I wrote this “Letter for Milagros” for an assignment for my intersectionality: gender and race class during my doctoral studies. I wrote it while I was pregnant with Milagros (April 2015).
I write this letter from a place of love.
A deep love that I’ve heard from the women in my life only a mother knows. As I eagerly await your arrival, I reflect daily on my own lived experiences as a Latina woman and the lived experiences of the women who raised me in order to prepare me for the experiences that you will encounter as a young, bi-racial “Ger-Mexican” girl.
In this reflection of what I have encountered in life and the women in my family have encountered in their lives, I feel an urgent need to begin to try and explain to you the society that we live in. This is not to frighten and silence you, but raise your consciousness about the oppressions that exist in our world, in order to utilize this knowledge to your benefit.
Our society is full of controlling images of women and girls of color. We are viewed in negative ways, as burdens to society, as overly sexual individuals, taking more than we contribute and of contributing to systems of poverty. The fact is ….is that there are systems and structures in place that are designed to keep us in second-class status behind White men and white middle-class women.
The dominant groups construct these stereotypes and narratives as a way to control our bodies, silence our voices and ideas, and inflict internal pain by working to damage our self-definitions of who we believe we are and our worth.
However, as Audrey Lorde writes in speaking of these forces and the experience of Black Women, “we [have] to be watchers….to become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for illusion of protection” (Cited in Collins 107).
This does not mean to sit on the sidelines and simply be a watcher of oppression and injustice, without action. It means to be aware of the tools that the oppressor uses to dominate and the structures they create and use what you learned from being a “watcher” as a form of resistance to deconstruct them.
In my life I have been a watcher and a listener of the lived experiences of others. There are times when I acted, and times where I sat on the sidelines and continued to observe, for I was not ready to take action. From the listening to the stories of the lived experiences of others, this too, informed me on how to move from watcher—finding the language and courage to bring my silence into action.
I will admit that this role of Mom is new to me. You are my first…and there probably will be times when I, too, feel lost and uncertain. I know that lots of Moms feel this way at times, but luckily, I can look to my own Mom for guidance, support and advice. The lived experiences of my Mom informed the way that she raised my sisters and me.
My Mom grew up in a small town in northern Arizona. The youngest of 11, my Mom was raised in a home full of women—which included her nine older sisters, and her Mother, Josefina.
As a young child, my Mom endured a tremendous amount of oppression stemming from societal imposed perceptions of poverty, race, and language. In school, she was punished and ridiculed for speaking Spanish to her friends. She was spanked and forced to write 100 times on the blackboard, “I will not speak Spanish on the playground.” These experiences caused internal harm to her confidence and the view she had of herself as a Mexican-American/Latina. Due to this negative experience, My Mom made the decision that she would not teach us Spanish, with the hopes that we would not experience the same shame, ridicule and guilt that she experienced as a Spanish speaker.
However, not speaking Spanish has impacted me in similar ways that speaking Spanish impacted my Mother.
My attempts at speaking Spanish are often ridiculed and I’m looked upon as a sell-out, una vendida, una agringada, or as not being proud. Gloria Anzaldúa speaks to this as Chicanas trying to out Chicana each other…and says “Chicanas feel uncomfortable talking Spanish to Latinas, afraid of their censure…often with Mexicans y Latinas we’ll speak English in a neutral language…. “there is no one Chicano language just as there is no one Chicano experience…A monolingual Chicana whose first language is English or Spanish is just as much a Chicana as one who speaks several variants of language (80-81).”
Not speaking Spanish the way “I should,” has made me feel like an outsider, as not being “Mexican-enough” and like I don’t belong. The words, the looks, and the laughs have hurt my spirit in so many ways. This repression of language, and the stereotypes, that have been imposed on me and continue to be imposed on me have led to my silence at certain times in life.
I tell you these stories because I believe in the powerful healing, learning and relationships that can be built in sharing our stories. Although they hurt my spirit, I give them to you as gift—a lens into my life, a piece of wisdom from which you can draw strength.
Over time, I have come to realization that these imposed stereotypes of who I am, do not define me. I am in charge of creating my own definitions of who I am. These definitions that I create for myself lift me up and carry me through each day—like Patricia Hill Collins explains Black women throughout history who “crafted identities that were designed to empower” (109). The identity am crafting for myself, as daughter, sister, wife, educator, student, aspiring scholar and future Mom empower me on a daily. This is what I hope for you.
Not only do I share with you my story, and the stories of my Mom, but also the memories, wisdom, words and stories from my Nana Josie and other women in my family who helped to raise me and nurture me as a young child and adult. These women, Nanas, aunts, cousins, and madrinas showed me how to care for others, love unconditionally, seek justice, and define myself in positive ways. Like my Mom, they too, struggled
Their words and actions impacted my life in so many ways, and it is their model of strength, courage, power, love, and hope, along with my lived experiences, that will guide and shape me as I embark on this new role as Mom.
I wish for you to be a reflective watcher and listener .
I wish for you to not allow for the negative stereotypes that society may impart on you to break your spirit or chisel away at the identity you create for yourself.
I wish for utilize what you learned from being a reflective watcher and listener to seek justice and deconstruct the systems of oppression that may hurt you and others.
Do not be silenced, bring your silence to action—share your stories and create the world that you want to live in for yourself.
Each day will be a gift of learning and wonder. There will also be days of heartache, sadness, and uncertainty, but these too, are gifts in which we learn and grow. I am here to share all these gifts with you, both the uplifting and the heartbreaking, and be there for you as a source of strength, support, and encouragement—a guiding light who will always have your best interests at the forefront of my heart.
All of these experiences will shape you into the woman that you will one day become.
They are survivors. We are survivors. Their stories are apart of you—and will lift you up in hard times. Hold these stories close to you.