Friday, April 15, 2011

What you call blasphemy, I call Women of Color: A response to America Needs Fatima

[Letter in response to America Needs Fatima, which is organizing a protest of Alma López' Our Lady to be on exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California in May of this year. For more on Alma López' work, visit almalopez.com. For excellent analysis of the controversy surrounding Our Lady and discussion on other works by López and other Chicana artists, check-out Our Lady of Controversy: Alma López's Irreverent Apparition.] 


Dear America Needs Fatima organizers of the “Protest Alma López Exhibit,”

It is with deep sorrow that I write to you in response to your “Protest Alma López Exhibit” call to action. Having read your plea to organize against Alma López’ Our Lady at the Oakland Museum of California, I find myself painfully disturbed by your misinterpretation of López’ work, as well as your audacity to attempt to censor the voices and images of women of color.

The voices and works of women of color are as critical as ever at a time when communities of color are the targets of white supremacist institutions sustaining and relying on political, cultural and religious systems and policies that reinforce structural racism. It is not accidental that communities of color disproportionately carry the brunt of health disparities in this country, that boys and young men of color are brutally targeted by the criminal justice system, or that girls and women of color continue to be measured by their worth as reproductive, industrial and sexual purveyors in a capitalist structure.

Women of color artists have long exposed the fact that political, cultural and religious entities serve as devices toward ensuring the ongoing disenfranchisement of our communities and the exploitation of our bodies. The abominate language in your call to action is a violent manifestation of how these devices serve to attack and suppress our communities. Your “peaceful and prayerful protest” stands in direct contradiction with your distorted and vicious description of Alma López’ Our Lady.

In reading your call I am left to wonder whether, in your angry tirade against women of color, you took the responsible step toward understanding the love and intention with which López imagined Our Lady. What you call blasphemy, I call Women of Color. The “topless woman-angel” in Our Lady is a brown woman in open embrace, revealing the beauty innate in brown women’s bodies. Defining women of color breasts as illustrative blasphemy speaks to your relationship to women of color, their bodies and their “place” and “use” in this society.

For generations, communities of color have found refuge and hope in the arts. Through the arts we have made sense of the world around us, named that which afflicts us, and articulated ourselves as free, thriving and loving. Our Lady offers an opportunity for the one who stands before her to relate, question, understand and imagine existing and future possibilities for ourselves and our communities.

I take great offense to your attempt to relegate the “topless woman-angel” as a sinful depiction of women. When I stand before Our Lady, I see my mother, I see my abuelas and I see la Virgen de Guadalupe. I see these four women who have been utilized as tools for capitalist gains— women who institutions such as yours have attempted to strip from their sexuality, their spirit, indeed, their agency as sacred beings.

Regardless of where one stands along the continuum of faith, the “bikini wearing” Virgin illustrates the power of resistance embodied in our communities' struggle for liberation from oppressive forces and institutions that insist on controlling and profiting from our lives through the political, cultural and religious legislation of our bodies.

As I stand before Our Lady, I see a brown woman standing in defiance, unwilling to accept imposed roles assigned and imposed onto her and her sisters’ bodies. She is the embodiment of La Virgen. She has lifted her gaze to confront those who have long reaped the capitalist benefits of subjecting women of color to the roles of abnegate mother or detestable whore.

She is looking at you, America Needs Fatima, in the eye. For your call to action goes beyond protesting Our Lady, Alma López’ work, or the Oakland Museum of California.  In your call, you protest women of color. You protest my sisters’ right to self-determination, to recognize themselves as beautiful, brown, whole and strong. It is not God’s Holy Mother for whom you increase your “acts of reparation.” It is the women of color, defiantly articulating themselves as sacred, who you seek to persecute.

America Needs Fatima organizers of the “Protest Alma López Exhibit,” your un-peaceful agitation of your base has violent roots that you must reconcile as followers of a doctrine of compassion. The perpetuated notion of brown women’s bodies as reproductive, industrial and sexual instruments leads to rape, exploitation and countless heartless acts against girls and women of color. You must examine your words and your actions in relation to the legacies of violence against women of color in this and other countries.

In the name of our mothers, our grandmothers, and our communities, I admonish you.



Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano
The son of a Brown Woman. 

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for your heartfelt defense of Our Lady! You are so inspiring. Your words are necessary when we are confronted with ugliness wearing the trappings of faith!

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  2. Lorenzo, bless you for this passionate articulation of the truth. This is so powerful I wish we could publish it in every venue that these conservative, right-wing religious fundamentalists would possibly see so they would be confronted again and again is such a powerful way with the truth. Except, of course, too many of them would be incapable of even following your lucid argument. Thank you. Linda

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  3. Thank you Ktrion and Linda for your support. I have long kept silent in terms of confronting religious leaders out of respect for people's right to believe (or not believe) what they wish. In fact, I have even kept silent when it comes to religious-based arguments about the rights of queer peoples, as I am not interested in investing my energy in fighting 2,000+ years of dogma. This one, though, hit close too close to home.

    By the way, they did respond this morning. Their language is rather frightening.

    http://hairsprayandfideo.blogspot.com/2011/04/america-needs-fatima-responds.html

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