ALL THE WOMEN IN MY FAMILY SING: A CONVERSATION WITH EDITOR + ACTIVIST, DEBORAH SANTANA
Gender and racial inequality have been at the forefront of conversation in recent years and, historically, for what seems like forever. Marginalized communities including women, people of color and LGBTQ+ have been using their voices and resources to rise up against the socioeconomic injustices we face daily. Why have racism, sexism, and gender/sex-related phobias impacted us for so long? When will this end? Can people ever overcome fear and lack of compassion? What changes can be made that will actually heal these issues? While it may be tough for those who have not had minority experiences to address these questions, there are, in fact, many answers to uncover with various routes to explore… And awareness is the first step — awareness of self, awareness of others, awareness of the entire world and universe in which we live... A step in awareness is so essential because that is what leads us to truth; awareness is what empowers the activism, expressions of art, and conversations that heal.
DARLA recently had the opportunity to speak with Deborah Santana, a transformative leader with decades of social activism work aimed to provide opportunities and access for people of color, women and girls. For one of her most recent artistic projects, she took on the role as Editor/Co-Publisher for the book, All The Women In My Family Sing: Women Write the World: Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom.
As stated by Nothing But The Truth Publishing, “[All The Women In My Family Sing] is an anthology documenting the experiences of 69 diverse women at the dawn of the 21st century. It is a vital collection of prose and poetry whose topics range from the pressures of being the vice-president of a Fortune 500 Company, to escaping the killing fields of Cambodia, to the struggles inside immigration, identity, romance, and self-worth. Contributors include America Ferrera, Samina Ali, Natalie Baszile (Queen Sugar), Porochista Khakpour (Sons and Other Flammable Objects), Lalita Tademy (Cane River), Mila Jam, Marian Wright Edelman (Children's Defense Fund), and many more.”
In an eye-opening conversation with Deborah Santana, we discussed what inspired the publishing of All The Women of My Family Sing, the purpose and process for developing the anthology, her views on today’s political climate, her personal experiences + advice for future activists, and more. Read the full interview below and discover more about the amazing authors published in All The Women in My Family Sing!
What inspired you to create + curate, All The Women in My Family Sing?
My very dear friend Christine Bronstein has a publishing company called, Nothing But The Truth. She started it about 5 1/2 years ago to publish only women. She did research on the publishing world and, of course, it's male-dominated… And it is especially, like most corporate projects, dedicated to what the mass of people like, which isn’t necessarily art. About three years ago she read the statistics about women of color being published, and they were much less than white women because in the publishing world, about 82% of people who work there self-identify as white and about 79% of editors do. We have a page on our website, AllOfTheWomeninMyFamilySing.com, that talks about a call to action and it has a list of these statistics for why the lens in publishing is so narrow — because the people who work there are not diverse.
What was the concept and direction for All The Women in My Family Sing?
We sent out a call for submissions into the writing world and we took out an ad in the publishing world, asking women of color to submit essays on what it means to be a woman of color in the world today. This process started in 2015 and our country was a much different place; the world was a much different place then, outwardly. We, as women, felt like we were moving towards having a female president… We were sort of alive and our circuits were wired in a way that we felt powerful… And yet, we still wanted to hear more stories coming from women of color. Chris [Bronstien] is not a woman of color and she could not manage this project alone, even though it was originally her idea, so she asked me to come on as the Editor and Co-Publisher. We put all of the money into the project together and I reached out to all of my resources.
We received 300 submissions from women of color talking about all of these different topics that you see in the book. During this time, I had two very brilliant women of color edit with me and choose the 69 essays. We put them into the classifications that you see as the subjects: Editing Identity, At Home in The World, Trailblazers Hell Raisers & Star Gazers, Struggle for Social Justice and Equality, etc. All of the essays fit into these categories with different women’s experiences whether it’s being transgender, whether it’s an immigrant experience, whether it’s a racist experience growing up… All of the issues fit into these categories and we built this beautiful book.
Women of color made history during the recent midterm elections. What do you think this means for the future of the social injustices that we face?
I really believe that women running corporations, the country’s political offices, structures of academia, and just being in powerful roles of management will create a more inclusive environment. I also think that women listen more deeply… Some women are bathed in the erroneous structure of patriarchy, so obviously not all women are necessarily going to be inclusive… But I think that because of our experiences of being marginalized (not being listened to and not being valued), women of color are going to move forward with a different motivation, and it is certainly bending towards equality and justice.
As an activist for peace + social justice, what types of issues do you aim to solve through your work?
This is an interesting question as I’ve changed my definition of myself, not only since working on the anthology, but in this climate of divisiveness in our country and lack of compassion in our world in terms of immigrants and refugees. I have now gone back to my role as a seeker, and I am spending much more time in meditation… I am spending much more time studying what will create abundance and freedom for everyone. My social activism has been very, very grounded in my work with my own non-profit — Do A Little, where I serve women and girls in the areas of health, education, and happiness. I try to go into areas where women have not been supported, and provide funds so that they can begin to move forward and claim their own power in their own lives.
Also with my social activism I’ve been on a few boards, I’ve been with Artists for a New South Africa, for many years which was very involved in the work to end apartheid and to frame with Nelson Mandala and to work on the AIDS crisis; that was a lot of my work in the 80’s. Then in the 90’s, I was very involved in (and I’m still involved in) the Children’s Defense Fund, finding resources and funds for education and healthcare for children of color.
Now I am expanding my own personal growth because I think that activism is powerful but limited, because I feel that I have to come from a place of what I know is true… And what I know is true is that we are all divine beings… And that we are created from the essense of the Spirit and the breath of God. Unless I ground myself in that, my activism work is not able to change people’s minds or help people to grow because I have to be able to live that truth of love and compassion.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to become more of an advocate for women and girls through activism? I guess it would have a lot to do with being in touch with yourself.
Absolutely! We have to know ourselves. We have to believe in ourselves, we have to breathe in the essence of all that is good and all that is pure to help us listen for guidance. I think you meditate... I meditate every single morning (I have for over 40 years) and I take that time to receive my divine direction for my day and for my life. I receive so much inspiration when I sit in silence, I hear my spirit telling me which direction to go. I don’t really like to give advice because it’s sort of countered to what I believe, which is that you can get your own advice from listening to yourself. I feel that there is always a greater truth and I feel that God is always calling us to greater love — an action to heal. A couple years ago, I was at the Women’s March in 2017 and it was so powerful when there was close to 600,000 of us marching to show our displeasure with 45 being elected… Not because of him as a person, but because of his beliefs and his patriarchal oppression… And I was so enlivened by that march, so inspired… But now I feel that I have to work in a different way. I believe that each person has to be on their own journey.
My favorite aspect of All The Women in My Family Sing is that art is being used as a way to build community and empower women of color. Do you believe that art and self-expression is the key to creating change in our world today?
I definitely think that art is the key to creating change — it makes us think. Even if we go into an exhibition that we think we know what it’s about, that can be challenged. I actually just went to Ai Weiwei’s Exhibition at the Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles, and I had seen Ai Weiwei’s art previously on Alcatraz [Island]… I was outside of San Francisco and these huge, beautiful, colorful kites were flowing through this former prison, and my mind was just opened; I was inspired! Ai Weiwei is the Chinese dissident artist who was imprisoned for many years because of his beliefs, and he has a very social justice base for all of his art. Now when I went into his new exhibition in LA it was completely different; it was almost as if it was all bamboo and white rice paper. So in my mind, I had one idea of what I was going to see and I was transformed by his depiction of the notion of refugees on these boats all over the world and our oceans trying to get to safe places. His art transformed me.
I think our words, our poetry, these essays in All The Women in My Family Sing — hearing women, listening to women talk about their experiences whether it was with rape, or being bi-racial, or having a grandmother who taught them how to carve a cucumber delicately with a knife… Or whether it was having a child who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and then survived… All of these stories enliven us and give us the inspiration to move forward in our own lives and to work with other people to heal. So I think art definitely empowers us and changes the way we might look at something, expands our vision and the totality of human expression.
Overall, what do you hope readers will gain from the content featured in All The Women in My Family Sing?
I want readers of all ethnicities, genders, ways of being… I want people who are in the dominant culture, especially those who do not know of the experiences of people of color, to read these essays and to feel one with all of the women who are singing their stories. I think that when we listen to someone else’s story, it changes our prejudices. It can open us up to realize, “Oh I have that same feeling, I have that same thought.” I think that it’s so important for each reader to be transported to a world of inclusion and understanding. That’s what I wrote in my forward, that’s the intention of this anthology… That many people who have not have had the experiences that women of color have had will read these stories and have love and understanding for others.
DARLA really focuses on Sunday self-care practices and applying them to our processes for achieving career goals. How would you spend a self-care Sunday with no rules or restrictions?
That is great! My whole life, I’ve had different times that I’ve done different things. I am a mother of three, but now, of course my children are grown. When they were little, I was on that treadmill of going, going — getting them to school, getting them steady during the week, getting baths, homework, everything… And so Sunday has always been a day where I attend a church, some kind of spiritual community so that I can refresh. I tried to raise my children in a way where they would know that place in themselves to find peace, because peace doesn’t come from the world… Peace comes from within. I still do that, to this day. Now I have the freedom of just doing it on my own, so I can take all of Sunday. I’d start with my meditation and a spiritual community that reminds me of who I truly am and builds me up so that I can get back into my week. I’d try to take a hike, I try to hike as many days as I can, because being in nature also fulfills my spirit. Then I, hopefully, could meet with friends or do some loving with people who I love in the evenings. That’s a perfect Sunday for me.
On More About All The Women In My Family Sing…
“The website, AllTheWomeninMyFamilySing.com, has not only the bios of all the women, but it has blogs from them talking about their passions in life. These women are so powerful and so phenomenal. I have grown to love each one of them. We did about 40 book events around the United States — most on the West Coast and some on the East Coast. I got to really know some of these authors and how they have chosen a positive road in life. I think reading their blogs, for people, will be really important.” — Deborah Santana
We can continue the All The Women in My Family Sing movement by reading more published works from women of color! Visit the “Call to Action” page on their website for statistics and information on how to shop for books by a running selection of authors.
Also, All The Women in My Family Sing would make great holiday gift for ourselves + the women of color in our lives to read, as well as for our diverse friends and creative peers that we hope to share the first step in awareness with!