A Letter to Margaret Sanger

From Juliana Francisco

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Juliana marching in the 2016 African American Day Parade, Harlem

Thank you, Mrs. Sanger.

I’m learning your story now and I need to thank you for everything you did. I wanted to let you know that your courage and determination has inspired me and that you have saved so many women that you will never know – myself included.

I also need to apologize to you. I judged you before I even learned your story. I demanded perfection from you because of my anger at society – and at myself. I went into the reading expecting to thump my nose up at this outdated woman who fought for women only like herself and ignored the plight of other less fortunate women but I was wrong. As I read on I found a sister.

Growing up I was a little woman rebel too. I was raised in a conservative Catholic household in a society which largely was not as progressive as it pretended. As hard as it must have been for you to have an openly atheist father and be teased as the devil’s children I think in a way it was a blessing. You were taught to question society early. As a little girl, I was not encouraged to question society or the church. When I look back on my earliest years, I feel intense heartache because I believed in everything I was told I should be as a girl and what they were projecting for me to be as a woman.

I had a much smaller family than you – it was just my mom, my two brothers and myself. My mom was always there for us and I praise her for all the sacrifices and hardships she endured to raise us. I no longer blame her for what she couldn’t control. In the last months of your mother’s life you tried to get her to confess her regrets. “I wanted her to say that if she’d had her choice, as the women on the hill did, if my father believed in French letters as fervently as he did in the single tax and socialism, she would not have spent her life populating the world and cleaning up after it.” [page 15] When your mother finally passed away, as you, your siblings and your father stood around mourning you compared it to vultures around carrion. This visual shook me and I openly wept on the subway. I understand now that my mother, even though she was so encouraging of me and so loving, was not taught to question her society or the church, which gave comfort and meaning to her sacrifice. She was only doing what she thought was best for me. I’ve made peace now but as a teen when I finally started questioning everything I was furious with her. Anger born out of insecurity. I was desperately lonely at that age and I wanted someone, anyone to love me – to “fix” me. But I, like you, never wanted to marry. I knew it was a trap. As much as I longed to be loved, I knew I would just end up forced to have children and abandon all my hopes and dreams and passion because of what was expected of me as a woman – something I was ardently rebelling against. I was also angry at myself for being born and preventing my mother from living the life she wanted – or at least the life I decided she must have wanted.

By this age, I was suffocating under all the pressures and expectations of “womanhood”. I didn’t want to end up like all the women I knew – imprisoned at home, caring for 2 or 3 or 5 children, married to a husband that was always cheating and never there. I wanted to travel and have adventures and create art and change the world and I knew that the women in my life must have felt the same way when they were my age only to be imprisoned by husbands and children and “womanhood”. At the same time, I had internalized so much shame and misogyny. At some level, I must have still believed in everything my upbringing taught me a woman should be. I was terribly lonely and depressed at that age. As uncomfortable as it is for me to admit now, I think a way I elevated myself over my peers, whom I still resented for their taunting and for not liking me, was that I was “pure”. I was a virgin and I wasn’t having children in high school like some of the other girls. I’m so embarrassed by this now. Sure, I had begun questioning society, the church, and gender roles but I couldn’t bring myself to reject the patriarchal myth of “virginity” and “purity” because, in a way, it made me feel some self-worth at a time when I felt completely worthless.

However, you saved me, Margaret. Planned Parenthood was the catalyst that helped me unlearn all the bullshit I was taught. I still remember it – I was around 15 and was learning about politics. Unfortunately, the men in power nowadays don’t really care about women’s rights, just like when they were indifferent when you were alive, but I digress. I was learning that Planned Parenthood was under attack but I didn’t even know what Planned Parenthood was. I went to their website and, of course, I was scandalized! Sexual health?! They’re encouraging promiscuity?? In teenagers?!?!

As I kept reading I LEARNED SO MUCH! I never had sex education in school and my mom never spoke to me about sex. Planned Parenthood taught me everything about women’s health from condoms, to birth control, to body image. This sent me on an internet rabbit hole where I learned about feminism and woman’s rights. This will sound dramatic (I was 15 after all) but I felt like Giordano Bruno pulling up the curtain of the perceived end of the universe and soaring into the limitless universe in front of him. Suddenly nothing was sacred and my possibilities were infinite and no longer confined to my gender. I didn’t have to be a wife or a mother, pure or refined, sexy or pretty, or anything I was taught. I didn’t have all the answers at the time and I still don’t but I was finally unlearning what I was taught. I have you to thank for this. All your hard work and determination paid off. It WAS worth it! How sad it is that you would never live to truly see what you left behind.

I feel a deep kinship with you while reading your story. Like you I grew up very poor. I was teased for showing up with holes in my clothes and for wearing the same clothes from last year which I had already outgrown. I remember missing meals and coming home from school to find the lights turned off and the threat of eviction was always present. I’ll never forget it and you never forgot what it was like to be poor either. You fought hard for poor women, even the ones who didn’t look like you. When the wealthy suffragettes you were trying to bring onto the cause disparaged poor women for having so many children and implied they were daft for not caring about suffrage because of the other pressing issues in their lives you stood up for poor women and you never backed down.

I admit, without doing my research I thought you were like those wealthy suffragettes who didn’t care for the poor or for women of color and for that I apologize. You did fight for all women. You opened clinics in Harlem to help poor black women and in Brownsville to help the poor Jewish women and anyone who came by asking for help. My obsession with knowing and being right and demanding perfection from myself and my predecessors in the fight for social justice led me to disparage you and I was also influenced by the propaganda machine against you. People still twist your legacy and say you wanted to exterminate African-Americans and Jewish people through birth control and without doing my research I believed this. It was easy for me to believe this because, in my opinion, middle-class white feminism still doesn’t listen to poor women or women of color. Younger intersectional feminists and womanists are frequently ignored by them and I think we vilify one another. It’s complicated but at any rate I’m glad I learned the real Margaret Sanger. You weren’t perfect, you hurt your children and Bill but you had good intentions and I at least think you did the right thing. I’m not excusing everything. I’m still upset that you left your children suddenly without even saying goodbye but as an activist I understand your single-minded drive for your cause.

Reading your story has given me so much perspective about the fight for women’s rights and what it means to be an activist who courageously goes against society and the law even if it means going to prison like you, and Ethel did. As I mentioned I am an activist. I work for structural political reform to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. I’ve always cared deeply for social justice and women’s rights and I think fixing the political system is the best way for me to help the cause. As I’m writing this a racist, sexist president is being sworn in who’s vice president and cabinet members openly oppose women’s rights, gay rights, racial equality etc. I, however, am not despairing. I know that the work I’m doing is important because it will ensure that the people are heard and not the special interests. My activism is how I express my love for humanity and how I can help others. I don’t know what these next four years will be like but I do know that I will work hard for what I believe in and to help others. I’m reminded of you when Anita Block asked you to step in and lecture a crowd on the ballot for women and you didn’t feel you were an authority on this issue or that you knew enough to do so. Instead you spoke about women’s health and taught what every woman should know. This is so inspiring. I’m still developing my voice as an activist and will always be. It really struck me that instead of going through the motions and lecturing about something you didn’t really get you spoke from the heart and lectured about something you were so passionate about. You didn’t need to be perfect. The work you did transcended any of that.

I think my biggest takeaway from your story is to stop adhering to the illusion of perfection. I will never be perfect and I mustn’t let the fear of making mistakes stop me from my activism or from living my life. So once again, I thank you, Mrs. Sanger, for the wonderful work you did. Thank you for educating me and inspiring me. I celebrate your life and all that you accomplished. Tomorrow I will be marching with hundreds of thousands of people around the country who are swearing to uphold women’s rights in the face of adversity and you are a tremendous reason we can do this today. It’s now up to us to continue your legacy and fight for your cause and I’m proud to be there in your honor.

Juliana Francisco lives in Brooklyn and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.  

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Ellen Feldman

TOMORROW

Sunday, January 22nd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

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Before the Scales, Tomorrow

We will leave our celebration of National Poetry Month with a final poem on May Day.  An appropriate poem to end on.  It is a poem sent to us by Juliana Francisco, an Independence activist from Brooklyn and a member of the IndependentVoting Phone Outreach team.

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Juliana Francisco, April 14th. City Hall Steps.  Denouncing NY’s Closed Presidential Primary and the lock out of 3.2 million independents.

“Otto René Castillo was a poet and revolutionary from Guatemala. I first learned about him at the All Stars where his amazing poem Apolitical Intellectuals is on display. That poem is riveting and compelled me to learn more about Castillo. Before the Scales, Tomorrow is a painful for me to read considering how his life ended but ultimately I find this poem very comforting and inspiring. Being politically aware and active at a young age often makes me feel pessimistic and depressed. However, it is important to press forward for what’s right, not only for future generations – I’m learning now that creating a world in the present that you believe in and is nurturing and just is something to be proud of and happy about.

“But it’s beautiful to love the world with eyes that have not yet been born” is one of my favorite quotes ever.

 

BEFORE THE SCALES, TOMORROW

By Otto Rene Castillo

And when the enthusiastic
story of our time
is told,
for those
who are yet to be born
but announce themselves
with more generous face,
we will come out ahead
—those who have suffered most from it.

And that
being ahead of your time
means suffering much from it.
But it’s beautiful to love the world
with eyes
that have not yet
been born.

And splendid
to know yourself victorious
when all around you
it’s all still so cold,
so dark.

If you enjoyed Juliana’s pick and live in NYC, you might enjoy seeing a performance of Castillo’s poetry coming later this month.

The Castillo Theater, named after Otto Rene Castillo, is hosting the American premier of Even Under Bitterness, a multi-media performance piece featuring twelve of Castillo’s warmly political and always moving poems.

Performance dates: May 6 – 15, 2016.    Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 PM.  Sunday, May 8 at 2 PM. Sunday, May 15 at 4:30 PM.

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Reader’s Forum-Juliana Francisco

This was such an amazing book! Thank you for picking it for the book
club. I love it and I’ve loved reading everyone’s stories on the blog.

***

Lately I’ve been in search of art and literature that I can find solace in when faced with the cruel realities of the world. The Notion of Family has, without a doubt, been, simultaneously, the most painful yet comforting book I’ve yet come across. Ms. Frazier’s sincere and unapologetic look into her community, family, and personal life deeply resonates with me. The manner in which she documents and displays her pain and sadness is in direct opposition to how I handle everything about myself but her story has profoundly inspired me in so many different ways. I’ve long felt my mission in life was to help make the world a better place for the most vulnerable members of society. Yet I’ve now come to the realization that unless I stop running from my reality and confront my past directly I can never truly make an impact on other people’s lives.

Me and Mom in the Phase Pg 13

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 13: Mom and Me in the Phase. 2007

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 13: Mom and Me in the Phase. 2007

This image of LaToya and her mother really speaks to me. The beautifully adorned surroundings, Mrs. Frazier’s countenance and LaToya, ghost-like, almost as if she’s hiding waiting for you to find her…

Truthfully the thing that struck me most from LaToya’s story was the progression of her relationship with her mother through art. Their relationship seemed distant at first but through creating photographs of one another and the world around them, they seem to get closer. I’ve never doubted that my mother loves me but I have always been conscious of the fact that their is a distance between us. I know it’s my fault: I’m too afraid to let anyone in. I’m afraid that people, even my own family, won’t like who I really am if they got to know me.

There is also an uglier truth hiding underneath: I’m afraid of what I may find out about her. My mother left the Dominican Republic when she was my age, 22 years-old, and left behind everyone she loved – her mother, her grandmother – and came to the United States in search of a better life for herself and everyone she left behind. Lured with the lie of the American Dream, she arrived in a country where she worked like a slave to make the rich richer, where she and other immigrants like her were treated like shit for having the audacity to not speak English, and for committing the crime of being brown and poor. Through all of this she had to stay brave for her three kids, while facing the unknown – all alone. I’m afraid of what I may find if I tear down that wall between us. All I wanted growing up was to preserve the idealized image of myself that she still somehow held onto. I wanted her to believe I was happy and had tons of friends and was doing so well in school because I figured the reality of my life would make her feel like all that she suffered was for nothing.

Between my background and my foreground I am not sure where I stand. Impacted by the Cosby effect society looked away in contempt while the Reagan administration sent its troops, cops, and K-9s to raid my home and classroom. pg 64

Growing up I mastered the art of hiding. A child of the Dominican diaspora, poor, underprivileged: all I inherited, unrequested, beat me down and imprisoned me to the point where I genuinely felt like my life had no value and I came to believe I had nothing to offer the world. Friends, family, and most frighteningly, myself – I’ve spent my brief lifetime hiding who I truly am. I was a shy and quiet kid from the start and I learned, as all children do, primarily through observing all that surrounded me. Hyper-aware of the world around me, I internalized everything – for better or worse.

I was born and raised in Bushwick back when it was still the very opposite of cool and trendy. The conditions were all too similar to the images I saw of Braddock – broken down and destitute. Almost everyone I knew was stuck under similar conditions: we were all poor, people of color, living in dilapidated, rat-infested houses on both section 8 and welfare, slaving away at minimum wage jobs with little to show for it. It was bleak but in spite of all of this the community still found a way to thrive and unite. This was especially true for my family. It was just my mom, my two older brothers and myself and there was so much love and unity- we had each other and that’s all we needed to be happy. It truly was wonderful but of course it didn’t last.

As children you can’t understand why things are the way they are. All I knew was I was I was poor and I had been taught by the media, through politicians, and even right in my underfunded classrooms at school to buy into the acerbic lie of the “American Dream” – anyone, no matter what race or class or gender can be whatever they want to be if they just work hard enough, and if you’re poor it’s you’re own fault for being lazy and a burden on society. I learned that lesson very early on.

Everyone I knew at school was in similar situations but even by those standards I was still weird and poor. I always felt like I didn’t belong. I’ve always felt like a stranger, like an Other: I was an other in America, my brown skin, Dominican heritage and socioeconomic background made sure of that; I was an other in DR, since I was born and raised in the states I was way too gringa and Americanized to really relate to and communicate with my relatives (including my father) who were still over there; and I was an Other at school with my peers, whom with I shared a somewhat similar background but still saw me as an oddity, someone to either ignore entirely or just laugh at. I remember being seven and utterly hating everything about myself: my hair, my brown skin, my dark eyes, my shyness, the fact that I was dirt poor. I didn’t see anyone like me in  television, movies or in the books I cherished so much. I had nothing and no one I could turn to for solace. I hated myself and desperately wanted to be someone else. I felt I couldn’t turn my to my mother because I didn’t want to hurt her with the reality of who I was and how I felt. I wanted, and still want, to protect her. But I was drowning and I desperately needed
someone, anyone to help me. As a preteen I remember trying to talk to my friends about all I was going through and I remember being mocked and bullied for it. Reflecting on her own experiences growing up, my fellow independent Michelle McCleary wrote this:

I had also begun to learn an ugly truth: You don’t talk about your suffering because no one wants to hear about it and no one really cares.

This ugly truth is one I learned early as well. It taunted me: you are alone.

By high school I had completely retreated from everyone around me. I didn’t even bother with friendships: I was a loner, I barely came to school because I realized that the public inner-city schools I had attended all my life were deliberately set up to fail us and for us to fail, completing our role at the bottom of the capitalism totem pole. I had no friends, and I knew I wouldn’t amount to anything so I saw no point in being there. My classmates made the best of their situation and found comfort in their shared experiences. Meanwhile I was left alone. I was alone at school and I was alone within my family, I became a total stranger – a ghost of who I used to be.

I’m twenty-two now and still in Bushwick. Realtors have slapped band-aids on the broken down houses and have long begun marketing the influx of white young professionals and coffee shops as “trendy” and labeling the remnants of the community us poor people of color built up around us as “authentic”. Even still, everywhere you look the effects of systematic racism are loud and clear. Slowly but surely everything I’ve known is being phased out but I’m still here, living
on the same block I’ve lived all my life with my family. But I am different now. I’ve learned so much and I see things in a new light. I am not powerless and I have so much to offer the world. I can help the vulnerable people and change the world for the better. I’m so grateful to have been able to hear LaToya and Braddock’s story. I have been forever changed by The Notion of Family.

A fire has been awoken inside of me that has laid dormant for far too long. It’s time I stop hiding myself away from the world around me and, most importantly, the people I love. Beyond the words I cannot find and the things I’m afraid to say, art can succeed where words have failed. I realize now I can begin to tear down the walls of secrecy between my mother and myself. We can reclaim both of our stories through the process of creation, like LaToya and her mother.

Growing up I wanted desperately to disappear but I’ve learned now that there is no comfort in alienation. I must stop allowing capitalism and systematic racism to write my story for me. I must regain my agency and make my story my own and I want to thank Ms. Frazier for showing me that I too can do this through art, something I already love so very much.

Juliana Francisco (2nd from R) with her mother (r), Cathy Stewart and Harriet Hoffman (l) at the 2015 New York City Independence Clubs' Anti-Corruption Awards

Juliana Francisco (2nd from R) with her mother (r), Cathy Stewart and Harriet Hoffman (l) at the 2015 New York City Independence Clubs’ Anti-Corruption Awards

Juliana Francisco is an activist with the New York City Independence Clubs.  She is a 2015 recipient of the Nicholas S. Johnson Independent Spirit Award for outstanding volunteerism.  

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 CALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

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