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Chicana Author Cherrie Moraga Speaks About Culture and Storytelling

Artist and scholar Cherríe Moraga, whose books, poems and plays have been especially influential in the Latina, feminist and queer community, spoke about her experiences as a Chicana lesbian on February 7.
Moraga began her lecture at USF speaking about a trip to Barcelona, Spain in which she became aware of her roots in the Spanish-colonized country of Mexico.
“Our identities have been forged by those 500 years of colonization,” Moraga said. Linking her heritage and the history of her country as a part of her identity, Moraga added, “I’m proud that we have built a culture for ourselves.”
Her latest book, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings 2000-2010 (2011) which Moraga promoted at USF, features essays and poems about herself, her life as a feminist Chicana, and the political and social situation that permeated the first decade of the 21st century.
“We decided to bring Cherríe since she is a classical pioneer Chicana-Latina writer,” said professor Susana Kaiser, chair of the L atin American Studies department.
Moraga’s many works include the 1981 book “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color”, an anthology she co-edited with feminist writer Gloria Anzaldúa. The book criticized white, middle-class, Western thought in mainstream feminism seeking to give a voice to third world women. “Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Pasó Por Sus Lábios” (1983) and “The Last Generation” (1993) are books in which Moraga interweaves themes of politics, love, sexuality and cultural identity.
Her latest play, “New Fire”, a production about indigenous healing rituals, showed at the Mission district’s Brava Theater in January.
While reading the prologue from A Xicana Codex at USF, Moraga talked about traditions that emerged in Mexico post-colonialism. “This book follows in that tradition, reflecting a map of my own journey in the first decade of this new century, as writer, teacher, teatrista, mother, daughter, and lesbian lover,” she said.
Moraga also read a piece about her experience teaching theater to her son’s second and third grade class during her presentation.
In teaching theater to her eight year old son and his classmates, most of them African-American, Latina and Asian-American, Moraga said she hoped to instill lessons of oppression, and Chicano history and culture. “We came in with memory…Particularly working with young people of color who are artists, my commitment is to help people remember that”, said Moraga.
Moraga said storytelling was instilled in her home since childhood. “My mother was our contista, you know? She was a story teller,” said Moraga. Alzheimer’s disease, however, made it difficult for Moraga’s mother to remember stories, and she passed away in 2005.
The lecture concluded with Moraga reading part of an essay that explored issues of gay marriage and transgendered life.
“There is no critique of the normal without the queer. The beauty of the queer is that she/he requires society to question itself, its assumptions about desire, about masculinity and femininity, about power,” Moraga said.
When she transitioned to book signing, the audience quickly formed a long line.
“I read about her a lot since I’m a Latino-Chicano Studies Minor, but I also wanted to come for myself, because both my parents are from Mexico and I love Chicana feminist work and art,” said Senior Elizabeth Castro, who waited patiently for Moraga’s autograph.

Sorority Motivates Middle School Girls at Leadership Conference

According to the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, Latina high school graduation rates are lower than any other female racial or ethnic group in the U.S.

To increase graduation rates on a local scale, Lambda Theta Nu Sorority Inc. will host their second annual conference for San Francisco middle school girls at USF. The Latina Youth Leadership Conference (LYLC) provides middle school students with the education and tools to succeed in high school and pursue higher education. The conference, set for May 8th, is also a national service that all chapters of Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Inc. are required to fulfill.

“Essentially we want to give them the leadership skills they need to succeed. We know that middle school is the prime time that Latinas get discouraged and either drop out of school later on or end up pregnant,” President Adriana Ponce-Jimenez said. “We want to show them that, ‘Hey, we were once in your shoes too, and if you believe in yourself and just work hard, good things can happen.’”

The sorority is expecting about 60 to 70 girls, from James Lick Middle School, Everett Middle School, and Martin Luther King of the San Francisco Unified School District. Apart from leadership skills, the conference’s goals are to promote higher education, provide positive role models, and enhance self-esteem and cultural pride.

Last year, the sorority held their first annual conference on May 9th 2009, and hosted about 42 girls. Last year’s president, Leandra Cartagena, said it was a good turnout considering it was their first LYLC. “We didn’t know how the San Francisco schools would respond to our invitations. We hoped for about 80 girls, but in the end some schools pulled out because they were either hesitant or were simply unresponsive.”

Of the 42 students, 70 percent were Latina, 10 percent were African American, and 20 percent were other ethnicities (Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caucasian).

Due to last year’s diverse turnout, the sorority openly welcomes female students of any cultural background that the middle schools are willing to provide. “We don’t want to be exclusive. We want any girl to benefit from this as possible, whether they’re Latina or not,” said Cartagena.

The conference will hold four workshops, highlighting college requirements and financial aid options, the magnitude of getting involved in high school, and the challenges girls face as minorities in a male-dominated society.

Ponce-Jimenez said that last year’s workshops were facilitated by professionals, including USF Dean of Students and Associate Vice President for University Life, Mary Wardell. “This year we’re trying something different by hosting the workshops ourselves, which means we have a lot more responsibility because we’re relying on ourselves to make the workshops successful.”

The sorority will also invite a group of Spanish-speaking only high school students, who were suggested by Gloria Escobar of Everette Middle School. Escobar is the coordinator of an after-school program for recently arrived students from foreign countries. Escobar asked Ponce-Jimenez, who is also the LYLC committee chair for the second time in a row, if there was any way the conference could be offered in Spanish.

“Of course we jumped on that right away. We also want to reach out to those girls, who have more of a challenge coming into a foreign educational system.”

The sorority will host workshops entirely in Spanish at least once during the day, for the Spanish-speaking only group. At main events, such as the morning college panel and the key- note speaker at lunch time, the girls will have a designated translator. “We don’t want to segregate them but we’d rather have them be in their own groups then get lost switching from English to Spanish,” Ponce-Jimenez said.

LYLC is part of the sorority’s national philanthropy called Tijeras (or scissors in English), which is defined as two blades pinned together. The Tijeras project strives to “cut” through barriers that stand in the way of Latino youth and their educational goals.

“We fundraise all year for this, including our annual benefit dinner that we recently had in March,” Ponce-Jimenez said. “This event would never happen without the generous contributions that people make. It’s heavily dependent on donations, and we thank them not for us, but for the girls that they are directly impacting.”

To make a donation for LYLC, contact Adriana Ponce-Jimenez at AmorouZAZ@yahoogroups.com

Guest Lecturer Encourages Social Justice for Latinos

The history of America is not entirely told. “If it wasn’t for Latins, there would be no United States of America.” said Augustin Garcia, who took his lecture series “The Latinization of America,” to USF last Thursday.  Garcia, a civil and human rights activist, has been traveling to various colleges and universities to deliver a speech on the historical connections between Latin America and the United States, connections that he said are often uninformed.

To the roomful of people gathered in Fromm Hall, he said, “They say you’re foreign? That bothers me.” The crowd was mostly students of of Latino descent. On the history he covered, he said, “It’s the truth. Nobody bothered to teach you that.”

Garcia said that today’s states were actually named by the Spanish. Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth Rock intended to land in Virginia, but actually got lost in “Las Carolinas,” now known as the Carolina states. Latins from Puerto Rico and the Carribean islands first inhabited certain regions of the Americas prior to the pilgrims’ arrival. After making their way to establish the thirteen colonies, the pronunciations of the regions were changed. “Are you really foreigners?” Garcia said, “Or are you just the cousins that came before them?”

Garcia said that colonists also received help from the Spanish to win the Revolutionary War. Six months were all the colonists had to “crush” the British government. Garcia said Latins made the British surrender, by blocking the flow of the British at sea. Even as British were blocked, colonists didn’t have the funds to pay for the war. Thomas Jefferson, being a great lover of Latin culture, sent three men to plea for gold that could fund the colonial army.

Women of the Caribbean personally removed their jewelry and created two billion in gold, which were handed to the colonists. “We invested in American democracy,” Garcia said. “The first American currency backed by Spanish gold! And you’re the foreigners!” Garcia said that English word “dollar” came from the Latin word, “do-lar,” and Spanish coins backed paper money.

“We have named it, we explored it, we lived it, and we financed it,” Garcia said, “and we have no rights to it?”

Garcia went on from the Revolutionary War to Word War II, when Puerto Ricans worked in the newly opened war factories in Chicago, New York, and numerous cities across the country. “We were the laborers, when they went to fight the war we were cheap labor,” he said.

Garcia said that even today the U.S. exploits undocumented Latinos. To enlist in the U.S. armed forces, only drivers’ licenses and high school diplomas are recquired, and proof of citizenship is not. “We don’t care if they’re American born or not,” he said. The first to die in the Iraq War was an undocumented alien, and currently 10,000 undocumented aliens serve in Iraq.  “We have given everything. We have given our blood, we have given our sweat, we have given our discovery, we have given our resources, and we have given our children.” Garcia said.

Garcia then went on to explain that the pioneers of this country are immigrants. “If you’re here, you’re a part of this right?” he said. “If you’re not here, youíre not a part of this.” For Latinos, Garcia asked who do they have to thank, whether it be this institution, the United States’ forefathers, or God. “You have to thank the pride of your father and mother, who thought it was more important to clean somebody’s room or throw away Pampers because that was the only way to give to their children.”

Families came here looking for their children to be American and to get an education. “For every grandparent that doesn’t know English, they knew the system enough to know that this world would be better for you.”

Garcia talked about the Dream Act, as an obligation to give Latinos justice. “You’re not going to get anything if you don’t ask it. If you don’t kick and scream, you don’t get [anything].” Garcia said that we cannot restrict the term “undocumented” to solely Latinos, since there are immigrants in the U.S. from all over the world. In Louisiana, the largest population of undocumented aliens is Vietnamese, he said. The largest not prosecuted are Canadians. “They work in this country, but have you ever seen a Canadian deported?”

Garcia also mentioned that Latinos who are citizens are often discriminated by police “legally.” A car with four Latino passengers are pulled over everyday, and questioned whether they have legal authorization to be in this country. “They call it ‘national security,’” he said, “but either give us justice or you don’t get our votes.”

This country’s immediate need is not just medical benefits, but social justice as well. Garcia said that the world is no longer white or black. When he asked who in the room does not have medical insurance, five audience members raised their hand. But when he asked who knows someone that is living here undocumented, nearly the entire room raised their hand.

After Garcia concluded his speech, freshman Alejandra Flores said she learned information that she didn’t know before. “It wasn’t just history, he opened up a lot of points about equality,” she said.

“What do you Google? You can verify who you are, you can tell everybody your rights with your own little laptop,” Garcia said.

Freshman Rosie Ceja agreed. She referred to Garcia’s message about not depending on others to tell us our history. “It’s time we do make our own chip,” Rosie said, about Garcia’s “chip-in-the-brain” analogy, “and put our information in it.”

“We’re warm blooded people,” Garcia said. “We love what we stand for and we love what we are. Be proud of ourselves.”