To Be or Not To Be… a Feminist

Jatziry Guzman Berzunza wearing a white hat To be or not to be... a feminist

Written by: Jatziry Guzman Berzunza

I grew up in México in a small town, I came to the US at 24 years old.

Some people, when they hear my story, want to know, “Why did you come to the US? For the most part it is has kind and curious people that ask.

I feel that my story is similar but not as harsh and sad as many of the other stories you hear from immigrants who have come here.

The dream of opportunity, the dream of being safe, the dream of not being harassed on the streets. The dream of a good paying job, the dream of a partner that is not abusive, manipulative, a better life!

Time has gone by, twenty years to be exact, I am now a citizen. I have been able to go back to México to visit my family, my Mom was able to come and work and stay, and my daughter came and after high school went back to Oaxaca.

 A few years ago, my fiance Bob and I were discussing the issue of feminism and he asked me if I considered myself a feminist?

I answered, It depends, If I am in México, I am a feminist, If I am here (USA) I am not.

I had to think about it, and this is my conclusion.

Every time when I go back to México I feel, sad, overwhelmed, angry, and unfortunately not surprised of the chauvinistic way society works there. At the beginning of my trips I would argue, confront, get angry at every situation that would come my way. Vacation time was not relaxing.

Then I would come back home and my guard would come down. I would watch TV news and see women screaming, being angry, frustrated, arguing, fighting for respect and equality and I would think “What are they talking about?” “Why are they so angry?”, especially compared to Mexico.

Fast forward to the “MeToo” Movement and I suddenly realized how much harassment is happening here as well. I saw those angry women and frustrated women, many expressing the same sentiment I feel when I go back home.

What I understand now, however is also what type of victim I still am (Because I am still learning) of that chauvinistic society that I thought I left when I came here.

Many of the things that women here in the U.S take for granted, I didn’t even dream of. Being independent, having of a career, getting a college degree, those things never crossed my mind. 

Life in the US has taken me in a beautiful journey that until recently through a series of epiphany’s, I didn’t realize I have been experiencing.

I did not go to college because still today I do not feel I have the skills to do s (This is what I am still working on, my beliefs and confidence)

However, I lived on my own for a while here and in México, I went to Cosmetology school and became an Instructor.  I guess I may have what it takes for a journey to a College Degree. I am evolving.

(On a side note about the Cosmotology and Beauty Industry… I recognize now that in an industry that “caters” so much to women, to be successful in it you, have to be a man. For Another Blog)

I have come to realize now that women here in the U.S. are as angry and frustrated at the inequalities in our society as what I see going back home. I may not have seen it here because here, like in my and many other countries, Women are also held down and kept quiet. They are trying to get out or survive an abusive relationship, have strong opinions, grow careers and face many similar challenges. I feel that here in the U.S, even with the “metoo” it would be risky and perhaps devastating for our careers to report harassments and abuses.

In other countries it can even be devastating for your life.

I am now taking on a professional career as part owner of a Manufacturing Rep Firm with my fiancé. This experience has made me realize the money side of unequal pay and treatment to women. There have been cases where people dealing with me want to lower or delay payments delay answers and I am surprised at how treatment changes when my partner gets involved.

But more than anything again it is the realization of how a Caucasian male gets treated in business, opportunities, pay and overall treatment vs. a Hispanic woman from a third world country.

What I am also realizing is how education changes your mind, how sheltered my mind had been and how little by little the opportunities of education and experiences  have changed my fears. It is time to exercise my “exigir”, or “how I want things to be”.

I am suddenly starting FIND MY VOICE!

 I want equality

I want to change the way I think.

I want to decide.

I want to help.

I am thankful for the women in my life that answer my questions with kindness.

 I am thankful for the men that treat me with respect and cheer for me to get a promotion , better pay and opportunities.

I am thankful for the situations and people that challenge my beliefs and thoughts. 

I am thankful for the impassioned women on documentaries, teaching me lessons about how a strong willed woman (who has a victim of chauvinistic behavior’s or actions) believes, thinks and acts.

I am finally am happy to announce …

Yes…. I AM A FEMINIST!

Follow Jatziry Guzman Berzunza

Website: Jat Yoga

Meet Gabby Salinas

Gabby Salinas

Meet Gabby Salinas: a healthcare advocate, cancer survivor, and scientist. Policy nerd. Political unifier. Red lipstick aficionado.

I met this Gabby in April 2018 when I just learned that my 12-year career teaching international university students was ending due to a nation-wide enrollment decline. I was preparing to move 2,500 miles away from my beloved home state of Oregon to Memphis, Tennessee and close the long-distance gap with my partner. I was eating lunch at my desk and scrolling Facebook when I came across a post in the group called Pantsuit Nation:

Gabby announces her campaign for Tennessee state senate on Pantsuit nation in 2018
A survivor, scientist, birthday-lover and a healthcare advocate for all? How can I meet her?

Wow! A woman wanting to turn her district blue just threw down her plans to run for office in the city where I was relocating! What were the chances? I was so moved by her announcement to run for state senate and excited to meet more progressive people in Memphis; a blue dot in a red state. Besides my partner, I didn’t know anyone else in Memphis, but that was about to change. I put down my salad and fork and sent Gabby this message:

“Hi Gabby! Happy birthday and congratulations on your campaign! Your story is very influential. I’ll be moving from Oregon to Memphis in September. I’ll be completely new to town and I’d love to help out on your campaign and meet some new people, so let me know if you need any help. I hope you have plans to celebrate today!”

And Gabby replied back:

“Hi Rachel, this is great news! You will love Memphis, it is a wonderful city! We would love your help, it is going to take all of us to flip this seat.”

And just like that: I made my first friend in Memphis.

Meet Gabby Salinas

A few months later when I arrived, I met Gabby in real life. She was as kind in person as she was on Facebook. I quickly learned that she and her family are the unofficial royal family of Memphis: loved by many for their community advocacy, genuine kindness, and their origin story of persisting in the face of hardships.

Election 2018 – She Persisted

I spent most of fall 2018 changing my address, shopping for a used car, and asking for rides to canvass for Gabby with my fellow campaign workers. Instead of preparing lessons and teaching students in a classroom, I knocked on thousands of doors and got to know the people in my new city by asking them to vote for Gabby in her campaign for the Tennessee state senate.

Fast forward to Election Night 2018, fueled by chips and salsa, margaritas, and hope, Team Gabby gathered at a local Mexican restaurant and watched election results roll in – first with eager anticipation and later with heavy hearts – as the local news networks declared Gabby’s incumbent opponent Brian Kelsey the winner of the state senate race by a margin of 1.8 percent or 1,520 votes. The race was close in terms of votes, but in terms of campaign spending, it was grossly disproportionate.

Follow the Money: PAC Attack

Brian Kelsey’s campaign was flushed with $369,000 from MCPAC, a political action committee (PAC of the then Lt. Governor Randy McNally.) That’s right: $369,000 spent. Against her. From the governor of Tennessee.

I can think of literally thousands of ways that money could be better spent: feeding families or providing jobs for many, but instead it was hoarded and spent in a smear campaign against a Latina female candidate. If fear had a smell, it would smell like whatever $369,000 smells like. Most people don’t know what $369,000 smells or even looks like because we’ve never seen that kind of money in one place, let alone be in a position to spend it.

MCPAC ran scathing TV and radio ads against Gabby calling her a “dangerous radical” and showing pictures of masked men as criminal immigrants. This was confusing because other than immigrating to the United States from Bolivia, Gabby can be found doing science in research labs, attending community events, or spending time with her family. Other choice phrases used to instill outsider-based racist fear to an easily-swayed conservative voter base were “Democratic socialist”, “not one of us”, and linked her to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Yaaaaaas! Wait I’m confused… is being compared to AOC supposed to be an insult?)

Gabby’s goal to expand Medicaid statewide as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act was twisted into rhetoric as, and I quote: “someone who would single-handedly destroy Tennessee’s economy”. Nevermind that the Tennessee economy is doing all right these days.

You may be wondering: who’s so opposed to hospitals to stop closing and every Tennessean to have healthcare that they’re willing to pay nearly $10,000 per donation? Some of the usual suspects include the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Republican National Committee, big tobacco, and alcohol distributors.

Gabby’s campaign was also funded by a PAC: a pro-immigrant political group that gave her campaign $23,000. Beyond the differences in funding, she and her team ran a true grassroots campaign that focused on the issues, not opponent-smearing. A “dangerously radical” concept indeed in today’s pay-for-votes divisive political climate. I was proud to be associated with her campaign.

The take-away is simple: follow the money, and vote with your dollars.

Election 2020 – Back in Action

Big dollars can’t and won’t quiet this woman, so Gabby is back and running for Tennessee House District 97! Her signature issue remains the same: expanding Medicaid in Tennessee so everyone can have access to healthcare and rural hospitals will stop closing. Other issues of importance for her are funding public education, safety, and infrastructure in Memphis.

When I knocked on doors for Gabby in 2018, I had about 30 seconds to talk to voters and ask for their votes. My script went something like this:

Hello, is Mr. / Ms. Lastname home? My name is Rachel and I’m campaigning for Gabby Salinas who’s running for Tennessee state senate. Are you familiar with her? Gabby is a:

*Three-time childhood cancer survivor
*Former St. Jude patient and researcher
*Who wants to expand Medicaid for Tennesseeans and
*Wants to fund public education, safety, and infrastructure to take all Memphians from surviving to thriving
Can we count on you to vote for her?

While all of the above is true, Gabby’s determination to provide for her state goes beyond those bullet points. Gabby Salinas is a shero in the highest regard. Next to my own mother, she is one of the most resilient and focused women I’ve ever met. Gabby stands up for everyone. She’s a quiet riot, relentlessly steadfast and kind, smart, driven, not to mention totally relatable and super fun to be around.

When I’m at a community event in Memphis, I wonder: “Is Gabby here?” Inevitably I’ll text her asking: “Hey, are you at the Levitt Shell concert tonight?” or “Hey, are you cheering at the St. Jude Marathon today?” more often than not she is and we’ll find each other, hug, and catch up on the goings-on of the moment. We’ll high five runners, or stage a dance party while listening to the Memphis sounds of summer: cicadas and community concerts. When I ask her what she’s been up to, she talks about her work, school, community advocacy, board service. My head spins in awe and I wonder how she makes time to be such a badass and whether she’s a paper or a digital calendar person. She seems unphased by her self-imposed workload and is always happy to be serving her community. Gabby always asks about what’s happening with me and listens with genuine interest as I tell her about my forays into freelancing among other things.

Surviving & Thriving: the Salinas Family Story

Gabby and her family are a tight-knit and inclusive bunch and they are no strangers to struggle. The Salinas family immigrated from Bolivia to Memphis, Tennessee when Gabby was seven years old so she could be treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – a beloved Memphis institution devoted to treating pediatric cancers and diseases. Families at St. Jude never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Marlo Thomas heard about Gabby being turned away from a hospital in New York because her family was unable to pay and brought her to Memphis to be treated at St. Jude for free.

When she was eight years old, her family traveled to New York to enjoy a change of scenery from the hospital. On the way back to Memphis, the Salinas family was in a bad car accident. Gabby’s father and sister died and her mother was paralyzed while pregnant with her youngest child who survived. Later Gabby had two more cancer diagnoses for which her family paid nothing thanks to the generosity of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which shows how healthcare can and should be for everyone.

Gabby would not be alive without the support the Memphis community gave her and her family. Now she focuses her time and energy advocating for policies that will give back to the people who gave her life when she and her family were at their most vulnerable.

Gabby and the Salinas Family tell their story

Moving to Memphis wasn’t easy for me. Even though I had the great fortune of being connected to one of Memphis’s finest people when I first arrived, I struggled to adapt to life in a new place. The first year of being away from my friends and family in Oregon rendered me homesick beyond expectation. Whenever I started to feel sorry for myself, I thought of Gabby and what her first year in Memphis was like. Inspired by her, I did my best to honor my feelings, shift my perspective, and find gratitude in a new situation. This is what I see her do. She never gives up.

Gabby and the Salinas family have experienced some of the most hellacious experiences life can present. They’ve moved forward and thrived through their struggles together. At a time when the problems of the world are many and people are paralyzed with overwhelm, Gabby. Is. Unstoppable. Gabby talks the talk, walks the walk, and shows us how to honor our heartbreak and turn it into action. She was alive when “pre-existing conditions” like cancer were acceptable reasons for declining someone health insurance coverage.

From St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: No child should die in the dawn of life.
From the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – “No child should die in the dawn of life”.

Gabby shows up for everyone. Now she needs our support for her campaign for Tennessee House so she can advocate for all at the state government.

Support Gabby Salinas for Tennessee House

Meet Gabby Salinas
“I will always be an engaged citizen pushing for better healthcare legislation in our state and in our nation.” – Gabby Salinas

Gabby is running for Tennessee House District 97 and oh yeah, also finishing her Ph.D. dissertation and keeping up with her advocacy work.

Contribute to candidates who care about the issues, not special interests. Make a donation and support her campaign at VoteForGabby.com. Follow her on Twitter as she moves her vision for Medicaid for all in Tennessee forward and stops rural hospitals from closing.

Onward!

Who Am I To Do This?

Rachel Drummond warrior 2 who am I to start an intersectional feminist blog

I tried hard really hard to not start this blog. Honestly, I did. But since you’re reading this now, it’s clear that my voice of reason lost this round to the shared voice of the heart and gut.

My voice of neurotic and protective reasoning didn’t concede the battle without asking incessant questions. My calm inner voice of truth kept right on answering them and that’s how we got here.

The Q&A session in my head went something like this:

Q: “Who are you to start an intersectional feminist blog?”

A: “A woman who wants to create a space to free, heal, inform, and inspire others.”

Q: “You’re white. You can’t just feature stories overcoming challenges from you and other white women. If this is going to be an intersectional feminist blog, you need stories from a diverse range of women.”

A: “I know.”

Q: “You have a lot going on right now, you know.”

A: “I know.”

Q: “Are you aware of how much time this blog will take?”

A: “I have a general idea. Posting once a month is sustainable for me. I have a year of post ideas written down. I hope others will be inspired to write their own too.”

Q: “Doesn’t Pantsuit Nation on Facebook already do this?”

A: “Yes. And having one more place on the interwebs to share stories won’t hurt anyone. This blog is an option for people who aren’t on Facebook or want to spend less time scrolling there.”

Q: “Don’t you keep saying you want to simplify your life?”

A: “Yes. And every time I say no to starting this blog, the voice of Onward Woman keeps coming back and asking: ‘So when are we starting?'”

Why We’re Here: to Create Sisterhood and Promote Equity

The purpose of Onward Woman is to create sisterhood and promote equity by sharing stories from a diverse representation of women.

Through sharing stories of our bravery and resilience, which can range from tales of triumph to small and powerful actions, I hope we can:

  • create an intersectional feminist space
  • eliminate secrecy
  • normalize the unspoken
  • vaporize shame
  • allow healing
  • empower the storyteller
  • inform others
  • inspire action

Herstory

This blog will feature stories of women to counterbalance the disproportionate focus on “history” – cultural narratives that feature and celebrate the accomplishments of men.

Onward Woman is a place to write “herstory” – stories of bravery and resilience, struggle and triumph written by, about women.

Women Warriors

Throughout time, women have shown up as warriors. Ezer is the name used in Genesis to describe Eve which translates to “warrior” or “necessarily ally”. Warriors are brave individuals and supportive teammates. Warriors work together to do the most good.

Our presence and our voices are our power. Now is our time to remind each other how strong and resourceful we are through sharing our stories.

A Warrior Checklist

When it’s time for virabhadrasana II (warrior II posture) in my yoga practice, I go through a mental checklist to keep me safe, strong, and steady. This checklist helps me feel brave and confident so I’m sharing my warrior checklist with you. I hope that these physical cues will help you feel grounded, connected to your truth, inspired to take action.

A Warrior Checklist:

  • Arms up
  • Shoulders down
  • Neck relaxed
  • Eyes focused forward
  • Face calm
  • Belly drawn up and in
  • Hips open
  • Legs muscles engaged and active
  • Feet pressed firmly down
  • Breathe for five steady breaths

Inhale.

Exhale.

Pure self-made warrior power.

I can write this blog alone, but don’t want to. This is a blog that is meant for stories from the inclusive warrior women sisterhood. So if you’d like to contribute a story or you have a question, please contact me. And if you think you know someone who’d like to share their story, please share this post.

I understand it may be too early to tell, but what do you think of Onward Woman so far? What do you want more of in future posts? You can expect at least one per month from me and more if other women feel called to contribute.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Thank you so much for your interest.

Onward, women!