Women write about resistance in anthology

By Kate AbbottPrint Story | Email Story
Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez (Photo by Kate Abbott)
GREAT BARRINGTON — Coffee growers and poor city women, prisoners of war who lost their children and children who lost their parents, eyewitnesses to massacres and Jews who faced expatriate Nazis after the Second World War all come together to protest violence with words in “Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean,” an anthology edited by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez. Hernandez, a faculty member in languages and literature at Simon’s Rock College of Bard, said last week that South End Press will release the book in January 2004. At the same time, she and the Berkshire chapter of UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) will launch a book club on writing by and about women of developing countries. Hernandez said she first woke up to the power of Latin American and Caribbean literature in Mexico, while traveling with her fiancé, now her husband. She said she met his family, working class people in Mexico City, and it made her aware of what an insulated and privileged life she had lived. She said she began to want to bring that realization into other peoples’ experience. Most of the women whose writings appear in the anthology now live in the United States, but they come from all areas in Latin America and the Caribbean, Hernandez said. The one exception, Elena Poniatowska, lives in Mexico. She writes testimonials — stories taken from the people around her. Her novel “Hasta no verte, Jesusa”, for example, tells the story of a poor woman who had survived the revolution in Mexico and moved to Mexico City, where Poniatowska met her; it is one of the first times the voice of an ordinary, poor Mexican woman reached the pages of a book, Hernandez said. In the anthology, Hernandez excerpted Poniatowska’s “Massacre in Mexico,” a weaving of eyewitness accounts of the Tlatelolco massacre. That day, police opened fire on students protesting in Mexico City and killed hundreds. The government records of the killing have only recently been unsealed, Hernandez said. Police rounded up and imprisoned and “vanished” hundreds more young protesters than anyone had realized, she said. The themes in her anthology “resisting violence, making Americans aware of their neighbors’ pain and the consequences of abuse,” are timely and vital, she said. “I’m interested in women using writing as resistance, because I think it’s effective. Everyone in the book is using writing to envision a world without violence. They all have been scarred by violence of some kind,” she said. “That’s the reason I teach this, though its foreign to my students. We have a lot to learn, The U.S. is so protected and so innocent. We need to reconsider our place in the world and how we can act for good. We have a lot of power in the world. We need to start using it more responsibly. When you look deeper into the Latin American civil wars, you realize how much the United States stirred them up. We may be doing the same thing again in the Middle East.” Hernandez met many of the writers and conceived the book through her classroom. She teaches a class with the same title at Simon’s Rock. It started as Women Writers of Spanish America, and she realized she was most interested in the politics of the writers she was studying, she said. They are all contemporary and all alive, and in 2001, after Sept. 11, she said she and her students got excited about bringing some of the authors to Simon’s Rock. Hernandez wrote to them, and five came to speak at the college. About half of the women she has collected in the anthology wrote new pieces for it. For the rest, she tried to collect work that had not appeared in an anthology before. She gathered writers with a mix of backgrounds and languages. Most speak Spanish and English, but Edwidge Danticat, a native of Haiti, is a native speaker of French. and Rigoberta Menchú? of Guatemala, 1992 Nobel Laureate, is Quiché, a branch of the Mayan people. All five of the women who came to the Simon’s Rock conference appear in the anthology. Marjorie Agosín, a Jewish Chilean poet, teaches at Wellesley College. She writes about the serial murders of young women in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, Hernandez said. The police seem to have no power to stop the murders and believe a pornography or prostitution ring may be involved, because the women are all young and all have long hair, she said. Julia Alvarez, author of “A Cafecito Story” has started an organic coffee farm in the Dominican Republic, a cooperative with local farmers, pooling the coffee they produce. “A Cafecito Story” is a short fable about the “corporatization” of coffee farming in Latin America. Large-scale coffee growers have found a way to grow coffee without shade, Hernandez said. They level the rainforest canopy in the process and use pesticides heavily. The system is vastly harmful to migrating songbirds and butterflies, Hernandez said. The third speaker at Simon’s Rock also makes one of three generations appearing together in the book. Ruth Irupé Sanabria is an emerging poet in her 20s. Her mother, Alicia Portnoy, and her grandmother, Raquel Portnoy, both join her in the anthology. Alicia writes about her time in a prisoner of war camp during the Argentina “dirty war” in the 1970s, Hernandez said. Sanabria was 2 years old when her mother was arrested. She was lucky. Often the government took children when they arrested their parents, and sent them elsewhere to be raised. They let Sanabria go to her grandmother. Raquel paints and writes about the Jewish immigrant population in Argentina. There was a time when the United States did not accept Jewish immigrants, and the boats kept sailing south, Hernandez said. Many Jews came to Argentina in the 1940s. So did many escaping Nazis after World War II. There is speculation that the “dirty war” frighteningly resembled conditions in Nazi Germany, Hernandez said. Margaret Randall and Emma Sepúlveda, the last of the original five writers, and the 13 writers Hernandez has found since the 2001 conference, all have their own stories of loss and violence. That first conference also sparked the annual International Women’s Day conference Hernandez now runs at Simon’s Rock every March. She continues to bring women to the Berkshires to speak on global issues, and she continues to teach their writing to every community she can reach. The book group she is leading with UNIFEM begins Jan. 24. UNIFEM, the United Nations group dedicated to helping women in developing countries, formed a Berkshire chapter the same year Hernandez held her first conference, and it has grown as rapidly. She became a member of the Berkshire UNIFEM board early on. The Berkshire Chapter has taken such firm hold that the United States Committee of UNIFEM will meet in the Berkshires next June, instead of at its usual haunts in Washington, D.C. “The book club is how I’m trying to reach out beyond the college audience and get more people reading Latin American authors — not just the famous ones but some less well-known but wonderful ones,” Hernandez said. It can be challenging to find books written by people of other cultures, in this country, she said. She first discovered the whole field of Latin American writers in “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color,” an anthology edited by Cherrie L. Moraga and Gloria E.Anzaldua, and expanded her reading across the Western Hemisphere. These days, she hunts through book journals and reviews for new authors. “It’s a challenge to find the time to read as much as I want,” she said. “I love to teach classes that let me read what I want to be reading.” She teaches at the State University of New York at Albany as well. Her students there are a much more “mainstream group” than the 16-and 17-year-old students at Simon’s Rock, she said. “Reaching them is a whole new challenge, but I appreciate it. They’re the people you need to reach, to get them to feel compassion,” she said. She said she tried to teach a class on Latin American authors at Simon’s Rock, but the students could not connect with them. So she developed another companion course, Women Writing Activism, focusing on American women who tackled controversial topics — chemicals and cancer, corporate globalization, indigenous rights. “There’s a disconnect between individual people’s desire to improve the world and what’s happening at a larger political level. It’s disheartening. I’m trying to show examples of people who have acted as individuals,” Hernandez said. “I want to awaken people’s sense of themselves as global citizens. It’s a connection you can make through literature and film. You can’t tell what the effects will be.”
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Berkshire Art Association's "RE*Fresh" Opens Oct. 7

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Art Association opens its biennial show, RE*Fresh, on Oct. 7 

The show runs from 5 to 8 p.m. during Pittsfield’s monthly First Fridays Artswalk. An Awards Reception will be held Saturday, Oct. 8 from 3 to 5 p.m, and show will be on display through November 26 at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. 

RE*Fresh speaks of the challenges, inspirations and new possibilities presented over the past two years. These issues are expressed and explored by 36 artists from the Northeast United States.

In the juried show, 44 works including paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and graphic design will be presented, offering wide-ranging interpretations of the theme. 

Jurors for the exhibit are Kinney Freylinguysen, artist and director of the Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio, Lenox, Massachusetts, and Genevieve Gaignard, a multi-disciplinary artist based in Los Angeles and Massachusetts. 

"I was so impressed by the variety of work submitted to this exhibit. From direct messaging to thoughtful reflections to abstract visual feasts, this show is a refreshing presentation of the creativity and talent of our art community. It has been my utter pleasure and absolute privilege to have been a part of it," said Sean McCusker, Berkshire Art Association Assistant Treasurer.

Berkshire County artists included in RE*Fresh are Carolyn Abrams, Karen Bognar-Khan, Marguerite Bride, Joan Burkhard, Kasha Cooper, Kit Curry, Margaret Dotchin, Patricia Frik, Adrian Holmes, Marion Grant, Sarah Horne, Karen Kane, Ronald Maitland, John Mancia, Mark Mellinger, Alan Papscun, Ivor Parry, Barbara Patton, Janet Pumphrey,  Ilene Richards, William Riley, Stacey Silkey Schultze, Ilene Spiewak, Kyle Strack, Scott Taylor, Jay Tobin, Jesse Tobin McCauley, Diane Wespiser and Terri Wise.

Artists from the greater Northeast region include Carrie Crane, Lydia Kinney, Julie Eisen-Lester, Joan Lengel, Kristina McComb, Janell O’Rourke, and Meg Rogers Eldredge.

All Commonwealth of Massachusetts and City of Pittsfield public health guidelines will be followed. To view this show virtually or in person, call 413 499 9348 for an appointment.

For moreinformation, go to berkshireartassociation.org

 

 

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