In This Issue:
- From the Director
- March Classes
- What Participants are Saying
- Lifting Up the Herstories of Women of Color by Amihan Matias
Political/social change activists are often asked—and we ask each other—what keeps you going? How, in the face of despair, setbacks, hypocrisy, and what sometimes feels like insurmountable odds, do you maintain hope and keep on keeping on?
Every social change activist has a different answer. For me, family, faith, and friends keep me afloat. And also poetry.
I have been encouraged, inspired and uplifted by Amanda Gorman’s new book of poetry Call Us What We Carry. Ms. Gorman is the youngest presidential inaugural poet in US history. The poem she read at President Biden’s inauguration, “The Hill We Climb,” is included at the end of this new volume.
The poems in this collection are unexpected, stirring, and challenging. Not only are Ms. Gorman’s poems deeply moving, but when you open this book do not expect to find the usual format of words in orderly lines and stanzas neatly laid out on the page.
The visual impact of the words on the pages of this book is striking. The poems include one with the words forming the shape of a fish, another poem written on the image of a COVID face mask, another poem is a list of questions and answers, and one poem is in the shape of a box.
Ms. Gorman’s new book of poetry demands that we rethink what poetry is supposed to look and sound like!
I do not know what keeps you going as you work faithfully to heal, mend, and repair this beautiful but broken world. If you find poetry renewing and sustaining as you work for peace and justice, get your hands on Amanda Gorman’s Call Us What We Carry. It will help carry you forward.
Below you will find one of my favorite poems from Ms. Gorman’s new book.
Thank you for your work, words and witness. The world needs you. Take good care of your dear selves—make sure you find and nurture things that sustain you.
Onward, with love,
Every Day We Are Learning
by Amanda Gorman
Every day we are learning
How to live with essence, not ease.
How to move with haste, never hate.
How to leave this pain that is beyond us
Just like a skill or any art,
We cannot possess hope without practicing it.
It is the most fundamental craft we demand of ourselves.
Lifting Up the Herstories of Women of Color
by Amihan Jennifer Matias
Growing up as a Filipinx-American girl, I was given a class assignment in middle school to read a biography and write a book report about it. We had primarily been learning about notable men in history, and I yearned to know more about the women who changed the world. In my research, I discovered Marie Curie, the Polish, French-nationalized physicist and chemist who conducted groundbreaking research on radioactivity and was a double Nobel laureate. I was intrigued and excited by the fact that she was a woman scientist. The women in history I was learning about in school were the wives of U.S. presidents, some of whom made outstanding contributions, yet were known because of their connection to powerful men. I had also been introduced to some women poets and authors. What was glaring, however, is the fact that almost all of these women were white. I didn’t see myself or other women of color really reflected, anywhere. That was true then, and it appears that things have not changed that much over the years.
In 2017, the National Women’s History Museum released a report called, Where Are the Women? They analyzed K-12 educational standards in social studies for each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. to explore the inclusion of women in these standards, which dictate who and what is taught in classrooms. Not surprisingly, their report revealed just how few women are required reading in America’s schools. Of the 737 figures that K-12 public schools are obligated to teach, only 24% are women. Of that 24% of women, 62.5% were white, 25% were African American, 8% were Latinx, 4% were Indigenous American Indians, and only .5% were Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women. Only one woman of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, is mentioned at all.
Although things have shifted somewhat, the reality is that the K-12 experience I had as an Asian American girl back in the 70’s, is essentially the same for Asian American and Pacific Islander girls, today. Women of color are significantly underrepresented as notable figures in history. Our contributions and our stories are hidden. People have to dig to uncover these women of color herstories.
It was only as an adult, that I learned about Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese American philosopher, author, and human rights, labor, and civil rights activist who participated actively in Black Power movements. Although she earned a doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College, she was unable to get work in academia because no university would hire a Chinese American woman to teach philosophy or ethics in the 1940’s. Grace Lee Boggs astutely asserted, “History is not the past. It is the stories we tell about the past.” She was well aware that it is white men who are telling the stories and shaping the narratives about the past. Women of color realized that we were the ones who needed to break this ground and lift our voices to tell our own stories.
In my early twenties, I discovered the groundbreaking book, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, queer, feminist/womanist, Chicana scholars. It blew me away! Here were women of color who were telling their stories, our stories, my story. The writers who contributed to the book talked about inhabiting lives where culture, race, gender, class, and sexual orientation intersect, and described the burden of experiencing multiple, intersectional oppressions. They also spoke about reclaiming their power and voices as women of color and queer women of color by telling their stories. Rupi Kaur, a Canadian poet of Indian descent describes it in these terms, “To women of color, our backs tell stories no books have the spine to carry.”
As an Asian American woman who was just coming out as queer at that time, This Bridge Called My Back was a lifeline. It reflected back to me our power, resilience, brilliance, wisdom, courage, resourcefulness, and beauty as women of color. It made me feel proud to be connected to this community of powerful women of color change makers and social justice activists. These bold women of color were creating a platform for our own stories to be heard, for our voices to be lifted.
And it was important not just for the broader society to hear these voices, but for other girls and women of color to absorb and embrace these stories, to claim our own herstories, to bear witness to each other, to know that we stand on the shoulders of great women of color who have come before us and paved the way. Because the voices of women of color have been silenced and discounted for so long, it has become essential for us to have this space of affirmation, reclamation, and liberation.
For these reasons, I founded, And Still We Rise: A Leadership Forum for Womxn of Color, a program that is offered through the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership with generous funding from the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts. It is a space where women of color can bear witness to each other’s stories, affirm our experiences and struggles, celebrate our triumphs, bolster and revitalize our spirits, and support each other’s movements. In this space, we stand together in solidarity as we work together to transform the world into one that incorporates and lifts up our voices and stories and fully recognizes the value and sacredness of our lives.
African American poet, Maya Angelou, said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” For this Women’s History Month, let us lift up these untold stories.