"There’s something beautiful that happens when you come together as a community and you say all of the things that people are afraid to hear. But, because there’s power in numbers, it just gets louder and louder and louder. That platform to me is important because I just want it to get heavy. I want it to be filled with as many women as I can bring."
This week, I sat down with the amazing Lisa Hunter and Talia Molé, who are starting a nonprofit called “Carved Space” in the San Francisco Bay Area. I met these two amazing women last year at the California Institute of Integral Studies (San Francisco) in the Anthropology and Social Change program, where they are getting their PhDs and where I graduated with my Master’s last May (2015).
Part 1 focused on the Carved Space nonprofit that Lisa and Talia are creating along with Lisa’s experience in the Navy and how that has helped create a veteran leg of the nonprofit. Part 2 focuses on Talia’s project that gives a platform to childfree women and on another nonprofit that she’s a part of about autonomous education.
Talia, where did you grow up?
I was born in the Dominican Republic and I lived there in a farm up in the mountains until I was eight years old. Then, my parents moved me to Miami. That’s where Cubans end up. My mother is Cuban and my father is Dominican. I consider myself Cuban because I was raised by my mom. My parents ended up getting a divorce shortly after we moved to Miami. Being raised in Miami was interesting because I never fit in Miami. I don’t have the spirit for Miami. Miami is very materialistic. It’s extremely patriarchal. It’s a hub of Latinos where you’re either extremely wealthy or you’re an immigrant. There are a lot of Cubans and with that comes a lot of patriarchal ideology, a lot of sexism, a lot of ageism, and materialism. That’s just not my constitution. Growing up in Miami was rough and I can pretty much say that I wasn’t really there. I’ve always traveled. My mom instilled in me the liberty of traveling. Ever since I was 16 years old, I began to travel outside the United States and stay out for long periods of time. My relationship to Miami is one that I didn’t belong to, that doesn’t accept me, so I was never there. Really, I don’t have a reason to go back except for my mother, sister, and, now, my nephew. I have friends there who are also my family. Ironically enough, the community that saved me, if you will, was the LGBTQ community, which is why I’m so connected to them. I’m their fag hag. They were really the ones that allowed me to survive the bits and pieces I was there.
I’m going to use this term “heterosexual” loosely because it’s a patriarchal, capitalist term imposed on me, I consider myself a gender-fluid being, but due to the fact that my partners have been men, I am termed heterosexual. So, being a Cuban woman, being heterosexual, I am automatically this hyper-sexualized being. I’m supposed to be there to be pleasing for men, to bow down to them really. I’m a piece of meat and I should like that. The gay community was a balance out of that for me. It was a sort of masculine energy that wasn’t overpowering, that honored me for who I am, that honored my voice. So, somebody like me and the things that I say in a heterosexual, patriarchal community is just a no no. It’s the kind of stuff that gets women like me in trouble. My rebellious heart always fought against that. It’s a man’s world there. It was nice to have the gay community, specifically, because they were the men that protected me even though they go against society in a certain way. They were that male energy that protected me and comforted me without overpowering me and silencing me. The beautiful part is that they allow for me to really discover what it means to be feminine because they relate to me as a matriarchal being as opposed to a piece of meat that’s just going to get fucked and that’s all I’m there for. The gay men I befriended don’t want to screw me. They want to elevate me. They want to rejoice my being. They take comfort and inspiration as I take comfort and inspiration from them. It’s a really beautiful relationship that we have without them wanting to bang the shit out of me.
That kind of ties into your thesis project. Tell me about your thesis project.
My thesis project stems from my personal experience. Ever since I got my period when I was 13 years old, my life has gone down the fucking drain. I’ve been bleeding out of every orifice in my body since that time. It’s been absolutely horrible. It’s been a slow killing, actually, for me. It’s hereditary. I’ve had problems with fibroids and cysts. This doesn’t necessarily not allow me to have children, I’m very fertile. My ovaries are very healthy and I produce a lot of eggs. But because of those components, of course, doctors have not wanted to give me the hysterectomy that I’ve been asking for since I was 25 years old. I’m 36 years old now. I was healthy but I had this uterus that was causing me problems. I wanted it out so what does that mean? I understood what it meant as not having children, but I also understood that from a very young age I never wanted kids. I had to deal with that conversation where society tells me to do something that differs from what I want and need to do. I never wanted kids and when I was 25, I really wanted my uterus out of me, so it became a fight for that. I had to jump hoops, and a lot of them, as I deteriorated. I was slowly being sucked out of life, dying. I had to go through a lot of hoops just to get healthy, which I never really did. And it wasn’t until I moved to Thailand in my early 30s when they discovered this fibroid and that really became all about, okay, well, now I really need to get this shit out of me. I don’t care what the fuck I have to do.
So, before that, you didn’t know what you had? You just knew that you were in pain every month…?
Yes, it was more than pain. I would bleed for 28 days straight sometimes. I would take medication and throw myself in the bathtub with a glass of wine just to deal with the pain. Growing up in Miami, a lot of the doctors looked at me as hysterical and just wanted to give me pain meds and that’s not what I wanted. They’re very quick at silencing you. Going back to Thailand when they found the fibroid, I finally had the lingo that I need at pushing for this hysterectomy and being very autonomous when it comes to my own medical needs. I finally did get the hysterectomy but it wasn’t until I was 35 years old because the medical field has deemed it that after 35, you shouldn’t be having kids so they made me wait until then.
Society has us believe that it’s natural for women to be mothers, that it’s natural for women to be wives and that that’s what we should do. When in reality, it’s not “natural”. It’s not my nature to birth a human being out of my vagina and I knew that since I was fucking born. My research then comes into play because I always wanted a platform to be able to say these things and I realize it’s very dangerous to say these things because women who speak like me do get death threats, we do get fucking killed. We are ostracized. We are called bitches and selfish and all kinds of dirty fucking names just because we don’t want to have children. For me, it became childfree. I read that term somewhere and it really hit me because society wants me to be childless so that they can feel good about telling me off, so that they can feel good about telling me, wait, you see you’re going to feel bad about not having kids because you’re childless. So, my way of punching them in the fucking mouth is by saying, No, I am childfree! Because my life is free. I am free from a fucking responsibility that I don’t want. Being a mother is not a role, it’s a relationship that you have. Not just with your child, with the earth, with everybody around you in your community. When you own that relationship, you don’t tell me those things, you honor me as I honor you.
My work is for that. I want to have a platform where not only I can talk about these things but I want other women to join me. There is power in community, there is power in hope, in dreaming, in believing in beautiful things where I can stand somewhere and say, I am childfree and I like it, I have a hysterectomy and it was the best thing to ever happen to me. There’s something beautiful that happens when you come together as a community and you say all of the things that people are afraid to hear. But, because there’s power in numbers, it just gets louder and louder and louder. That platform to me is important because I just want it to get heavy. I want it to be filled with as many women as I can bring. And when I say women, I don’t mean women as a fucking vagina. I mean anyone who relates to what it means to be a woman whatever their definition of woman is. So, when I say childfree, I invite the transgender community to speak about these things, I invite the gay community to speak about these things because then what I can do by saying child-free is, then I can make it a relationship instead of a role. I say, we all have the ability to mother.
"You’re a creator but you also allow for that creation. You are a vehicle for that creation to be birthed through you. That’s what being a mother means to me."
I’ve been a mother. I don’t have to birth a child through my vagina. I’m a mother of ideas. The gay community considers me a matriarch. I’ve been a teacher for many years. I work really well with children. I like chidlren. They work really well with me. By opening up like that, you have a way of bringing everybody in that has the ability to be a mom. How can we negate a single father who’s an awesome mother? How can we negate gay men who want to be fathers or lesbians who want to be mothers? Remember, if you’re not a heterosexual woman, then you shouldn’t be having children. So, you honor the queer community, you honor women that don’t have fucking wombs and choose to adopt. And you expand on the idea of motherhood. Motherhood isn’t just you getting pregnant. When I think of mothering and I think of mother and I do think of birth, but I think of that first breath that you take when you’re born, when you finally bring life into your lungs. That’s what mother means to me-You’re a creator but you also allow for that creation. You are a vehicle for that creation to be birthed through you. That’s what being a mother means to me. That’s why it’s pretty to say that I can be a mother of ideas because if we can sit here and talk and through this inspiration, you can use my body as a vehicle to be inspired and create new things. We just birthed something so I’m not just a mother, so are you.
For your thesis, specifically, you want to do a documentary of women who are childfree-
Yes, so I’m focusing on this specific thesis on heterosexual women because I have to tighten it up. I’m fighting as a heterosexual woman the system that has been given to me. There are a lot of lesbian and bisexual women who also don’t want children but there’s a very specific political vein that comes through here for heterosexual women. It’s just one part of my project. Eventually, I would like to make small documentaries that detail these separations. There would be one for bisexual women, etc, etc. Women and the definition of women and children and how mothering, I should say, interprets itself, translates itself, is birthed in various communities. My autoethnography will end up being a performance piece that I write but in conjunction I also want to do a documentary. An “autoethnography” is an ethnography, which is what anthropologists write and it’s your way of bringing a voice to a particular group whose struggle you’re joining. Through autoethnography, I cannot silence or distance my voice from that struggle, especially since I am part of that struggle. Not just because I joined it but because it goes and lives through me. And it also honors my artistic voice because I am an artist and that’s where I stem all of my ideas from. For me, an autoethnography is the best way to really present the voices of these women that I want to work with and my own voice. It’s a beautiful way to bring awareness to this particular light.
Talia, so tell me about this other nonprofit about autonomous education that you’re working on.
For the other non-profit, I’m working with Gerardo López Amaro, the founder,and it stems from his idea and his thesis work on autonomous education in Mexico. In a nutshell, autonomous education is the idea that people, especially the peasantry, should have the autonomy and political awareness to choose the education that’s important for them. To decolonize what they term as education, or really, to decolonize what has been given to them a education. And to create schools and universities that offer that type of decolonized education. The nonprofit is called Raíces Colectivas, and the mission statement is cultivating knowledge that matters. We have it as a living non-profit where any student or anyone who believes in this can actually join and help us in the search for other pools where autonomous education is flourishing all over the world.
We are starting with Mexico because he’s Mexican and that’s where his work stems from, but there are so many other countries where people are saying, enough is enough, I don’t need Western education. I don’t need this Eurocentric education. I need knowledge that matters to me, that is representative of who I am, that is representative of the earth that I live in, that is representative of the culture. It’s knowledge that is important. So, it’s not just knowledge as far as a certain type of education that you need for certain conversation. It’s also subsistence education: how do you work the land, how do you work your spirit, how do you become more connected, honoring your ancestral education that’s past down to us. How do you build community. And all the while, you’re also building a political voice because you want to empower the communities’ voices and help them remain autonomous. It’s very important. That political voice is what allows you to always keep fighting against these colonizing forces that are always around. When the peasantry revolts, that’s when the shit hits the fan. And the elite in these countries are always going to try to silence us. The system is always going to try to silence them/us. As we find these pockets where autonomous education is trying to flourish, we want to be the non-profit that fundraises for them. These autonomous communities do need money for what they are doing. A lot of these projects are being birthed for just the love of the project and people are not getting paid, they don’t have funds to build these schools. So, if we as students are learning from them, what a great way to give back as a gift and say, we know the system, we know what’s going on, we have the privilege of studying here in the United States, so let’s share that knowledge with you. And a lot of that knowledge comes from fundraising and gaining dollars so that these autonomous communities can do what that want to do.
Any last words you would like to add?
I just wanted to say that this is fantastic! There is a beautiful thing when people that relate to being women come together and exalt each other, especially in this society where we are taught to cat fight all of the time. We can lose sight of our being, which is to be communal, which is to build sisterhood. We become very competitive, so when we have moments like this, it’s a beautiful thing.