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27 August 2010

Summer of Feminista: What does a Cuban feminist look like?

Written by Miriam Zoila PĂ©rez, Founder, Radicaldoula.com and Editor, Feministing.com

The women in my Cuban-immigrant family are definitely feminist. I'm not sure how many of them would identify with the f-word themselves, but they were definitely my feminist role models. Let's start with my mom--an immigrant herself, who came from Cuba when she was only thirteen. After divorcing my dad when I was four, she's been a paragon of strength--raising two kids, a vibrant academic career. All on her own, all without a partner in her life. She I can pretty safely say would call herself a feminist. Her sisters though? Not as likely.

I didn't grow up under a banner of feminism--if my mom was an activist in the 70s, it wasn't under that banner either. But damn if the women in my family aren't strong as hell--and that taught me feminism loud and clear, even if I never knew the word until college (or maybe high school, but then only as an insult).
This quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding really struck me (courtesy of IMDB):
Toula Portokalos: Ma, Dad is so stubborn. What he says goes. "Ah, the man is the head of the house!"
Maria Portokalos: Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.
Now I wouldn't say the women in my family controlled the men in the way that quote implies--but they were definitely running the scene from backstage. I hate to say it, but the men in my family seem to have a pattern of being a bit of a mess. There is alcoholism, gambling, mental health issues, you name it. Maybe this is a product of being the exile generation? Either way, despite the fact that the men in my family always appear to be in charge, in control, leading things, its more often than not the women in my family who are really keeping things together, making sure things go smoothly, keeping their husbands, brothers and sons going.

That's not the ideal scenario, by any means, but it did give me some amazingly strong (feminist) role models to look up to. My abuela, my mom, my tia.

That might sound pretty gendered--but that's the way it is in my family, even with me, the queer daughter in the mix.

Again, these women didn't carry the banner of feminism, but they affected me for sure. It wasn't until college that I started using the label. I had one semester of intense college feminist activism. It was a semester that left me feeling burned out (typical!) and not so connected to my feminist peers who were at the time primarily straight and white.

I came back to feminism when I was finally in an environment and a movement that centered the Latina experience--working with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. It was at that organization (run and led by a young Latina) and in the reproductive justice movement that I was finally able to connect my immigrant experience with my feminist beliefs, and even see how they went together.

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


Unknown said...

Veronica--I really love this post. I did not identify with feminism until I became a graduate student but the roots for it were definitely sown in looking at the examples of the women in my family. Now as a 29 year old African-American woman who bold claims that I am feminist I find that the women in my family are taken aback and at times afraid of me associating myself with the "f" word. These last few years have been an interesting mix of being forthright about my feminist identity and trying to divest myself of cultural beliefs that are negative. Currently, I blog about women of color, dating, and relationships. I would love for you to check it out and let me know what you think. So far, I've had a lot of African-American women comment on my blog but I would also very much like to hear from Latina women too. My blog is smelodydiva.wordpress.com. I look forward to hearing from you.


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