Lyrica Jenson Maldona Interview: Feminsism 2020
Lyrica Jensen Maldonado, 23, is an American volunteer at Trama of Guatemalan heritage. She has a B.A in Political Science and International Affairs, and currently works in the USA in ‘Climate Justice’ for an organisation called ‘Uplift’. She has been volunteering at Trama Textiles since January 2020, and is currently focusing on developing the education and health fundraising component to Trama’s outreach work.
“In a country where females face a lot of physical and emotional violence, indigenous women forming collectives is a strong political statement because it elevates Mayan crafts to an international market, in a country which has historically denigrated native art, cultures and language.”
What made you want to volunteer for a women’s weaving collective like Trama Textiles?
I wanted to get to know the politics of weaving. All of the women in my family grew up weaving. There are issues here in relation to weaving such as the copyright of designs and so on, so I’m interested in the politics of it and I’m also interested in how it can bring economic stability. I believe in a non hierarchical organisational structure, hence why I was drawn to working as part of a co-op. I’m really interested in alternative business structures.
Do you consider yourself to be a feminist, and if so, what does the term ‘feminist’ mean to you?
Yes I do! Feminism to me, means the end of gender based violence. It means the liberation of all genders from gender based oppression. ‘Feminism’ for me also means valuing domestic labour and roles traditionally attributed to women such as cooking and cleaning.
How do you see the global feminist movement evolving in 2020?
There’s a lot of attention being given to refugees-women and children in particular, who are affected by the global border crisis. In the USA, this is particularly focused around the Mexican border issue. Much of this displacement is related to political and economic oppression in countries in Central America from where many of these refugees come. We are seeing families being separated in the most brutal ways; mothers separated from their children in ways we have not seen before in The United States. So this is one of the biggest issues affecting women today globally.
I also feel that women are increasingly turning towards ethical fashion and ethical consumerism which is an exciting and important shift in terms of sustainability and more generally, it relates to environmental issues.
I also feel that there are multiple feminist movements happening in different parts of the world, each of which has its own distinct emphasis, so it’s difficult to generalise.
To what extent does an organisation like Trama serve as a politial statement in a country like Guatemala?
Trama believes in empowering women economically, when historically women in countries like Guatemala have not been seen as economic agents in their own right. Guatemala is still a place where femicide is commonplace, so empowering women to believe in their crafts and in themselves, and to become economically independent is very much a political statement. In a country where females face a lot of physical and emotional violence, indigenous women forming collectives is a strong political statement because it elevates Mayan crafts to an international market, in a country which has historically denigrated native art, cultures and language.
What kinds of issues do you see women struggling with in Guatemala which is different to the sorts of issues faced by women in countries in the West such as the USA?
Firstly, as a prologue to my response, I’d like to unpack this idea of Western and non Western, because there are plenty of Guatemalan women residing in the USA, and equally there are many American expats living in Guatemala.
I personally have a US passport-one of the most powerful passports in the world, so for me, I have a lot more privilege in terms of freedom of movement, which for a woman born in Guatemala who doesn’t have that class privilege, is considerably more challenging. This means that it’s infinitely more difficult for a Guatemalan woman to leave a dangerous situation such as a physically dangerous environment or an abusive relationship-escaping is a privilege she doesn’t generally have. But let’s say for example if I needed to move to Canada due to issues around access to clean water in the States, it would be fairly easy for me to do so.
If you had a daughter, how would you like her experience of growing up as a female be different to your own experience?
I would hope that my daughter would know how to take up space-that she wouldn’t feel the need to ‘confine’ herself to fit how others think she should be. I think women should be louder and speak up for themselves more. I also think as women, we should get more comfortable saying ‘no’. I would want my daughter to grow up valuing all forms of labour, including labour which happens outside of the job market, ie the significant amount of work which takes place in the home.
How do you see the ‘Feminist movement’ intersecting with other movements such as the LGBTQI movement, ‘Black Lives Matter’ etc?
I think it depends which ‘sect’ of feminism we are talking about, but I think my version of feminism has always intersected with BLM and the LGBTQI movement. I think the feminist movement has never really been separated from other movements such as the American Abolitionist movement and de-colonisation efforts in the USA. In terms of intersectionality, a woman is not just her gender, she is also her class, her sexuality, her race and so on. So of course feminism needs to be viewed through the lens of intersectionality because all of these identities converge.
What aspects of ‘conditioning’ do you feel limit your perception of what’s possible for you as a woman?
We have all been conditioned which unfortunately shapes how we view ourselves. I think personally I have been conditioned around ‘body image’ and ‘body autonomy’. Girls are raised to believe that their bodies are not their own somehow. I was also conditioned to believe that wanting to do more typically ‘feminine’ work such as cooking, was not something I could take pride in...it was seen that if I wanted to cook it was because of my biology rather than a personal choice. I was also conditioned to believe that my value was somehow contingent on a man’s approval….that I needed to be ‘wanted’ by a man. I feel that the de-conditioning process is a lifelong process.
To what extent do you see yourself as an empowered woman?
Seeing my mom, who was a predominantly single parent, not relying on a man for financial, practical or emotional support was a source of empowerment. This made me very independent too. I have a mind of my own, so I don’t generally do well with authority! I think another way I feel empowered is the way I am re-framing my perception of the value of caring for others and caring for the community, which can often be areas of work which are somehow ‘looked down upon.’
What makes you feel most attractive?
I think when I feel like myself...when I’m dressed in a way that’s in line with how I see myself….I think feeling ‘capable’ makes me feel attractive too, whether that’s physically or mentally.
If there was no limit to what you could achieve in the world, what would you like to do?
I would like to produce the sorts of research papers and academic writing relating to ‘Political Science’, which I wish that I had had access to when I was at college. Equally, I would really just love to have some land, grow some food and have a family!
In which ways do you see societal expectations of men and women being different?
‘Sexual objectification’ is something that’s very much imposed on girls….girls are denied agency over their own bodies and we place all kinds of expectations on them to look a certain way, to make certain choices related to sexual behaviour, birth control etc. Women are sexually objectified every day, but as soon as they begin to make money off their sexuality ie, by going into paid sex work, they are condemned for it. So women are incredibly sexualised by men, and yet carry very little sexual agency themselves.
And finally, who is your female icon and why?
My grandma! She’s an incredibly strong person. She raised seven kids single handedly and yet despite all the responsibilities placed on her shoulders, she’s so caring and quick to laugh! She is a subsistence farmer and has about 60 acres of land. She had an arranged marriage of sorts with my grandfather, but she didn’t put up with any of his B.S! She knows her own power!