A group of activists and mothers in Oakland, Calif. have started an annual Mother’s Day tradition that would probably put Hallmark to shame. Fed up with the mainstream image of mothers as domestic, middle class, and white, they’ve made a real effort over the past two years to celebrate who they call “mamas on the margins”: all those single, queer, immigrant, and young mothers whose stories are often glossed over by corporate card makers.
“I can’t find a Mother’s Day card that looks at our identities in a way that is sentimental for me and my mom,” says Shanelle Matthews, communications coordinator at Forward Together, an Oakland-based organization that’s leading the e-Card drive through its Strong Families initiative. Matthews grew up as one of three kids in a single-parent black household, and wants to celebrate her mother’s hard work. “This campaign is personally close to be because I can finally say something to my mom on Mother’s Day that’s actually of cultural relevance and value.”
Matthews says that the group is aiming to “shift the narrative of “how people think about family. We wanted to create a line of greeting cards that spoke to the marginalized moms in our communities whose faces we never see on the front of those cards.”
Last year, the group released a series of video tributes to young mothers. This time around, they decided to strip the concept down even further by offering up a series of beautifully designed e-Cards that supporters can personalize and send on Mother’s Day. All of the cards feature brown-skinned, non-traditional families and suggest that the act of love is often selfless and, yes, political.
The process of sending a card is pretty simple. Viewers have their choice of 18 cards that they can then customize with a personal message and send to whomever they please. Once the card is sent, supporters can also take a look at one of two online petitions to end funding for abstinence-only education or help support recently incarcerated parents. At present, the cards are only available online, but Matthews says that plans are in the works to create cards that can be distributed in person.
“We know it’s not always in the best interests of greeting card companies to highlight the needs of moms on the margins,” says Matthews. “If they did then that would be recognizing that there’s something askew.”
And there’s been plenty askew in the American political climate. The Mamas Day project is in many ways a breath of fresh air in year that’s been resoundingly hard on women, especially those who are poor and of color. While Republicans continue to deny their hand in launching a “War on Women”, the country’s political climate has put women’s bodies and choices on center stage. Gender reporter Akiba Solomon has written about how GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood, a vital source of reproductive care for thousands of women, have continued unabated. Not too long ago, Colorlines.com writer Miriam Zoila Perez retraced the long and troubling history of the anti-abortion movement. (Perez also helms the blog Radical Doula and is a consultant with the Strong Families initiative.)
The group has also kept a running dialogue on motherhood up as part of its Mamas Day Our Way blog series. It’s a candid look at mamahood from varying perspectives: the ambivalent, could-be mom; the mom battling against environmental racism to help fight her kids’ asthma; the ecstatic, new LGBT family.
Artist Joy Liu said she loved making the cards.
“Designing a card specifically for a mother who has experienced loss, and a card celebrating an immigrant mom, was very thought provoking for me as an artist,” said Liu. “I think the bigger vision of motherhood that these cards are promoting is powerful, and I loved the process of depicting it visually.”