Movement Mothering: Chicana Mothers in Movement Spaces and the Hope We Cultivate Despite the Invisib
Born and raised in social justice movement spaces placed me in a unique position to bear witness to a very nuanced new consciousness my parents were attaching themselves to, to the Catholic Church they were rejecting, and to all of the struggles that emerged as a result of this push/pull dynamic. It was 1970, and the Chicano movement was just a couple years old. This is when I made my entrance into the world and when my parents decided to dedicate their lives to fighting for justice. Being the eldest and only daughter in this family meant attending meetings, overhearing ideological arguments, and witnessing critical, not always constructive, dialogue, that often times resulted in diverging methods and, less often, physical altercations. My childhood was messy. It was wrought with blurred lines of love, abuse, strength, addiction, and divorce. My parents cared very deeply about their families, community, and worked tirelessly to create a just world for my brothers, for me, and for our children. My parents loved me and my brothers without boundaries or conditions, which made it all the more confusing when our family broke apart. I remember feeling the weight of the world on my tiny seven-year-old shoulders, but with this weight that sometimes felt like a cement block that could sink me, I still had a buoyancy I call hope. This hope could float me from one day to the next. Perhaps it was the lofty hope for a better world that I could see in my parent’s eyes, or the simplest hope for the “good basketball court” at school the next day that my brothers and I clung to at bedtime, that fueled me. I don’t know, but even when my world as I knew it was feeling quite dismal, at the age of seven, I knew that my parents, my brothers and I would be okay.
As an adult and a parent, I decided to do things somewhat differently than my parents. I would engage in social justice activities and movement spaces, but unlike the way I was raised and weighed down by knowing too much too soon, I would raise my children without the messiness of too much information, of too many babysitters and without the intelligence I had to develop as a child in order to make sense of my world. I wouldn’t make the same mistakes my parents made. I would make my own mistakes. I had my first daughter at 24 and was able to stay home with her for a good amount of time before returning to work as a development director of Proyecto Pastoral and Homeboy Industries. After I had my second daughter, I decided it was time for a change of pace for all of us. I started freelancing from home with organizations that did similar work to Proyecto Pastoral and Homeboy Industries, my former places of employment and I wrote many grants for artists in my Chicano/a/x arts community. With this change in my employment situation, I was forced to tighten up on my spending, to give up some of my financial independence and my autonomy as a substantial “bread winner” in my household. This shift took its toll on me in ways that I hadn’t previously considered. There were moments when I reflected on the benefits to my family that a stay home mom offered, and other times when I felt like I sold out my feminist principles to become a full-time wife and mother. Additionally, there was a certain price of guilt that came with this “luxury” that my own mother didn’t have. I so badly wanted to fully enjoy these years of mothering, of bearing witness to first words, first steps, to providing one-on-one time that I knew my daughters and I deserved, but this enjoyment was hampered by guilt, and confusion. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about these feelings, so I simply wrote about them, and after months of deliberating with myself, I came to my own conclusions. I was my harshest critic and critical of other women who, unlike me, decided that another way of parenting was best for them. While I judged, I knew that I was also being judged by some who would say things such as, “She’s spending her husband’s money on herself, and he works so hard,” or “It must be nice to stay home all day and have someone paying all of your bills for you,” and even comments about my parenting style by folks who had no children, “Her kids are spoiled and too attached to her.” Although these comments hurt me and sparked in me a deep yearning to justify my work, to defend my expenses, to show my feminist friends what I was doing with our money, and to prove to them that being a stay at home mother and wife was a revolutionary act, I did not. I continued on my mothering journey and I resumed writing about my circumstances, my doubts and fears and my failures and successes. I wrote in an effort to gain a better understanding of myself, my mother, and other women, and I wrote so that one day, my daughters could, too, understand what I did for them and for us as a family. Again, what kept me at home was the hope that I had in our family, in my vision of parenting, the love and security I wanted my children to feel, the hope I could instill in them that could carry them as it did me.
During this time, I was still an active participant in the Chicana/o/x arts, social justice community. I was part of organizing events, fundraising, and supporting campaigns that impacted marginalized folks in the US, Mexico, and Central America. I joined a committee called Comunidad en Movimiento (CEM) at Dolores Mission Church and Proyecto Pastoral. I was a full-time mother to my children and wife to a successful and extremely prolific Chicano artist who was as supportive of my personal development as he could be, but I knew that I needed to work with community folks to keep my sanity, autonomy, and to show my daughters that their mother is a life-long learner and worker even if she was not participating in paid labor. I worked with CEM for two years on projects responding to gang violence, community leadership development, and pressuring elected officials to come through for marginalized folks in Los Angeles. In addition, I was part of an organizing body of community workers and artists called Big Frente Zapatista (BFZ), who were working on an encuentro with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. Again, I was part of planning and strategizing meetings and raising money for the events, even though I did not plan on attending the encuentro in Chiapas because I had a toddler to care for at home. It was here, again, in BFZ, that I realized that only some stories would be told. My work was completely erased from this story, and my participation, completely written out. Perhaps this was because I chose not to attend the full encuentro. Similarly, several of the mothers of younger children who stayed home, making it possible for their partners to attend and fully participate without worrying about the children, were never acknowledged as full participants in this movement and still, their stories have not been unearthed.
In 2003, I was part of a delegation of Chicana/os that together took a trip to Veracruz, Mexico to form part of the first Chicana/o/x and Jarocha/o Encuentro in Xalapa, the state capital. On this trip, we visited several groups and communities who were using the Fandango and Son Jarocho to engage community in working for justice, and to reclaiming a cultural tradition that had been lost for two decades. This is when I decided that I would become a student of the tradition and learn to play and dance rather than observe, listen, work, and write. It was witnessing the fandango and being pulled into its magic that connected all of my life’s experiences; my childhood, my love and frustrations with the movement, Chicana/o art and music, my life’s soundtrack, and the joy I found in my approach to parenting. It was the Fandango, the site of community arts participation, where I found liberation from the hurt accumulated by erasure and silence. Shortly after, I also realized Fandango, like many other male, hetero-centered practices, could be used as a tool to perpetuate colonial practices that elucidate some, chosen few, while still invisibilizing others. Even with these contradictions enacted and often sanctioned by leaders in these movements, the hope that surfaced in the fandango, in the people, in what my partner, daughters and I could learn and practice together, is what I have held onto, the buoyancy of this ever-present hope that has shown me we can do better for each other.
Xochi Flores is a mother of three young women, a community worker, popular educator, musician, scholar, baker, and maestra. She has worked with communities in the US, and in Mexico in developing multidisciplinary projects in music, poetry, dance, baking and motherhood to strengthen relationships in families and communities. She has a long and successful fundraising and grant writing track record in her arts and movement community as her passion for each project comes through in each proposal. Xochi is also a founding member of the Son Jarocho/Chicanx group, Los Cambalache who’ve been active in their community since 2009. Being a life-long learner, Xochi is currently an aspiring seamstress who loves using fabrics and patterns that juxtapose one another to express the multiple layers of her identity.