Monday: Mujer Monologues
The Mujer Monologues kickstarted UCR’s Semana de la Mujer, or Week of the Woman, curated by Chicano Student Programs (CSP) in conjunction with a number of student-based groups like the Mujer Collective. This group of seven young Chicana students shared with the audience a plethora of unique ideas and artistic formulations on topics ranging from tradition, migration, sacrifice, celebrations and cultural contradiction to motherhood, casual sex, positive body image and consent in the form of spoken word and song. HUB 355 boomed with urban Chicano rap, hip-hop and jazz. Students began trickling into the empty room as 5 p.m. approached.
This event provided for a great turnout as all 50 seats were full by the beginning of the show. Arlene Cano, social and cultural programmer for CSP, addressed the whole room with a warm welcome and the question, “What does mujer mean to you?” She encouraged us all to turn to a partner and share with them what we believed this word meant for us.
Many did not know what the word meant, so Cano articulated that “mujer” meant woman in Spanish — more that it meant the goddess, the feminine and her power within the Chicana community. To her, she continued, “mujer” meant finding a balancing act. “It is evolutionary and revolutionary, it is always changing … it is in my heart that I carry for my children and for my students. I’m a mother, I’m a warrior … and I’m also vulnerable.” Mujer is a living, breathing idea of what it means to be a powerful female. The power of Cano’s voice and all of the women who performed gave the room a vibrant hum of empowerment, culture and liberation.
The rawness of their articulations was made possible by the sanctity of the shared space. Creating a collective of Chicana women who are actively working toward rediscovering their inner “mujer” does not aim to exclude others, as instead it focuses on securing safe space with mutual respect and understanding through shared life circumstances.
By diving into the experiences of this very specific intersection of race, culture and gender, larger social spheres are able to get a glimpse of what Chicana women must experience throughout their everyday lives.
According to Cynthia Chavez, CSP coordinator, this event means to form connective roots through the art of storytelling, music and spoken word — mediums which transcend pressures of the social, economic, sexual and linguistic. Regardless of the linguistic comprehension of the audience, nearly all of the poems and songs presented were strongly bilingual. And though many of the audience members were not fluent in Spanish, each person gave respect and reception to the pieces performed.
Tuesday: Dating Violence
The second day of Semana de la Mujer marched on and brought with it a stimulating and socially relevant event. A dating violence workshop was held in HUB 355 and offered an in-depth look into the concept of relationship violence.
Latinic Societas Unitas, a Latina sorority on campus, began by introducing their organization and purpose. As a multicultural sorority, one of their philanthropic endeavors includes spreading awareness on social injustices such as dating violence.
“Where’s the line between love and hate?” was the tagline for the event and was placed on the beginning of a slideshow they put on for us to gain a better understanding of violence. They introduced a spectrum of relationship parameters ranging from healthy, unhealthy and abusive.
Going in-depth with the terms used, the coordinators talked about the signs that go along with the respective framework of relationships. Healthy relationships include being able to have an open line of communication with your partner without fear of consequence. Unhealthy relationships suffer from a lack of communication and an elevated level of control being exerted by one dominant partner. And lastly, an abusive relationship is evident by clear manipulation of one party, and shaming someone for simply being themselves.
They showed three videos that all had similar events but the severity among them varied. They also featured male and female victims to establish that there can be victims of either sex.
“People usually view women as the victims and not the perpetrators,” Claudia Gamboa, one of the coordinators stated.
To drive home some of the apparent and subtle forms of abuse, they introduced the second half of the presentation, which featured a list of different abuses. Everything from physical to cyber-abuse was on the slides, and they explained the severities of each.
The last portion of the event dealt with the women debunking myths that come with relationship violence and providing statistics to inform us of the wide scope of this issue. Myths such as not being able to hang out with someone unknown to one partner were tackled during the discussion. They also revealed that over 57 percent of college students aren’t usually aware of the signs of relationship violence.
To conclude the event, they pulled up a slide that provided a surplus of resources for people to combat relationship violence. They introduced the idea of a “safety plan,” which is essentially a list of documents and legal content all nestled in one virtual space for someone to access if they need quick assistance.
When the clock hit noon and the sun was at its highest, a crowd surrounded the area of UCR’s Bell Tower. The Mujer Nooner is an event that falls into Semana de la Mujer, a string of events that celebrates the contributions of Chicanas and Latinas during Women’s History Month. The whole point of Semana de la Mujer is to not only shed light on Chicanas and Latinas, but also to empower women of all kinds.
Even though the sun was ruthless, an interested crowd sat on the steps in front of the Bell Tower and listened intently to Iris de Anda, a Mexican and Salvadoran activist, writer and practitioner of the healing arts. Reading a poem about African-Americans and ending it with an echoing of “black lives matter, black lives matter, black lives matter,” caught the attention of those sitting in front and even the clubs tabling on the side. Speaking about issues in today’s society in the art form of poetry resonated to the audience that “Words are medicine, words are very powerful.”
Stepping up to the microphone that had a bright yellow flower attached to it was another poet named Felicia “Fe” Montes, an established Chicana poet and activist who has worked on transitional art and obtained a bachelor of arts in world arts and cultures from UCLA. Grabbing everyone’s attention with her bright, colorful earrings and powerful voice, she opened with a thank you to the indigenous people of the land “who gave their blood, sweat and tears for us to be on this campus today.” De Anda joined her at the microphone and Montes began creating a beat with the drum-like instrument in hand. With the song that resembled chanting and their two voices blending into one, they sang, “I am with you heart and soul,” reminding everyone that our ancestors never really leave us.
With the nearby chattering of fraternities, sororities and clubs, Montes continued with her poetry reading. Her poetry is different from others since she sings some of the lines and while she is doing so, she uses her hands, closes her eyes and moves her entire body along with the rhythm. She becomes the speaker of the poem, switching from both English and Spanish. Bringing to attention the struggles of being Chicana, audience members yelped and clapped throughout her reading, their eyes and ears never straying from her.
Montes and de Anda redefined what it is to be Chicana and used the simple power of word to educate the audience in the lives of Mexican-Americans and empowered women to speak up for what they believe in.
Thursday: Tu Defines Tu Belleza
Three tables littered with arts and crafts stood in the room of HUB 367 on Thursday evening, appearing as an elementary school classroom for the Tu Defines Tu Belleza program. Cynthia Chavez explained to attendees that the event’s name translates to “You define your beauty,” hoping to debunk general standards of beauty that are most often portrayed in popular culture today.
UCR students readily welcomed me to join their table as I was handed a small mirror to decorate. Others still gathering a handful of snacks and filling their cups to the brim with jamaica, a sort of fruit punch drink, were ushered back to their seats at a table as Chavez began to engage all of us in a dialogue to reclaim the definition of beauty.
We were instructed to hold the mirrors before ourselves for a minute and simply take note of everything we saw plainly. Provided with dry erase markers, we then proceeded to jot down either positive or negative traits that others or ourselves had pointed out before. Some students wrote down more apparent traits such as “glasses and dimples,” while another dug deeper and discovered that they are a “fighter and hard worker.”
Though some students found the activity funny and relieving, others found it intimidating, especially when it came time to share thoughts and opinions about themselves. Being a more intimate setting with a small crowd of Highlanders, many of us had just met at the beginning of the activity with brief introductions, yet a safe environment was quickly established for us to comfortably share personal details about ourselves.
Finding that many of us shared similarities allowed us to aid each other in embracing those qualities that many had not necessarily seen as positive, while pointing out the differences helped embolden us. The goal of this activity was to “switch to positive thoughts, though it may be hard at times, finding that positivity within the negativity will allow you to no longer be your own harshest critic,” explained Chavez.
Fourth-year media and cultural studies major Kelley Ramirez found that “though it was hard at first, I became more vulnerable with myself and with others.”
The program was “healthy for us because as busy college students, we don’t take the time to reflect and even look at ourselves sometimes, so it’s neat to acknowledge our presence and our appearance,” elaborated fifth-year public policy major Mary Lizardi. Not only was this event rewarding in itself as a display of the diversity of beauty standards amongst UCR’s own student population, but we were also able to walk away with a self-decorated mirror to remind ourselves of our own beauty inside and out every day.
Friday: La Mujer Vencera
“La Mujer Vencera” roughly translates to “the woman will conquer,” according to Mujeres Unidas co-president Alejandra Bollo. This was the theme of an event held in HUB 269 on Friday, March 4, that served to round off the Semana de la Mujer, organized by CSP and supported by Mujeres Unidas.
Soft Latin music played over the speakers and guests quaffed ice-cold horchata from foam cups as they viewed the stations placed on tables around the room. There were about 10 in total, and they featured pictures of the participants’ bodies which were accompanied by a text supplement that explained the participant’s motivations and insecurities. The participants had their insecurities laid bare in the text and in the pictures, explaining how friends, family, strangers and society have criticized their looks and bodies and tried to bring them down. Some were criticized for being too dark, for having curves or for anything about them that doesn’t conform to the zeitgeist of modern American beauty standards.
A modest crowd wandered around the stations as the event progressed, with many of the guests filling out index cards with comments about the event and the participants. Next to each station, a brown bag was placed which allowed anonymous feedback on each contributor’s photo and individual story.
Though the participants often felt insecure about themselves and their bodies, the exercise and the exhibit served as a way for them to reappropriate, embrace and overcome their labels and stigma, with each story ending on a positive note. Many learned to embrace themselves and learn to love their flaws, conquering a society that sought to stigmatize them. One participant was called “gordo,” or fat, by her brothers and wasn’t considered capable of running, but eventually went on to complete several marathons, while many others found it within themselves to love their curves.
This weeklong event has been going on for several years, and it will doubtlessly continue as more women are able to shake off their imperfections and find the strength within themselves to love themselves and work to inspire other future participants.
All in all, the event was a showing of solidarity and strength not just for Latinas, but for women in general. One participant put it best, saying “remember that over all these labels, we are mujeres.”