Expanding the Tribe

Our universe is a world of associations – amongst concepts, languages, and people. We find our identities by judging to what we are similar and from what we are different. So it is no wonder that we have tribal roots. As a student of anthropology, I studied the prominence of clans and kinships in ancient society. A sense of belonging was often determined by family lineage. And there was deep emphasis placed on keeping the lineage pure, unblemished by outside influence.

While in modern western society we no longer place such emphasis on our family lineage, moving freely between modern kinship circles of the workplace, the church, and both real and virtual communities, it seems we still have an innate knee jerk reaction to help “our own.” Of course, each of us prioritizes what identities we most prize. For instance, I identify myself most succinctly as a white married Christian feminist. But when looking at what descriptor most influences my daily habits, I clearly see my bent towards humane feminism in the work that I do, the conversations in which I partake, and even in the charities I support. Because I know my time and resources are limited, I try to streamline my efforts in that singular direction.

But associations become problematic when we turn a blind eye to issues, causes, and people who don’t fit our categorical identities, when we become prejudicial against those who we cannot relate to, when we give only to those who reaffirm what we already know to be true of ourselves.

So, why should I, an educated white woman, care about the education of young, under-ressourced Latina girls? Is it not safe to assume that Latinas will help “their own”? Admittedly, my involvement in the early stages of Circle de Luz came as a direct result of my relationship with its founder, Rosie Molinary. Before then, most of my studies on feminism centered on white-collar working women and their pressure on the infamous glass ceiling. I had friends who were Spanish majors in college and traveled to places such as Columbia, Spain, Mexico, Ecuador, and Nicaragua to help Latinas. That was their shtick. Not mine. I don’t even speak Spanish, I thought, so I could not be “called” to aid this community.

But through my work with Rosie, helping her to publicize and market her groundbreaking book Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina, I realized that my definition of tribe was narrowed only as a result of ignorance. The more I began to learn about the issues facing young Latinas, the more I began to see how their challenges demanded my attention. Not only because I am a woman, but because I am a human. And when one of our own is faltering, we must heed the call to help.

We don’t have to pretend to understand or relate to the plights of different ethnicities or genders, although we might find our differences far fewer than we once believed. We simply have to expand our notion of who is “our own” and expand the tribe of the human race.

- Erin Lane Beam