Witches, Without Broomsticks

September 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

What comes to mind when we think of witches?

Stores in the U.S. are already filled with Halloween costumes for little girls– lots of pointy black shoes and hats, striped tights and broomsticks.

But I have been thinking about the word “witch” and all it has meant in history.  My new article for Writing from the Margins at Her Circle Ezine, “What Became of the Five ‘Witches’ of Croatia,” was published today, and you can read it here.

Five brave female journalists and writers were labeled “witches” in the Croatian mainstream media in the 1990s because they spoke out against the nationalist state; they had the courage to write as individuals and not just Croatian citizens; and they had the audacity to read and publish widely in foreign media.

I was curious about what became of the ‘Five Witches’ and was not surprised to see that they continue to refuse to be silenced… I hope you gain inspiration from these women, as I did.

I’ll also post the article under my “articles” section of this site shortly.

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Imagínate 1: Ana Castillo

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Welcome to Imagínate.
Here we will encourage the re-imagining of the Latina in American popular culture. 

Sparked by a highlighting in Latina Magazine of the many, many times Latinas have played maids and housekeepers in Hollywood, I started this section to raise the profile of women who are doing things that current popular culture rarely imagines they are doing.

We as Latinas are so incredibly diverse, we have so many faces and origins, so many stories to tell. I think it is time that mass culture reflects this.

To help fuel a new image, I will post short bios–with lots of links–about prominent (or emerging) writers and artists who are currently breaking the mold. Let us imagine a world where, when someone says “Latina” people think Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Ana Castillo, not just Jennifer Lopez, with or without her maid’s uniform. I’d love your help in spreading the word– share this post- tweet it, Facebook it, all of the above.

Today, in Imagínate 1, we highlight American Book award-winning writer Ana Castillo.

Ana Castillo is by no means an unknown name to those the literary world. She has managed to cross into the “mainstream” publishing novels, poetry and nonfiction works that seek to challenge our notions of not just Latinos and Latin culture, but our ideas about gender roles, sexuality, spirituality, family and culture.

Castillo began as a young activist in the 1970s, using poetry as a form of social protest. She says of that time: “Being of Mexican background, being Indian-looking, being a female, coming from a working-class background, and then becoming politicized in high school, that was my direction . . . I was a Chicana protest poet, a complete renegade–and I continue to write that way”

How then, did Castillo cross into the mainstream, becoming a widely-read author glowingly reviewed by media like the Los Angeles Times and acclaimed writers such as Barbara Kingsolver, Oscar Hijuelos and Luis Alberto Urrea? She is simply a beautifully moving writer, and the world noticed. She began winning such prestigious awards as National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (1990 and 1995), and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award in 1993 for her novel So Far from God (1993).

Castillo’s most recent novel is The Guardians. Says Booklist: “Castillo writes fiction and poetry of earthy sensuality, wry social commentary, and lyrical spiritualism that confront the cruel injustices accorded women and Mexicans in America, legal and otherwise….In this tightly coiled and powerful tale….At once shatteringly realistic and dramatically mystical, Castillo’s incandescent novel of suffering and love traces life’s movement toward the light even in the bleakest of places.”

Ana Castillo is one to watch, and one the Latina community can proudly hold out as a woman breaking boundaries, bringing important issues to the attention of many in an unforgettable, un-ignorable way.

Thinking about Latinas in Popular Culture

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

The fearless progressive crusaders at Latina Fatale, have had their hands full.

Their post, “Shame on Latina Magazine” struck a cord with people in cyberspace, and Latina Fatale is now dealing with a firestorm of site traffic in solidarity with the sentiments in the post, which called for protest against Latina Magazine‘s trumpeting of all the memorable times Latinas have played maids in Hollywood (in honor of the movie, The Help). 

Latina Fatale wrote:

It’s already bad enough that women of color, Latinas included, are relegated to stereotypical roles such as a maid. Now we have a magazine that is supposed to be targeting the Latina population acting like it’s a great thing that one actress played a maid role over 300 times?

How many lead roles have Latinas played? How often do hit movies feature Latinas in strong roles, as opposed to roles such as maids, gangsters, and other stereotypical roles? I can bet that Latinas play maid roles more often than not, because other roles are not offered to them.

I do believe it is problematic that Latinas are overwhelmingly shown in such stereotypical roles as maids and housekeepers in Hollywood and other media. What is problematic is that by and large, Hollywood and other outlets of popular culture simply cannot imagine Latinas in any other roles.

If it is not the maid or housekeeper role that we so often see in mass media, it is the sexy Latina– She is all breasts and hips, long dark hair and boy does she get fired up. Muy caliente. One of my favorite actresses, Salma Hayek, recently spoke about this image in her September Allure magazine interview. She said, “When I first started, I found that I had to play the part of something they could swallow in Hollywood, which was the sexy Latin girl, I was not dressing like that in Mexico.”

But can we re-imagine the Latina in popular culture? Can she be something more diverse, less stereotypical? More empowered?

In response to this clear problem in mainstream popular culture, I am beginning a new series on my blog called Imagínate, where we will do just this– encourage the re-imagining of the Latina image in American culture and media. We will begin by highlighting the work of female writers and artists who are breaking the mold. I want to raise the profile of women who are doing things that current popular culture rarely imagines they are doing.

We already have enough depictions of hard-working Latinas and women of color as domestic workers (could this be because there are so few women directors/writers in Hollywood?) So let’s turn the spotlight on other women working hard in other kinds careers. I welcome your suggestions as to who to profile, and encourage you to spread the word.

Something Necessary and Life-Giving

August 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

We can all use some words of inspiration, and maybe some perspective, here and there. As you’ll recall from my previous post about Brenda Ueland’s book, If You Want to Write, I promised to provide some of her words here, to encourage you in whatever creative (or non-creative, but passionate) pursuit you might be working on right now.  Here you go:

“There is something necessary and life-giving about “creative work” (forgive the term). A state of excitement. And it is like a faucet: Nothing comes out until you turn it on, and the more you turn it on, the more it comes.”

“We are all thoroughly materialistic about such things. ‘What’s the use?’ we say, of doing anything unless it makes money or gets applause? … Socrates and the Greeks decided that a man’s life should be devoted to ‘the tendance of the Soul’ and the Soul included intelligence, imagination, spirit, understanding and personality…”

“The mistake is to feel that the work, the effort, the search is not the important and exciting thing.”

Mexico Lindo

August 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

So often, my heart breaks for Mexico. I keep a keen eye out for news from there… one of my homes, a home of my heart, if not my physical home at the moment.

Today I read three stories concerning Mexico. One, from the New York Times, detailing a soccer game that was suspended due to gunfire. My heart sank as I read this. I thought of the final scene in the film, Traffic, where kids are playing baseball at night with lights. The message from that very well done Soderberg scene was that investing in infrastructure and in communities will help to stem the flow of drug violence and the power and lure of drug cartels.

The drug cartels are killing with impunity, more so than any time in history. That we know. But now, it seems that nothing is sacred. Not parks, not soccer games, not journalists, not foreigners, not children.

It is a dream, especially with the faltering economy here in the U.S., to think that this country could place a greater interest in Mexico at this time. Still, the second news story I read seemed to lend a bit more hope for a better relationship. Today, here in San Diego, people on both sides of the border are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Friendship Park on the U.S.-Mexico border, where then First Lady Pat Nixon reached her hand through the fence to greet residents of the other side.

Today there was “a cross-border salsa lesson, a bi-national music jam session, and testimonies from families who have used the park as a meeting place.” After 9/11 a triple layer border fence destroyed Friendship Park, but there are plans in the works to bring back this cross-border meeting space, without compromising security.

Serendipitously, I was researching writers to feature in Writing from the Margins for Her Circle Ezine, and I came across this speech by Meredith Tax about Mexican writer and feminist activist Lydia Cacho. Ms. Cacho was awarded the Ginetta Sagan prize by Amnesty International USA. Her struggle against censorship led to a change in Mexico’s federal law, decriminalizing defamation. Ms. Tax paints a very vivid picture of the ways the U.S. and Mexico are economically and politically entwined. Then, she closes her speech with a quote from Ms. Cacho, which captures my thoughts about Mexico today perfectly:

“It is impossible not to ask why, with these assembly plants that produce millions of dollars for owners of companies with foreign names, there is no investment in public works, there are no parks or gardens, or schools, only barren places, ready for sowing of garbage and death, surrounding the transnational buildings. Who cares about Juárez City? The abandonment of the streets reflects the abandonment of its people, the myopia of its governments, the death of its women and children, the solitude of the forgotten border.”

The solitude of the forgotten border. Her quote is found poetry. As much as I am passionate about free speech, removing barriers to the world’s receiving of the written voices of women and girls, I am also passionate that the U.S.-Mexico border and its pressing issues not be forgotten. All of these issues come together in Ms. Cacho’s story, and I am inspired. I want to know more, I want to do more.

Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in California Assembly

August 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Continuing our discussion on domestic workers, I want to call attention to the fact that a Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights (AB – 889) is currently pending in the California state assembly. The bill would expand labor protections for California domestic workers such as nannies, housekeepers and home health aides by extending those who must receive overtime pay, guaranteed sleeping time, five-day work weeks and meal breaks. The bill is in a Senate committee as of last week.

Photo: KQED Forum

Listen to a very informative discussion about the Bill’s pros and cons here. Proponents desire to protect the rights of vulnerable workers, whose rights are often trampled because their workplaces are so private and isolated from view. Opponents say that new measures that make the cost of in-home care more expensive would render such care unavailable to low-income seniors and people with disabilities. It is a very thorny, and complicated debate.

What are your thoughts?

19th Amendment was Ratified Today

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Courtesy of the Writers Almanac, with Garrison Keillor:

On this date in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. There had been strong opposition to woman suffrage since before the Constitution was drafted in the first place; people (mostly men) believed that women should not vote or hold office because they needed to be protected from the sordid world of politics. Abigail Adams asked her husband, John, to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors,” but to no avail.

A more organized woman suffrage movement arose in the 19th century, hand in hand with the abolitionist movement, and in July 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, demanding the right of women to have an equal say in their government if they were to be bound by its laws; attendees — women and men — signed the Declaration of Sentiments to show their support, although some later asked that their names be removed when they experienced the media backlash.

In the latter half of the 19th century, states began gradually loosening restrictions on voting rights for women. Wyoming was the first state to grant women the full right to vote, which it did when it gained statehood in 1890. The first national constitutional amendment was proposed in Congress in 1878, and in every Congress session after that. Finally, in 1919, it narrowly passed both houses of Congress and was sent to the states to be ratified. Most Southern states opposed the amendment, and on August 18, 1920, it all came down to Tennessee. The pro-amendment faction wore yellow roses in their lapels, and the “anti” faction wore red American Beauty roses. It was a close battle and the state legislature was tied 48 to 48. The decision came down to one vote: that of 24-year-old Harry Burn, the youngest state legislator. Proudly sporting a red rose, he cast his vote …in favor of ratification. He had been expected to vote against it, but he had in his pocket a note from his mother, which read: “Dear Son: Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification. Your Mother.”