Introduction

by Karina Muñiz-Pagán

The name of our writing group, Las Malcriadas, emerged from a story written during an exercise in class, and featured in this anthology. Malcriada often means bad-mannered, rebellious, and unladylike. In the story, the young girl questions why she has to do so many chores while her brother gets to play.

“¡Malcriada!” she was called and scolded by her aunt. We found commonality in that word, sitting around the table with our own resistance stories about how a woman is expected to act in our society and cultures. We decided to flip the script and embrace our rebellion.

The bravery of the writers shows up in the work you will read here, told in their own voices, rather than the stories so often written about them. At one of our public readings, just eight days after the 2016 presidential elections, our emcee, Maria “Chuy” Hernandez, opened the evening, saying, “Please do not hear our stories and see us as victims, as pobrecitas. What we share isn’t always easy and there is no denial our community is in crisis. But we want to be seen as our full selves: in our joy, our pain, and our resiliency.” Then she called for “solidarity with all communities that are hurting and vulnerable.”

Eighteen member-leaders participated in the creative writing courses held over two years. Not everyone has had access to formal education, and in the beginning, some who were not yet comfortable with writing dictated their stories, if that felt better, until they were ready to write on the page. The stories born out of the class are vulnerable, at times humorous, honest, and resilient. It takes guts to pull out a memory from under a childhood rock resting on soil you may never touch or see again.

From the writing exercises, three main themes arose: childhood, borders crossings (both physical and invisible), and life here in the U.S. This is how the book is divided and you will find several of the authors contributing to each theme. The stories that came out of life here in the U.S. also reflect the political education and organizing work we did as a base-building group.

In our leadership retreats and ongoing political education about domestic worker history and organizing, it has been crucial that we recognize how the legacy of slavery and racism lives on in U.S. labor laws against domestic workers; how labor rights exclusions today are a direct product of racism and sexism against a predominantly women-of-color workforce, with the continuous devaluation of work that women do in the home—both paid and unpaid. In our workshops we discussed the history of Black women domestic workers organizing in this country: of washerwomen, who organized in the South in the late 1800s, to domestic worker leaders, such as Dorothy Bolden, during the civil rights movement. When state violence against Black lives is rampant, and anti-immigrant racism becomes more and more entrenched, understanding this context and writing about it has been imperative.

We also focused in particular on what solidarity looks like with the Movement for Black Lives as a Latina immigrant rights organization. How can we confront and change deep-seated anti-Black racism in Latinx communities? In this anthology, you will see honest prose that grapples with this reality.

You will also find stories about creativity, buried for decades, because of a mother’s rage when she discovers her seven-year old daughter’s love of fiction-writing.

Or the nine-year old girl playing bus with her siblings under a cherry tree, her fare paid for with leaves as pesos. Everything changes when loss grips and divides the family, and she won’t hear from her siblings again until years later on Facebook. You’ll come to know the sound of mamá’s slippers during wartime blackouts, and prayers for papá to return home.

The writers explore given names, ones with inherited scars, that hold the memories of a grandmother whose dementia has tried to sweep them away like dust on a broom. And chosen names, proud and bold, declaring, “This is who I am.”

bell hooks writes about engaged pedagogy—when you ask your students to go to vulnerable places, you have to be willing to go there yourself. During the writers’ groups, I was asked to share a personal story of my own, a memory from childhood, which is also included.

There is prose that speaks of how the perilous journey to the U.S., filled with loss and extremities, is just the beginning of fear and uncertainty, yet the love of a son creates hope for a better tomorrow.

Other essays shine the light on living through the inequities of Oakland and San Francisco’s changing landscapes. Another essay grapples with how we are learning and building complex relationships across movements like disability justice, where leaders are also employers advocating for their rights, too, as a community.

You’ll find the story of a battle against sexual harassment in the Tijuana maquiladoras, won thanks to an unexpected encounter in the local market. And of warrior sisterhood needed in this movement, creating space for laughter and nurturing love, in the midst of the attacks on immigrant communities.

Writing has given us the gift of healing, of being seen and taking risks, at a time when our voices must be amplified. The writers have had to return to places filled with the gamut of emotions and bring them to life—to say here I am, and yes, some stories are rough, but don’t look at me with pity. See my power. This anthology reminds us of the imperative courage needed to write, speak, and as Edwidge Danticat says, “create art dangerously” against the erasure of our people, against the constant buzz asking us to normalize this moment, as our communities continue to be terrorized.