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La Mestiza: Making new feminisms. An interview with Raquel from Lima, Peru.

LGBT and queer issues
Social Work
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Lima, July 2008
12° 6' 19.4112" S, 77° 2' 10.0788" W

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Raquel. I'm 26, 1.60 meters (laughs), and a feminist and anthropologist. I’m really interested in getting feminism inside the university, inside the political. I have a small group here called La Mestiza. The universities are very important in the history of my country. After seeing many years of political oppression, the young people don't make politics any more here. They are not interested; the military killed students for their political actions. In my personal experience, women don’t get interested in politics; they don’t get interested in the war; they don’t get interested in the way in which politics are made by the men in the university.

This society makes women feel very bad about themselves. If you are a woman, a full woman, like a hegemonic woman, ok, you are going to feel all right; but if you're different, a lesbian, or have a political consciousness – or are very critical, or a feminist – the war is going to hit you very bad, and our society is going to hit you double. You have to do something – because you're a woman; because you're a common woman in a third world country and you have to change the meaning of 'woman'. You have to look at yourself, and other women, alternatively. In my feminist group, we want to make the [political] left women’s groups, with rigid politics, think about new ways for making politics, for making feminism.

My country is very multi-cultural and pluri-linguistic (we have about 105 different languages), with indigenous languages in the forest, in the highlands. Lima is the capital of Peru and the centre of its immigration. There is a lot of poverty and landless people here. For twenty years it was really, really violent, especially in the regions of the highlands. Lima almost didn’t feel it, because we don’t want to see the Other, even though we are the Other. We have this kind of racism where people make hierarchies with a little difference: you are a little better if you have money, if you are a little whiter... The racism is very much like a tree: the white discriminate the not so white, and the not so white discriminate the little brown, and so on. It’s a very complicated society, a very racist society. That’s why I like that we call the group La Mestiza, because it has a lot to do with feminist politics in my country.*

Can you tell us more about the kind of work you do?
I work for a NGO on health issues with women from the very poor places in Lima. La Mestiza also does work there. We are interested in getting involved with these women and making interviews, making relations, making the movement of women – the workers and domestic workers.

The government has manipulated the women’s movement here. The state gives food and milk to women in order to feed their children; in the 80s there were committees of women who organized getting the milk from the state. Where I work, in one district in Lima, there are twelve or so organizations; every organization represents fifteen-hundred women. There are leaderships; those that have this vision of fighting against violence, fighting against patriarchy, fighting against the economical model of neo liberalism – but they are few and they are older, they are 40 years older. The young ones are not getting involved in any movement in the grassroots. It's really sad. There are few women involved in groups, in any political groups.

Are there any lesbian groups?
Yes, but they are also older and very small [in number]. There is a fight in the lesbian movement, if you can call it a movement. These fifty or so women have split because one is the enemy of the other; one part has money and representation and work for NGOs, but they don’t like these ones, and these ones, and these ones. For me, they are all the same – they don’t propose anything; they only do the work of the civil society, they don’t make activism. They work for their lives but they don’t make feminist work.

The only lesbian thing seen for the last five years or so in my university was the action that La Mestiza did for the ‘Day of Revelation’. In Chile in 2007, I went and met a women’s group and they said, “ok, so the gay parade. It’s gay, gay, gay and it’s not political. Where is the manifestation, where is the protest? We are women, we are feminists, we have to protest – ok, one day for us!”

We made a group and decided to do something at the university. A friend said, “Let’s take pictures!” We took pictures of lesbian stereotypes, such as butch and femme. We also took photographs of our vaginas and put political sayings in the photographs. We are lesbians but we are also against the cardinal, against the church, against the political power. We didn’t have any money so we used the Gender Studies office at the university and all their toner to print the photographs! We made the signs and took the faculty off social science; it was a really, really special day. All the people were like, “Oh my god, what are all the vaginas doing here?!” For us the weirdest and ugliest and saddest thing was that girls from the social work [course] were the ones who told the dean of the university that we were making this; the personnel of cleaning [took the photographs down]. So people could only see the photos for just five hours, but all the faculty knew about it.

We made a manifesto – because we had to make something – a very large, purple manifesto, saying that WE ARE FEMINIST, that MAKING SEX IS POLITICAL. We asked, “Why are we so afraid of the body of women?” People told me that people on the faculty were asking each other, “Are you against it, or are you for it?” They were saying things like, “It’s OK, they’re in love... No it’s not ok, it’s against Christ. But why are they doing this…?” So, it was very nice. You can see the photographs on our blog. We had about two-thousand more hits when we put the images up.

Can you tell us more about the impact of the vagina action?
About five months after the action, I was having lunch with my gender professor. She is a poet, and a journalist, and has a very, very visited blog and a column in a large newspaper. We were talking about feminism, because she's also a feminist (but not institutionalized), and she was like, “Oh, you made this – why didn’t I know that?!”. Well, because it lasted for five hours. Then she said, “I’m going to write an article about this!” And she did, and all the people got crazy! She couldn't put a vagina in the newspaper! She wrote about what she thought of the pictures and the manifestation, but she said things that I didn’t like – that she’s not a lesbian, she’s a forty-five year old heterosexual…She’s anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, but she said “These young women are very good students, are very pretty, nobody can see they are lesbians but they are…” So, ok: what? You don’t have to apologize that we lesbians. Also, a man was part of the group, he took the photos. I am a good student, but my friends were not. She put it in a very nice way. After inside discussion, we decided that it was the first visualization of our action; after this she is going to know our thinking better. In my little collective we are four: me (a bisexual lesbian), my friend (a bisexual guy, who’s gay more), and my other two girlfriends (totally heterosexual). They were like, “Everybody is going to think La Mestiza is a lesbian group!” They didn’t want to get involved in the lesbian world, they wanted to get involved in the socialist world. Me and my buddy were like, “Yeah, we are a lesbian group!” Me and my friend – and he’s a guy! He said, “Yeah, we are going to meet other lesbian groups and they’re going to see that La Mestiza is a lesbian group but they are heterosexual too, so not a lesbian group...” We also said that they don’t have to care about it, it’s just an article. The work was so strong that many people wanted to reproduce it – for a while we had it in a gallery, but for us a gallery is not the place to put it, we are far more complex.

What were some of the criticisms of the action?
We have a Yahoo!-group with a lot of young girls talking about feminism – there’s about a hundred now, but there were about fifty at the time. We began a discussion about the action, saying, “Oh tomorrow we are going to do this and if you want to be there, go. And if you want to see the photos, they are here.” One girl replied, “Oh my god, what are you doing? That’s grotesque. That’s machista to me, showing your body to men to masturbate to; what are you doing? It has to be about love, about the souls…” Yeah, but we weren’t talking about love, we were talking about a way of sex that is not represented in any place. So, if someone thinks it is a strange vagina, I don’t know how to speak to them. The discussion involved many males; the male response was huge. She was the only one against it. Some girls were aggressive about it, but I was argumentative. After a while, she came to me and said, “You were right. I was uncomfortable with my body and now I’m changing.” She’s an economic feminist, interested in getting women out of poverty; so for her, the lesbian body and the sexuality of the lesbian was a superficial thing. Now she realizes how important it is to speak and do politics from our bodies and our ways of being, and after that we can make change work…

Can you tell us about your magazine, La Mestiza?
The first one came out in March 2008. We are working on the second issue now. We already have the abstracts. We don’t say, “Ok, write this.” Sometimes the abstracts are not very good, so we work on them and we talk, talk, talk, and talk. The editors get in touch with the person, and they might then say, “I don’t want to write. I’m afraid. I’m 22, I’m not a scholar.” And we say, “Ok. You don’t have to do it in a very scholarly way, but you have to write what you think, you have to be critical. We are going to be your editors, so if you don’t know how to put the idea, we can help you”. The magazine took us a lot of hours for every girl. Because all of them said, “I’m not going to write”, at the last minute. We said, “No, you have to write…” It’s like a fear of being out, to say something that is not full of description, that is not full of sayings of somebody else; to write what you think, what you are criticizing, what you are saying. It’s ‘out thinking’ – personal thinking and collective thinking. It’s not academic. The magazine has comments on books, groups and stuff.

We are not giving a lecture on feminism, but we are making feminist thinking. In the collective, we read each page and make a six or seven line [article lead-in] – we don’t want to say, “Oh, this a page of that”, but to get really in to the meaning of the page. I read pages over, and also read the books [mentioned]. It’s a very informative thing we want to do; we really try to reach information. It’s intense, but also really practical. The girl who designs the magazine works a lot with flowers. Not because she’s a very girly-girl kind of girl, but because she wants to work with iconography from women in Los Andes. In their needlework, the flower is a sign of the culture of woman and for indigenous women. So the graphics are about representing a bit of our culture – popular culture, not the hegemonic culture. That’s why there are flowers of indigenous meanings [in the magazine’s design], and that’s why there is also the image of feminism, which isn’t very popular.

In the second issue of the magazine we are trying to get girls from the regions, from the highlands [to get involved], but it’s too difficult. It’s expensive – we don’t have the money or the power. The magazine collective is two girls. The girls who write are now going to be steady staff, so they can also make suggestions for the magazine, for the style and for the things inside – because it got too much for us. We are going to get the magazine really, really collective now. At first there wasn’t enough people, but after a year there are many people interested in writing in La Mestiza now. Putting out the first issue was very stressful, but we did it. Our only cost was the printing, which was $500. We printed 500. We only had money for sixty-two pages, in two-colour print. We had to make the articles smaller and smaller – with my article, you have to read it with glasses! It’s like, “God Raquel, you wrote so much!” Because you see, this [space] is so small and [the topics] so big. In the second issue, we want more pages, with more space for the animations – we’ll probably need double the money. The second magazine is going to be thicker and richer, and I hope it reaches many more women. This year, our project is to make three Mestizas. It’s a collective and an individual work, because no one can tell you what to write – but you have to be in constant evolution, in constant conversation with other people for you to get influenced and for you to influence others. It took us a year to make [the first issue of] the magazine, because we didn’t get the money. I met my friend Claudia in March 2007 and a year later we got the magazine. We also started to meet and talk about the way we wanted to make what we call a ‘new feminism’.

Why do you call this 'new feminism'? How do you envision your feminism?
New feminism for me is like recovering feminism actually; to recover revolutionary feminism (we call it that because my friends are socialist. I also like the word). For me revolutionary feminism is like, “Ok, we are women. Feminism has been born in the body of women, but is not the only identity that one has to [have to] be born feminist.” Because feminism is a way of thinking that starts with women, but also has to spread out in society. For me the new left is feminism. If you have transpeople and men…the important thing is that they are feminist.

There cannot be a left, a socialist left, without being feminist. So the new left is feminist, it's as simple as that. At least for me, there is no liberal feminism – well there is, but for my personal thought, there is no liberal feminism or homophobic feminism, or conservative feminism, or capitalist feminism. [Rosa: or racist feminism] You can be middle class, but you have to be socialist; you have to relate to the economic power, the political structure, and the problems of gender and sexuality from the body of woman. It also involves other identities, like trans or queer. That's why for me it's not postfeminism, it's not queer movement, it's new feminism.

How do you see freedom? I think it’s important to develop a vision of freedom towards something, not freedom from something…
Or freedom from ourselves, because we can be prisoners. We can be a little free. For example, when women have felt freedom in times of war... I'm not saying that we don't have to make a political thing of this, but feminism has the tendencies to see women as victims, not as subjects, as active persons. It's like, “I am in this position, what can I do in this little space to make my life a little better, so that little space for us is freedom?” For example, my mother is very conservative but she has fought for her kids, for her family and for her life, and from her experience, it's ok, so it's her freedom...

My first Spanish professor – who introduced me to feminism – was always talking about freedom, saying, “Ok, you can be whatever you women are, but women have always tried to get freedom, even in the worst times. They negotiate constantly with the hierarchy of the patriarchy and they get a little freedom.” That was very interesting to me. It’s not good enough, that little freedom, but you have to recognize it. It’s like the relationship between the first world and the third world, academic or activism. It’s not like, “Oh, poor women. They are living in the patriarchy and in poverty.” Those women are probably happier in their families; they are poor but they have times of freedom, times of choices that you have to recognize. For me, you have to recognize the difference in the other.

I don't like the word power, but I'm going to use it, because for me there is a difference between the power of hierarchy and the authority you can have, for example, when you’re in a relationship with somebody. I don't know how [it’s possible] to change the world if you don't change yourself. You have to be a hypocrite if you say, “I'm going to change the economic system, but I'm not going to change my mind, I'm not going to change my soul, I'm not going to change the way I relate to other peoples’ bodies, souls and hearts.” Like Patricia [Powell] said: We have to find another way to love, because we are loving in a very selfish way. So we have to change everything, from inside to outside. That for me is the 'new feminism'. It's not 'let's change the world for women', but 'let's change the world for everybody'! But, ok, we are women. We had the idea; so get everybody involved... Where we are now, it's the hegemonic, institutionalized feminism that dominates.

Can you tell us about your blog and the connections you have with other international women’s groups?
We’re not writing in English and we don’t link pages in English, for us it’s not important. We link only Spanish sites because we want Spanish girls from Lima to read Spanish. There are a lot of links on our blog; they are not necessarily all young women’s groups. There’s an activist space where you can find feminist articles translated to Spanish, and a radio where you can listen to interviews with women. There’s links to a lesbian group who transform the way of being and watching the female / lesbian body. This is not pornography necessarily – it can be pornography, but it makes a lot of information about sexuality. There’s also a socialist group in Argentina who do activist work and a group who make interventions in the street – producing graffiti of women, about women, in colour. We are trying to make connections with all countries, but for us now, it’s more important to link with more regional/national/local groups. We really want to expand feminism for all the girls, and other groups, and other movements – because we don't want to be the only ones, no.

La Mestiza,

* See Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Press, 1987). “Mestiza” means a woman of mixed racial heritage, specifically those from Latin American countries with Spanish and Indian ancestry.

Raquel Andrade
Affiliated organisation: 
La Mestiza
Elke Zobl and Rosa Reitsamer
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