Griselda Rodriguez: The Spirit of Sankofa in a Dominicana

*first written and published on La Galeria Magazine

She was finishing up pumping breast milk for her son Talib. Then she dimmed the lights and lit a little bit of sage. Her wall had a print of the map of the continent of Africa, with African fabric and a picture of Sankofa accentuating it. “Sankofa” in the Akan language means that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. She had other images that echoed things, people and places that were a part of her. Suddenly, her office became a sanctuary and intimate setting to share her life with me in it. Dr. Griselda Rodriguez is the director of International Studies Program at the City College of New York (CCNY); that title is just the tip of the iceberg for what this first generation Dominican woman encompasses. She began our conversation by describing how she came to be. Griselda and her identical twin, Miguelina, were born at Bellevue Hospital to their immigrant Dominican mother. They lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan until they were around 5 months old. “She’s undocumented, she’s been in this country for less than two years and couldn’t really cope with raising two young children on her own, so she sent us to the Dominican Republic.” babies

That separation from her mother had a profound effect on her. It’s been years of healing to recover from that impact on her formative years. From her studies in Kundalini Yoga and birth work, Griselda learned the spiritual and biological significance of the mother-child connection. “Birth to 3 years old is, in yogic philosophy, when my electromagnetic field [and] my aura were being developed and it’s best to be around the mother so that I’m basically reinforced by her. And then psychologically, birth to 5 years is when neurological development happens and having both parents, but especially the mother, is ideal…and I didn’t grow up with my mom in those formative years. My eldest aunt, who I call Mama Cilila, who passed away two years ago: she was my mom. We’re raised by this woman who, in our minds and hearts, is our mother until we’re almost four, and then our biological mother comes and rips us away from who we thought was our mother, and then we had to get adjusted to living with this woman.”

Photo by Idris Solomon
Photo by Idris Solomon

There is an understanding on Griselda’s part of why such a separation had to occur. The harsh realities that immigrants face, in terms of financial stability and adjustment, don’t make Griselda and her sister the first nor last children to go through this. After her mother picked them up from the Dominican Republic, they spent the rest of their lives in Brooklyn. “So we’re one of those rare Dominicans that are not from the Heights. We grew up in the hood of 90s Bedstuy-Brownsville but I always say I grew up in the hood but my house was never hood. We grew up in a very traditional Dominican house without a father, which I kind of appreciate now because I didn’t really experience that very patriarchal oppressive male figure at home.” Her home was a sanctuary with her twin sister and mother. Griselda describes her mother as a wonderful provider, with home-cooked meals, all utilities and bills paid, and special attention to her daughters’ academic success. Her mother’s hard work also afforded Griselda and her sister’s annual trips back to their homeland. “I have a very close tie to Dominican Republic because in addition to living there, my mother made it her business to work really hard during the cold months so that we could spend our summers in DR. So from the time I was five until I was maybe 14, every single summer we spent in Dominican Republic.” moms and twins

Griselda and her sister went to SUNY Binghamton. Being the first generation to get to the undergraduate level was “an interesting roller-coaster ride,” she mused with a smile remembering what it was like to navigate the U.S college experience. “I always tell this story: My sister and I both went to EOP [Education Opportunity Program] programs through SUNY and she had to do a six week summer program and I only had to a weekend program, so we both ended up being in Binghamton at the same time but my sister had already been there for three weeks.” Miguelina had a list of things for her mother to buy, including a shower caddy. “You know, the little canasta that you put the shampoo [and toiletries] if you walk from your room down the hall to the bathroom. I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, of course my mother didn’t know. We didn’t have people in our family that went to college. So my mother bought her a beach bucket. Oh my god. Literally like one of those little plastic beach buckets with a little pail and she sends me with it, y que sabia yo? I’m just like, she wants a bucket, I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about.” Needless to say, Griselda’s sister was embarrassed but that was just one small example of what it was like to go to college without having had any point of reference.

She went on to Syracuse University and got her Ph.D in Sociology. She completed it in 2010 and has been in the CUNY system since. Her collegiate career taught her many things but some that stand out from her story were her journey into her Black consciousness, and her dissertation work in Dominican Republic. She took a senior African American studies seminar in her undergrad. “The professor suggested I do work on the African presence in the Dominican Republic, and I remember how baffled I was because I didn’t understand that there was that connection. Then I went to Senegal, West Africa to study abroad and that’s when it really hit me like, holy shit, I’m Black.” She became immersed in research about Haiti and the Dominican Republic, citing her focus on the significant role that the island played in forming Black identity on this side of the world. “I started looking at my family and looking about our ways and understanding that there was a little element about who I was and who my family was that was always missing and that I felt like wow, I finally found that little piece of the puzzle that I didn’t understand with regards to my family and it was the fact that they were denied that they were African.” family

Griselda did her graduate research in the Dominican Republic from about 2005 to 2009, spending every summer there and deepening her connection. Griselda went into Syracuse wanting to do education and nearly left after a year. One of her mentors inspired her to change course. “I took her class on Black women and domestic workers and then on sex tourism. She saw something in me. She said, ‘you have a really interesting insight, especially being Dominican, you should get a Ph.D in Sociology,’ she encouraged me, I applied. She was one of the ones who helped me understand that as a Black Dominican woman, it was my duty to do work to enhance my and other people’s understanding of what that is.” Through this experience, Griselda realized how her identity as a Black woman was a shared one around the world. Her dissertation was rooted in understanding how being Black shapes the experiences of Dominican women within the labor market. “What I found was that being Black and being a woman in DR often means that you’re going to be the bottom of the barrel. It’s intentional. Most Black Dominican women do very similar things in the service sector. You clean other people’s houses, take care of other people’s children, sleep with men or women, clean the streets, serve coffee in corporations…” Her specific work looked at how aid from the United States and the World Bank comes into the Dominican Republic and pimps these structures that exploit Black Dominican women. She interviewed women and went all over the eastern part of the island by public transportation, shocking her family and breaking the mold of what a woman was thought to be able to do. “I saw my younger cousins paying attention to that as well.”

 griselda graduation

 As faculty and staff at CCNY, Griselda continues to be a role model for younger people of the Diaspora. “I didn’t set out to be a role model but apparently based on what my colleagues tell me and seeing that students take me really seriously, I don’t take that lightly. I’m very humbled by it.” She is blessed to be able to see the effects of her work manifest in her students. “I just saw a student randomly in the back stair case last week. She was picking up her tickets for graduation. She was in my class two years ago and she said, ‘Doctor G, your class really had an impact on me.’” Griselda works now with a more diverse student body as the director of International Studies; she remembers what it was like to have mostly Dominican students when she taught a Dominican Heritage class. “I found that either students loved me or they hated me. They loved me because they appreciated the teachings I was presenting to them. They brought them new insight about themselves, their family and their world. In other cases, students didn’t really vibe with me because I was challenging their very existence. I found that a little bit more with students that were fresher from DR – those that still had those engrained doctrines of what it means to be Dominican. I would challenge them and they would just not want to associate themselves anymore with my class.” She is steadily planting these seeds nonetheless and knows her work is important.

With her training in Kundalini, Griselda’s connection to her spirit sustains her transformative work. She also embraces West African-derived traditions and is no stranger to its presence, growing up with her mother practicing Las 21 Divisiones. “How we make sense of that connection depends on where we were raised, what country we come from, what experiences we’ve had, but I think the most important thing I respect in people is just that honoring that we’re all God and that we should be treated as that. Of course my family and other people think that yo lo que hago es brujeria. Sometimes I dress in all white. It’s so powerful because people are either like, ‘wow!’ or people are like, ‘what are you doing?!’; it really scares people. I feel very powerful when I wear all white and I feel like I take that wherever I go. I feel like these [institutions of higher learning] can make us feel disempowered and crazy; [this is] the only way I can avoid feeling that way.”

Another extension of her identity is her journey in birth work. Griselda began her certification as a doula in 2012. “I feel like I’m one of those people that can say that I was born to do this type of work. I can’t tell you why or how but it just comes so instinctively and naturally.” She has a chapter coming out in a book by Black Women Birthing Justice in October. In the chapter she wrote about her first experience with birth at eight years old. “My godmother’s daughter was having a baby. They didn’t speak English and we were next door neighbors so they [told me to] call the ambulance. She’s there in active labor, I’m looking at her paralyzed and my godmother is [instructing me], ‘Dile que ella esta…’ I feel like that left something in my psyche [because] I had never seen a woman like that before. Especially being Dominican we’re always like, ‘don’t make too much noise…’ and to see her electric and wild in her power while she was laboring, it did something to me. I mostly have worked with first generation Dominican women having babies. That’s been very important for me and interesting because I see how easy we’ve been conditioned to give our power away so I’m glad that I’m a doula.” wedding cake

Her Black consciousness came into conflict with her mother due to Griselda’s partner being African-American. “My mother cried the day after or a few days later. She said, ‘porque tu me eta haciendo esto? Tu ere una muchacha preparada, tu ere tan bonita, tu te puede conseguir el hombre que tu quiera.’ You’ve seen my mom. Not that it would make it any better but I think psychologically if my mom were like phenotypically White or even lighter skinned, I’d be like, all right… you’ve been positioned in society a certain way that makes you feel above but… she [has dark skin] and she has this complex.” At the time when her mother met her partner, Griselda was diving into this work and understanding the African presence in DR so she understood the legacy that she was coming from. “It was rough. I mean, I would say, I brought him around the family starting about 2002, and it took like a good three to four years for me to feel really comfortable when he was around my family. My sister always jokes with me, she’s like, ‘You kinda got the ball rolling’ ‘cause now several of my cousins are with other Afro-descendant men or women. My family has already been through the ringer with me that now it’s okay. Now in family gatherings, you have the old school family and then the newer generation. We’re like the United Nations, but it’s mostly Black, it’s mostly African, because then my sister was dating a Dominican who was [phenotypically dark] and my mother was just like, ‘You girls are going to drive me crazy.’”

Photo by Idris Solomon
Photo by Idris Solomon

Griselda and her partner, Idris, welcomed their son Talib into the world last August. Her pregnancy and birth have left a tremendous impact on her. “A woman who is allowed to give birth the way she wants to can go into a level of herself that nothing else could let her reach. I loved being pregnant. I feel like we live in such an anti-woman, woman hating, sex-hating, pregnant hating, mother hating culture that a lot of times I [expressed] that, and especially women [responded], ‘you crazy!’ I loved being pregnant. I loved seeing my body change, I loved feeling my breasts getting bigger, him getting bigger, kicking me, my feet swelling and being in tune.” Griselda made up her mind that she was going to carry this baby very differently from how she and her sister were carried. “My mother cried a lot when she carried us. It was a traumatic birth. She had to be hospitalized a month before because my sister had a heart murmur. We were identical so we were in one sack but we were in a way where I was perpendicular; I was over my sister and I was compressing her umbilical cord. Her oxygen level was low so they had to monitor my mother for a month.” Her mother had to have a C-section. Griselda decided to do it differently. She described herself as a happy warrior, determined to be at peace and in tune throughout her pregnancy. “I was very vigilant about the thoughts I carried, the things I said, the people I was around, even the stuff I ate. At first I wanted to have a midwife in a hospital, and then a birth center. Then I went to a birth center and thought it was still medicalized. Then I met Ina May Gaskin last year and she said, why don’t you just have a home birth?”

Photo by Idris Solomon
Photo by Idris Solomon

“It was amazing. It was my husband, my twin sister, my comadre, my sorority sister, the midwife and two doulas. One of the [doulas] was your traditional doula, the other one was a spiritual doula. We had a birth altar. She was in front of the birth altar praying and meditating. I was one of those women: I was a day short of 42 weeks and I had the baby at home.” Her mother wasn’t very thrilled about the idea of giving birth at home because she, like many women, understands that birth is when the veil between life and death is very thin. “My mother had seen a lot of causalities in el campo, with women dying or the baby dying because there was no access to medical care and she had that vision of home birth. But when I told her, una partera comes in with her supplies, she was a little more at ease.” Griselda’s mother opted to not go to the birth but gave amazing support from the moment Griselda was postpartum. “He was born at around 3:30am and my mom was there before 5 o’clock con una olla de sopa de gallina.” Griselda’s family made sure she had what is called la cuarentena. Cuarentena is a period of approximately 40 days, or six weeks, during which the new mom is solely dedicated to breastfeeding, bonding with and taking care of her baby and herself. During this time, other members of the family pitch in to cook, clean, and take care of other children, if there are any.

“For those 40 days, I was home. If I went outside for whatever, my head was wrapped. I didn’t wash my hair, I didn’t paint my nails, I didn’t wash dishes, I didn’t sweep, I didn’t do anything. My sister, my mother, the spiritual doula…somebody was always there. Somebody was always there cooking and cleaning.” Griselda’s home birth experience made her an even more passionate advocate for natural birth than before. The chapter of motherhood in her life has also had an impact on her personality. “I’m more patient. In one I can say I’m more patient because I see [a person], I [remember] a woman labored to bring [them] here – whether it’s C-section, medicated, at home or hospital. Because, if I hurt your feelings, how would your mother feel?” On the other end, she has very little patience for other things. Having a new human being she is now responsible for makes her understand there’s a lot of love and light in this world to worry about those who don’t support that. “Motherhood is amazing. I just feel I’ve been initiated into this tribe of [mothers]. I did something that humans need to live. I produced another human being and I feel with always having been a feminist, I have really low tolerance for [patriarchal] bullshit. How are you going to disrespect me, a woman, when you need us?”

Photo by Idris Solomon
Photo by Idris Solomon

With all her experiences from being a first generation Dominican in the Diaspora to the journey she has embarked on as a mother, Griselda has strived to just be herself. Her closing words to other folks in the Dominican Diaspora on how to navigate this experience: “You just have to be sincere with yourself. As new age, first generation U.S born and bred Dominican youth, that level of self-sincerity is going to be very different from what their parents expect them. And I feel like too many people are dying, physically or metaphysically, because we’re just all trying to fit into these boxes that weren’t made for us at all.” Griselda embodies the concept of Sankofa, having gone back in her personal and professional work to get knowledge that is rightfully hers to share with the world.

Claudia De la Cruz: Motherhood As a Part of Her Revolutionary Process

*first published and written for La Galeria Magazine

Claudia was recently postpartum when she shared last year how supportive her community had been as she became a mother. She made mention of the remedios her mother and elders gave her that kept her healthy and well in a world where postpartum mothers often feel unsupported. I had known her as a powerful revolutionary woman in the movement and became deeply interested in listening to the most recent part of her evolution. I invited her this past May to elaborate on her experience. It was fitting then that I waited for her at Mothers On the Move (MOM) in the South Bronx, a social justice community organization that prioritizes four issue areas for base-building, local campaigns, and policy work: Housing Justice, Environmental Justice, Youth Organizing & Education Justice. Rebel Diaz shares a space with them so it is a space Claudia is familiar with; the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective is an important part of her community.

She showed up wearing her son Roque and she began to share about her motherhood journey. Claudia is a Bronx native (born at 139th and St. Ann’s in the South Bronx and raised in the University Heights neighborhood) whose parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic. She is a graduate from Theodore Roosevelt High School, and a graduate with a BA (2001) in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and two Master’s degrees; one in social work from Columbia University and the other in divinity from Union Theological Seminary (both in 2007). “I’ve always identified myself as a Black Dominican or Afro-Caribbean. I’m an educator and pastor.” Claudia has served as the pastor of Iglesia San Romero De Las Americas but currently does not have a church. “I will always be pasturing in whatever capacity or space I am in. I’m a mom now, you know. I think it’s a part of my revolutionary work. I see [Roque’s] life as something that is not solely mine individually or his individually but as part of the collective,” she said.

​– Claudia speaking about being a black afro Caribbean woman

“I called him Roque in honor of Roque Dalton. I went upstate [one] weekend with my family and one of my nieces learned one of the most famous poems that talks about ‘la sangre unánime de los que lucha’ y ‘el pan, como la poesía es de todos.’” Claudia chose to name her son after the Salvadorian revolutionary and poet. “The reason that I choose this name is because of that man, who was able to articulate a working class struggle, more than anything. And the beauty of our culture, being accessible and being for everyone. As someone who’s an educator, I think a lot of the times there are languages that are created to leave people out and academia is definitely good at that. When you read Roque Dalton and he talks about la poesia igual que el pan es de todos…there’s no better way for me to be reminded of a collective struggle and name my son Roque and know that’s the reason that I named him that. Because we’re still in the struggle.”

She stayed active in her organizing work through her pregnancy. “Although I was quite healthy for most of my pregnancy, there were decisions in terms of my day to day that I needed to make. So as an organizer, you go to protests, you organize…and I kept on doing that to the extent that I decided when I was 7 months pregnant to go to Ferguson because of everything that was happening around Mike Brown. And I remember my mom saying something like, “Tu ere’ loca.”

Her mother was concerned with the tear gas that was being thrown, telling her daughter it was dangerous for the baby and asking why she was going. “Well, because it’s a reproductive [health] issue too. They are killing [our] babies out there. They are killing other women’s babies and there are a lot of women out there, I’m imagining, that are also pregnant. So I’m gonna go.” Claudia describes her journey to Ferguson with the 17-hour ride going and coming back as spiritual for her. Regardless of what was happening, she saw that the protesting was grounded in family. She also went to the protest in support of Palestine with Roque still in her womb. “I think I found strength in another way. It has a certain level of more strength for me as a person of color, as a woman, as someone who thinks of herself as part of a Black radical tradition to say, I’m a mom. To me, that’s also part of a revolutionary process and I shouldn’t exclude myself or exclude him from spaces that are about transformation, and so I kept on doing all this work while I still was pregnant, and I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t have community, those women, but also my partner. As un hombre consciente, he doesn’t say, “No, you can’t go,” but instead, “let’s have this conversation, okay? Why do you want to go?”

Claudia took a different role after midnight and continued her work. “The folks that I work with are mainly men in the collective, in the Ñ Don’t Stop project. You see all these men like, “Okay you gotta do this interview? Let me carry him.” Everybody assumes the responsibility that he is not only mine or his father’s but he’s part of the collective and we’re all responsible for him. It takes a village.” That village and community is and was of the utmost importance to her through her pregnancy and now in the postpartum. Being pregnant reminded her once again of the severe lack of quality in healthcare. She knew the hospitals in the South Bronx were not a good idea. “I also know what our reality is so…I went to New York Presbyterian, which isn’t the greatest either but they offered the combination of a midwife and doctor. I felt comfortable there.”

Photo by Imani Vidal of Instye Photography

Her pregnancy was awesome. The first three months were challenging because of the morning sickness but it never felt like pregnancy was a deficit. The men around her were protective of her and didn’t want her to lift or do certain things. “I’m pregnant. I’m not sick. It’s not an illness, it’s a condition. I’m pregnant, it happens and I’m going to continue to do the work that I do.” Claudia’s labor was hard for her due to laboring for three days and acknowledging the difficulty of being so hormonal and experiencing so many changes. Becoming a mother changed the relationship with her own mother completely. She has much more value and a bigger sense of her mother’s wisdom. Their relationship has been strengthened and has moved into a space of sisterhood. “I had to get a C-section because his heart rate dropped when I was in the hospital but my mom had three C-sections.” She was in a lot of pain and mused that she was whining about it. “My mom is like, ‘I did that shit three times!’ That gave me strength to be able to get up and walk around cause I’m like, ‘you did it, I could do it.’ Let’s get this popping.”

The wisdom of her mother and community has been incredibly nourishing. “I understand that the reason my mom was able to provide for me some of that counsel is because she got it from her mom. And her mom got it from her mom, and that’s the case for a lot of the women that are around me. Unfortunately in the larger scale, in our community there’s so many levels of disconnect.” Claudia spoke about the reality that the immigrant experience includes sometimes being separated from mothers. Women have sometimes left because of socioeconomic or political reasons, leaving entire families behind while they’re here on their own. That separation can cut them off from old school wisdom during their pregnancies. “There’s a level of also just assuming or thinking that conventional medicine is the way to go and that ancestral medicine has no strength or depth or value. And then there are the folks that choose not to listen to ancestral guidance. For me, as someone who believes in liberation and transformation, ancestral wisdom has a very big place in my life.”

There was no way for Claudia to receive the fullness of her life’s work without that connection to her elders. Her mother stayed on top of her daughter’s diet during her gestation period, “que si una sopa de esto, que si una sopa de lo otro…” and has continued to nourish her and Roque to this day. “As soon as I gave birth, she came and she brought me té de tres anis to help with the gases and the release of water.” This knowledge of what and how to care for women is part of the Black indigenous tradition that is lost, unfortunately, in a country where there’s no value for blackness or indigenous cultures. “In terms of that community, I feel like it’s always been there and it’s always led me. My pregnancy and my birth were not gonna be the first time for me not to value it; if anything, es donde yo mas he asumido mi negritud y ese tipo de sabiduría ancestral.”

Photo by Kerbie Joseph

The same way her son became a part of her life’s work while she was pregnant, he continues to be present. As Claudia mentioned how it takes a village to raise a child, she spoke about motherhood and the ideas about it. The society in which we live has a bad idea that children are bothersome. “You go to a meeting, you don’t take your child because va a molestar. For me it’s like, if it bothers you, then you have a problem. Because, my child goes where I go. Y eso es muy de nuestra tradiciones. No necesariamente para las sociedades que se han creado ahora, en estos siglos, pero antes del colonialismo, antes de todo eso, andaban las madres con sus niños cargaditos.” She knows there is strength in that and the council of women in the meetings affirms her. “[They] go, ‘Roque!!!!’ and they carry him around and they play with him, and we carry on with business; he’s not alien or he’s not isolated or he’s not seen as an impediment. Whereas we live in a society or country where there are spaces like meeting spaces or working spaces where they see a child and it’s like ‘oh, there’s a baby.’ And the feeling is like, ‘why is he here?’”

Claudia thinks many women have felt excluded or have been excluded from spaces because these are not created for children. “No se crean espacios para que un niño pueda participar en eventos. Now that I’m in a new phase as a mom, even though I was more conscious about it before with my work with women, now I’m even more conscious of it. We have a speaking engagement? Oh, I’m bringing my son. And if you don’t want me to speak with him on the podium, then I’m gonna have to bring somebody else who’s gonna take care of him. I’m not excluding myself from the work that I’ve always done because I am mom. He’s part of it.” One of her practices that merges her sociopolitical views and motherhood are her letters to Roque. “His life is a project. It’s a social political project because he is part of something that is larger, something that I may not be able to see someday but he will, and maybe he won’t be able to see it. There’s hope that something will change in this society. I’ve always thought of him as part of that hope.”

Though, it is not lost on her that Roque is both a part of the collective and her responsibility. “I never thought about him as like, my child. My kid, my boy, right? So it wasn’t until he was born and the nurse came and gave me my son. ‘Here’s your son,’ that I was like ‘oh shit, he’s my son!’” Claudia knows he is not solely a socio-political project. She has most of the responsibility of guiding him and facilitating a process by which he understands himself as part of a collective. “And so I started writing to him con esa noción. He probably won’t even pay attention to those letters until he’s in college. But I wanted him to know the social, political, economic, spiritual space in which he was born.” For Claudia, giving her son the context in which she is raising him is important. “A lot of the times we don’t know why our parents migrated, what was happening in the countries where we’re from or we don’t know why our parents were forced to live in the conditions that they live here.” She shares about her own life and parent’s history: “I was born in the South Bronx and my parents had to make the choice when I was five and my oldest brother was eight to send us back to the Dominican Republic to be raised by our grandmother because where they were living, the social conditions of the space when they were on 149th and St. Anne’s…we’re talking about the 80s. It was a neglected community, they’re immigrants. They’re like, ‘wait a minute, they don’t need to be here where they could be in open land with their grandma’…living more of a quality life and I was able to understand their choice when I first learned history. What was happening at that moment in time historically that made my parents make the decision that they made.”

“Tu tienes hambre, papi?” She took a moment to breastfeed Roque and we continued. She wants her son to hear history from her because what is taught in school is more often than not inaccurate and lacking analysis. In her letters, Claudia shares life lessons that she hopes he’ll share with the world. “That’s his choice because he’s also an individual and he’ll grow into his own man.” She reflected on how in her own journey growing up, she had a period in her life in which she lost sight of the value in her community’s wisdom. “I grew a lot but at the same time I devalued a lot of what I was coming from. A lot of what I was coming from was so popular…tan del pueblo, tan básico. My grandmother used to say, ‘tu no eres mejor que nadie y nadie es mejor que tu. Tu eres única.’ Como cosas sumamente simple, and I was like…new knowledge and new way about doing shit and nobody knew better than I did, right?”

As she continued to grow, Claudia understood that it was the foundation she was given from her family and community the reason she was able to capture many feminist, communist and radical principles.  Particularly, she realized her mom was exactly the type of woman she was trying to save the world for. “This is some straight up colonizing way of dealing with this. I feel a lot of folks in different spaces or just in movement in general, we get so far from the ordinary folks that we’re supposed to be struggling with and for. Luckily I had folks around me that were like, but your mom is great. She cooks great, she raised you three, she’s done this, she’s done that. The idea that everyone, everyone has value.”

Her homegrown values were only heightened by these political ideologies.  “As young people of color, we need to, again, acknowledge that we come from a long Black radical tradition that is prior to enslavement, prior to the process of colonization, prior to imperialism…and we need to look back, like the Sankofa movement.” She believes we must look back to be able to know how to hold the present and the future. This requires research and investigating, reaching out to our elders who are still with us. “Ask those questions. If mom is alive, ask mom. ‘Cual era los consejos que tu mama te daba?’ One of the things that I started telling my mom, and this is just because she has an ability to memorize remedies and stuff, I was like, why don’t you just write a recipe book, like write it down because ultimately my grandmother’s gone, you’re still around but who knows?”

She would want to pass that information to a daughter, should she have one. “I would want to leave her that in the future as something that is a living testament of this is how we carry on. I think that’s important, like have folks write down ese remedio.” She feels the movement of doulas and midwives coming up in contemporary times is a reflection of claiming that ancient knowledge. “I think these women are looking for that ancestral wisdom to share with other women. And that’s something that the system has also broken, you know, the sisterhood. The ability of women sharing with other women.” Claudia cites the way the system pushes for women to compete with each other as a reason we have lost some of our ties. “That’s not what this is about. We’re not here to say, fulanita llego a tal sitio, yo quiero llegar mas lejos que fulanita. It’s about complimenting each other’s strength and also helping each other strengthen our weaknesses. When we’re able to see ourselves in those lenses then we’re able to share more and grow more as a community.”

In concluding my time with Claudia and Roque, she shared some wisdom and words she is gaining from her process. “There’s a need to build with other women and I’m talking based on my experience in a heterosexual relationship because again, there are partnerships where, or relationships where, there are two women about to have a baby, right? When you talk about a heterosexual relationship, the dynamic changes. There’s things that women go through that men will never understand, regardless of how good they are and how supportive they are and how present they are, they’ll never understand. But when you speak to a sister, even if she hasn’t given birth, there’s a certain level of sensitivity you have to say that is there that I think, not only when we’re pregnant we need it but we need it all the time. So I think building that core group of women whom you trust and who are there for you, que estan en solidaridad con el proceso tuyo. I think that that’s highly necessary and probably the most important thing that I would say and it doesn’t go only to the extent of the nine months but it carries through. It should carry through because you’re going to have to find out like, okay if I’m gonna breastfeed him, right, how do I stack breastmilk so that I could be able to have a life? That’s another thing right, I want to be able to take him to different places but there’s also the space of mommy needs time. So when mommy needs time, you need to be able to delegate or share the work with your compañero and compañera if you have one or if you don’t have a compañero or compañera, someone in that core circle needs to step up or needs to be able to say, “okay, I need help.” That only happens in community. That you feel the trust to say, okay I need time for myself and now I have to share him with someone else. Yo creo que la coletividad es sumamente importante, entre mujeres es importante.”

Links to Claudia’s Work:

Claudia de La Cruz’s outreach work helps teens and young women soar like ‘Urban Butterflies’
Latinas Celebrate Their Womanhood In Washington Heights
Statement for Mumia Abu-Jamal from San Romero de Las Américas Church – Pastor Claudia De la Cruz
People Power Movement – Free The Mind – Claudia De La Cruz