Strawberry Fields (Not) Forever: An Immigrant Daughter’s Story

Eunice Gonzalez-Sierra had a very typical May this past year. She walked across the graduation stage at UCLA and accepted her undergraduate degree in Chicana/o Studies with a double minor in Labor and Workplace Studies and Gender Studies. Then she scheduled a graduation photo shoot with her family afterwards and, like many grads, posted the photos to her Tumblr blog.

What followed was a chain reaction of awe. People began sharing her images across the web, stunned by their very nontraditional content: Eunice with her parents in a strawberry field—the field where her parents have picked strawberries for 22 years.

Without the social capital that many students depend on from their families and without the economic means, Eunice did something heroic. Her pictures have become a symbol of hope; they stand for the true immigrant experience of hard work, in direct contrast to the current discourse about immigrants and undocumented workers as a drain on the nation.

I spoke to Eunice about what feminism means to her, her own self image, the issues that affect immigrant and undocumented women in the U.S., and her hopes for a movement where all we encompass—race, class, sexuality, body size, gender, ethnicity, legal status, economic status—are part of a modern feminism.

The word feminism embodies so many things for so many people. What does that word mean for you in your experience?

Feminism is often just associated with equality within genders and people affirm the term feminism to say that it is equality for both males and females and gender nonconforming folks. But, I think that feminism is a concept that is created for equality based on any identity whether that is race, whether that is sexuality.

I just think the term feminism should be a term that embodies, for people who believe in equality, [equality] of all types and not simply gender, just because I think intersectionality is a huge deal. It impacts people’s lives immensely, so really acknowledging that is huge in order to uphold this idea of feminism.

How does intersectionality affect feminism?

Feminism in an all-encompassing philosophy: As a feminist, I feel it is my duty to advocate and fight for not only the rights of women, but also the rights of people of color, undocumented people, queer people, working-class people and whatever identities intersect.

Often, feminism is placed in a box where people simply consider gender identity and leave out all of the other identities we encompass. We need to stop excluding womxn of color, queer womxn of color, trans men and trans women etc. We need to fight for equality and equity all around. As Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

How is immigration a feminist issue?

Often undocumented people—and women specifically—are subjected to difficult circumstances such as crossing the border and facing the possibility of being raped or assaulted on their journey to what is supposed to be an American Dream.

Immigration is a feminist issue because people of color are often [subjected] to racism, ignorance, hatred and maltreatment. We must learn to advocate for people who are left at the margins of society. Immigrants are constantly being discriminated against by politicians and nationalist people who find no purpose to all the work [immigrants] do for this country.

My mother, an undocumented woman of color, has worked hard in the strawberry fields every day of her life and deserves the dignity and respect [of feminists]. If feminism doesn’t include her issues, then it really isn’t feminism.

In some of our correspondence you spell womxn with an X. Why?

Not too long ago women used to spell woman with a y (womyn—I learned this in high school while involved with Just Communities) to show that women could be their own entity without the spelling of MEN/MAN (hence woMAN or woMEN).

But now, more people are choosing to spell woman with an x (womxn) because some say that white cisgender feminists used “womyn” as a derogatory term for transgender womxn stating that they were not “real” women and therefore could only identify as womyn because they still carried a y chromosome.

I shift how I spell it every now and then but I’ve gotten used to womxn with an x (as well as using an x in gendered terminology that generally appeases the male population. (such as persxn, todxs, latinxs—so as to not gender a group of people).

On your Tumblr blog you post images of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Frida Kahlo and grandmothers working. What do these women represent for you?

I think strength is a huge thing just because I feel like womxn are often not celebrated and our ability to truly go through a patriarchal society and thrive is huge. I definitely look up to my mom immensely. I think both my mom and my dad are hard workers, [but] just the fact that my mom has overcome so much as a woman in a patriarchal society. She was raised in Oaxaca, [Mexico] where patriarchy and machismo still reign.

I think it is important to really give credit to the women that have survived patriarchy and machismo and traumas. Just naturally my inclination of really looking at strong mujeres comes from my mother and from all the other sheroes that have come before us.

I think it is important for women who are growing in this society to look up to other women who have done a good job in representing us and making sure that we remain strong even though society sometimes paints us as the weak and inferior gender.

Can you describe for people who may not have heard of machismo what that is and looks like?

I think machismo, which is a language of patriarchy within the Latino community, is as simple as women being expected to clean or women expected to cook and cater to a man. For me I have seen it within my household; my mom cooks and cleans and she feeds my dad.

But I went to Oaxaca this summer and it is so much stronger there, for example a male will come home and will just sit at the table and doesn’t offer anything in return for the services that his partner is giving.

It bothers me that women are seen as disposable to a man and they are there just to cater to a man. Especially when the woman also works and duty is still upheld. I think that is actually the biggest problem. There should be equal partnership.

How about the criticism that has come from some women of color about feminism and equal partnership? For example, there are Latin women who love to serve their husbands and sons and see it as something beautiful and as a way of being a woman—so why take that away?

I think the duty of being a housewife and a partner has been so socialized that maybe some women have had that ingrained in their minds since growing up that that is OK and normal. And then there is the fact that there are women that genuinely enjoy that, and from a woman to another woman I don’t necessarily feel like I have a right to criticize that because if that makes them happy, then that is what makes them happy and that is what matters.

I just think that commonly it is just expected. As a woman, I would admit that if I was married to a male partner I would probably every now and then serve him and fulfill those duties, but because I want to not because it is expected of me. Especially, if it something I have time to do and enjoy.

It is all dependent on the situation and how you are treated in that relationship. Oftentimes I just feel like it is expected and it is your duty as a woman to fulfill that role. I definitely think women can do that and it can be OK because it genuinely makes them happy and I have no criticism against that, but I also think it is about agency and who has the right to do what and who is expected to do what in a relationship. It is about choice.

You mention “fat” many times on Tumblr and mention loving yourself with all the brown and curves. How did you come to have such a positive self-image?

In terms of my views on my body and being body positive, I realized that self-worth and self-love is important for our survival and to ensure that we have agency in everything we do. I’ve grown up being fat and was filled with self-hatred and self-doubt. It was in college when I gained a better perception of my beauty and my strength that I realized there was no use [hating] myself and my body due to beauty standards that I refused to abide by. It’s still tough because other people will be disgusted by my body and the idea that I have the ability to love it and myself. But that speaks more about them than it does me.

What would you say to boys and young men about supporting women’s choices in all areas of their lives?

Boys and young men need to understand that this world wouldn’t survive without womxn. Specifically, our mothers have sacrificed so much for us to be born and move forward, sacrifices that men aren’t often expected to make.

My mother specifically was raised in a culture where she was expected and required to be a homemaker, cooking, cleaning and tending to the male species. Now that she lives in the U.S she does that while still working every single day at the fields.

What would you want young girls and young women to know about supporting immigrant women’s ability to have choice in how they live their lives?

Young girls and young womxn should also support the decisions of immigrant womxn because the sacrifices that they make are difficult enough to deal with. The identity of being a womxn is difficult enough with living in a patriarchal world; immigrant womxn have an additional layer of xenophobia from anti-immigrant people who are validated by ignorant and disrespectful people, like Donald Trump.

Young girls and young womxn must realize that immigrant womxn sacrifice their home and leave their motherland to seek refuge in a country of opportunities. We must learn from them and value the hard work they provide for this country and the example they provide us with.

Click through the slideshow below to see more of Eunice’s powerful graduation photos. All photos by Jorge Mata Flores

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Catalina Sofia Dansberger Duque is a interviewer, writer and speaker. She focuses on people who have chosen to breathe life into challenging situations and live a life filled with love, joy and passion despite overwhelming stereotypes. Catalina is a Communication Manager for the Humanities & Social Sciences at UMBC. She has contributed to Huffington Post, UpWorthy and Gay Family Trips, among others.