Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy Holidays!

December 17, 2012

Dear Mujeres Talk Readers and Contributors,

As of today, we are on holiday break. We will resume our weekly Monday publication schedule on Monday, January 7, 2013.

We invite you read over this past year’s essays and, if so moved, to comment, during this holiday break. We thank you deeply for generously sharing your valuable critical insights as writers and readers on Mujeres Talk. In this first year of publishing on a weekly basis, Mujeres Talk posted new blog essays on 46 weeks of the year featuring 53 authors. Writers for Mujeres Talk have spanned a wide spectrum — from those just starting out in college to retired and eminent scholars of Chicana/Latina studies, community activists, artists and professionals.

We invite everyone to submit essays or essay ideas for 2013!

Most of all, we on the Mujeres Talk Editorial Collective wish you and yours a very joyous holiday season!

12/12/12: This Time Is Our Time

December 12, 2012

DSCN0026By Inés Hernández-Ávila

Compañeras, hermanas, hijas, nietas, abuelas, madres, madres, madres, todos somos madres, de una manera u otra, porque todas tenemos la profunda capacidad de crear:

Hoy es un dia muy importante, today is an important day, 12/12/12, there will not be another one in our lifetimes, we must give ourselves a moment in our lives to stop our ordinary activity and feel, see, touch, taste, smell, be with the Earth, the Mother of Us All, y darle Grácias. This is the day that tells us that it is time to be the way we want to be, without reservation, unconditionally, to realize ourselves con firmeza, con coraje, con Amor, to remember who we are, as mujeres, as guerreras, as voces, as thinking hearts.[1] Today is a llamamiento to our very innermost beings to stand up and be counted on behalf of the Earth, on behalf of all of Life, on behalf of toda la naturaleza, todos los seres inocentes que comparten esta planeta con nosotras. De nosotras dependen, quién sino nosotras? Humans are not the only peoples on this Earth. Si va a ver Justicia, que sea para todos los seres que vivimos en la Tierra. Interestingly, the U.N. designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day (I knew it was called Earth Day, I just learned it is officially Mother Earth Day). Día 12 is the Mexican Mother Earth Day. Perhaps not all peregrinos, devotos, would see it this way—for many of them, la Virgen de Guadalupe es, en términos estrictamente Católicos, la Madre de Diós, la Madre de Jesucristo, la interlocutora mas alta que hay para llegar a Diós. Mis respetos a todos ellos.

But for those of us who have been reflecting on her being, thinking about our (dis)connections to Catholicism, thinking about Chicana/indigenous spiritualities, envisioning “transnational feminist spiritual communities,”[2] coming to terms with the idea of Spirit in our lives, we know that La Virgen is much more than how she is defined by the Catholic Church. We know her differently. As our beloved Gloria Anzaldua said, “I’ve always been aware that there is a greater power than the conscious I.  That power is my inner self, the entity that is the sum total of all my reincarnations, the godwoman in me I call Antigua, mi Diosa, the divine within, Coatlicue-Cihuacoatl-Tlazolteotl-Tonantzin-Coatlalopeuh-Guadalupe—they are one.”[3] This is immense knowledge. La Virgen se manifiesta como imagen Católica, some say she was an invention of the missionization campaign, a tool of the imperial project, pero de todas maneras, we have triumphantly (re)indigenized her, claimed her as our own, and she has become an activist on behalf of the people, for so many who know her this way.  If she was an invention of missionization, the invention traicionó al proyecto colonial, because the foundational elements of her being are here, in this hemisphere, in the Land. She is the Land. She is the Earth. Punto.

Today is 12/12/12, but we should see the date as a marker of the momentum of transformation that is happening all around us.  The latter part of the month, some say 12/21/12, will mark the entrance, completed, of the next age, the New Sun. My colleague Victor Montjeo, Jakaltek Maya, from Guatemala, tells us that this is a time of world renewal, not world destruction. In the Conchero Dance tradition, I was told that we are moving from Nahui Ollin, 5 Movement, the age we have been in since before the invaders arrived, to the New Sun, Nahui Coatl, 5 Serpent, and that this New Sun will manifest more predominantly as female, and her symbol will be the Venado, the Deer. For at least two decades, the elders of this dance tradition have indicated that the New Sun has been arriving, coming in behind the present one, dancing. I remember dancing at the Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City, one December 12th, and suddenly as I was dancing, I felt the earth move beneath my feet, gently, almost unnoticeably, but it was certain, the Earth Mother was dancing with us, happy that we were dancing for her. She is so alive, she sings, she dances, she witnesses, she grieves, she disrupts, she balances, she suffers, she loves.

During this time (during all of our time on this earth in this life), we should walk, as the Yoeme say of saila maaso, the little brother deer, leaving flowers wherever we step.  Tenderly, gracefully, attentively, with abundant awareness of our surroundings, not only our academic or work surroundings, that, too, but our homes, our yards, our jardines (if we are lucky enough to have them), the spaces where we choose to spend time. Spend time, such a Western concept. Even time is cast in monetary, acquisitive terms. Spend time. Take time. Waste time. Don’t waste time. The spaces, circles, spheres where we love to be.

We know we are always in Nepantla (grácias a los antiguos Nahuas por este concepto). Somos Nepantleras (grácias a Gloria por la contemporización del concepto). As Nepantleras, in this time of great transformation, change, shape-shifting, we are ready for whatever comes our way. We must keep our senses, have our wits about us, trust our intuition, and constantly fine-tune it, remember humility, and know deeply that our Spirits are present, always. My Spirit guides me, my Spirit has the answers, my Spirit protects me. This I must remember. This we must remember. And my Spirit helps me see the signs of this new time that has come. Our spirits are ready. This time is our time.

Inés Hernández-Ávila is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Native American Studies at UC-Davis. She is a member of the Mujeres Talk Editorial Collective. 

[1] The term “thinking heart” is from Kathryn Shanley, Nakota scholar of Native American Studies.

[2] Theresa Delgadillo, Spiritual Mestizaje: Religion, Gender, Race, and Nation in Contemporary Chicana Narrative, p. 94.

[3] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, p. 50.

Carrie Castañeda-Sound    December 12, 2012 at 3:22 PM

With all the end-of-semester chaos, commercialism, and high expectations from family and friends, I found this blog very grounding. Thank you for that gift!

Reflections from Within: Explorations of Spirituality, Identity and Social Justice

December 10, 2012

Photo by Crysti, (Flickr, taken June 19, 2008)

Photo by Crysti, (Flickr, taken June 19, 2008)

By Brenda Sendejo and students at Southwestern University

This trensa, or braid, weaves together the voices of a group of students in this semester’s Latina/o and Latin American Spiritualities course at Southwestern University. The course is cross-listed in anthropology and feminist studies and students come from a wide array of majors. I invited students to reflect upon the ways in which the class and our explorations of spiritualities, identities, ways of knowing and issues of social justice have impacted them. I am grateful to them for “risking the personal”[i] and for serving as teachers to me in so many ways.


I took this class hoping to find something, a tradition, a practice, anything to help me better define myself.  I have always struggled to identify as Latina.  My mother was adamant about it, “you are not white, you are not biracial, que gacho, you are Latina.” Not that I didn’t want to be Latina, but I questioned it sometimes, it was easy to: I was never treated as a Latina by anyone.  I can’t blame people, I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t look the part, my mother’s family gave me nicknames like güera — sometimes it felt like one step above gringa. I never thought my spirituality would give me this identity until I took this class and I realized that this spirituality, this piece of my identity was uniquely Latina, uniquely Mexican. What I now see as the source of my Latina identity I fought growing up. It wasn’t until I was older that I appreciated the relationship with God, the relationship to my ancestors, the relationship to my culture. Bless my mother for her patience because I fought her every day, resisting her spirituality, which I now cling to, for they are the roots of my Latina identity.
–A. O.

My entire life I have grown up with the Catholic faith: going to church every Sunday, being baptized, celebrating my first communion and becoming a godparent in the eyes of the Catholic Church, twice. Now, I find myself going to full moon drumming circles, using sage to cleanse my room and experiencing nature and peace at Alma de Mujer. Part of me wants to embrace the spiritual side, the one that gives me the agency to find my true self and empowers activist work. The other part of me wants to rid itself of the Catholic faith, but this is the side that also represents my family and my family’s faith and comfort, so I hang on to it. “It is this learning to live with la Coatlicue that transforms living in the Borderlands from a nightmare into a numinous experience. It is always a path/state to something else.”[iii] I signed up for this course out of the pure interest in knowing what it was; it was never about knowing who I was. My identity continues to be questioned, even today, but the path that I am on has taught me to not simply continue going through it but the experience of “growing through it.”[iv]

My concern with religion has always been of an epistemological nature. I’ve understood religion as different peoples ways of articulating the world for themselves. I must admit that rooted as I was in a ‘Modern’ way of thinking—that privileges the empirical and scientific over the spiritual—I viewed religion with skepticism and sometimes disdain. However, Latino/a/Latin American Spiritualities provided me with different insights. The colonization of the Americas tends to present itself as the domination of the colonizer over the colonized.  In particular, colonial violence lies in the subject’s (colonizer) attempts to strip the ‘other’ (colonized) of their subjectivity. However, Latino/a/Latin American Spiritualitites, demonstrates that these attempts have failed to be successful. The course provided me with numerous examples of different peoples exercising their subjectivity through their spirituality. In particular, it demonstrated to me how knowledge can be both geopolitical and geohistorical. New identities were crafted in response to attempts of domination, new subjectivities  and new epistemologies. Spirituality has gained new significance for me. It seems to be the manner by which the ‘other’ not only resisted objectification, but carved out a space for itself, providing Latin America with new meaning.

I now truly understand the importance of remembering the past in order to shape a brighter future because of this class. Recently, by overcoming a bout of susto, I have developed a new routine of meditation every morning to align myself in the divine light. My true nature is God, but as I stray from that point of awareness, interesting things happen. Gloria Anzaldúa is an excellent scholar who eloquently explains the experience of conocimiento: the path towards the “Ah HA!” moments in life. In reading her work, I felt a sense of security and ease, in realizing that all of my personal hardships and setbacks were not in vain. Every experience has a purpose, and our lives are valuable, not only to our friends and family, but to society and the entire global population. Stemming further from that note, I now am able to see immediate connections through indigenous practices and beliefs across the world. Eastern religions use similar practices like ridding the body of negative energy, or using prayer or meditation to quiet the mind. Coming from a purely spiritualistic approach, this class has shown me the ways in which scholarship can be applied to spiritual aspects of life.

I grew up praying once a week and spent every day watching out of the corners of my eyes for duendes and earth-bound spirits that my family told me about. Later, my mother began immersing us more in the Catholic faith. I began to study the Catholic Church. Soon I studied any religion: Buddhism, Wicca, etc. In many religions, something would strike a chord with me. The chakras in eastern religions, the worship of a feminine deity in Wicca, the pillars of Islam, all fell in with the way I perceived the world and my existence in it. I believe “God” to be genderless yet able to take on a gender. Catholics perceived God as male, but Wiccans saw the Moon Goddess and the Horned God. Likewise, monotheism, duotheism, polytheism- all rang true. I became confused about how to practice what I believed in. I confirmed Catholic, but my other beliefs remained. This course has given me concepts that eliminate that past confusion. The writers whose theories and practices we have explored, the fusion of indigenous beliefs with more organized religions we have studied, all of it, has enabled me to grow comfortable in my practices and beliefs.

This class has been a unique experience. I have been able to vocalize ideas and emotions that haven’t been validated within my academia before. Meeting other people, students, professors and Austinites, who are “all in the same boat” has renewed a sense of peace within myself and sense of solidarity with my communities. It has given me a framework to think about my experience in activism and spirituality. This and the communities we build give me strength to deal with hardships concerning activism and spirituality. I’d like to share a poem concerning a difficult conversation with a friend over what we discuss in class.

It’s because I like the mountains and you like
the ocean. Both lack oxygen, and we like to have
our breath taken away. Despite our similarities, there are
clear boundaries where water ends and sky begins. I admire
that you haven’t changed as much as I have. You are still
conservative, steady as the tide. But there are problems
bigger than your own anxiety. I was fourteen
the first time I was called an exotic beauty
by your parents. My skin is olive but my eyes
are light; to most who see me, my race doesn’t
compute like they think it should. But I am not made
of palm trees and sand; and while activism
may not be important to you, it is important to me.
And you’re only Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

From the black they are revealed to me. First, and most clearly my granddad, shining a bright radiant gold.  More vibrant than he ever was in those last few years. He does not say anything; indeed, none of them do, but his smile is the best of family-acceptance, understanding, home. To his right is grandma sitting on that same couch from her trailer behind my grandparents’ house—piles of family albums stacked up beside her, holding the vaguely remembered mythology of my childhood. The next and least clear of the recognizable ones shifts shape—boy then girl, old then new, toddler, youth, each flickering seamlessly into the next. The one who never was. Surrounding these filling in the gaps, linking to the time the living ancients do not remember are the old ones. They are more a feeling than a reality now, I hope of a time to come, a time when I will know them and gain some connection, some rooting to this me that is more than my time here. This is the way I see—my classroom daydream. But I question—imagination, vision or possibility, I wish it the legitimacy of a drumming circle, a prophetic vision, the safety of sacred space-of the earth or church. Still, I do not desire to care. This is what has been given to me or maybe what I have taken for myself. And I dare you to try to assign it a religion. I am embraced by “the practice of imagination. . . its ability to speak to [me] about [my] worlds”, by the notion that “to imagine spiritual mestizaje is in some ways to enact it.”[ii]
– A.H.

Brenda Sendejo is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Southwestern University. She researches religion, spirituality, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, racialization and feminism. She shares authorship of this week’s Mujeres Talk blog essay with her students.

[i] “Risking the Personal: An Introduction.” Interviews/Entrevistas by Gloria E. Anzaldúa, edited by AnaLouise Keating. New York: Routledge, 1-15.
[ii] Delgadillo, Theresa. Spiritual Mestizaje: Religion, Gender, Race, and Nation in Contemporary Chicana Narrative. Durham: Duke University Press, 2.
[iii] Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Press, 95.
[iv] This was a statement made by A.G. in class.


Sara Ramirez    December 13, 2012 at 9:48 PM

Brenda, it sounds like you’ve impacted these students for life! Thank you and congratulations!

Another (Reauthorization) Act to Follow

December 3, 2012

Photo: "Human Trafficking" by Leonard John Matthews from Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo: “Human Trafficking” by Leonard John Matthews from Flickr/Creative Commons

By Susan C. Méndez

There seems to be no end to the potential human collateral that can be caused by the United States Congress’s inaction. Along with the delay in renewing the Violence Against Women Act, recent news coverage has focused on another delay in reauthorizing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as “an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.” According to a news article by Mounira Al Hmoud in the Times Argus online, more than 2,500 alleged incidents of human trafficking were filed between January 1, 2008 and June 30, 2010 in the United States. About 82% of these reported incidents involved sex trafficking: more than 1,200 incidents involved adult sex trafficking and 1,000 incidents involved child sexual exploitation. And these are just the reported cases for this time period. Notably, human traffickers largely target women and children of color. As such, those who have rose up to speak on this issue are tied closely to this community. Recently Jada Pinkett Smith and her daughter Willow Smith made the news with their appearances in Washington, D.C. to talk to government officials about this issue. Reportedly, more than 2,500 alleged incidents of human trafficking were filed between January 1, 2008 and June 30, 2010 in the United States. About 82% of these reported incidents involved sex trafficking: more than 1,200 incidents involved adult sex trafficking and 1,000 incidents involved child sexual exploitation. And these are just the reported cases for this time period. Pinkett Smith founded an anti-trafficking group named “Don’t Sell Bodies” and sang a song in Spanish entitled “Nada,” whose video highlights the story of a young woman being trafficked by a love-interest and is directed by Salma Hayek. It is no coincidence that these key actions which stress the issue of human trafficking have come from members of the larger women of color community; such actions and participants are good indicators as to who should be paying attention to human trafficking.  Pinkett Smith and her daughter’s most recent actions include participating in the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking. Their advocacy on this issue has brought much needed attention back to the fate of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).

This act, also known as the largest piece of human rights legislation in the United States, was the first federal law to address comprehensively trafficking as a crime on both the international and domestic fronts. According to Polaris Project (a non-profit, non-governmental organization that fights modern day slavery and human trafficking), the TVPA is composed of three aspects: “prevention through public awareness programs overseas and a State-department led monitoring and sanctions program; protection through new T-visa and services for foreign national victims; and prosecution through new federal crimes.” This legislation was significant because it created an Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, whose task it is to rank other countries based on their efforts to halt human trafficking (and the President of the United States may choose to impose sanctions on countries that do not meet the minimum standards to end trafficking); established the temporary legal status of “continued presence” and the new T visa which allows survivors of human trafficking to stay in the United States temporarily and to apply for permanent residency after 3 years; and made trafficking a federal crime along with the new crime of forced labor (individual and corporate employers are the ones liable to be charged with these crimes). The TVPA of 2000 (P.L. 106-386) was an astounding act of humanity and compassion; it was reauthorized in 2003 (H.R. 2620), in 2005 (H.R. 972), and in 2008 (H.R. 7311) easily. Its renewal is purposefully scheduled every two to three years in order to address that fact that traffickers change their modes of operation periodically. Each time this act was reauthorized, improvements were made that enhanced the original bill’s approach to end human trafficking.

Although various academics, journalists and activists may have differing perspectives on the impact of human trafficking and the methods and language used to convey assistance to those who are trafficked, the impetus behind this act appears to be extending offers of help to those who find themselves to be survivors of exploitative practices. Consequently, the need for this act still is apparent and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S.1301) began its renewal process on June 29, 2011 when the act was introduced and referred to its committee led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Initially, this Reauthorization Act had 42 Senatorial co-sponsors (it now has 52). According to Leahy aides, when this committee turned to the House of Representatives, there was a need to strike a deal and that need has delayed renewal. The Act expired on September 30, 2011. Mounira Al Hmoud reported for the Times Argus online that for the past fifteen months, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 has been referred to five different committees of the House, has undergone significant revision, and has Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) as its sponsor. An editorial piece in The New York Times, dated March 21, 2012, explains how these revisions have not always been beneficial. For example, one revised aspect is the moving of financing for survivors’ services from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Justice. This shifting makes little sense as the Department of Justice, in comparison to the Department of Health and Human Services, is not equipped to deal with the multi-faceted experiences and needs of survivors. Besides ill-conceived revisions, another detrimental aspect to the stalling of passing this reauthorization act is the inaccurate application of language used to discuss human trafficking to prosecute undocumented immigrants in states such as Arizona where anti-immigrant fervor is strong.

So what does this act look like now? Where does it stand and what does it have to do with the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking? The aforementioned editorial in The New York Times also details how in October 2011, a Senate bill to renew this act through 2015 cleared the Judiciary Committee, yet has not come to a floor vote. The bill for this act’s renewal cuts appropriations to 130 million but increases “victim” assistance to $25.5 million. It also has strengthened enforcement measures. The Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking is co-chaired by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Robert Portman (R-OH). They aim to engage caucus members in agreeing upon common goals and creating policies to achieve these goals in the quest to end human trafficking. There are 13 Senators on this caucus, and it is fitting that Blumenthal and Portman are co-chairs because in June 2012, they sponsored the End Trafficking in Government Contracting bill. (In this bill, these two Senators hoped to change pending defense fund legislation in order to stop funds for government contractors who employed trafficked laborers.) It is suspected the work and attention that this caucus will garner can only bring the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 back to both public and governmental discussion. The caucus has already begun productive conversation as Jada Pinkett Smith has expressed her hope that the caucus will establish an advisory council of survivors that can help the government comprehend the various complexities of human trafficking. It appears good results can come out of this caucus.

Recent news reports have restated the need for this act, along with the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, to pass Congress before the end of this year. However, with much needed attention and work focused on the “fiscal cliff,” the renewal of these crucial acts seems doubtful and such a delay would be disastrous for those seeking assistance. The same editorial in The New York Times describes recent successful efforts made to reach out to survivors of human trafficking. These efforts include: “a new trafficking hot line, financed through a grant by health and human services, for instance, [which] has taken more than 49,000 calls, connected 5,770 potential victims with services and provided more than 2,155 law-enforcement tips.” Such services are not plentiful and whatever resources exist to help people who find themselves to be survivors of exploitative practices like human trafficking should be maintained if not expanded.


Blumenthal, Richard. “Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking.” n.p. n.d. Web. 16 November 2012.

Hmoud. Mounira Al. “Leahy Seeks Action on Two Upcoming Bills.” Times Argus. Times Argus, 12 November 2012. Web. 12 November 2012.

Polaris Project. Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (TVPA)-Fact Sheet. Washington: Polaris Project, 2008. PDF file.

“The Fight Against Modern Day Slavery.” Editorial. The New York Times 21 March 2012: A30. Print.

“Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011.” Civic Impulse, LLC, n.d. Web. 16 November 2012.


Susan C. Méndez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English & Theatre and the Department of Latin American & Women’s Studies at the University of Scranton. She teaches courses on Multi-Ethnic American Literature and Women’s Studies. Primarily, she conducts research on novels written by Latino/a authors.


Sara Ramirez    December 13, 2012 at 9:43 PM

Thank you for your post, Prof. Méndez. I voted in California last month, and Prop. 35 had to do with human trafficking and penalties. Like most voters uninformed on this measure, I unquestioningly voted YES for increased penalties on those convicted of human trafficking crimes. I soon learned from my progressive colleagues that I should have voted NO. Do you know about this measure and how it affects people of color?