Learning from “Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora”
Dr. Marta Moreno Vega has been leading the charge for Afro-Latino recognition and cultural identity for decades. As Founder of New York City’s Caribbean Cultural Center’s African Diaspora Institute, she has a distinguished career as an activist, scholar and filmmaker advocating for Afro-Latino issues.
In her latest incarnation, she joins Marinieves Alba, anthropologist, and Yvette Modestin, Director of Encuentro Diaspora Afro, as co-editor of “Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora” a 233 page collection of essays and poems written by Afro-Latinas from a variety of countries including Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela. Dr. Vega said the concept for the book emerged eight years ago during the Caribbean Cultural Center’s annual Women of Power event honoring Afro-Latinas involved in anti-racism, social and cultural inequality issues throughout Latin America. During the event, one of the student attendees asked the Afro-Latina honorees, “What does it cost you to do this work?” Dr. Vega says there was immediate silence. The student added, “I want to know what it means for you and your families?” Until those two provocative questions were asked by the student, Dr. Vega thought she knew these women. They had been organizing and working on social justice issues for years. But not until then did Dr. Vega “see the women in a very personal way.”
According to her, the Afro-Latinas make tremendous sacrifices to be activists and leaders in their communitites, even though they rarely see themselves as such. Many of the women risk being ostracized, losing their jobs as they speak out about injustice. Dr. Vega says, “None of the women see themselves as leaders but rather as workers. But they are absolutely change agents.”
On Saturday, November 17, nearly a decade after the idea was born, Dr. Vega and Ms. Alba held a book signing at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem. The two editors began the evening reading excerpts from the book followed by a discussion with the audience.
For Marinieves Alba, the book’s critical message is, “… to give space to women to talk about their sacrifices and wellness ” in doing the work they do throughout Latin America. She stressed the importance of activists and advocates deliberately taking good care of themselves as they make myriads of sacrifices, including risks to their personal safety and that of their families, to continue their work. Ms. Alba added that as the authors were preparing their text for the book, many were dealing with extremely difficult personal issues. One author was being treated for cancer and another writer lost her spouse. Throughout the process of assembling the book, Ms. Alba declared she wanted the discussion to be a “dialogue with each other, collective songs, encouraging conversations and discussions.”
And just as Ms. Alba wanted to spark dialogue and discussion from the book, the conversation with the audience was challenging, spirited and uplifting. Audience members shared their experiences on a wide variety of issues relating to Afro-Latino culture. One audience member expressed her concern for the safety of Afro-Colombian politician Piedad Cordoba who has been actively fighting for the rights of Colombia’s African descendent population. Yesenia, of Cuban descent and featured in a previous losafrolatinos.com post, asked about Cuba’s acknowledgement’s of the country’s African roots. An art student at a local university discussed her frustration with the limited and inadequate coursework devoted to non European cultures. Her disappointment was deeply felt and she acknowledged that she was on the verge of discontinuing her studies. Dr. Vega empathized with the student, sharing similar collegiate experiences. However, she readily admitted that the best course of action for the student was to continue her studies, and use her eventual degree as a means to change curriculum and distinguish herself as an expert in her field of study.
As Marinieves mentioned earlier in the evening the importance of women taking care of themselves, many members of the mostly female audience offered the student emotional support and advice on how to maneuver her way through her academic challenges. People who had been through similar situations provided recommendations, tips and suggestions on how to improve her current situation. There was a spirit of unity, support and understanding in the room.
Interestingly, as the audience reached out to advise the student, it seemed to be exemplifying Dr. Vega’s remark, “We are all learning from each other.”
More photos from the book signing: