Painting their Presence: A Deconstruction of the Experience of Women of Color in the American Society

The articles of Lopez, Hurdis, and Tumang offered a riveting account of how they resisted the realities in context of the American society. As part of the minority, these women of color paint the feminist movement with additional colors or perspectives as to how gender and race are linked to the experience of oppression. While gender is a basis for subjugation, women of color are bound to additional levels of discrimination due to their race. Therefore, feminism, at least the waves present during their time, does not yet fully offer the representation that these women are uncovering. This society presents a great contrast to the repressed individuality in which they were longing and fighting to be discussed or recognized. The three articles are deconstructed with respect to the elements of colonialism, decolonization, and resistance, respectively. Then, an explanation as to why certain passages were highlighted would follow.

In Praise of Difficult Chicas: Feminism and Femininity by Adriana Lopez

In Praise of Difficult Chicas discusses how the lives of her Tia Esthercita and her mom served as inspiration for Adriana Lopez to resolve the dichotomy of her conservative Colombian roots and (quite) liberal American upbringing. Exposed to the feminist writings of mostly white females, it was through her travels to Latin American cities was she able to identify the differences in the issues faced by the women in Latin America and the Latinas in the United States.

“Symbolizing the primacy of the Virgin Mary in the female role, marianismo describes the self-sacrifice and rejection of pleasure women subject themselves to so they can please others, especially the men in their families.” (p. 125)

The passage on marianismo provides the readers with a preview of the expectations set by the Colombian society on their women. The attempt to adhere to such a conservative belief limits the expression and behavior of women. Thus, they are most susceptible to judgement and persecution based on a misrepresented and misinterpreted religious belief or icon. The application of the life of the Virgin Mary in a societal setting could then be referred to as colonialism.

“As mainstream feminism inspired me to rebellious heights, I looked to the writings and efforts of Latinas and women of color. Aware of the plights of Latinos living in the United States, issues of race and class began haunting my thoughts the more I lived in the real world, away from that fantasy land of intellectual nurturing called academia.” (p. 127)

“… my contact with this new feminism brought me back into closer contact with my own ethnicity, my own self…. Through these women of all shapes and sizes, I was inspired to start writing stories of my own. And through the writing was I able to connect the dots to the women in my family.” (p. 129)

While her exposure to feminism was indirect, through her Tia and mother, it became a pre-cursor for Lopez to challenge the duality of her Colombian roots and American upbringing. Furthermore, her exposure to the experiences of women of color both inside and outside the U.S. validated her rejection and pushed her to impress upon others her position through writing. Through her travels and writings was she able to relieve herself of the limited angles that the academe offered. The expansion of her horizons could be paralleled to that of her Tia and mother.

“… I told my father that I was not a virgin and called him a dinosaur for thinking that any one man was worth so much that I would sacrifice myself and wait till I was married. ‘I’m here to have fun too, Dad.’” (p. 126)

Yet even before her exposure to the plights of women of color, her resistance to the colonialism that is patriarchy and religiosity were manifested through her interesting rebellious acts. Such a move and confrontation could be viewed as promiscuity especially in her Colombian background. However, the openness in which the American society where she was exposed to possibly gave her the boldness in which she welcomed and found justification. Truthfully, the concept of virginity seems to be used as basis for judgement on those who might believe and do otherwise.

Heartbroken: Women of Color Feminism and the Third Wave by Rebeca Hurdis

Meanwhile, Heartbroken chronicled the struggle of identity of Rebecca Hurdis as an adopted woman of color. Starting from the day where she was welcomed in the arms of her American mother, her Korean roots caused turmoil within her as her peers would “accept” yet discriminate her non-whiteness. Women’s studies and feminism, particularly Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua’s This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, gave her the validation to resent these behaviors from a history of repression.

“Despite their acceptance, however, I was simultaneously cast as the other. I was undeniable Asian. I was the subject and the object. I was the china doll and the dragoness.” (p. 283)

Heartbroken was more upfront as to how Hurdis experienced colonialism in the guise of the labels that her peers called her. Particularly interesting was how she referred to herself as both the subject and the object. She was treated both as a human yet a sub-human by her peers, and an object of laughter and insult based on her skin color. She even embodied such colonization believing that she was also white, adding confusion to her identity and worth.

“Women’s studies offered me a place where there was validation and reason. I was uncovering and understanding how my own internalization was tied to ideologies of racism and sexism.” (p. 283)
“It was a social and political commitment to a higher vision for society by resituating women from the margins into the center. I began and naming what I believed was sexism.” (p. 284)

In contrast to Lopez, feminism through the academe became the avenue for Hurdis to name the confusion and oppression she felt growing up. It seemed that it was her refuge, bursting her repressed anger in the form of an ideology. From years of being called names, she is now finally able to label the name-calling. Instead of acceptance, she now felt aggressive. Yet despite this renewed spirit, feminism still felt insufficient in addressing the various oppressions specifically by women of color. In a way, this identification of its insufficiencies serves as a rejection of continued victimization, a need for expansion from the white narratives.

“I began looking at race through gender, where most have the reverse experience. This idea of entry point is crucial. I call myself a woman of color before I call myself an Asian American. It reflects how I have come to see myself and how I understand my own identity.” (p. 285)

Thus, as a means to include herself and other similar women in the discussion, the lens with which she views gender is coupled with the same lens in viewing race. The connection with these two variables is her way of resisting the waves of the old viewpoint. This projection empowers her identity signaling an understanding of herself. Instead of calling herself as an Asian American to which she thinks connotes some rigidity, her identification of women of color establishes her assertions and beliefs.

Nasaan ka anak ko? A Queer Filipina-American Feminist’s Tale of Abortion and Self-Recovery by Patricia Justine Tumang

Lastly, Patricia Justine Tumang’s Nasaan ka anak ko? offers a painful yet enlightening story of abortion and on acceptance. While this article dealt with the need for representation on women of color, the horrors of her abortion questions the justification of the pro-life or pro-choice debate in the United States. This debate underlines the attempt of others, specifically men, to control the choices of women on their bodies. The generalization on the perception of the pro-choice side as murderers denies the reason and the experience behind such a choice as with the case of Tumang. Pro-choice does not necessarily mean a free pass for abortion. Rather, it aims for accession to safe abortions.

“I learned at an early age the art of keeping silent…. All the pains, the joys and the heartaches of my life festered inside me, creating gaping wounds between the silences. My tongue was a well, containing words fit to burst and flood the Pacific Ocean. Yet only English came out. In short. And polite. Sentences. At home and abroad we sang in English, loved and dreamed in English.” (p. 376)

The behavior expected of Tumang, at an early age relates to the suppression of the voices and actions of young and old Filipinas often disguised as discipline. Vivaciousness is unacceptable, instilling instead ‘manang’ attitudes that is conservative and dependent. Moreover, the legacies of the American occupation have been ingrained in us associating their ways, whether through their language or customs, as superior to the local Filipino culture. Thus, many leave the Philippines in exchange for a chance to achieve the American Dream.

“Although I couldn’t understand a word, I sang unabashedly. The act of singing Tagalog was dangerous and daring. Rooted in a desperate aching to speak a language other than English, I felt like a mischievous child stealing a cookie from the forbidden cookie jar, and I slowly savored every bite. In this hunger, I realized writing was another way to emerge from the silence into a place of healing.” (p. 377) 

Her desperation for some Filipino element is a form of her recollection from foreign and restrictive controls. She used Filipino songs, using its language and origin as a way to voice her return to her roots. The text exemplifies the rejection of Tumang to be fully engulfed by the ways of foreign customs forced unto her by her own family. In the same way rebels work in the darkness, this yearning for otherness is done on the constraints of her mind.

“When I returned to the clinic after abortion, I was told I needed therapy for my depression and anxiety. A white female doctor began asking questions about me, my family and my refusal to seek therapy. I suggested that I join a support group for women of color who had abortions and was informed by the doctor that there were none, to her knowledge, in New York City. She asked me why I would feel more comfortable around other women of color and not a white man. I resented her questions, and she pressed on, few words short of calling me a ‘separatist’.” (p. 380)

Through words did she express this desperation and recovery. But, words were not enough to fully heal from her painful experience. The need for safety in the form of people – of women of color –  shows her resolve in identifying with other who may have felt the same way. Though she was met with reservations, her resistance was stronger, just as she is. The choice to accept might not have been easy; yet, the ways she choose to heal is already an indication of her healing and resistance.