The University of Nevada, Reno’s Latino Research Center is collecting stories from Latinas about gender violence for a national anthology.
Reno Public Radio’s Alexa Ard reports that the project is shedding light on undocumented women facing abuse.
For two years Emma Sepulveda has been gathering stories for the anthology called Basta!, which translates to “enough.” The series was started by women in Chile. To have a connection to the original project, Sepulveda wanted the submissions to be by Latinas.
“Of course being the editor, I'm lucky enough that I get to read all the stories,” Sepulveda says, “and I'm not only receiving the short stories, but I'm often receiving letters of women saying, 'What I'm writing is based on my whole life. This is what happened to me.’ So it has been extremely moving.”
One of the submissions based on reality came from Alicia Kozameh, a former political prisoner in Argentina and U.S. refugee. Today she’s a professor at Chapman University in Southern California. Her story was inspired by the domestic violence that occurred after the death of her sister.
“My father, he blamed my mother. So that is something that has stayed with me forever,” Kozabeh explains, “because it's one thing that your father beat you up and another thing when you see him doing it to your mother.”
In her submission, Kozameh uses a writing style that’s closer to poetry than prose, a quality you’ll hear in this passage:
He gets close to his wife’s desperation, keeps walking, turns back: whore.
Like Kozameh, many other Latinas have submitted stories that are labeled as fiction but based on real events. As Editor Emma Sepulveda collected narratives, the plight of undocumented women experiencing violence came to light—a storyline not present in the original book published in Chile.
“Some of them are undocumented, or they were at the time,” she says, “so they could not go anywhere and announce what had happened to them.”
Sepulveda says that being undocumented can make them feel voiceless, but there’s an organization in Reno trying to give them a voice.
“The fact that he or she are undocumented, the aggressive partner uses that against them to keep them under,” explains Xiomara Rodriguez, one of the women who runs Tu Casa Latina. It’s a nonprofit geared towards helping undocumented immigrants who are victims of abuse with getting their paperwork to become U.S. citizens.
“They're afraid of authority because they've been told so many times that if you go into the police, you're going to be deported and your children are going to be taken away,” Rodriguez adds.
Along with fearing the police, this population is also weary of giving all their information to Immigration Services, so Tu Casa Latina is helping them take that scary step of submitting their paperwork.
But Ruby White Starr, who’s with a national organization called Casa de Esperanza, says it’s also about empowerment.
“We call them survivors instead of victims,” says Starr.
She’s based in Reno and does trainings across the country for groups working to curb domestic abuse. In these trainings, she draws on her own memories of being molested by her father who also physically abused other family members.
Starr compares herself and fellow survivors to fragile birds:
“If you could imagine a bird who's lost all their feathers, they've been belittled, they've been coerced. I think what happens with people a lot of times when they're trying to help somebody out of that situation, is they give them one feather and they're like, ‘OK, now do it,’ and they don't realize that's one. And the other one is going to be that they get a good paying job and then another one is going to be that they have a place to live temporarily.”
Until eventually, they have enough support to fly.