Old World versus New School
I don’t know much of the family history on my father’s side. What little I do know stems from stories I heard from my cousins.
My father’s parents were deceased before I was born. My father never spoke of them or their family life. As I understand it, my aunt (one of my father’s sisters) was very quiet about it as well. We knew there were hidden skeletons, but no one dared to ask.
When I was a freshman in college, I briefly reconnected with my cousins (the daughters of my aforementioned aunt). Those cousins gave me some insight into the family that no one else had.
They told me about my father’s mother, Consuelo. Though I have never met her, I feel a deep sense of pain when I think of her. From what I was told, she, like many Hispanic women, lived a life of selflessness.
The stories they told talked about how she would feed her husband and children first. They could eat as much as they wanted for as long as they wanted. It wasn’t until they were done eating and had left the room that she would be able to eat. In darkness and solitude, she ate the cold remnants of the food she had diligently cooked. I was also told stories of how she was not allowed to retire to bed until everything was cleaned and exactly how it needed to be. Dishes, the house, the children…nothing could be out of place if she was to get any rest. Similarly, she was the first to rise every morning and get food and belongings all ready so that the family could start another day. Once again, she was the last to enjoy anything or get any kind of rest.
Her place was in the kitchen. She dare not speak. She was not allowed a voice, she was not allowed an opinion. All she was allowed to do was cook, clean, and tend to her family.
That kind of home life taught my father that there were no other ways of living. This was how it was going to be, and no questions were to be asked. Though I don’t condone my father’s words and actions from the past, it does explain why he had told me that was to be my future. That I could not have a career or do anything of any real significance. The idea of working women was completely foreign to him!
Ever the defiant child, I spent many years trying to prove myself to him and to the rest of the world. As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), that need to prove myself has dissipated. I have done some wonderful things. I have done some not so wonderful things. I have lived. I have experienced the ups and downs of life. I have had many humbling and human moments. I’ve done the best that I can personally and professionally.
I hope that my tenacity has honored Consuelo, and the countless other women who have lived in such obscurity. My goal is to have shown that she deserved better. I pray that rather than chastising women who are put in such terrible conditions, I am giving hope to them instead.
For as much as I boast about being a Latina, the culture behind it isn’t always as beautiful as we’d like it to be. I consider myself a Latina who was fortunate enough to live a life that many Hispanic women are denied. I suppose I am a mixture of old world and new school.
It saddens me that this was not just her existence, but the story of so many Hispanic women past and present. I understand that we all lead very different lives. Please don’t think I’m judging the lives of housewives. I am not. Instead, my heart goes out to those whose housewife lives were more difficult than others. No judgment, just compassion. Compassion because I whole-heartedly believe that they deserve the right to eat dinner right alongside the rest of the family.