Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

17 August 2010

Summer of Feminista: Like (Un-Feminist) Mother, Like (Feminist) Daughter


Written by Sally Mercedes

I've been a feminist for as long as I can remember, and certainly long before I realized there was a word for it.

I grew up in a house of mostly women: father, sisters, aunts who helped raise us, and an incredibly strong mother. In many ways, she’s a traditional (strict) Dominican mother, but she's also a bit of an outcast in her family because she speaks her mind and wanted more than marriage and babies for me and my sisters. I guess you could say she was setting things up for me.

Fast forward a few years… In high school, I took a women’s literature class and it was the first time I realized you could study gender roles and the lives of women. In college, I took a Women’s Studies course and fell in love so hard that I decided to go down that scary double major path.

Have you ever tried to explain a Women’s Studies major to Latinos? They try to translate it literally and wonder if the study of women has to do with health. You throw in the word feminism, and people look at you like your head just exploded – at least, my family did. Especially my mother, who, to this day, calls me a psychologist and completely ignores the other half of my college degree.

So I make it my business to give my mother my very official feminist point of view on pretty much everything: education, labor, government, societal expectations, sexuality, and even Latino culture. Here’s where I admit that I’m often surprised at how much she agrees with me. Because of her traditional ways and because she never explicitly said she was a feminist when we were growing up, I had the completely wrong picture of her in my head.

Okay, so maybe my mother still doesn’t understand what the hell Women’s Studies means, and she’ll never read bell hooks or Gloria Anzaldúa, but it’s now clear to me that she was with me all along. I’ve come to realize that I found feminism through my mother, and because of that, I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to shed the label, no matter how controversial it is in Latin@ circles.

You don’t need the feminist label or a college degree to strive for women’s independence and feminist ideals. All my mother needed was three daughters to fight for, including one slightly obnoxious daughter who doesn’t let anything go.

So call it whatever you want, just let it grow inside of you. I’ll keep calling it feminism and my mother probably won’t, and we’ll still agree more often than not. Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying to make her read Anzaldúa.


Summer of Feminista is a project where Latinas are sharing what feminism means to them. Positive. Negative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission

3 comments:

my mom is like that too! she will never admit that she is a feminist and she completely is...she also raised 3 strong women. i loved reading this post! explaining a degree in women's studies and the fact that it is important has been something i have been explaining for years.

That´s what I´ve always wondered too! I´m majoring in drama but I´m seriously thinking about doing a double honors degree in drama and women´s studies. I´m in Chile visiting my family now and I have no idea how to explain it to them since there´s no such thing in Chilean universities.

Thankfully my mom did understand, although it was difficult explaining how biological sciences & women's studies fit together. But I usually go with "women's studies is often a way for us to study a topic/issue from the viewpoint of women." I know, I know, totally blows over so many things, but I think it's a starting point for many. If I think someone gets that, I'll go in further with examples.