Today I chat with Christian feminist AnaYelsi Sanchez, who blogs about the intersection of art, faith, and social justice at BrownEyedAmazon.com. Enjoy!
****************************************************Transcript provided by Marvin:
Trav: Welcome to the Bi Any Means podcast, a place where social justice and humanism meet. Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Bi Any Means podcast, the podcast companion to bianymeans.com. I’m Trav Mamone and today I’m going to try something new. All my guests so far have been atheists but today I will be interview AnaYelsi Sanchez who blogs about the intersection of faith, art and social justice at browneyedamazon.com. I don’t always read Christian bloggers but when I do, I prefer ones who are just as passionate about social justice as I am. (Forgive the Dos Equis commercial reference.) Anyways, enjoy the show.
My guest for today is AnaYelsi Sanchez who blogs about the intersection of art, faith, and social justice at browneyedamazon.com. AnaYelsi, thanks for joining me today.
AnaYelsi: Thanks for having me.
Trav: First, I want to ask you about your background, tell us a little about that.
AnaYelsi: How far back do you want me to go? I was born in Venezuela.
Trav: Let me start there.
AnaYelsi: I am a Venezuelan immigrant. I came to the US when I was a toddler, and grew up East Coast of my life. I grew up in New York, and moved to Orlando, Florida as a teenager, and then spent about 14 years in Florida, and now I’m living here in Washington, DC. I’m very much an East Coast person, but a very proud indigenous Latina.
Trav: Great. Where you raised Christian, or did you come to it later in your life?
AnaYelsi: I have a very weird religious heritage, or I’ll say unique religious heritage. When I was brought to the US, I was brought by a white upper middleclass family, and half the household was Jewish and half was Catholic. My adopted mother was Catholic, but she was very more into new age mysticism. We have a meditation room in the house, and I learned about crystals and stuff growing up. Then I would celebrate Passover, and search for the Afikomen on Jewish holidays. It was a very weird amalgamation of religions, and then I actually ended up spending most of my childhood as a ward of the state in the foster care system, and growing in and out of group homes. I strayed very far from religion during that time. I actually became agnostic with a lot of animosity towards Christianity. It wasn’t until I was in college that I actually chose Christianity as a faith practice for myself.
Trav: What was it specifically Christianity that made you want to go in that direction?
AnaYelsi: For me, I was part of a Methodist, very conservative college ministry called the Wesley Foundation of the University of Central Florida, and I was a part of them for a year, my entire freshman year before I even considered Christianity. I was actually actively argued with members of the group. I was only there for the relationships. I had no interest in their religion, and despite all of their efforts to convert, or save me, or whatever language you wanted to use, my choice came from personal transformation during worship time, and just the softening of my heart towards Christianity that really had very little to do with outside efforts forced on me.
Trav: In most Christian circles, feminism is synonymous with killing babies, and being a lesbian or whatever.
AnaYelsi: I’ve heard it all.
Trav: How and when did you discover feminism?
AnaYelsi: I was a feminist long before I was a Christian. If anything, I would say I rediscovered my feminist identity post becoming a Christian in adulthood. When I started college, I was known as that hyper-focused, social justice-oriented feminist who just took no crap from anyone, and told you exactly what she was thinking. I lived my life on top of soapbox that was ten feet tall, and then when I became a Christian, because of the very conservative space I was in, I started questioning whether I could be a feminist at all, and became quieter, more introverted and lost a lot of my identity that I’d had as a teenager. It’s actually into my late twenties, and now I’m 30-years-old, where I’ve reclaimed that identity and have been able to reconcile I with my faith.
Trav: How would you reconcile the two because I have met plenty of feminist Christians like Dianna Anderson, and Sarah Moon, and I’m not one to say, “No, you have to one or the other,” but when I look at the Bible, and certain . . . especially a lot of things that Paul wrote, I’m thinking, “Hmm, not sure how you can give this one from this.”
AnaYelsi: Sure, I think the answer to that is pretty complex but where I would start is saying that feminism is not compatible with white, colonizer, patriarchal, racist Christianity, and a lot of that is what is peddled not just here in the US, but overseas. Those two are not compatible, and scripture or the Bible is often used a tool of violence in perpetuating ideas that feminism and Christianity cannot be reconciled. I would say when you are looking at it through that lens, absolutely not. You cannot be a feminist and be that kind of Christian. That is not the only kind of Christian, and I would even go so far as to say that that’s not the truest Christian, possibly not even Christianity at all if I’m going to be really bold. For me it’s taken a lot … I’ve had the privilege, it is definitely a privilege to have the time, and the resources to study scripture and to not have to take what is said from the pulpit at face value, and to understand that there is a harmonic and a theology that is different than what is the norm here in the US and where I can look at things through that lens.
When I really begin to question things for myself, then I can reconcile those two identities then it’s not so difficult for me. If anything, my Christianity, my deeper understanding of the word or scripture has made me bolder in my identity as a woman and as a woman of color.
Trav: How did Brown-Eyed Amazon get started?
AnaYelsi: I’m going to out myself as a really big geek. I love super heroes. I love comics. I love sci-fi. I am just … I can [inaudible 00:08:38] about that endlessly, and one thing that I love above all others is Wonder Woman. She is Amazonian warrior. She is a picture of a hero, an anti-patriarchal hero who challenges gender norms, and pushes the envelope in ways that she is told by society. She was everything I wanted in a hero, and Brown-Eyed Amazon was not an alter ego. It’s not like I see myself as a Brown-Eyed Amazon, but as a concept that was born out of a childhood love for Wonder Woman. If you look at the logo for Brown-Eyed Amazon, it’s an Amazonian warrior, and since I’m an artist, instead of holding a sword and a shield, she’s holding a pallet brush, and a paintbrush, or a pallet and a paintbrush. That’s how it origins.
Trav: How did the blog get started?
AnaYelsi: I have always loved writing. I don’t know if I would say I was always a writer but I’ve always writing. I was on the school paper. When I was in high school, I was editor of my high school paper, The Barnacle (go Commodores!) and I thought I was going to do journalism when I was in college. I started writing for myself and then started sharing pieces with others and it grew naturally from there. I realized that there was an audience out there of people who were craving a lot of the same things I was craving, which was looking at faith through a decolonized lens, looking at feminism in a way that decentered whiteness. A lot of the things that I was desperate for and so it was formed naturally.
Trav: Tell us a little bit about the series on your blog, Secret Lives of Feministas.
AnaYelsi: That is everything that I just described at its ultimate. My birthday about three years ago, I was sitting down at my computer, and you know how you just or maybe this is just me, you go on a Twitter rant, and you just tweet what you think, and there’s no end in sight. I just started tweeting about my frustration with white feminism, with mainstream feminism, and I just let out a stream of tweets talking about all of the things that I wish mattered to white feminism that don’t. All the ways in which women of color, and specifically Latinas, get silenced or even actively harmed under the agenda of white feminism, and I used the harsh tag Secret Lives of Feminista while I was doing this. People started responding, and then I suddenly connected with women I had never known before. We planned a Twitter party where we could bring others in a week later, and that grew into a Facebook group, which now two years later is still running. It’s one of the greatest support groups I have. It’s phenomenal, and it’s full of incredible women, Latina women, and some allies.
Then it grew into that series that’s on my website where it’s just sharing the stories of Latinas who have felt like they haven’t been heard, or they have not seen reflection of themselves in mainstream feminism, and wanted to offer a picture of what it was for them to reconcile their racial identity, their culture, and their feminist identity. That’s where it came from.
Trav: You recently spoke at Wild Goose Festival on a panel about colonialism and colonization in Christianity. One of the reasons why I’m a secular humanism and no longer a Christian is because of its history of colonization, although Christianity certainly doesn’t hold a monopoly on colonialism. I want to ask you, first of all, how the conference went and second if there’s a way to decolonize Christianity?
AnaYelsi: Sure. First, the event was called Wild Goose, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I had a lot of apprehension before I went. It’s a music and arts festival four-day camping even in the woods, in the mountains of North Carolina with a focus of social justice in a Christian theme. That’s a lot, and honestly when I first was looking through … reading their descriptions of the event on their website I had that apprehension that I get a lot with things that look and feel like white, progressive Christianity that put themselves forward as safe spaces but in reality can be very harmful to people of color, particularly to women of color.
AnaYelsi: Yeah, you know a little about what I’m referring to.
Trav: Oh, yes!
AnaYelsi: I couldn’t help it. That was my first reaction. I got an invite from Micky ScottBey Jones and Teresa Pasquale to join them on a panel on decolonization. Micky is black Christian woman. Teresa Pasquale is a Colombian woman, and I trusted the two of them, and I accepted. I’m so glad I did. Yes, it was overwhelmingly white space, and yes, I saw instances of racial insensitivity, of appropriation. There were times when I felt uncomfortable, and out of place, most of the people of color who were present because they were speakers like I was. Those were the few things I was like, “But could I feel this on it with flaws,” but in reality, it was a really incredible event. The panels that were there were so heavily focused on race and gender and sexual minorities, and I really appreciated seeing a predominantly white space essentially taking over ad taught. I thought that was a wonderful thing to be a part of and I can see the numbers of people growing in attendance as word about that gets out.
All of that being said, the panel itself was talking about the impact that colonization, displacement, genocide has had on women of color in Christianity. You are right, there’s no denying that one of the greatest perpetuators and of death have been Christians, and it’s been marginalized people. It’s been against people of color, African people, indigenous people, Native Americans, Latinos. We are the victims of Christianity and there’s no denying tha,t but there’s cultural Christianity and then there’s Christianity itself. I think that we have forgone the later in favor of the former because it benefits those in power. Our panel was touching about how we move through Christian spaces, and challenge that, and engage people on this idea that we don’t have to accept that as true Christianity.
Trav: What are some ways we can … or Christians can decolonize Christianity?
AnaYelsi: Sure. One of the first things that comes to mind in terms of a small first step, but definitely not a place to stop, is language. So much of how we speak and express our faith is wrapped up in white supremacy and patriarchy. I would say just beginning to be cognizant of that fact and actively working to change it on a personal level and on a corporate level. In our churches, in our programs, in our conversations with one another. Language would be a big part. That’s gender language for God. That’s racial … white imagery for Jesus. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Jesus is a beautiful white man in those churches.
Trav: Yeah, for a guy who was born from Palestine he’s sure is really white.
AnaYelsi: Yes. He’s a surprisingly beautiful white man. That’s a little weird. I would say imagery and language is a basic first step. My next thing is . . . don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of racial reconciliation. I think that it is an endpoint that we have to reach. I think that it is an endpoint that people are seeking after before they do the necessary work of racial justice, and they think that it can be done in lieu of racial justice and it cannot. Maybe it can be done in tandem, but it can’t be done first. It can’t be achieved first and anyone who seeks that in place of racial justice is seeking something that is still act of violence against people of color. One way of decolonizing the church, and of letting go of these white supremacist ideals is not accepting some diluted poor example of racial reconciliation. I think [inaudible 00:19:05] some very real conversation in the church about what racial justice is, how it’s sort after. There needs to be a time of lament allowed both for people of color, and for white people. There needs to be lament for culpability in racism. There needs to be lament for loss, for death, and some of that is very real things happening right now. Charleston is a powerful example of that, a painful example of that.
I think true seeking after of racial justice needs to happen before reconciliation and then I think it’s acknowledging that there are issues that we do not talk about in the church because we like to say that they are uncomfortable or they are divisive. But in reality, they are usually issues where the people most heavily affected by them are people of color and these are some of the more obvious issues like immigration, the prison industrial complex, police sanctioned violence but then there are also issues like eco-justice, and environment stewardship that is more in line with Christian scripture. There is scripture that talks about environmental stewardship and we don’t like to acknowledge that. These are all issues that affect people of color more heavily than they do white people, and then there are issues that we are least likely to talk about from the pulpit. These are all steps we can take towards decolonizing Christian and decolonizing the church.
Trav: Very good. I wanted to talk a little bit about your artwork. How long have you been painting and what message are you trying to express in your artwork?
AnaYelsi: I started painting about three years ago now … no, I started painting with confidence, and acknowledging my identity as an artist three years ago. I started painting in college when I was about 20, maybe a little bit younger actually. I started an arts ministry called Journey with my friend William, who if you ever listened to the stories I share, or have read pieces I’ve written pieces I’ve written in the past, I’ve mentioned William sometimes as a friend I went through that very conservative ministry with, who he and I have both been able to come out on the other side, healthier people despite some of the most unhealthy aspects of the community. He was a closeted gay man at the time. I was a closeted ally if you could even be that. It’s probably oxymoron, and now he’s someone who is out, and confident, and proud about who he is. He is in a healthy relationship and in a community that affirms his identity, and I’m about as bold, I hope, as I can get as an ally. If there’s further I can go I hope I do but part of what helped me and William through that time was Journey, was this arts ministry, and as a natural extension of my heart for justice, and my desire to be prophetic voice for justice through the church, I have always painted about these issues I’m talking about.
I paint about violence against women. I paint about LGBT equality. I paint about racism and immigration because I want art to be a political statement. I want anything I create to be something that is not just a beautiful picture. Hopefully, it’s still something that visually stimulates people I want it to motivate people to action. I consider my art a call to action, an invitation to be a part of the movement, and to play a small role in something revolutionary, and I hope it even achieves that even half the time.
Trav: Good, good. Normally on this podcast, I focus on the intersection of secular humanism and social justice but let me ask you this. Where and how do you see your faith and social justice intersect?
AnaYelsi: For me, because of the lens through I read scripture through, I see a Biblical mandate for social justice. I think there’s an undeniable Biblical mandate for social justice particularly if you are someone who has spent time studying the Old Testament prophets. You cannot read my Micah or Amos or Ezekiel, and not see an unapologetic demand for social justice. The intersection for me is that one spurs me is that on towards the other. I think I would be a pretty lousy excuse for a Christian if I was not dedicated to social justice.
Trav: Good. Good. That’s about it for me. Where can people find you online?
AnaYelsi: You can find me on Twitter. It is easiest to search my first name AnaYelsi that is because someone beat to me at Brown-Eyed Amazon and I had to put a bunch of abbreviations in my name but I’m about one of the only AnaYelsi’s you’ll ever run across. That’s where you’ll find me on Twitter. You can find me on Instagram @browneyedamazon. You can find me on Facebook.com/BrownEyedAmazon and then Browneyedamazon.com the website.
Trav: Great. Thanks again for joining me today AnaYelsi.
AnaYelsi: I appreciate you having me. I was excited to get across communities. I really appreciate you inviting me into this space.
Trav: Thanks for listening to the Bi Any Means podcast. The music you heard throughout the episode was “Endurance” by Dream Youth. You can find more of their music on dreamyouth.bandcamp.com. The Bi Any Means logo was design by Asher Silberman. Follow me on Twitter @tmamone and like the Bi Any Means page at www.facebook.com/travismamonewriter . If you like what you have heard, consider becoming a patron on Patreon. Just go to www.patreon.com/tmamone. As always, you can go to www.bianymeans.com for more musings of a queer humanist.
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