Category Archives: diversity

Throwback Thursday: Owning our bodies

This post is a re-blog of an original I wrote in December, 2017, with some editing. On Thursdays I aim to review and edit some previously shared content to give myself more practice on the editing side. Thanks for your patience as I build my skills and allow myself to re-examine some favorite themes.

***

After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.

It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.

But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.

There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. One passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.

“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…

…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”

I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.

I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)

Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.

Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will. 

As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.

We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful.  This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth. 

Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.

What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.

Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

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Entitlement vs Service

I am reflecting on the lessons I have learned during my time decade plus of working in the medical device industry for a very large company.

One of the observations is the way I respond to leaders who approach their work with entitlement versus those who aim to serve. The former set were wrapped up in a sense of “we are the winners” and they set up their organizations to demonstrate that. The latter approached from a more humble place of openness and willingness to learn.

Carol Dweck makes a powerful case for leaders and organizations who embrace a “growth mindset” versus a fixed mindset in her book Mindset: the new psychology of success. In summary, the person who believes they can grow and develop over time and with practice will far surpass the person who believes they are born with a fixed intelligence or talent. Children who are told they are smart, rather than the ones praised for their ability to work hard and persist, are actually at a disadvantage in the long-term.

I can relate to this principle and how it created a bit of an identity crisis when I first went to college. I had put in some hard work, but my belief was that I was “naturally smart” and this was how I identified myself. But going to a place like Swarthmore, where I was nowhere near the “smartest” and had not yet developed the academic work ethic I would need to succeed, I struggled, especially in my first year.

I called my parents one weekend to tell them that the college may have made a mistake in admitting me. I was not sure I could handle the work. But my mother reassured me – she knew I could do it if I worked hard. College was about challenging ourselves at a higher level. Thank goodness my professors agreed, and when I admitted to other students and to the professor that I was struggling, I realized I was not alone. I would have support in learning and growing if I was open to it.

The parallels in leadership intrigue me as I consider the effectiveness of those who believe they are the “smartest” in the room versus those who are open to learning from front-line employees. I respond best to those leaders who are open to feedback, who ask to hear my ideas. I want to contribute to their cause, because they see it as “our cause.” I want to figure out creative ways to help because I feel their belief in me. I want to learn and understand new things, because I know I will gain greater skills along the way.

When I consider my own responsiveness to feedback, I aim to improve my ability to take in criticism that can improve my performance in the long run. Though it can be hard to hear, when delivered and received in a spirit of mutual respect and investment in growth, it is a gift.

This applies to individual contributors also, not just managers. Those who are willing to learn from their mistakes are more willing to take risks rather than try to keep a perfect image as someone who never fails. If the environment is conducive to it, the growth-minded person will be unafraid to challenge the status quo. They will have courage to communicate what may be “blind spots” to leadership.

The research also shows how the growth mindset can be taught and coached, and is not something we are simply bestowed or lacking. This is fundamentally the philosophy I have embraced. I have seen so much evidence of this in my own work with colleagues over the years. To me there is nothing more rewarding than watching someone succeed at a “stretch” goal and knowing that maybe just a year or two before, they may have doubted their ability to achieve it.

Where do you want to grow? How strong is your belief that you will get there with practice and determination? What if difficulty just means “not yet”? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Dignity

Dignity sculpture in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

C9A948B6-7EFD-4C69-AA82-694186673D5F.jpeg

Plaque underneath sculpture:

01D7B949-0220-4B96-9C90-6E9480D30E4C

It gave me a little thrill when I saw that the dedication date for this sculpture was exactly one year before our wedding date. Cool.

Bias in human evolution

project implicitA friend of mine recently posted a very personal story of his pain at the discovery of his own implicit bias despite having married a woman of color. The Implicit Bias Test is something you can take if you want to explore bias in yourself. I was touched by his admission but it made me realize that people still have a lot of unnecessary guilt about bias. I wanted to write about it because I realize so many probably suffer shame on this front.

Dr. Heidi Grant, a psychologist who presented to our Women’s Leadership annual conference last August, explained to us that bias is human. It is a part of our brains that is wired for us to be able to make decisions quickly and have shortcuts to protect our safety. So to feel guilty about it not necessary. Neuroscience has showed that there is a biological basis for bias.

So the idea that we can somehow get rid of bias is not practical. What we need to do is develop awareness of the biases that we have, so we can take action making decisions more fairly. One method that worked for orchestras, that traditionally hired men due to implicit bias, was to put up a screen so that the performer could not be seen during the audition. This played a role in getting many more women into competitive orchestras.

As a manager, one way to reduce bias is in hiring from a pool of candidates, and have only one candidate of a diverse origin, and say three other candidates you are interviewing, you are very unlikely to hire the diverse candidate. If you have just one other person of that minority (be in gender, race, etc) the likelihood that you will give everyone a fair shot increases substantially. Another way to reduce bias is to have a structured list of questions, and to ask the same questions to all candidates.

A number of studies have shown us how diversity drives innovation. And innovation is what drives economic growth. From a perspective of someone who has lost their job due to increased automation, that may not provide much comfort. Indeed, part of our problem is that our “free market” rewards the innovators much more than workers. That unfortunately leads to further polarization of resources, and exacerbates the distance between “haves” and have-nots” in our country.

While there is a systemic good arising from a more diverse society, recognized at many levels of corporate and government leadership (though not by the U.S. President, unfortunately), there are challenges as well. In order to address these challenges, we are required to evolve our own consciousness, as humans, to be able to fully use all the talents and capabilities we have. This is no easy task.

I often worry if the behavior in this country will degrade substantially while we have rhetoric that devalues whole categories or nations of people. We have seen some evidence that this may be true. But it also forces us to have some honest discussions about our future, and about what kind of society we want to build. I am reminded that a majority of the country does not agree with the President, and is working for positive change.

I am reminded that those of us who have privilege in this very digital economy need to pay attention to the people who have been left out since the 1980’s when the gap in the middle class began to widen substantially. We have many examples in history when this has led to disaster. This has led to scapegoating and devaluation of human life at many points in human history.

This awareness and consciousness of bias and privilege must be at the forefront of our thinking about solutions to this “great divide.” We can no longer ignore the suffering of so many people, and build ourselves into little cul-de-sacs of isolated individuals and families. Our well-being depends on a social fabric which must hold us together.

We must talk with people with whom we do not agree, learn from them, strive to understand their perspectives. I believe this is the only way to repair the rifts that have grown in our political life. We cannot afford to remain in our little echo chambers, in dialogue only with people with whom we agree.

I am beginning to look for those opportunities to engage with people that may hold different opinions from mine. Not just online, but in person and face to face. They are not easy to find, but I am fairly certain our survival as a species on this earth depends on realizing we are in this together.

 

 

 

SKOL!

The Vikings had awesome playoff game and though I am a fair weather fan, it sure was fun to watch!

Vikings

My hubby loves football. While I have always thought it was kind of a violent sport, I have gotten a little swept up in Vikings fever. It is an interesting phenomenon, uniting around a team, just because I live in Minnesota. But the thing about sport is that it can unite people of different religions, political beliefs and ethnic backgrounds.

Perhaps that is what makes the sport so American in its popularity. Of course, it is catching on around the world. Several of my Mexican colleagues are NFL fans. They also like soccer, but that requires more patience because it does not tend to be as high-scoring or action-packed as American football.

I am posting this on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  I do not have particular activism plans for the holiday this year. I just got back from a visit up north to my folks, so I have errands to do before returning to work. I will re-watch the movie Coco with a friend, because it is a beautiful movie. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. If you are not into animated movies, make an exception and go see it. I am serious, you will not regret it.

CocoVisually it is a beautiful movie. It is all about pursuing your soul’s purpose no matter what your family wants you to do. It is also about the role of music and family in Mexican life and culture. I was heartened by the fact that, while we have a President that hates Mexicans, this movie feels like a delightful tribute to so much that is amazing and unique about Mexican culture.

This MLK Day I am reflecting on the past year and on the fact that I enjoy a great deal of privilege in the community where I live. Last year on January 21, 2017 I participated in the Women’s March here in Minnesota in order to be part of what I felt was a long-delayed movement for change. I met all kinds of people who seemed to be as committed as I was to making sure our political landscape will not look like it did in 2016. It was energizing and exciting. People made some pretty awesome signs and even though it was chilly out (it is Minnesota, and St. Paul tends to be very cold in January) the crowd warmed my heart.

Capitol women's march

Photo taken January 21, 2017 – St. Paul, MN

After the march, I had to consider what role I wanted to play in the next phase of feminist activity. I decided to make a monthly recurring contribution to Planned Parenthood. I had donated money to Hillary’s campaign on a regular basis, and respected her career in public service. Even though I agree that she made some fatal errors in her campaign, I found it incredible that the Republicans endorsed a person with zero public service for President.

Obviously it felt like a cruel blow to feminists everywhere, and I was especially concerned that we preserve reproductive freedoms many of us have taken for granted. Many women in their 30’s and 20’s do not fully appreciate the contribution that our mothers’ generation made to the movement. It was not until 1974 (the year I was born) that single, widowed or divorced women could access credit on their own without having a male co-signer (Equal Credit Opportunity Act).

I strongly believe in a woman’s ability to make choices over her own body without interference, safely and for what reasons she deems necessary. I find it incredible how many male lawmakers believe that it is their responsibility to police women’s bodies and choices. But regulating reproduction, far from an innocent wish to “protect the unborn” as they may have you believe, is an effort to dis-empower and control women.

Period.

My Mexican grandmother on my father’s side had 7 girls, 4 boys, and probably another 2-3 pregnancies that resulted in miscarriages. If it were not for her insistence that her children receive as good educations as they could afford, they may not have succeeded in the way they did. I find it fascinating that Dad’s two youngest daughters both became nuns rather than having children. My Dad always told me, “don’t get married young and start having children. I want more for you than that.”

I want more too. And something different. I have one sister, and neither of us have aspired to having children as part of our life goals.

I respect and honor other women’s choices for their lives, their bodies and their families. We should expect nothing less.

Bringing this post back to the original excitement about Vikings fever, I was thinking through the women’s roles in cultures throughout history. Grandma on my Mom’s side was Swedish in origin, a tough, smart and stubborn woman who lived to be 101. She went to college in her 50’s after raising three children. She was principled and strong, and she never backed down from her beliefs.

The spirits of my grandmothers are with me now, as I honor their sacrifices and continue to protect the legacy they fought to establish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Owning our bodies

After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.

It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.

But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.

There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. If you have an interest in understanding racism and the history of oppression in this country and the context in which we have evolved today, I highly recommend it. I want to quote one passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.

“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…

…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”

I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.

I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)

Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.

Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will. 

As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.

We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful.  This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth. 

Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.

What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.

Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.

Beatriz at dinner

I am about to write a movie review. I have not yet done this, so why not? It’s a Friday post and Fridays are for fun.

Actually the movie is fairly serious, and it explores the relationships between different cultures, classes, and the nature of healing. I watched it once on my way to Mexico this week and three days later on the way back, because I was fascinated by the Latina archetype and also the male “planet rape” archetype.

I encourage you to see this movie. It was released at Sundance and premiered in the U.S. on June 9, 2017. In November it won acclaim from the National Board of Review as a Top Ten Independent Film. It is a shorter film, only about 83 minutes, and most of it takes place on one day of Beatriz’ life.

Beatriz

Salma Hayek is of course brilliant in the role, though I kept on seeing her as “Frida Kahlo” in my mind. No harm of course. Frida was also an “old soul.” Her thesis in the movie is that “the earth is very sick and it needs old souls to help her heal.” I cannot argue with that as an apt metaphor for the kind of environmental disaster we are courting now.

I do not want to give you any spoilers, but John Lithgow plays an excellent greedy and voracious business man. He is a little reminiscent of Trump, narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. But there is a more nuanced look at what may have been pain in his past, which Beatriz can access in her very unique way. In a visceral way, this film demonstrates to us that greed is a cancer. It is a cancer that is destroying the planet.

The film was beautiful visually and the characters each played very convincingly in their roles. I am glad there are films like this being made. Though it will probably make a quiet splash, as a movie lacking in violence and sex, I hope it makes an impact. Our psyches need to be touched and healed by such films. It is how we will eventually heal the planet, by waking up to all the ways in which we have abused it.

Namaste, amigos y amigas! Enjoy your weekend!

Father Hunger

I am writing a piece about my father this week, to honor him for his 75th birthday this Wednesday. I kept thinking about an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett. It was a conversation with Franciscan Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (Albuquerque) in which they explored the concept of “father hunger” in so many men.

Rohr referred to his experience as a jail chaplain in which he found that the universal commonality he found among the people he encountered in jail was that it was rare, if ever, to find someone who had a good father. Many had alcoholic, emotionally unavailable or abusive fathers. He explains that the rage that results from this early experience moves out toward all of society, a mistrust of all authority figures, policemen, etc.

It creates an interesting bind when we think of God as “the heavenly Father,” a masculine figure. For someone who has never experienced a loving male in their lives to hear that “God, the Father, loves you” does not have any connection or sense of truth in it, given the lived experience.

I wonder sometimes if our need to see god as a father figure just reflects our lack of father presence in our lives. My personal view of god(dess) is that she may be female, and more likely gender-less or gender-full. Certainly beyond our understanding when it comes to gender. If I look at god as creator, I believe there are elements of the divine feminine and divine masculine contained within.

The dynamic quality of nature, and the complementary elements we encounter in our explorations of science make that abundantly clear to me.

This is where I think the patriarchy fails us in terms of validating and reinforcing the role of fathers in giving care and attention to children. Mother is seen as the primary care-giver. And while there is no doubt mother gets “stuck” with the care of children and perhaps many mothers viscerally relate to that, men also have a critical role.

A friend of mine recently reflected on her career choices and on the fact that when she and her husband had children they decided that the person earning more money would work, and the other one would stay home with the children. They had two boys, and now the second is about to enter school. Her husband is now going back into the workforce about about 5 years at home being the primary care-giver to their sons.

She reflected on how grateful she felt for his willingness to stay home with them, and the wonderful relationship and closeness her sons now have with their father. As a Mom working a fair number of hours and increasing in her leadership at work, she no doubt had moments of conflict about having to spend time away from her children. Knowing they had a good care-giver, their own father, I am sure put her concerns to rest much of the time.

I believe that time invested by fathers in knowing their children and having some time with them pays dividends in terms of the long-term well-being of children. It reminds me of times when my own father would take me to the movies on a weekend, just the two of us when I was about 5 years old. Mom was home with my younger sister when she was a baby, and we would go to see something like Pinocchio or a cartoon playing in our local small-town theater.

Sometimes we would stay for more than one showing! Back in those days (late 70’s/early 80’s) nobody cared about that, and we both loved these movies. There was usually a long feature, maybe one or two short ones and then they would plan the long one again. Perhaps this is where my love for mythical frameworks and stories comes from. I remember these early memories of having quality time with my Dad.

Before I started kindergarten my Dad had already taught me to read, and both he and my Mom read me many books and stories when I was young.  They were teachers and they valued reading and books. I remember loving the time before bed when we typically had time to be read a story. It was probably Mom doing this most of the time, but I recall Dad doing this as well.

father daughter

I wonder how our world might be different if we appreciated and honored the ways in which fathers play a role in caring for young people, and nurturing them in different ways. I absolutely honor and respect the work mothers do in nurturing children and caring for them. And I believe we have missing pieces if our fathers are not part of that story also. Many fathers do what is necessary to earn money, support their families and dole out the discipline (anyone else recognize: “Just WAIT until your father gets home!”).

But they must provide more than discipline and order to make a positive impact on a child’s life. They must provide love, acceptance, support and care. They are not a “bonus” parent, they are a necessary part of a child’s life. They shape the view that children absorb about how the world works. They help instill self-discipline sometimes, another value I learned from my own father.

Both daughters and sons benefit from this presence of a father, grandfather or some male parental figure or mentor us in our early growth and development. Sadly, the way the patriarchy casts and distorts masculinity, many of us are without these images of loving protection. Men are not supposed to be vulnerable or weak, and this affects how they interact with children. Modern and enlightened men realize that this ability to be vulnerable, especially with their loved ones and children, is what we often need and want in order to truly connect.

But when we lack these examples and images, all we are left with is father hunger. If we adopt a more inclusive view, along with valuing the contributions of both men and women to family life, I believe we can transform our culture.

Given our environmental and societal needs for healing and transformation, women and men working together are indeed what is needed. Fathers, mothers, aunties, uncles, child-free women like myself and all of the good people in the world that realize the nature of our problems as one planet. We should hunger for peace and for unity, not for the fathers we may not have had in our lives.