After receiving hundreds of nominations for our Feminist You Should Know contest, the Feminist Campus team was able to sift through them, sit down, knock our heads together, and decide on ten finalists! This was no easy task: every single nominee was the most amazing person we’d ever met so far in our lives. No lie. Our awe-inspiring crew come from a diversity of backgrounds, universities, regions, and perspectives in the feminist movement – and it’s just not possible for us to choose a winner alone. And that’s where you come in! Over the next week, we’ll be posting blog posts written by each of our stellar finalists; on Monday, we’ll launch an online voting form where members of our community – that’s you! – cast a vote for who moved you deeply, inspires you most, or simply has your favorite haircut.
I’m a feminist because I started rocking thick braids before Hollywood declared it was beautiful.
I remember how my lungs filled with hope, how my xicana locks of hair felt fabulous, and the twinkle I got in my eyes the day I realized feminism was a state of being – not a label. I’m lucky, I know. Maybe the moment is so clear because feminism didn’t come into my life typed on paper and wrapped in theory. My anthology started right where I began – with the powerhouse mujeres in my life and their love of homemade beans, rice, and tacos (in that delicious order). I come from a family of stubborn, short, and brilliant women that know how to get things done (not uncommon traits). They love those around them and believe the energy you send out into the universe means something – so you better have good intentions, you know?
These forces of nature are my mentors and they walk the feminist talk, always teaching me life lessons gift-wrapped with social justice undertones and hues ready to fight oppression. So it’s no surprise my mom wasn’t upset the day I was bullied at school for wearing braids and speaking Spanish. She made me see I had the right to stand tall, rock my braids, and protect myself from having others making me feel inferior. It was one of the first times I felt comfortable carrying myself forward as I was. Truly, the seed to fight injustice was planted for my sisters and I early on because the women in my life embodied feminism in the way they cared for others, empowered us to use our voice, and stood up for what they believed in.
Sometimes, planting that seed in the feminist movement can be daunting. Figuring out how to fit into a role that sometimes seems to leave out our own experiences and stories can be hard, but we’ve got to help a sister out. Shouldn’t we all have someone there to help us figure it out and shine a little light on all the different shapes and sizes feminism comes in? I’ve always felt lucky I grew into feminism by having mentors that shaped my perspective, but I never thought I should be the only lucky one.
At some point I had this sense of urgency to make sure other women had the opportunity to find a mentor in their life. During my undergraduate years in El Paso, I had the opportunity to use a seed grant to fund a small mentoring group that connected freshman and sophomore students to professional women in the community. Seeing the relationships last and the mentoring group grow was magic. Later in graduate school, I had the opportunity to co-found Women in the Academy (WITA) with one of the greatest feminists that ever lived (yes – that’s you Kris). Women in the Academy is a support system and community for women pursuing higher degrees and has continued to prove to me the strength that lies in mentoring between women. Along these lines, I was able to build and cultivate a peer-to-peer mentoring program for incoming freshman women at the University of New Mexico. Learning from all of the women in these programs and hearing their stories were the greatest perks of guiding their growth.
There is something special that comes from being validated as a mentor and the truth is, that’s a role we can all fill. It doesn’t matter what our rank, position, title, age, or background are – we all have something to learn from each other. After all, these relationships with each other are what keep the feminist movement moving forward – and we have a right (and responsibility) to help a sister out.
Ambar is a mover and a shaker based out of Washington, DC. Growing up in the beautiful El Paso, TX, her experiences have given her the strength to challenge all forms of oppression – with the help of some tamales and love, of course. Fueled by coffee and hope, Ambar has worked with young leaders and community programs that advocate for the awareness and advancement of women’s rights and is passionate about promoting women’s self-determination.