The Things We Carry

They rarely think about us.

Balancing books braced over our backs, but what they lack in understanding is that these treasure troves of theory and thought sometimes feel like anvils. At last, Atlas shares his burden.

We carry the world on our shoulders. Holding up the lands of our mothers that have been stripped bare, and we are painfully too aware of our country built on those ruins. I’d say we were the chosen ones. That this was a destiny the gods bestowed and now we owed the heavens for this opportunity to be heroes. I mean, I have always wanted to fly.

But our radioactive spiders and Gamma rays took the form of days spent wishing that it all bounced off our steel chests, but instead we were made to feel. And somehow we are faulted for emotion, the ocean that rises when each of us sympathizes with someone else.

We take up the mantle anyway. Refusing capes and unwilling to fake who we really are.

We learned early that the world does not provide balm for the scars that it leaves. We protect culture and carry it in our speech and dress, the double takes and long glances fueling confident gaits and high-held heads.

We are champions of the voiceless, in armor of ethically sourced, sweat-free steel. We fight with swords, spears, standards, smear-proof lipstick in one hand and a cup of Caribou in the other. We are gritty and soft and beauty and brawn and sometimes we’re just straight up tired.

Sometimes it can feel like too much. The struggle to keep up with the rush can be such a drain. We have it ingrained in us to continue the race because the finish line moves further away each day. It’d be easier to sit down and accept, but we hold each other, embolden each other, leading the charge on the days when one of us simply can’t. We return the favor and with this love and fervor, our hearts beat all who oppose and oppress. And that is the best reward.

 

 

thumbnail_147Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele. 

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#UniteCloud in the Wake of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Part 2:

Non-Latinx people, especially white folks, even if they’re queer and/or trans, need to know that we are not all Orlando because we all do not share these same experiences with violence that members of this particular community do, and that’s really important to understand. As Tatum says in “The Complexity of Identity,” “The task of resisting our own oppression does not relieve us of the responsibility of acknowledging our complicity in the oppression of others.” That is why non-Latinx, but especially white queers and trans folks cannot go around acting like “This could have just as easily been me!” We definitely experience violence, but not nearly at the same rates or in the same form that queer and trans people of color do. White queer and trans people still have white privilege and are totally capable of perpetuating racism and white supremacy. We are not somehow not white privileged anymore because of our queerness or transness. We are simultaneously privileged and oppressed (at least in these specific ways), so we cannot carry on pretending that this could have just likely been a massacre of white people or completely erase the racial/ethnic aspects of this hate crime altogether in the name of utterly useless and actively harmful “color blindness,” which I’m sorry to say to all of the so-called whites for equality out there, isn’t fucking real. It’s just irresponsible.

Speaking more about social responsibility and acknowledging our oppression of others, we must not allow the violent actions of this one Muslim man speak for an entire worldwide community of Muslims. Islamophobia was already horrendous in the United States following the terrorist attack on the twin towers back on September 11, 2001, but now in this post 9/11 world with our worsening political climate before and after this most recent election, Islamophobia and hate crimes against perceived Muslims has been on the rise and putting Muslims in serious danger. Even if Omar Mateen identified as an Islamic extremist, we must recognize that Islamic extremists only account for a very small fraction of a percentage of the worldwide population and are not any more violent as people from other religious groups, like Christians, but violence perpetuated by white Christians are never labeled as terrorism or attributed to the zealous religious affiliations of the attacker. We as queer and trans people especially have, and must continue to be outspoken against Islamophobia, and make it abundantly clear that we refuse hateful violence against us to be used as justification for more bigoted, hateful violence against other groups (though there are plenty of people who are Muslim and queer and/or trans). We must fervently denounce these divisionary and Islamophobic tactics and instead be grateful for all of our queer and trans Muslims as well as Muslim allies to the LGBTQ+ community.

Now after analyzing the violence and aftermath of implications, I shall return to the post from #UniteCloud. It’s short and sweet, and I think they did a nice job of highlighting people’s feelings after such a tragedy took place and also does a great job of combating Islamophobia with a nice little quote from Haji Yusuf calling for solidarity between Muslims and LGBTQ+ folks (though like I said before, you can definitely be both). And then Natalie offers a message that LGBTQ+ folks matter every day, not just when such a tragedy takes place, and that we must listen and take care of each other.

In summation I think the brief blog post provides a pretty good synthesis of the event, I only wish there was more analysis like the one I have provided here. They didn’t use the problematic #WeAreAllOrlando either, so that’s a definite plus! I appreciate some of the community recognizing that what #UniteCloud has done and will continue to do as grassroots activism is the best, though our politics definitely differ (they supporting neoliberalism, whilst I am more radical). Community activism for the win!

 

Image: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/06/12/three-horrific-hours-orlando-nightclub-massacre/85788574/

 

 

andy-blog-photoRuth Sybil Virginia May is a junior undergraduate student at St. Cloud State University, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film Studies. Ruth is a genderqueer trans woman from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes. 

#UniteCloud in the Wake of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting 

Part 1:

Last semester, Natalie Ringsmuth, Executive Director of the local grassroots activist group, #UniteCloud, joined my class to talk about some of the work of #UniteCloud within their overarching goal of actively participating in the end of marginalization of all of our community members. After such meeting, I read a blog from their website and incorporated what we’ve learned through class discussions to analyze said post to better understand systems of oppression.

I read a post from #UniteCloud’s website titled “Orlando, You are Not Alone” about a community gathering that occurred following the massacre that took place at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida this past June. The purpose of the gathering was to honor the lives lost as a result of this hate crime that motivated mass murder, and to come together as a St. Cloud community to show that they care about our LGBTQ+ community members. In order to understand this community gathering, we must understand the murders themselves.

According to an article from NPR titled “3 Hours in Orlando: Piecing Together an Attack and its Aftermath,” on June 12, 2016, an armed gunman named Omar Mateen entered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and slaughtered 49 innocent people. But these people were not coincidental targets. Mateen planned to massacre the people at the Pulse Orlando Nightclub because it was a known queer bar, and the night Mateen planned his attack coincided with a Latin themed night, where the majority of the attendees and grand majority of the victims of this heinous hate crime were queer Latinx people. This type of mortal, violent outburst on Mateen’s behalf was a textbook definition of mass systematic violence. The victims and those traumatized by the attack were specifically targeted as queer and trans Latinxs and for no other reason other than their belonging to these marginalized groups.

However, I find it important to contextualize that although this hyper form of mass violence is not common on a daily basis, violence against queer and trans Latinxs individually and in smaller groups is an extremely common occurrence, most especially felt by Latinx trans women and trans feminine people. Violence against queer and trans Latinxs is nothing new, and is in fact extremely prevalent when you listen to the voices and stories of these people and their everyday experiences at the intersections of racism, heterosexism, and cissexism. Even if certain members of this community are not experiencing direct physical assault, just the looming vulnerability is enough to be demoralizing and induce suffering and unhappiness. Young says that, “The oppression of violence consists not only in direct victimization, but in the daily knowledge shared by all members of oppressed groups that they are liable to violation, solely on account of their group identity.” Queer and trans Latinxs are certainly hyperaware of their marginalization and vulnerability to violence. It is our social responsibility, especially as white folks, to not talk about this tragedy as if it were an isolated and erratic occurrence, but an act of systematic racist, heterosexist, and cissexist violence that has been occurring for hundreds of years, thanks to colonization.

Shortly following the aftermath of this tragedy, people from around the globe, but especially Americans, started using the hashtag, #WeAreAllOrlando as a way to show support and solidarity with those most impacted by the attack. While very well intentioned and seemingly harmless to some, after listening to queer and trans Latinx activists, it became quite clear that, in fact, we are not all Orlando. Community leaders like the wonderful Jennicet Gutierrez were outspoken about this and refused to let this massive hate crime be whitewashed.

Whitewashing happens when other factors, like race and ethnicity, are not taken into account, unreported, or completely omitted from conversations and public discourse surrounding the massacre. Everyone, but especially white queer and trans folks have the responsibility to not erase the fact that the people targeted in this attack were almost exclusively (if not exclusively) people of color, namely Latinx people. It is a dishonor to these people who survived and didn’t survive the attack to gloss over this crucial bit of intersectionality; if we really want to understand what provoked this violence and listen to queer and trans Latinxs to find ways to best prevent more violence from continuously occurring.

Image: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/06/12/three-horrific-hours-orlando-nightclub-massacre/85788574/

 

…Stay tuned for Part 2, coming on Thursday…

andy-blog-photoRuth Sybil Virginia May is a junior undergraduate student at St. Cloud State University, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film Studies. Ruth is a genderqueer trans woman from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes. 

The Filling, the Overflowing, and the Emptiness

On November 23rd of this year, I had the honor of being appointed to the Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet of Minnesota.

The Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet brings together nonprofits, businesses, and government to improve equity in outcomes for young women in Minnesota who experience the greatest disparities.

This cabinet has been a work in progress for years, but nowhere would approve it until Minnesota. It wasn’t approved until Minnesota because no government officials were on board until Governor Dayton. As soon as the idea was pitched to him, he was on board!

If our action plan works, this cabinet will be starting in many other states as well and for those of us in the cabinet, we will be a part of history.

There are about twenty five women on this cabinet, ranging from ages of 16 to 24 who are working with me to create an action plan to strengthen services and areas that are already working for women in Minnesota.

It is seldom I feel proud of myself but being appointed to this cabinet is one of those moments. My voice didn’t seem important until now.

But getting appointed to this cabinet a few short weeks after the election was conflicting for me in many ways.

Being a part of this cabinet was the hope that I needed in humanity and in the world I live in.

There’s a phrase that says ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’ and the election had me feeling as if my cup had run permanently dry.

After a few weeks of feeling absolutely empty post-election and then getting to be a part of this cabinet, it felt like the cup I pour from was overflowing.

But how does one keep faith in the work they’re doing when the world at large is actively working against them?

I have always believed in people and that they hold the power.

To maintain my full cup, I needed to be a part of this cabinet working to create change in a world that so desperately needs it.

At the first cabinet meeting, we each spoke about what made us decide to apply for a position on the cabinet. As each woman went around the room sharing what brought them to this cabinet, I had hope in the people around me and faith in the fact that people still care.

Each woman that spoke has known various forms of struggles and disparities. Each of the women has the desire to create a better world for all the people in it. Their passions ranged from healthcare disparities to racial profiling and beyond. Even though we all had different issues that brought us to this cabinet, we were a room full of people who cared. The amount of empathy and passion in that room was enough to empower anyone.

It was everything I needed to hear. Being in a room so filled with passion, I felt my cup overflow.

And I recommend becoming a part of something to everyone who is feeling their cup has run dry.

Be engaged.

Surround yourself with people who care and have passion to create change like you do because you are not alone. You are not the only one who feels empathy for others or has a desire to change the way that our world is going. And there is nothing more than to fill your cup up with hope.

Hope in the people around you.

There are more of us out here fighting for good than you think.

So my advice is to do whatever you can to find people like this because they do exist.

And people have the power.

We just forget that.

 

 

grace-espinozas-blog-pictureGrace Espinoza is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, majoring in Social Work. Grace works at the Women’s Center and the American Indian Center on campus. Grace is a straight, Mexican Portuguese/white woman with a passion for social justice, feminism, and poetry. She has been a published poet several times beginning in the seventh grade and is honored to contribute to Collective Feminism. 

 

The Concert of Fiction and Feminism

I always wanted to make a career out of writing but never journalism. Writing things in a way that I had to completely detach myself was never appealing. It never made sense. I see writing as something intrinsically personal, to the person writing and to the person reading. Something that always seemed exempt from that level of importance is fiction.

The stories that have any semblance of meaning are those that are rooted in experience, rooted in the Truth that the author has found for themselves. There’s always a call, especially, for marginalized groups to tell their stories.  The call almost becomes an obligation when your people (be it people of color, of the LGBTQIA+ community, etc.) are all but absent in the sphere of literature. These stories become sources of inspiration, and I never got my hands on a memoir or something that could be comparable to my lived experience until I read The Joy Luck Club my sophomore year of high school. I didn’t feel a strong connection to the stories and even resented them and their depictions of Asian Americans. Of course, my feelings changed with age and understanding. However, from the beginning of my jaunt into literature I found I could always rely on the inspiration in fiction.

Fiction acted as what I call a gateway into the vast world of feminism instead of what some people may seem as escapism from the harsh reality of violence. Harry of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter arguably endured an abusive home life with his aunt and uncle forcing him to cook meals, only giving him the burnt scraps to eat while his cousin relentlessly bullied him. This is the reality that many children face in their daily lives and while reading about how Harry is then whisked away to a magical boarding school may seem like the very definition of escapism, the reader is simultaneously thrust into a world where there is a registry for witches and wizards based on their bloodline and a powerful figure is fighting for the eradication of those who aren’t pureblood. The series is fraught with corrupt politicians, an underground resistance movement, and culminates in a battle for freedom from this oppressive power. These young students take it upon themselves to lead the charge against what they know to be wrong, an example diffused to many children who are now old enough to lead the charge against the oppressive regimes seen in today’s society.

In children’s’ and YA fantasy novels, there is also always a clear celebration of the different. The different, in the world of reality, is a distinction that leads to ridicule and danger. Rick Riordan noticed this in his son who was constantly bullied for his ADHD and Dyslexia. Riordan started to tell his son stories of how this difference was a strength. His famous Percy Jackson and the Olympians series shows those very attributes as the marks of demigods. Heroes. Riordan doesn’t stop there. He has written openly gay, black, latina, Asian, Muslim and, lately, a transgender character. These representations have opened conversations on diversity in YA literature.

Living with ADHD, Dyslexia, and abuse in the home are realities that feed into the lived Truth that is so important to feminist work and feminist writing. The setting of these truths, in a magical boarding school or Greek monster infested Manhattan, do not diminish the effect that they have in empowerment and beginning conversations of the celebration and power of difference. In fact, it puts these discussions in language that act as good introductions to feminist thought and language that may be missing from common discourse.

The validity of fiction as a source of inspiration and feminist thought is on the same level as that of stories that are truer to reality. In childhood and adolescence, they teach moral nuances and often start to help develop an understanding of the surrounding world; its injustices, its diversity, how they interact and how they influence each other. It is fantastical case study with the potential to reach past the pages. The concert of fiction and feminism is the concert of theory and practice.

 

 

thumbnail_147Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele. 

Free to be Me: Growing Up Multiracial in America

“What are you exactly?”

Ahh. The all too familiar question I receive either from complete strangers or from friends who finally feel like they’ve known me long enough to ask. To answer that exact question, I’m just like everyone else. I’m human! But I’ve learned that when someone asks me this, I should assume they are asking about my ethnic background. And even though most don’t mean anything offensive by that poor choice of wording, it still makes me feel like I’m the other or that they’re trying to fit me in one box. To answer the intended question, my mom is part Mexican and part Spaniard while my dad is Khmer (Cambodian) and Chinese.

As if growing up wasn’t confusing enough, I was also constantly battling how I identified myself. There would be phases of my childhood when I was ashamed to be Hispanic and fully embraced my Asian side. Then there were times when I despised the Asian side of me and claimed only the Hispanic part. It’s alright feeling like you identify as one more than the other(s), but that wasn’t my problem. My problem was that I was always hating part of who I knew I already was.  As someone who moved to a small town in Minnesota with a predominantly white population from a diverse area of Houston, Texas, I faced different challenges depending on where I was.

When growing up in Houston, it was always the struggle of being enough of my ethnicities. I was either not a real Mexican because I wasn’t a full one or because I didn’t speak Spanish. I would go home and watch a lot of Mexican novelas on Univision just so I could fit in and prove I was Mexican to my classmates. And sometimes I was told I wasn’t Asian enough because I didn’t speak Khmer or get the top grade in math. No matter where I was or who I was with, I was an outsider.

When I moved with my mother and older sister to rural Minnesota, it was a different situation. This time instead of trying to be enough Hispanic or enough Asian, I was spending all my energy to abandon both identities and be white. In my mind, to be white in small town, Minnesota was to be accepted. It seemed to be working because I was getting invited to sleepovers, parties, and people were even coming to mybirthday parties. But it was still there. The racial remarks were still there. Although not directed at me, they could sometimes tell that it made me uncomfortable. They would then turn to me and say “Oh, but you’re not a fullAsian (or Hispanic), so it doesn’t apply to you!”

So I resorted to smiling and laughing along with them. I chose not to make a scene out of fear of rejection and I just took it. I felt the intense need to fit in. And it wasn’t long until being multiracial was used against me. When I got the top score in the grade for the state writing test, I was told that an Asian must have graded my paper. I was laughed at when I brought homemade salsa and fresh tamales to a potluck because my “Hispanic side was coming out.” No matter how hard I tried to be white, I was always reminded that I wasn’t. I was different. In a small school with the majority being white, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Soon enough, I started getting tired of hiding who I was. I realized that I was only fooling myself and I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin. I started taking pride in standing out. I am different and that is a good thing. Sure, I won’t always have the most pleasant experience when my race is brought up in conversations, but that’s not my problem. Other times people are just genuinely curious and want to learn more about something they’ve never known about before. Instead of trying to cover who I am or putting too much effort in being something instead of the other, I’ve learned to embrace who I am and share it with other people – regardless of how they choose to take it.

As I was discovering my inner feminist during junior year of high school, I was also finding joy in myself and the importance of intersectionality in feminism. The moment I chose to embrace every aspect of myself, I felt free. I’m not some quiet, submissive Asian you heard about on TV or lazy Hispanic. I’m not a pile of stereotypes. I’m unique.  I no longer felt the need to hide the fact that I am Asian or Hispanic. I finally felt free to watch anime without being ashamed, eat tamales every Christmas, talk Spanglish at random times, grab the chopsticks instead of a fork, listen to Marco Antonio Solis or RBD, get good grades, talk obnoxiously loud, not be ashamed whenever my mom is talking in Spanish in public (or dad talking in Khmer), and let my dark, thick, curly hair flow freely. I’m grateful because I am free to be me. I was always free to be me.

Photo: http://aas340olspring2013.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-identity-crisis-of-multiracial.html 

Mardon Ellen SoMardon Ellen So is a third year undergraduate student. She is majoring in Sociology and is on a Pre-Physical Therapy track. Mardon enjoys talking about social justice, intersectional feminism, health, running, and life itself. When she’s not studying or working Mardon can be found running, listening to music, singing confidently bad in the shower, reading articles and books, volunteering, or eating. She’s essentially a human being just being. 

But It Doesn’t Add Up

As I am sitting in my Social Work classes taking notes on what it means to be an advocate for social justice, I have to stifle an ironic laugh.

Here I am taking notes on how to advocate for social justice when I should be out there actually fighting for it.

Every day, I wake up and see another executive order passed and it makes it that much harder to drag myself out of bed for classes.

The world needs us, but we’re here taking notes on how we can create change.

What it means to advocate for social justice cannot be understood in the classroom.

Notes are not real life and the classroom is not how the real world works either.

So when you ask me to write about what social justice looks like in my notebook, I am dreaming of throwing this notebook out the fucking window.

Social justice doesn’t have anything to do with sitting in a classroom talking about what social justice could be.

Social justice is getting out into your community and working to create change there. It is starting person to person to eventually create a cultural shift.

Social justice is showing up when the fights are not just about you or showing up for people who don’t want you to.

Fighting for social justice looks like a thousand things, but it will never start while we’re trapped in classrooms.  Here we are stuck in classrooms talking about what we could be doing without doing anything at all.

So how does this add up?

How do we navigate our responsibilities as students, employees, etc. while still showing up and advocating for social justice?

Are there even enough hours in the damn day?

And am I the only one who is starting to feel burned out on both ends?

I wish that there were some answers I could find within a book or a sign from somewhere to guide me to the next step.

But there isn’t.

And time keeps turning and the executive orders keep coming and life isn’t slowing down for any of us.

So where does this leave us?

What can we do?

Although I don’t have all the answers that I’m looking for I do know what the stepping stones are for each and every one of us to begin to do our part to advocate for social justice,

  1. Keep showing up when support is needed. Show up for those who don’t have the privilege to.
  1. Be as present as possible as to what is going on in the world and what causes you can be a part of. If you can support it, do it.
  1. Become involved in your community: volunteer, get to know the people around you, and support those in your community. Creating change is a process and it starts person to person.
  1. Remember not to stretch yourself too thin. The world needs us to keep up the fight, but we cannot give all of ourselves if we are empty.
  1. Stay as informed as you can while staying sane. Know when you need to take a step back from the news for a day, but do not be so privileged as to fully step out of the fight because many cannot.

And lastly,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. “-Margaret Mead

 

 

 

grace-espinozas-blog-pictureGrace Espinoza is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, majoring in Social Work. Grace works at the Women’s Center and the American Indian Center on campus. Grace is a straight, Mexican Portuguese/white woman with a passion for social justice, feminism, and poetry. She has been a published poet several times beginning in the seventh grade and is honored to contribute to Collective Feminism. 

How to be Trans

It always comes as a surprise to me when I hear of discrimination within the LGBTQIA+ community. I assumed that a group of marginalized and discriminated people would stick together, having experienced social exile and not wanting to again. But then I hear someone say, “They’re too masculine/feminine to be Trans”/”They must be faking it”/”How can they say they’re Trans if they’re not…” and I’m floored at the close-minded words of a seemingly progressive concept.

What is the correct way to be Trans?

There isn’t one right way to be Trans just like there isn’t one right way to be any other letter in the acronym. Saying that someone can’t be a Trans-man because he performs femininely is like saying that a woman can’t be a lesbian because she isn’t butch and loves makeup or that a man can’t be gay because his voice is too deep.

The way that someone chooses to perform does not validate or invalidate the way they wish to identify.

The LGBTQIA+ community is filled with people who don’t fit into the Cis-normative/heteronormative boxes that society has constructed. Society said that marriage is between a man and a woman, a heteronormative belief. Lesbian and Gay individuals subvert this. Society says that men have penises and XY chromosomes while women have vaginas and two X chromosomes. The existence of transgender and non-binary individuals subvert that. It shows that there isn’t one way to be a certain gender. You can be a man with curves, with fat on your chest, and with a higher pitched voice. You can be a woman with facial hair; you can be neither on the simple basis that it’s comfortable for you. Gender and the way that it is received in society was created to restrict and label in a way that created hierarchies in our society (i.e. women as the weaker sex to keep them in the home). So why is there a correct way to be Trans? Why put someone in a category that the LGBTQIA+ community was created to resist?

If a Trans-woman says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. You have no right to tell her what she is and isn’t, just as she has no right to do the same to you.

The LGBTQIA+ community was created as a place where an individual could be themselves un-apologetically, a place where they’d be embraced for their differences and spectrum of identity. Invalidating an identity because it doesn’t fit what society says it should be is doing nothing more than participating in the oppressive system that created the need for the community in the first place.

 

 

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Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele.

(Feminist) Thoughts on the March

Just after the Women’s March on Washington, Carly Puch (one of our own!) wrote on her own blog about her experience participating in the march.

She brings together a thoughtful perspective on the empowering heart of the march, critiques of its unmistakable whiteness, and what both of those things mean for the kind of work we have, as feminists, ahead of us.

Here’s an excerpt…

There are improvements to be made, and particularly we white feminists can do better but what these marches symbolized was that recognition. More women are mobilized because for many it is the first time their rights are truly being threatened, whether that be attributed to their race, their class, their age or any other factor that has allowed them to turn a blind eye to injustice. Human rights campaigns in this country have been built on the backs of people of color, do not silence them, but listen and learn to those who have been fighting before you.

Continue reading here!

The kind of work we have ahead of us must not be forgotten or ignored: it must be thoughtful. We must strive to love each other, build bridges between those of us with vastly different experiances, and act beyond our fear to achieve things which may seem impossible.

What do you think?  Let us know here on the blog or write us at collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu

The Mark Cohen Complex 

When I traveled to the Philippines for three weeks at the end of last summer, I had a plan to write about my experience. I wanted to share my experiences of seeing my extended family, seeing the sights, and experiencing the difference between cultures that makes the group of over 7,000 islands so unique and dear to my heart. I wanted to write about the horrific traffic, the sky that turned the color of loamy water with the combination of pollution and fog, and the mom and pop shops pressed up against each other like the sardines they undoubtedly sell. I wanted to write about the first day in particular when my uncle picked us up from Ninoy Aquino International Airport and instructed his driver to take us on a tour of “The Real Philippines.” I made a point to bring along a small blue notebook to write down observations and then turn them into a candid analysis of Philippine life through my eyes.

The sight isn’t something that I’ll easily forget. Naked toddlers waddled into the middle of traffic and two five year olds crouched near a drain pipe with plastic Ziploc bags, filling them with rainwater, tinted yellow by God knows what. My sister pressed her finger to the window and said plainly, “That doesn’t look safe.” A few days later, driving in the same car, I witnessed the erecting of a shanty: cardboard and plastic bag walls, sporadic gleams of tin just to give it something resembling strength and to give the illusion that it wouldn’t blow over with typhoon winds. Something deeply bothered me when I looked at this, but I still wrote it down, though keeping most of the details through pure memory. Then, during the last week, we went north of Naga City (where we were staying) to the smaller town of Panicuason. Specifically, to the house on land that my mother and a few more of their siblings owned. It was far from a mansion, just a one story structure with two bedrooms a bathroom and a kitchen; it was one hundred-percent livable. What caught my attention and set off alarm bells in my head was the house adjacent to the main structure, belonging to the maid tasked with the upkeep of the house. Dried out banana leaves and various grasses were woven together for the roof. Posters for cell phone plans made up part of the door, or maybe the outer wall (a literal side by side comparison). And it hit me that I’d never step into that house, that I’d never get close to the shanty or even worry about water to the point that I’d risk my health just to get some. But part of me still wanted to write about it, explore this struggle, and turn it into something.

I started calling this the Mark Cohen Complex, named after the filmmaker in the musical RENT. I called it this for two reasons:

  1. It’s the desire to help in the form of art. Me through writing and Mark through film.
  1. Too late is the realization that it serves more as a buffer between the artist, their art, and the message it’s trying to convey. A wall. A separation to keep that uncomfortable rolling of your stomach out.

In the musical, an old, homeless woman calls Mark out for filming some police officers urging her to get off the street, saying, “I don’t need no goddamn help from some bleeding heart cameraman. My life’s not for you to make a name for yourself.”

And I couldn’t make a name for myself out of the lives of people I saw for less than a second. The churning won out, and I decided to write this piece instead.

I figure that many artists have at least the first part of the complex. And why not? The purpose of art is expression or attempting to make meaning out of things not easily explained. But for me, it was hard to write about the things I saw. I wasn’t sure if I was stepping into shoes that I didn’t even own, or if I was stealing stories and images from people who barely have even that. The line between creating art and using people to do so became a really big issue for me, and I’m still struggling with every aspect of it. I know it’s not about me but about the people who suffer injustices at the hands of cyclical poverty every day. But I can’t use their voices as someone who stays at hotels, resorts, and three story residences when I visit. I’ll never know their story or feel their struggle, so it’d be wrong for me to try and express it.

Many times what starts off as an attempt to help and raise awareness romanticizes the issue with no real work to fight the issues that are romanticized. I think it’s important for artists to understand this line and to start making a concerted effort that directly benefits what they’re trying to create the art out of. With that in mind, after asking people I know who live in the Philippines and have greater knowledge of the workings of local organizations, here are a few charities to support:

Save the Children: Philippines

Gawad Kalinga

UNICEF Philippines

With this I’m hoping to do my part beyond sharing the beauty of this country through the written word.

 

 

thumbnail_147Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele.