Summer of Feminista: My Abuelita's Most Cherished Gift

Written by Alisa Gilbert, who writes on the topics of bachelors degree. She welcomes your comments at her email.

As this blog has shown, feminism comes in all shapes and sizes. It isn't an "ism" as other "isms" are. It has no specific tenets, it doesn't prescribe a specific course of action. All it does is pronounce and strive for a truth-- that women (and men) are more than a set of social roles, and that each individual woman has a right to develop her own person as she herself chooses.

While I've read a lot about feminism, I've often wondered how a person becomes a feminist in the first place. What goes into the process? What environment nurtures women who believe in themselves and their ability to make substantive changes in this world? I firmly believe this sort of confidence grows out of knowledge and experience. Experience comes from living, and knowledge grows at least partially from reading.

My own love of reading was developed by an unlikely source. I didn't catch the disease from a teacher, nor from any sort of traditional "leader". My love of reading I got from my grandmother, a woman who was never educated beyond the eighth grade, who married when she was 18 and raised her children on a farm in Mexico.

While my abuelita was perfectly content to raise children, help my grandfather with running the farm, and to lead a pretty quiet life, she had a remarkable thirst for knowledge. When I was a little girl, my family and I would spend summers on the farm, deep in the heart of La Huesteca Potosina, a rural, semi-tropical area in Mexico known for its fertile farmland.

I often dreaded going to the farm, simply because it was so different from what I was accustomed to--there was no television, no air conditioning, and, except for the constant buzz of giant mosquitos, the silence was so overwhelming as to make you feel uncomfortably restless. But my grandmother loved living there. I never understood it.

That is, until she showed me her library, and invited me to taste the best that it had to offer. Her library was vast in scope--she had everything from harlequin paperbacks to history tomes about the Mayan civilization to classic novels like War and Peace. When I complained to her once that I was bored, she suggested that I read a book. And that's how it all began. The peacefulness of being somewhere quiet, away from all the noise and distraction of city life, and being so fully absorbed in a book that you feel actually transported to another world is a moment that I have not been able to recreate in any other situation.

And it was from these experiences, spent with my abuelita on the farm, that I began my pursuit of knowledge. This joy of reading was what directly inspired my desire to learn about the world and everything in it, and for that, I thank my abuelita, a short little Latina woman who lived on that farm and died on it, but nonetheless accessed the world outside her small village through books.

Thoughts of those summers on the farm bring me back to the conclusion that feminism springs forth from a variety of sources. Formal education was not something strongly encouraged in my grandmother's world, so she instead took matters into her own hands and educated herself, inspiring the next generation to strive for an independence of mind that is absolutely essential in creating strong, confident women. Women like my grandmother are the unsung heroes of feminism, the ones who have made the furthering of our goals possible.

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.