This piece is inspired by Byron Hurt’s, an anti-sexist activist, piece on why he is a black male feminist. I searched to find similar pieces by Latinos professing their support for the struggle of all wimmin, but especially Latinas and have yet to find anything. So, I decided to write my own story in the hopes that other Latinos like me will decide to speak up or have their own little revelations.
I barely know my father, I still don’t know much about him. I don’t know why he decided to leave Nicaragua for the United States. I don’t know what his hopes and dreams were, what he wanted to be when he grew up, why he left my mother, and why he decided to leave fatherless children across Central America. However, I knew he kept my mother from learning how to drive, from learning English, from finding a job and regulated her to taking care of my sister, brother and I while he went out on his own.
If there is anything to be salvaged from a failed relationship with my father it is a vibrant one with the womyn who made me the man I am today. I would listen to the arguments between my mother and father and saw that many times my mother was the more dominant one, especially since she was usually right about his being a bad father. This wasn’t always the case as my father domineered my mother for most of their marriage, and when finally my mother decided to leave she told me that she would never let another man step on her like my father did. I hated hearing them argue, but I respected my mother for sticking up for her children against the man who left them and continued to emotionally harm them. My mother has been a firecracker ever since I could remember. While trying to preserve what little bits of Nicaraguan culture she brought with us she taught us to be strong and independent. For my brother and I she taught us that wimmin are equals and can do anything we can, and many times better than we can and that’s okay. Ask my mother if she’s a feminist and she’ll probably tell you no, but that’s because of her association of feminism with a white northern wimmins movement.
I quickly learned that my father was a womynizing, machista of the traditional Latin American sort. I internalized this lesson and sought to make myself everything that he wasn’t, but growing up with no male role models it wasn’t always the easiest path. While I took pride in the fact that I never pursued sleeping around or purposefully messing with the emotions of wimmin, I was still an adolescent boy who enjoyed pornography and the occasional sexist, racist, homophobic, misogynist joke at the expense of many of my friends. It took a lot of reflection, self critique, and help to finally let go of those habits. The men in my life at this point all represented old guard machistas and saw wimmin as homemakers, cooks, cleaners, dishwashers, childrearers but now also included them working outside the home. So, now not only did the wimmin in my family work long hours to help support their families but they would come home and take care of the house, husband, and kids as well. And meanwhile all of us struggled with being immigrants in a new country that held a lot of hostility towards the Latin@ community.
By the time I got to university I had a nascent understanding of what feminism was and how Latin@ culture fit into it, my impression was that it didn’t. I came to college thinking I would be some sort of revolutionary who would work within the system to tear down the elaborate hybridization of inequality in this country, but wimmin’s rights never stuck out to me in this respect. I thought that wimmins issues just served as a wedge between men and wimmin fighting other inequalities. I would quickly learn I was wrong.
I had the privilege to meet a talented and smart young womyn named Bianca who introduced me to my first Wimmin’s Studies course and set me on a path towards understanding. We both took feminist courses and many times felt out of place because we typically learned about white wimmin’s feminism and its herstory (history for those unfamiliar with the alternative word). However, having a Latina womyn coming to terms with what it meant to be young, brown and feminist to help me critique and deconstruct race and gender inequality helped solidify my beliefs as a Latino feminist. None of my studies specialized in what it meant to be Latin@ and feminist, but race was touched on in all my classes because I had professors who were conscious of the intersectionality of all oppressions (race, class, gender, political, social, etc.).
Taking college courses is not required to be a Latino feminist. What’s required? Sit down and watch Univision or Telemundo for a day. Then think back to how much cleavage and thighs the wimmin on those channels show, how many sexist or misogynist jokes are made, and just watch the racist, homophobic, and classist portrayals of the underprivileged communities in Latin America on their comedy shows and it will quickly become apparent that our culture is entrenched in misogyny. This is not the culture I want and its not the culture we as Latin@s deserve. Instead of reinforcing the lessons of strong Latina wimmin in our collective Latin@ culture wimmin and men are force fed a consumerist and sexist representation of Latinas as hypersexed, big hipped, full lipped, large breasted, slightly stupid wimmin who know how to wear short skirts and open blouses (just watch a telenovela, any of them…seriously). And all men are overpowering, control hungry, well built and sex starved beasts with nothing but money and wimmin’s bodies on their minds. Not much room left for the rest of us.
Coming to and embracing feminism freed me from what it meant to be a Latino male in the dominant culture. American media portrays Latino men (Nicaraguans, Mexicans, Chileans, Ecuadorians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, etc.) as violent, sexist, heavy drinkers, lazy and exploitative and I am none of those and I know many Latinos who are not that either. I came to understand the power that stereotypes like those hold. I realized how Latin@s in poverty stricken communities are left with these lifeways that self-perpetuate themselves into a cycle of poverty, ignorance, domestic violence, and misogyny that hurts men and wimmin. I didn’t want to be this. I also didn’t want to assimilate into the proper Euro-Anglo intellectual culture. I am still struggling with carving out my own Latino-estadounidense (Spanish word for people from the United States, does not exist in English because the US has a monopoly on the term Americans) identity and finding others who are doing the same.
Instead of wanting to be Jennifer Lopez we should be telling the stories of strong, independent Latinas who have and are changing our world. The stories of wimmin like Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebron, Nicaraguan Revolutionaries Dora Maria Tellez and Nora Astorga, Artist Frida Kahlo, Authors like Julia Alvarez and Isabel Allende, and the trailblazers like Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina.
Until their stories become the archetype for strong Latina wimmin I will continue to be an outspoken Latino feminist. So, when I am asked why I am a Latino feminist this is what I say:
I’m a Latino feminist because race and gender are inseparable and affect our experiences in society.
I’m a Latino feminist because my mother can’t get a decent job and has never been promoted because she is a brown womyn in a white man’s world.
I’m a Latino feminist because womyn are being sold, raped, and murdered across Latin America because of a drug war and crushing economic inequality.
I’m a Latino feminist because there should be no newspaper in the world that allows a man to threaten a womyn with rape in public.
I’m a Latino feminist because the privileges I experience as a male are detrimental to the womyn in my society.
I’m a Latino feminist because I want all the wimmin in my life to grow up with the same opportunities as me and to have whole, fulfilling, egalitarian relationships with friends and lovers.
Just to name a few. Now I want to hear from the other Latinos who support the lucha de las mujeres!