Palabra de Muxer: Misogyny and the New Chicano Movement
Since the rise of the original Brown Berets in the 1960s, the men of the organization have been credited for spearheading the Chicanx movement. The movement’s foundation relied on the Chicanas doing the groundwork and holding organizations together without getting the credit or respect for their dedication. In the original Brown Berets, the womxn were responsible for planning and preparing all events and actions, networking, running the free clinic, and running La Causa newspaper. Due to the lack of respect and acknowledgment as “equal revolutionary sisters”, the womxn of the original Brown Berets decided to leave and create their own organization. Gloria Arellanes signed their resignation letter with “Con Che!” declaring their departure a revolutionary act. Over 40 years later, history has repeated itself and we, womxn of the Los Angeles FOCO Brown Berets, were forced to do the same.
Two years ago, the Los Angeles(FOCO) Brown Berets was founded by Robert Cristo, whose original ideologies were to create an inclusive space for all brown people who have been system impacted. It was a space originally created by three men, with one womxn, Krista Fonseca, recruited within the first month of its creation. For two years, the organization had expanded and remained under the primary leadership of Robert Cristo, even with the growing recruitment of womxn entering the FOCO Brown Berets. The organization was initially meant to have a horizontal structure without a sole leader. In October, Robert Cristo asked Krista Fonseca to become the Co-director of the organization thereby sharing the same decision-making power and responsibilities as Robert. With the overwhelming responsibilities of a quickly growing organization, Robert decided to appoint more positions of responsibility to numerous womxn who were the the most active among the berets. What was thought to be an inclusive revolutionary act of womxn leadership was instead a disappointing attempt to tokenize and use womxn as a front for diversity by giving people the title of leaders without actually letting us make decisions.
Naturally, as 10 leaders, 8 of which were womxn, we decided to take a proactive role in our positions. The only male leaders were Robert and a subcomandante under the leadership of a muxer. A priority for womxn leaders was creating safe spaces for womxn, LGBTQIA+, undocumented, and people with disabilities within the FOCO Brown Berets and in the Latinx/Brown/Indigenous community. In the process of planning our first workshop about chicanx gender & sexuality, the womxn recognized a pattern among all of our experiences within this organization. It was that we all at some point had experienced or witnessed microaggressions of sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia from some of the men in the berets. Since that day, July 16th, 2016, the womxn leaders of the FOCO Brown Berets attempted to hold a meeting in order to discuss the unsafe space that was unfolding because of the toxic machismo brought about by some of the male berets. Not only that, but also to discuss the dictator-like actions on behalf of Robert. The meeting was postponed 4 times simply because it did not fit Roberts schedule (despite the set date fitting all other leaders’ schedules). There was no attempt to listen to our voices when the womxn asserted the importance of this meeting. We realized that our leadership positions were not respected and existed simply to tokenize us in order to make the FOCO Brown Berets look “inclusive”.
On August 8th, 2016 , our meeting was finally set and we addressed all the men in the Brown Beret group chat about the importance of attending this meeting. To which some of the men responded defensively and with hostility saying they could not attend and they would only listen to the instruction of Robert. Part of their message was that they were not problematic or could not control their words because they are “system impacted”. After 20+ berets attempted to deescalate and explain that their trauma does not justify abusing or intimidating womxn, three male berets, including one founding member, decided it was better to leave the organization than to hear out their womxn leaders and other fellow berets. When Robert became aware of the conflict on the chat, he concluded that Krista Fonseca (co-director) was to blame for attempting to get those three men to realize the severity of their actions. He called for the cancellation of the meeting reasoning that the meeting would not be a productive space because everyone was filled with “emotions”. He texted Krista saying,
“This was left to the comandantas, when i’m not active ya’ll are the leaders, n this is what happened”
This was final proof that we had a false sense of authority within our positions and Robert ultimately had the control and did not value us as equals but followers. He called for the cancellation of the meeting despite 22 members and all leadership (except Robert) already being present. After multiple attempts by the muxeres to get in contact with Robert, he had Nancy Flores, his partner, relay the message that he would not be accepting any calls from any of the muxeres. After continuous calling, he finally arrived with his partner, Nancy Flores, whom had personally messaged two of the womxn for calling out Robert that same day. Nancy’s attacks included,
“Who the fuck do you think you are calling berets problematic, you’re the problematic one who can’t comprehend what it’s like for people who are in their process, you are not system impacted, you don’t know shit about struggle. You’re right, the problematic people are leaving, it’s you.”
After the message, the muxeres chose not to engage Nancy but expressed this sentiment with other muxer Berets,
“I am a second generation queer Chicana from a low-income working class family. The idea that I don’t know the ‘system impacted’ struggle simply because I’m not a cis-het male of color who ‘banged’, is invalidating the experiences of others that have been marginalized and silenced within the movement. Chicanx queer femmes like myself experience microaggressions on a daily basis in our patriarchal society, an experience that none of the ‘system impacted’ male berets will ever understand. People with ingrained misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia should not be exempt from being held accountable on their problematic behavior simply because they are in their process. We tried to respectfully call them out, we tried to speak with them, we tried educating them, but none of this matters if they aren’t willing to check their privilege, yield the floor and LISTEN to the 20 womxn who are saying that there is something wrong.” — Alejandra Rodriguez, Former coordinator of the FOCO Brown Berets for the SouthSide Region
Nancy also messaged another member saying:
“Honestly I’m sick of your shit. You come to my partner and tell him all your personal problems…But this is bigger than him what kind of progress do y’all hope to make if your just banishing anyone who has the slightest patriarchal attitude. I’m done with you krista, stop calling robert, and stop texting him about your personal issues.”
To which the then co-director, Krista Fonseca, expressed her sentiment to her comrades saying:
“As co-director of the Foco Brown Berets, I aspired for this organization to be space for growth and family, to support each other with whatever is happening. I face severe PTSD and depression from the amount of physical abuse and homelessness that I faced in my youth. I trusted Robert, as my co-director, to talk about when my PTSD became too much for me to be active in my role, as I also am a full time student, worker, and organized with another group. Reaching out is a very difficult thing to learn, and to have my calls for help thrown in my face by someone who I was not even in contact with was harmful to my mental health. We are all in a process and will continually make mistakes, but the refusal to acknowledge those mistakes is not acceptable. Two womxn members had openly left the FOCO Brown berets due to the danger caused by the man that Nancy Flores is referring to above. I will stand by anyone willing to grow and learn, but not at the expense of the safety of our brown womxn.”
Due to the hostility of these messages, we asked for Robert to not bring his partner to our meeting, as it would become personal rather than discussing the plethora of issues that needed to be addressed professionally within our organization. Robert still decided to bring his partner. During the meeting (for 30 minutes or so) the berets anxiously expressed their concern, with many heads looking down and silent moments in between speakers. They were nervous — trying to speak to the person they once trusted as one of their directors about the mistreatment and misogyny they saw from three men who they once considered family. Robert shook his head in disagreement while the berets spoke about their frustration, disappointment, and sadness. When Robert got his opportunity to speak, we realized that everything we said went over his head. He was ready to speak on his feelings and his side of the story, which this space was not meant for. He said “I can only give you what I feel, I will not change, this is who I am.” We stopped him. The space was not meant for cishet men to defend themselves, but instead, the space was meant to vocalize the womxn, queer, and underrepresented berets who felt unsafe and silenced by problematic men in the organization. But Robert came ready to say what he was going to say and had no intentions of taking our concerns into consideration. Within five minutes of him speaking, his partner, Nancy Flores, began to scream at us saying “shut the fuck up!” and “fuck you!” We were shocked. Krista responded, “Nancy, we respect you, do not speak to us like this”. As Robert had to physically hold her back from attacking us, he told us how the berets were founded for “system impacted” youth. Indicating that system impacted was only former gang banging men; ignoring other ways the system has impacted womxn who grew up in the the streets, who are undocumented, queer, and who have been sexually and emotionally abused by the same men Robert calls “system impacted”. He told the members present that we need to reconsiders our morals and values or get out, because our priorities were not the same as his or his organization’s. He then called the meeting over, slammed the door closed and left.
When the door closed behind Robert, many of the 22 members present broke down in tears in shock, anger, and in disappointment of the disrespect they just witnessed. There was an immense sense of disbelief and betrayal. The fact that the founder of this organization cared so intensely about losing 3 male berets, who were completely disrespecting their womxn leaders and not attempting to change. Yet, he was easily able to erase 22 berets simply for attempting to create a safer space and demanding respect. We held each other and shed tears together mourning the collapse of an organization we have worked so hard for and thought we belonged to. Even the male berets who came to support the womxn were gathered with their heads down in disbelief and without words. We had witnessed the truth about our roles within the FOCO Brown Berets, of being tokens and dispensable to the organization. That the space was overrun by toxic patriarchy and we were no more than tokens for other organizations to admire us for. Robert said that we were on “opposite sides of the spectrum,” but in actuality we just wanted men and womxn to be held accountable for their actions. From our shared pain, arose unity among these berets saying, “we are the most active of the Berets, we are the leaders of the Berets, we are the Berets.” At that moment, twenty-two Berets including all leaders, muxeres, queer, undocumented and other berets unanimously decided to resign from the FOCO Brown Berets.
The values and missions that Robert holds for this chapter do not align with ours. We pride ourselves on being inclusive and intersectional. We believe womxn of color, undocumented, LGBTQIA+, people with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities are also system impacted folks who deserve the right to be validated and heard, especially within the historically patriarchal Chicano movement. A true revolutionary does not dictate an organization, they reject authority, and reject anything that seeks to oppress marginalized groups. A true revolutionary in today’s world uplifts those voices that have been silenced through constant microaggressions. And if we’re too radical for this “revolutionary” organization, then it’s not revolutionary at all. We refuse to stand beside our own oppressors. Therefore, we will proceed to leave FOCO Brown Berets to start our own truly inclusive and intersectional organization. These 22 members, along with anyone who wishes to join us in revolutionizing the history of Brown Berets will be part of the Papalotl Brown Berets.
When we decided we were going to be our own inclusive organization, we pondered whether to start our own entirely different organization or if we would continue being Brown Berets. There are already many different Brown Beret chapters (6 in California alone) and much disunity among them because of differences in philosophy, why should we add another? Although there is a variety of Brown Beret Chapters, none of them since the beginning of the Chicano movement, have been an inviting safe space for non-cishet men because of its machista philosophies. We decided to radicalize the Brown Beret history by focusing on the empowerment and liberation of womxn, LGBTQIA+, undocumented and people with disabilities within the Chicanx/Latinx/Brown/Indigenous community. We chose to become Papalotl Brown Berets as the most fitting name. Papalotl is the Aztec language Nahuatl for butterfly; a symbol often used by the femme, LGBTQIA+, mental health and Latinx community. The Papalotl is a symbol of rebirth. Similarly, our organization was reborn from the collapse of the previous Brown Beret organization. These events that we feared would lead to the death of our activism, actually became a catalyst to launch our own revolution to create a safe space for all brown people who are willing to grow and decolonize our practices.
There is no room for misogyny in the movement.
In Honor of Gloria Arellanes,
-Papalotl Brown Berets
Originally published at: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/brown-women-rising-above
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