The Common Good
September-October 1996

Writing from the Crossroads

by Demetria Martinez | September-October 1996

Home economics from different vantage points.

In The Price You Pay: The Hidden Cost of Women's Relationship to Money, Margaret Randall writes:

It is much easier, in today's United States and across class and cultural lines, to talk about sex, religion, or politics, than it is to truthfully tell one another how much we earn, need, spend, save, have—about how certain monetary customs hurt us, about the shame we were made to feel as children if we 'cost too much.'

Or the shame we feel as adults because we have too little or too much, or because we lack control over what we have. Because we have been manipulated by power wielded through money. Because we manipulate others, using money as bait or as a currency of domination.

How is it that money, once associated with goddesses of abundance, wounds individuals and generations of families? What creative financial arrangements are couples and communities undertaking to achieve healing and justice?

To answer these questions, Randall interviewed hundreds of women from every walk of life. The result is an immensely readable, brilliant work of social analysis that will make you weep (and sometimes laugh) with recognition.

"I knew 1,001 ways to make hamburger," says one woman, recalling her husband's compulsive spending on "expensive toys" such as cameras and motorcycles. Others tell childhood stories of abuse and lies associated with money and how these carried over into adult relationships—in everything from separate bank accounts to fights over finances and secret purchases.

But unlike the slew of books on money management, Randall critiques the system that undergirds our neurotic behaviors: "Consumerism itself becomes a religion, the stock quote or credit card its book of common prayer. And women too often remain the handmaidens of orthodoxy, prevented from equal access or participation while kept busy with the menial service tasks."

She probes our culture of denial by pointing to the movie Forrest Gump. "Gump's message is that the well-meaning can win, even if they aren't that smart. Keep plodding along. Stick up for your friends. Issues such as race and class and physical or mental difference won't get in the way if you pretend them away."

Randall—author of more than 60 books of social analysis, poetry, and political testimony—has spent much of her life in Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua. She is one of those rare souls who writes from the crossroads where personal and political meet. This pioneering work must be read by all men and women committed to social as well as personal healing.

LIKE RANDALL, POET Martín Espada writes from the crossroads. One of the country's leading Latino poets, he is at once witness to and participant in our turbulent times.

His book of poetry, Imagine the Angels of Bread, is a passionate, lyrical call to remember history and act; it is inspiration for activists who too often forget we cannot live by information alone.

"This is the year that shawled refugees deport judges," writes Espada in the title poem.

If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as the imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback
are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.

"So may every humiliated mouth/teeth like desecrated headstones/fill with the angels of bread."

The Price You Pay: The Hidden Cost of Women's Relationship to Money. By Margaret Randall. Routledge, 1996.
Imagine the Angels of Bread. By Martin Espada. Norton, 1996.

DEMETRIA MARTÍNEZ is the author of Mother Tongue (Bilingual Press), winner of the 1994 Western States Book Award for Fiction, which will be reissued by Ballantine in October. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she belongs to Congregation Ner Tamid.

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