Portrait of A Feminista: Dior Vargas

“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…
Dior Vargas
mainphotoI self identify as a queer feminist Latina. I’m Ecuadorian, Puerto Rican, and Italian. Within mainstream feminism, Latinas have been erased and even worse, taken for granted and used for our ideas without being given credit for it. I’ve been made to feel that if I don’t know or become part of the mainstream feminism and it’s ideals, that I am not a true feminist. I didn’t grow up listening to Ani DiFranco nor Riot grrl, and I didn’t know who Kathleen Hanna was. The role models I had growing up were the women in my family: their daily fight to put food on the table, make sure I did well in school, and not turn into the troubled Latina that everyone and even others in the family thought my sister and I would become.  So I didn’t fit in but I made sure I created a place in feminism; at least the one I believe which is inclusive and intersectional. Unfortunately I didn’t have access to Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, nor Dolores Huerta to look to and learn from.
This brings me to my experience as a feminist in Latin culture. I remember when I first knew I was a feminist and when I acknowledged it to my family. I was accused of being a filthy lesbian, a daughter who wanted to bring pain and shame to my family, an other. As if I could be more of an other in society. I felt excluded and isolated. Not only was I learning more about my attraction to females, I unwillingly became aware of the constant sadness and worthlessness I felt. I didn’t want to live. I didn’t want to deal with my abusive father anymore. In addition, I felt like I wasn’t Latina enough because I have light skin, hazel eyes, and straight hair. I felt that I didn’t deserve this identity because while I had and continue to have privileges that other Latinas don’t have, I was able to “pass” and move upward. 
I think #SecretLivesofFeministas means that there is more to us than what others see – more than what others neglect to admit and refuse to notice.  We are multifaceted, talented, and complex individuals. We are influential members of society who contribute our intelligence and ideas to its betterment. However, these secrets aren’t all positive. I also see secrets as the silence of what we as Latinas experience. We are supposed to put on a brave face and hold honor in who we are but there is so much that we are ashamed of in our personal lives. There is racism in our culture: dark skinned Latinas, AfroLatinas, and indigenous Latinas are not valued, acknowledged nor appreciated. There is silence of the abuse and mental illness that is rampant in our culture.
I chose to be part of this important conversation because I want to remove the suppression and secrecy of these experiences. I cannot and will not speak for all Latinas but I can speak for myself and my experience which is inextricably linked to other Latinas. Latino culture doesn’t talk about mental illness and how it contributes to the high attempted suicide rates of the young women in our community. It’s important because I hope that my story will give other Latinas a woman they can look up to, perhaps another reason to keep on going. I want to create open conversations about mental illness and suicide.
I am leading in my own community as a Latina feminist mental health activist. I am working on a photo project to juxtapose the media representation of mental illness. People of color are rarely ever if at all included in this discussion. How can we destigmatize this in our community if we are never shown in its representation? For years I thought I was alone. I didn’t know that there were countless other Latinas and other young women of color who were battling with mental illness and suicidal ideation. In addition to the photo project, I am sharing my personal story as a suicide attempt survivor and a Latina living with depression. If I can show other Latinas that I have experienced these struggles and that I have been able to overcome they will feel impassioned t0 keep on going, to fight for their lives, and live another day. I won’t tell them that it will get better because it won’t. You will have your ups and downs and you’ll have moments where you’re just done with the same pain day after day. But keep on fighting. Find what you are passionate about. Speak out. Write what you feel. Writing has given me the opportunity to communicate my feelings, a blank sheet to take on all of what was and is still is tormenting me so.
Monday, July 11, 1995
“My life is over
My mother says no,
my life is not over
Well I think so”
Written in pencil
Pressing so hard
The paper began to bubble and welt like a burn that I had inflicted upon myself
The dark charcoal of the lead
Reminiscent of the charcoal they used to detox my body
Just another one of my attempts
Yet that was the one that almost took
Now everyday you’re looking for reasons
Anything to say it was worth NOT dying for
I hear my mother’s words
Ya esta bueno!
It is really enough?
As if this is a phase that I will slowly
get over
Never truly having a place to call home
I don’t want to dwell in a sorrow that is my own
I want to reside in someone else’s
In order to feel something,
other than myself
But I need to feel
I need this experience
in order to do this work that
terrifies me so
Yet finally gives sense to what’s been all along
“My life is NOT over
and I smile
my life continues
in order to help others,
mis hermanas, feel the same”

Dior Vargas is a Latina feminist mental health activist who works full time as a Production Manager of International Digital Operations at Barnes & Noble/NOOK Media. Dior is a member of NAMI – NYC Metro’s Young Professionals Advisory Board and a member of the Third Wave Legacy Council. She was chosen as a member of the 2014 class of the Women’s Media Center’s media training program, Progressive Women’s Voices. In the fall of 2013, she was an Advisory Board Member of a project by Suzanne Lacy called “Between the Door and the Street”. In January 2013, she was on a panel entitled, “Young Feminists and Activism Today”, organized by Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women. She was a steering committee member of the New York Chapter of National Women’s Liberation. There she took part in the flash mobs in various pharmacies in the city because of the many restrictions that were/still are placed on the morning after pill.In 2012, Dior organized the first Feminist General Assembly in New York City with Women Occupying Wall Street. She was involved in Occupy the Stage, which was created by Occupy Wall Street and The Forum Project. She worked on a dialogic performance series using forum theatre to discuss the issues of oppression that are important to the Occupy movement. She underwent board member training in a program from the Stonewall Community Foundation called Out in Front NY. She has interned for The Feminist Press and for Gloria Feldt, former CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She has a B.A. in the Study of Women and Gender from Smith College and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. She is a proud Feminist Latina and wants to remove the stigma of mental illness in the Latino community. She wants to work with other women of color feminists to advance their community as a whole. She is a native New Yorker and currently lives in Manhattan.

 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. .
Don’t forget to use #secretlivesoffeministas when sharing this series on facebook and twitter. Help to keep us connected.
Portrait of A Feminista: Ondine Quinn – Browneyedamazon.com
Secret Lives of Feministas – browneyedamazon.com
The Color of Toxicity – vivalafeminista.com