Remembering María Lugones, Latina Feminist Philosopher and Social Activist Who Promoted Critical Resistance

BELatina Latinx Maria Lugones 1944 - 2020

If anyone knew what it meant to be a Latina of color living in the United States, it was María Lugones, an Argentinean feminist philosopher and one of the leading scholars at Binghamton University in New York.

Her research on gender roles and the definition of “World-Travelling” as a phenomenon of adaptation of communities of color in the United States changed the investigation of gender and colonial studies forever.

Lugones died on July 14 at a hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., at age 76, according to The Washington Post, from a heart attack amid her fight against recurrent lung cancer.

A lesbian born in Argentina, a tango fanatic and professor of comparative literature and women’s studies for decades, Lugones challenged the male, white and heterosexual traditionalism of American philosophy. Her research range included social and political philosophy, defining the theoretical parameters of Latino politics in the United States and putting resistance theories on the table.

Dr. Lugones was part of a group of decolonial scholars, including Walter Mignolo and his Binghamton colleague, Aníbal Quijano, who connected European colonialism with the development of the concepts of labor and race. Furthering that link, Dr. Lugones argued that modern notions of gender, including the separate roles of women and men, also emerged from colonial rule, the Post recalls. 

In one of her most influential essays, ”Playfulness, “World”-Travelling, and Loving Perception,” Lugones works from autoethnography and introspection of her experience as a Latina woman in the United States toward the perspective of feminist pluralism, “a feminism that affirms the plurality in each of us and among us as richness.”

What the scholar described as “world”-traveling, was “a skillful, creative, rich, enriching” way of “being and living,” as a woman of color in America, where the hostility of the White/Anglo “worlds” forced the Latino community to develop a cross-cultural and cross-racial way of loving.

“I recommend to women of color in the U.S. that we learn to love each other by learning to travel to each other’s ‘worlds,'” she wrote.

The break with arrogance, with the separation of races as a legacy of colonialism, and her constant research on the paths of recognition and reconstruction of immigrants in the United States have been fundamental to contemporary feminist theory and, even more so, to those trying to survive in the Trump Era.

“María made visible the intersectionality of race, class, gender and sexuality in the Americas from colonial times to the present, and with it the multiple oppressions lived by women of color,” said her collaborator Catherine Walsh, a Latin American studies scholar at Simón Bolívar Andean University in Ecuador, to the Post. “In so doing, she radically changed the ways we think about gender, making it inseparable from race and from the systemic patterns of power that continue to mark women’s bodies and the bodies of non-heteronormative peoples.

For Lugones, the answer was to understand these small social nuclei as “worlds” to be traveled through; delimited but porous spaces that can only nourish a country if one freely travels among them, and grows as a human being along the way.

“As Latin-American, I am an ambiguous being, a two-imaged self: I can see that gringos see me as stereotypically intense because I am, as a Latin-American, constructed that way but I may or may not intentionally animate the stereotype or the real thing knowing that you may not see it in anything other than in the stereotypical construction. This ambiguity is funny and is not just funny; it is survival-rich,” she concluded. “We can also make the picture of those who dominate us funny precisely because we can see the double edge, we can see them doubly constructed, we can see the plurality in them. So we know truths that only the fool can speak and only the trickster can play out without harm. We inhabit ‘worlds’ and travel across them and keep all the memories.”