Portrait of A Feminista – Cynthia Ayala

“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…

Cynthia Ayala

32571_407953943984_5370757_nI am a straight, Mexican-American woman. My family has been in the U.S. for at least three generations in the West and South West, and I do not speak much Spanish. Although my mother was fluent in English and Spanish, my three sisters and I did not pick it up. Like many others from low-income Latin-American homes, the women in my family are often faced with extreme “machismo” in life. My grandfather was abusive and had a sense of male entitlement, although he is also remembered as loving and sacrificing. My mom went through several physically abusive relationships, and spent the majority of her time raising her daughters singly. I believe my feminism grew out of my mother’s struggles of many Latin women – she spent her life under a man’s physical control, then worked to exhaustion regularly for her children, but never got to focus on herself as she passed away at 50 from breast cancer.

The burden on women in my family has had much to do with the men in it. Only a handful of fathers in my family have stepped forward to raise the children they produced. My father had an affair with my mother, and I am the product of that relationship. He’s made little to no attempt to be in my life, and I’m still not sure what the personal impact has been on me. This story is common in my family, and I have decided to live differently by focusing on education and personal growth. I have come to understand that my mom had to make a decision when she realized she was pregnant with me; however, she loved me more than I think I can even comprehend, and I’m so grateful she decided to keep me because I plan on doing big things in her honor. I see feminism as my main vehicle for doing that. I do feel lonely in my choice, though, to not marry or have children because the women closest to me focus their lives on their children while I am pursuing a degree in Social Work. Like many other feminists, I have a desire to “fix” my mother’s life, and other women in my family, through mine, even though I know that’s impossible. But, I can try to do things she would be proud of, and also influence younger women in my family to make their own positive choices.

Within mainstream feminism, I find that I have a bit of an aggressive attitude toward patriarchy and, when I feel strongly about something, I reject using politically correct language to say how I feel. I have come to understand that my attitude is not always “appropriate” or “helpful” when I react strongly in forums and conversations, so I sometimes think that I can’t speak up with the urgency that I feel by using words that aren’t curse words or extreme comparisons. As a Latina in mainstream feminism, I like to examine the struggles of the Latin community – fighting for education for bilingual kids, agriculture workers rights, immigration rights, etc. These are important contributions to society; they should be recognized, and we are the ones to do it. Because of my limited Spanish-speaking abilities, I sometimes feel left out, but I also know that I am not the only one. I represent a smaller piece of the Latina feminist movement. My “kind” is sometimes referred to as the “Mexican white girl” in my area, although I think it has strictly to do with language, because my family’s strong effort to stay together, celebrate holidays, and continue traditions (among other things) is strongly based on our Latin heritage.

Some say that we need to stop labeling things and people in order to obtain equality. However, ideas of equality differ greatly! It can be proven through history that the concerns of feminists vary by income, race, age, gender, etc., but they have had the same general goal of equality. Black feminists did not fight for the same issues as white feminists, overall, during the civil rights movement, and we can look at Latinas as having a different take on how to achieve equality today. Twitter (#SecretLivesOfFeministas) and Facebook allow like-minded Latina feminists to collaborate and share stories, opinions, and goals that help make up the Latin perspective of feminism. It is important that we group together because our personal experiences and sense of togetherness that we share through these avenues make up a rock-solid foundation for the entire feminist cause.

I work with children in a group home setting, and I bring my feminist point of view to work with me each day. As their caregiver, I believe I have a responsibility to teach them to respect women, but as a feminist caregiver, I believe my role is to go twenty steps further. I show them that women deserve respect because they are human beings, not because they are gentle flowers who need protection because they are easy targets. The children respect my attitude, and I believe I have built better working relationships with them because of my strong feminist standpoint.

In order to make a greater impact, I’m working to get a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. My ultimate dream is to have my own program that has feminist goals. At the start of my education, I wanted to earn an influential position at a “safe house” program that helps women escape violence. Now, I can see that the possibilities are endless, as long as I maintain my ultimate goal of being a positive influence to my nieces and female cousins. I could have gone into accounting and still helped the feminist movement just by believing in equality and practicing it every day.

 

Cynthia was born in Sacramento, CA on November 6,1982 to a single mom who went back to work just a few days later. She has three sisters, and, through school, was very shy with people with whom she wasn’t familiar. She completed just one semester of college classes after high school. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 45 and passed away at 50 – Cynthia was 21 and still living with her. She then moved to Nevada City, CA with her boyfriend who saw her through this trauma as well as the later passing of her oldest sister like a rock, as she saw him through his struggle with alcoholism. She are currently trying to save for a home – she hopes to have property with a guest house for family, and has have also returned to school to work on a degree in Social Work.

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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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