My name is Mala and I am an expert in Mami’hood because it is where I live, work, struggle, survive and thrive and have for the last 14 years.
I dislike the word intellectual as much as I dislike the word feminist. It’s not that I am against intelligence, study, engagement, learning, or teaching just like I am not against equal rights and access to all women. I am against the way the word intellectual has been co-opted to mean one thing to the exclusion of many just as feminism has been. There is no such single definition of an intellectual. Who and what an intellectual, especially in the context of the United States has been dependent on what point of history we find ourselves in and what is the most regarded value. Is an intellectual a scholar? A person who has spent years inside universities with no experience in the real world? Is it someone who conducts research within the real world but forever maintains a safe distance between us and them, the classic anthropologist if you will? Is it someone with a foot firmly planted in each world or would someone who has little formal schooling qualify just as well? With this in mind, and using the same sort of questioning, what does it mean to have A Latina public intellectual and if we need A public Latina intellectual?
Just as there is a struggle to name a Latina leader, the trouble with attempting to find a Latina intellectual is that it assumes that there is one Latina experience. Latinidad, as I define it, as a shared history rooted in colonialism and survival across the Americas, has many faces. To ask for one Latina intellectual is to engage in simplistic demands for a cult of personality – a figure to rally around and behind and perhaps even hide behind as the defining example of what we as Latinas are supposed to be. Hell, many of us can’t even agree to use the word Latina. Some use Hispanic, others hyphenated Americans, others are rooted in their regions, and some a hybrid of all of the above. If we cannot and do not share a common vocabulary – hell we don’t even share a common language really - how can we expect to have one common intellectual or expert among us?
While we all wait for one leader to be baptized, one thought queen to be crowned, there are many unsung members across communities reclaiming and redefining Latin@ experiences across the diaspora. This means elevating the work that has been pushed into the casitas and alleys, the work of the mami, the puta, the poeta, and of course the mami puta poeta. There is knowledge within pockets of our communities that was never meant to be shared – put into words. I am thinking of the power between the fingertips of curanderas, healers, and matronas, weavers, painters, scribes who have no sense or need for letters. There are intellectuals – people who know- all around us : your lover, your hija, your ti@, your vecina, that lady who sells ice cream on the corner, y tu mama tambien.
My name is Mala, I am an expert in my vida as you are an expert in yours. I share my knowledge and with my hij@s my herman@s – biological and chosen. Sometimes through words, sometimes, action, sometimes through silence. Choose your mediums, your methods. Choose your movement(s).
Summer of Feminista 2011 is a project where Latinas are sharing their thoughts on Latinas as Public Intellectuals. Liberal. Conservative. 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.