Looking Back at StS’s Hispanic Heritage Month Series

Color Guard and Mariachi at the John F. Kennedy Center this past September (Larry French/Getty Images)

The past few weeks So to Speak has devoted the blog to “Hispanic Heritage Month,” the official national recognition and celebration of the contributions made by generations of Latino/Hispanic Americans in the United States.

With a population totaling over 50 million, we at StS are aware that unique political, economic, educational, cultural, and linguistic dynamics are at play in each individual community within this broad classification. In our series we featured the voices of three Americans we felt represented significant segments of the Hispanic/Latino population in the nation.


The Exiled American

George Mason’s very own Women Studies professor and professor of English at Montgomery College, Cuban American Dr. Elizabeth Huergo, entered the United States with her parents  a political refugee as a young child in the 1960’s. Huergo talked to StS’s blog editor, Sheryl Rivett, about how exile negates choice.

“Immigration can be very difficult, but at least there is some degree, however small, of choice. Exile obliterates choice. We are separated from everything we know (family, friends, homeland, language, culture), elements of our lives that deeply shape our identity. And exile also does great damage to our sense of agency in the world. The regaining, the reconstruction of identity and agency becomes the work of a lifetime, and that is not the easiest sort of work. Though if you can manage to endure, to persevere, there is a certain degree of joy to be experienced in that process of reconstruction—if you can come out on the other side.”


The I’ve-been-here-all-along-American

U.S.-born Frances E. Valdez, a Houston-based immigration attorney and activist, reflected on how she seems to frustrate people who ask her where she’s “from” and why she “cares” about immigrants when she hasn’t had relatives in Mexico “since the Mexican revolution around 1910.”

“Where were you born?  Houston, Texas. Where were your parents born?  El Paso, Texas.  Where were your grandparents born?  El Paso, Texas, Balmorhea, Texas and Ft. Davis, Texas. That is when people usually start to get frustrated and ask, Well, where is your family from originally? The actual meaning behind this statement is, you are a brown-skinned woman and brown-skinned women are not native to the U.S.” As to why she cares about immigrants: “Anyone who has ever experienced the feeling that you will never truly belong because of your gender, sexuality, skin color, ancestry, disability or a myriad of categories that differ from mainstream society, can develop sympathy for the immigrant struggle. When we recognize the similarities amongst oppressed communities, we realize that by fighting for justice for immigrants we fight for equality for all oppressed groups.”


The American Son of Undocumented Immigration

Poet Javier O. Huerta, a doctoral candidate in English at UC- Berkeley, identifies as a “Chicano poet from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas [Mexico] who lived as an undocumented immigrant in Houston, Tejas from 1981 to 1981.”  We asked Huerta what it meant to him to be a 21st century feminist male and he told us of his work on a collection of poems inspired by the actress Lupe Ontiveros who told the New York Times that she played the role of maid 150 times.

“At the center of the poem is the problem of a double translation: “aspirar” as “to aspire” or as “to vacuum.” This is not really a choice for many poor women of color who for generations have had to turn to domestic work to support their families. Ontiveros claims she portrayed every maid she ever played with dignity and respect, so the 150 verses are my way of thanking her. The diversity of roles available to Latina actresses is definitely an important issue but one that should be tied with the more crucial issue of real life roles available to young Latinas. To be a 21st century feminist man means to support efforts that offer women more freedom of choice in their careers and in their lives and to oppose efforts that attempt to limit that freedom.”

Although the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably by media and interest groups, the decision to self-identify as one or the other is less a point of debate within the community (who tends to default to country of origin), and more a challenge for those outside who attempt to homogenize multi-ethnic, multiracial, astoundingly diverse millions. Since the surge of popularity of  “Latino” in mainstream media especially, however, the umbrella terms are lately perceived as less contentious, and as such their use is now on the rise over what some feel are the more alienating “Mexican/Cuban/Dominican/Salvodorean American” labels.

“I think we should be cautious about the use of “Latino” because it is being used to target us, as voters, as shoppers, and as readers,” said Huerta when asked about the rising popularity of the umbrella terms. “The more specific the better is what we teach our students.”

You don’t need to be a feminist to know the risks of engaging in sweeping, simplified generalizations, even and especially if, these are deemed the norm or “official.” We are proud to have introduced these three stories of feminism in action to the So to Speak community.  As American feminists and world citizens, it is imperative that we learn to recognize and value the myriad of experiences lived in Latino/Hispanic America.




Summer Round-Up!

Yes, summer’s over and that tan may not happen after all, but at least you can still feast on So to Speak’s online summer issue of amazing feminist prose, poetry, and art!  Or, take a look at our blog posts from July and August:

In Feminism, Family, and Making a Sandwich, StS’s Editor in Chief, Michelle Johnson, reminds us that feminism is about constant awareness of the self and of the worlds outside of ourselves, because no one, not even “liberals who work as teachers, doctors, scientists, and social workers,” is exempt from falling into prejudices and presumptions.

J.L. Powers discusses how though she doesn’t set out to write specifically about The Role of Gender, her novels for young adults unsurprisingly comment on how “gender has social, personal, legal, and moral repercussions for each individual.”

In A Heartfelt Goodbye, outgoing Editor in Chief of StS, Kate Partridge, looks back on the best moments of her tenure.

My first post as StS’s Asst. Blog Editor, WHY, talks about how despite our best efforts to the contrary, some of us “defend our own feminisms but doubt, belittle, or dismiss those of others,” and how channeling my second-grade-self empowers my adult feminism.

Rosebud Ben-Oni admits to her brother and the world that her Mexican and Jewish roots are “retractable, exposed, [and] wavering” in Why My Brother Is a Whitewashed Synagogue: How an Unwritten Letter Became a Poem.

Robyn Goodwin is Witty, Charismatic and Irresponsible in this most raw of reflections on staying sober, trying to find employment, and figuring out how to get the “machine” to detect the “determination, persistence, and enthusiasm” that have defined her life.

There you go! You can catch up! And if you’ve read all of these, we have some great posts coming your way this month, so check back soon, okay?

Paula Beltrán

June News Round-Up

Happy summer – the season of sunshine, relaxation, and fun! Here at StS, the editors have been busy creating our summer online issue, which will premier July 9th (more on that soon.) This month, we’ve had a fantastic line-up of blog posts:

  • Jack Solano discusses the role of white males in the feminist movement in his post Using Privilege to Combat Inequality. Solano doesn’t shy away from inequality, in fact, by choosing to attend a historically black university, he has openly embraced the challenges that many men in his position do not routinely face. In doing so, he has arrived personally at an important place—not only does he recognize the privileges his race and gender afford him, but he believes that this very privilege should be used to advance gender and racial equality.
  • Our outgoing blog and poetry editor, Sheila McMullin, in her Final Thoughts post, explores feminism in a deeply personal way. She opens up about feminism, describing it as a living, surviving creature, much like a jellyfish, with the ability to sting—and as an evolving, unfolding definition that she continues to create. From bell hooks quotes to her thoughts on promoting feminism in her career, post-graduate school, McMullin invites us into her most interior thoughts on feminism and positive feminist education and online feminist forums.
  • Tamar Altebarmakian, in Lesser Shades of Equal, writes about the shifts in consciousnesses that are created by the ripples of small gestures, gestures that challenge unconscious mores and prejudices and that widen circles of acceptance.
  • If you’re looking for summer reading suggestions, our poetry reviews of the past year are examined in Summer StS Reading: Poetry. We’ve reviewed outstanding collections of poetry that deserve space on every bookshelf.

Stay tuned for more information on our exciting summer online issue!


May News Round-Up

Happy summer! This month the StS team is busy preparing the summer online issue, which will debut in July. The new staff is in place and settling into their new roles: Michele Johnson, Editor-in-Chief; Erin McDaniel, Managing Editor; Liz Egan, Fiction Editor; Jessie Szalay, Nonfiction Editor; and Amber Cook, Poetry Editor. We’re looking forward to a year of reading new submissions and putting together a fantastic journal!

This past month was a month of goodbyes (outgoing staff) and celebrations (graduations). In addition to the change of guard, we’ve had a month of great blog posts:

  • Sheila McMullin, outgoing StS Poetry and Blog Editor, reviews Sarah Vap’s Arco Iris, a “book, at its heart, dealing with conflicting and simultaneous emotions and physical responses when interacting with otherwise lovely people.”
  • Jessica Barksdale,  spring 2013 StS fiction contributor, shares her writing process in What a Blessing. Does gender play a role in her writing? Absolutely. Does she write with feminism in mind? Not always. But by peeling away the layers of her characters, she exposes their “true humanity.”
  • In Perfect People are Boring, Monica Marier, a Tangent Artists writer and artist, guest blogs about the challenges of writing female characters in comics – female characters to which women can really relate. Ultimately, it’s about creating “characters who you relate to no matter what your gender, race, orientation, or lifestyle might be.”
  • Writer and editor Brandi Dawn Henderson invites us into the most intimate of experiences: seeing a family member, not just as a relative, but as a woman with full agency who offers surprises even as she babbles “to stuffed dogs with bows in their hair.” Check out We Girls Turned out Pretty Good.

We’re looking forward to another great month of writing!


April News Round-Up

Happy May, everyone! We had a stellar group of blog posts this past month and a really terrific Will Read for Women donation drive in Washington DC. This month the StS team will make the final edits for our 2013 Fall issue and prepare the rising staff to take over their new roles as current editors charge to graduate with their MFA degrees from George Mason University!

This month we will say goodbye to Editor-in-Chief Kate Partridge, Managing Editor Mike Stein, Poetry & Blog Editor Me (Sheila McMullin), Nonfiction Editor Chrissy Widmayer, and Fiction Editor Dan Hong. We will be heartbroken to say our farewell, but so proud to be sending such strong feminists into the world and see what good work they do next! We all feel so thrilled for the rising staff and can’t wait to see what projects and goals they accomplish! Look forward to StS interviews with out-going staff members at the end of this month and beginning of June.

•  To-Be Blog Editor Sheryl Rivett debuted on StS blog with two incredible stories of raising children and giving birth at home: What? You Birth at Home AND You’re a Feminist?I AM WOMAN

•  VIDA Features So to Speak in its Editor’s Corner!!!

Friday, April 12th Will Read For Women Donation Drive was a great time with readings from Kim Roberts, Mel Nichols, Nicole Idar, Kyle Daragan, and Jill Leininger in support of Virginia’s Bethany House women’s shelter.

•  Spring 2013 fiction contributor, Sarah Seybold shares her thoughts on writing her piece “Empty Cases.”

•  Our fabulous feminist Sarah Marcus writes “Women Are Just More Emotional” and stirs the fight in us!

Looking forward to what’s coming next!

With love as always,

Sheila ♥

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