Portrait of A Feminista – Rosebud Ben-Oni

“Portrait of A Feminista” was born from AnaYelsi Sanchez’s desire to to see herself and her story reflected in others; an unwillingness to settle for a feminism that doesn’t reflect Latin@s shared history and experience. It began in November 2013 as the #SecretLivesOfFeministas twitter conversation addressing the absence of Latina voices in mainstream feminism and the unique struggles faced by feministas and is on it’s way to becoming a published anthology. Read about the twitter movement that led to this series.

Today’s portrait…

 Rosebud Ben-Oni

Rosebud Ben-Oni

I contain multitudes, and they are always at war.

But where do I begin?

Perhaps within the home. My mother is Mexican, born Catholic, and she converted before marrying my Jewish father. It was her choice; this was explained to me as a child, and to other Jews in our synagogue whom mostly lived on the better side of town. It was her choice. She wouldn’t offer any more explanation.

I was raised Jewish, but surrounded by her family, on the U.S.-Mexican border. That border, a world. A world. And I straddled more than one— I studied Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew, and the Spanish came through conversation. My parents had big dreams for me; my father saw to it that I was a Bat Mitzvah, that I was being raised, in the words of other congregants at our synagogue, “like a boy.” My mother would never call herself strong; although she raised her many brothers and sisters and took care of her ailing mother, she did not see this as building character. My mother, to this day, is suspicious of the word “feminist.” She wrinkles her nose. Once she said: You don’t know history. I said: Explain. But she wouldn’t offer any more explanation.

In the college, though, I pushed for one. She wrinkled her nose. She rolled her eyes. Finally she said that if anyone ever gave— gave, gave up, gave in— in their 40+ years of marriage, it was my father. He gave and gave more. Feminist? She shook her head. That’s for white women who have too much time on their hands. What do they know about my struggles? You don’t see my complaining. I just do, my mother said. I don’t have time to complain.

I am and am not of this woman. I wrote about that here.

I used to say: I don’t need labels like Latina or Jewish or Bisexual or A Light-Skinned or Feminist. I’m me. And even now, when asked what I am, I find myself saying this—at times. I’m just me. Because it’s simpler when I don’t want to offer explanation. And there is a reason for this.

In the heritages I contain, in the histories I’ve inherited, those multitudes within me accuse. They riot. Each wants dominance and definition. Each will go to battle for the recognizable reflection in the mirror. Each speaking out of turn, each between a whisper and a cry, they ask: You still hold things sacred, like your idea of God, the Jewish God, and yet where are the women in those stories? What place do they have? And are you really of them? Turn not to your mother’s side: the corridos she loves, they were written by men, and as for those Danny Trejo movies you love, how you pretend to love without question, you’re going to let the women in leather and guns go for now, it’s part of a genre that’s in on the fun. You are fun. You aren’t careful; you are natural. It all works out. You can explain it all in theories of race, religion, gender. And now you’ve earned some silence after years of education.

But no, it’s not going down like that.

My multitudes continue: In your time in Jerusalem, you thought you understood yourself as Jew in Israel, only to be undone by your diasporic, mixed upbringing. You didn’t understand at all. And even after you left, you still harbor the roadblocks of all those physical, religious, racial and sexual borders. Choose a side in Jerusalem. Choose a sexual preference. Some image of you must win and all others must retreat into the distance. You already carry so many distances. No, retreat into yourself, if only for a moment, and pretend you’re a singular thing yet undiscovered. Hybridity has purity— you want to believe that. You yourself are an origin. Let go of existing narratives, past experiences, and forge something new from them. Do not fear us any longer, the contradictions that arise in self-identification, may we fall silent, if only for a moment…

But no, it’s not going down like that.

And now…I feel bared. I am revealing my Secret Life here. My inner dialogue where to claim a particular identity at all is a transgression. Very well, then: I contain transgressions— and this is why I need #SecretLivesOfFeministas and the conversation. It’s not just another hashtag. It’s about building community. Because as a CantoMundo fellow, I connect with other Latin@ poets whom do not fit so neatly into boxes either. Because I support their work by teaching it to my students as vital and not “supplemental” material. Because the Latina experience in particular, as told through verse, contain multitudes. Because Latinas are coming together not just to find similarities, but to explore how we are each evolving the dominant discourse that has left us out as Other, as women, or invalided our language(s). Because I need to hear these stories, to hear the tearing down of numerous walls that sought to keep us in our place, that feminism too is evolving. That nothing of that caliber is set in stone. That we recognize all the multitudes we contain and sometimes they are violent and sometimes forgiving, and above all, very, very much alive. I contain multitudes of she, you and I. Because of you. Because of her. Because this is not just explanation. Because this is not just a blood-letting. Because community. Because community. Because community.

Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a 2013 CantoMundo Fellow and the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013). A Leopold Schepp Scholar at New York University, she won the Seth Barkas Prize for Best Short Story and The Thomas Wolfe/Phi Beta Kappa Prize for Best Poetry Collection. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan where she earned her MFA in Poetry, and was a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Recently, her story “A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor’s Prize for Best Short Story in Camera Obscura: A Journal of Contemporary Literature and Photography. A graduate of the 2010 Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater, her plays have been produced in New York City, Washington DC and Toronto. Her work appears in The American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Bayou, Puerto del Sol, among others. Rosebud is an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts (vidaweb.org). Find out more about her at 7TrainLove.org
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Are you a feminista and want to add your portrait? Know a feminista whose story needs to be heard? Contact AnaYelsi at brwneyedamzn@gmail.com. 

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 Don’t forget to use #secretlivesoffeministas when sharing this series on facebook and twitter. Help to keep us connected.

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