Crossing Borders: My Journey to Global Feminsm - Mary's Pence

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Crossing Borders: My Journey to Global Feminsm

Photograph of Grace at Machu Pichu.

Grace Garvey-Hall spent her summer working with Mary’s Pence as the Communications Intern. She brought her excellent writing, design, social media, and Spanish skills to the work, as well as a deep passion for improving the lives of women. During her last week in the office, she shares with us her journey of developing this passion, and her experience as a part of the Mary’s Pence team. Thank you Grace for the capacity you brought to our work and the impact you’ve had on the lives of women. 

In eighth grade when I decided to take Spanish for my foreign language requirement, I had only one thought in my mind: getting an easy A. Later that year I was feeling pretty proud of myself after having mastered the conjugation patterns for all three types of verbs in the present tense. Then Señora R. began to talk about all the other tenses we had yet to learn. Learning another language turned out to be a lot of work.

By the time I reached my junior year in high school, I was ready to quit. The easy A I had in mind when I began had long since become a distant dream. But then I was presented with an opportunity: a two-week service-learning trip to Perú in June 2010. I didn’t know much about Perú except that I wanted to go there. After having participated in a variety of mission trips in the United States with the Immanuel Lutheran Church youth group, two things were certain: 1) service was an important way for me to live my faith, and 2) getting to know people from other cultures, religions, and life paths was something I wanted to keep doing. The opportunity to pursue these passions was more than enough motivation to improve my Spanish significantly that year.

Three of my friends from a local high school in Lima who also served at San Lorenzo school.
Three of my friends from a local high school in Lima who also served at San Lorenzo school.

In Perú I and the other girls from my class stayed with a host family. For three days we volunteered with San Lorenzo school in the poorest district in Lima. We turned a makeshift hut into a library by stocking it with shelves and books and painting it bright teal and purple. The best part was knowing we had provided these kids with materials that would eventually help them help themselves. We’d handed them books and given them the chance to better their lives.

Painting the new library at San Lorenzo school in Lima, Perú
Painting the new library at San Lorenzo school in Lima, Perú


When I got back from my trip, one of the youth leaders at my church asked me “what did you learn about the U.S. while you were away?” He had me stumped.

I’d learned so much about the culture of Perú, and of course I’d naturally compared it with the United States: most people lived in apartments not houses, children lived with their parents well into their twenties, they put carrots in their spaghetti. And, of course, I’d confronted my own privilege. But to be honest, it wasn’t anything different than what I’d already learned from trips with my church. I was blessed and therefore had a responsibility to help, though what form that help would take wasn’t entirely clear yet.

But what had I learned about the U.S.? It’s a question I have reflected on often since, and a question I challenged myself to answer again when I travelled for a month to Quito, Ecuador in January 2013 as a college sophomore.

Photo taken at Cuy Cocha lake outside Quito, Ecuador
Photo taken at Cuy Cocha lake outside Quito, Ecuador

By this time, I had a year and a half of liberal arts education at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA under my belt. I thought I was pretty savvy because I’d traveled to South America before and I had the subjunctive tense basically mastered. I was ready.

Actually, I was totally unprepared. In Peru we’d spent so much time as a group that culture shock hadn’t been much of a concern. I had been able to more or less observe the culture without having to actually immerse myself in it. In Ecuador, I spent much of my time completely alone with my host family, on the bus, or walking to and from school.

It remains the only time I’ve entered a space and been the only person with white skin. But my experience, though amplified by my race, was really defined by being a woman. Ecuador is a machista society and as a woman I was often treated as less-than, weak, an easy target, in ways I had never experienced in the United States. I have never felt more powerless or afraid.

Immediately after returning to the United States, I felt relief. It was much safer to be a woman in the United States, more comfortable to be me, than it was in Ecuador. I was angry and I looked down on Ecuador and Perú because of how many of the people in their country treated women.

But the United States is not blameless.

My experience in Ecuador didn’t just open my eyes to the plight of women in Latin America. Though it took a while, I became more aware of the difficulties faced by many marginalized women in the United States. In the United States I personally was less affected, but that didn’t mean other women weren’t. I had never before considered before how it might feel for an immigrant, for example, to enter a public space and be treated differently simply for acting, dressing, speaking, being how they are. My experience had lasted a month. Most immigrants never get to go home. Second or third generation immigrants may live their entire lives feeling outcast from and objectified by the mainstream culture of the country they call home.

I learned that the United States is culpable. And the mistreatment of marginalized persons in my own country is neither different nor unrelated to the oppression of those in other countries.

Hiking outside of Granada, Spain with my roommate and our two best friends from Granada.
Hiking outside of Granada, Spain with my roommate and our two best friends from Granada.

A year and a half later, as I was finishing my semester abroad in Spain, these issues continued to weigh on my mind. I had a lot of knowledge and experience built up. And the question of my own responsibility was really nagging me. How was I going to utilize my experiences and skills to better women’s lives?

To me, Mary’s Pence is part one of that answer.

As a woman who has interacted with women from other countries and cultures, my feminism is a global feminism. It has to be. I’ve seen the way that women of all different nationalities, religions, and economic statuses, have suffered. And, thanks to Mary’s Pence, I’ve seen how they have overcome.

Through my role as the Communications Intern at Mary’s Pence, I interacted with so many of the inspirational women in the Mary’s Pence community. Through the process of creating the 2015 calendar and July/August E-News, I connected with all of our Mary’s Pence grantees and Gilda, our ESPERA coordinator, as they shared photos and stories of women who are passionately working for justice. Though the grantees individually focus on specific issues, and the ESPERA women all own and operate different businesses, together we are fighting for a common goal of women’s empowerment and equality. Every single day in the office the staff and volunteers discussed issues affecting women across the globe. Katherine would always ask: “ok, so what can we do?” It’s a question we can never stop asking.

The work we do really works because part of our strategy is making sure we hear the experiences of individual women. Understanding, respecting, and directly responding to these experiences makes our work more effective. It might seem surprising that as a Lutheran I’m working for a Catholic organization. But to me, it makes perfect sense. Only when we cross borders, seek out commonalities, ask questions and work together to find answers can we ensure peace and justice for all women. When one woman is stronger, we are all stronger.

Grace Garvey-Hall

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