in rebirth.



Introduction: Latina Activism

Part 1. Who We Are

Part 2. Gender, Class & Race

Part 3. Fight for Reproductive Justice!

Part 4. Sexual Assault, Rape & Violence

Part 5. Herstories Remembered

Part 6. Save the Earth. Fight for Our Homes!

Part 7. Grassroots Organizing & Rebel Imagination



About CantoMundo

About Book Cover Artist

About Editor

About Red Sugarcane Press


Deborah Paredez, Ph.D.

The first time I met Iris Morales was on a Sunday afternoon in Harlem just before the first disastrous election of the 21st century. It was less than a handful of years after the release of Iris's monumental documentary, ¡Palante, Siempre Palante!, which I was planning to teach in my seminar about Latina/o arts and culture. I was just beginning my career as a professor, just beginning in many ways to understand myself in relation to the tradition of Latina activists, artists, and thinkers who had paved the way for my arrival. That afternoon and in the many since then, I stood awe-struck not only by how Iris taught me to look to the past but by how she insisted we look toward the future in our efforts to live and struggle and thrive in the present. This capacious vision has informed the tremendous scope of Iris's work as a community organizer, feminist activist, lawyer, filmmaker, and publisher. In all of these contexts, Iris creates space for the gathering together and amplification of Latina voices. This anthology is a testament to Iris's long-standing commitment to forward-facing community formation.

The Latinas whose voices resound in these pages speak out in a range of registers, accents, and genres. They break the strictures of form, they break the boundaries between languages, and they break the silence. In this way, they speak as Gloria Anzaldúa described, with forked tongues. For the Latinas whose words are captured here, the act of speaking is central to the articulation of selfhood and resistance, as Jennifer Maritza McCauley writes: "I am a rebel language."

Latina feminists along with other feminists of color have been instrumental in shaping our understanding of the body as a site of critical theory and liberationist thinking. From them we have come to name the weight we bear on this bridge called our backs or the refusals we make in our acts of haciendo caras. We have come to know how to live on this thin edge of barbed wire. Rosebud Ben-Oni asserts, "Brother, the blood / On my hands, Brother, / You are the home and I am the wilderness.” The Latina writers and activists included here build upon the body of Latina feminist writings and construct new modes of embodiment as they struggle against the patriarchal constraints of the homes they leave behind or struggle to create.

The publication of this anthology is especially urgent in a moment marked by the "silence breakers" speaking out against sexual assault and the simultaneous silencing of women of color within these narratives. Latinas, in particular, have much to teach us as we face escalated attacks on Latinx immigrants, the U.S.-fueled crisis in Puerto Rico, and the misogyny that guides legislation against health care for women and children. The force of community forged here insists, as Emmy Pérez proclaims: "YES ALL WOMEN / on a crowded train and yes / all women and maybe / it was not okay."

Above all, the Latina voices that come together here, sing and shout and whisper and wail in lyrical conjurings. They beckon us toward a future where, as Aurora Levins Morales insists, we "must imagine an infinite river / of brown smiling children / who do not need documents / and a flag / of six billion stars.” We follow the river, guided by the stars that are their words.

New York City


Introduction: Latina Activism

Iris Morales

Today Latina activists and artists are leading dynamic campaigns, projects, and grassroots movements to end systems of poverty and racism that are crushing the working poor, immigrants and families, LGBTQ and women of color. They are part of a growing political consciousness shaping a network of alliances among Latinxs, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Arab Americans, and progressive whites in the United States. Their demands challenge state and corporate power, broaden our vision of justice, and create possibilities for societal transformation. Yet struggles for economic and racial justice are largely invisible in the public discourse and generally ignored in the mainstream fight for women’s rights.

Immediately after the results of 2016 U.S. presidential election were announced, women united to protest the anti-women politics promoted during the campaign. Latinas and other women of color assumed key leadership roles to organize a Women’s March in Washington D.C. held on January 21, 2017. It was one of the largest political mobilizations in U.S. history galvanizing millions of women, men, and children of all ages to protest misogyny and the anti-immigrant, racist, and militarist direction of the new administration. At the massive gathering, prominent Latinas took center stage delivering fiery speeches and energizing cultural performances. Among them, actress America Ferrera set the tone in her opening remarks: “Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack and the platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday . . . we march today for our moral core.” Sister marches and rallies also mobilized in cities across the U.S. and around the world with crowds surpassing projected numbers. An estimated 2.6 million people participated in all 50 states and 32 countries,1 displaying an exceptional outpouring of support for the rights of women, and for the rights of immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, LGBTQ persons and others targeted for hate by the administration.

Latinas turned out in big numbers. Not only to protest but also to articulate a vision of what we aspire to see in the world. This idea is at the heart of Latinas: Struggles & Protests in 21st Century USA, a collection of poetry and prose reflecting on women’s lived experiences and the ways that Latinas address the relationship between gender and social change. The contributors are poets and activists, educators, artists, and journalists engaged in a variety of work from community organizing to university teaching. The selections illustrate how Latinas understand and resist the gendered conditions of their lives. They expose inequities that Latinas face as women but also by class; race, ethnicity, and national origin; immigration status; social location; and the legacy of history. The volume is most closely aligned with the view of feminism as “a movement to end sexist oppression, both its institutional and individual manifestations.”2

Latinas: Struggles & Protests in 21st Century USA includes a mix of genres: poems, personal narratives, blog posts, letters, scholarly essays, artwork, mission statements, excerpts from plays, lyrics, and herstories looking across time, generational, and geographic boundaries. Each piece is unique. Together they open a window that reveals a range of Latina perspectives on important contemporary socio-economic-political and cultural issues, and imaginings for a more humane world.

Who are Latinas?

At the outset, it is important to emphasis that “Latina” is a “socially constructed” concept. In the 1960s, Chicana/Chicano and Puerto Rican activists in the U.S. used the terms “Latino/Latina” to signify similar histories and express solidarity with each other’s social justice struggles. Later advocacy groups pressured to include a separate category in the U.S. Census to identify Latinos/Latinas, and the government settled on the term “Hispanic” in 1973 to recognize persons with origins in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.3 (Until then, they had been assigned to the same category as “Whites.”) The new classification—“Hispanic”—was, and continues to be, vigorously debated regarding the term itself as well as who is, or is not, included, and who decides. (The term Latino/a/x is used in this essay instead of Hispanic.) Nonetheless, the umbrella designation has served to recognize a national constituency that continues to evolve and represents a source, or a potential, for political power.

In 2015, more than 26 million Latinas lived in the United States.4 This diverse population shares histories, cultural values, and languages but also has greatly different experiences based on social class, race, and immigration status. Several distinguishing characteristics are outlined here. For example, Latinas have lived in the U.S. for varying durations. They may be descended from immigrants who came to this country many generations ago, or they may be recent arrivals. Latinas are also descendants of the Native peoples who lived in the Americas before the European colonizers invaded—they are not immigrants. Puerto Ricans as U.S. citizens since 1917 also are not immigrants.

Generally, Latinas, documented or undocumented, migrate to the U.S. searching for economic opportunity or seeking refuge from political instability and violence in their home countries. In recent years, even thousands of unaccompanied children, including girls, have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. They make the journey alone fleeing horrific poverty, and political and drug-related violence. 5

Latinas in the United States have roots in every Latin American country; the largest group is of Mexican descent followed by Puerto Ricans, Salvadorians, Cubans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, and others in lesser numbers.6 Latinas may identify as natives of their home country or as Latina, or both. For example, the contributors to this book identify as Latina, but also as Chicana, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, San Salvadoran, Argentinian, Afro-Latinx, Afromexicana, and Boricua.

According to a 2014 study, the majority of Latinas in the United States were born in the U.S.,7 spoke English and were fluent in Spanish.8 Latinas may speak only English and Spanglish, a mix of English sprinkled with Spanish words. Latinas who speak only Spanish face steep language barriers and discrimination in getting jobs, education, housing, healthcare, and other vital needs.

While Latinas can be of all social classes, most are workingwomen. Disproportionately in the ranks of the poor and working class, they live within a complex set of pressures both as workers and as women. Of approximately 11.1 million Latinas in the labor force in 2015,9 more than one-third worked low-paying jobs in the service sector in hotels, restaurants, casinos, household services, and childcare settings, and another third in sales and office occupations. About 25% held management, professional and related positions. Note that at every socioeconomic level, Latinas were paid substantially less than men.10 Even Latinas with masters, professional, and doctoral degrees had the lowest median earnings of all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.11

Racial differences and skin colors among Latinas span the human spectrum. The race dynamics in the Latinx community are multilayered and complex, and challenge the prevailing “white-black” racial binary of U.S. society. In general terms, Latinas confront systemic and individual racism and colorism (preference for lighter over darker skin color) as well as discrimination by ethnicity, class, and immigration status. Black Latinas are subjected to racism as Latinas, Afro-Latinas, and African Americans. Brown-skinned Latinas also confront racism based on skin color. Light-skinned Latinas face discrimination as an oppressed national, ethnic group. Because “whiteness” is promoted, both across Latin America and in the U.S., those who are seen as “white” have more advantages and benefit from “white skin” privilege. Latinas who can pass as “white” might choose to adopt whiteness and reject Latinidad altogether. The impact of racism, both in U.S. society as a whole and among Latinx people, is a central theme of the anthology.

Colonization, Slavery, and Women’s Resistance

Our shared histories as Latinas began the moment the Spanish conquistadores set foot on Caribbean beaches in 1492. There began the massacre of Native people that continued into South America. “The Indians of the Americas totaled no less than 70 million when the foreign conquerors appeared on the horizon; a century and a half later they had been reduced to 3.5 million.”12 The colonizers slaughtered an estimated 60 to 80 million Native people from the Indies to the Amazon,13 and then they declared the Indigenous people extinct.

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