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Mariela Tilena Interview: Feminism 2020

Mariella Tilena, 38, was born in Guatemala in 1982 but was adopted by an Italian couple and raised in Italy, due to the civil war in Guatemala. She studied Marketing and Communications at university and is currently employed by a digital advertising agency. She returned to her homeland of Guatemala last year for the first time at the age of 37. She decided to return to Guatemala again this year to volunteer with Trama Textiles. She has mainly been working on the Trama communications such as the writing of the monthly newsletters.  

Mariela Quote: “I joined Trama because it was created around the time of my adoption. Last year at 37, I came to Guatemala for the first time to connect with my country of origin. It was an incredibly emotional experience.”


What made you want to volunteer for a women’s collective like Trama Textiles? 

I joined Trama because it was created around the time of my adoption. Last year at 37, I came to Guatemala for the first time to connect with my country of origin. It was an incredibly emotional experience. This year I wanted to have deeper experiences here and connect with local people….I wanted to experience cultural events and go to festivals and so on. I also wanted to do something significant for my country. Specifically, I wanted to work with women in my homeland and when I first met Oralia and Amparo (The President and Vice President of Trama Textiles) it was an instant feeling of ‘Wow!’ It felt very emotional. 

I’m used to working for big brands in European cities so when I met Oralia and Amparo I felt SO proud to work for them, and to finally be doing something for my country. Finally I felt connected with my roots and with my homeland. 10 years ago I could never have imagined myself doing something like this! Here I finally get to ‘weave together’ my roots, my heritage and my job skills. 

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist and what does feminism mean to you?

Yes definitely. Over the years I’ve become more and more involved with the ‘gender cause’. I founded a music collective a couple of years ago to help emerging female DJs in the electro/techno scene. This was my way of contributing to the gender cause. My way to be a feminist is to try to actually do something to use my skills to empower other females. For me it's about having values and then channelling them into a cause. 

How do you see the global feminist movement evolving in 2020?

I was at the Cosmic Convergence Festival this year at Lake Atitlan here in Guatemala and I was reflecting there about a new type of feminism that’s emerging. I feel we are moving away from the ‘angry man hating’ stereotype of a feminist, which has always carried very negative associations. The meaning of ‘feminism’ is changing. It’s more about empowerment and gender equality, compared to the negative connotations of the 1970s brand of feminism. 

I think the women’s movement in Chile, which is mainly comprised of younger women in their 20s and 30s is really one of the most powerful that I’ve seen. Emparo’s 15 year old daughter was singing one of the Chilean protest songs the other day….the one that goes “Y la culpa no era mia, ni donde estaba, ni como vestia” (And I was not the one to blame, and neither can you blame it on where I went or the clothes I wore…)

I remember feeling really emotional the first time I heard that protest song, because I could really feel as a woman how it must be to live with that kind of violence every day. The fact that these protest songs have infiltrated the consciousness of a teenage girl in another region of Latin America is so inspiring to me. There’s a new and exciting way of talking about feminism. 

To what extent does an organisation like Trama serve as a political statement in a country like Guatemala? 

Through Trama we are really reaching women in very rural communities, many of whom don't speak Spanish (the official language of Guatemala) and therefore can’t access the Internet/social media etc. So this organisation provides a platform to reach these typically ‘hard to reach’ women and their communities. So I imagine that being part of a wider collective is really empowering for these women, because it’s the digital skills of the volunteers which enables the weavers to sell online via Etsy and Shopify and to reach an international market, which would otherwise not really be possible. When women collaborate, and share information and skills, they become powerful. 

What sorts of issues do you see women in Guatemala struggling with, which are different to the sorts of issues women in Italy for example may be facing? 

There are many issues to look at within the Mayan community, particularly teenage marriages which are still very commonplace. Even if we look at the preservation of the traditional Mayan clothes which are still worn by the women (but notably not really the men) it’s an interesting thing to consider whether it’s ‘right’ to preserve tradition to this extent, or whether it’s another form of oppression in a way. It comes back to the question of choice. 

Guatemalan women, and Mayan women in particular simply don’t have access to the same range of job opportunities which women in Italy have, and they can be subjected to psychological as well as physical violence on a significantly worse scale than women in Italy. There is a lot of work to do in Guatemala around men’s behaviour but I would say it’s probably not so different to how it was in Italy years ago. 

If you had a daughter, how would you like her experiences of growing u in the world as a female, to be different to yours

My ultimate dream is that we get to a place which somehow ‘transcends’ gender. So if I had a daughter I wouldn’t gender stereotype her toys or clothes. I would like my daughter to grow up without the conditioning around needing to be ‘perfect’ which so many girls grow up with. Boys are brought up with conditioning around being brave and persevering, taking risks and so on….I think the pressure on girls to somehow be perfect stifles this….I think this kind of ‘perfectionism’ conditioning can make girls very fragile. 

To what extent do you see the feminist movement intersecting with other movements such as the LGBT movement and Black Lives Matter? 

To some extent I feel there’s unity in the movements, for example Pride is about claiming equal rights within the eyes of the law etc. In Italy there is an ongoing struggle for the LGBTQI community to simply have the same rights and be accepted in society, so there’s still a lot of work to be done. Feminism is more focused on inequality in the workplace, gender based violence and so on. I think these movements are operating along similar lines, but they have different priorities. But the core values are the same; reaching a place of societal equality which doesn’t relate to gender or sexual orientation. 

What aspects of your conditioning do you feel limit your sense of what’s possible for you as a woman? 

My conditioning as I’ve mentioned already, focused very much around this idea that I needed to be perfect. So now I have to try to transcend that conditioning somehow, and find the power to try new things and not overly worry if I fail at them. I believe at 38, with all of the knowledge and skills that I have, that I can do so many things in the world. And working together with other women helps empower you. It’s a form of therapy! 

To what extent do you see yourself as an empowered woman?

I have a really strong sense of empathy which connects me with really significant people in my life...people who have shared intimate experiences with me, and have given me the opportunity to create collectives etc. I’ve really built up my self esteem by making links with other women. My empathy takes me into really deep conversations with others, and that opens a lot of doors for me. But self esteem is something I still struggle with to this day. 

What makes you feel the most attractive?

When I dance! I’m a big techno lover, and the techno scene is very much about body empowerment. It’s about feeling free to dance naked or with clothes on without feeling judged and feeling free from body shame. That in turn then helps me to bring more good vibes to these dance events so it’s like a positive spiral. 

I used to think that the only ones who could dance confidently in a bikini had to be supermodels but I had an epiphany one night at a dance event, when I saw a beautiful girl without a perfect body, but dancing so freely. It totally changed my perspective on beauty. 

If there was no such thing as a glass ceiling, what would you do with your life? 

I’d like to continue to develop my music collective, and I’d also like to work more specifically with projects designed to help us to evolve beyond limiting beliefs around gender. Many people are transitioning gender, others are gender fluid, and I’d just like to get completely beyond this gender ‘issue’ completely. There are a lot of things which need to be addressed around gender. Linguistically even, Latin languages for example,define everything according to gender. And why is it necessary to specify gender when filling out a form? 

I can also see myself running techno dance events where people can really let go and just be at home in their bodies because this provides such a catalyst for change.  

In which ways do you think societal expectations of men and women are different? 

As far as my own professional life, as a woman working in the advertising industry...we are still as women, somehow treated as a ‘sub group’, whereby organisations and corporations need to show what they are ‘doing for us’ with various quotas in place around the numbers of women occupying particular positions etc. I hope we can move beyond the need for such measures moving forwards. 

Who is your female icon and why? 

The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a very inspiring book which illuminated a lot of my values. She gave me the sense that I really wanted to do something to empower other women. This book was gifted to me in February 2017 and I created my music collective to promote young female trance DJs in June 2017. That was my first major step, from supporting feminist values, to becoming proactive and actually doing something! It was a very empowering transition.