As a puertorriqueña, it’s not a surprise to people that I grew up in a Pentecostal church. Sharing this Evangelical past to folks who know me as the raging intersectional Latina feminista, however, brings about some confused faces. “How are you trying to dismantle the patriarchy while following an inherently patriarchal faith,” some ask. “But, wait, aren’t those the folks who are extremely anti-LGBTQ+, pro-guns and against abortion,” others inquire. Yep, them (unfortunately) be the ones. Of course, this is a very media-perpetuated portrayal of the faith that I simultaneously loathe and love, one that leaves out the countless Pentecostal mujeres who are leading feminist, racial justice, trans rights, criminal justice and immigration movements.
They’re not alone. Women of faith are at the forefront of so many social justice causes, sparking questions about how they reconcile their feminism with their religion. This is particularly true for those mujeristas who follow the three major world religiones – Islam, Judaism and Christianity – which tend to be the most historically patriarchal. Hoping to put the myth that faith and feminism are incompatible to rest, Latinas explain ahead how these two identities actually complement and embolden each other.
Eren Cervantes-Altamirano, 27, Mexican-Indigenous (Zapotec), Muslim
I was raised by an indigenous feminist mother in a secular household. My mom, an activist, instilled in me a strong sense of intersectionality and an understanding of women's rights. Still, by 18, I felt a spiritual need to search for something else. I became Muslim about eight years ago. I resonated with this faith because of its progressive nature and the way it handled social justice. Islam, in my view, is meant to be always-evolving. Despite this, I knew that my family wouldn't understand my conversion, so I kept it from them for a while. Thus, when they did find out years later, they were concerned. My parents could not understand how I could reconcile my feminist politics with Islam, but, for me, it wasn't so difficult. While I acknowledge that the practice of Islam is heavily patriarchal in North America – permeating sacred spaces and some interpretations of the scriptures – the Quran itself is not. I see the Quran as a scripture that provides basic principles for personal practice, community-building and connection with Allah. The scripture also makes women participants of the religion, rather than objects of it. Even more, I had a very feminist introduction to Islam, as I learned about it in academia through the readings of feminist “sheroes” like Dr. Laleh Bakhtia, Fatima Mernissi and Amina Wadud. My parents, however, were also concerned about my reconciling this new religion with my racial and ethnic identity. They wondered how I could be true to my indigenous and Mexican identities if I had chosen Islam. This, I must admit, is still a work in progress. Being Latin American makes my identity as a Muslim feminist three times more complicated. Mexican societies, for the most part, are also patriarchal, but my mother stems from one of the only surviving matriarchies of the country. Therefore, I do struggle a bit with resisting patriarchy within the broader Mexican community in Canada and also resisting patriarchy in Muslim spaces. In this regard, my friendships and connections with amazing indigenous feminist activists have been crucial in learning to understand indigeneity and integrating decolonial analyses within my work in Islam. As I said, some of this is a work in progress, so my writings are as much for me as they are to educate others about what it means to be a Latina Muslim feminist. I urge anyone who believes these identities are incompatible to just listen to the women who live at these intersections.
AnaYelsi Velasco-Sanchez, 31, Venezuelan, Christian
I’ve been engaged in feminist politics for a really long time. I mean, I was the really vocal pro-woman, agnostic high school activist. That’s what made my conversion to Christianity in college so surprising. Don’t get me wrong, even in the Christian bubble I had created for myself – I was always in church, went to religious events multiple times a week, worked for Christian organizations and even lived with people in the ministry – I still held on to my feminist and LGBT-affirming beliefs. My views, however, weren’t always welcomed. I was told that my outspokenness about these social justice issues had to be corrected if I was to be a “good godly women,” so roaring AnaYelsi became quiet. It came to a point where I couldn’t reconcile my pride as a woman of color, a feminist and my affirming stance with this conservative world. I was even fired from my job for holding on to my beliefs, even if just in silence. While this might have been the end of the road for some – either ditch your faith or change your views – for me, it was when I realized that all of my identities weren’t as incompatible as I was being told they were. I soon got a job at The Reformation Project, a direct-action organization combining old-school grassroots work with theological training. There, we teach people who come from conservative, Evangelical churches and communities how to reconcile the Bible with being affirming. You see, while some people use the Bible to support bigotry, I’ve been able to go back to the Word to have my feminist, racial justice and LGBT-affirming beliefs encouraged and emboldened. Interpretation is so important. We often take white, straight, cis male theologians’ words as God, not questioning them, not realizing that mujeristas, womanists and queer folks have spent years, if not decades, asking questions and finding answers in scriptures to things we ponder on. This has been the most important process for me as a woman of color: realizing I don’t need to walk away from the church. I can decolonize the church in the same way I can my mind and my body. And it has been great to watch the lines blur, to see the worlds I have a foot in come together, to make each of the worlds uncomfortable by bringing feminism, Christianity, racial justice or LGBT-affirming ideas into them, by meeting and learning from other people who live at these intersections, too. It’s what I live and breathe in every space I occupy, from the church and my job to art communities and my blog, Brown-Eyed Amazon.
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