Laurita Dianita

Reflections and art on the topics of public health, social justice, and love

Archive for the ‘social justice’ tag

On the occasion of Fidel Castro’s death, brief thoughts on Cuba and the US American Left

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I wrote this yesterday, as the world learned of Fidel Castro’s death, on my phone as a Facebook post. Today, with both kids napping, I finally have a moment to make it into a blog post.


In the upper left, my traveling companions and friends, Sandra and Clare. On the right and bottom, the gregarious and adventurous children we met in La Sierra Maestra.

Fidel Castro’s death comes at a time when the US American left-of-center is asking a lot of the questions about unity vs. diversity of cause that my friends Clare and Sandra and I were asking when we spent 3 weeks in Cuba in the summer of 2005. (This was Clare’s return to Cuba after having studied abroad there 2002 – 2003, the first trip there for me and Sandra).

We wrestled with many questions that trip, as we talked politics and history with our friends and hosts throughout the island (including La Sierra Maestra, where the revolution was fought and where I took the photos above) and as we poured through essays on the Bautista dictatorship and US Imperialism, La Revolución, the literacy brigades (a host family even taught us the song of the brigades — “alfabetizar, alfabetizar, venceremos!”), the healthcare system, public transportation, and more. We were so impressed by the egalitarianism and base level of health: everyone had food, shelter, potable water, healthcare, mental healthcare, education, and jobs. No children died of vaccine-preventable diseases or diahrrea. There was not much crime. Women and men were camaradas. The only people with a whole lot of extra stuff were those with family in the US sending them Playstations and dollars they could use to get “Divisa,” the tourist money. We were very impressed by the government support for artists and the arts, the celebration of cultural diversity, and the revolution’s efforts to increase gender equality.

And yet, from what we could gather, all of these reforms were done because of a “unity” that required repression of diverse viewpoints and a repression of the voices of those who were still not enjoying full equality. Race equity was better there than in the US, but most top government posts were filled by light-skinned Cubans, and the largest houses seemed to be all occupied by lighter-skinned Cubans as well. The government’s support for the rise of women in the professional world was not accompanied by as strong of a push for men to take up an equivalent share of the housework and childcare duties, or significantly reform sexist treatment of women. (Related to this, we experienced sexual harassment in the big cities, but never in the small towns.) Universal healthcare was great, but the standard approach to childbirth left much to be desired, from my perspective as a proponent of the empowering midwifery model of care. With few opportunities for advancement in certain kinds of jobs, the quality of effort and innovation seemed to be compromised. The limits on seafood for Cubans, which in effect meant that most of the time only tourists could eat the amazing lobsters and shrimp that were abundant in their oceans, grated on us (so we bought some lobsters from a fisherman we literally met while in the ocean, and cooked them with our friends in La Habana). In fact, there were a lot of systems that favored tourists at the expense of Cubans, and in one experience we had, used race informally as a marker of who to exclude. And of course, the imprisonment of gays and political dissidents, the government control of press, and the fact that Fidel still hadn’t ceded power was super messed up.

We had rich political conversations with many Cubans of all racial backgrounds and different professions and ages. Their perspectives were often a complicated mixture of admiration for and disappointment with their system and their leadership. Clare and Sandra and I asked ourselves a lot of questions about whether the US American Left would be more successful if we could concentrate on fewer issues and all gather behind a charismatic leader and an economic and egalitarian vision like Cuba had done. We wondered if each person concentrating on separate causes divided us too much to be able to compete with the hyper-organized and controlled Right. But we couldn’t reconcile the Cuban “unity” approach with the intersectional, anti-racist, feminist, pro-LGBTQ, freedom-loving vision we had for our future. We really couldn’t.

I have been thinking about those questions a lot in the last few weeks as I hear Dems saying we lost for lack of focus on a singular economic vision that Blue Collar whites in the middle of America could get behind, that we lost because our voices and causes were too diverse. I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but I would hope that we could learn from Cuba how to gather behind a bright and beautiful idea, but avoid the repression of voices that Fidel propagated, which left them a more hollow version of that vision.

Ciao, Fidel. A complicated legacy you left.


Billboards are used for public health and social messaging. This one says “Ideas are more powerful than nuclear arms.”


Our friends Beatriz and Denis, who we met at a party in the Verbenal neighborhood of La Habana. I am still in touch with Denis, 11 years later.


Children I met in La Vieja Habana while waiting for food — a cardboard plate of congrí with pork and green beans sold from a residential window.



One of my journal entries from Santiago de Cuba, on the Eastern end of the island



Enjoying lobster and congrí with Denis and his family in La Habana Vieja

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November 27th, 2016 at 1:31 pm

week 29

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A left-handed drawing to give my carpal tunnel syndrome a break, and a stay-in-the-house-doing-chores-in-my-pyjamas-and-never-fixing-my-hair Sunday photo session because that’s what’s real.

The practice of solemn recognition & active gratitude

Just as I made this week’s drawing with my left hand, I am typing with my left hand in an attempt to relieve the nerves in my right arm and hand. I am not one to complain about pregnancy—it’s overall super rad and I enjoy it. But this carpal tunnel syndrome part is rough. All pregnancies have some difficulty or another—or many difficulties—so it is very helpful for employers, partners, friends, and others to be attentive to these pains and helpful in the ways we can be. Not all pregnant women will assert their needs or ask for help; it can be embarrassing and tiring to have to ask for assistance lifting heavy things or cooking or, in my case, writing by hand. I will be making it a point from here on out to ask pregnant friends and colleagues about the kinds of help they might need.

I am also making it a point to be grateful for what I’ve got. Sure it’s hard to sleep when my hand feels like it’s filled with tiny, exploding needles and sure, I’ve got some back issues. But I am so grateful for my health, for my healthy hematocrit and blood sugar, for my core muscles, for having been raised with and exposed to good nutrition and exercise habits, and for having the financial means that make it easier to be at a healthy weight prior to and during this pregnancy. I am grateful to have a supportive partner, a mama who is a nurse midwife, great support networks of friends, a non-hourly job so I can get to appointments, health insurance, the knowledge and access and advocacy skills to get high-quality, competent and warm prenatal and birth care, a licensed and credentialed and beautiful birth center where I can give birth, and much more. When my hand isn’t hurting so much, I have made it a point, per the advice of my dear friend, Nihal, to write a nightly list of things and people for which I am grateful; these folks and these blessings appear regularly on those lists.

I am also grateful, as I think about the many thousands dead in the Philippines due to the super typhoon and the many thousands more displaced and scared and stressed, to be alive and safe and in a relatively low-stress environment. As I do my job, much of which revolves around training health care providers to provide patient education, screening, and support on domestic and sexual violence and reproductive coercion, particularly with women of reproductive age, I am often thinking about the kinds of stressful life conditions so many women and girls (and their babies) endure during and around pregnancies. These include food insecurity, job insecurity, crowded and unsafe living conditions, homelessness, refugee status,  facing threat of deportation, living in war zones or living through natural disasters. These include having controlling partners who isolate them from support networks, make them tiptoe around under constant threat of violence, beat and rape and strangle them, expose them to STIs, and cause pregnancies that the women or girls weren’t ready for. These conditions include intergenerational patterns of substance abuse, depression, PTSD, the death of a dear loved one, the deaths of loved one after loved one in a dysfunctional community, chronic health conditions such as asthma or hypertension that are exacerbated by stress and by pregnancy, childhood trauma that may be triggered by pregnancy or birth or breastfeeding and may not be well understood or handled by their healthcare provider…unfortunately, the list goes on. I don’t name all of these to be a Debbie Downer, but because it’s my job (and moral obligation) to think about these things and what health and social service systems and all of us can do to help change these harmful conditions and help those experiencing them, and also because it reminds me to de-center my little universe of experience, to count my blessings, and not to wallow in my pains.

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November 10th, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Toward Global Justice: La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos and Transcultural Feminist Dialogue

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I took this photo in 2002 in the market of Juchitan, Oaxaca.

I took this photo in 2002 in the Zócalo of Oaxaca City. I spent a lot of time with these sisters who sold scarves in the streets and didn't attend school.

I was reminded recently of why I should share my undergraduate thesis. Janie, the intern at the Alaska Native Epidemiology Center, where I work, found online a Master’s Thesis about the very little researched topic of Iñupiaq women’s pregnancy and birthing beliefs and experience. This was very useful for the work we were doing. I felt  grateful that this young student researcher shared his work publicly online. I told Janie about my student research and thesis, and she suggested I share it too. So here it is.

Despite having written this thesis 8 years ago and it containing some errors, and perhaps there being moments of naïeveté in my theory, I decided I should make it available because it is useful. It is original research that has not been published anywhere else, as far as I know. It brings together original research with feminists in Oaxaca and global human rights theory to make an argument about the need for dialogue about justice and gender justice across cultures. It makes an argument that I still stand strongly by and practice in my daily life and work, in ways beyond what I would have imagined when I wrote this as a 21-year-old.

This is my honor’s thesis from my senior year of college at Mount Holyoke College (2004), based on interviews I had conducted in the summer of 2003 in Oaxaca, México and a lot of immersion in history, feminist theory, sociology, political discourse, etc. Unfortunately, I have lost the cover page, which had a wood block print I made of downtown Oaxaca City, and I’ve lost the table of contents.

So, to give you a brief preview:

The introduction explains how I came to this topic and why it matters, and the theories behind it. It introduces why I think we need transcultural feminist dialogue in order to arrive at globally-valid concepts of justice and human rights.

The 1st chapter provides a history of feminism in México and its ties to other social justice movements there.

The 2nd chapter covers what I learned from the feminists at La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos, a feminist organization based in Oaxaca City. (Oaxaca City is the capital city of the state in México that has more ethnic diversity, in terms of indigenous groups, than any other state in the country.) This chapter discusses the organization’s work, how each woman became a feminist, how each woman conceives of the concept of justice,  and how that translates into the feminist work she does.

The 3rd chapter uses the themes about feminism, gender justice, and justice that the women from La Casa de la Mujer brought up to make the argument that feminism arises organically out of everywhere. Because feminism arises out of different environments, it is necessarily different across cultures, countries, etc. At the same time, there is an “hilo conductor,” that is, a wire that connects all feminisms everywhere. This hilo conductor is the idea that we should be able to live lives with dignity and free of violence. Because feminism is both universal and grounded in the local, we need democratic, equitable, transcultural feminist dialogue in order to establish what about gender justice–and justice in general–is universal and what isn’t. That way, we can create human rights standards that people all over can buy into and feel a part of.

I sent this thesis to La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos in 2004. When I visited in 2005, they were almost done translating it into Spanish, so I got to assist with some of the translation.  I have not returned to Oaxaca since, but when I do, I hope to find that is has been useful. And I hope that is is useful for you. If you do use it, here is a suggested citation (although when I wrote it, my last name was Norton-Cruz…):

Avellaneda-Cruz, Laura. (2004). Toward Global Justice: La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos and Transcultural Feminist Dialogue. Undergraduate Thesis, Mount Holyoke College. Retrieved online at author’s website:

Thesis_Global_Feminism_Oaxaca_2004_L. Avellaneda-Cruz_p

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June 3rd, 2012 at 12:31 pm

So proud!

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I am so proud of the Photovoice kids, proud of the confidence and intimacy with which they spoke to people about their photographs during the exhibition on Friday night. My mom told me afterwards, “Laura, they were so comfortable speaking with adults and representing themselves. You two should be proud of having prepared them so well.” The 6 young artists spoke about depression, neighborhood stereotypes, alcoholism, and self-confidence. They spoke to artists, parents, teachers, social service providers, native corporation administrators, legislators, and assembly members. They got us two more show offers and a follow-up news article in which Denisha Crowe is going to play a pivotal role and may write something. Crystal Luddington, our up-and-coming community organizer then called everyone afterwards to arrange our next meeting. So proud.

Autumn Meloy spent Friday all in a dither about Julia O’Malley’s article in the Anchorage Daily News that featured her, mixing up her pride with her embarrassment and back and forth. The kids were excited to find out that all of their photos are up on Oscar and I were too exhausted and pulled in too many directions during the exhibit to soak in how big this was, but many e-mails have been sent to us since to remind us. Afterwards we laid down exhausted and congratulated one another.  We are a good team.

(BTW, on Oscar’s blog he describes his own pride and excitement and posts the Alaska Teen Media Institute radio story about Photovoice:

Thanks, Charles Tice, for the photos:



Chester discussing his photos with youth social worker Joe Francisco, medical file clerk & photographer Dexter, & Chester’s sister while Becky Judd of Anchorage United for Youth & friend visit.


Northeast Anchorage Representative Pete Petersen and another visitor looking at Edward’s images

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December 6th, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Mt. View teen Photovoice exhibition, first Friday

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This Friday, December 4th, from 5:30 – 8:30 pm @ Kaladi Bros. downtown (6th & G) w/ appetizers from Gallo’s….

the 6 teenagers who stuck with this program form its beginning on August 3rd until now, the 6 teenagers who poured their hearts and creativity into their photography and into their analyses of community and personal issues, the 6 teenagers who came Saturday morning after Saturday morning this fall for planning meetings, these 6 will be presenting their photos. They will be sharing their art, their narratives, their world views, their burgeoning social consciousness with Anchorage. Their photographs address issues ranging from the kinds of emotional support and listening teens need from the adults in their lives to gang and tenant issues, from Mt. View’s reputation and the transience in the neighborhood to alcohol abuse. They aim to speak to funders and policy makers about the need for youth programs such as Photovoice. They aim to speak to social service providers, teachers, and parents about what they as young people need from adults. They aim to debunk myths about Mt. View and humanize its residents.

Oscar and I have worked with these kids for 4 months now. We love them, are proud of them, get frustrated with them and push them to do better, and ask you to come listen to them.

*This is an Anchorage United for Youth (AUY) project, connected to the larger AUY goals to increase graduation rates, decrease youth substance abuse, and decrease delinquency.*

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November 29th, 2009 at 1:14 pm