"I'm a feminist."

Credit: @MelanieCervantes

Credit: @MelanieCervantes

I first truly heard these words freshman year of college. It was orientation, only a few days into the hot sweaty summer spent at college but what actually felt like camp. Our floor had separated from the boys, the girls gathered in a old classroom building still inhabited by chalkboards. Meant to be an open dialogue, our program leader, a bi-racial curly haired black girl instructed my hall mates and I to get into a circle. Just when I thought she was going to make us pray (ha!), instead she had us take part of an exercise. She asked us questions. If we agree with the statements we needed to step in the circle, if not stay outside the circle. These weren’t simple, light questions though. These were personal. Deep. Some that felt a little uncomfortable to answer. I don’t remember too much of that day, of what was asked. What I do remember is this: as the words “I am a feminist” fell from her lips I immediately heard the steps of virtually all my hall mates walk in, leaving my roommate and I in the dust. All I remember is feeling a sting of shame. But I couldn’t agree to a statement if I didn’t even know what a feminist was. Now, I think i’ve heard the word in passing throughout high school once or twice but never in a lesson. Who had time for feminism, when I was barely surviving high school. From homework to soccer practice to art projects, there was no time left to investigate feminism. Left in the outskirts, the curious heads of my hall mates quickly flashed to my roommate and I, the only two Latinas in the room, in disbelief we hadn’t joined them. In their stares I could hear “you don’t know what feminism is?” Sensing their criticism our guide began, cutting the silence, “Now guys, don’t judge people for their decisions. We can discuss this. Instead we can ask them (us) why they don’t identify as feminists.” I proceeded to chime in despite my embarrassment of not knowing, “I don’t know what a feminist is.” In that moment I feel the room breath out, as if “okay, she’s not ignorant. She’s just not educated.” The girls are happily ready to share their definition. Even in the end, after being given a lesson on “what feminism is” I didn’t feel convinced. I felt stupid but also uneasy. The belief of the male and female sex being equal didn’t convince me, especially coming from these women. Women of privilege. What made feminism so difficult to digest was the fact it seemed a word deemed for White women, or women who approximated to Whiteness regardless of their skin color. I had quickly learned from day one at William & Mary that I was different than most students there. Not only did my Brown skin scream outsider but even my experiences of firsts.

Coming to college I thought many other students were going to be the first in their family to go to college because that was the norm at my high school. Yet, another event during orientation, revealed otherwise. Once again, this story starts with people calling out experiences, requiring you to identify yourself. While this instance was less embarrassing but more shocking. I couldn’t help to feel a sense of isolation. As faculty proceeds to ask those who are first generation college students to stand up in a sea of mostly White students, packed into a stuffy theatre auditorium, I saw only a few people stand on their feet. We were sprinkled here and there, including my roommate and I. Participants of something that felt like a joke to me. Was I really one of the few people who were going to be the first in their family to graduate college? Not only did I feel late to the game, but I felt foolish for feeling a slight shame for something I couldn’t control.

It seemed like everywhere I went, everything was new to me. A different world. Previously exclusive, not meant for someone like me. As a lower income immigrant Latina, who was raised by a mother who had dropped out of school at 6th grade and a father who barely finished high school in the Bolivian countryside, it’s hard to believe I made it this far. But I did. That is something I’ve learned to be immensely proud of.

That first year, I remember often thinking about feminism. What it meant to me and what it meant for others. I wrangled with it, trying to untie and smooth the knots out. I thought about feminism but never owned it. Though I was thinking about it, I never chose to label myself as one. However, other people thought they had the power to label me, call me a feminist. I remember my ex over the phone, accusing me of being a feminist. Making fun of me for it. As if it was a joke. I told him I’m not, it was label spear headed by White women for White women. Yet, on paper I knew all my beliefs pointed towards someone who is a feminist.

As the first Women’s March arrived and left, I couldn’t help the event reinforce my idea. However, as more women of color stepped up, visibly leading and fighting for equality, I started to see myself represented. It wasn’t until I saw Latina women in the spotlight, like America Ferrera who’s a proud feminist, I felt more comfortable around the word. I’ve come to realize I previously didn’t feel comfortable with the word because I didn’t see women like me fighting for a cause we and so many women of color so desperately need. It’s only when I heard the word feminist espoused by women like me that I didn’t have doubts in their intentions. I knew who they were fighting for.

The idea that I am a feminist wasn’t further cemented until I read Erika L. Sanchez’s book, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. I broke down in tears multiple times while reading this book. Not only because I felt my Latina experience was represented so well for the first time but really captured a lot of the angst I felt throughout High School. It wasn’t until I got to college I realized the roots of this frustration. When it came to the bare bones of it, it was the result of cultural differences that often left me feeling oceans apart from my parents. So many expectations and rules that made me feel overwhelmed and a prisoner in my own household. I was the prisoner and my mother the prison guard, while my dad was the prison owner. Everything I wanted to do, my mother didn’t want me to. I couldn’t show off my shoulders, I wanted to wear camis. I couldn’t wear skirts or dresses shorter than knee length, I wanted to wear mini skirts. I needed to cook and clean, I wanted to spend time reading. I couldn’t leave the house often and further than a 5 mile radius, I wanted to travel even further away. I’ve fought, cried, and screamed and it’s only with time I was able to get some of my rights. My right to freedom. Seeing Sanchez’s fictional character Julia, who has been labeled “unabashedly feminist” by book reviews, do the same made me realize I’ve been a feminist my whole life. Being a feminist came out survival, something so ingrained in who I am, I never thought it could possibly be a whole movement living outside of me. My whole life I’ve been fighting this fight alone within my family that I’ve failed to see I’m not the only one fighting. I am not alone. There are millions of Latina women fighting the same fight. Each and everyone of us a feminist in our own right.

How to Win Boys? You don't.

How to win boys.jpg

It's a Saturday night, variations of Latin rhythms reverberate through the air. As I wander off from a group of sweaty dancing male bodies to look for my friend, the birthday girl, half-consciously there after one too many tequila shots I walk over to the bar lined up of hoping to find her. Instead, I am met with the glazed over eyes of men, accompanied by their soft smirks as I pass by. Even in my state of slight intoxication, I realize I'm being checked out. Their eyes take in my presence and swallow me whole making me jolt out my state of euphoria and feel out of place. Though most stay still as they keep their gaze at me some decide to get closer. One hazy eyed man steps in front of me and slurs the words "you're so hot" nonchalantly. I can't help to internally laugh at the not-so-smooth compliment uttered with the help of liquid courage. Then it dawns at me, all night long I've haven’t felt this comfortable at a party, enough to not be afraid to interact with everyone. And it seemed like others were comfortable around me, especially men. I didn’t keep track of how many men hit on me, I just knew it was more than usual. The biggest factor that contributed to this experience is race. It was a room full of POC, especially Latinxs who are also Bolivian, like me. Being in a room full of POC is always a culture shock when I come back from William & Mary. An old liberal arts college that is sprinkled with POC like me, here and there. This ratio doesn’t change when I go to parties unless I go to a party held by POC for POC. Walking into the houses of frat parties that are not exclusively white but might as well be, I felt a certain uneasiness. A feeling of not belonging. The same male gaze will follow me and my friends as we walked in but this time these eyes belonged to White men. They will look at me with no particular emotion on their face, no smile, or even the slightest smirk, just a stare of inquisition of “who are you?” But this night I didn’t do anything different than what I would do if I was attending a William & Mary party. Yet the response was different. I began to question how my desirability is perceived as a Latina woman.

 

Now maybe once upon a time the lack of attention from White males may have affected me when I was young and naive but it doesn’t faze me anymore. Yet, this is still an important topic to investigate. There hasn’t been much research on this and even then, the results are questionable. A man’s attention isn’t important to me but rather the why.

 

According to OKCupid the least desired people in online dating site is Black women and Asian men. On the other hand, the most desired are Asian women and White men (no surprise). There has been a lot of buzz around those who are disadvantaged especially from Black women who are outspoken about the issues they face with online dating. What makes Black women’s result astonishing is how much their perceived desirability lowers because of their race for almost all men except for Black. In 2014 Asian men’s desirability of Black women was the most negative, a stunning -20% while it only had 1% advantage when it came for Black men. Then there are Latino men who viewed Black women -18% less desirable and following closely White men who viewed Black women -17% less desirable. Meanwhile Asian women faired the best, with their desirability increasing 15% for Asian men, 2% for Black men, 4% by Latino men, and 9% by White men. Not far behind are White women who's desirability increased for Asian men, however were seen negatively desirable by Black men by -6%. Latino men viewed White women as 4% more desirable and lastly White men desired White women 6% more desirable, coming second to Asian women.

 

Though the results are eye opening how sexual racism is pervasive in online dating it’s data on Latinxs that is questionable. How do you quantify Latinxs when we are not a race but an ethnic group? And if we were to consider Latinxs a race this study and other similarly automatically erases the visibility of already marginalized groups of the Latinx community. Latinxs come in all colors, sizes, hair types, etc. We are the product of years of interracial mixing as the result of colonialism. There are Afro-Latinxs, Asian-Latinxs, Indigenous Latinxs, and lastly White Latinxs. Would an Afro-Latina who reads “Black” be considered that, just Black? Racially she is Black but ethnically she is also Latina. Yes, she can put that she is Latina on her profile, but if the viewer isn't used to seeing a Afro-Latina, most likely he will just her as Black. Therefore, how can OKcupid reliably quantify Latinxs? 

 

This concerns me because there have been other studies that put Latina women also second in ranking as most desirable. Though in the study we are treated as whole collective, we don’t look the same. Will an Afro-Latina fall under as second most desired as a Latina or the least desired as the result of her afro descent? These results seem to contradict themselves, leaving Latinxs confused by the results.

 

What concerns me the most is how there really isn’t any evidence for me to go off from, how I am perceived as an indigenous Latina. It seems like there wasn’t any room my dark skin, prominent cheek bones and slightly slanted eyes to be quantified. There was no data for how Native Americans/Indigenous people faired. So, what am I according OkCupid?

 

Though there is no data specifically on the diverse Latinx community I don’t need a study to know that most likely it's the White passing Latina who would fair best in desirability. Embedded in Latin culture through generations is colorism, allowing whiteness to reigned supreme in desiarbility for Latinxs. As a result this puts me on the less desirable end. Then how desirable am I to a non-Latinxs? I'm probably not his first choice. 

 

I may not be attractive as a White or Asian women to a White man, but I won’t spend my time worrying about it. I rather spend my time shedding light to the truth, why it happens. It’s only then maybe people will realize they are sexually racist.