Wednesday, May 17, 2017

You Deserve it Hermana: How the Sankofa Sisterhood Writer's Retreat Helped Me Find My Voice



Two years ago I was struggling to find my voice as a writer, struggling to validate my own truth as a writer though I have been writing since I was 7 years old--which is literally when I learned how to write. Then I heard about the First Annual Sankofa Sisterhood Writer's Retreat and it felt like a calling. A part of me knew that I had to go, why? I don't know completely. Maybe it was the Latina part of the title. Maybe it was the Sankofa part of the title and this idea of going back to our past to help us move forward. Maybe it was just this gut feeling that told me and tells us that we deserve to treat ourselves even when another part of us that sits in the back of our minds screams that we are unworthy.

I graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor's in Journalism and Media Studies in 2012. I had completed two internships, worked at the school newspaper, tv station and radio station, and took on leadership roles on campus, yet at that point I found that I still hadn't secured a job after graduation. A part of me that still believed in the American dream that got me to return to the US in 2006 told me that if I did everything right, if I was the perfect student, worker, daughter, everything, things would just work out. Yet the job writing as a journalist didn't come no matter how much I kept applying, after graduation I worked retail for several months before finding a job at a nonprofit.

As I struggled to really find my place and build platforms in a society where women of color are rejected, I wrote a piece on my blog that I still go back to titled, "No Place for Women in Journalism of Dissent". In this piece I wrote about my struggle being the only woman, sometimes only person of color, sometimes both in journalistic spaces either covering stories in the field for NY1, or working in an office setting during my internships. I ended this piece by writing "I am new to the field, and I bet there are some bad-ass Latinas out there writing some amazing stories and receiving tons of support from different websites and independent news sources. Women, sisters, if you really are out there, wait for me…I’ll be joining you soon."




Attending the First Annual Sankofa Sisterhood Writer's Retreat became one of the places where I found these fellow bad-ass Latinas who were killing it. At the retreat we had activities, we laughed, we cried. We discussed everything from the writing, what compels us to write, what is our voice and the importance of our voice, to the logistical aspects of writing like how to get published and how to not sell ourselves short as writers. Iyawó Alicia Anabel Santos calls herself the writing doula and she is, she helps you give birth to something that already lives inside of you. Months after the retreat, in December of that very year, I sent an email to those who donated to a campaign that I put together to pay for the costs of the retreat, which listed all of my accomplishments and milestones as a writer following this amazing weekend of building sisterhood and trust with others but also with ourselves and the different women that live in me/us:

I had a piece, the most popular so far in that year for my blog radicallatina.com, and got it republished on HuffPost Latino Voices (see it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-alcantara/my-story-why-we-need-to-stop-teaching-women-to-apologize_b_8799836.html)

I started doing #PoetryMondays on my Facebook page for Radical Latina (https://www.facebook.com/RadicalLatina/?fref=ts). My writing got published on Telesur, Remezcla, and Feministing. The writing for those news sources is journalistic with some crucial experiential narrative and it has been well received. And that year I also submitted, for the first time, an essay for consideration for an anthology.

The retreat also helped me overcome the little voice in the back of my head that tells me I'm not worthy because somehow, I knew I wanted it so bad that I had an Indiegogo campaign to fund the expenses for attending. It was embarrassing and I was ashamed but I did it anyway. I successfully raised $500 which covered the weekend and transportation. I had to give up and renounce that negative voice in order to realize that I'm so fucking worthy, and $500 is nothing and it sucks that as women of color we can't give that up so quickly. I'm not one to posit self-care as always being resistance when sometimes it is sold by larger corporations as a way of giving into the capitalist machine, but this is an investment in you and in the women who plan this retreat who also deserve to be well compensated. This isn't money going into a white-man owned organization, this is money being redirected to other hermanas behind the retreat, to serve the meals at the retreat, and to guests invited to facilitate workshops at the retreat.

Hermana, you deserve this retreat. The organizers deserve to have your voice there. You matter.

Now, two years later and with many more articles published, poems written and new pieces to myself, I can easily say that the retreat was essential in my path to finding my voice and confidence.

I'll leave you with this quote which I included in my IGG campaign before attending this retreat:

"Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger. I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you. To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispel the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit. To show that I can and that 1 will write, never mind their admonitions to the contrary. And I will write about the unmentionables, never mind the outraged gasp of the censor and the audience. Finally I write because I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing." Excerpt from "An Open Letter to Women Writers of Color by Gloria Anzaldúa"

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