In order to foster a fertile and empowering context where Feminist Action Research methodology can take place, I must first delineate the theoretical foundations from which my study with Mixtec/Zapotec communities in the U.S. and Mexico stems: Indigenous Feminisms. As a self-identified Chicana and first generation Mexican-U.S. citizen, I find the two lenses relatively entwine, overlap and dialogue. As a woman, the lenses are natural extensions of my worldview, embodied experience, and transnational values.
Through the lens of Indigenous Feminism, I will collaboratively addresses complex issues affecting some of the most historically oppressed, impoverished, and erased communities of the Americas. Among these groups are indigenous women, girls, and transgender women, and immigrants to the U.S. with questionable legal status. In my research I will work with intergenerational Mixtec/Zapotec research members to integrate their interpretations of indigenous worldviews and cyclical notions of time and space. For example, there is a perpetual spiral-like overlap and reenactment of past events, themes and beings, so that all generations of all living things remain connected. Another valuable aspect inherent in many indigenous perspectives is the belief that all living beings/things are animate—imbued with spirit. Depending on the priorities of the research artist group, this notion may infuse the artmaking process. While perceptions of women within indigenous communities vary considerably across the Americas, there are rich myth histories where women deities are protagonists in the creation of humanity, land, values, and tradition. Earth herself, is mother: simultaneously creator and destroyer. Meaningful priorities and goals of the Feminist Action Research project will be determined by Mixtec/Zapotec research members, so that the knowledge formed and archived will be relevant and have a lifespan beyond the time frame we create. In keeping with the feminist lens, all content will be women-girl-Muxe centered and produced. Another powerful aspect of Indigenous Feminism is that it leaves room for alternative gender identities to have voice and value, such as in the case of the Muxe, or transgender women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. These self-identified women are valued for their simultaneous masculine and feminine being, artistry, caretaking for elder women, and beauty. Outside of the context of Tehuantepec, Muxe experience the same homophobia that saturates Mexico’s conservative Catholic-laced society. Mixtec and Zapotec communities also share a distinct reception within the homogeneous constructs of Mexican identity. Though Indigenous Feminism in action, memory, oppression, silence, and distortions, and centuries of physical and symbolic violence can be critically examined from within. A potentially healing and empowering process can begin through Indigenous Feminist Research, when rooted in the worldview, priorities and vision of indigenous women and girls.
The democratic social justice nature of using an Indigenous Feminist lens in research requires the highest ethical standards. As a researcher facilitating Indigenous Feminism, I must be mindful of my own biases, romantisizations, and limitations. For example, while I am conscious of my nebulous indigenous heritage, I was never raised within entirely indigenous life-ways. I cannot say if I will ever be able to genuinely say, “I am Native American”. My upbringing was mestisized, with only a few indigenous practices and beliefs in tact, namely: respect all living beings, mixing of herbal remedies, and healing rituals involving prayer, natural elements, and elders. Because of my position at the periphery of Mixtec/Zapotec society, I must always be sensitive to the ways in which I gather research data, interpret information, and offer information. Since the research is completely informed by those “researched”, we will need to find a balance with organically developing aspects of the work, with those that for the sake of time, should be more structured. Trust and communication is key. In fact, I will likely need to take courses in Mixtec or Zapotec language, so that we are not continually using the colonizer’s language for all interactions. I am a visitor, after all.
My proposed research entails a great deal of coalition building, interpersonal relationship building, and consistency of passion. It is my hope that the research the members and I conduct will be of transcending significance to us all and that the knowledge created will continue in self-sustainable form within each community. I will simply be one of many flutes for the breath of the universe.