Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sor. Juana Tells It All to Current Feminists

The National Museum of Mexican Art ( ) in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago is best known for its exhibits of Mexican art and history. The museum has become a focal point for the community offering classes and celebrating many milestones, events, and people in the Mexican-American community. The neighborhood surrounding the museum is home to many outdoor wall murals such as the one in the picture below which are themselves worthy of a visit.
One of their events coming soon is the Sor. Juana Festival. Never having heard of Sor. Juana before, I was intrigued by the notices about her on the museum’s walls. Sor. Juana Ines de la Cruz, who lived from 1651 to 1695 in Mexico, is often considered the first feminist of the Americas. Unwilling to live under the restrictions placed on married women of that time, at age 16, Sor. Juana joined a convent where she was better able to study, learn, and achieve. She became a renowned writer and scholar writing many plays, comedies, historical vignettes, essays, and poems.

Intrigued about this woman who had achieved so much despite all the obstacles which she faced, I sought her works in the library. The one I found that had been translated into English was a A Sor Juana Anthology translated by Alan S. Trueblood with a forward by Octavio Paz. This book contains her famous answer to the Bishop of Puebla who denounced her endeavors and urged her to restrict her activities to Bible reading only. In the letter, Sor. Juana talks about the difficulty she had learning when there were no teachers or classes available to her. Almost all of her knowledge was self-taught. Despite being able to overcome the obstacles herself, she advocated for girls to have the opportunity to get an education.

In addition to this letter, many of Sor. Juana’s poetry is in this volume. While I’m sure much of it was lost in the translation across centuries, worlds, and languages, Sor. Juana still has something to say. Many of her poems have a feminist theme such as “52” which extols an 18 year old girl’s achievements and decries the obstacles in her life that the powers of the time placed in her path.

I have to marvel at all that Sor. Juana did and be grateful that I live in this era instead of then. Despite all that we have achieved in securing women’s rights, however, there are those who wish to take them away. I think that we can all learn from Sor. Juana about how to fight that.

For more information about the Sor. Juana Festival, you can contact the National Museum of Mexican Art ( )

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Our Tax Dollars At Work - Can't We Get An Itemized Bill!

For most of us, writing checks to the IRS is a painful experience worthy of really deep procrastination. Maybe that’s why last year on April 15th when I went to the post office to mail a package, the line was out the door and around the corner. For many, paying taxes is a major hardship so people wait to file until the last possible minute.

With that in mind, organizes a protest each Tax Day [the last day that tax return forms are due] at post offices throughout America. They hope to reach people as they run into mail their last minute tax return forms. This year, I joined at the main post office in Evanston, Illinois.

We distributed literature with information about where our tax dollars are going. According to and The War Resisters League, 29% of the Federal budget is being used for the current military and 18% for past military – 47% of the budget.

Besides the human tragedy of people killed and severely wounded, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing us all a lot of money. According to a Brown University study, the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost a combined 3.7 trillion dollars thus far. According to the, the cost has been $802, 833, 805,000 for the War in Iraq and counting and the War in Afghanistan has cost $502,655,230,000 and counting. These numbers are so huge that I can’t relate to them. I doubt if many other people can either. Maybe that’s one reason why we allow our government to do these things in our name with our money.
Here’s a number to which most people can relate, however: These above groups estimate that the wars have cost each American about $12,000 thus far. While the War in Iraq is officially over, we are still paying contractors. The War in Afghanistan goes on. I don’t know about you, but my husband and I have already spent at least $24,000 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be continuing to pay for it until these wars can be ended. I can think of a lot of places that I’d prefer my money to go. We have to remember that this is our money that’s being spent. We have to remember that not only when we file our tax returns but also on every Election Day. 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Bowl of Oranges On My Seder Plate

Is 2012 the year of the women in America or the year of the backlash against the progress that women have made in being able to shape their own lives and participate in the world? Hoping that it’s the year that women unite to protect and reclaim their rights, I attended the Women’s Seder at Beth Emet Synagogue. It was a wonderful event that was hosted by Beth Emet and Temple Emanuel and attended by women from several Jewish Congregations and Churches. We shared our own stories after reading the Women’s Haggadah and realized how much more we have in common than we have issues that divide us.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, women’s seders were more popular. They celebrate the contributions that women made to Jewish survival and the flight from Egypt and slavery. At most women’s seders, an orange is added to the Seder plate. Many reasons have been given as the orange on the seder plate has joined our many myths and folk lore. This explanation is taken from a women’s seder that was done at Temple Shir Shalom in Buffalo Grove, Illinois in 1997:

 “Years ago, when women were first ordained rabbis, Susannah Heschel gave a speech in Florida.

After Heschel spoke of women’s emerging equality in Jewish life, a man arose in anger exclaiming, “A woman belongs on the bimah (pulpit) as much as an orange belongs on the Seder plate!”

Since attending that Seder, I have added an orange to our family Seder plate every year. This year, the orange will be a poignant reminder of all the rights women stand to lose if we are not vigilant and organized. This year I will put out a bowl of cuties (mini tangerines) instead to remind us of how people fail to take women seriously. I will cut them with my E.R.A. knife, the knife I used many years ago to open a box of fliers in Bloomington, Illinois where some of us had gone to publicize a rally in Chicago for the E.R.A. We’ll remember that 36 states are proposing laws to outlaw contraception and that affirmative action is under attack. We’ll remind ourselves that the E.R.A. was never ratified and so constitutionally, women were never granted full citizenship. We’ll remind ourselves that we have to strive to further and protect freedom in our own time and place.

At the same time, we’ll feel united with people around the world. We’ll rejoice with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who was recently elected to Parliament in Myanmar formerly known as Burma after almost two decades under house arrest. We’ll pray with the women of Saudi Arabia that by next year at this time, they will all have their driver’s licenses. We’ll pray that women everywhere are safe. We’ll pray for a peaceful and safe world for all people.

I want to wish everyone a blessed and happy holiday Passover/ Easter season. Let’s all remember what we have in common and work together for a world where all people are treated with respect and fairness. Happy Passover. Happy Easter. May the coming year be a better one for America and all the world.