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Finalist | Lucy Sternbach
"The Storyteller"

 

MEET LUCY

IES Abroad Program: Granada - Study in Granada
College / University: Yale University, Class of 2019
Major: Social Studies
Hometown: Cambridge, Massachusetts 

HER STORY

“Don’t let the patriarchy into the home.” For Domitila Barrios de Chungara, a Bolivian housewife who wrote a testimony against imperialism in 1967, counter narratives and images against systemic “patriarchies” is vital to creating change. Feminism, in this case, is inextricable from discussions about colonialism and race. With Domatila’s words in mind, I left the U.S. in January 2017, seeking to break bread with the women of Spain and Morocco and to learn about the pluralities of feminism around the globe. I knew Granada to be a complex city: situated close to North Africa, histories underlined by fluctuations of racial and religious divisions. And so I became eager to explore beyond the divisions — what did solidarity look like for the women in the Western Mediterranean, with such a variety of perspectives of citizenship? Tangent, a photography essay project, became an opportunity not only to represent the testimonies and voices of local Spaniards and Moroccans, but also to bring together women and thinkers who might not have normally crossed paths. For me, in addition to my academic studies in Spain, I wanted to continue my work as a photographer and writer that would promote an anti-imperialist agenda that might, indeed, prevent the patriarchy from entering the home.

The collection of narratives, as a political means, can incorporate the participants to fully collaborate in the process. She can see her lived experience as validated; what might seem daily and mundane becomes worthy of political movement. The subject becomes an actor. In Cambridge, MA, where I grew up, I began to understand political actors as regular people. The public-school system, although “diverse” by outside standards, suffered from a racialized achievement gap. The administration scarcely discussed this systemic issue beyond closed doors. Any conversation seemed to fall short of incorporating the perspectives of the heterogeneous student population. Working with group of teachers and students who still pushed me to explore questions of social justice deeper, I began to collect and publish testimonies of students from all backgrounds about their experiences in the school. At IES Abroad Granada, I wanted to continue to explore the possibilities of narrative building as a form of resistance. Thus, I spoke with more than fifty local women that a study-abroad student might not normally meet in such a brief semester. The inclusion of voices from different regions, from the “colonizer” of Spain to the “colonized” of Latina America and Northern Africa, was an intentional attempt to underline the multitudes of voices participating in the global “citizenry” of the Western Mediterranean.

Tangent, beginning as a creative arts fellowship from Yale University, looks at the pluralities of roles and voices of women in our local and global communities. Professors of Gemma, a Master ́s program in the Women and Gender Studies department at the University of Granada, I came to know a vast network of women interested in participating in the project. “Do I look oppressed to you?” Munira, a Muslim woman running a Nazari leather shop asked me. “We are tired of being called oppressed.” Along with Munira, I worked on narratives with the only Sephardic Jewish woman raising a family in Granada, Gypsy teenagers who speak about their desire to be seen as more than ‘entertainers’ for the voyeuristic eye, women from Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America selling fruit and clothing at the bustling Saturday market in Zaidin, female intellectuals in Morocco trying to complicate the western idea of feminism in Islamic regions, religious leaders participating in Spain’s largest Catholic processions — these are only a few of the women who welcomed me into their space to talk, learn, and reimagine “feminism” together. Wanting to further explore the multiplicity of perspectives, and to also immerse myself in the geopolitics of Morocco and Spain, I spent the month of Ramadan living with a family in Rabat. Here, I witnessed daily moments of power in the female Islamic household. Not only do Aicha and I continue to share stories of womanhood across the Atlantic, but we also plan to reunite post-graduation to collaborate on giving a series of workshops for young women about sexuality and power.

This photo-narrative project, indeed, might have negligible significance. However, both the final product narratives and the less tangible conversations of my work could be part of a slow, yet important paradigm shift for women around the world. These women who I spoke to, who are often misunderstood as apolitical or passive, have shown resistance to stereotypical common ideology. Perhaps one of the women I spoke with, with a new validation that she is a political actor, will be inspired to share her story more with young girls and boys in the future generations. A new cycle can begin: these children, perhaps more able to question anti-feminisms, could go on to be politicians, mothers or fathers, and teachers, participating in powerful webs of critical thinking and cutting-edge storytelling. Perhaps some women, who met each other in Granada or Morocco during our meetings or workshops about my project, will meet again. Thus these initial conversations could formulate new political spaces for women to collaborate, to break bread, across difference. Further, by refusing to reduce all women to a single story in the media and in daily conversations, we can begin the undoing of the patriarchy entering the home.

The process of my work, living and writing with these powerful women, drastically changed my path as a scholar and citizen. Our conversations not only pushed me to explore gender studies within Yale’s Ethnic Studies department, but they also questioned my very intentions of writing and creating art. It is quite difficult to put someone in front of your camera, to ask for her narrative—intimate, but also rendering a power relationship. Who am I, a Yale student from the United States, to make art about women in Morocco? I was asked, each day, to be a better listener; this project was not my own, but rather a product of many interventions and changes by the people involved. Thus, I began learning to become receptive and adaptive to voices in the room. Whether in a court as a lawyer or in the newsroom as a journalist, this series of experiences has inspired me to work alongside with, not above, the communities for whom I hope to affect change. Moreover, having showcased the Tangent project in various classrooms and for the World Fellows Greenberg program at Yale, I continued working with a student photographer on a campus-focused project on female intimacy at Yale. What is intimacy, and what does it look like in contrast to what the media portrays? Through this work, I not only formed priceless relationships with the participants, but I also gained new confidence in art as a power tool to combat pejorative stigmas in society around gender, love, and intimacy. The power of art and narrative has become boundless for many of us involved in the project—for this I look forward to the creative work that the women around me will do to forge political questions.

This summer I hope to work with the Institute of Narrative Growth, a social justice organization that promotes cutting-edge stories as agents for groundbreaking change. How do we capacitate low-income communities in cities, or migrant workers new to the U.S., to share their stories of resistance against marginalization? How can we help the stories become more effective as evidence to garner change? Informed by my previous work in New Haven with labor unions and research on race and migration in Peru, Spain, and Argentina, this summer would be more than an eight-week opportunity to work with professionals in my desired field of human rights law. For many groups I would meet day-to-day, these conversations and workshops will become spaces for them to learn about the power of their stories, to validate their lived experiences as political forces. From entering public schools curriculums to newspaper headliners, stories of resistance can change the literal writings of history. And resistance, as I saw with IES in Spain, comes in a multitude of forms. We need more nuanced stories to complicate hegemonic narratives that exist that allow patriarchies in the homes of poor or underprivileged people across the globe. With IES, I learned to listen to powerful histories— closely and slowly—and to see each one as a possible chance to change the world.

Feeling inspired? Meet all of our 2017 Global Citizen of the Year Finalists and Winner, and learn more about this Award.