Buddha Reached Nirvana at 33. ¿Y yo qué?

Last week, it was my birthday! My 33rd birthday, in fact, and all I can think about is what I’m going to accomplish this year. Every year on my birthday, I skip work, and take the day for some much-needed self-care, treating myself to all the things I’ve wanted to do but was too busy (like getting my hair done because I’ve had grays since I was 25, thanks mom!). Last year, I treated myself to a shopping trip in Georgetown (#fancy), a delicious crepe, and a mimosa. Don’t worry -- the bartender didn’t judge me, he just said, “Happy Birthday! I’m going to make you something better than a mimosa!” Yay! I can’t remember what it was, but it was pretty and pink, had champagne, and was garnished with a white and purple striped morning glory. If you know me, you know I love my bubbly and some flowers -- any flowers! Overall, not a bad way to spend my day.

My 33rd year -- what my dentist called my “Jesus Year” -- feels different. To be honest, when my dentist said that, I was like “oh yeah! Haha” which is my automatic response when I don’t understand what someone has said, and I’m making a mental note to google it later. At first, I didn’t get it. So like every Millennial, I Googled it  and was surprised to read that the “Jesus Year” is the year scholars believe Jesus of Nazareth was arrested and crucified in Jerusalem after starting a spiritual, political, and intellectual revolution. That was way too morbid, so I checked Urban Dictionary and liked their definition better:

“The 33rd year of your life is where you are reborn in some sense. Perhaps a mid-life crisis, perhaps an ego death, perhaps the year where you abandon old ways and start new.”

Much better, no? And scarily close to all the hectic things that have gone on in the last year. This past December, I quit my job and started to work on The Melanin Collective. I had met my co-founder and friend, Kaitlyn, and together with other women of color, we survived one of the most unnerving, toxic, and abusive work environments I had ever experienced. As a rule follower and “overachiever,” I pride myself on doing the best work to the best of my ability -- no matter what. Lack of funding? I’ll figure it out. Lack of resources? I got this. Lack of time, support, leadership…”I can do this!” But when it finally came down to lack of respect, acknowledgment of my success, empathy, and cultural competency, I had had enough. I metaphorically packed my bags (cleaning your office out can send a message...) and walked out of the office dazed and confused about how much we had experienced and how little anyone cared. I told myself I would never allow that kind of disrespect and abuse, and that I would work hard to ensure that other women of color didn’t have to live through that experience. This is how The Melanin Collective was born.

Kaitlyn and I are at the beginning of our journey and we have learned so much. #TheMCSquad is creating a movement of brilliant #mujeronaspoderosas of all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, locations, and melanin distribution, working to build a unifying platform where we are heard, seen, supported, and understood. We are going to #beselfish, centering ourselves first so we can give more to others. We want to redefine what it means to be intersectional, and we want you to join us! We are celebrating and appreciating everyone because we only have each other.

We know the first order of business is to define our goals, priorities, and values. And that will take time. But while we figure it out, we want to begin by using our platform to support the wonderful organizations working on reproductive health and justice who are doing so in a culturally competent and socially responsible way. I’m feeling enlightened already! #BuddhaBirthday

As a Latinx, I want to start by supporting and highlighting the work of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH). NLIRH builds Latina power to guarantee the fundamental human right to reproductive health, dignity, and justice. NLIRH focuses on three main program areas: Abortion Access and Affordability, Sexual and Reproductive Health Equity, and Immigrant Women’s Health and Rights.

1. Reproductive Justice is Racial Justice

I learned about NLIRH through a Facebook post announcing their upcoming Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy (LOLA) training. I signed up right away and was excited to attend. The training made me feel at home. I sat next to an older woman that reminded me of my mom, and who wouldn’t stop with her hilarious side commentary, making us look like the malcriadas (or rambunctious ones) in the room. Everything was set up with intent and purpose, and that’s the kind of stuff I adore, so I was happy to dedicate my weekend to learn more.

Having not taken any (white) feminism classes in college, I ate the training up! I learned about the Latinx reproductive justice movement, spearheaded by Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice and SisterSong. Sister Song defines reproductive justice “as the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” And from the mouth of Monica Raye Simpson herself, Executive Director and badass activist, she has continued the fight by teaching us that reproductive justice is racial justice.

2. Amazing People Doing Amazing Things

Interestingly enough, one of the LOLA trainers (who later became a friend) was Alejandra Pablos. Alejandra was working for the NLIRH, advocating for Latinxs and organizing the community through the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network. In January, Alejandra was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after attending a peaceful immigration protest outside of an ICE field office in Virginia. Alejandra was released 40+ days later after the community rallied behind her.

That’s just one of the many #mujeronaspoderosas working at NLIRH.

3. Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Did you know that no one had asked Latinxs how they felt about abortion and sexual and reproductive health in general, until 2016? Yes, all the information about Latinxs hating abortions, wanting to have a ton of kids, being super Catholic were assumptions because the government hadn’t asked the Latinx community! I.couldn’t.believe.it. In 2016, NLIRH and PerryUndem Research/Communication surveyed Latinxs voters and found that:

  • 82 percent of Latino voters believe women should make their own decisions when it comes to abortion.
  • 69 percent agree that, despite some church leaders’ anti-abortion views, abortions should remain legal.
  • 62 percent weren’t aware there are legal battles underway that could possibly restrict abortion access.

4. Keeping Families Together is Reproductive Justice

In the fall of 2017, the NLIRH partnered with In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum to host a series of briefings addressing Women of Color and Immigration Policy, Reproductive Justice, and Economic Policy. I attended all three Senate briefings and found solace in knowing that there were organizations on the Hill working to block the new administration wherever possible and actively communicating their needs and calling our representatives into action. Nothing has changed since the separation of families policy change came into the media.

5. #IntersectionalFeminismSoWhite

Serving on the board of a pro-choice, democratic organization, I realized that saying you are intersectional and being, living, and breathing intersectionality are two very different things. Diversity on your board matters and dictates what the organization looks like, but it is not the end all be all. As members, you can choose the organizations you partner with, the issues and causes you fight for, the areas you recruit from, and the leadership you elect. When you have a board of 13 women and only 4 are WoC, of course the results will be homogenous. While there may have been allies on the board, my experience was that our voices and votes were still outnumbered. As much as we say we want to be diverse and inclusive, the membership spoke as loud as the leadership by attending and supporting the same old causes and organizations. This was evident when we hosted another event highlighting WoC, “A panel discussion with the NLIRH.” This event had 6 attendees. while the #purpleshirts had 6 times more attendees!

Which brings me to my point: Intersectional feminism to me, means supporting all people of color to live safe and holistically healthy lives, which includes reproductive justice, racial justice, economic justice, and access to basic human rights. So next time you think about intersectional feminism, look at what organizations and people you are supporting not just at the issues.