I feel so incredibly blessed to live in a time where honoring young, single, teen mamas is FINALLY gaining recognition!
For as long as humans have existed, young mamas (and young families) have too. Before colonization, many of us came from communities which honored communal living and supporting families of all sorts. As our communities were colonized and industrialization took afoot, these patterns of/for care were severed, and as a result, as the years went on, individuals who did not participate in what was/is considered efficient lifestyles were targeted as “problematic”. Not surprisingly, this included young/single/teen/poor m/others (a word I use to represent the other-mother, these mamas). m/others (single/teen/welfare mamas) began to be seen as “burdens”, and “threats” to industrial/ capitalist centered societies. Instead of valuing the life-giving/life-sustaining resources m/others bring to the table through their everyday action of “mama-ing”- our societies pathologized, criminalized and generally degraded our m/otherhoods. M/other’s are often targeted as “welfare-abusers”, and are blamed for “bad” children, or absent parents. We undergo daily trauma manifesting in loss of opportunity, judgment over our parenting, systemic and institutional oppression/exclusion, state-violence against our f/phamilies, the pathologizing & criminalizing of our choices to become parents, withdrawal of support (from systems and within our intimate relationships), and just generally degrading/negative messages in mainstream media, and everyday interactions. Choosing to be a young/teen/welfare m/other is often a hard choice, even if the choice to be pregnant is easy. We often find ourselves judged, for “throwing our lives away”, or “choosing” to “make our lives harder”. What’s been even harder for me to witness and experience, is the exclusion of our m/otherhood as politicized work within social justice movements.
Despite all the negative messaging surrounds our m/otherhood, there are plenty of us that are living lives that counteract the myths of young families. We are working together to manifest new futures, full of hope, and collective transformation. We are practicing our traditional healing tools within our families, communities, and societies to create stronger, more just worlds. We are working (HARD) to participate in social justice movements.
As a teen/ welfare/ queer/ mama of color, my choice to become a mama at 16 was not an easy one. To be honest, I was totally unprepared for what was to come.
In fact, I am still trying to get my bearings (and my daughter has just recently turned 18). As I’ve grown up, so have my children. They have become beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, compassionate young adults who are giving back to their communities. No doubt the views of our communities and myself have helped to shape their perspectives about the world, and their political analysis’. They are the children of a radical woman of color, and though they are completely independent, they have been influenced as I have become more and more politicized. As I began organizing over their life span, they watched as my organizing work often hit home, work that I did because it directly impacted me or my ph/family (chosen and blood family). Organizing for poor people’s rights, immigration & welfare reform, anti-police violence, youth-led movements, queer organizing, even topics like clean-water action & food justice, all had direct impact on me and my family. At the end of the day, I couldn’t go back to the safety of my house, and hang up my organizing suit. I had to face the one’s that mattered most, my children, and feel good about the work that I’d been doing. I gave a lot of heart, soul, love to the work that I did as an organizer outside of my house but the work that mattered most to me always happened inside my home. I always knew that the work I did inside the house, the valuable m/other work (which included curriculum building, valuable solidarity work, advocacy, and sisterhood building- just to name a tiny portion) was never considered politicized work. The networks that I built with other m/others, the kitchen-table solidarity sessions, the late-night talks with teenagers (both my own children, and youth that I mentored), the healing work that only happens within our homes but allows us to continue in all the work that we do, those pieces that are so fragile, vulnerable and priceless, that work was NEVER considered political. After years of realizing this, living this, I started to feel like there was no space for m/other’s in the movement(s). Admittedly, over the last few years, I began to notice some recognition of “mothering” within social justice work, however, it mostly seemed to be predicated on the idea that “mother’s” had partners, or resources, or support- and for many m/other’s this was/is not the case.
Also within the last few years, I’ve been in more and more social justice spaces that are beginning to acknowledge the valuable work that m/other’s in movement(s) are doing. Often times, this acknowledgment has come from other m/others, within private spaces but it has been enough to ensure that the valuable m/other work that movements are often supported by, if not altogether built on, begins to be visibilized.
For those of you that are organizer’s who want to make sure you are supporting m/other’s in your work here are some tangible, and simple ways that show us you are aware of our work, lives, and contributions to movement building- and some ways that can help make entering spaces more accessible.
If you are organizing National and local convenings (such as conference’s or workshops):
1. provide free (or sliding scale- with nobody turned away) childcare;
2. offering traveling stipends that cover both single mama’s travel AND their children; or
3. create the invaluable space for m/other’s to meet and build with each other (just as they do with other any other marginalized identity group.
Conversely, we know when spaces are not recognizing, welcoming or honoring m/other’s because they 1. do not offer childcare, or expect m/other’s to arrange their own childcare (a possibility for many partnered parents but not for many single mamas), 2. cover only the cost of a m/other’s travel but not the cost of any single mama’s children (as was recently the case in during a National Reproductive Right’s conference), or; 3. don’t acknowledge the political work of m/othering by downplaying our identities, the political aspect of our m/othering & by not centering our lives as quintesential identities which require as much solidarity, space, and honor as any other identity, or movement building piece.
I am sharing all of this information with you today, because, as I said at the beginning of this article, I feel so honored to live in a time where the work and lives of young/single mamas is coming to the forefront of some of our movements.
Organizations, collectives , and individuals like: http://mamasofcolorrising.wordpress.com/about/, http://www.poormagazine.org/ have been doing the valuable with mamas for mamas organizing work (many of them m/others too).
There’s also countless of individual m/other’s who have long been involved in movement building- both within their own families by raising their children- and publicly by blogging, zine-making, and creating forums for other creative, political organizing. Some of these sister’s include long-time zinemaker and blogger- Hermana Resist!, and general bad-ass, community organizer and VivirLatino! blogger Mamita Mala. They are just two of the many m/other’s whose work (generally) exists without non-profit support, and who continue building radical movements while raising amazing young people.
However, despite the ongoing contributions that m/others make to creating more just worlds, we still need so much support to shift both mainstream America’s, and our own social justice movement’s perspectives of our m/otherhood from detrimental and negative to courageous and politicized!
Yes, we are calling on our movements to acknowledge radical mama’s everyday m/othering work as political work. Raising our children is a political action! We are working hard to participate in movement’s that often excludie us, and we wont allow this to happen anymore. We affirm our m/otherhood’s as politicized, and we expect the same from you. We say this out of love because we want to continue to grow, participate, and share with those of you who have never thought about m/otherhood this way, and who may be exploring these thoughts for the first time.
Over the last year, I’ve been traveling across the US with The New Mythos Project, building relationships with m/others and community caregivers that are invested in creating and participating in movements that are centered on well-being, spirituality, and connection. The long, and multiple conversation’s I’ve had with people across the nation, have all centered on re-thinking how social justice movement’s are built & continue to exist. I’ve heard back from many m/others, myself included, that the current organizing model which most social justice movements use excludes our unique and important needs as single/teen/welfare mamas.
We are forming our own networks to begin to address how to build solidarity around our political in-home and out of home work… these networks are grounded in very real, relationship building. We are our sister’s keepers! And, whenever possible, we are creating interactive healing spaces where mama’s can re-generate, and make themselves stronger. Part of building this network is celebrating that our experiences make us different. We don’t share the same experiences as the “idealized” mother, and that’s fine with us! We know that our experiences make us who we be, the strong, vibrant, vulnerable beings we are. So, it is my honor this year to breathe deep, and humbly share with you two action’s which visibilize the valuable work, and lives, of m/others!!!
I can’t tell you how many years have gone by where Mother’s Day has passed, and I’ve looked around to see all the celebration directed towards mother’s who enjoy the privilege of parenting in a traditional two-parent, heteronormative household. In checking out these events, please think about m/other’s that might live in your community! How are they being celebrated this year? How can you take a vow to stand in solidarity with them in the upcoming year? If you are an organizer, are you making space and sharing resources so that m/other’s are present at the table in your organizing efforts? If you are organizing on efforts from food justice to media justice, are you taking lead from m/other’s? Or, are you asking them to check their mama identities at the door in order to participate with you?I hope lots of you can make it out to either of these events (or the other’s that are happening nation wide), stand in solidarity with our sistaz!!!
Today, and everyday, I honor you m/othersisters. You are building a future I want to live in, and I am honored to see you shine.
1. Young Families Day Celebration!
This event will be Saturday, May 7, 2011 from 11am-3pm at Civic Center Hall in San Francisco, USA. (For more information on this event check out their FB event page)
The Center for Young Women’s Development , California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice are organizing this day of resource sharing, networking , changing stereotypes, kids activities, free food, and celebrating what makes our YOUNG families strong!!!!
They are also working on a Strong Families initiative which honors all families: Check out their awesome new video Honoring Young Mamas!
2. Mother’s Day Liberation Rally and Community Supper 2011
Saturday May 7th 3pm through Sunday May 8th 7pm : Woodland Park & Rhizome Cafe, Vancouver BC, Unceded and Occupied Coast Salish Territories.
(For more information on this event, and this groups work check out their FB Event Page)
The Mother’s Day Liberation Rally & Community Supper 2011 is organized by the Committee for Single Mothers on the Move, which is led by a group of low-income single mothers of colour, the Breakthrough Mamas, and our allies, including Vancouver Status of Women, No One is Illegal-Vancouver, the Philippine Women’s Centre and the Transformative Communities Project Society.
We struggle from many places of resilience and urgency against the perverse conditions of systemic impoverishment, exploitation, violence and isolation imposed by a hetero-patriarchal, colonial, racist and capitalist society. We celebrate the passion, creativity, survival and power of people who mother under oppressive conditions to (re)make a world where love is more possible.
We demand RESPECT, COMMUNITY AND DIGNITY for all low-income mothers and children, and have identified the following top priorities for political struggle – with increased access, participation, and influence by low-income mothers and children:
FREEDOM FROM VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
END TO CHILD APPREHENSIONS
SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE SELF-DETERMINATION
This Mother’s Day weekend, we call on all people who desire liberating and just conditions of mothering to join us for a day of celebration, inspiration, community-building and resistance!