I Am a Complicated Latina Feminist, Ending Violence.

Tina Vasquez, Guest Contributor

Last month after a dinner, I was sitting in my friend’s car, and for the first time in our two-year relationship, we discussed our shared experience of growing up with abusive fathers and abused mothers who did nothing to save us. Recently, I’ve been making an effort to be more transparent about the experiences I had growing up, opening up in ways that go beyond the obligatory statement that my dad isn’t a nice man.

“How do you explain this to people?” I asked my friend. “How do you explain that you were terrorized by your parent when you were a kid, continue to endure their abuse as an adult, and still go out of your way to help and care for them?”

My friend, who finds himself in oddly similar circumstances to mine, replied, “You can’t explain it. It’s cultural.”

I am a 28-year-old Latina feminist who lives with her dad. Every day, I pack his lunch for work. Every day, I make him dinner and literally serve him his meal. I buy all of his groceries. I give him money. I help him pay the mortgage and utility bills. I can afford to move out and live on my own, but I don’t because I feel an obligation to look after my father.

Everything I do is with the hope of making him proud, making him feel loved, and trying to repair whatever is broken inside of him that causes him to be abusive. But the thing that makes him so unkind and me so invisible in his eyes is that I am not one of his sons. I am the same knobby-kneed kid who cowered in a closet, covering my eyes with my hands and praying for the slapping to stop. I am the 7-year-old girl who ran as fast as I could through my childhood home, trying to avoid the belt licking at the backs of my legs. I am the tiny child with long hair and big brown eyes whose mom clutched her against her chest, whispering, “Tell your daddy to be nice to me.”

There is a big part of me that still plays the role of peacemaker. Despite my dad being a small man, he seemed to tower over my mom and me. Even though I was terrified as he stood shaking with rage, I would still speak up and tell him to be nice to my mom. On those days, I saved her at the expense of myself.

Now, twenty years have passed, and my dad is not the same man he used to be. Time has mellowed him out, and he is more light-hearted. The smiles come a little easier, but he still rarely has a kind thing to say about anyone and still knows nothing of gratitude. My dad doesn’t hit me anymore, but I still remember the countless times I’ve wished he would disappear to deny him the satisfaction of my tears and knowing his barbed tongue had once again hurt me deeply.

I am fully aware of how crazy my actions seem to those who grew up in families that shared a healthy love, cultures that don’t emphasize caring for one’s elders, or with parents who demand that respect be earned, not given. I want to be more than the “good Latina daughter” who did everything she was supposed to at her own expense. It is my hope that I will one day learn to love my father in a healthy way, even if he is unable to do the same in return.

My first step has been to have honest conversations in an attempt to unravel the connections between Latinas and family and violence. When I recently interviewed artist Favianna Rodriguez, who has struggled immensely with the expectations thrust upon her by her family and community, she told me that the most important and transformative work we can do is within our own families. You can love your people and your culture, but that doesn’t mean you can’t openly address their shortcomings.

For me, loving my culture means wanting to embrace it and smash it at the same time. It means I am proud of who I am and have immense love for my family, in spite of the machismo and patriarchy that was deeply ingrained in my home. It means I have so much work to do, so many chains to break, and so many generations of abuse to unlearn.

Growing up in Mexico with an alcoholic, abusive father, a complacent mother, and 15 siblings he felt responsible for, my dad never made the connection between his hitting my mom and me and the violence he experienced as a child. Despite knowing the tragedy of being beaten by someone he loved, he couldn’t understand how to spare us from experiencing the same. Although they possessed the virtue of being born male, my brothers did not escape our father’s beatings, and they inherited some of his vices.

In some ways, writing these words feels like a betrayal to my father and brothers. I am finding the courage to speak about the things we’ve been taught not to publicly discuss. But it’s a crucial step for my health and my healing. Attempting to unravel what it means to be a Latina in a violent and unhealthy family is vital not only to my own recovery, but it is connected with the recovery of a culture that understands we must unravel our pain together.


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Comments

Tina Vasquez

It means so much to me that so many of you read my essay and took the time to comment. This was incredibly difficult for me to write, but I see now that sharing my story was the right decision. Despite knowing that so many women are affected by violence (1 in 3), I was shocked by the number of women who personally wrote me and shared their stories, so many of which mirrored my own. I can't articulate how powerful and necessary it is that we share our stories, that we connect with each other, and that we find the courage to be brave together. Thank you for your kindness and your support, from the bottom of my heart.

Aida Ortiz

Tina,your article was incredibly powerful. I am now wrestling with questions myself and want to know more. I just ended a 15-year abusive marriage. Why did I stay? How did I justify the verbal, emotional, psychological pain to myself and my two sons? My mother even asked me and I didn't know what to say or how to answer her. Was is something culturally that said, you stay married. This is part of being a wife. He's just having a bad day. There is something wrong with me, and on and on and on. While I was NOT abused in my family, I stepped right into the role of abused wife. And now I teach an abuse prevention class to Latin women who are in, just recently divorced or divorced for year from men that abused them. They too ask the same question, why didn't I see this? I am a cultural competency trainer professionally and I will be doing more research on this topic...for my job but mostly for me to find answers. Thank you again, Tina, for your article

anonymous

Thank you for your words. Though I didn't experience abuse by the hands of my father, I did experience words by the use of his words. As a female, my expectations were to be complacent, to not speak up, to do as you are told, to follow rather than lead, as I grew older I was expected to stay in a marriage where I was not loved, to not speak of my troubles because of the "que diran", despite the fact I wanted to scream, to yell, to break free of the chains that had bound me since a young age. Now at 34, I am slowly starting to make peace wih myself and with my dad and mother. I am slowly starting to see that they did the best that they could, however, it doesn't make this road any easier. I question myself a lot, fear that I am not good enough and worry that I will never find my way in this already complicated life. I hope that I, like others with your experience find light in your words are are able to continue their path to restoring their strength.

Anita

Your words speak volumes to me as a 21 year old woman of another culture who shares the same values and experiences. Thank you for sharing your story, and may we all continue to grow with so much courage and strength. -Much love and admiration

Janice

I work with many teenage Latinas living this experience. I will read them your words and I'm certain you will ease their pain and help them understand themselves better. You have helped me understand the cultural piece. Thank you for finding the strength to share your story. Your story will encourage strength and bravery in many others.

Andrea

I bow to the goddess within you. This resonated with me on so many levels. I'm thankful for the improved relationship I have with my Papi, but there were years where I had to call him out on his stuff. It has worked. Peace and blessings to you.

Lindsay

Wow! What a great read. You're so brave. It's really hard to come out and talk about things like this. Thank you.

Karen

Thank you for sharing this, it really touched my soul. The more transparent that we can be about these issues, the more that we can address them publicly. Thank you.

Laura

I used to think that all of these dysfunctions, including rampant sexual abuse were unique to my culture. In therapy I learned that they are not. When I read that 'writing these words feels like a betrayal to my father and brothers,' I am at once surprised and not so surprised that you don't feel that they are a betrayal of your mother, who failed miserably at protecting you, as my mom did me, and as countless moms have. One difference is that I blamed my mother from the very beginning. If I didn't blame her, then how could I forgive her - in other words if I didn't blame her, what would I be forgiving her for? That was the beginning of my healing. I still love them both. My dad's blood runs thru my veins - I thought I'd literally die if he died. Still, living with both feelings - of holding him accountable and not white-washing his horrendous transgressions against children AND loving him still has not been easy. It didn't happen overnight. You are a courageous woman - I wish you peace and healing.

Ana

I grew up almost the same way...difference is that after 10 years my mom decided to put an end to the relationship and divorce my dad against what the Catholic church said. Today, the violence that we (myself, brother and sister) learned growing up still continues. I know my brother pushes his wife around, but she won't leave him, and now they have a baby to teach. My sister endures psychological abuse every day, but does the same back. I myself have been in different abusive relationships and strive to have a peaceful life. Sadly ending relationships time and time again because I know I deserve better. We learn these patterns of living growing up in this patriarchal society, where men feel superior than women because they are typically physically stronger. As women, we need to speak out against violence and teach each other how to respect and honor women. First, we honor and love ourselves and the rest follows. It is no longer the time of self-sacrifice and enduring violence and oppression. Going back to the Native beliefs and traditions of women as sacred, because we give life. We give a piece of our life so that life can go on. Thank you Tina for having the courage to tell your story and help other women do the same. Peace & Wellness

Liliana

Wow! speechless... sin palabras. Agreed, understood, lived (in different ways,)can relate.

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