The Feminine Ferment, with Claudia Salazar Jiménez

The experience of all liberation movements has shown that the success of a revolution depends on how much the women take part in it.
–Vladimir Lenin

I’m writing this right after attending a May Day mobilization in Oakland, California, where black and brown people took to the streets to commemorate and continue the struggle of workers. To pay homage to the labor movement, and to continue the resistance of working class communities in the Bay Area and around the world.

And as I march, I look around me and see the beautiful faces of GABRIELA San Francisco — an organization of Filipino women for self-determination and liberation in the Bay — leading, chanting and marching with strength and vigor.

I think of all the revolutionary women I’ve learned about, from whom I’ve derived so much inspiration and strength to continue resisting: Gabriela Silang, Lorena Barros, Assata Shakur, Audre Lorde, Bai Bibyaon Ligkay, Angela Davis, Cherrie Moraga. I think about these women as I was reading Claudia Salazar Jiménez’s Blood of the Dawn (Amazon | Indiebound), a fiction novel about the women of The Communist Party of Peru, known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) in the 70’s.

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Blood of the Dawn (Amazon | Indiebound) is a novel about the lives of three women during the emergence of Peru’s Shining Path, a Maoist guerilla group which started out of universities and distinctive for its promulgation of the strong role and participation of women.

At the center of the novel are three women: Marcela/Marta, Modesta and Melanie, women from different classes of Peruvian society. Melanie is a young photographer, who wants to travel to the country’s small villages and record what’s happening. Modesta is a farmer who’s contented with her life, a witness to the civil war around her. Marcela on the other hand, a teacher, is someone who ends up becoming a member of the Shining Path.

Translated by Elizabeth Bryer, the novel is a short and beautiful read as Jiménez plays with words. It is punctuated with a series of non-linear words to tell the story, and in more cases than not it works. It provides a break that gives the reader distance, and is a useful tool to create a heightened emotional response.

black total darkness Where was it? all over  Where did it come from? high tension towers fell to their knees bombs explode all raze blast burst Were you with the group? cooking at home while I waited for my husband blackout typing up the meeting’s minutes blackout developing some photos blackout get candles I don’t have enough six pages two towers the outskirts of the capital What did you say? you can’t sign comrade darkness excluded from history submit of blow up bomb

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Marcela’s character was the most compelling to me, as she interrogated her own role as a woman of the home to a woman for the revolution. It reminds me of Lorena Barros’s own writing, when she wrote about Liberated Women.

No longer is she simply a woman-for-marriage, but more and more a woman-for-action. A comrade.

Before becoming Marta, a soldier for the revolution, Marcela first asked the question to a certain professor, the actual leader of the movement: “What role in the revolution does your party offer us women?”

The incorporation of women into the production process, coupled with the deepening of the class struggle in this country, necessarily poses the central problem of the politicization of women as an integral part of the people’s war. The State, increasingly reactionary, denies women the future. The only possible path for professional women is taking up the role that history demands of them as intellectuals: participating in the revolution.

I don’t know too much about the Shining Path, nor Peruvian history but it amazes me to know of movements like this in spite of its eventual decline. At one time, somewhere deep in the countryside outside of Lima were women entrenched in the Marx-Lenin-Mao principles to turn its imperialist society upside down. That they were willing to sacrifice their own lives for a future for their children, for the future of their country.

The feminine ferment will be crucial in this struggle, the leader and Fernanda told me. The greater the exploitation, the greater one’s strength when the time comes to take up arms. Now it was time for me to be trained, for my body to be disciplined, to transform into a revolutionary weapon. Tougher, more warlike, none of this husband, kitchen, children. Nothing that might weaken me. Increase my strength to put it to the service of the revolution: that was my maxim.

* * *

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Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (translated by Elizabeth Bryer)
Deep Vellum Publishing (120 pages)
December 6, 2016
My rating: ★★★★
Blood of the Dawn

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