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Blow Out

matos's picture

            I’d like to begin my paper be referring to something that was said in a previous class that’s been stuck in the back of my mind ever since.  I think it was in the class where we discussed foregrounding and the topic the dynamic between race issues and gender issues came up.  Someone said that they couldn’t, as a woman of color, focus on both at the same time, and that usually race issues came first and feminism faded to the background.

            At that time that comment struck me and I began to think about how my race and gender issues intertwine, or don’t.  I thought that I actually had a sort of similar view.  I’ve separated these two identities so that they take place in two different worlds.  I don’t see myself as “a woman of color”.   I’ve seen myself Puerto Rican and, separately, as a woman.  I’m Puerto Rican when I’m in the white world and a woman when I’m at home. 

            For me right now the “white world” consists of the Poconos, where I lived for the past five years, and Bryn Mawr.  And it’s only here that the fact that I’m Puerto Rican comes to the forefront as an issue and the fact that I’m a woman never seemed to come up.  It could be that gender issues don’t come up as much or that race issues just cast a larger shadow (it’s the latter).  Understandably so, the opposite occurs when I’m at home, with my family.  Of course there are no race issues when we’re all the same race but also I’m so immersed in my Puerto Rican-ness that it becomes how water is for sea creatures.  I’m so deep into it that I don’t even notice it’s there and I forget about it, it’s natural.  But it’s here where the expectations are put on me, way more strongly than anywhere else.  I have to cook and clean and serve the men dinner and listen to my mother tell me how much she wants grandchildren. 

            So, the reason why I’ve delved into these personal issues on this open forum, is to say that this the “project” or topic I’d like to work on, I guess personally, and learn more about.    I can’t focus on two major parts of my identity at once.  Is it the way I think or is it how people treat me?  At Bryn Mawr, do I hold on so tightly my ethnicity so tightly that there’s nothing else to see?  At home, is the label “one of Nelson’s girls” pushed on to me so much that it’s now how I identify myself? 

It shouldn’t be limited to just gender and race/ethnicity.  It’s more an expansion or closer look at the foregrounding issue, and putting it in terms of identity.  Everybody has different ways of identifying themselves but who can bring those identities together and how does being a woman fit it to other identifications.  Forget defining “feminism”, it is hard enough to define what it means to be “a woman”.  And then to throw other parts or yourself that you hold dear, it can become a mess.  

And that’s where I am right now, a bit of a mess and hopefully finding some order in the chaos that is “self-identification”. 


Anne Dalke's picture

how water is for sea creatures

So, matos, you describe here "the separation of your two identities so that they take place in two separate worlds," the sense of being like a sea creature that doesn't notice the water: there are (or rather, there SEEM to be) "no race issues when we're all the same race," as there are presumably also no gender issues when we're all the same gender. And yet your recognition that it's in the race water that gender expectations are put on you (and presumably, in the gender water that race expectations arise...)

...suggests that--despite the difficulty--you need to "focus on two major parts of your identity at once." So: how to do it?

As I wrote to another of your colleagues, who also produced a meditation, this weekend, on the intersection of race and gender in Puerto Rican communities...

in this country, perhaps the first and most articulate expression of a kind of feminism that refused to divide men from women--that refused to privilege gender over racial oppression--was Alice Walker's definition of womanism,
which "appreciated"women, but was "committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist … "

Since Walker wrote
In Search of our Mothers' Gardens (where the "womanish" word was first used and defined) there's been lots of work done on women and gender studies in Latin America; about the feminist history of Latin America; about feminism in Puerto Rico in particular. I'm thinking especially of Yamila Azize-Vargas's piece on "The Emergence of Feminism in Puerto Rico, 1870-1930," in the third edition of Vicki L. Ruiz and Ellen Carol DuBois' s 2000 collection, Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History.

Are those texts you'd like to explore? And/or do some ethnographic research, some interviews with women you know (or would like to know) who have found ways of combining the racial and gendered aspects of self in ways that might help you "find some order int he chaos that is 'self-identification'"?