Now that the one day of celebrating motherhood is behind us, many women will go back to silently doing the unrecognized, steady work that keeps the wheels turning forward that make a family work. With this in mind, it was a pleasure to attend last week’s screening, “Breaking the Silence: A Celebration of Healing Through Our Mothers’ Narratives” — a series of short films made by teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 18 who live in the Eastern Coachella Valley in California, a rural desert community which is 99% Latino, with a high rate of poverty and a low rate of education.
It was powerful to witness the sense of release many of the adult women expressed on film by having the chance to tell their stories, and having them recognized as important, as well as the obvious desire to connect with a daughter, often across cultural and generational boundaries, and to convey how each woman’s opportunities, choices, and constrictions formed who she was at her daughter’s age. In some of the films the mothers reveal wrenching stories of abuse, hidden first marriages, and the difficulties of escape during emigration. The revelations of the past are like long-held ghosts released and highlight a hard-won resilience.
The project is facilitated by Global Girl Media, an organization helmed by filmmaker and visionary Amie Williams and doing amazing cross-cultural work in the US and overseas, with the aim of expanding into even more countries. By giving girls the tools to take charge of media production, GGM aspires to promote girls’ voices by giving them access to technology and cultivating leadership. This project seems thoroughly in the spirit of their mission to recognize the voice of “the invisible majority, particularly young women,” who would otherwise pass “silently under the radar.”
After the screening there was an excellent panel which reiterated the need to encourage women to believe they matter — such a familiar refrain, yet so poignantly evergreen. Lian Cheun, the Executive Director of Khmer Girls in Action, based in Long Beach, CA spoke impressively of working with girls whose families might still be suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, the challenges of assimilation, and how to unearth family stories when there is a cultural onus against speaking out. She revealed how she began to connect with her own mother through cues or clues such as deciphering a grunt, or interpreting the food served, or vegetables chosen to grow in a garden. Cheun also spoke about her organization’s calculated decision to admit boys into their programming to further recognize and affirm the experiences of girls and women as part of their mission to fight for “race, class and gender justice.”
The other panelists, Monique W. Morris, co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, among other impressive achievements, and Sara Haskie-Mendoza, who runs the program, Xinachtli Rites of Passage for the Los Angeles Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance, spoke meaningfully about the need for intergenerational healing, particularly in the communities they serve.
The program ended with the projection of questions to ask any mother about her past, her wishes, her left-behind dreams. No matter the cultural background or hidden history, it became clear that silences or gaps transmit from generation to generation and, unless mended, become sewn into the fabric of a family. Don’t wait a full year to recognize a mother’s legacy — as the program emphasized — now is the time to begin to heal.