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Excerpts from Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas

OBOS Transformed Worldwide: U.S.


After the chapters were adapted and edited, we initiated a last stage of adaptation, to cover an all-encompassing view. Ester Shapiro, a Cuban brought up in Miami, began with the project in 1993, and offered a vision of how to adapt the book inspired by the work of our great master Paolo Freire. Due to the fact that the book could not be rewritten entirely, we wanted to invite the reader to participate critically in her own reading. For this reason we dedicated ourselves to changing key chapters that allowed for a dialogue between the text and the current and diverse situations of our female readers. Beginning in 1998, María Laura Skinner, an Uruguayan woman brought up in Long Island, New York, worked as the editorial coordinator and made the last stage possible for us to incorporate so much of the good work of our colleagues in Latin America, the Caribbean, as well as that of the Latin American women of the United States. She also brought us her knowledge and creativity in the field of comprehensive health care. Due to her work as a dancer, herbalist, and as a sorceress, an expert in life between two worlds, she knows very well how to support women’s health using all the tools of our cultural wisdom. María Morison Aguiar, a Brazilian adopted by Puerto Rico and the coordinator of ALAS, brought to our work her three decades of political activism dedicated to social justice, and 20 years of experience in community-based public health. With affection and humor, she always insisted that the most useful information was the most simple and direct. Alan West Durán, a Cuban brought up in Puerto Rico, and husband of Ester Shapiro worked on translating and editing the chapters that were adapted in this last phase. His experience as a poet, teacher, and activist as well as translator, helped us to maintain a high level of lyrical and political expression. Alan and Marjorie Agosín helped us to select a lot of the poetry that we used in various chapters. Antonia Marmo, a Spanish teacher from Uruguay and the mother of María Skinner, was always available for our many questions of content and expression. She helped us especially to refine the wording of many of the completed chapters.

The work of adaptation that we created with the collaboration of Latin American groups accomplished much more than to offer a new perspective of the book. It made us see how much we could bring to the movement of women’s health in the United States with the wisdom coming from the experiences of our colleagues in Latin America. Many of these women put their lives in danger in order to talk about and confront the political, social, cultural and religious realities that adversely affect their lives. In our countries, the topic of abortion is clandestine and dangerous; abortions are legal only in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The topic of domestic violence is ignored in our countries whose governments are repressive and violent because the control of the man over the woman forms an integral part of their control over the society. The groups adapted these and other chapters to include the perspective of our Latin American sisters. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the perspective of women’s health forms an integral part of the movements for human rights and economic justice. Many times, the “experts” of the United States think that their knowledge of the “first world” are concepts which are superior and which can be used to elevate the “third world” from a primitive state to a superior level. We are quite clear on the fact that for our sisters in Latin America, their social and political relationships are a source of richness, in contrast to the United States, which is an individualistic country where everything is for sale, including social relationships which you must buy or reinvent. In other words, we have a lot to share, and a lot to learn together.

The limitations of the book arise from the difficulty that exists in long distance collaboration, coordinated by a group in Boston, given it is problematic to work via telephone and fax. The book is still missing conversations and collaborations that we believe are ideal and necessary in order to present a true Latin American perspective. To get that, we are counting on you, the new readers of the book in Latin American countries, and the Latin American women who read it in the United States. Starting from this adaptation, we need you to share with us your experiences and for you to help us to change and improve the future editions.

First Steps in a New Conversation

Struggling with the difficulties of creating an adaptation of Our Bodies, Our Lives for use in Latin America, we have come to understand that our lives as Latin American women, whether living in our countries or in the United States, have a lot of in common. Among the women of Latin America that helped to prepare the adaptation, and the Latin American women of Boston that participated in the coordination, a dialogue was opened. This dialogue is the first step in the conversation that we will maintain with Latin American women. This new conversation has permitted us to use the resources and the ideas initially organized for the book in English, and transform them in accordance with the experiences of the Latin American group and the many Latin American women in Boston and in the rest of the United States. We consider this first edition of the Spanish adaptation to be just the first step in a process of political organization that recognizes how much we have in common and how much we can learn critically reflecting on our differences. We think that with the publication of a book in Spanish about women’s health, that can be used in Latin America as well as for Latin American women in the United States, we will be able to face our common needs as women. If we explore the diversity in our race, nationality, social class, education, access to medical systems, traditional medicine, and the presence or absence of women’s political organizations that consider our realities, in an open dialogue, critical and respectful, we would be enriched and learn from each other.

Organization of Our Bodies, Our Lives: How to Use This Book

For the collective of women in Boston, the book has been not just a resource of personal and political support, but also a collection of essential information. Exploring our needs, knowing that other women have given their voice to common experiences and wait with respect and interest to hear ours, continues to be a process of transformation. The book offers a conversation that promotes the connection, self-determination, heightened awareness and the political justice between us within our own communities and in collaboration with the communities of solidarity. It must be recognized that the book continues to be based fundamentally on the realities of North American women, and that certain information makes more sense in the health system and social life of the United States. The project of adaptation began with the book in English, translating it to Spanish, preserving the basic organization of the 1992 and 1998 editions. We did not ask the Latin American groups that participated in the adaptation if they wanted to add new chapters. In this edition we changed the order of the chapters, because we decided to begin the book in Spanish with international and political perspectives, to return to women the power to evaluate the medical system and use it (with all its defects) within a broader framework to affirm their capacities and responsibilities. The book in English begins with chapters about body image, nutrition, and exercise, topics that focus on the women individually, and that are of interest fundamentally to women who are in economically privileged conditions in countries with stable economic systems. Also, we had to reduce certain chapters, since the text in Spanish is longer than the English text. The chapter most reduced was 24, the longest of the English book, which is about common and uncommon medical conditions that can affect women, including, for example, arthritis and cancer. In the adaptation, we preserved some sections of extreme importance, but gave priority to information sources such as publications or Internet resources. We also gave information about groups with whom communication could be established by telephone or computer, who are prepared to collaborate to disseminate information about health. In this way, women can get in touch with health centers in their countries that would provide recent and direct information. In order for the book to also be useful for Latin American women in the United States, we did everything possible to communicate with the health networks for Latin American women. With the publication of this adaptation, we are beginning a process of communication and compilation of information that will serve as a base so that future editions are more complete and useful.

Steps Towards the Future: Let’s Write a New Book Together

The participation of all of you in an open and sincere conversation will help us to transform the book. For those of us who worked on the project in Boston, this first step to create a broader conversation between women that fight for women’s health in the Americas has been a great incentive. We are confident that the publication of the book will give us a new way to learn about our sisters and Latin American colleagues. Once you read the   book, we would like to know what you think about it, what material you found useful and what you would like to change for future editions. We are beginning a new process of communication, critiquing, and collaboration to incorporate the experiences in our community in a more complete manner. We hope that you unite with us to share this process.

Ester Shapiro

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