It is greatly known that Latin American culture is mainly characterized by being very family oriented (very being an understatement in comparison to the north american ways). The family interactions are not limited to your immediate household, but you are constantly engaging with cousins and uncles and aunts and grandparents and their families, which to us, are our family too. And ever since I was a child growing up on the tropical Santo Domingo, I saw that most of them, and all around me, followed the same guideline: Men work and women take care of the house and their children. From that, I quickly picked up that there was a difference between how boys and girls were expected to act. Basically, one was taught to act and the other one to react, one to lead and the other one to follow… Can you guess who was which?
However, my first real experience was when I was around eleven. Children are always dreaming about what to be when they grow up, right? Since while growing up I was involved in my local church, at one point it got stuck in my head that I wanted to be a priest, needless to say my “dream” was quickly shut down because I wasn’t a boy and only boys could do that. By the time I was around 13, I started wishing I had been born a boy, not because any sexuality issues, but because I had come to understand that “boys” had more freedom into doing whatever they wanted and were less prompt to find obstacles or judgement on their choices..
So, growing up in a culture with that kind of mindset, how did I end up believing in gender equality, and that women are more than just a men-pleasing tool? If I’m being honest, I think feminism runs in my blood and I couldn’t have helped it even if I wanted to. My family is filled with strong, powerful women who challenge this kind of stereotypes with their very existence; and men who despite the culture they grew up in, never used it as an excuse to put them down or crush their spirits… And yes, they were still manly and strong, even more because of that if you ask me.
In an even more conservative time, my grandmother chose her children welfare on top of everything else and moved from her hometown, leaving everything she knew behind, to raise my mom and two uncles and give them the future she saw for them while working from sun to sun. On my dad’s side, his mother raised along with her husband five children, and even when he passed away, she didn’t let the circumstances get the best of her and kept going because, again, the welfare of her children was above everything else. My aunts and uncles are all doing what they love career-wise, and that fact alone makes them all successful. They also have beautiful families, and have worked together, equally side by side, to raise and provide for them.
On my direct family things were a little more complicated at best. In my parents effort to provide what was best for us, my dad ended up moving to the United States. It was eight years before we could see him again and two more before we could move there ourselves. My mom chose to stay with us, and although things weren’t at all ideal, they both kept fighting, endured the hard times and came out stronger. In all that time my sister and I learned that we were in fact capable of doing the same things men are “expected” to do, we could perfectly change a light ball, assemble and move around furniture, paint a wall, and yes, even do some house repairs with actual tools. These things may seem little, but they were the foundation of my believes and helped shape the person I am today.
While growing up my entire family taught by example all my cousins, my sister, my brother, and I that women are strong capable beings, that there is nothing wrong with having ambitions and wanting to do what you love, and that wanting that does not mean you’re incapable of loving someone and building a happy family with them. And because of that, now on this generation we are all fighting to find and do what we love, regardless of whether it fits the preconceived social roles or not.