Why I am a Radical Woman

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I am a first-generation Chicana, a mother and teacher, born and raised in South Los Angeles. I also happen to be a socialist feminist, an atheist, and a queer, whose very existence is a challenge to capitalism.

Fortunately, I was raised to think critically and search for ways to transform the world. Who were my influences? The main “culprits” were my parents, my high school English and history teachers, and Karl Marx.

Early inspirations. My politics come from my lived experience as a Chicanita.

I am the daughter of two loving and hard-working undocumented Mexican immigrants.

My mom was only 14 when she arrived in this country and began work as a seamstress in a downtown LA sweatshop. My father was 19 when he crossed the border and made his way to central California where he labored in the fields for little pay. As a child, I heard the terrifying stories of my parents’ migration journeys.

I remember sitting quietly next to my mom as she worked nonstop for hours in front of a loud and dusty sewing machine, piecing together mountains of cloth. Afterwards, we would pack up more fabric in our family station wagon to work on at home. I remember thinking how unfair it was that my mother never had time to rest her aching back. I felt so impotent and lonely watching her toil away.

My mom was my first feminist role model. Although she was busy, she was an energetic parent volunteer, serving as bilingual education coordinator in my elementary school. She loved taking my sister and me to our public library.

It was there, at the age of 9, that I picked up an old withdrawn copy of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto and read, “What the bourgeoisie … produces above all are its own grave-diggers.” (Grin.) Wow — there were others like myself with a thirst to defend the exploited working class!

I was lucky to have two amazing English and history teachers. These Jewish radicals taught history using Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and explored literature like Grapes of Wrath and This Bridge Called My Back. They taught us to question everything and in our hearts they planted the seed of desire to change this world.

I took up art and writing as mediums to express my politics and began to study how and why material conditions impact race, gender, sexuality, and class.

At California State University at Northridge, I became fascinated with theory and research, majoring in Chicana/o studies, women’s studies, and sociology. At the same time, I was a community activist and student organizer with MEChA, the American Indian Student Association, and the Women’s Center.

But I still searched for a group that would tackle the root cause of oppression: capitalism and all the “isms” that come from it.

Striking radical gold. Then one day at an immigrant rights rally I met a feisty Chicana who stood out from the rest of the speakers. She gave a catchy solidarity speech defending women and lesbian/gay/bi/transgender immigrants, and she was not afraid to denounce both Republicans and Democrats for the ICE raids! She was Radical Women’s LA Organizer. I was hooked!

Radical Women is the group for me because it is multi-issue and multiracial, with a solid socialist feminist program and solutions to the questions of women, race, and class. Radical Women believes in building female leadership, especially that of women of color, to guide the overthrow of capitalism. It is a powerhouse with a long track record of defending the rights of working women and oppressed people via coalitions, rallies, protests, poetry slams, art and film showings, celebrations, study groups, and more.

These courageous feminists are not afraid of debate and they show that women can do everything from public speaking to writing. They encourage me to offer my talents and skills. One of the most fascinating roles I’ve taken on in Radical Women is being the Education Coordinator and leading study groups on Chicana and Black feminist theory. I love teaching and learning from many different participants, all with a passion to change the system. I even got to coordinate a successful feminist art exhibit for LA’s International Women’s Day celebration!

So that is how I became a joyful and busy socialist feminist. If you’re a woman searching for an outstanding group to join, look up Radical Women and get ready to lead!

Send feedback to Beatriz Paez at jademt4@hotmail.com.