In the spring of 1994 during my first year in college, Cherríe Moraga changed my life forever. Her essay “A Long Line of Vendidas” from Loving in the War Years gave me the language I would forever use to understand my brownness, my queer identity, and my feminism.
“To be a woman fully necessitated my claiming the race of my mother. My brother’s sex was white. Mine, brown.”
I recently met Moraga at the red carpet premiere of the MAKERS documentary Women Who Make America in New York. As I watched the first hour of the film during the premiere, I was excited to see a shot of the now classic 1980 photo of Moraga with Audre Lorde and Barbara Smith wearing their Kitchen Table: Woman of Color Press t-shirts. Kitchen Table was the first woman of color independent press that became well-known for publishing the groundbreaking collection This Bridge Called My Back.
Edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Moraga in 1983, the pieces in Bridge paved the way for how we breathe, speak, and love feminism today. We only need mention these women’s names and we all immediately recognize the bridge they built for our collective feminist consciousness.
Anzaldúa, Lorde, Moraga, and Barbara Smith (who is also featured in MAKERS) were the women who revolutionized feminism. They were the ones who brought an analysis of race, class, and ethnicity to our critical discussions of gender and sexuality. They were the ones who taught us how to bring this intersectional lens to issues of education, immigration, labor, reproductive rights, and much more.
Indeed, they created the feminism we so revere and rally around today.
Without Moraga and her sisters of color, we wouldn’t have multi-issue organizing; we wouldn’t have queer theory; and we certainly wouldn’t have African-American studies, Asian-American Studies, Latino Studies, Native American Studies, or any other interdisciplinary studies.
Today, both white and women of color say “intersectionality” with such ease that we consider it a cherished birthmark on our feminist bodies. We always need to remember, however, who gave us our feminist DNA.
Even Gloria Steinem cautioned the audience at the MAKERS premiere that we need to remember that our most radical and most change-making roots came from women of color. Steinem underscored her point by quoting Paula Gunn Allen from the Laguna-Pueblo tribe: “The root of oppression is the loss of memory.”
Teaching is the antidote to memory loss. In my high school course on feminism and activism, Moraga’s name is household. My students read and love “La Güera.” My students also write blog posts on their class site F to the Third Power acknowledging her contribution to their thinking.
One student writes: “I came to the conclusion that all those issues I wanted to fight for, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, are deeply connected to the work of feminism,” was a result of reading Moraga and the works of other women of color.
If you want to bring Moraga’s work to your classroom, consider teaching “La Güera” and “A Long Line of Vendidas” when you talk about women of color and feminism.
Speaking of her plays, while I spoke to Moraga at the premiere, she shared that her scripts are not often produced. Let’s put an end to that. Consider mounting a play from her first dramatic collection Heroes and Other Saints or her latest play, New Fire, at your school or university.
Finally, consider teaching her book The Last Generation when you design your unit on the banning of ethnic studies in Arizona. Each essay in this collection is Moraga’s beautiful call-to-action for the preservation and re-imagining of Aztlan, the ancestral land of the Aztecs later seized by white Europeans. Nothing will demonstrate more powerfully to your students how much teaching feminism and ethnic studies together can make all the difference in creating equity and justice in our schools and ultimately, in our nation.
By teaching Moraga’s work and that of her bridge sisters, you will find the answer to where today’s feminism found its fierce language and where the fierce future of feminism lies for us all.
The MAKERS documentary premieres on February 26 on PBS. The video featuring Moraga will be released on the MAKERS site within the next few months.