New Year, New Lessons

las-cafeteras-photo-by-rafa-cardenas

Breakups are hard and there will always be more questions.  

This past month we have been completely overwhelmed by the love and support, as well as the shaming and hostility that has come from the situation regarding former Las Cafeteras member, Annette Torres. We have learned, reflected, and are grateful for the many opportunities to grow and let go peacefully.

While we respect Annette’s wish to tell her story, we do not agree with the claims she is making. Out of respect for Annette’s privacy, we will not participate in speaking poorly about her with our counter-narratives.  We will always care about Annette as we each had unique relationships with her and hope she finds peace on her continued journey of healing.

Still, there are also six other individuals and six accounts of the situation. We can only speak as the remaining six members, who all have distinct experiences. Our understanding of the situation is in no way intended to silence anyone, but to clarify some concerns raised, in particular the (false) accusation that Annette was kicked out for speaking out for womyn about gender inequality in Las Cafeteras.

In March 2015, several meetings were called to discuss some recent unprofessional behavior by Annette. Following these meetings, a consensus was made to put Annette on paid leave for two weeks.  All members of Las Cafeteras (Annette included) had decided that we would move forward future meetings with a mediator.  After the paid leave, from April to September 2015, Las Cafeteras made multiple attempts to reach out and find solutions with Annette. Absolutely no mention of “termination” or “firing” was discussed. To date, we have not heard from her.   

Las Cafeteras first learned that Annette was no longer in the group from an outside media source whom she contacted to publish her blog (they did not). Our lawyer then contacted Annette in effort to get a formal Departing Member Agreement signed. The Departing Member Agreement (that included severance pay) is a standard business procedure, NOT an attempt to silence or “buy” her story, but to deal with an already challenging situation in a professional manner.   

Annette’s statement fails to mention the systems and internal work that Las Cafeteras has developed over the years in order to deal with issues of accountability, gender dynamics, and to simply treat each other better. We are a group of process, collective agreements, accountability, consensus decision making, and we function horizontally. Every member, female and male, is held accountable to these systems because we collectively created them.  Our approach of holding accountability is NEVER treating each other as “disposable.”  We do not throw each other away when issues or concerns come up.  We listen to the individuals involved and work as a team to create realistic and sustainable next steps for said individuals as well as being a support system for each specific process of change.

Can we be better?  Yes!!  

But, it has been truly heartbreaking to see so many believe at face value, without asking questions, Annette’s account of Las Cafeteras as a male-dominated space where male privilege & power goes unchecked and that the womyn (Denise and Leah) are too weak and scared to speak up.   

In Annette’s account, she has chosen to represent the total account of “the womyn” of Las Cafeteras. It seems some forget there are two other womyn in Las Cafeteras, both of whom have publicly stated they are not victims, abused, silenced, fearful of, nor defending the men of Las Cafeteras.  It feels as if the more we speak up, the less folks hear us.  As if we could not possibly expect and demand our collective work on OUR terms.  Quick FYI: Denise worked 6 years as the Coordinator of the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at CSU Los Angeles and holds a masters degree in Clinical Social Work, with specific experience in utilizing feminist theories of healing with womyn survivors of domestic and intimate violence. Leah is co-owner of two small business’ and holds a degree in Ethnic Studies from USC. In other words, we are badass womyn who would not, we repeat, WOULD NOT, be proud members of an organization which behaves in the way that is being suggested by Annette.  This is not to say  we have reached a utopian and post-gender way of working- we DO however raise any and all concerns (private and public) which affect us as womyn and womyn in our communities.  We expect true commitment by all members to examine any potentially harmful behaviors, ideologies, and situations as serious matters with a matched commitment to take steps towards evolving as allies.  Believe us, nothing goes un-discussed.  Denise sees and hears EVERYTHING!

As an organization, we have contributed to over 15 years of work in gender and sexuality centers, youth organizing, faith based organizing, co-founding health & wellness centers, autonomous collectives and spaces, and practicing spiritual and healing work, individually and with mentors.  We also come from unhealthy non-profit work, so we do our best to learn how to have a healthy workplace.  We are artists, hustling a small independent business… we work a lot and get paid very little.  It is not easy!

Our music is not just words, they are the way we live and love and a reflection of who we are and hope to grow into.  Las Cafeteras is confident in our commitment to social justice, in maintaining a professional, equitable, and respectful work environment, and we will continue to move forward; learning, growing and building with our community.  We hope to see you along the way.

Can we be better?  Obvio!!

We are truly grateful for this opportunity to learn how to be better community members. There is a saying, “in every situation we have an opportunity to learn, what to do, and what not to do”. We have seen some really nasty things arise in our community from this situation. This has made it clear to us who our true mentors, elders, and healers really are. We want to follow in their footsteps.

Each of us carry baggage wherever we go.  We bring this baggage into our relations, our organization, families, and workspaces.  Las Cafeteras is no exception, we all have contributed equally to the environment and experience of Las Cafeteras, positive and negative. We publicly commit to being better.  

We really hope that Annette can find health and happiness during this difficult process and we hope to resolve the situation with her, on terms that support and meet her needs, along with the needs of the additional six individuals involved. (The resolve with Annette will be private.)

With true sincerity,

Denise and Leah (“the womyn” of Las Cafeteras) and David, Jose, Daniel and Hector (also members of Las Cafeteras)

p.s. Details regarding the community forum are being worked out. TBA

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