Each year, beginning in the middle of April and rolling all the way up to the second Sunday in May, we are inundated with idealized images of motherhood to go along with the hallmark (or Hallmark) holiday in which we are to celebrate the woman who brought us into the world and raised us to be who we are today.
All of the cards are reflective of a specific type of mother-child relationship, one born in the traditional family archetype in which the father is the head of the household and the mother provides a supporting, subservient role. It is a motherhood that is not reflective of the modern culture we live in, where there are traditional mothers, adopted mothers, kinship bonds with older women you consider your mama, aunts acting as surrogate mothers, grandmothers taking the place of mamas—the list goes on. Where do they fit in Hallmark’s marketing campaign?
Kalpana Krishnamurthy, policy director at Forward Together, told The Root that Forward Together has been running the Mamas Day campaign for seven years, and it was started because “mamahood” is not one size fits all.
“Mother’s Day, ironically, is a day when the most popular images exclude so many of the mamas in our lives and our communities based on their sexual orientation … their race or ethnicity ... their immigration status,” Krishnamurthy said.
“Mother’s Day, which is this massive commercial holiday, often reinforces traditional ideas of family and motherhood and that there is really only one way to be a family,” she added. “In 2011 we created Mamas Day to highlight the contributions that so many mamas around us are making, and to try to change the picture of motherhood, and literally change the picture.”
Each year, artists are commissioned to create original art that reflects the various ways that mamas and families look, so every year there is a collection of beautiful, unique cards that reflect the families “we all know and love.”
“The Mamas Day campaign has always been about celebrating all the mamas in our lives ... and motherhood broadly defined ... our biological mamas, our chosen mamas,” Krishnamurthy said.
Mamahood is thought of in a big, expansive way, and the cards are a way for people to find images that resonate with the families and mamas in their lives and to send them to those who make a difference.
Mamas Day also has a political-action component each year, and the organizers see it as a way to celebrate mamas who experience policy discrimination or who, in a particular moment, are under scrutiny or under attack.
“Obviously this year, with deportations and the criminalization of immigrants and discriminatory policies like the travel ban, the Trump administration is intent on creating a hostile environment for immigrant and Muslim families and mamas,” Krishnamurthy said. “We know that all families in the U.S. belong here, and everybody should be welcomed and embraced.”
In bringing that action element to celebrate all mamas, the Mamas Day Project is honoring the love and sacrifice of immigrant and Muslim mamas, and it has made a way for people to create a card that will be delivered to a Muslim or immigrant mama for Mother’s Day.
Thousands of people nationwide are creating Mamas Day e-cards to show solidarity with immigrant and Muslim mothers.
“We wanted to use Mamas Day as an opportunity to let these mamas know they are not alone,” Krishnamurthy said.
Last year the group delivered thousands of Mamas Day cards to mothers in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities around the country.
Two years ago, Forward Together highlighted the story of a mama who had been incarcerated and had a hard time finding a job when she came out. She was a trained nurse with incredible skills, but because she had a felony conviction, she couldn’t get a job. Women are often left out of the conversation about convicted felons’ ability to get jobs because those discussions are almost always focused on men of color, particularly black men.
For this year’s show of solidarity for Muslim and immigrant mamas, the cards are being translated into five languages that are spoken in Muslim countries. People can write a personal, customized 200-character message, too. There are also some bilingual cards that will be in Spanish and English.
There are 28 partner organizations participating in the effort to collect and deliver 15,000 cards, including Amnesty International, Generation Justice, National Domestic Workers Alliance and Presente.org. The participating groups are taking anywhere from 100 to 2,500 cards.
Aneelah Afzali is executive director of MAPS-AMEN, or the Muslim Association of Puget Sound-American Muslim Empowerment Network. Her mosque, near Seattle, was attacked twice in December 2016 in a hate-based, religiously motivated act.
When Krishnamurthy told Afzali about the Mamas Day project, Afzali immediately wanted to participate; it resonated with her for a special reason.
“After our mosque was vandalized, we had an outpouring of community support and solidarity,” Afzali said. “Some local non-Muslim community residents came by on a rainy, snowy day and left handwritten notes of love and support on all the cars at our mosque while we were in our congregational prayers. Our congregation was so touched and moved. That’s why we were excited to participate in the Mamas Day campaign. For us, Mamas Day is another way to send messages of support and a powerful example of love overpowering hate.”
Afzali told Krishnamurthy that her community still feels under attack, and these messages of love will mean a great deal to them, so she took 2,500 cards to send.
“In moments when people are being dehumanized and places of worship are being destroyed, efforts like Mamas Day that uplift all of our humanity are so important not only to those marginalized communities but to all of us. That’s why we wanted to participate in Mamas Day,” Afzali said.
Breena Nuñez is one of the artists collaborating on Mamas Day this year. She is a self-described gender-nonconforming Central American “weirdo” who was born into an immigrant family from El Salvador and Guatemala, and she said she felt a duty to participate in the project.
“As an artist of color, I feel a strong obligation to use illustration for uplifting the narratives that go unnoticed in mainstream media,” Nuñez said. “This project in particular is so beautiful because so many of these artists are bringing their personal and cultural understandings of what it means to honor our mothers. The art we are making is the lifeblood of our peoples, and we hold that historical responsibility to observe, reflect and speak the truth on how we need to show love for the women and mother figures in our lives.”
Creating one of the beautiful e-cards on the Mamas Day website is simple. Select an image, enter your name, the recipient’s name, both your email address and your recipient’s, and your 200-character message. Preview your card and then hit send. The e-card will be sent to the mama of your choice.
So send a card to your work mama. Send a card to the auntie who is just like a mama. Send a card to the candy lady down the street who is everybody’s mama.
Celebrate the diversity of mamahood. Support nontraditional reflections of mamahood.
And remember Mamas Day again next year, when some other marginalized mama might need your kind words to lift her spirit.