The artist Cynthia Cervantes breastfeeds her baby in front of a beautiful ocean bay.
Travis Gumbs

3 Artist Moms Of Color On Demanding Unexpected Beauty Right Now

Three creatives and mothers of color talk about finding joy, inspiration, and perspective during the pandemic.

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Ten months into the pandemic, it's undisputed that the loss of loved ones, jobs, and social safety nets has been devastating, especially for mothers, particularly single mothers and women of color. That's because health and economic crises don't impact everyone the same and instead exacerbate a long list of existing disparities across a wide range of socioeconomic indicators. But trial is not the whole story — there is also triumph. There have been important positive moments for women of color that need to be shared along with the difficult ones.

Massive discrepancies have always existed between the family and work experiences of white women and women of color. For example, Black women have always been more likely than white women to work outside the home, which stems from this nation's long and sordid history of racism and sexism. Black women have also been historically and systematically relegated to working in undervalued, underpaid jobs. Across the board, women of color make up a disproportionate amount of essential workers across a wide range of industries, including health and food services. Research by the Center for American Progress shows that nearly 70 percent of Black mothers compared with 37 percent of white mothers are the primary breadwinners for their families. Similarly, a report by the Institute for Women's Research shows that nearly 70 percent of Native American mothers provide at least 40 percent of their family's income.

Despite all of this, and the inordinate toll the pandemic is taking on communities of color, this year has seen mothers of color engaging in the radical act of finding beauty. There is a constant (and often important) narrative of BIPOC trauma and pain; we reached out to artist moms of color to tell us about the unexpected comfort they've experienced during the pandemic, and the words of inspiration they'd like to share with other mothers of color.

As told to Carli Pierson:

"Remember your roots."

Travis Gumbs

After a long night of multiple cluster feedings, I was feeling particularly deflated. My breasts were sore, the laundry was piling up, the dishes were dirty, and I hadn't showered. The news was on loudly — it was when the pandemic was just hitting the United States, so the broadcast was especially intense. I walked into the kitchen to drink water, and as I grabbed my favorite glass, I dropped it. Something inside of me snapped; I began to cry uncontrollably.

I felt scared: scared about the pandemic, scared about being a new mom, scared about how my non "snap-back" body looked, scared that I wasn't good enough or doing a good enough job. As I cried and released the fear, I envisioned my Grandmother in my own kitchen, hugging me and telling me everything was going to be alright.

To my fellow mothers of color, remember your roots. Remember how hard your ancestors had to fight so that you could exist in this moment in time! Remember that, in turn, you will be the ancestor your children's children will turn to for strength and encouragement – what is the legacy you want them to know and feel in their hearts and souls?

—Cynthia Cervantes

Born to Mexican immigrants in Long Beach, California, Cynthia Cervantes is the cofounder of Maroon World, a publishing and creative studio committed to celebrating the lives of BIPOC. Cynthia worked in educational reform supporting low-income schools and families prior to her work highlighting immigrant, minority, and LGBTQ stories.

"Look for beauty and mutual care."

Saya Woolfalk

The pandemic gave me a chance to slow down, recenter my commitments, think and observe while being surrounded by nature. My daughter Aya has never really had a chance to dig in the dirt like she can right now. These days, we are in the Catskills and she is likely to call me over with a caterpillar, spider or salamander crawling on her hands and arms, excited to share her new friend. Her enthusiasm translates into various creatures and elements of nature making appearances in my new body of work.

My advice to mothers is to find people in your community with whom you can generously share your knowledge, time, and love. Find moments of beauty, even if it is something small, bring it into your life and cultivate it. I have an artist mother friend, Natalia Nakazawa, who is in a women's artist group with me. We have been meeting regularly to support each other in various ways. I've also taken to putting leaves in books, pressing, drying and sending them to friends and family in handwritten letters. These acts of looking for beauty and offering mutual care are really meaningful to me right now.

—Saya Woolfalk

Born in Japan, Saya Woolfalk is a New York–based artist who uses science fiction and fantasy to re-imagine the world in multiple dimensions. Her work "The Empathics," is a fictional race of women who are able to alter their genetic make-up and fuse with plants. She has exhibited at and is in collections of museums, galleries, and alternative spaces throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States.

"Expand your space."

Ya La’Ford

During this pandemic, nothing is within our control; but you can control the memories that you make with your family and the love that you plant every day in humanity. I create a life that lives out my passion, and I include my family in this love. I believe we create our happiness, control our destiny, and then can share this space with the world. Moment by moment, we create a lifetime of beautiful, spectacular, glorious love.

My 3-year-old and 2-year-old have grown from babies into little gentlemen in front of my eyes. During this time together, I took the opportunity to notice; I have been able to watch the intricate and layered transformation of human growth. Take time to see all the blessings around you, feel those hugs, hear those laughs and feet running around and touch those little fingers that will transform the world one day.

Create experiences out of everything: car rides, movie night, dinner time, and remember to take care of yourself. Work hard but give yourself date night, dress up time, great laughter with friends, a long candlelit bath, and a great book with ocean sounds.

—Ya La’Ford

Ya La'Ford is a New York–born, Jamaican visual artist and professor whose work involves a wide range of mediums, including paint, sculpture, installation, video, and sound. La'ford has exhibited her work in the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa and is the recipient of numerous awards.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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