When I asked a few friends to share a word that described what it means to be Latina, I was a little surprised at first by the adjectives they came up with. Warriors and fighters are a few of the words they chose to describe the women of nuestra cultura. After reflecting on our discussion, I quickly realized that these words perfectly describe what it means to be a Latina. We are warriors, so it makes perfect sense they picked a Latina, Lynda Carter, to fill the role of the superheroine Wonder Woman. I'm proud to be a Latina because we are survivors, we are strong, we are fighters and we are powerful.
When I think about the amazing strong Latinas who I look up to, I just have to think about the women in my familia and my friends to see that they are perfect examples. In our culture, it is often obvious that the women in the household are the heart and strength in their family. I've met and learned from many strong mujeres who have overcome great adversity to not only survive, but to thrive. They have made sacrifices to do their best and help their family, their communities and future generations.
Placing Family First: My abuelita was the oldest girl in her family. When her father passed away leaving her mom to struggle supporting a family on her own, she dropped out of school in sixth grade to help. At that young age, she worked in a factory making jeans, assisted her mom with keeping the house clean and cooking and helped take care of her younger siblings. Living in poverty, she focused on helping out her younger siblings even though she was still a young child herself. She was a fighter and made the most of the few resources her family had to pave the way for her own children.
Educating the Future: My mom grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the border town of El Paso. She excelled in academics and worked her way to become the first in her family to go to college. With her education degree in hand, she went back to her neighborhood to teach in an under-performing school. She worked really hard as a single parent to provide all the resources for our family and was there to help her extended family whenever they needed it. She never gave up on her students and remained dedicated to seeing them succeed. She used her tireless energy to inspire her students and to give them the tools to become the first in their family to finish high school and continue their education.
Supporting Our Culture: My Tia Lupita was the first in her side of the family to attend college to become an astute math teacher. She gave up her career and life in Mexico to help her family. She traveled to the U.S. to get a job to be able to send money home to support her ill mother. She continues to religiously give back every month to support her family across the border and share the success she has reached in this country. Still loving her homeland, she frequently tells me stories of her pueblo, share traditions from her hometown and celebrates her cultura.
Overcoming Challenges: I've witnessed amazing bravery among my familia, amigas and mentors. I've seen my aunt stand up to an abusive husband to protect her children, an aunt cut corners on a very limited budget to send my cousin to nursing school, another aunt turns frijoles into a gourmet meal to stretch the dollar to feed her children and a cousin struggle as a teen mom with a commitment to getting an education to advance her family. I've seen a friend who put everything into a small business venture to support her child, a friend who became the first in her family to attend college after having a counselor tell her she should settle for a GED and another friend start a nonprofit to support immigrants after her own experience crossing a river to reach the American Dream.
Breaking Stereotypes: When I think of my friends and family, I am reminded that we are strong even though we are not often displayed that way in mainstream media. It is still rare to see strong Latinas in the limelight getting recognition for their roles as leaders, and it is much more common to see stereotypical figures and reports of negative statistics. Although we do have several issues in our community that we need to improve, we also have a tenacity as Latinas to keep fighting and a passion for celebrating life. I know these Latinas and many more are breaking the odds, breaking stereotypes, breaking barriers and breaking glass ceilings.
Luckily, I have met so many powerful Latinas who have proven that we can prevail over any adversity because we are resilient, we don't lose hope and we do not give up. They remind me that we are survivors, we are fighters, we are powerful and we are warriors. This gives me great hope for the future of young Latinas. We not only tackle many struggles to survive, but we do it in a way that puts our family and community first.