My family has gone through major changes over the past years. Sometimes I like to think that there is nothing we cannot handle because we have experienced so much. It used to be difficult living under the same roof because my parents’ old-fashioned traditions would make my siblings and I feel too controlled and restricted. My father dominated our home environment so sometimes I felt as though I could not express any feelings because I was scared of being called too weak or too sensitive. As I got older, I began to notice the negative effects of my family’s internalized misogyny and patriarchal ideologies and was determined to break the cycle in order to live in a healthier home environment. In the film Real Women Have Curves, I was able to relate to Ana’s character the most because her independence was commonly frowned upon and although it was exhausting having to deal with the harsh judgment of her loved ones, making herself happy became the top priority. I am currently on the journey of growing and becoming my own person and it makes me so happy that my family took the chance to join me along for the ride.
My oldest brother Roman enlisted in the Marines when I was ten years old. He was not entirely involved during my teenage years so I always felt some kind of weird disconnection with him during the few times he would come back home to visit. We would try talking about personal material but it was awkward. I felt as though he was extremely judgmental of women and used derogatory language to describe them; it made me feel really uncomfortable around him. I thought I was never going to build a strong brother-sister bond with him. Fortunately, everything changed once I started college. He moved up to Seattle with his new wife and was able to obtain his dream job. He started messaging me more often asking if I needed any type of support for school. We began to update each other on our daily activities and I was surprised by how much we had in common. He started listening to my opinions more often and tried his best to understand my perspectives. This spring, my mother and I finally got the opportunity to visit Roman and his wife in Seattle. I got to see another side of him I had never experienced before. We stayed up late exchanging music playlists and watched the best movies. His change in persona occurred when he befriended men in his workplace that would abuse their wives; through these individuals, he was able to learn how detrimental badmouthing was to another being. He said that he needed to change because he would not be able to handle someone doing that to my mother, sister, and me. I hope our bond keeps getting stronger throughout the years.
Although my oldest brother was not around much when I was growing up, my second oldest brother and sister were there to help my parents watch over me. I used to get so irritated with them because they tried to discipline me and I thought it was unfair because I thought it was not their job to control me. They were only trying to keep me on a positive path and steer me away from trouble. Today, our relationship is strong and full of love for one another. We cannot go a single day without talking to each other and there is never a dull moment while being with them. They can count on me whenever they need something because I would drop anything in the world just to make sure they are okay.
This summer, I was granted the opportunity to conduct research at the University of Virginia. I have been away from my family before, but this was the first time where I was going to be living across the country for two months with no way to drive down to visit them when I got homesick. I was terrified because I thought that the distance would make us feel less connected to one another. I did not want to feel left out or neglected. From the moment I arrived to Virginia, my mother began messaging throughout the day asking me for updates on the people I was meeting and the work I was dedicating my time to. Every morning, I woke up to a sweet message from her wishing me a good day. Whenever she would call, I could hear my father in the background excitedly ask her to put me on speaker so we could all be part of the conversation. This distance made my father and I grow closer when I came back home because he said that he felt a small emptiness in his heart while I was away and did not want me to think that could not express myself comfortably at home like I did in other places. That is when I noticed that he was finally okay with the independence that the women in my family were trying to obtain. My parents, brother, and sister started sending me pictures of themselves during outings just so I could get a feeling of being included regardless of how much distance was between us. It felt great knowing I will always belong, even when I am away.
My mother has always been my biggest inspiration and motivation. When I was younger, I would throw tantrums when she would scold me for not trying harder at school, not being more involved in extracurricular activities, and being neglectful of things that would have been helpful for my future. I used to scream while asking her why she felt she needed to control my life that way and she would calmly respond with, “Because I love you.” Now that I am older, my mother has told me that the only reason she was so hard on me was because she wanted me to be independent and not let anyone, especially a man, shape my dreams and future. In “Beneath the Shadows of the Freeway,” author Lorna Dee Cervantes writes, “You’re too soft… always were. You’ll get nothing but shit. Baby, don’t count on nobody.” This made me think a lot about my mother because there are moments where I feel as though she thinks I am not standing up for myself enough because people always seem to hurt me, especially men. She may be really harsh by reminding me that I am too sensitive sometimes, but I understand it is because she does not want me to live a life under the control of a man; she does not want me to experience long periods of unhappiness like she did. She does not regret anything in her life because she loves her family and will do anything to keep us together, but she does wish she was able to find her voice sooner and not let men within the family keep her from expressing herself.
Although the men in my family are a little more aware of the their behavior towards women, for years they would made us feel self-conscious and ugly because they would bash our appearances, specifically our figures. I first got my period at the age of eleven (fifth grade). My body started going through changes that I was too young to understand. I started developing breasts and my hips were getting wider. When I turned thirteen, I had a curvy figure, one that I felt comfortable in and did not think too much of. One day, my father brought up the topic of weight during our family bonding time. He began to recommend that I use the treadmill because it seemed as though I was getting too pesada for my age. That was the first time I took a long look in the mirror and felt as though everything about me was wrong. I started to go on long runs and soon after, I developed an eating disorder that would haunt me till now. When I started college, my father would keep making comments about my appearance saying that I would look even prettier if I lost a little weight. By this time, I had had enough with his opinions especially since they disrespected me. I was able to sit down and talk to him about how insignificant it made me feel when he would try to restrict my eating habits and judged the way I looked. That was the first time he was able to understand the damage he caused me by saying those hurtful comments. In the article “Queer Aztlán”, author Cherrie Moraga states, “What was right about Chicano Nationalism was its commitment to preserving the integrity of the Chicano people…What was wrong about Chicano Nationalism was its institutional heterosexism, its inbred machismo, and its lack of a cohesive national political strategy” (Moraga, 226). This made me think about my father and the other men in my family because through their determination to keep our culture in tact, they felt the need to shame other women’s individuality thinking that was the right way to go about it. Sometimes our movements need to understand that unity means building each other up, not tearing each other down. His actions caused me a lot of pain, but I am glad that I can finally be open about my feelings to my father because it has brought us closer.
I feel as though I am in a better place now because of the changes my family has gone through over the past years. My father is a bit softer now and my brothers let my sister and I be more independent. Every time we have disagreements, both the men and women try to talk about it maturely instead of trying to silence one another. In “Machismo Is Part of Our Culture,” author Marcela Christine Lucero- Trujillo addresses how both men and women always remind the presence of patriarchy among our families, but to them it is not seen as negative because it is so embedded within Latina/o communities. This made me think about how the women in my family were so afraid to defend one another when the men would offend our presence; this contributed to the cycle of patriarchy in our family because the silence among women made it seem as though it was alright to be dominated by men. One thing I learned through the process of shifting my family dynamic is that it is okay for one’s culture to go through changes because that means it is evolving. Ideas that worked back then probably will not have the same effect if they are practiced today and that should not be viewed as negative because there should always be an open door for positive change.