When people ask about my upbringing, I often mention that I come from a line of very strong Colombian women. My dad's mom was the definition of a matriarch: strong, opinionated, the leader of the pack. Nothing happened, nobody moved without her express authorization, and when she passed away, there was a feeling in the air that we not only had lost a beloved member of our family, we had also lost our leader.
My mom's mother, on the other hand, was a warrior who, abandoned by her husband, had to come up with financial and emotional resources to raise three children alone, holding on to every job she could get, always with dignity and strength, and teaching her kids to be good people, kind and loving to each other.
My mom is certainly the most perfect example of the way my grandmother raised her: very independent from a young age, she married the love of her life and started a family, but she knew she did not want to be defined by a role. Ever since I can remember, she juggled her career and her life at home, showing me you can have both without worrying about what society thinks.
I always say my mom is the first feminist I knew, teaching me I could be whoever I wanted to be and that my dreams and goals came before whatever definition of success others had thought for me. Along with my wonderful dad, my mom raised a family in which, regardless of our gender, we were all equally responsible, loved, and challenged.
If you ask her, though, she will tell you I also picked up a page from the book of each of my grandmothers, especially my dad's mom. And I feel it. I am the result of years of seeing these women fight, take down stereotypes, and raise me along the way. I am what the mujeres in my life made of me.
However, sexism and misogyny are almost essential parts of Latin culture. It sounds rough, but it's true. As Latinx, we come from an idea of men being the default providers and women, the keepers of the house, the mothers, the servers. And even though things have changed, there are still many little girls out there who are being groomed to be the perfect wives, who are told their place in life is in the house, next to the husband, raising the kids.
As valid as that role is for anyone who truly wants it, the reality is that Latinas face a lot more sexism and invisible barriers when it comes to becoming what they want to be. This idea that has been planted in our heads since we were very young is that you have to serve your husband, you have to be proper, you can't drink too much, or be loud, or compete with men. All of these messages stick with you in one way or another, and you have to fight them through the course of your life, assuming you've had the privilege of building your life the way you want it.
My childhood, as wonderful as it was, was not exempt from these messages in the air. But in my case, they did not come from the women of my family, which is why I strongly believe in the power of good female influence. If you see women in your life thriving, you'll be determined to do so. And boy, did I have many good examples!
But not everyone around me did, and despite many of the odds against them, they were able to build a life by themselves. I'm talking about my friends, an incredible group of women who have surrounded me and shown me that you can be as successful as you want while being loud, irreverent, "rude," beautiful, sassy, academic, fashionable, or anything you wish to be, despite how it looks to others.
They are many, and they have shown me that you can be a professional, a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur, a free soul, or all of them combined. They overcame a culture that wanted to put them in a box and leave them there as delicate figurines, while inspiring me along the way. All these wonderful mujeres are mirrors I gaze at, not to compare myself to them, but to try my best to be as amazing as they are.
After my mother, they were my introduction to the meaning behind the word feminist: women fighting together to achieve our rights, raise our voices, and be heard. Women in positions of power that were exclusively for men — and in some places still are. And for that, I thank them all.
Feminism has shown me that women are my friends and allies, not my competition. Latina feminism has pushed me even further, to see that the things that define our culture don't have to be tied to an archaic vision of women, and rather taught us that we are powerful enough to conquer the world.
Seeing the amazing things we can do together makes me proud and reminds me there's still a long way to go for all of us to be equally treated and respected. But it also reminds me that this sisterhood did not start with me or my friends; it started with our mothers and grandmothers, all children from a culture that wanted them tamed, but instead saw them rising above all the obstacles into greatness.