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By Veronica Higareda
Creating community spaces for Latinas, where women can share “lo cotidiano” and analyze how we have seen sexism in our own families and communities, is a way of tackling internalized oppression. Maria Ada Isasi Diaz (1996) argues that we need to become agents of our own history, and become “self-defining and self-actualizing women (41).” Creating physical community spaces for Latinas is one step towards this.
The literal translation of lo cotidiano is “our everyday,” as in our everyday experiences. This notion of lo cotidiano opens up possibilities for feminist living and knowledge by reminding us that our stories, our narratives, our “everyday experiences,” and our lives as Latinas are frameworks that define our reality and the way we live our lives. It is through our day-to-day experiences that we shape our values, our struggles, and our ideals. Having community spaces where Latina women are able to talk about these experiences is key to our liberation.
Engaging in community spaces that are differently gendered is important. A space where only women, and specifically only Latina women, are able to speak and share our stories is crucial because our everyday experiences are very different from others. I am not saying that Latina women should only talk to Latina women. I, as a feminist, want liberation for all women, and for women and men to have equal access to political, social, and economic rights. However, there fails to be equal access, which makes it critical for Latina women to have their own space where other more privileged voices are not silencing them. Many Latina women do not have the same privileges that white women might have grown up with because whiteness protects white women from racial oppression. Latinas, however, have to negotiate complex oppressions because of our gender, race, ethnicity, and geopolitical location. These multiple oppressions give Latina women a different outlook on life. It is because of these everyday experiences—lo cotidiano—that Latinas need a space to support one another and develop strategies to combat this oppressive imperial system that attempts to silence us and separate us from each other.
There are thousands of stories of strong women, stories that deserve to be heard. Stories that evoke “reflective action” (62) and empower other women. We need more spaces like this in order to tackle the violent international structures that try to get us to internalize oppression. I write my own experiences with lo cotidiano, women, and oppression in an effort to show a modest example of how community spaces have helped me tackle my own internalized oppression. Creating community spaces is an opportunity for girls and women to “define our structures and not simply accept where we are placed (3).”
I grew up in Mexico, in a very machista community, and was raised by a single mother who suffered because of sexist ideologies. My mother was judged by the Catholic Church for having a divorce, and for raising my brother and me as a single parent. Her own family judged her because she “had failed as a woman.” She did not care about the criticism and decided to raise us on her own. I always saw my mother as the strongest woman on Earth while growing up. She not only cooked, cleaned, worked, paid all of the bills, and took care of us but she also somehow managed to take care of herself. She has this incredible gift of being able to hold the weight of the world on her shoulders with a smile on her face.
I grew up in a space where, because of my mother, I believed women to be strong, smart, and independent. My mother and my tias would sit in the kitchen table with me, while smoking a cigarette, and lecture me on how I should never depend on anybody, much less on a man to achieve my dreams. It is because I had these physical spaces where I was able to listen to other women that I was never one to easily accept the status quo, much less accept sexist remarks from other people.
It is because I heard other women’s experiences that when a boy was able to go out at night and I wasn’t, the reason “because he’s a boy” was never enough for me. In high school in Mexico, I would hear some girls say that their reason for going to college was “voy MMC.” Some girls use the term MMC to refer to “Mientras Me Caso”—I’ll go to college until I find someone I can marry. I am thankful that I found spaces in school where other girls and I would share our experiences as girls in a machista culture, empowering each other to pursue a career and refuse this internalized sexism.
These community spaces are what made me a feminist. To surround myself with women who do not tolerate oppressive views and to be offered a space of healing and debate. Where Latina women are able to talk about our experiences as women of color, and to remind ourselves that we are humans worthy of respect. This type of feminist community space for Latinas centers on empowering each other in order for us to become self-autonomous, and to encourage self-love, as well as to question the patriarchal system under which we still live.
I would like to point out that there is nothing wrong with being a woman who wants to get married, or who wants to be at home. The problem is when this is the only thing women believe they can do. Thinking that the only thing you are good at is being someone else’s wife. Thinking that you are not strong enough to find a career and support yourself. Thinking that women are made only for the kitchen and nothing else. Not divorcing someone because you are afraid to be a failure “as a woman.” These are all forms of internalized oppression.
I am privileged to have had these Latina community spaces in my life because they have helped me tackle constraining notions of womanhood and my own internalized oppression. Latina women need more of these spaces to “raise consciousness, and provide the opportunity to talk about one’s life, to give an account of it, to interpret it, which is integral to leading one’s life instead of being led through it (6).” Because community spaces enable Latinas to share our stories and examine how we can dismantle the prevailing and interconnected systems of oppression in our society, we are creating radical change within each and every one of us, and thus, radical systemic change. Tackling internalized oppression through Latina community spaces is a sustainable way of social change. I encourage other Latinas to share their personal narratives, and together we can create community spaces for us to continue in la lucha.
Vero Higareda is a senior at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Mexican-American studies with a minor in Religious Studies. After having lived eighteen years in Mexico, she came back to the United States and became a social justice activist. Vero has held numerous leadership positions, such as President of the Texas Freedom Network, Fellow of Young People For, Committee Member at Advocates for Youth, and has done volunteer work abroad in India and Ecuador. Vero is an advocate for intersectional feminism and writes about the implementation of community spaces for Latina women in the United States.