Thanks in advance for the flowers and texts, but NGL, I personally—despite being someone’s mother (or as he kindly calls me, his “non-binary parent”)—don’t enjoy Mother’s Day. While founded in some noble history, it’s a complicated holiday for many families of color. Mother’s Day can feel reductive, erasing our histories and realities. In a country founded on the genocide of First Nationsand the sexual and reproductive violence of Black women, a lot of Mother’s Day popular images continue to paint a whitewashed, cis-het, commercial image of mothers. Meanwhile, the suffering that helped originate the holiday (war and health disparities) continues.
My community includes those who don’t fit the Hallmark card company’s intended market: they are birth mothers, adoptive parents, adoptees, undocumented folks, mothers who have lost children, trans mothers, trans men who have birthed babies, non-binary pregnant people, mothers of incarcerated children, sex workers, and people who are raising children other people birthed. Our families don’t look like Donna Reed’s, or the Huxtables. I often spend the day thinking about how to make sure the mothers and caregivers and grieving children I love feel seen and honored.
Now in the midst of COVID-19, a pandemic that is disproportionately killing people of color, what will Mother’s Day look like for those who are grieving their mothers, and mothers who are grieving their children? And I wonder, at a time where any kind of hopeful future is hard to imagine, What would a Mother’s Day steeped in racial and gender justice look like?
In recent years, queer and trans artists have inspired me to think that Mother’s Day can be transformed into something more representative of our authentic experiences, so I turned to my friends and community members to ask them, “What would Mother’s Day look like in a liberated future, where we have freed ourselves from patriarchy, white supremacy and colonization?”
Here are their answers:
“For me, a big part of thinking about this is acknowledging the fact that Black motherhood has been under attack since the beginning of this country. The Emancipation Proclamation was just the first step in de-facto legalization of the Black family, which is an ongoing project. In a just, liberated, non-patriarchal future, we would have had a national conversation about this history. We would have healed and celebrated the Black feminine for all that it is and has done and survived.” —Makani, Jackson, Mississippi
“I believe Mother’s Day has been transforming for many of us, especially those of us who have lost our first relationship on the planet and do not have mothers. Grieving the death of my mother revealed an inheritance from her that I was unaware of: a compromised immune system. My new experience of my body changing and the real threat of death at this time has been a lot to hold and witness for people who love me. Interdependence is the only way forward.” —Bianca, Oakland, California
“In a liberated future, holidays would be for questions and exploring ideas. Mother’s Day would be combined with Father’s Day. People would be encouraged to identify all the different mothers, fathers, parents (of any sort) who contributed to their lives and find ways to honor them through actions towards others and offerings of gratitude towards those people. People who have parented (in any way) would offer stories from that experience over a special meal together and a discussion (Passover style!)” —Shana, New Orleans
“The hardest thing about Mother’s Day for me is thinking about the children I never got the chance to hold in my physical arms, yet somehow end up missing something fierce. I imagine that this Mother’s Day will feel the way it always has, imperfect, not quite everything and not quite nothing. My vision of future Mother’s Days includes sticky mouthed kisses and some kind of culinary creation crafted by the folks that love me and claim me as their own.” – —Key, New Orleans
“I don’t have a trans mother, like a lot of people in my community have. I do have a “nanny” and she calls me her “niecey,” which I love because it lifts up our Louisiana culture. The first time I felt a part of the trans community was when my sisters dressed me. My liberated Mother’s Day would celebrate that type of mothering and make space to grieve the feelings of motherlessness that I feel when I don’t have anyone to guide me. And also make space for my mama, who is doing her best to love me, even if she doesn’t always have the right language for it.” —N. Lafayette, Louisiana
“Growing up, my migrant parents were deeply afraid of us kids being taken away from them, and this fear informed everything about how we moved through the world. Then I became a young queer parent and was perceived as a threat. My parenthood was often racialized, erased, and surveilled and I finally understood the fear that dictated my parents’ lives. It made me think about whose motherhood is protected, cherished. In my version of a liberated future, we’d have a world without cages. The state wouldn’t be able to separate families or have a say in whose family structure was recognized and validated. We wouldn’t have these separate gender binary parent’s days. We would honor and celebrate the many unique ways that queer, trans, and gnc parents come into parenting. We would celebrate how our lineage survived and recognize those who did not survive.” —Cherry, New Orleans
“I am Oscar’s mom years after his death. I was his mom when he called me from 3,000 miles away when he was put in juvenile detention with other Latino boys. I was his mother every time I explained my full legal rights to medical [workers] and school personnel. I didn’t get to do the sandwich making, all the things mothers are commercially celebrated for doing. In the liberated future, we’d honor our past and future generations by acting to ensure everyone can get what we need to make and live the families of our dreams.” —Rebekah, New York City
In the midst of the loss and grief of this global pandemic, on one hand, it seems silly to even think about holidays, and on the other hand, commemoration and recognition are a central part of how we make (and change) culture. Can we transform Mother’s Day in the current moment, expanding our vision of the future and our recognition of our complex present? I believe we can. I believe that transforming Mother’s Day—stretching the ways we honor the variety of caregivers, parents and children in their variety of experiences: beautiful, painful and historically invisible—can bring us to a better, more just and liberated future.
Rosana Cruz is a writer, parent, movement leader and intersectional feminist. They have lived in New Orleans for over 20 years, working closely with organizations in the struggle for racial justice, lgbtqia+ liberation and immigrant rights.