ArticlesVolume 13, Number 2 (2004)

Here Comes the Brides’ March: Cultural Appropriation and Latina Activism

Abstract

Domestic violence, though often disaggregated as a women’s issue, is a social phenomenon that encompasses physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological abuses; reaches across race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background; and impacts everyone including children, the elderly, and the disabled. The image of an abused woman conveyed in popular culture and political rhetoric is fraught with stereotypes of poverty, low educational attainment, and cultural or ethnic predisposition to violence. Yet these misconceptions lead to a flattened and deeply flawed approach to a highly dimensional social epidemic. In America, “battering of women by husbands, ex-husbands and lovers [is] the single largest cause of injury to women,” and “thirty-one percent of all women murdered are killed by husbands, ex-husbands and lovers.” This article focuses specifically on heterosexual violence in the Latina/o community through the case of Gladys Ricart, a Dominican-American woman assassinated by an ex-lover on her wedding day, and the startling activism of the Gladys Ricart and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk (“Brides’ March” or “March”) that was born in her wake. Josie Ashton first initiated the Brides’ March by wearing sneakers and a wedding gown with a picture of Ricart pinned to its front, and walking 1,600 miles from Miami to the Queens church where Gladys Ricart planned to wed. Subsequently, the collective movement of the Brides’ March was created not only to pay tribute to Ricart’s memory, but also to raise awareness about the impact of domestic violence and the need for resources devoted to the challenges facing many Latinas in particular. This article asserts that the Gladys Ricart case presents a cross-section of the dominant ideologies about domestic violence in the Latina/o community, and that the resultant Brides’ March presents a vein of Latina activism that is, on the one hand, innovative and experience-based, and on the other, limited by patriarchal stereotypes.

Part II explores Latina identity as it is relevant to the leadership and participants of the Brides’ March, as well as the clients cared for by organizations against domestic violence in the Washington Heights community. Part m discusses Gladys Ricart’s struggle in her relationship with and separation from Augustin Garcia as an instructive case study of domestic violence within the Latina/o community. Part TV focuses on the media, community, and activist responses to Ricart’s abuse and murder that precipitated the Brides’ March. Part V critiques the Latina/o cultural narrative of the bride’s white wedding gown, including the values and patriarchal stereotypes of Latinas and Latinos that underscore this performance. Part VI evaluates the advances and limitations inherent in appropriating the bridal gown as a symbol of Latina protest against domestic violence. The Brides’ March has proven successful as a community-building activity in the short term by incorporating a great breadth of Latinas. Yet the appropriation of the wedding gown is ideologically problematic because it reinforces paternalistic conceptions of Latinas, presenting potential challenges to the long-term viability of the Brides’ March as effective activism.