Heritage

The more time passes by, the more I am convinced why I never had any children. I was raised by  and with a tribe of people of all ages and ideas, even different backgrounds: my mother’s mother María and her younger children Maribel, Toño and Alejandro; my father’s mother Quina, her husband Juan; my uncles and aunt Miguel, Carlos, Chavo, Francisco and Lety; and also later on by a family that rented a space to my mom where she had a laundry business. They were the Jaramillos: Mr. Raúl, Mrs. Luz María, Alejandra, Raul and Luz Ma.

None of these people had the same upbringing and ideas, not even the same religion or culture. This made me a mix of all things, which made me “weird.” There was one thing, however, that they all shared, they all knew, they all agreed upon and without realizing, they all left as a heritage for generations to come: MACHISMO!

I really fought this monster my entire life without knowing I was doing so. I never even heard the word “feminist” until I was probably in college, and I thought it was a bunch of lesbian women fighting for their rights. It took me literally a lifetime to understand the cancer that machismo is in our society.

For as long as I can recall in all the houses where I grew up, there was always a motherly figure  who would take care of everything around the house -laundry, dish washing, cooking, cleaning, paying the bills on time (with the money given by the men in the family). When a man would come to the house, the women in it would move around like little ants answering to whatever needs he might develop even before he thought of them. It was magical. (For them of course)

When I was well into my teens, and I was at home with my parents, it drove me crazy to know that I needed to set the table so my brother and father would sit there and eat, and then I would have to pick up the dishes so my mother could wash them and put them away when dry. All they had to do was eat and say thank you. 

Why was I asked to perform all these roles, and why did my mom also always do them with grace and without hesitation?

When I started dating, my mother would always say, “Agg MoNo, those guys you date. They are such hippies, not paying for your things, not opening the door for you, not asking you to marry them. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” My answer was always the same, “I work to pay my own bills, Mom! I don’t need a man, a woman or a quimera to do that for me. If so, why am I even working?”

When I experienced my first rape attempt, I didn’t share it with anyone but a friend; first because I felt it was my fault, going out in the street at such an hour, and alone with no money. Then my friend said, “Well, nothing happened to you in the end, so why would you complain about it?” After almost a decade, I shared the story with a group of friends and my mom, and she said almost the same thing and thought the comments were intended to make  me feel like it was my fault. Why was I out at that time? Why did I do this instead of that?

My feminist quest didn’t have an exact moment of appearance. Several events triggered it; for example, when I started living on my own at age 22. Back then, in 2002, it was such a weird thing to do as a woman without being married. The quest continued when I started working, and I saw how women treated other women in the workforce. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but the competitiveness didn’t feel “sane;” it felt more like a crazy-ass, winner-takes-all competition. My journey into feminism continued with a set of wonderful women I began meeting along the way. Not only did they show me the importance of my own voice, but also the similarity mine had with their voices, which was further consolidated through the #MeToo Movement.  I heard so many women telling stories that resonated with mine. All the memories, all the insults, all the fear, all the pain. All of it started to emerge from inside me and poured out like an endless fountain. It hurt. I cried. Inspired by all those feelings, I created a workshop for women only to learn personal defense. It felt like something I needed to do, but later I also realized that this isn’t a battle for women to fight with fists, but with knowledge and by changing our state of mind.

Later when I found out my brother was going to have a baby girl, I was crying tears of joy, but then I got extremely serious. His father-in-law came over and put his hand on my shoulder and  asked me, “MoNo, aren’t you happy you are going to be an auntie?” I got up with tears still rolling down my cheeks and told him, “Happy? No, I feel afraid and extremely responsible for a little girl who is coming into this world. I need to step up my game.” I think he got a bit scared, and he just smiled at me and left.

Still to this day at my parents’ house, all the responsibility falls into a single person’s hands: my mom. But it is very important to state that it falls into her hands because to this day, she still doesn’t ask my brother or father to help with simple tasks like loading he washing machine, doing the dishes, sweeping the floors, or whatever. She has two reasons for this:

  1. She says that they do it wrong.
  2. She would rather do it herself.

But isn’t it funny that if I do it, there’s no problem? 

Is this the heritage I would want to leave to my children? Is this the heritage I would want to pass on to my niece? Is this the heritage we as women deserve?

I actually never intended to not to have children because of these issues; but the more time passes, the more these problems surface, and I find myself grasping the real baggage of machismo. I feel like I made the right decision. 

I can talk to my niece about all these things, but what I feel I should do – and actually have been  trying to do – is share my experiences more openly with my mom, ask her to listen to podcasts that talk about sexuality, machismo and feminism. I’ve taken the responsibility to educate myself, my family and the people I love, in order to live a life that might set an example of what happiness stands for outside the stereotypes of previous generations. 

To me, the best heritage for my niece would be to show her that all human beings deserve happiness, and that the pursuit of it is different for all of us. Because of that, her happiness will depend solely on her, on her values, ideals, ideas and faith. Furthermore, I want her to know it’s ok to go against the tide if that is what her heart tells her. That institutions (all of them) should be questioned, and she should make her own conclusions. That going down the road of intelligence rather than conformity is a hard and tortuous one, but that following it does bring the greatest of satisfactions. 

Above all, the heritage I want to pass on to my niece is to resonate with the sound of her own voice and femininity. I want to be there for her and for all women and sentient beings that I  possibly can be, in the best way I can possibly offer. After all, she’s the future of our race, and she and all the members of new generations deserve better than we had. I owe it to her and to all the women before me. I just hope she understands the importance of it.