Sunday Spotlight is a series where we profile individuals in the Young Mormon Feminists community to hear their stories and get to know them a little better through Q&A or their personal narratives. This week we talked with Marina.
Who are you and what are you up to?
I am a 22 year old Japanese-Venezuelan LDS feminist currently living in Utah. I am passionate about ethics and philosophy, namely intersectional-feminism, race, and identity politics. I am also a singer, and I am working hard to someday be creating revolutionary electronic and hip hop music. I also hope to one day become a great jazz singer and make Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday proud! I am deeply concerned with the many injustices I see all around me and am constantly striving to understand how I can help, and how I can use my talents and voice to create a little goodness in my world.
What makes you a Mormon?
I identify as a Mormon for several reasons. I grew up more-or-less LDS in Japan, California, and Utah. Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the kindness and compassion that many faithful members are capable of giving. From both the Venezuelan and Japanese sides of my heritage, I have learned the importance of loving your family – a belief that has only strengthened through Mormonism. I believe that religions or spirituality can have beautiful and truthful effects on individuals and communities, and that the LDS Church just happens to be the lens through which I view much of life. I am eternally grateful to the Church and many members for their kindnesses towards me and my family, and feel a strong moral obligation to give back to the Church in some way other than passive membership. Although I have moved around a lot in my life, I also feel like Mormonism has had a strong impact on who I am today culturally, and therefore it will forever be a part of my identity (whether I like it or not!).
What makes you a feminist?
I care about people. I think most people in the world have at least a basic understanding of goodness; to care about others, to not hurt others willingly, and to live a fulfilling life. What is beautiful to me is the diversity of people, cultures, philosophies, and art. Within this diversity, I also think there are a countless number of ways to be in the world, with one way not necessarily being better than the next.
When I was a little girl, I often found myself overcome with sadness when I saw people, even complete strangers, in some sort of distress or pain. It was confusing and scary. I felt like I was constantly crying, usually alone so as to not bother others with my emotions. My father told me that I had something called “compassion” and that it is something that Jesus had. But I didn’t want compassion. It hurt too much. I learned quickly that life was easier if I pretended that I was alright, and that other people aren’t in pain. But of course, I learned later that ignoring others’ suffering is never the right thing to do.
I am a feminist because in order to be the fullest and most authentic version of myself, I cannot ignore the horrors that exist due to sexism, racism, and classism. I am a feminist because while I live a comfortable, blessed, and relatively safe life, there are millions more individuals who experience everything from covert and subtle micro-aggressions to horrible violations of the mind and body, and even death. Being a feminist means that I am someone who will never be done learning about the world around me. I refuse to remain silent on issues that matter. My Mormonism requires this of me, to be the best I can be. Feminism is just one way for me to become a better, kinder, and more intelligent human being.
What makes you a Mormon feminist?
There are aspects of the LDS Church I love. But there are other parts of the Church and its many teachings flaunted as “doctrine” that are downright exclusionary, racist, sexist, and therefore unacceptable. There are things that I cannot participate in, or even observe without feeling powerful and visceral pain in my heart.
Many members who do not feel the same have told me to ignore the pain and suffer quietly. Some discount my dialogue by asserting that “the Church is perfect but its people are not,” and therefore I mustn’t worry about the real quantifiable problems. There are even members who have told me if I don’t “like” it, then I should leave (needless to say, this is a cruel and unfair thing to say, especially to those for whom being faithful is a daily struggle).
Is that what the LDS Church is about? Is there one ultimate and perfect way to be Mormon? If you do not fit that mold, are you supposed to just leave? This is not what I learned in Sunday school! When the wonderful and faithful Kate Kelly was excommunicated this year, I was all of a sudden one of many heartbroken Mormons who were at once given the same clear message: “You are not welcome here.” Imagine how much that must have hurt to so many. I personally felt hope for my membership when I first heard of the Ordain Women movement and Kate Kelly. I know many members who left after that. Can you blame them? Of course not.
I now find myself trying to decide whether I should give up – leave the Church that I love and hate, that gave me so much while also taking so much away. Should I give up on Mormonism and go somewhere that my efforts and talents will be fully appreciated, instead of being ignored or excluded all together? Do my Heavenly Parents want me to ignore my heart? Do our Heavenly Parents want that for any of us?
NO freakin way!
I am a Mormon feminist because part of being a Mormon is to remember (and never forget) with humility that we are imperfect, and that this life we have been given is our one chance to be as good as we can be. Absolutely NO institution, religious or otherwise, is exempt from this humble belief (NONE!).
I am a Mormon feminist because I believe that it is my duty as a member of this wonderful, and terrible, church to not only strive to be a better person myself but to make the Church a better place as well. To believe that the Church is perfect is not only limiting and short-sighted, but wrong. It also ignores the many members of the Church who are sincerely and quietly suffering for its many faults. Happiness does not come from blind faith but from improvement and compassion (and in many ways, the LDS Church has already changed its policies, its “doctrine” and attitudes time and time again!)
I am a Mormon feminist because if there are Heavenly Parents, they want us to love our neighbors. Fundamental to love are attributes such as respect, equality, and freedom. To be free and equal means having the right to BE YOURSELF — to be DIFFERENT. To be black, brown, trans, gay, lesbian, or genderfluid. To be content with the state of things, or to be outraged by them. To be diverse and colorful. To be activists, artists, musicians, or mothers. To be leaders, to have the priesthood, to serve missions, or go to school. To have a full-blown career or to stay home and raise children. To be a happy-go-lucky capitalist or a revolutionary Marxist (hehe). To be Japanese AND Venezuelan AND a feminist AND a Mormon AND a singer AND an activist AND a peacemaker. We all have our own versions of happiness, and being a Mormon feminist happens to be a fierce part of mine!
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I hope ten years from now I am successfully singing and producing all of my own music. I hope I am 100% an independent artist, with creative control over all of my art. I hope that I am singing jazz frequently and well. I hope to have a PhD in identity politics and have many books published in my name (okay, maybe ONE book published in my name!) I hope that I am still somehow a part of the LDS Church, and will someday have a hand in making it a happier and safer place for all of its members.
Any parting words for us?
Listen. Please listen. Many people are hurting within the LDS Church. Some are hurting from the institutionalized racism. Some are hurting because of people in positions of authority abuse their power. Some are hurting because of mental illness and depression that prevents them from being able to participate fully in the Church, leading to guilt. Some are hurting because they are being told that they cannot have eternal families or get married in the temple due to their sexuality or gender expression. Some mothers are hurting because right now they will never be able to give their children blessings, hold priesthood authority, or become prophets. Some fathers are hurting because they have to explain to their daughters that they should become leaders in every aspect of their life, except at church. Some are simply hurting because through all the other trials we all experience in our lives, when they turn to the Church for guidance and comfort, they are silently excluded due to their beliefs.
Here is my point: If you are a happy, accepted, and content member of the LDS Church, I am happy for you. That is what I have always wanted and what many other individuals want so badly. I don’t know if it is a feeling I will ever have. But I do know that our God wants this for ALL of us. That means it is OUR responsibility to point out ways in which the Church is excluding others, on whatever level, and change it for the better. Let’s make this church better. It can be better, I promise!
Also, decide what it is you are passionate about. If it’s important enough to you and you can’t live happily unless you do, then homie, DO IT! And don’t let anyone or anything get in your way. Because if there’s anything we can all agree on within the LDS Church, it’s that your God wants you to be happy. So do whatever it takes to be happy, because you deserve it.
Finally, listen to more jazz. Good jazz is like life: we are all living some version of the same, revolutionary, beautiful, and infinite jazz standard. We get to improvise and create something new out of something that has been done before time and time again, taking turns, all while keeping in touch with one another’s energy. And life is too short to hit each note right on the head every time, so make sure you swing!!
Photos by Ashley from Ashley Thalman Photography