What is "Mujerista," and what is "Mujerista Theology?"
(So, we’ve gotten a few requests on a brief history and outline of the term Mujerista, so I’ve compiled this together. If anyone has anything to add, please do! And mind, this is in no way a complete description, but something that can get your gears turning. - Jennifer)
The term Mujerista was first coined by Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz. Isasi-Díaz was born and raised to a Catholic family in Havana, Cuba, and went to the United States as a political refugee in 1960. Once there, she became a nun, and did missionary work in Lima, Peru. It was there that Isasi-Díaz first began to think about the sexism, racism, and patronization of the Catholic Church in Latin@ communities (particularly, in poor Latin@ communities). Although many (not all!) Latin@s are Catholic, there is a complicated relationship there because of its history as a colonizing force. The Church has continued this legacy and ignores the “religion of the people,” by use of androcentric Eurocentrism, but that’s a whole other paper. Anyway. Isasi-Díaz gave up being a nun and came back to the United States, where she got her masters and PhD in Divinity. It is around these times that she began to create the concept of Mujerista, and more specifically, Mujerista Theology. She explains that this was vital because of the racism she faced within the feminist movements, and the sexism within Liberation Theology. She would have definitely been influences by early Womanist scholars, Black feminists, and by Chicana feminists. Although Mujerism is focused in Latin@ communities in the United States, it also applies to anywhere that Latin@s are!
So while the term Mujerista began within a theological (Roman Catholic) context, it is not only a religious identity, (much like Womanism). The key aspect of Mujerista Theology is that we, as Latinas, needed to have a theology and feminist movement where we are at the center, and not the Other. As a part of Liberation Theology, Mujerista Theology (and Mujerism in general) has a Liberative Praxis, wherein justice and liberation is the most important move for all marginalized groups. Although this Liberative Praxis is centered in the Latin@ community, it is important that no liberation can be attained if it isn’t intersectional. This means that we have to stand in solidarity with all marginalized identities, and make a new society wherein no one is subjugated to oppression. We, as Latin@s (and other marginalized communities) need to recognize the oppressive structures in our lives, and we need to work to change these systems and learn about how we’ve internalized our own oppression. We must work towards a proyecto histórico in which we are free of these oppressive structures but still have a strong sense of history.
So how can this be achieved? Isasi-Díaz really focuses on the fact that we have to work within the subjective frameworks of all Latinas, which is a huge project because each Latina individual and community works within their own narrative. So this means we have to work to affirm the everyday life of Latinas. Even though struggle is key to our communities, it shouldn’t be exalted. When we say, la vida es lucha, it’s something that we need to recognize as we try to overcome it. Isasi-Díaz really focuses on three characteristics of Latinidad that will help us achieve liberation: comunidad, lo cotidiano, and justicia.
Comunidad is the idea that there can be no change without the support of our communities. Liberation is not individual, even though it is subjective. Isasi-Díaz speaks about how we need to embrace diversity within our communities, and reject racism and ethnic prejudice. This is especially important because Latinidad is not homogenous. Although the focus is on racial identity (we have Afro-Latinas, white Latinas, Indigenous Latinas, mestizaje Latinas, mulatez Latinas, all the Latinas!) this is also important in terms of sexuality, gender identity, ability, class, and other intersectional identities. We have to actively work in solidarity with one another and know that we don’t all face the same oppressions. But we need to support one another and talk about the problems within our community. Liberation has to be for us all.
Isasi-Díaz roughly translates lo cotidiano into “the stuff of our reality,” basically saying that our stories, narratives, histories, and lives as Latinas are the frameworks through which we live our lives. There is an emphasis on all the values, ideals, and dreams that help us in our struggles and in our everyday lives. So this includes all of the actions, discourses, and norms that are established within our communities and within ourselves. This is key because liberation can’t come out of the academy. If your liberative praxis is something that your mother, your grandmother, your aunts, cannot understand because it’s full of technical jargon, then it is bullshit. Being a Mujerista is about our lived lives and practices. If you’re not centering your work in your community, then why are you doing it?
Finally, justicia has to be vital and an active aspect of our lives. Since the ultimate goal of Mujerism is liberation, we have to work and participate in making our world a place where we are not marginalized. Isasi-Díaz names five main forms of injustice that Latin@s face, and that we need to work to overcome. These are exploitation (of our work and our bodies), marginalization (the way we are forced to be the Other within society and our own lives), powerlessness (the lack of authority that we have, and the amount of authority that is pushed onto us by dominant narratives), cultural imperialism (the rejection of our own cultural values, traditions, etc. which leads to internalized racism), and systematic violence (within our communities and against our communities). Again, we also have to work to make sure these injustices are no longer activated against any marginalized community, and we need to be mindful of intersections. This is why Mujeristas want liberation, and not equality; we do not squash our brothers and sisters in struggles in order to be made “equal” with dominant groups.
But why does Isasi-Díaz coin Mujerista over “Latina Feminist”? In short, it is because there is power in naming. To call oneself a “Latina Feminist” shows that we are still the Other, still not the center of our praxis. Some Latina Feminists argue that this is erasing the history of feminism in Latin American countries, and that the term Mujerista really has not political or historical backing, which is equally valid. But many WoC, including myself, have never felt comfortable with the term “feminist” because feminism has never been for us. So I like Mujerista because it is a name that I have chosen, that has been made by a Latina like me, and that gives me comfort. And it makes me feel like I have a space for me, where I’m not, in the words of Isasi-Díaz, “an unimportant adjective.” This is not to say it’s perfect - a lot of work needs to be done and continue to be done for it to be more intersectional and to make sure we aren’t squashing people within our communities and other marginalized groups. But I have hopes for it. High, high, hopes.
And in case this was all too long, and you didn’t read:
A Mujerista is someone who makes a preferential option for Latina women, for their struggle for liberation.
Some introductory texts to check out for further information on Mujerism/Mujerista Theologyand critiques of it:
- “My Name is Mujerista,” Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz
- Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the 21st Century, Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz (Orbis Books, 1996)
En la Lucha/In the Struggle: Elaborating a Mujerista Theology, Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz (Fortress Press, 2003)
- A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology, eds. María Pilar Aquino, Daisy Machado, and Jeanette Rodríguez (University of Texas Press, 2002)
- “Rethinking Latina Feminist Theologian,” Michelle A. González, in Rethinking Latino(a) Religion and Identity (The Pilgrim Press, 2006)