As for my girls, I’ll raise them to think they breathe fire.
It has only been about a year since I permanently began to refer to myself as a woman instead of a “girl.” Believe it or not, this simple act alone has been empowering, strengthening my sense of pride and identity in this jumbled-up society of mislabels and ignorance. This week in particular has been incredibly difficult and trying for the woman in me, and it is nights like tonight when alcohol just won’t numb the pain because it is all too heavy.
I almost don’t want to begin with the election because I am sure that most people have already taken the time to reflect and debrief about Trump’s victory, but it truly set the tone for my entire week. Simply put, I was devastated. As a woman, and an undocumented woman at that, I have never felt more unsafe and terrified about my future. I wish I could properly express how painful this all is to me, but the best I can do to explain how I feel is to say that I have been crying every day since the night of the election. Others may argue against me and say that I shouldn’t waste my tears on the unknown or that there is nothing to worry about because everything he said was just a ploy to obtain votes. But you cannot tell me what I should or should not feel, because you don’t know what it’s like to be in my shoes and to come from a family that worked hard to be where we are only to fall short from having a piece of paper that says we are legal to be here.
You know, I used to be ashamed of my history. My mother used to warn me not to tell anybody of my social status in fear of deportation. I kept that secret with me until college, hiding from my closest friends the real reasons why I did not have a driver’s license, why I could only go to a community college straight from high school, why they couldn’t ever come over to my one-bedroom apartment that they never knew about. I was absolutely embarrassed of my identity, because on paper, I was labeled as an alien. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that my history teacher taught me that it was one hundred percent okay to be proud of my heritage and my struggle as an undocumented student. The truth of the matter is that America is made up of immigrants, a lot who did not even have a choice to be here… but the privileged tends to forget this fact and it becomes controversial, quick.
And so I began to embrace my illegality, adverse to what my family condoned. I totally understand the place of fear that my mother comes from when she pleaded me not to share my identity with anybody else, because I lived in that same, incredibly real fear for many, many years as well. However, being able to accept and stand up for my identity definitely transformed the woman that I am, and I’d like to think that my mother would be proud of the values and morals that I uphold from the challenging experiences that I’ve endured over the years.
So until someone can crawl through my skin and feel the pain that reverberates deep in my soul, nobody has the right to invalidate how I feel. When I woke up and realized that the result of the presidential election was not a nightmare, I felt an inexplicable grief. Luckily, I’ve had plenty of support in my Holy Names community who have given me unyielding love through this hard time. I am extremely lucky to live in the most liberal part in the most liberal state of this divided, twisted, misogynistic nation where I am showered with so much goodness and hope. One day, America will be ready for a female president, and by that time, I pray that I will be able to vote for her.
Part of my trying, testy week was dealing with ignorant, hurtful men. Above all, I have a father who fails to recognize how his anger issues impact the women in his life, and simply, why it is so difficult for me to respond to his simple text messages. With all due respect, I do not discount one bit how hard he has worked to push my family to where we are now. However, sometimes it feels like it doesn’t even matter how far we’ve come if there is constant restlessness in my household. We came to this country to pursue happiness, but where is this happiness among all the stress that one chooses to hold on to?
I haven’t lived in Southern California for a while, and maybe that is why I don’t know how else to tell him that it all pains me. When my sister tells me of the sadness that she feels, memories rush back of his inability to express greater emotion other than anger. Months of not speaking to me because he could not let his pride down to say that he was sorry, especially during my high school graduation when I became the commencement speaker just to make them proud. Months of feeling uncomfortable, months of feeling like he wasn’t my parent. It tears me apart that he does not understand how I expect him, the man that I should have the utmost respect and faith in, to treat the women in his life. It truly, truly hurts me when all I hear is complaints. Negativity. Failure to see the endless positivity and beauty in this world. I thought we came to this country to fight for a better life and to be happy, but I do not see that in him. What I want to see is for him to step up and show through his actions that he is not his father’s shadow. To be reflective and attentive of how he makes others feel. To recognize that life is so, so good, despite everything… and that is a damn fact. We’ve gone through it all already. No arguments. So if he is proud of the woman that I have become, he should understand that I am coming straight from an honest, compassionate heart.
I also want to say that tonight is the last time that I look back at old conversations from someone that I liked to call my friend. It put me in a bad place to relive the emotions that I felt, only to compare the trash that I’ve witnessed firsthand less than a week ago. What hurts the most is having complete faith and hope in someone who I thought was a man, someone who I thought respected me above all others, who I thought cared about rare things such as my writing and my day. When I tell you that I defended this person whenever my friends bashed on his mistreatment of me, I defended him to a T. I thought that he was just confused and lost, gave him the benefit of the doubt whenever I could. I thought that since he kept coming back into my life, he was worth it.
But he was merely a boy, as seen from the disrespect that I received and felt in this past week, and from all the countless times that I felt smaller than I was. The only reason why I allowed somebody to make me feel this weak and vulnerable as I did was because I loved him a lot, but I didn’t think he would take advantage of that love like he did. I thought that if I showed somebody how much I appreciated them, they would appreciate me back, too.
But he didn’t. I fell victim to being too easy and weak. I failed to stand up for myself. I lost sight of the woman that I am and the role model that I constantly seek to be for young girls. The saddest epiphany is when you realize that you are not respecting yourself as you should… boy, did it sting.
So now, I know better. Even with reading those old messages that showed how much he cared about me, how prevalent I was in his mind, how I thought he valued me as a friend and a woman, I realize that those words mean nothing unless I am shown valid, tangible, outward expresions of true love and care. Although I am relentlessly kindhearted and understanding, I will never let another man disrespect me again.
This is what I realized this week– that women are only as strong as their words if they stay rooted to their tenacity, if they are unwilling to succumb to the world that devalues our worth and voice. And men– men are capable of so much destruction, so much fear and sadness, so much negativity– if we let them. I truly am proud of the women that have come before me, who stand beside me, and who strive to embrace their disadvantaged identity. My friends have shown me how high I can climb, because they are already up there, waiting to pull me up beside them. I am so blessed to have such driven feminists in my life who are both male and female, who remind me that I am a very strong individual just like my sisters all over the globe. And so, I encourage all women to empower everybody else around them and to validate one another’s fears, anxiety, happiness, struggles… because it is so, so important. Everybody is entitled to be their strongest, toughest selves. Every young girl should be able to find her voice and speak up when somebody is stepping out of their bounds. Every female is worth it… please believe it.