One afternoon at my "day job", some co-workers were asking about nicknames so I offered up my co-identity, Mamita Mala.
"That sounds like a stripper name," one woman reacted.
Oh, if they only knew. But I was "baptized" Mamita Mala, not when I was spinning round a pole for a year, but five years before that, when I was a barely out of my teens and juggling being a single mami and activist in New York City.
Pregnant at 19, and giving birth at 20, I was surrounded by strong mamas who supported me and were excellent examples of what it meant to be a bad ass while taking care of others. I met these mamas by accident when at age 16, while waiting for a boy I had a crush on, I stumbled upon a workshop on Puerto Rican identity at Muevete!, a youth conference at Colombia University. It was there that I learned that racial violence and police brutality was impacting people who looked like me and my family and that these things were happening in my neighborhood.
I felt compelled to do something, even if in the beginning that meant folding flyers for mailings or making popcorn for meetings. My own mother raised my sister and I on her own, providing not an easy childhood, but one rich in experiences. I also had the mothers I organized with, who in many ways took care of me as I worked with them in the name of their children.
I had been volunteering as the Coordinator of the Justice Committee of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights after a few years working under former Young Lords teaching me about Puerto Rican history. I moved my way up from working security at rallies and marches to helping to create media, grassroots, and legal strategies for mothers. Mothers like Altagracia Mayi, whose 19-year-old son Manny was chased and beaten to death by a racist gang of Italian youth in Corona, Queens in 1991. Milta Calderon whose 21 year old unarmed son Anibal Carrasquillo was shot in the back and killed by New York Police Department Officer Marco Calderon in 1995. Lillian Flores whose son Frankie Arzuaga was only 15 when he was shot in the head by an NYPD officer. Margarita Rosario whose son, Anthony and nephew, Hilton Vega, were shot while face down a total of 28 times by cops who were former bodyguards of once NYC Mayor Giuliani. Iris Baez, whose son Anthony was choked to death by an officer mad that a football hit his patrol car.
They were more than cases I helped organized marches, rallies, vigils and press conferences for. They were extended family. I broke bread with them after long emotionally exhausting meetings. I attended birthday parties, baby showers, and even was a bridesmaid for one. They are prime examples of the complicated nature of Latina motherhood in the United States that calls for maternity to be caretaking of not just the individual but of a community.