An NLC professor taught Maria Gallegos, Class of ’10, that “writing is a form of activism- a way to reject oppression.” And so, in celebrations of International Women’s Day, Maria wrote and performed a series of vignettes entitled Voces de Mujeres Peligrosas: Voices of Dangerous Women.
We asked Maria some questions about both the performance and her time and the National Labor College. Here’s what she had to say:
NLC: What inspired you to write Voces de Mujeres Peligrosas: Voices of Dangerous Women?
MG:The New Mexico March 8 Committee has been celebrating International Women’s Day every year since about 1986. They have quite a compilation of artifacts and stories from their own years as labor and community activists. It is their dedication and passion for keeping the stories of women alive that inspired me to write. It is also my lifelong curiosity to listen to and share stories. When I received the 2009/2010 NLC President’s Award I made a promise to keep writing.
NLC: What did you learn by writing the vignettes?
MG: I noticed the absence of and scarcity of labor history from the perspective of women and when it is present it is somewhat romanticized. Women are, and have always been, an intrinsic part of the labor movement. We don’t just assume support role- we are leaders and have been throughout U.S. Labor History. Our stories are unique because there is more to them beyond the victories and defeats. Women in leadership positions often find themselves feeling the tension between all the roles assigned to us (ie. leader, parent, spouse, The Most Dangerous Woman, etc.) I also learned that the stories of the women had many common issues such as the struggle for freedom of speech, immigration, gender issues, passion for social justice- many of which are found in today’s national debates.
NLC: How was the experience performing the vignettes?
MG: It was a surreal experience. It was strange to hear my written words spoken by someone other than myself. It was an honor to participate and memorable for me as one of the other performers (Tomasita Gonzalez) is my cousin and we just met each other a few months ago. We dedicated our Dangerous Women fighting spirit to our Grandmother Teresa who was a community activist during the Civil Rights and Chicano Movements. On my way home I felt as though I did not recognize the familiar route- it was then I realized I was a different person. It was a spiritual moment.
NLC: How did your time at NLC affect you as a writer and as an activist?
MG: In Jennifer Harrison’s Creative Writing Class we learned that writing is a form of activism- a way to reject oppression. The required coursework to complete the Senior Project prepared me with the skills and knowledge to research (to dig deep,) gather information and write.
NLC: While at the NLC, what did you learn that most affected you?
MG: I learned how to take peer criticism; use it to expand and improve my writing. The peer relationship in academic critique is invaluable. It taught me to step out of the shadows and share my work.
NLC: What challenges did you have to overcome to finish your degree at NLC?
MG: During the time I was a student at NLC, I was in a personal struggle with my employer. It was a very stressful situation. I split my time between academics, preparing my arbitration case and my son. My house was messy and I was grouchy a lot but I had set a goal to finish college. Of course, paying for college was also a challenge but I was not going to let that stop me.
NLC: What would you say to a Union Sister or Brother who is considering getting a degree at the NLC?
MG: Don’t let the cost of a college education stop you! There are scholarships and grants to help out. Don’t look at the experience as a sacrifice in being away from your family- it’s only temporary. Discipline yourself to set aside regular academic time – it may not seem possible but you’ll figure it out! Your time at NLC goes quickly and you make lifelong friends!
NLC: What type of work do you do?
MG: I’m an environmental scientist with a BA in Labor Studies and the drive to write. Now, if I could just figure out how to blend my technical/analytical skills, creative voice and community/labor activism into a paying gig- that would be awesome!
I currently do freelance (poetry and journalism) writing, grant writing and spending time with my son. I’m waiting admissions to a graduate program.
NLC: Anything else you’d like to share?
MG: I know there are other NLC Alumni who are doing some amazing work in their communities. Please share your work. Remember, we are the keepers of the stories- those who come after us will want to know what we did!
If you’re in the NLC Community and have a story to share, please email Jennifer Dorr.