“Yo soy mujer en busca de igualdad, no aguantar abuso ni maldad. Yo soy mujer y tengo dignidad, y pronto la justicia serd una realidad. Mujer, tù eres mujer, porque supiste ver, la realidad de tu poder. Hoy canto al Dios del Pueblo en mi guitarra, un canto de mujer que se libera” – From “Mujeristas: A Name of Our Own!” – Ada María Isasi-Díaz [i]
Translation: I am woman searching for equality; I will not put up with abuse and wickedness. I am a woman and I have dignity, and justice will soon be a reality. Woman, you are woman, because you have known how to recognize the fact that you are powerful. Today I sing to the God of my people with my guitar, I sing a song of a woman who liberates herself.
Labels, names, and categories can evoke prejudice and oppression. Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz, the founder of Mujerista Theology, wrote:
To be able to name oneself is one of the most powerful abilities a person can have. A name is not just a word by which one is identified. A name provides the conceptual framework and the mental constructs that are used in thinking, understanding and relating to a person. [ii]
These words relate to U. S. Hispanic women, who, according to Isasi-Díaz, struggle against ethnic prejudice, sexism, and in many cases classism [and who] have been at a loss as to what they should be called.[iii] In finding that common name, lyrics from three different songs inspired Isasi-Díaz who developed the term “Mujerista Theology,” replacing Hispanic women’s liberation theology:
“Yo soy mujer en busca de igualdad, no aguantar abuso ni maldad. Yo soy mujer y tengo dignidad, y pronto la justicia serd una realidad. Mujer, tù eres mujer, porque supiste ver, la realidad de tu poder. Hoy canto al Dios del Pueblo en mi guitarra, un canto de mujer que se libera” [iv]
For Isasi-Díaz, mujerista unifies Hispanic women and embodies strength. Mujeristas are those:
- Who desire a society and a world where there is no oppression.
- Who struggle for a society in which differences and diversity are valued.
- Who know that our world has limits and that we have to live simply so others can simply live.
- Who understand that material richness is not a limitless right but it carries a “social mortgage” that we have to pay to the poor of the world.
- Who savor the struggle for justice, which, after all, is one of the main reasons for living.
- Who try no matter what to know, maintain, and promote our Latina culture.
- Who know that a “glorified” self-abnegation is many times the source of our oppression.
- Who know women are made in the image of God and, as such, value ourselves.
- Who know we are called to birth new women and men, a strong Latino people.
- Who recognize that we have to be source of hope and of a reconciling love.
- Who love ourselves so we can love God and our neighbor.[v]
For Isasi-Díaz, Mujerista Theology is defined as:
“a process of enablement for Latina Women, insisting on the development of a strong sense of moral agency, and clarifying the importance and value of who they are, what they think, and what they do….mujerista theology [also] seems to impact mainline theologies, the theologies which support what is normative in church, and, to a large degree, in society.”[vi]
Mujerista Theology is a praxis consisting of two interlinked moments – action and reflection – a theological reflection that cannot be separated from theological action, rooted in community, birthed by the community, discussed in the community, and made understandable to the community.[vii] Educated by Ursuline nuns, living in a convent, and as a daughter of Vatican II, community was important to Isasi-Díaz.
Another important focus was the struggle in life or la vida en la lucha. Her strength, resilience, and humility is apparent in the words spoke during a 2006 commencement speech at Colgate University:
No matter how hard I try to live according to what I am going to share with you, I fail time and again. I can only assure you that up to now in my life, each time I fail, and believe me it is often, I struggle to stand up. This struggle to stand up again and again, la lucha, as we refer to it in Spanish, seems to be what marks the rhythm of my living. And from this struggling I have gathered two valuable learnings. [viii]
First is the understanding that if we do not know how to get up when we fall, we might as well not get out of bed in the morning because we will fall… The struggle is not to go through life bent on not failing. No, the struggle, la lucha, is to learn to stand up again. So I preach today not because I have not fallen but because I am willing to do all in my power to stand up again.[ix]
Second, there is no possibility of picking oneself up, of really going on, if one is not willing to be converted. You see, what we have to realize is that each falling down is a call to be converted, to become more fully ourselves, and that we cannot do it if we simply get up and go back to the same way of being that led us to fall in the first place.[x]
Within this speech, conversion is defined as “turning to what we do not know, to what we do not control, to what is beyond us, calling us to go forth from where we are, calling us to be more than we are.” [xi]
Also addressing the issue of fear, she stated that fear is an intrinsic element of life.[xii] There are times when it is easier to stay down but we are wonderful creatures of the living God and we have been encouraged and helped to stand up time and time again. Do not be afraid of being afraid. Be afraid of not wanting to face your fears, of preferring to stay down in order to evade the struggle, la lucha, in order to evade the unknown which we fear but which we have to face every day. [xiii]
In her sermon called “Kairos Time,” she gave advice on how we should live life despite these struggles was given:
Live life purposefully, live your lives full of intentionality. You must not allow life to go by without reaching out at every moment, capturing it, holding it firmly and, at the same time, tenderly and filling it with what you consider is good, honorable, and worthwhile. If you do not hold life intentionally in your hands, your ministry will become routine, without real meaning, and that, my friends, I believe is sinful. It is sinful because those who allow life to go by and do not live life fully are rejecting God’s greatest gift to us: life. Do not waste life. Live life purposefully.[xiv]
In Isasi-Díaz’s final days, she relied on community and demonstrated strength amidst la lucha to battle cancer. Surrounded by family and friends on May 13, 2012 Isasi-Díaz entered the kin-dom of God. “Kin-dom” was a term she created and used in lieu of “kingdom” because kingdom invoked images of hierarchy, elitism, and sexism because it assumes that God is male. “Kin-dom” reflects a full-ness of God present in the world at large – a presence where we are all brothers and sisters, kin to each other – all part of the family of God.
The fullness of humanity is represented through love, God’s salvific act, which we participate in – participation that is an active involvement or relationship.[xv] During her life, Isasi-Díaz was a participant, not a bystander – she was Presente! Love, according to Isasi-Díaz, epitomizes humanity and humanity’s relationships.
“Love is the best image we have of paradise. When we talk about heaven, about paradise, we are talking about loving to the fullest, we are talking about being the very best person each of us can be, and to be the best we can be we have to love and be loved. I believe that when we get to the “pearly gates” the first and most important question we are going to be asked is, “Were you loved?” “Were you kind enough, hope-full enough, vulnerable enough, humble enough for love to always be present in your life?”[xvi]
As Isasi-Díaz’s words come to pass with her death this week, there are many of us who admired her writings and many more that cherished her personhood, her humanity, and her humility. Was she loved? Probably by more people then she ever knew.
More information about Isasi-Díaz as well as funeral arrangements and messages to her family can be found on Ada’s blog at: http://adamaria7.blogspot.com/2012/05/hi-its-gloria.html.
Her biography can be found at Drew University’s website, where she was a Professor of Ethics and Theology: http://users.drew.edu/aisasidi/.
Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently at the University of Akron doing post-graduate work in the area of the History of “the Americas” focusing on Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies and is an Adjunct Instructor in Religious Studies at Ursuline College. Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at http://johncarroll.academia.edu/MicheleFreyhauf. Michele can be followed on twitter at @MSFreyhauf.
[xv] “Solidarity: Love of Neighbors in the 21st Century” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, ed. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite and Mary Potter Engle (1990, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco; 1998, 2000, Orbis, Maryknoll), 30-39.
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