Colonize This! Family and Community
The third wave of the feminist movement that I belong to is different from the second wave of my mother’s generation (intro p.xxi). There is no bra burning, which my mother did at the age of 15 in 1965, and there are few, if any, marches (I would venture to say none). “Family” is any friend, coworker, or actual relative who supports the woman as she chooses her path in life, and feminists today create change through the development of familial relationships.
Cristina Tzintzun in “Colonize This!” seeks to create a family that is truly progressive and not a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” as her father was (19). The contradictions Tzintzun saw in her father, his teaching her about feminist theory and to speak her mind (18) but beating and cheating on her mother (19), are part of why she uses the monikers womon and womyn. She does not have to have a man to be successful. She can be like her uncle’s women, Raquel and Guiselle, who got theirs even while her uncle thought he was fooling them (22). Tzintzun’s mother, sister, and brother, who refuses to be part of her father’s “circle of colonization,” are her family as are friends who understand that pretending she is the maid is not a joke but racist (23).
Juleyka Lantigua in “Man of the House” also shows how a family does not require a man to survive. Her “father’s unwillingness to be an equal partner” in his marriage (41) and her stepfather’s inability “to fill a role that had never been defined for him” (49) forced her and her sister to play the role of the mother and her mother to play the role of the man (47). They took personal responsibility, taking action when the “Man of the House” did not provide for them (41). “Each of us did what had to be done” even if that mean getting a job at thirteen (47) so that the family could survive.
But Tzintzun and Lantigua at least had obvious male influences on their lives, even if those male influences forced them to learn how to be better by observing how not to live. Taigi Smith in “What Happens When Your Hood is the Last Stop on the White Flight Express?” lived in the Mission district of San Francisco with just her mother. But her family was so much more; it was the entire neighborhood of “mothers [who] were raising us alone” (55). These women fought the gentrification of the Mission through “guerrilla tactics” (64). These women were Smith’s family of supporters for them and their children to choose where to live and how to live. They chose to live in a culturally rich neighborhood (67) where they hoped to live in a clean, safe, and hopeful environment (69). But as Smith realizes the American Dream of upward mobility, of attaining an education and career, she discovers that gentrification makes her feel like an outsider. A twist of fate, and she is the invading pioneer in a gentrified neighborhood on the East Coast while her mother fights to avoid gentrification of her apartment building on the West Coast (70, 65). As Smith’s family is decimated, she participates in the decimation of another once culturally vibrant neighborhood and family.
Through tragedy, though, we can find family. Smith’s mother formed a guerilla family in her apartment building to fight gentrification, and Stella Luna in “HIV and Me: The Chicana Version” discovers a family in an HIV support group and in her son. Her voice, healing through speaking out, was something her husband could not deal with, and so he left the marriage (81). It was no longer a traditional family with a husband, a wife, and a child. It did become, though, a family of diverse women experiencing a similar tragedy: HIV infection (79). Their empowerment led to healing and speaking up to help others not to give up.
Why would we want to keep unsupportive people in our lives? Sometimes we have no choice, as when we are children and must live in the same house as a family member. At other times, though, we can choose whom we are around. I have been able to do this in my life. My father was verbally abusive. This was never acknowledged when I was a growing up. My mother only said that my father was different after Vietnam. But his behavior affected all of us. We tiptoed around the house when he was in a foul mood, usually at the end of the month when he paid the bills. Divorce, though, was not an option for my parents, and they are still together. Now, though, if my dad ends up in a foul mood, I can leave as I did a couple weeks ago when Mom and I returned from shopping. Dad was in the yard working, and we had sat down on her knew porch glider. In the ten minutes I was there, he went from being in a good mood to being in a bad mood. He simply didn’t say anything. My choice was to tell Mom I was tired and wanted to nap. She knew what I was doing. I was escaping.
Tzintzun notes that her father used differences as a means of exploiting her mother instead of identifying the differences as beautiful. I can relate to the idea of difference as beauty. I enjoy meeting people from different cultures and learning about their customs and languages. I am thrilled that this year I have more than just black Americans, Haitian Americans, whites, and Hispanics, but that my students are also of Arabic descent. These differences make my world more interesting. I am no longer speaking with those who share exactly my values and perspective of the world. It gets boring hearing just me after awhile. I love to learn, and learning about my students’ heritages is interesting. I do not like, however, changing woman and women to womon and womyn. Yes, there are bad men in the world, but there are also bad women. Eradicating the male perspective from language (such as changing history to herstory) is reverse discrimination. Etymology may be connected to the world’s patriarchal fixations but erasing the male from our language silences half of our population. God created them in his image. Male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). Both male and female are necessary, are different, and are complementary. We cannot, we should not, reclaim ourselves by silencing others (even if they have already been in power). Revenge is a weapon that destroys not just those it is used against but also those who use it.
It is imperative to be able to take care of oneself. We never know when we will have only ourselves to rely on. But it is also delightful to have a husband who is an equal partner. Lantigua discusses how her stepfather was “painted … invisible” by silence because he was trying to fill a role that had never been defined (49). Fortunately, I have a husband who is an equal partner, and we BOTH take personal responsibility. We are both multifaceted people of action who don’t try to suppress any one part of ourselves, and usually we don’t try to suppress any one part of our spouse. We’ve defined our roles throughout our marriage and are, I hope, to the point where we can joke about who we are. In our marriage, we know I’m the loud one who is not afraid of embarrassing herself in social situations. We also know that I am not very good with doing the daily picking up and washing around the house. If, however, we need a good spring cleaning (usually occurring the day before company arrives no matter the season), I am the person for it. I have an eye for detail and a knowledge of the methods of getting the small things cleaned. We aren’t trying to live ideals that have been forced on us by others. My husband does housework, which helps me, and I do yardwork, which helps him. We believe in work and in helping each other, not in gender specific roles of woman’s work and man’s work but in just plain work.
Living in the modern world requires work. As an older teenager in the early 1990s, I sometimes helped watch the elementary age children at my church. This, though, was not like my mother watching children. By this time, the Ray brothers had been persecuted in my county for their HIV status, and my church had developed a policy of using gloves when dealing with any and all bodily fluids. I vividly remember a two-year-old having a bloody nose and thinking that with this child in particular I had to put on gloves. Leslie and her mom were HIV positive. Leslie screamed bloody murder the minute I put on that glove. She had already learned to fear people’s reactions and the various medical treatments. Imagine my surprise when Leslie, whom I hadn’t seen in years, ended up transferring into my ninth grade English class. It took me awhile to recognize the name, but when I did, I asked her if she had an older brother named Chris, who was a holy terror. She did. I talked to her later, privately, and told her who I was and that I knew her situation. I actually asked how I should handle a bodily fluid incident, and she shared that she had transferred to my school midyear because of bullying at her old school when some kids found out her status. Her mother called and was extremely relieved that I was her teacher. I saw Leslie a few years later, I had transferred schools the next year, and she was preparing to marry. All of her treatments had given her hope as had, she said, having someone who understood the situation without embarrassing her. I was a member of her family.
Lantigua, Juleyka. “Man of the House.” Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. Eds. Daisy Hernández and Bushra Rehman. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2002. 40-53. Print.
Luna, Stella. “HIV and Me: The Chicana Version.” Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. Eds. Daisy Hernández and Bushra Rehman. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2002. 71-84. Print.
Online Parallel Bible. Biblos.comhttp://bible.cc/genesis/1-27.htm.
Smith, Taigi. “What Happens When Your Hood Is the Last Stop on the White Flight Express?” Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. Eds. Daisy Hernández and Bushra Rehman. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2002. 54-70. Print.
Tzintzun, Cristina. “Colonize This!” Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. Eds. Daisy Hernández and Bushra Rehman. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2002. 17-28. Print.
Originally posted: 17 January 2012