Empathy to the Front!
Barbara Letter is a platform for the dissemination of experiences by Hispanic-American women from different professional backgrounds and ages. We chose the newsletter format with interviews, features and personal experiences in order to reproduce the feeling of intimacy caused by reading letters. It is the best means to share the problems faced by women and to make of feminism a daily experience of radical empathy aimed to influence our personal and political life.
Who is behind Barbara Letter?
Helena Exquis: Well, the idea started to haunt me a while ago, but from the beginning it was clear that I wanted to do this with other people working in a, let’s say, less visual field than mine. So from the beginning I thought Ana (Llurba) would be a great companion. I knew her from her work at Honolulu Books and we’ve always had a strong ideological connection, so I thought it was about time our minds got together.
As the project took shape, other members joined the band: Marta Martinez helps us in the technological section, AZ Phadrig and Alexandra Lores are in charge of the editorial area and Miriam Persand designed the logo. We also have different collaborators in the contents and visuals areas in each issue.
Ana: As Helena has just said, we had been talking about this for years in feminist events (I’m a fan of Orfidal, Helena’s fanzine, and she participated in the presentation of a Honolulu book) although we are not the same age or belong in the same field. And then one day, right after I’d lost one of my freelance steady collaborations, Helena said: “Ana, let’s make OUR lennyletter” and the ideal filled me with joy. So I said, “Ok, where do I have to sign? I want to be your Jenni Koner” (laugh track).
Illustration by Agua de Lodo
How did this idea come about?
Helena: Well, I think Lenny’s inspiration is pretty obvious. I have always been envious of feminist media in other countries, so why doing something like that in our language?
Ana: Yes, the inspiration is obvious, but I don’t believe in the romantic idea of originality either: I believe in ecstasy rather than in the anguish of influences. The newsletter format is also used by other artists (Miranda July’s We Think Alone, for example) and celebs.
Why not a blog instead of a newsletter?
Helena: I got a lot into Lenny Letter while taking an unemployment course last year. I had to commute for 45 minutes every day so I had a lot of time to read since it was too early to talk to anyone on Whatsapp or listen to music. So I started reading the newsletter from beginning to end. Our idea is that whoever receives the newsletter will read it during the week. Also, receiving it in the mail forces you to read it; blogs are more difficult to follow. We also wanted to recover that old epistolary sentiment of 20th-cetury pamphlets.
Ana: Yes, as Helena says, we were interested in exploring the idea of intimacy with something that comes to your mailbox, instead of having to read what your friends share with you right away or because it a viral thing. We want a one-to-one relationship, like a bar talk among friends.
Your motto is Empathy to the Front! Who do you want to emphasize with? Who would you like to give voice to?
Helena: To everyone. Although Barbara Letter is born as a platform to give voice to Spanish-speaking women, we are open to all genders and, of course, origins.
Ana: Empathy is a core issue on the agenda of feminism, as an ideology, as a way of seeing the world. Putting oneself in someone else’s skin and thinking about them is not easy for any gender or social class.
Illustration by Isabel M.G.
When I received the first Barbara I realized it is divided into sections. What is each one about?
Helena: Well, we create new ones on the fly, but at the moment we have:
NO is NO: harassment, rape culture and all forms of gender violence
FAILURE BETTER: the acceptance of one’s own and others’ failures and the dismantling of the ideology of success
I TRAVEL ALONE: going on personal adventures
THE MIRROR AND THE WINDOW: the ethics of care
THE VIRGIN AND THE BITCH: intimacy and sexuality
YOU WILL GIVE BIRTH WITH PAIN: critiques of motherhood as sacrifice and self-denial
BRAINS LEAVING: brain drain
THE MATILDA EFFECT: women in science and technology
GIRLS TO THE FRONT! : Women in the music world
Barbara Letter is mostly text, but there are also illustrations. How do you choose illustrators?
Helena: Well, we ask illustrators that we like. We are open to collaborations. If you like the newsletter, we will like your work! You send your portfolio to email@example.com.
What’s the frequency of Barbara Letter?
Helena: Our idea is to send one every two or three weeks, but as it is something we do for fun, it can vary. We don’t want to set dates for the moment. We would ideally want to send one very two weeks, but we want to avoid pressure to make a better job.