By Diane Andrews, Santa Clara Weekly
Three influential, Bay Area women who are breaking stereotypes brought powerful messages of gender equity to Mission College on March 5.
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Vice President Cindy Chavez; American Association of University Women, San Jose Chapter, past president Sharon Bouska; and spoken-word poet, writer and activist Terisa Siagatonu.
Siagatonu, 31, identified herself as a “queer, brown, Samoan woman from the Bay” who writes poetry because she recognizes the power of her words.
“I feel like I have to perform twice as hard as my male counterparts,” said Siagatonu (www.terisasiagatonu.com), beginning her moving recitation of poetry.
“The price of my silence is too big for me to stay quiet. I have no other choice but to speak,” she said. “How are you using your voice? In the service of what?”
The Mission College Associated Student Government (ASG) brought the trio of women to campus in celebration of International Women’s Day, which was on March 8, and Women’s History Month.
“We have a robust and diverse student government,” said Mission College Director of Student Development Rachael Goldberg. “Its goals this semester are breaking barriers of equity and diversity, reaching out to all students.”
ASG vice president Sukhnoor Kaur — born and raised in India — shared her story.
“When I first came to the U.S., it was really difficult to adjust,” said Kaur. “When I started Mission College, I saw other diverse people but not Indians. Then I got to know about ASG and how they raise their voice. We strive to include even those who are a small minority in decision-making for students.”
Though diverse in ethnicity, generations and life experiences, the Women’s Day speakers were united in their dedication to gender equity. Chavez and Bouska responded to questions from Kaur.
Chavez, a Mexican-American born in New Mexico in 1964, shared stories about what motivated her to enter politics. She recounted a shooting years ago at the house next door to the San Jose house where she then lived.
A stray bullet penetrated the mattress in her bedroom. She was advised to move out of the unsafe neighborhood.
“I went to bed afraid and woke up mad,” Chavez told the Mission College audience. “No neighborhood should be that way.”
“Your house doesn’t have to get shot before you become engaged,” said Chavez, who entered politics in 1998, running for San Jose City Council. “The only way change happens is when you dig in and do it yourself.”
Bouska, a Caucasian woman who attended college in the 1960s, said that when she was growing up, women who chose to work were encouraged to be teachers, secretaries or nurses. She chose teaching.
She was discouraged from teaching history because “history is a man’s game.” When she interviewed for an elementary school teaching job, she was asked, “When are you planning on having children?”
Bouska encouraged audience members to consider the difference between regret at never having tried something versus remorse at trying but not having it work out.
“As leaders and advocates, which are you most comfortable with?” asked Bouska. “Have confidence in yourself and find allies of any gender.”
The audience at Gillmor Center, including the men, was inspired to take a stand for equity for all.
“This was a very empowering experience because there’s not really a female platform out there,” said Mission College student Alondra Martinez from Santa Clara.
Student Reymundo Madera from San Jose also felt empowered.
“Even though the presentation was geared toward women, I felt empowerment also to stand up for others, for those who don’t have a voice,” said Madera. “It’s given me more reasons to fight for what’s right — for equality for all and to make sure everyone has a voice and not forgetting about any minority group.”