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Excerpts from Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas

OBOS Transformed Worldwide: U.S.


Our Bodies Our Lives: The Process of Adaptation

Since the first publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1972, the Boston Women’s Health Collective (BWHBC, its abbreviation in English) recognized the importance of bringing this information in Spanish to Latin American women, whether they live inside or outside their country. In 1976, Raquel Scherr-Salgado and Leonor Taboada prepared a translation with a non-commercial format. Later, in 1979, a second edition followed. Groups of Latin American women who worked in Boston reviewed the translations and included some cultural aspects. For the English versions as for the translated versions, women who wanted to participate were asked to offer their own experiences, criticisms, and comments. This invitation has always been part of the book, with the goal that the book could go along adapting and changing according to the different experiences of women who read it. We receive a lot of letters with positive reactions to the book, with personal testimonies and accounts of how they used the book in very diverse situations. Both the Latin American women who live in their countries of origin, and those who live in the United States, offered their comments on the utility of the book for community based educational and mutual assistance groups.

After the publication of the editions in Spanish of 1976 and 1979, a group of Latin American women in Boston got together to develop a second stage of the adaptation of the book in Spanish. María Lourdes Mattei, Lolly Carrillo, and Elizabeth McMahon Herrera were in this group. A group of these women, organized by Elizabeth McMahon Herrera, founded the group ALAS, Latin American Women Friends in Action for Health, that has been dedicated to health care work for women in the Latin American female community of Boston. Since its beginning, ALAS always worked with a base of community commitment, and in collaboration with agencies that work with Latin American women. Elizabeth McMahon and the original group of ALAS, that included Iris García, Vicky Nuñez, Miriam Salomé Havens, María Rolof, Mygdalia Rivera and Raquel Shapiro worked together to create a way of working with Latin American women of Boston in such a way that respects and includes their cultural values. Right from the beginning, they recognized that the information about women’s health could be used with the biggest benefit if this information arrived through their own communities. The ideas and comments of this group were integrated into the new editions of the English book, so that the book could reflect the lives and voices of the Latin American women who live in the United States. In this project, the book was not the only educational and inspirational tool; Elizabeth, Caty Leignel and Mirza Lugardo used theater and video.

The desire to publish an adaptation into Spanish based directly on the experiences of women in Latin American countries culminated with the integration of two groups in Mexico, CIDHAL in Cuernavaca and Study Group of Women “Rosario Castellanos” in Oaxaca, who worked with the editions of the 1980s and began their own process of translation and adaptation. This project proved to be too big, because it limited the time that they needed for community work. Due to the big national and regional differences that characterize Latin America and the enormity of the book in its new editions, the opportunity did not come up to deliver the book to a group of women in each country so that they could transform it within their communities and in accordance with their experiences. In order for this book to be truly useful for women in Latin America, it had to respond to the large national and regional differences of said countries. The women in the Hispanic Caribbean, Central America and the Southern Cone live with enormous differences between them, independent of the homogeneity of the language, the history of colonialism and the conditions that are derived from the exclusive power of men that harm their health. In all of Latin America, the majority of women live under economic conditions of great poverty, and in a reality very different from the women of the upper and middle classes of their same countries. Even language is a vehicle of racist and destructive practices, and it very easy for us to forget that for the indigenous women of Latin America, Spanish is a second language that comes together forcibly with many other indigenous dialects.

A Step Forward: Translation with a Collaborative Adaptation

In 1990 Esther Rome and Norma Swenson of BWHBC attended the Fifth Meeting of Women of Latin America and the Caribbean in Argentina to discuss a possible collaboration of a group of women of the region that might be interested in participating in the process of translation and adaptation. Once there, groups were identified who were willing to adapt translated chapters in English so that they would reflect realities of the experiences of Latin American women. In 1992, the Noyes foundation awarded funds for the translation into Spanish of the edition of The New Our Bodies, Ourselves of this same year. This translation was organized under the direction of Gabriela Canepa. In 1993, The Ford Foundation provided funds for the collaboration with groups of Latin American women that work in the field of women’s health, with the goal that they would participate in an adaptation of the book, beginning with said translation and utilizing a perspective that would reflect the realities in their own countries. In 1993, a team of Latin American women of diverse countries (Peru, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Venezuela and El Salvador) that live in the United States dedicated itself to coordinate this collaboration with their sisters in Latin America. Rosie Muñoz López was the director of the project from 1994 to 1996, and thanks to her vision, knowledge, organization, and energy the unattainable dream was achieved. She identified the most appropriate groups to achieve the adaptation of the chapters, selecting them with her knowledge and activism in women’s health in all regions of Latin America and the Caribbean. Rosie completed the difficult task of establishing long distance links with our collaborators for the adaptation. As a Puerto Rican woman who grew up both on the island and in the United States, Rosie understood very well the complexity of living between two worlds. Thanks to her creativity and her knowledge of the two communities, we resolved the big problem of how to create a book that was adequate for women in the north as well as in the south. It was her idea to include in the book voices and experiences of different women in the Americas, and the Latin American women living in the United States.

Mayra Canetti worked with the project from the beginning, offering administrative assistance but also was an integral part of the editorial group of Latin American women in Boston. Her command of Spanish and her political conscience as a Puerto Rican woman living in the United States contributed enormously to the quality of the book. Mayra read all of the chapters and made recommendations for each one. She directed the project from January to August of 1997, and initiated the organization of the bibliographic resources and materials for the groups of the north and south that enriched the book so much. Alba Bonilla, Salvadoran, was named as the assistant of the project, and Liza Avinami, Colombian, and a student at Tufts University, contributed to the organization of the bibliography and other tasks that arose. A group of the board of directors and the administration of BWHBC supported the work of our editorial group, composed at different times of Elizabeth McMahon Herrera, Ester Shapiro, Judy Norsigian, Judith Lennett, Norma Swenson, and Claudine Mussuto.

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