Featuring Maria Ramos-Chertok
Maria Ramos-Chertok grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey, in a purple house that her mother opened as a shelter for battered women and children in the 1970s. Her early life was filled with political activism and exposure to social justice issues.
An avid writer, she published her first article for teens on dating violence in 1993 and continues to write and publish in a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction and poetry. She leads The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their lives.
We had the opportunity to interview author Maria Ramos-Chertok, whose essay “Look Where You’re Living” appears in All the Women in My Family Sing. This is what we learned…
What inspired you to write your essay for this anthology?
When I moved to Marin County from San Francisco with my six-week-old son, I found myself lonely and longing for the company of women. I made many attempts to connect with people, but most of my connections felt forced. I initially blamed others, but soon I realized that I was the one forcing myself to connect to people who represented homogeneity to me. I was living in a predominately white, very affluent community and despite the privileges of doing so, I was existing as an “outsider” because I could not locate myself in my surroundings.
What is one of the most memorable challenges you have experienced as a woman of color in the twenty-first century?
The challenge for me has always been learning how to reclaim my ethnic, racial and religious heritage as a mixed-race woman. My immigrant father chose not to speak to his children in Spanish so that we could avoid the discrimination he experienced as a brown-skinned person who spoke English with an accent. My mother rejected her Jewish heritage and raised us with a combination of Unitarian spirituality and Goddess-worship. My challenge as an adult was reclaiming my heritage and working to understand what had happened and how I could re-integrate my heritage into my life.
Give an example of women’s roles in today's social justice movement. In my mind women are the hope. Because of our capacity to hold life inside our wombs and bring life into being – we have a deeper connection to the meaning of life and the importance of honoring all life forms. Choosing only one example would ignore the myriad of women who are not in the public eye, yet who are working tirelessly in their communities. What I can do is share an example that has touched me directly, which is witnessing the leadership of two African American woman, Akaya Windwood and Darlene Nipper, co-lead at Rockwood Leadership Institute. They are using their social justice values to re-define what it looks like when two powerful woman of color work in partnership for justice.
What have your experiences been in leadership as a woman of color? I am a trainer with Rockwood Leadership Institute, which gives me the privilege of leading social justice leaders. I consciously work to support woman of color leaders in any way I can – through coaching, mentoring and friendship. It is part of my life’s purpose to do so. I also lead a workshop called The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journeys. Part of my intention with the workshop is to make it available to women of color who might not otherwise have access to the gift of writing, reflection and time to simply be.
What do you most hope readers will take away from reading this book? Giving voice to women of color’s stories helps expands people’s perceptions of who women of color are and how we walk in the world. My hope is that readers find opportunities to connect with the stories and/or learn something they didn’t know before picking up the book. At best, the book will spur action – whether it be the action of speaking up against racism when you might have otherwise been silent, reaching out to someone across racial lines when you might otherwise have held back and/or supporting a movement by listening to learn what is needed when you might otherwise have felt that you needed to be in charge and provide the answers.