Women’s writing: Las Juanas

Mabel Encinas-Sánchez

This article presents the journey of a group of Latin American and Spanish women writers, Las Juanas, their principles and their dreams.

We created our group, Las Juanas, because we wanted to develop our craft working in a workshop, and to share our work with a wider audience. Our original name was Hispano-American Women Writers on Memory. The name was too long, a tongue twister, and almost nobody except for us could remember it, so we decided to change it. However, ‘memory’ remained central to our work. Memories live in our bodies, but need to be converted into words, and words are born to be shared.

Memories merge the ‘I’ and the ‘we’. When we tell our herstories we are deliberate, we define ourselves instead of being created by the fantasies of others. We are not what they think we are, and we stop being ‘them’, ‘immigrants’, ‘other’. Thanks to memory, we map the territory and we resist the repetition of history in search for new lands. Memory is dynamic and travels with us. As memory travels with us, it is accessed from our present existence. For this reason, memory may emerge with a different colour at different points in life. Our memories recount death, fractures, crises and recovery of lost worlds via nostalgia. Our memories also recount happiness, love, and celebration of life. Thanks to memory we have empathy with the suffering of other people.

We write because we need to. Then, we create poetry and prose. Writing entails a commitment for changing ourselves and our world. As Gabriel Celaya said, poetry is a weapon loaded with future. In our poetry, we chant to difference to pave the path to equality. Our epic poems talk about our journeys. Our journeys as women and as women who came to this country due to exile and migration. Our lyric poems bring heart and head together to make sense of our experience of what happens.

The personal is political. We feel because we are alive, and writing makes us more alive. And kicking. We do not believe in official ‘truths.’ We do not believe in ‘truths’ that discriminate and oppress. Through our feelings, we know and learn. Our fiction depicts the big pandemics of the world, that we resist. Not only the virus, but the pandemics caused by humans: violence against women, state violence and repression, imperialism, racisms and other forms of discrimination.

We have published two books… and counting. Originally, we set ourselves to publish one book with our narrative. Soon we realised that the first book had a twin. That is how we published the bilingual books Wonder-Makers: Navigators of the Thames. One book of poetry, in 2015; one book of short stories and other narrative, in 2016. Maravilladoras, Wonder Makers, was a term inspired by Mario Benedetti’s work. Wonder Makers are opposed poles to the ‘Desmaravilladores’, the wonder destroyers.Wonder destroyers of the world do not find anything wrong with being greedy and with creating exploitation, wars and weapons. Wonder destroyers destroying life and the environment. After those first books, currently twin new books are on the ink well of Las Juanas.

We have survived and we believe, with the guide of Audre Lorde, that silence will not save us. We heal ourselves as we speak, we seek and find the possibilities of the past and build better possible futures. We have hope. We are aware that we follow the torch from Black and Latinx feminists, from women that fight against oppression. We are committed to create social justice and inclusion. We celebrate human rights through poetry, visual arts, and songs. In these ten years, we have produced written word and performance events of poetry, short stories, and music. We have also facilitated creative writing workshops. Our workshops have reached Spanish and English-speaking communities, and they have been in London and outside London.

We have been a collective of six or seven women at a time. We have been nine in total. From Latin American and Spain. We have cooked together, we have travelled to have our tertulias, as we could call our get-togethers, and to participate in our retreats. We have shared our pain. We have been writing, creating together, reading each other’s work, encouraging while being critical, producing new understandings rooted in our hearts. We have laughed together with our texts and jokes made on the spot. We have found our commonalities and have had our differences, understood each other, apologised when needed; we have understood again and forgiven. We have bridged the gap between our ideals and the concrete realities of doing. We are far from perfect, and fully human. We have endeavoured to be caring and supportive with each other. We have found friendship. We thank each other for our sorority.

We are part of a wider community. We are deeply grateful to so many friends and family members who have been with us along the way. They (you) have given us lots of gifts of support: lighting, sound, music, food, help with raffles, and helping us to distribute offerings, among many other things. In community, many hands make light work. Sharing with you has made our lives better. We do not write for ourselves. When we write we think of you. We write to be part of the world and share with all and each of you. To all of you: thank you.

We have been together for ten years. Ten. One syllable and numerous experiences. We women. Women writers. Las Juanas

A version of this article was first published in the online multicultural newspaper The Prisma

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