Written by La Fourth Generation Feminista
I come from a long, long line of strong women. Each one different in their strength, but feministas without question – though I doubt all of them would claim to be.
First, there is my great-grandmother, my bisabuela, who was one of five kids born in Mexico. She once told my mother that her family was so poor, that she remembered having to eat the banana peels thrown out by the richer families. And she wasn’t exaggerating, either. I suspect that this memorable event is where her love affair with la comida was born. She was the most extraordinary cook, and later became the owner of one of the best restaurants in Dallas, Texas. She told me that as a child, one of her favorite things to do was to sit en los mercados de San Luis Potosi and watch the women cook. She would sit for hours, quietly memorizing every ingredient that las mujeres used in their rich, spicy dishes… and eventually became la cocinera for her familia. She was very proud of her talent with food and the opportunities it created for her. (Family legend has it that she once fed Pancho Villa and his men, who passed through her town. For real? ¿Quién sabe? But it’s a good story!) Despite her great skill, she was one of the most humble, loving, peaceful, and religious people I have ever had the fortune to meet. She truly was a good person on the inside and the outside. Never did she forget the poverty and suffering that she and her family had experienced when she was a child. Always compassionate and giving, she gave strict orders never to turn away anyone who came to the restaurant asking for food. Her greatest joy came from taking care of others…especially if that included cooking! Was she a feminist? In my eyes yes, because of her strength, compassion, entrepreneurial spirit, determination and success.
Eventually, she immigrated to the US, got married and had six children: five boys and a girl. That girl became my grandmother. My Abuela grew up in a difficult time when there was a lot of racism in her city. Her brothers were repeatedly harassed and one was even beaten terribly by the police when he was walking home from work one day. She developed an incredibly strong (almost spiteful) sense of cultural pride that led her to become a leader in the community for cultural events. She often fought for the rights of Latinos and worked hard to get herself into a position where she could run the show. Where as my Bisabuela showed an inner strength that was gentle and born of spiritual beliefs, my abuela was oftentimes tough and hard, molded by some of the bitter lessons of her youth. She eventually became a woman who felt that her way was the best way and could be very unyielding. But she did care about the Latino people deeply, and she tried very hard to help them whenever she could.
My mother was a child of the 50’s and 60’s. When I think back about what she was like as I was growing up, I am surprised at the change in her outlook. When I was a child, she struggled to find herself and her independence. She divorced my father when I was only two and landed a permanent job in communications. I think that for a long time she was trying to find out who she was exactly, and when she took this job, she finally found her voice and began to discover her own desires and views. Today she is an opinionated woman, who is quick to argue her own thoughts and, I have no doubt, she would call herself a feminist without exception. She’s not afraid of offending others (and often does) nor does she allow the thought of making other people angry get in the way of her standing up for her rights or the rights of others.
And then there is me. Do I embrace the feminista inside me? Absolutely. She has been carefully built by my observation of my family, but she is tempered by the belief that everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and viewpoints. I cringe at the idea of telling another person that they believe in the wrong political party or religion, because to my way of thinking, that may be the best path for them to take. I do believe that everyone is entitled to make their own choices, provided it is not at the expense of someone who is weaker or at a disadvantage. I definitely have an internal drive to do the best that I can, but I don’t feel compelled to argue that I am always right, or to defend my own decisions. I do what I want, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay. I don’t see compromise as a weakness, but rather the opposite. I know when to choose my battles, and when to let the little things go. BUT I have inherited my family’s sense of cultural pride and feel very strongly about helping those who are less fortunate or who are discriminated against.
So I am thankful. Thankful to each of these ladies who I have known so intimately, and from whom I have been able to choose the qualities that I most desire to nurture and develop within myself.
Summer of Feminista is a project where Latinas are sharing what feminism means to them. Positive. Negative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.