I did not learn to spell the word, FE-MI-NISTA (FEMINISM), in the classroom or at home. Instead I learned to read the word, FE-MI-NICIDIO, as way to understand the violent murders of mothers and sisters advertised on the front page of the daily papers.
The colors of their dresses in these post-mortem photographs forever engraved in my memory as a sign of the homeland calling me back. A sign of a world where the sun rises early with our mothers and sets without them.
I was born into a country (El Salvador) in which the normative culture of violence against women, patriarchy and colonialism is pervasive enough that hundreds of women are loosing their lives in daily violent crimes. These women and girls lost their life on the way to the corner store, on the way to the bus stop, walking home from school. These women do not get the chance to come home to their children, their partners, their sisters and their brothers.
I was born into a country where my mother told me to trust no man. I was not safe. I was told not to smile. To cover my skin with fabric. To not go out in the dark. Safety was a privilege. Immigrating elsewhere was our safe haven. A privilege other women did not have.
Privilege is how I am here today. Privilege means I got to escape. It means I know what feminista means, and I do not get to be afraid of the police. As a feminist(a) it means I recognize my own passing privilege, and power to elevate and center those most vulnerable to violence. It means as a cisgender, bi-sexual woman of color I have privilege and power I can use to fiercely ensure others get to share their stories.
It means I am no stranger to the violence my sisters are faced with every day.
It means I recognize que nuestras madres (our mothers) did not get equal access to economic, health and educational opportunities. And que nuestras hermanas (our sisters) still do not have equal access to economic, health and educational opportunities.
It means I get to look at my mother’s eyes and remember she fought against abuse and trauma and stands strong today despite what the world repeatedly told her. It means that that is not my story, thanks to her. No she did not teach me to spell “FEMINISTA”, but she paved the way for my sister and I to get the chance to center the voices of the most marginalized and ensure THEY get they are seen and THEY get to tell their stories too.
Feminist(a) represents the battles I faced to cross the borderlands of race and gender, and I have the opportunity to talk about my lived experiences through an intersectional lens. Quiere decir que I do not get to choose for you. It means ensuring you have the opportunity to choose for yourself. It means I do not define you, but you define yourself. It means YOU get to tell YOUR story and I …. I get to share mine.
Michelle Jokisch Polo is a Mestiz(a), Latin(a) woman of color, Spanglish is her specialty and she temporarily resides in Grand Rapids, because the mountains of her homeland are calling her back. She is passionate about creating spaces where intersectionality is encouraged and marginalized voices are elevated.