A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Monday, November 26, 2018

Q & A on Las Hermanas Mirabal, Feminism in Dominican Republic for #DíaInternacionaldelaNoViolenciaContraLaMujer

Source: Wikimedia. 

Last Sunday November 25th, was el Día Internacional de la No Violencia Contra La Mujer (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women). For the ocasion a publication in Turkey titled Birgun reached out to me for a a Q & A on the Mirabal Sisters and their legacy. You can view the original piece here.

Still, since that piece is in Turkish, here is the original Q and A in English:

Could you please tell us briefly about the living conditions of women and girls in The Dominican Republic?

Dominican Republic is a developing country suffering from the legacy of colonialism, yet like any other place, people of all different classes live there, although the majority of the population is poor. Women and girls in Dominican Republic suffer the brunt of wage disparities in the country, and their rights are constantly limited. Furthermore racism (a global issue and the direct result of a history of oppression and colonial past) within the Dominican Republic and it’s diaspora means that Afro-Dominican women and girls are taught to value whiteness, affecting our self-esteem.

 Also, cases of traffic of young girls are commonplace in Dominican Republic, especially as a result sex tourism. Overall, women in Dominican Republic don’t have many means or opportunities to support themselves, even though they go to college at higher rates than men. A 2017 study shows that though more women are enrolled at universities in the country, women with degrees work at 66.3% rate vs. 81.3% for men. 

Lastly, the public perception of women and girls in Dominican Republic hasn’t shifted despite feminist efforts. In the country women are hypersexualized and valued mostly for their ability to be “good wives” and sustain family values. 

]What are the legacies left by Mirabal sisters to the Dominican Republic and The Whole world?

To be honest, it’s hard to gauge their legacy in the country without visiting and recognizing the symbols there dedicated to them. I wrote about it on my blog, saying that they’re part of a history that we still live and breath in the country with monuments and murals dedicated to them and their name being constantly invoked both in protests and by established institutions. 

The Mirabal sisters (Minerva, Patria, and María Teresa) were murdered by the regime of the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo after they stood up against him. It is believed that the outrage following their assassination is what led to the movement that eventually ended with his murder, particularly because they came from a well-known family. 

They were part of the group also led by Manolo Tavárez Justo, Minerva’s husband, who later were vital in a leftist fight in Dominican Republic in the early 1960’s. The group became known as El Movimiento 14 de Junio, though at the time of their death it didn’t have that name. Today, Minou Tavárez Mirabal, Minerva’s daughter, is involved in government and ran for President in 2016 though her likelihood to win was minimal. 

Today, they are still hailed in the country as symbols of resistance and of women’s power and strength. In schools, young girls are taught about the Mirabal sisters. The Mirabal sisters are probably the strongest feminist symbol in the Dominican Republic.

And beyond the country, they have become a symbol across the globe of women’s resistance and of feminism, especially after the UN named November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I’m always amazed at how far their reach is; I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina where a small group of feminist women call themselves “Las Mariposas” in their honor.

]How is the current struggle of women in Dominican Republic?

The feminist movement right now in Dominican Republic is struggling against the increasing number of femicidios committed against women and girls, and for abortion rights. 

Last year, the case of Emely Peguero particularly caught the national eye. She was a 14-year-old murdered by her boyfriend, who’s mother is a local politician. The fight for justice in the case of Emely became prominent and brought out thousands of people in protest because it paralleled a fight against corruption called “La Marcha Verde.”

Between 2003 and 2017, 1,247 cases of murder against women were reported. Just this year, there have been 6,012 complaints of gender violence, and an average of 8 women have been killed per month. When it comes to the LGBTQ community, 38 transwomen were murdered between 2006 and June of 2017.

When it comes to abortion, it is illegal under all circumstances, and feminists are fighting just for the minimum which is the right to abortion in three cases: when the life of the woman is in danger, when the pregnancy is the result of rape, and fetal infeasibility.

What is your message for the November 25? What kind of reactions should be shown for a better world for women and girls under these conditions?

One of the darkest aspects of machismo and patriarchy is the narratives surrounding violence against women. Gendered violence, and even women’s deaths at that the hands of a partner is often blamed on women ourselves: we’re taught that we were asking for it, that we invited the violence, that men can’t help themselves. First of all, the very fabric of our society that promotes messages like “men can’t help themselves” “women are weak”, needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with one that undoes not only strict gender norms but also the effects of colonization in places like Dominican Republic. Also, Institutions that protect patriarchy cannot then turn around and hail women like Las Hermanas Mirabal as a means to promote patriotic symbol, patriotism itself is often rife with machismo. 

My message is that the fight must continue —la lucha sigue— and yet this fight cannot solely rest on the shoulders of women. A narrative that shifts the perception of women and girls needs to be promoted worldwide, one where women are hailed as equal but also as powerful. Girls and women need to be protected, and the #metoo movement has also shown that we need to be believed.

We are light, strength, and for women of color, our capacity to resist even under the oppressive circumstances of racism and sexism is astounding...I can only imagine what we can achieve when we’re respected, celebrated and valued. #NiUnaMenos 
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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Rainy days make me think about our mortality

Rainy days make me think about our mortality. 

When I was on the subway today a man got on and started singing that song that goes “piensa en mi, llora por mi, llámame a mi no lo llames a el." It was so moving. I always regret not having cash when that happens. 

I pictured the days when I cared about that stuff. When I was seeing two guys, trying to decide on who to pick, and it felt like the end of the world to pick the wrong one. This was in high school. College. 

3 years ago. 

Love pains never end. I pictured the future. Maybe I’ll have a daughter who will become a teenager and go through that and withhold it from me. 

Wow. Parents do think of us as an extension of them. 

I suddenly wish I could've savored those moments even more. Is there anything more passionate than begging for someone’s love as we try to make sense of the void within us? 

It’s raining outside. So yes I’m thinking about death and grayness. 

Yes. That feeling does happen again when we lose those we fought so hard to love. 

How tragic. 

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

unmothered: how I mother myself

When i'm feeling incapable and imposter syndrome is planting a seed in my head that I'm insignificant, there is no one that i can turn to to lift me up.

incapable. imposter syndrome. insignificant.

All negations of the self.

i remember on days like this that i'm unmothered. And i have a mother and talk to her and she's alive and well and she is my mother. But she's not up to the task of reaffirming me but rather denying me when i come with feelings that are anything less than perfect.

and i would hope the resentment will go away but then

 incapable, imposter, insignificant come back.

So where do i turn when these feelings return that I'm incapable, insignificant, and imposter?

Sometimes i think it'll get easier, you know.

I have days that are magical where I recognize me. And I had one moment where I realized after years of teaching myself it and being taught it but really you can only teach it to yourself, that I'm a goddess which is why a mother in the form of an already known and praised deity like Yemayá or Oshún or Santa Marta whomever is supposed to be assigned to me as an afrodiasporic so-called mulata caribeña keseyoke person never claimed me. (I wonder where do I apply to become praised by the humans after I die? How does that work? Devils are probably souls who's applications got rejected and they escape and come to earth anyway and only underground cults praise them.) Praise or no praise, I praise me. I am a goddess. And not on some inspiring this is supposed to make you feel better way. For real. I am a goddess, and when I close my eyes and allow myself peace I can come in conversation with myself. In me, in my decisions, is all the answers I'll need.

I have days where I'm in touch with this me. And I skip down the street. And no man's piropo and no bad worldly news can take that light from me.

Then there's days like today where i crave someone to walk me back to that path, to cradle me back to life. Where i wish they'd tell me i'm okay, everything is going to be okay, and for me to believe it because in their arms it's just true.

Sometimes i searched for that in a man. in friends. in healers who were healers and not my mom.

incapable. imposter. insignificant.

like something that's beneath what is real. below or under isn't the word cuz that which is under is real. instead it's like i am ______

Sometimes I remember I am synonymous with a whole god (y no godess cuz I ain't less and cuz I'm not an afterthought) meaning god is amanda and amanda is god and if someone wants to say they're a god they can say they're an amanda and that works too and i can say im them cuz they're them and me and all of us too. but above all my type of amanda is amanda.

and then there's days like today where i want to die all over again, and i can only look forward to just resting in,

and birthing myself every morning.

and I remember am my own mom and that's how I mother myself.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Black Latina Owned Bookstore in Brooklyn Challenges Gentrification & Stereotypes About Who Reads

By Amanda Alcantara

Cafe Con Libros. Photo by Amanda Alcantara

I recently wrote a profile over at BESE about Café Con Libros, a new feminist bookstore. With the bookstore owner's blessings, I wanted to share this follow up with other very important and key thoughts about the bookstore.

When Kalima DeSuze decided to open up Café con libros, she was taken aback by the amount of people who said a space like that wouldn’t make it. “Before I decided to make this move, people were telling me ‘no’ ‘no one reads books’, ‘no one is going to be reading feminist books.'" People told her that if she used the word “feminist” no one would come. And yet Kalima stood her ground and decided to push against all negativity and barriers to proceed with her mission to create the space.

Café Con Libros's inauguration was in December of 2017, in a location very close to where DeSuze grew up. It is painted in white, with large windows that give the small space a lot of light, creating a balance between intimacy and safety, yet openness. A nod to her Panamanian roots, the store’s name comes after a tradición that Latinx families know too well. 

“The purpose of the space is to build community and the way that I know my community builds is sitting around with a cup of coffee, and piece a bread and dipping it in the coffee—that can happen all day long” she says, adding that her intention was also to create a space that was family-oriented and open to children. 

DeSuze holds a full-time position at the Silberman School of Social Work at the City University of New York.  I wrote at BESE "She is also an activist who identifies as black feminist and likes to write. Café Con Libros is a reflection of all of that, building on DeSuze’s identification and politics as well as what she saw was missing for women like her". 

Café Con Libros also has a selection of children's books. Photos: Amanda Alcanatara

“I do identify as Afrolatina and I will say that, more so the African part plays into it". For DeSuze, there is a lack of narratives that center AfroLatinas, so she often gravitated towards black feminist thought, which was nonetheless powerful. Writers like bell hooks taught her about the importance of community and accountability. There is indeed a lack of narratives for AfroLatinas that are supported by the mainstream, many writers like Josefina Baez, Nelly Rosario, Mayra Santos Febres and others either choose to publish independently or are not given the wide recognition they deserve within Latinx communities. 

The bookstore is also reflective of DeSuze’s experiences as an army veteran. The U.S. army has waged wars worldwide, and also right within its own headquarters when it comes to the treatment of women. Her politics were shaped by her time being in the army and the struggles that she faced as a woman there. She says that while this time made her strong, it also emboldened her feminist resolute. 

 I became even more aware of the meaning and thereby the dangers of being a woman in a male/masculine dominated environment”, she says. “So much of my sexuality and femininity was stunted for quite a while out of fear for my safety and/or reputation which was easily damaged in such close quarters.” Having served seven years, JAG Corps, she said she had to toughen up in ways in which she didn’t need to prior to serving.

Over at BESE I wrote "As an AfroLatina, Kalima represents an intersection where many of us live: Black race and Latina ethnicity. And often times we are a bridge between these two communities, whether it is a chosen responsibility or not". Café Con Libros is a space where being AfroLatina is represented in its wholeness, as opposed to two identities that too many still cannot fathom actually exist as a whole. The selection of books is representative of the intersection between Black and Latinx, with children’s bilingual books as well as books by both Black and Latina feminists, like Zadie Smith and Gloria Anzaldúa. DeSuze also carefully curated a playlist that can quickly go from latest songs like Finesse by Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B, to Lauryn Hill’s 90s album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. 

Yet obtaining the tools to open the store itself was not easy. DeSuze co-runs the bookstore with her husband, as well as some other workers. Sometimes people believe that her husband, who is black, must be married to a white woman when he introduces the store to them and says that it was his wife who opened it.

DeSuze co-runs the bookstore with her husband, pictured here.

“It remains this prevalent stereotype that either black people don’t read” She told me with some frustration in her voice, “First of all they’re not even thinking AfroLatina—[it remains a stereotype] that black people don’t read, that black people can’t create beautiful things and beautiful spaces, and what they say is true sometimes, that black people don’t have enough money to do it, and yes we are red-lined from bank loans in terms of trying to do the things that we want to do.” 

For DeSuze the stereotype is hurtful. She has taken to decorating the space with thoughtfulness and an attention to detail that is a testament to our people’s creativity. The space is surrounded by bookshelves with carefully displayed diverse books. The walls that don’t have bookshelves, are decorated with temporary exhibits. 

Café con Libros is like a bigger version of the nooks that bookworms would love to have at home, though so many of us from low-income communities of color cannot afford it or aren’t able to access these kinds of spaces.  

These ideas that bookstores for black and brown people and by black and brown people can’t exist in our communities is often times not only an outcome of systemic oppression, but also a direct result of repression. Recently an article in The Atlantic highlighted how at the height of the Black Power movement, the FBI targeted black owned bookstores. The article states that FBI director Edward J Hoover sent the following order “locate and identify black extremist and/or African-type bookstores in its territory and open separate discreet investigations on each to determine if it is extremist in nature.” Recently, #BlackLivesMatter activists were also persecuted and deemed "extremists." DeSuze believes that in a capitalist society, survival of the fittest is promoted, and she is building an intentional space in a present time when communities of color are continuously under attack, and where an educational space that centers our stories is necessary.

For DeSuze, Café Con Libros is indeed a political space, one that is gives women of color writers a platform by centering them, and one where the community can connect and share thoughts. In a time when Brooklyn is being gentrified, DeSuze is hopeful that the space can connect local residents. 

In this day and time where folks need a space for conversation, I'm hoping that this space allows for those conversation” she says, “Not everyone moving in are bad people, a lot of activists [who are moving in] are my friends, organizing in the community for years, so I want people who are upset and mad to meet those white identified people."

The question of gentrification for DeSuze is a personal one, and to her, Café Con Libros is a result of her own love for the community and her own family’s traditions. When speaking about the building where she grew up, she says “The folks in that building were immigrants and just coming from their countries, and relied on one another” she passionately continued, “We fed each other, we shared clothes, and so this is me, coming back and creating a space in the community that made me…because my family owned restaurants and small bodegas in our community, our Panamanian community.”

Photo: Amanda Alcantara

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