Self Defining Mexican Undocumented Immigrant Women, Genesis Samarripa

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Self-Defining Mexican Undocumented Immigrant Women and their Success & Survival in the United States

My mother is an immigrant. She is a headstrong and resolute woman, but she has been undocumented in the United States for over twenty years. Despite her immigration status, she has defined herself, the kind of future she wants for herself and for her family, and uses every tool at her disposal to obtain it. Immigration is often about survival, particularly for undocumented women, and especially when they realize there is no such thing as the “American Dream,” which is typically seen by immigrants as the ability to own a home, to vote, and simply, to have basic human rights. Especially for those who are undocumented without hope of obtaining legal status, this “American Dream” turns into a mirage, an unobtainable idealistic situation. For many women like my mother—Mexican undocumented immigrant women, whose beliefs and ideologies tend to differ from those of the white, supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal society of the United States (bell hooks 2000:22)—survival turns into something much more complex, fueled by the self-definition that counteracts their degradation.

Black feminist thought has given it a name, self-definition, and it has been used by black women and other women of color as a tool of survival and even resistance. Per Patricia Hill Collins’ definition, self-definition is crucial to the survival and success of undocumented immigrant women in the United States—regardless of where they come from, but especially for Mexican women due to the history and the unique relationship that exists between the US and Mexico. It is difficult to progress from a point of survival to a point of comfort and success in a society that does not value nor care for undocumented immigrants, despite its incessant need for their labor. US society was designed to exploit and to oppress; that is the very definition and function of capitalism. Like African American women, Mexican undocumented immigrant women and their contributions have been erased from US history and society, but their reprisal, whether acknowledged or not, has helped them thrive.

Various aspects of US society have contributed to the oppression of women of color and more specifically, to the oppression of black women. Controlling images, for one, are often much more ingrained in US society’s thought than are stereotypes; they attempt to control and categorize Black women in a manner that enables oppression (Collins 2000:76), and unfortunately, these images often succeed as many white Americans blindly consume and project these false presumptions. The mammy, the matriarch, the welfare mother, and the jezebel all constitute a type of sexist and racist image of black women that condemns them and perpetuates the notion that all black women are one-dimensional; that they all project at least one of these highly demonizing categories, and that, although they can fulfill the domestic work of white women and the sexual fantasies of white men, they are detrimental to society. As Patricia Hill Collins explains, Black women often counteract these controlling images, particularly through self-definition, resisting and existing in their daily lives, all the while creating a space for Black women to convene and feel safe (2000:111). These spaces exist within many marginalized and oppressed communities and they exist in a manner where the community and the individual tend to mutually benefit from each other. They exist in atypical places, and for Mexican undocumented immigrant women—who also have their own set of controlling images in the United States—these spaces may be churches, laundromats, the comadre’s[1] front porch, or even the waiting area outside their children’s schools.

Although controlling images for Mexican undocumented immigrant women are not widespread like those for black women unfortunately are, they do exist, and are parallel to controlling images of black women in some ways. Often the controlling images for Mexican undocumented immigrant women revolve around their immigration status. You hear of the domestic worker, la criada or la sirvienta, who speaks poor English (if any, at all) and cleans the homes of rich white people for little pay; the whore, la puta, who is either literally a prostitute or sleeps around until she finds a US citizen man to marry and obtain legal status; the one who relies on her US citizen husband’s money, la mantenida, or the gold digger (sometimes stemming from la puta); and the wetback, la mojada, who is ridiculed for her lack of legal status and her struggle due to it. Controlling images for Mexican undocumented immigrant women appear mostly within communities of undocumented people themselves and are thrown around without the thought that perhaps these images—perpetuated by other immigrant, and often undocumented, people—are damaging and exploitative. I find this ironic simply because, in the same space, people within the community often refer to el espíritu de la mujer indocumentada, “the spirit of the undocumented woman,” which is meant to be a positive and encouraging sort of narrative referring to the strength undocumented immigrant women must have in order to survive less than desirable circumstances. The fact that this dichotomy of support and oppression exists and is enacted within often highly machista[2] and masculine communities does not diminish the fact that undocumented immigrant women are able to create safe spaces where they can speak for themselves and help each other out, even if it is through something as simple as a joke or a dicho[3].

Self-definition, survival, and various successes become evident in these spaces as women share their experiences and insights on everyday life as undocumented immigrant women in the United States. I have grown up around these women, resilient in their own way: my mother, aunts, cousins, family friends, have all demonstrated resistance to their oppression and have developed tactics for their survival and success. Sharing experiences is an important component to creating a space where undocumented immigrant women can feel comfortable as well as learn from each other’s experiences and use their analyses of those stories for their own success. These narratives are not necessarily highly personal or confidential; on the other hand, they come in various forms. Jokes, dichos, and even chismes[4] often make up the complex conversations of undocumented immigrant women, as well as other personal narrative, and although this praxis differs from an applied academic form of feminist thought, it does the work academia often does not directly perform due to its exclusion of these women, the importance of which Joan Morgan denotes in When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost (1999:57). Often these women are forced to create these spaces due to the lack of support from men in their own communities and the projection of controlling images. Their continued and mutual support is important in order for undocumented immigrant women to continue navigating daily life in a society that hardly acknowledges their existence, let alone their physical and economic contributions.

This navigation of daily life is often misconstrued as mere survival, meaning the stage before stability, when any type of movement or work is done simply to be able to make it to the next day. Although some women would describe their own existence as such, most would consider themselves successful, and even stable, especially considering the trials and tribulations they may have experienced during the process of actually migrating to the United States. Survival is indeed important and the initial stage before getting to a point of success and stability, but it must be understood that these phenomena occur on a spectrum, as I feel it does for everyone. Undocumented immigrant women often characterize success as the moment when they, as immigrants, manage to arrive at their destinations in the US in (generally) good health; when they, as mothers, are able to obtain a job—regardless of its legitimacy—and provide their children with basic needs without struggle. This is not to say that some women do not move out of the stage of survival. For some women, survival may be occurring simultaneously to their success. They may be dealing with traumas experienced before, during (where trauma is most likely to occur), or after their migration to the United States, such as extreme hunger, thirst, and exhaustion while crossing, or even sexual assault.

My mother often speaks to her children about her experiences crossing the border, and although she would not explicitly call it by the following term, her experiences are recollections of survival. She often reminisces about getting kicked out of her home at the age of eighteen—unusual even by traditional Mexican standards—by her alcoholic father (although she would never call it that, nor would her mother or any of her eleven siblings) and deciding to move to el norte[5] with some friends, but really, all on her own. She often talks about living in her brother’s home and missing meals because she was too embarrassed to look in the fridge and even afraid her brother’s wife would say something or shoot her a dirty look if she did. She was simply surviving at that point, working a low wage job and often going to bed hungry, with no thought of her future or any regard for the so-called “American Dream.” It took her a while to move to a position of success and stability, but she says that she did not feel fulfilled until she had children and was able to provide for them, and even in that situation, she still sometimes reverts to survival mode. It seems that the only thing that would prevent survival mode from returning is the unobtainable American Dream: obtaining legal status, buying a home, and being and remaining stable economically, physically, and mentally.

The transition from survival to success is often a rocky one that requires the support of others and the slight hope for a better future. For many undocumented immigrant woman, this is hard to come by. This is the instance in which safe spaces become necessary and are created, and the support of friends, neighbors, and especially comadres becomes significant. The notion of other-mothering is made clear in Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought, where the literal co-mothering of children occurs between “bloodmothers,” the biological mother, and “other-mothers,” who are often sisters, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and even friends (2000:193). More than co-mothering children, however, the concept of an other-mother, and more specifically, of a comadre among Mexican undocumented immigrant women, includes the ideas of mutual support and friendship between women, which notably establishes the foundation of a functioning safe space. Like other-mothering among black women, the safe space created between a pair or a group of comadres is highly woman-centered (Collins 2000:192) and crucial to the development and maintenance of a safe space in which undocumented immigrant women can convene. Further, the safe spaces created are imperative to the continued survival and the long-term success of undocumented immigrant women in the United States.

“Mexican undocumented immigrant women” in itself is a descriptor of the vilification these women face in the United States due to the intersecting identities depicted in the name. Their nationality and ethnicity, their immigration status, and the fact that they are not just people of color, but also women of color, speaks to the unjustified nature of their oppression. Because Mexican undocumented immigrant women come into the US with these intrinsic identities—except for their immigration status, although it is often not a choice—that are already demonized by the white, supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal society of the United States, their own self-definition becomes the most important concept and tactic for their survival. The manner in which Mexican undocumented immigrant women view themselves and how they carry out their daily lives is what helps them navigate society, and thinking of themselves as relentless, resolute, and capable women matters. There is a sort of power that is involved in this self-definition and, using Audre Lorde’s analysis, it may be derived from the erotic.

Lorde says, “On the one hand, the superficially erotic has been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority; on the other hand, women have been made to suffer and to feel both contemptible and suspect by virtue of its existence,” (1984:53). This is interesting to consider because it suggests that, in the case of undocumented immigrant women, where they appear to not yield much power and have been denigrated for it, their accomplishments prove otherwise. Ultimately, “[o]nce [they] know the extent to which [they] are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, [they] can then observe which of [their] various life endeavors bring[s] [them] closest to that fullness,” (Lorde 1984:54) which is something that I think Mexican undocumented immigrant women fully embody in their accomplishment of a multitude of tasks and in their physical presence in this society. Still, however, Mexican undocumented immigrant women are invariably visible and invisible, creating a binary, which does more harm than good and contributes to the erasure of their presence and contributions.

Surprisingly, the power derived from the erotic, including all of the intense feelings and experiences that accompany it, provides agency for these women in a manner that is not completely intentional. Despite their erasure, the lack of visibility, as well as the hyper-visibility of the demonized immigrant woman, self-definition helps mitigate negative encounters, consequently providing them with a degree of agency that is necessary for survival and success throughout their lives in the United States. The purpose of the immigrant in the US has been to serve and to labor, effectively diminishing and highlighting their importance to US economy. By this, I mean that, despite the multitude of opposing dichotomies—visible/invisible, for example—they do not necessarily cancel each other out. Mexican undocumented immigrant women use their power, extended from the erotic, to self-define, which in turn provides them with enough agency to vouch for themselves in the white, supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal society of the United States. They work and are seen as necessary to the economy, but are also recognized as criminals, and the word “immigrant” turns into a dirty word, especially when preceded by the word “undocumented.” These women are women whose identities and experiences are erased from the rhetoric of contemporary society, yet serve an important function to it, and still manage to cater to their own needs. Visibility and invisibility almost does not matter when Mexican undocumented immigrant women use the power of the erotic and validate their own experiences for themselves, regardless of what society’s rationalizations of them are. This is why self-definition is important. Collins states:

“The insistence on Black women’s self-definition reframes the entire dialogue from one of protesting the technical accuracy of an image—namely, refuting the Black matriarchy thesis—to one stressing the power dynamics underlying the very process of definition itself. By insisting on one’s self-definition, Black women question not only what has been said about African-American women but the credibility and the intentions of those possessing the power to define. When Black women define [themselves], [they] clearly reject the assumption that those in positions granting them the authority to interpret [their] reality are entitled to do so.” (2000:125)

Women, black women, women of color, Mexican undocumented immigrant women—they are all entitled to self-definition, particularly if it means they will survive and succeed despite exploitation and oppression.

            Respect and self-valuation are important in order to uphold the value of one’s self-definition, as Collins explains (2000:126). The symbiotic exchange of respect between Mexican undocumented immigrant women, and between them and other people in general, is important in order to realize self-definition without devaluating it. I think Mexican undocumented immigrant women hold respect and self-respect, specifically, to such a high standard because they feel like that is the only way for them to be validated in society. They are not just “good workers;” they are respectable, commendable women and the fact that they work hard for themselves and for their families has much to say about their respectability, which is important to Mexican undocumented immigrant women in the United States. Unfortunately, language barriers can often implicate the notion of respect and self-valuation, especially when it concerns the health and well being of their children.

My mother has relied on me to translate for doctor’s appointments for her, for my sister—who was born with severe facial deformities and has had at least thirteen surgeries in the past ten years—and even for my diabetic grandmother since I was nine years old. Although she has always voiced the value she sees in my bilingualism and has always shown her appreciation for it, I have witnessed her struggle with the English language in various settings, which has been detrimental to her self-valuation and appears to be a common aspect among Mexican undocumented immigrant women, particularly those who do not speak or understand English. She belittles herself, saying she is simply incapable of learning a new language, despite being in the country for twenty or so years. She understands the necessity of speaking the language and even feels urgency about it, but contends that she cannot learn it, despite various attempts. Situations like this are cause of self-devaluation, and although most Mexican undocumented women might see and define themselves as excellent workers and caretakers, this self-definition is almost subdued by self-devaluation due to the inability to learn or speak English. This is not to say that self-valuation vanishes completely; on the other hand, although some women may get down on themselves about it, they pride themselves in their ability to continue to survive and succeed, despite their perceived handicap.

Mexican undocumented immigrant women exist who do speak English and this ability tends to propel them to further success, which is something that is accentuated in their self-definition and self-valuation. Although legally they may not be able to obtain particularly ideal jobs, they may excel in whatever work they do simply for having the ability to speak English and Spanish. Very rarely does this create a rift between women who do speak English and those who do not. On the other hand, it appears that it increases solidarity amongst Mexican undocumented immigrant women as they are better able to communicate with each other, and thus with the society they partake in, all the while making themselves visible in a way that is, at the very least, acknowledged by the white, supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal society of the United States. The English language is a powerful language that grants license and almost literally, a voice, to unseen peoples in the United States. Of course, sometimes other issues arise along with the ability to speak English, particularly if one has an accent or does not speak in a “grammatically correct” and “approved” manner. This in itself may create an issue within self-valuation, leading to embarrassment and perhaps shame, which has many connections to immigration status as well.

Melissa Harris-Perry states that “[t]he emotion of shame has three important elements,” (2011:104 ). It has social and physiological effects and is linked to field dependence, or in other words, on the “crooked room” of one’s situation. Shame in the undocumented status many immigrants hold is prevalent and most Mexican undocumented immigrant women try to hide it from the public, and oftentimes, from people within their personal social circle as well. I remember growing up and my mother distinguishing between “family matters” that were never to be discussed with anyone outside our immediate family or our home, such as her and my father’s immigration status or family issues we may be having, and family matters that were not considered as serious. This included divulging their undocumented status for fear that that kind of news would make the rounds, and that they, in turn, would be rounded up by immigration officers. This is unlikely to happen, even today when thoughts on immigration range widely from person to person as more and more people realize how broken the United States’ , but it is still a very big fear, especially for Mexican undocumented immigrant women.

Fear and shame go well together, but there is a difference. Where fear may be like a stabbing pain, shame may be more of a dull, dwelling pain that takes a long time to go away—if it ever does. Shame is also different than guilt; Harris-Perry says, “A person may feel guilty about a specific incident but still feel that she is a good person. Shame is more diffuse: it extends beyond a single incident and becomes an evaluation of the self,” (2011:104). The stigmatization of undocumented men and women has created intense shame, which can become an obstacle for Mexican undocumented immigrant women when attempting to self-define, and a variety of emotions are carried alongside the shame. Mexican undocumented immigrant women are made to feel ashamed of their status, of their nationality, their gender, their socio-economic status, yet the duality of these intersecting characteristics as a positive and the very definition of one’s self is important to recognize, especially as these women feel a fear of deportation and a shame for not having the necessary documents. These feelings can be combated, however, in thinking of positive characteristics outside of immigration status.

Along the same lines of self-valuation and respect come the notions of self-reliance and independence, which Collins cites as integral, particularly to the development and promotion of survival of black women. Citing Steady (1987), Collins says, “Whether by choice or circumstance, African-American women have ‘possessed the spirit of independence,’ have been self-reliant, and have encouraged one another to value this vision of womanhood that clearly challenges prevailing notions of femininity,” (2000:128). The previously mentioned espíritu de la mujer indocumentada, or the “spirit of the undocumented woman,” completely exemplifies self-reliance and independence in a way that makes Mexican undocumented immigrant women admirable, both within their communities and within their families. Indeed, a certain spirit is required of women in general by the patriarchal society, which many exude.

Even though society has certain expectation for women, as do the communities to which Mexican undocumented immigrant women belong, I believe that their self-reliance and independence originates from this legendary spirit. Collins speaks of black women’s independence in a purely economic manner, quoting Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and asserting that “[t]he linking of economic self-sufficiency as one critical dimension of self-reliance with the demand for respect permeates Black feminist thought,” (2000:128). This may be true for some Mexican undocumented immigrant women, as well; however, their self-reliance, as well as black women’s self-reliance, may come more so from a place of self-assurance. By this, I mean that, rather than focusing exclusively on the monetary capital a man may or may not provide, or the monetary capital women may provide for themselves, their self-reliance emerges from a place that assures these women they can do anything for themselves. They have intrinsic knowledge that their individual being is good enough to be trusted and to be relied on, regardless of the circumstances.

The conglomeration of the power of the erotic, of self-valuation, respect, self-reliance, and independence, characterizes the self-definition of both black women and Mexican undocumented immigrant women in the United States, although in differing ways at times. All of these together enable self-empowerment and that self-empowerment can set forth personal change as well as change that is more widespread and that can involve entire communities. Collins says:

“According to many African-American women writers, no matter how oppressed an individual woman may be, the power to save the self lies within the self. Other Black women may assist a Black woman in this journey toward personal empowerment, but the ultimate responsibility for self-definitions and self-valuations lies within the individual woman herself. An individual woman may use multiple strategies in her quest for the constructed knowledge of an independent voice.” (2000:130)

The true acceptance of one’s self is important when considering the notion of self-empowerment. Acknowledging one’s own situation as black women or as Mexican undocumented immigrant women in the United States and the positions these women assume—often unwillingly—is critical to self-definition. Empowerment thus emerges from the manner in which women define their positionalities within society and how they navigate their daily lives through those positionalities and identities they occupy.

            The ability to self-define and to control inputs and outputs of that self-definition is empowering and it is resistant to the oppressive system that functions within the United States. Certainly for Mexican undocumented immigrant women, this self-empowerment becomes crucial to their survival and their success as they navigate through society. I will even go as far as stating that, without the empowerment of self-definition, these women would possibly not survive the burdensome facets of the oppression they encounter. Self-definition equips women with a voice, through which they are able to establish the validity of their existence in this nation, even if they do not have legal immigration status. They provide an important function to US culture and economy and maneuver it in a way that grants them agency that must be recognized by the larger society. Self-empowerment for Mexican undocumented immigrant women means that they have the power and the right to self-identification and self-worth, and that is something that will not be taken away from them. They predicate their futures because self-definition and the self-empowerment this definition provides, ultimately leading to their success and even their children’s success, which is often the most important thing for these women. They pride themselves in who they are and what they represent for themselves and oftentimes fully embrace themselves as Mexican undocumented immigrant women in the United States, which to me is a powerful assertion.

Nationality absolutely plays into the self-definition of Mexican undocumented immigrant women, especially because of the unique relationship between Mexico and the United States, as was mentioned earlier. From the time that the United States and Mexico cooperated to create the Bracero program to satisfy agricultural labor demands only Mexican immigration could meet, the United States has implicated Mexican people in a manner that still has repercussions today. The white, supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal society of the United States, subjugates Mexican undocumented immigrant women, as both caretakers and laborers, especially in the modern era. The exaggeration of the “immigration crisis,” especially in context with the Mexican drug war—fed and sustained by US society’s interests—has allowed for the abuse and domination of Mexican undocumented immigrant women. This has also made it embarrassing, and even shameful, for Mexican people to express pride in their nationality, particularly for Mexican undocumented immigrant women.

When it comes to having to decide between their home country of Mexico, a nation stricken with violence and poverty, especially in the most rural areas, or the United States, a nation with false promises and an overpowering oppression and marginalization of people, Mexican undocumented immigrant women must self-define to empower themselves, all the while priding themselves as Mexican women who have made it in the United States on their own. Collins states, “In a transnational context, women in African, Latin American, and Asian nations have not sad idly by, waiting for middle-class, White women from North American and Western European nation-states to tell them what to do,” (2000:250). Unfortunately for Mexican undocumented immigrant women, they have had to rely on the resources of an colonialist and racist society, but due to their nationality and immigration status, are unable to take full advantage of those resources, and on the other hand, encountering discrimination, subjugation, and even objectification. Mexican undocumented immigrant women do not wait for others to save them; they use their self-definitions to save themselves and to survive.

I spoke about shame earlier and how immigration status, particularly if someone is undocumented, may create shame in Mexican undocumented immigrant women. Their nationality and the stories surrounding their identities in their home country of Mexico often has a lot to do with how they identify and self-define in the United States, and although Mexican undocumented immigrant women are considered as such in the United States, they clearly would not be in Mexico. In the United States, they are subjugated and demonized due to their immigration status and nationality; in Mexico, Mexican women are subjugated and demonized due to their gender, and although this is also true in the United States, in Mexico, Mexican women are simply Mexican women. There is no shame in that like there is in being undocumented in the United States.

Not all Mexican undocumented immigrant women in the United States experience shame from their immigration status or their nationality; many actually embrace it and I believe this is part of their self-definition. Even though my own mother did not want me divulging her immigration status—which I never really did—I have realized that it is important to speak about, especially because my mother’s self-definition has impacted my life and my position in society in the United States. There is a complex relationship between Mexican undocumented immigrant women, like my mother, and the white, supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal society of the United States that also affects me. The manners in which my mother has navigated through life and how she has managed her identities and self-definition is awe-inspiring. I think that Black feminist thought serves to analyze and identify these complexities and how they affect our position in the world: my mother’s as a Mexican undocumented immigrant woman, and mine as the daughter of a Mexican undocumented immigrant woman.

Praxis of these ideas, of self-valuation, respect, self-reliance, independence, enables Mexican undocumented immigrant women to be able to survive, as I have stated, but more than their survival is their self-love and their hope to live a better life and be seen as an important and necessary part of society. I think that el espíritu de la mujer indocumentada is very real and it exists in the margins of the immigrant community, where Mexican undocumented immigrant women have access to it, even if they may not realize it or if they believe it to be a mere legend. Self-definition is important and I think that my mother and other women like her embrace it in a powerful and beautiful way where they continue to thrive, regardless of their struggle.






Collins, Patricia Hill. 2000. “Mammies, Matriarchs, and Other Controlling Images.” Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics.

Collins, Patricia Hill. 2000. “The Power of Self-Definition.” Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics.

Collins, Patricia Hill. 2000. “U.S. Black Feminism in Transnational Context.” Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics.

Harris-Perry, Melissa. 2011. “Shame.” Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.  

Hooks, bell. 2000. “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression.” Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Sister Outsider. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press.

Morgan, Joan. 1999. “The F-Word.” When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks It Down. New York: Simon & Schuster.



[1] Literally means co-mother, but more often known as godmother in English.

[2] Chauvinistic

[3] A saying or anecdote; an adage

[4] Gossip

[5] The north; the US

Global Genders, Erik Rock

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Global Genders

Western society views gender as a binary, meaning that it is believed that there are only two possible options which are in opposition to one another. Because of this gender binary, the Westernized view of gender and operates under the assumption that there are only two sexes - male and female - and only two genders - man and woman (Shaw, Lee 121). It is believed that gender corresponds directly to anatomy and thus people are assigned a gender at birth based on the appearance of their genitalia. However, in a global context, the gender binary does not exist as it does in the West. Because “the concept of a gender binary is relatively recent in human history”, varying cultures throughout time have recognized that gender exists across a spectrum of expressions, roles, and identities (“World Gender Customs"). The existence of these non-binary genders not only proves the fallacy of the binary but threatens the dominant cultural notion of what it means to be a man or a woman.

In the West, individuals who are assigned male at birth are expected to adopt masculine gender roles, behaviors, and expressions. Such is not the case for indigenous cultures of Madagascar and Samoa. Although male-bodied, the sekrata of Madagascar exhibit feminine behaviors from early childhood that are accepted as natural by society. Sekrata individuals  adopt feminized appearances to the extent that they consider themselves “real” women since their efforts come naturally to them (“World Gender Customs”). Similarly, the fa’afafine in Samoa are male-bodied individuals who are raised as girls  after exhibiting feminine behaviors and attributes in early childhood. With their feminine gender identity and expression, fFa’afafine are valuable assets to society. After learning the traditional duties of Samoan women, many assume domestic roles and focus on taking care of the family (Shaw, Lee 120). Both sekrata and fa’afafine are acknowledged in their communities as being male-bodied but feminine or woman identified.

In other parts of the world gender diversity exists for female-bodied individuals and for those whose identity is neither solely masculine or solely feminine. On opposite ends of the globe, two different cultures recognize three or more genders. In Indonesia, the Bugi culture recognizes five genders; men, women, calabai, calalai, and bissu. Calabai are male bodied, feminine-identified individuals, calalai are female-bodied, male-identified individuals, and bissu are of any sex and considered a “transcendent gender, either encompassing all genders or none at all” ("World Gender Customs"). In the North America, the Navajo (Dineh) culture recognizes four genders; feminine women, dilbaa, masculine men, and nadleehi. Although dilbaa are considered masculine and female-bodied and nadleehi are considered feminine and male-bodied, both are acknowledged as encompassing masculine and feminine spirits in one person (“World Gender Customs”).  Due to the nature of their gender having a spiritual connotation, both the bissu of Indonesia and the nadleehi and dilbaa of North America are often revered in their culture and placed in respected, religious roles.

The non-binary genders of other cultures were also noted for their participation and importance to religious traditions. The Incan shamans of pre-colonial Peru, known as quariwarmi, were considered dual-gendered and androgynous and were a representation of a “third gender space that negotiated between the masculine and the feminine” (“World Gender Customs”). In contemporary and pre-colonial Hawaii, mahu individuals inhabited multiple gender roles and were considered socially important “as educators and promulgators of ancient traditions and rituals” (“World Gender Customs”). Unfortunately, both the quariwarmi of the Incas and the traditional mahu of Hawaii experienced oppression and erasure at the hands of European colonialists. The mahu were nearly eliminated through the colonization of Hawaii, while the quariwarmi were completely wiped out after having been deemed paganistic sodomites by Spanish conquistadors (“World Gender Customs”).

The existence of these diverse genders around the globe directly threatens the gender binary because they prove that gender is more than two opposing identities attached irrefutably to one’s physical anatomy. The dominant notion of gender only being man or woman fails to acknowledge that gender is a social construct and that the binary has been manufactured.  Because “gender is embedded in culture and the various forms of knowledge associated with any given community,”, gender can and does change, evolve, and mean different things to different people at different times (Shaw, Lee 116).

The unquestioning acceptance of the gender binary has been aided by the denial, erasure, and ignorance of diverse genders throughout history in lieu of binary genders. For the most part, the West has invested in maintaining the binary in order to perpetuate patriarchy because a patriarchal culture relies on the binary of dominance and subordinationnce. As such, to uphold the notion of man and woman  is the same thing as upholding a foundationally patriarchal society.

By shaping ideas about masculinity and femininity - which simultaneously translates into shaping ideas about what it means to have and gender and to be a gender - the dominant culture rewards those considered normative and excludes those who are outside of this norm.  Threatening the gender binary creates tension because it puts into questions other binaries - white and non-white, poor and rich, able bodied and non-able bodied, homosexual and heterosexual - all of which are either considered normative and accepted by the dominant culture or considered non-normative and excluded by the dominant culture.

This is done for the purpose of creating a social norm that can be regulated through social policy (Shaw, Lee 316). As such, the binary is maintained as a means to control people; control who they are, what they want, how they reproduce; what they believe, how they interact, when they do something, why they do something; even what they produce, what they consume, and how they communicate (Shaw, Lee 117). Simply put, a world where genders beyond man and woman exist is not as easy to control and regulate.

Controlling and regulating identities offers an explanation as to why the ideology of only two genders is so pervasive and why it intersects with the legacy of colonialism. Colonizing did not just mean to usurp lands and exploit resources; it also meant to institute ideologies and eradicate indigenous cultural norms. Colonialism of the past (and globalization in the contemporary moment) impacts gender because it constrained people’s expressions and practices, normalized only a limited set of identities,  and delegitimized traditional modes of being all for the purpose of enhancing the colonizer’s position of privilege (Shaw, Lee 319).

The fact that the majority of global gender identities are invisible is because they did not fit inside of the newly instituted definitions of normal. Because differences are hierarchical, “patterns of difference become systems of privilege and inequality” (Shaw, Lee 54). The nadleehi, fa’afafine, sekrata, mahu, quariwarmi, and calabai’s of the world were noted as being different and therefore at the bottom of the hierarchy and beneath the dominant culture’s position of privilege. Anything outside of of the intelligible ideas of man (and dominant) and woman (and subordinate) could not be accepted because in order for dominance there must be something available to submit; without those neither is possible.

The recognition of many genders, including globally diverse genders, means to acknowledge the fallacy of the gender binary and all that it entails. The existence of mahu, dilbaa, fa’afafine and the like mean that gender is not inevitable nor irrefutable, which means that neither is the gender binary. If more than two genders can exist, than social arrangements outside of dominance and subordinationnce can exist as well. Additionally, to recognize the variety of gender identities means to allow the full breadth of gender to be explored by everyone. It means to expand the notion of value, worthiness, and all of the lived experiences that make people unique and different. It makes difference something to be admired, not controlled or colonized. Opening up ideas of gender creates more possibilities for personal expression and behaviors outside of a constrained idea of normalcy. In the end, the proof of the very real lives and experiences of gender-diverse people throughout the world challenges the gender binary, and with it the social hierarchies of privilege and oppression.


Works Cited

Shaw, Susan M., and Janet Lee. Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary

Readings. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2015. Print.

"World Gender Customs." A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures, PBS, Two-Spirits. PBS, 20 May

2011. Web. 25 July  2015. <


Gender and LGBT Equality in Pink Tide Nicaragua, Natalie Walter

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Gender and LGBT Equality in Pink Tide Nicaragua

1. Introduction

Nicaragua is a notable example of a Pink Tide country, as a part of a trend of leftward shifting politics in Latin America. This paper will examine the extent of their transformation specifically in regards to policy on gender and sexuality, asking if this movement in Nicaragua is solely a movement towards less neoliberal economic policy, or if the country has also shifted towards a more inclusive social policy in terms of gender and sexuality as well. After analyzing public opinion data, this paper ultimately finds that since Daniel Ortega resumed the office of the presidency in 2006, there has been both progress and setbacks for issues of gender and sexuality. Although instituting gender quotas at the party level has led to an increase in the number of women in the most recent elections, and legislation to decriminalize homosexuality has come with a more positive perception of homosexuality, perception of women as capable political leaders has actually decreased. Furthermore, the total ban on abortion has been crippling to women’s reproductive rights, and public opinion has shifted only minimally to ask for any further changes. Ultimately, the increases in LGBT rights and the representation of women in government has not led to substantial changes for these marginalized populations in Nicaragua, and the total ban on abortion has actually limited women’s rights under Nicaragua’s new leftist presidency.

The paper contains four sections after this introduction: the background, which explains contemporary Nicaragua in the context of the Pink Tide; methodology, which will explain the methods used to examine Nicaragua’s social policy and climate; findings, which will describe current policy, data on public opinion, and levels of representation in government; and the conclusion, which will analyze the progressiveness of Pink Tide Nicaragua.

2. Background

Recent trends in Latin America show a leftward political shift in many countries, a phenomenon which has come to be known as the Pink Tide. These leftist policies typically include general redistribution of wealth, or more specifically land redistribution; nationalization of resources or industry; and a general shift away from neoliberal policy as a rejection of the free-market reforms of the 1990’s.[1]  Painter describes the Pink Tide as a clean break with the Washington Consensus, noting that after a push for privatization and open markets failed to bridge the gap between the wealthy and poor in Latin America, three quarters of its inhabitants are now governed by left-leaning executives.[2] 

Nicaragua is a notable example of this political shift. The current Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, belongs to the modern political party of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), and was a member of the Sandinista junta which took control of the country in the 1979 revolution. Ortega is currently serving his third term; his first was from 1984 to 1990, and he was elected once again in 2006 and in 2011.[3]  The re-election of a former Sandinista guerrilla is a clear demonstration that Nicaragua is returning to leftist politics as seen during their revolutionary period, especially after several years of victories of conservative candidates such as Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. After winning reelection on a campaign focused on addressing hunger and illiteracy among Nicaragua’s poorest, Ortega has begun to align himself more with Venezuela’s leftist regime than with the United States.[4]  The return to power of Nicaragua’s leftist revolutionary party marks them as a part of the larger Pink Tide trend. In light of this, it is important to ask if this transition back to the left has implications for equaliy not only among people of different economic classes, but also of different genders and sexual orientations.

3. Methodology

In order to examine the effects of the political trend of the Pink Tide on equality among women and the LGBT population in Nicaragua as a whole, policy, public opinion and political representation will be examined. First, actual policies in place regarding reproductive and LGBT rights will be briefly explained.

Next, public opinion data is pulled from the Latinobarómetro project, a public opinion survey asked of respondents in Latin American countries to determine their opinions on social issues. Opinions on the guarantee of gender equality by the law, the justifiability of homosexuality, the justifiability of abortion, and the suitability of women as political leaders is examined. In testing the public opinion on these issues, it is possible to see what sort of social progress is being made in the leftist country of Nicaragua. To put this analysis in context, Nicaragua will be compared with El Salvador and Guatemala, two Central American countries with histories of civil war similar to Nicaragua’s in many ways and, due to their current leftist presidencies, arguably part of the Pink Tide as well.[5][6] All data cited in sections 4.3.1 – 4.3.4 are drawn from the data of the Corporación Latinobarómetro’s, a measure of public opinion on social issues in Latin America. In this way, Nicaragua’s social climate can be examined. The measures used with each data set are described along with the findings.

Finally, political representation of the LGBT community and of women in Nicaragua will be examined. This is done by examining the percentage of representation, as well as any policy in place to ensure representation. In analyzing the political representation of LGBT people and of women, it is possible to see if the country is making this step in terms of social progress for gender and sexuality.

4. Findings

This section explains the findings of research conducted into Nicaragua’s social policies, political representation, and public opinion.

4.1 Social Policy

Some of the most important policies for social inclusiveness across gender and sexual orientation include reproductive rights, discrimination policy, and LGBT rights in terms of the legality of sexual orientations other than homosexual, and marriage rights for LGBT persons. These policies are examined below.

4.1.1 Reproductive Rights

The most striking example of policy having to do with gender inequality is Nicaragua’s complete ban on abortion,[7] which was instituted by current leftist president Daniel Ortega. Huemann argues that the Sandinistas have actually long been antagonistic towards feminism, especially regarding reproductive rights, regardless of its status of a regime which has been presented as a symbol of equality.[8] 

This was solidified in 2006 when the Ortega administration implemented a total ban on abortion, such as had not been seen in the country since 1893.[9]  Pre-2009, there had been exceptions for cases of rape, but under the Ortega administration even these concessions were stripped away, likely in an attempt to gain favor with the church and conservatives in the three-candidate race of 2006.[10]  Additionally, as medical professionals are also held liable for assisting with anything resembling an abortion, they will often refuse to treat women if it seems like there is a chance that the woman has had an abortion, so as to not be complicit. [11]  This further places women’s lives in danger, leading to overall to higher maternal mortality rates.[12]  

It is notable that emergency contraceptives are legal and available over-the-counter in Nicaragua,[13] but there is little effort to institute the necessary sex education which would make these contraceptives truly effective.[14]  In drawing attention to these issues, Heumann questions the power of the Revolution to bring about gender equality.[15]  Based on the evidence presented here, the Sandinistas as a part of the Pink Tide in Nicaragua lack the ability to bring about genuine political change post-revolution.

4.1.2 LGBT Rights

Nicaragua’s policy on LGBT rights have been more progressive in recent years than reproductive rights policies have been. Since 2008, Nicaragua has prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation – this corresponded with a shift to make same-sex relations legal, though same-sex marriage is still not recognized.[16]  Nicaragua also considers hate crimes based on sexual orientation an aggravating circumstance.[17]  These are positive shifts moving towards a policy that could one day guarantee equality for the LGBT community, and show more progress than many of the policies towards gender equality have shown. However, they are still lacking.

4.2 Political Representation

Progressiveness of social policy can also be demonstrated in the political representation of LGBT persons and women. Such representation and any policies to ensure such representation are described in the following section.

4.2.1 LGBT Representation

In my investigation, I found no information on LGBT people in positions of power in Nicaragua.[18]  This in itself is telling. It seems that political representation of the LGBT community in Nicaragua is a shift which has yet to occur; the lack of documentation suggests that there are no publically open LGBT representatives in positions of power in Nicaragua.

4.2.2 Women’s Representation

It is much easier to find examples of women in positions of power. First, Nicaragua has had a woman president.  There is some added complexity here in that this female president was President Violeta Chamorro, who was one of Nicaragua’s conservative heads of state in between Ortega’s second and third terms and pre-Pink Tide. Chamorro was the widow of a prominent man, a fact which arguable helped her election, but she was not the wife of a president and did run her own campaign, filled with imagery of motherhood, widowhood, and the Virgin Mary.[19] 

As for women in contemporary Pink Tide Nicaragua, it is first notable that 40% of Nicaragua’s National Assembly is currently composed of women (37 of the 92 seats).[20]  This is most certainly due to the quota in place at the party level. Fifty percent of the candidates on the FSNL’s list must be women.[21]  Because the list is open and voters can choose whichever candidates they like, rather than voting for all of the candidates of a party as a whole, the candidates must be listed “zipper-style,” so that every other name that the voter sees is a woman.[22]  Because this has been a party-based initiative,[23] there are no legal sanctions for non-compliance.[24]  Still, Ortega’s party, the FSLN, has its own party quotas in place,[25] as does the more conservative Liberal and Constitutionalist Party (with only 2 seats in the assembly), while the more conservative Independent Liberal Party has no party-level quota requirements.[26]  This perhaps suggests a true effort on the part of Ortega and the FSLN to work towards gender equality in government. After the quota’s instatement, representation of women in the Assembly rose from 18 to 40%.[27]  This represents a significant change, and actually places Nicaragua as the country with the 9th highest representation of women in parliament worldwide, and third in Latin America, behind only Bolivia and Cuba.[28]

A policy change which occurred after the start of Ortega’s presidency was the appointment of women to cabinet positions, including those of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of the Interior, which controls the country’s police force.[29]  This means that women are heads of ministries even with roles not considered traditionally feminine, a definite show of progress for equality of women in Nicaragua’s government. However, Nicaraguan lawyer Azahalea Solís argues that women in cabinet appointments in reality hold very little power, as they face sexism in their positions which limits how much they can actually do. She further notes that having more women in cabinet positions has not actually resulted in increased social status for women in Nicaragua for this reason.[30]

4.3 Public Opinion Data

An important part of the political climate of a country is the social climate. As such, public opinion data is examined to see how Nicaraguans feel about various social issues tied to progress for gender and sexuality. Data is measured on the perception of guarantees of gender equality, the justifiability of homosexuality, the justifiability of abortion, and the capability of women compared to men as political leaders.

4.3.1 Guarantee of Gender Equality by Law

In a survey of Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans, participants were asked if they believed that gender equality was guaranteed by the law, selecting their answers from the options “fully,” “fairly generally,” “not generally,” and “not at all.” In considering “fully” and “fairly generally” to constitute a belief that gender equality is at least somewhat guaranteed, and the answers “not generally” or “not at all” to correspond to a belief that gender equality is not guaranteed, the findings are as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.[31]



El Salvador


Gender equality is at least somewhat guaranteed by the law.




Gender Equality is not guaranteed by the law.




Because a higher percentage of Nicaraguans believe that they are guaranteed equality by the law than do their Salvadoran or Guatemalan counterparts, it could be argued that legislation has had an effect on the country’s gender equality. However, it is still essential to note that by interpreting these results, it becomes clear 28.3% of Nicaraguans essentially don’t think that anti-discrimination policy is effective; they still do not believe that equality is guaranteed by the law even when it is explicitly written as law. There is a demonstrated gap between legislation and day-to-day reality.

4.3.2 Justifiability of Homosexuality

Respondents were asked on a scale of 1-10 how justifiable homosexuality was, with a 1 corresponding to “never justifiable” and a 10 corresponding to “always justifiable.” By taking the mean response of these answers, it is possible to see on average how justifiable the public of each country finds homosexuality to be. The results are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.[32]



El Salvador


















Respondents in each country, then, have found homosexuality increasingly justifiable, save for a curious dip in 2008.[33] It is important to note that this is overall a very large shift in all of the countries examined since 2002. Although the majority of Nicaraguans still don’t believe that homosexuality is justifiable, and the year that homosexuality was declared legal (2008) these numbers dipped a bit, the next year the acceptance of homosexuality again began to increase.

4.3.3 Justifiability of Abortion

Respondents were asked how justifiable abortion was on a ten point scale, with a 1 signifying that it was never justified, and a 10 signifying that it was always justified. The results were as demonstrated in Figure 3. Figure 4 shows the difference in opinion between men and women, and figure 5 shows the change in public opinion on abortion over time in Nicaragua.

Figure 3.[34]



El Salvador


Abortion is always justified.




Abortion is never justified.




Mean Response





Figure 4.[35]



El Salvador


Mean response, women




Mean response, men





Figure 5.[36]





Mean Response




These responses shown in Figure 3 demonstrate that the acceptance of abortion is even lower than the acceptance of homosexuality. Nicaraguans demonstrate an overall higher acceptance of abortion than do their counterparts in El Salvador or Guatemala, but it is still perceived very negatively in the country as a whole. It is interesting to note as shown in Figure 4 that Nicaraguan is the only country of the three where women are less opposed to abortion than men. This demonstrates that although opinions are more united between men and women in El Salvador and Guatemala than in Nicaragua, men generally believe that abortion is more acceptable than women do, perhaps confirming the stereotype that women are more religious than men. It is interesting, then, that Nicaraguan women seem to not fit this stereotype in the same way. It could be that there is a history of women’s lives being endangered due to the ban on abortions in Nicaragua, but this can be said of El Salvador, as well.[37] In the end, abortion is still viewed as unjustifiable by most Nicaraguans, regardless, and it remains illegal in all forms. As Figure 5 demonstrates, public acceptance for abortion had been increasing, but dropped again in 2007, perhaps showing an influence in policy on public opinion after the ban on abortion was instatedabortion was banned.

4.3.4 Public Perception of Women as Political Leaders

Respondents were asked if they believe that men make better political leaders, selecting their answers from the options “fully,” “fairly generally,” “not generally,” and “not at all “Fully” and “fairly generally” are considered to correspond to a belief that men make better political leaders, and the .answers “not generally” or “not at all” correspond to a belief that men do not make better political leaders. Figure 6 shows the change in these responses over time, while Figure 7 shows the breakdown of the most recent responses according to the respondents’ gender.[38] Figure 8 shows the change in time broken down by gender in just Nicaragua.

Figure 6.[39]



El Salvador









Men make better political leaders.







Men do not make better political leaders.








Figure 7.[40]



El Salvador









Men make better political leaders.







Men do not make better political leaders.








Figure 8.[41]









Men make better political leaders.





Men do not make better political leaders.





The public’s perception of women as political leaders is a particularly important attitude in light of the trend of gender quotas in Latin America. This small decrease seems to counterintuitively match with the rising popularity of gender quotas in Latin America, especially considering that Nicaragua currently has a parliament made up of 40% women, a number higher than what is required by the parties’ quotas in place.  It could be that this increase in gender quotas has actually led to the belief that women can only be elected with the help of a quota, and therefore are less capable leaders than men.

In all three countries surveyed, men are more likely to agree that men make better political leaders, but the strongest gap between the responses of the two genders is in Nicaragua, which has the highest representation of women in parliament between the three countries.

This result is puzzling; as gender quotas gained more traction and more women were elected to parliament, less people believe that women are equally capable leaders as men. It is also important to note, however, that when the change in women’s responses is examined alone, the increase in perception of men as better leaders was much less than the increase seen in men’s responses.

5. Conclusion

In considering the progressiveness of Nicaragua in terms and gender and LGBT equality, overall, the public opinion seems to match the policies and representation in place. Although it would seem that Nicaraguan women are not actually guaranteed equality under the law since their health is put at risk by some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, most Nicaraguan women also believe that abortion is never justifiable, meaning that they are not likely to see it as a fundamental right of theirs. These opinions have not shifted much over the years.

However, public opinion on the justifiability of homosexuality has begun to shift in recent years to be viewed as more acceptable, if only slightly. This corresponds in general with the legalization of homosexuality in 2008, while demonstrating concordance with a still low acceptance of homosexuality and the fact that legally, same-sex couples do not have the same rights as heterosexual couples do.

When all the evidence is considered, it is difficult to argue that Nicaragua’s Pink Tide status has actually translated to more liberal social policy on all accounts. Under Ortega, there has been a gender quota in the Sandinista party, appointment of women to high cabinet positions, and more progressive LGBT policy in concordance with public opinion. However, there is still no documentation of LGBT individuals in government positions, and gender quotas and the high number of women in government have not led to a perception of women as better political leaders. And perhaps most importantly, it is inescapable that under Ortega the full ban on abortion has been reinstated, a huge step back for reproductive rights. Because survey results indicate that tolerance of abortion is lower than tolerance of homosexuality, it is fitting that while homosexuality has been decriminalized, abortion has not. Although more Nicaraguans in recent years have been stating a belief in guaranteed equality under the law, it will be hard to see this as a reality until reproductive rights are given at least some recognition, as women’s lives are put in danger by a situation which prevents them from seeking medical care. Perhaps a more progressive policy on abortion could lead to a corresponding change in public opinion, as seemed to occur when the ban was instated. It is also possible that gender quotas will take a few years to truly affect policy outcomes, although it is certainly a step in the right direction.

In the end, as is apparent from Nicaragua’s past, it is possible to have very conservative policy under a female president and a leftist president alike. Simply having women in government or leftists in government has led to some changes for gender equality, but in many ways has not been enough to create real, lasting change in either public opinion or national policy.


[1]Lorraine Bayad de Volo, “Gender Gap in Political Participation.” Class Lecture, Gender and Politics in Latin America, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, January 29, 2015.

[2] James Painter, “South America’s Leftword Sweep.” BBC News, march 2, 2005. Accessed February 2, 2014.

[3] Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Daniel Ortega", accessed February 03, 2015,

[4] Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Daniel Ortega", accessed February 03, 2015,

[5] Mike Allison, “South America’s Leftword Sweep.” BBC News, march 2, 2005. Accessed February 2, 2014.

[6] Lorraine Bayad de Volo, “Gender Gap in Political Participation.” Class Lecture, Gender and Politics in Latin America, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, January 29, 2015.

[7] Heumann, “Gender, Sexuality, and Politics: Rethinking the Relationship Between Feminism and Sandinismo in Nicaragua.” 305.

[8] Silke Heumann, “Gender, Sexuality, and Politics: Rethinking the Relationship Between Feminism and Sandinismo in Nicaragua.”  Social Politics, Volume 21, number 2, Summer 2014: 291.

[9] Heumann, “Gender, Sexuality, and Politics: Rethinking the Relationship Between Feminism and Sandinismo in Nicaragua.” 305.

[10] Lorraine Bayad de Volo, “Trends in Abortion Policy.” Class Lecture, Gender and Politics in Latin America, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, February 12, 2015.

[11] Lorraine Bayad de Volo, “Trends in Abortion Policy.” Class Lecture, Gender and Politics in Latin America, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, February 12, 2015.

[12] Lorraine Bayad de Volo, “Trends in Abortion Policy.” Class Lecture, Gender and Politics in Latin America, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, February 12, 2015.

[13] Nina Ehrle and Malabika Sarker, “Emergency Contraceptive Pills: Knowledge and Attitudes Of Pharmacy Personnel in Managua, Nicaragua,” International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Volume 37, Number 2, June 2011.

[14] Katherine C. Lion, Ndola Prata and Chris Stewart, “Adolescent Childbearing in Nicaragua: A Quantitative Assessment of Associated Factors.” International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Volume 35, Number 2, June 2009.

[15] Heumann, “Gender, Sexuality, and Politics: Rethinking the Relationship Between Feminism and Sandinismo in Nicaragua.”

[16] Lucas Paoli Itaborahy & Jingshu Zhu, “State-Sponsored Homophobia.” International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association. May 2013, accessed February 13, 2015.

[17] Lucas Paoli Itaborahy & Jingshu Zhu, “State-Sponsored Homophobia.” International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association. May 2013, accessed February 13, 2015.

[18] A Google search of LGBT people in positions of power yields few relevant results, as does the Google Scholar search. The Wikipedia page, “LGBT rights in Nicaragua,” cites another Wikipedia article in its discussion of  pro-LGBT NGOs, and the second article cites a website without citations for its information (glbtq, an encyclopedia of gay lesbian, bisexual, transgender, & queer culture). All three articles are without reference to the names of prominent openly LGBTQ individuals. Many scholarly articles discuss mobilization of the LGBT populations, but without reference to people in positions of power over the general public.

[19] Lorraine Bayad de Volo, “Gender Gap in Political Participation.” Class Lecture, Gender and Politics in Latin America, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, January 29, 2015.

[20] Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women. “Nicaragua,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[21] Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women. “Nicaragua,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[22] Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women. “Nicaragua,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[23] Evidence and Lessons from Latin America, “Promoting Gender Equity in Politics through Affirmative Action Measures: Latin American Gender Quotas.” Accessed 13 February, 2013.

[24] Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women. “Nicaragua,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[25] In my research, I have found it difficult to find any stories describing the efforts leading up to the implementation of these gender quotas. They are generally hailed as successful; however, finding information on how they were implemented has proved difficult, and so I cannot discuss in as great of detail as I’d like the ideology behind the implementation of the quotas. I have also found it difficult to located an exact date for when the FSLN instated these quotas; Quota Project seems to suggest that it was a part of the 2000 electoral code.

[26] Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women. “Nicaragua,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[26]Inter Parliamentary Union, “Women in in national parliaments,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[27] Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women. “Nicaragua,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[27]Inter Parliamentary Union, “Women in in national parliaments,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[28] Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women. “Nicaragua,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[28]Inter Parliamentary Union, “Women in in national parliaments,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[29] New Politics. “The Sandinista Government has Failed the Women of Nicaragua: Solís,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[30] New Politics. “The Sandinista Government has Failed the Women of Nicaragua: Solís,” accessed February 13, 2015,

[31] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 2, 2015.

[32] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 2, 2015.

[33] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 3, 2015.

[34] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 2, 2015.

[35] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 2, 2015.

[36] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 2, 2015.

[37] Lorraine Bayad de Volo, “Pink Tide Case Study: Abortion Politics in El Salvador.” Class Lecture, Gender and Politics in Latin America, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, February 10, 2015.

[38] The data was only available for these two years. It would perhaps be more relevant to compare data before and after Chamorro’s term; however, this is not a possibility.

[39] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 2, 2015.

[40] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 2, 2015.

[41] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Accessed February 2, 2015.

White Wilderness, Jesse Nestler

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Although not all Americans realize it, conceptions of wilderness and nature have shaped the landscape and molded people’s relationship  with it.  The idea of wilderness preservation as a means of creating and maintaining  a distinctly American identity  has been around for a long time, from the creation of the Yosemite Grant in 1864 by president Abraham Lincoln to the Johnson Administration’s Wilderness Act of 1964 and beyond (Cronon, 1996; DeLuca and Demo, 2001). However, there is now constant and often vitriolic debate in the environmental movement about  the  exact  shape  and  character   of wilderness.   While  many  people  and organizations  hold wilderness dear to their hearts  as the only true way to experience nature and protect  the earth,  many others  contest  that  it is a social construction  and a means of oppression, racism,  and classism (Callicott  et  al., 2000; Cronon,  1996; DeLuca and Demo,

2001; Merchant,  2003). These ecocritics, as they are called, maintain  that  because wilderness is both an outdated ideology and a tool of exclusion, fighting for its preservation  alone will not help repair some of the perverse relationships  people have with the environment.  This review explores the historical  significance of the word “wilderness”  as it relates  to the experiences of American minorities—especially in the context  of the environmental  justice movement— to  show that  wilderness is a product  of the  racist  notions  and  classist  sensibilities  of its original purveyors.  As a result of this historical evolution, modern environmentalism’s  focus on distant wilderness preservation  alienates activists  in the environmental  justice movement and minorities more broadly.  Based on this exclusive history, this paper also seeks to evaluate whether reconceptualization of wilderness can foster a more inclusive environmental  ethic.




Historical Overview



Characterizing  the cultural  progression and racial overtones  of the term  “wilderness” requires  an  understanding of the  term’s  constantly  changing  connotations, emotional  at- tachments, and  symbolic meanings  throughout the  history  of its  use.   Wilderness  in the seventeenth  and eighteenth  centuries  had a distinctly  Puritanical quality,  likened to places that  were “‘deserted’, ‘savage’, ‘barren’, ‘desolate’ ” (Cronon,  1996, p.  2).  This conception came largely from the Bible, whose main adherents  at the time (e.g. Europeans  and Amer- ican  colonizers) contrived  the  notion  that  wilderness land  was a waste from a utilitarian perspective,  a bewildering and  fear-full place from an emotional  perspective,  and  thus  an “antithesis to all that  was orderly  and  good” (i.e.   civilization)  (Cronon,  1996, p.   3).  In order to combat  the evil wilderness of the new world, settlers  sought to create colonies that stood for all that  was clean, morally right,  and civilized; consequently,  they clung to beliefs endemic of their religion and the European  culture they were so desperately  trying to evade, which had important consequences for the meanings associated with wilderness later on.

By characterizing  the land as a savage and untamed  wilderness, so too did the settlers stereotype  Native Americans by association (Callicott  et  al., 2000). Di Chiro (1996) refers to this colonial discourse as “nature  talk”.  To the puritan  colonizers, Native Americans were not people, they were beasts that  typified the rough and wild order of the New World.  This view is made quite apparent by Chief Luther  Standing  Bear (1998):


We  did  not  think  of the  great  open  plains,  the  beautiful  rolling  hills,  and  winding streams  with tangled  growth,  as “wild.”  Only to the white man was nature  a “wilder- ness” and only to him was the land “infested” with “wild” animals and “savage” people. To us it was tame.  Earth was bountiful  and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great  Mystery.  Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped  injustices  upon  us and  the  families we loved was it “wild”  for us.  When  the very animals  of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then  it was that for us the “Wild  West”  began.  (32)



Standing  Bear  clearly  demonstrates two very  important factors  in the  evolution  of wilderness  as  exclusionary  ideology.   First,  he  shows the  connection  in  the  mind  of the





“white  man”  between  “wild animals  and  savage people”.   In  other  words,  he shows how Native  Americans  were naturalized  as part  of the  landscape  and  proverbially  put  into  the back of the wilderness bus. Second, he alludes to “the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and [the] winding streams”  as being tame, which directly conflicts with white settler’s reproductions  of nature  in the  inner  continent.   Indeed,  much  of the  “wilderness”  beyond early European  settlements was actually  “. . . actively managed by Native American peoples, as sources of their  daily sustenance”  (Alcoze, 2001, p.  262).  Nature  became dichotomized: Puritan perceptions  framed  the  landscape  as  wild,  untouched,   and  dangerous  while the ecological impacts  of Native  Americans  begged to  differ.   This  dichotomy  is the  breath before wilderness’s plunge into an increasingly exclusive and racist ideology.

By the  nineteenth century  there  was a shift  in the  wilderness ethic  that  boils down to two  sources:  the  narrative  of nature  as sublime and  the  frontier  myth  (Cronon,  1996). The transcendentalist writings of John Muir, Emerson, Henry David Thoreau,  and William Wordsworth,   in  addition   to  the  masterpieces  of compositional  photography   by  Carlton Watkins,   transformed   wilderness  from a  barren  decrepit  wasteland  inhabited  by  savages into a sublime landscape where the contemplative observer could chance a face-to-face meet- ing with God (Cronon, 1996; DeLuca and Demo, 2001). These men reproduced wildernesses and  canonized  them  into  Gods  grand  cathedrals  and  temples,  where the  beholder  would experience awe, pleasure, ecstasy and humility instead of loneliness, fear, and bewilderment. These discursive reproductions  created  contemplative observers and cosmically insignificant beholders from white, mid-to-upper  class tourists—as  opposed to blue collar workers or the Yosemite Indians—and  implied that  they were the only ones capable of feeling such emotions and connecting with God in such a way.

Take a conversation  from John Muir’s My Summer in the Sierra  as an example of this exclusion.  In order to make money and gain entrance  into the  Yosemite Valley, Muir sets out  to work for a shepherd  named  Billy.  At one point,  he writes of his concern regarding Billy’s lack of appreciation  for the  beauty  and godly sublimity  that  surrounds  them  while





they herd.  Muir (1911) says:



I pressed  Yosemite  upon  him  [further]  like a missionary  offering the  gospel,  but  he would have none of it.  ‘Tourists  that spend their money to see rocks and falls are fools, that’s  all.  You can’t  humbug  me.  I’ve been in this  country  too long for that.’   Such souls, I suppose,  are asleep,  or smothered  and  befogged beneath  mean  pleasures  and cares.  (197)



Even though  his employment at the behest of Billy allows him to explore Yosemite in the  first place, Muir still condescendingly  characterizes  him as a lost soul at  the  mercy of “mean”  pleasures and cares.  Based on Billy’s reply, it is safe to assume that  Muir framed his “gospel” in terms of creating mindful individuals from the ranks of lost souls in the cities and the rural country  sides—as long as they could afford it in time or money as tourists.  To Muir, Billy is na¨ıve to the liberation  of spiritual  connections afforded to Yosemite’s tourists, all because of his livelihood in the country and his “befogged” ability to rise from his spiritual impoverishment (DeLuca and Demo, 2001). Even the Yosemite Indians, who had the greatest capacity  to identify with the landscape,  could not truly  connect with its godliness because they were “dirty”,  “lazy”, and “unclean”  in Muir’s eyes (Spence, 1996; Muir, 1911).

Thanks to the other, more romantic words of John Muir and the photographs  of Carlton Watkins,  “Yosemite’s mountain  cathedrals  and majestic redwoods offered cultural legitimacy to a nation seeking a heritage that  could compete with the cathedrals  and castles of Europe” (DeLuca  and  Demo, 2001, p.  544).  This  competition  between  the  prolific stone  spires of America  and  Europe’s soaring church  pinnacles  simultaneously  erased  the  presence of the Native  American  people in the  Yosemite Valley whilst trying  to create  an American  form of whiteness  spurred  from European  sacred  places.  This  was clearly an instance  of racial formation,  since White  Americans produced  notions of themselves through  construction  of the  Native  Americans  as inferior,  savage,  and  “other”.   Nowhere was this  more apparent than  in Samuel Bowles’s The Parks and Mountains  of Colorado:  A Summer Vacation  in the Switzerland of America.  In this bestseller, he states:  “We know they are not our equals. . . we know that our right to the soil, as a race capable of its superior improvement,  is above theirs;





[therefore], let us act  directly  and  openly our faith. . . Let us say to [the Indian]. . . you are our ward,  our child, the  victim of our destiny,  ours to displace,  ours to protect”  (DeLuca and Demo, 2001, p. 544).

This  passage  is saturated with  interesting  information  about  racial  formation  vis-a- vis wilderness.   First,  the  comparison  between  Switzerland  and  the  American  landscape is striking  as it  demonstrates the  Eurocentric  thinking  of the  time.   As Muir  after  him, Bowles does not  compare the  parks  and  ranges of Colorado  to the  equally impressive and imposing mountains  of the Himalaya  or the Andes, but  instead  chooses the European  Alps and the culture  contained  within them.  As a result,  White  Americans produced  their  own identity based on the Europeans they were simultaneously trying to distance themselves from. Second, Bowles creates  an explicit “us” and “them”  dichotomy between a “race capable of superior improvement”  and “the victims of our destiny”.  This division is a bit more complex than the one put forth by Chief Standing Bear (1998) because in addition  to naturalizing  the Native  American place as beneath  and apart  from white people by likening them  to foster children,  it  also naturalized a conception  of whiteness  that  excluded  anyone  representing different backgrounds,  perspectives,  and cultures  from those of the European  Victorian  era (DeLuca and Demo, 2001).

On another  more concrete level, Bowles’s overt racism creates a hierarchy in managing the landscape that  puts white people above and in control of the rest.  Under this doctrine, Native  Americans  were not constituents within the landscape,  but  rather  products  of that landscape that  were subject to manifest destiny and removal.  In this way, everywhere white tourists  were, Native Americans could not be, because they represented  an unclean infesta- tion present within  white conceptions  of pure wilderness.  If Native  Americans  were being naturalized as part of the landscape before, they were now being actively removed and phys- ically translocated onto reservations.  They were placed at the bottom  of the social hierarchy and forced to abandon  their  livelihoods by either leaving their  homes or assimilating  into a culture  that  scorned them.  In this way, forced removal of Native Americans from National





Parks  like Yosemite,  Glacier,  and  Yellowstone became justified  because they  were seen as


“primitives  obstructing the  progress of the  nation’s  destiny”  (DeLuca and Demo, 2001, p.




This  “national  destiny”  materialized  through  the  policies and  practices  of manifest destiny  and  homesteading  promoted  by the  state.   These ideas were distinct  to the  white American experience and grounded in the myth of a disappearing  frontier and a wistful nos- talgia for an imaginary,  ruggedly individualistic  cowboy (DeLuca and Demo, 2001; Cronon,

1996).   After  the  passage  of The  Homesteading  Act  in 1862, White  Americans  could so- licit public land from the government and develop their own private  livelihoods and frontier fantasies out in the “big open west”, while enslaved black people worked on their white mas- ter’s land for free (Finney,  2014, p.  35).  In reality,  the great  American West was not wide open and empty:  it was either won from the Mexican government in the Mexican–American War or stolen from the Native American people residing there,  or both.  As prominent En- vironmental  Justice  activist  Robert  Bullard  summarizes,  “The  nation  was founded on the principles of ‘free land’ (stolen from the Native Americans and Mexicans), ‘free labor’ (cru- elly extracted  from African slaves), and ‘free men’ (white  men with property)” (Merchant,

2003, p. 384).


Even  after  the  Civil War  ended  in 1865, newly “liberated”  black  slaves were being trapped   in  the  south  and  east  by  rescinded  post  civil-war  land  grants,  Jim  Crow  laws, and sharecropping  (Merchant, 2003; Finney, 2014). In other  words, even though  they were technically  “free”, African American  bodies were being tied  to the  places that  manifested intense  feelings of fear and  pain.   While  acts  of Congress  limited  the  mobility  of former African slaves to the landscapes of their struggles and uprooted  Native Americans from the landscapes of their livelihoods (Finney,  2014, p. 37), Muir and others like him were pushing for preservation  and increased accessibility to the pure wildernesses of the American West. These concurrent yet divergent timelines emphasize the segregation underway in wilderness specifically and  society  more  generally.   The  natural landscapes  of the  United  States  of





America were only open to the white people that had the means to get there.


This racially driven codification of accessibility led to a commodification of nature  and wilderness travel (Cronon, 1996, p. 9). The growth of the frontier and the loss of the natural environment it was subsuming  alarmed  many of the country’s  bourgeois.  They envisioned a very masculine  frontier  experience that  was apparently disappearing,  and  quickly.  This engendered both a disdain for the urban-industrial complex and a growing desire to preserve what little of the disappearing  frontier they had left (Cronon, 1996, p. 9). To them, the city represented  smoke-filled, soot-covered,  black-colored  surfaces and  faces, while the  frontier encompassed all that  it meant to be American, clean, pure, pristine,  and white (Merchant,

2003, p.  385).  The  elite sought after  this  ideal with  the  preservation  of places that  con- tained  their  white American  identity,  as they  had  the  means,  motivation,  and  historically constructed superiority  to do so.

In essence, wealthy urbanites  became tourists who“. . . projected their leisure-time fron- tier  fantasies  onto  the  American  landscape. . . and  created  wilderness in their  own image” (Cronon,  1996, p.  9).  The landscape wasn’t one of work and toil or permanent residence— as in the  case of Billy, the  Shepherd—but of recreation  and  temples  built  by the  hand  of God himself.   This  image consisted  of wilderness as a pristine,  unfettered  playground:   a place that,  paradoxically,  could not exist.  The elite flocked to the wildernesses of Yosemite as consumers on the backs of the black people they had barred to the cities and countrysides and the Native Americans they were displacing to reservations.  Even if they were not being actively removed, many of those Native Americans became employed by hoteliers and con- cessionaires as maintenance  workers, guides, and carriage drivers to sustain  the new tourist economy created  in their  own homes (Spence,  1996, p.   32).   Daily tasks  like fishing and basket  weaving that  had once comprised their livelihood now became a public attraction in a culture  that  undervalued  and oppressed them (Spence, 1996, p. 36).

Wilderness  is interesting  as a cultural  landscape  in the  context  of racism  and  clas- sism because it represents  a struggle  between  the  materiality of a landscape  (how a place





is written ) and  its concurrent  representation (how a place is read ).  This  historical  analy- sis of wilderness shows how American whiteness, as a learned discursive knowledge system, produces and reproduces  the wilderness landscape  as exclusionary to all non-white  experi- ences. Similar to the erasure of immigrant labor from the Californian  landscape of Mitchell (2008), entire identities  and cultures  of non-white people within the environment have been inhabited,  naturalized, transplanted, and  erased  based on the  controlled  representation of American whiteness.  The following section aims to evaluate  the depth  and breadth  of these marginalized  non-white interactions with the environment,  especially in the context  of En- vironmental  Justice  and “nature  parks”.




Minorities and Nature



The  literature on ethnic  minority participation in nature  parks  often  overlooks the necessity of distinguishing  between race, ethnicity,  and minority.   The following definitions provided  by Floyd (1999, p.  2) guide the  rest  of this  analysis:  race is a particular social group “distinguished  or set apart,  by others  or by itself, primarily  on the  basis of real or perceived physical  characteristics”, ethnicity is a social categorization  based on “cultural or nationality  characteristics”, and  minority is a group which experiences discrimination based on race or ethnicity.  These distinctions avoid four important detrimental patterns that are systemic to environmental  racism research methodologies.  First,  they avoid confounded interpretations of social scientific results  (Floyd,  1999); second, they  distinguish  race and ethnicity  as the basis for categorization  and discrimination  rather  than  descriptors  of behav- ior (Floyd,  1999); third,  they provide a foundation  for critically examining a broader  range of personal  narratives  that  would otherwise  be lost if ethnicities  were clumped  with  races (Floyd, 1999); and lastly, they provide a framework for thinking about environmental  racism as a multifaceted  process that  intersects  with many social dynamics rather  than  a system of clearly demarcated acts of a single form (Pulido,  1996).





One issue inherent in the literature on minority  use of national  parks—and  wilderness visitation  more broadly—which cannot  be avoided, is that  meaningful research projects are few and far between.  According to Floyd (1999), only 3.2% of research articles published in leisure and recreation  journals deal with race or ethnicity  studies in nature.  This statistic is fifteen years old, and current researchers such as Roberts  (2007) provide an answer to calls for a deeper understanding of minority perceptions through “mixed methodologies” research. Before delving into those findings, we must  first understand the general descriptive  trends in minority  use summarized  by  Floyd  (1999) in his comprehensive  literature review.   In summarizing these results, it is important to take them at face value as empirical findings at the mercy of methodological limitations,  funding constraints, sparse literature, and language barriers.   It  is extremely  important to  emphasize  this  fact,  since many  of his findings do provide a basis for both conscious and unconscious generalizations regarding the behavior of minorities in national  parks.

Taking these national  parks as close proxies for wilderness settings,  findings across na- tional, state,  and regional scales have shown that  whites are far more likely to visit national parks and participate in “primitive”  types of recreation  (e.g. activities  far from built infras- tructures and  modern  conveniences) compared  to members  of any other  race or ethnicity. Additionally,  state  and  regional scale studies  have shown that  subcultural tendencies—an umbrella term for differences in values, norms, and socialization patterns—influence minority participation. In general, African American and Hispanic American visitors place more value on park facilities and services in outdoor recreation areas than  other ethnic or racial groups. Lastly, researchers found that  access to transportation and experiences with discrimination play significant roles in visitation  of urban  parks (Floyd,  1999, p. 16).

Notice one ethnic group clearly missing from these results:  Native Americans.  As we have seen from the historical overview of wilderness since the Civil War,  Native Americans have been codified into the landscape as “savages”,  reimagined as an infestation  and wards of the state,  and consequently ousted from their lands at the price of their livelihoods. Floyd





(1999) also notices  this  pitfall  and  marks  it  as a serious hole in the  literature and  a big obstacle to resource management agencies seeking increased minority  representation.

The  sum of this  research  presents  a striking  similarity  to the  kinds of questions  and answers associated with environmental  racism’s distributive paradigm,  as presented  by Cole and Foster (2001). The essential problem behind the distributive paradigm deals with causa- tion vs. correlation.  It begs the question, “Do injustices precede hazards, or is the presence of hazards  independent of communally perceived injustices?”  The implicit assumption  in this question  is that  no one can prove injustice  attracts environmental  hazards,  or vice-versa. Correlation  does not imply causation.   As a result,  empirical data  cannot  fully account for observed distributional outcomes, and thus require the company of normative  evaluations  to throughly  investigate  causal factors of environmental racism.  To illustrate  what this means, consider the following example:  non-white  Hispanic immigrants  face more instances  of pes- ticide exposure because they comprise the majority  of the agricultural  workforce (Cole and Foster,  2001, p.  59).  While true,  this finding does not get to the heart  of the matter: why do non-white  Hispanic immigrants  comprise the  majority  of the  workforce?  In what ways have these workers been relegated to the lifestyle that  exposes them to dangerous pesticides? Why has nothing been done to remove harmful pesticides from the fields of food production and livelihoods of these migrant workers?

Since minorities experience injustice through  wilderness ideology, the results presented by Floyd  (1999) provide  a “lifestyle as causation”  framework  for explaining  differences in “distributional outcomes” of visitors.  It is important to note, however, that  Floyd does not intend  to  make the  case that,   say,  Hispanic  Americans  visit  wilderness less because they tend  to value infrastructure and the safety afforded by park  services more; rather,  he tries to provide a foundational  descriptive  understanding of what  boundaries  exist for minority participation in national  parks  to begin with.  However, because his goal is inherently  de- scriptive, it lacks concurrent normative explanations  and thus fails to identify why minorities are under-represented in “primitive”  recreation,  or in what ways the subcultural tendencies





of minorities  account for lack of participation, or whether  infrastructural and bureaucratic changes could promote  an atmosphere  of inclusion.  Consequently, Floyd fails to determine the nature  of structural inequalities  inherent in the national  park systems and wilderness.

Cue  Roberts  (2007),  who studied  ethnic  minority  experiences  and  perspectives  re- garding  real and  perceived park  use constraints in the  Golden Gate  National  Park  of San Francisco.   While Floyd  (1999) specifies the  conceptual  boundaries  for understanding  mi- nority  use patterns in national  parks,  Roberts  is far more curious about  the reasons those boundaries  exist in the  first place.  Fifteen  years ago, Floyd’s comprehensive literature  re- view showed that  different study  scales found heterogeneous  patterns in minority  park use, whereas Robert’s  maintains  that  her  findings “. . . corroborate  well with  other  constraints research findings conducted  across the country”  (Roberts,  2007, p. ii). My literature review takes Roberts’ statement to heart  and assumes that  while spatial  scale and place can have significant effects on personal  and cultural  narratives, the experiences of minorities  in San Francisco Parks  can provide a preliminary  step toward  identifying broader  scale patterns in minority  wilderness recreation  and park use.

The  bedrock  of Roberts’  research  maintains  that   every  ethnic  minority,  from non- white Hispanics to Pacific Islanders and Asian immigrants  to African Americans, expressed the desire to both  enjoy the benefits of outdoor  recreation  in national  parks, as well as the cultural  connections  associated  with spiritual,  mental,  and physical gains that  the  natural environment provides.   Roberts  also found  that  a significant portion  of the  test  subjects indicated  a deeply rooted  responsibility  toward  fixing natural resource use issues in parks and wilderness, but they usually did not know who managed these resources, nor the scope of that  management.  Lastly, many subjects expressed disappointment and skepticism regarding representation in the workforce of the National  Park  Service (Roberts,  2007, p. ii).

Taylor  (1992, 1993); Di Chiro (1996) and Finney  (2014) also express similar findings at coarser scales. Taylor  argues that  the rapid  rise of the Environmental Justice  movement in the  late  20th  century  clearly demonstrates that  poor people and  minorities  are, in fact,





concerned about  environmental  issues.  She contends  that  the ideological framework of the EJ  movement empowers minorities  to  confront the  environmental  issues of their  primary concerns and  passions (Taylor,  1993, 1992).  Outside  of the  Environmental Justice  move- ment itself, the concerns of many minorities—and  black people in particular—towards the environment have not been “articulated, invited,  or understood”  in the context  of resource management or nature  parks  (Finney,  2014, p.   90).   Collectively,  each  of these  authors articulate similar  findings across multiple  scales and  differing geographies:  minorities  feel underrepresented  and  undervalued   in  a  society  that   obscures  their  presence  and  ignores their  cultural  legitimacy  in nature.   This ignorance and invisibility  is a bad thing  because, at the heart  of it all, these minority  narratives  represent a part  of the American experience that  deserve equity and equality.




Personal Experience and Conclusion



Wilderness holds a special place in my heart,  since some of the most precious moments of personal  growth  and  self reflection have happened  in the  presence of tall  peaks,  lonely lakes, and swaying trees.  As a white resident of Aspen, Colorado, I never gave these feelings a second thought because they were so essential to my personhood as to be unconscious.  By the  same token,  I never gave race or ethnicity  much thought either,  since the  majority  of non-whites in Aspen were present as blue collar workers or immigrant laborers (or both)  at the margins of the town’s tourist  economy.  Even though  these diverse perspectives  existed in Aspen,  they  went unsung  and  unnoticed  at  the  fringes of the  tourist  trade  and  in the Roaring  Fork  Valley below Aspen.   This  created  a sense that  the  majority  of the  town’s residents  were about  as white as the snow they skied on; consequently,  I grew up in a place where the white, upper class, tourist  experience was over-represented  in the outdoors.

As I entered  into  my college career,  I became  increasingly  interested  in the  role of wilderness in the lives of Americans:  what is the exact nature  of “wilderness”?  Is there such a thing as wilderness? How is wilderness used to promote certain values, and are those values useful for promoting  environmental  change?  Studying the Environmental Justice  movement provided  me with  the  opportunity to explore the  racialized  aspects  of wilderness, and  my very first research question for this paper revealed a system of thought I was entirely unaware of, because I originally wanted to ask, “Why are there no black people in wilderness areas? ” Um. . . Racist!  It was not an intentional, race conscious action,  but  rather  a mindset.  I was unconsciously  playing  into  a learned  system  of thought which reinforced a specific social hierarchy  in the wilderness. This system came from my own personal experiences of a place where minority  visibility felt nonexistent.

The  process of reviewing wilderness as a racial formation  and exclusive ideology has made  me realize that  just  because  minorities  aren’t  visible does not  mean  that they  are not there, and just  because they are not seen does not mean they do not care.  In essence,





while my learned  conceptions  and  productions  of wilderness reject  this  idea,  the  truth is that  anybody can care about  the earth  and be an environmentalist. Additionally,  everybody has the right to a healthy,  fulfilling lifestyle in an equitably  shared environment.  If someone had  told  me this  four  months  ago,  it  would have  seemed simple enough  at  first  glance. However, the more I’ve learned about  the Environmental Justice  movement and the longer I’ve considered my thought processes with regards  to human–environment interaction, the more I’ve come to realize that  if someone were to say “anyone”  can be an environmentalist, I would have heard “anyone with the means”.

The invisibility of the racial and ethnic minorities  that  don’t have the means directly impacts  their  representation in more mainstream  environmentalist agencies (Finney,  2014, p.  90).  Traditional environmentalist organizations,  or “Incremental  Reformists”,  demand change within political and legal frameworks by fighting for issues surrounding  biodiversity and the survival of the the planet.  This manifests  itself as support  for threatened animals, wildernesses, habitats, landscapes, and “particular outdoor experiences that  the membership enjoys” (Taylor,  1992, p.  39).  In other  words, wilderness is arguably  the  most  important driver for promoting environmental  change in the eyes of organizations  like The Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, or the Environmental Defense Fund  because their  primarily  white membership base has learned to value nature  “out there” as opposed to nature  “right here”. Indeed,  a cursory  glance through  the  electronic  newsletters  of any  of these  organizations usually results  in keywords such as “protect  threatened [landscape/species]”.   Many of the autofilled messages in their petitions for proposals such as making Colorado’s Browns Canyon a National  Monument or closing Alaska’s Bristol  Bay to extractive  interests  list a mixture biocentric and ecocentric arguments  in favor of their positions.

As long as incremental  reformist organizations like these continue to frame solutions to environmental  degradation  in terms idealized, ethereal, and inherently exclusive wildernesses, they  will never  truly  diversify  their  membership  base  or  their  scope of values,  and  will thus  have a harder  time of defending their  positions  against  opposing interests.   As far as





the  Environmental Justice  movement  is concerned,  collective ignorance  to the  damages in the environments  where people “Work—Live—Play”  will not create  truly  lasting  solutions to environmental ills, and  minorities  will continue  to feel marginalized  and  excluded from environmental  activism (Di  Chiro, 1996, p. 301).

With this in mind, is there a middle ground between ecocentric environmentalists and environmental  justice  activists?    If there  is, a lot  of work needs to  be done  on the  part of wilderness constituents in recognizing the  nature  closer to home.  While the  protection of places like Bristol  Bay and Browns Canyon  are important, they  are not  the only pieces of the  puzzle.  There  needs to be an extreme  discursive shift in the  ways that  traditional environmentalists automatically reject people from environmental  narratives  because people play an inextricably  integral  part  in landscape  formation  processes, both  ecologically and socially.  To ignore every single race and  ethnicity  contained  within  the  landscape  for an imaginary  ideal of pure, untampered wilderness is silly and unrealistic.   We live in a world where social, political, economic, and ecological spheres interact  in complex and interesting ways.  The “Save an Endangered  Species: You!”  campaign  outlined  by Di Chiro (1996, p.

316) is a perfect  example  of integrating humans  into  an  ecological narrative, rather  than dividing “nonhuman natural  worlds” from “non-natural human  communities”.  The path  to reconceptualizing  structural racism in terms of wilderness is quite daunting.  Entire  histories of exclusion and struggle color wilderness, but the term will continue to do what everything does: change.  If we collectively grasp onto that  change and steer it in constructive  directions, perhaps wilderness can become a more diverse, inclusive landscape with the power to provide a structure of values and moral obligations for a more equitable  nature.







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