Growing up, I never really understood why my mom and sister would complain about the daily chores. I would say to myself, housework can’t be that hard: you just sweep the floor, clean the restroom, wash dishes, and make food. Now I realize that they weren’t complaining about the work itself, they were complaining about the men in our family not sharing the responsibility for doing that kind of work. The men in our house never lent a hand to wash dishes. My brothers would never help with household chores, and I think it was partly because my father refused to set an example. My father was sexist, and he definitely didn’t provide a good example for my brothers.
When I was growing up, sexism was also present at school. At school, when girls played soccer or basketball, I would hear kids say, “Go somewhere else! This is not for little girls.” I didn’t care what the boys would say to me because I didn’t really like playing soccer. I was more into volleyball and talking with my friends, but nevertheless, I would feel empathy for those girls who did like sports, because the boys could be extremely rude. If only, growing up, kids could be taught that everyone is equal, boys and girls, men and women, perhaps there wouldn’t be such a separation of genders in school games, and the right to play sports being dictated by boys on the playground.
Coming from a small village in rural Mexico, there were some things that were limited and/or restricted for women. When I was younger, my dad would not let us walk alone anywhere. We would have to be accompanied by someone from my family. I would have to go to the store with my youngest sister. When there was a dance, we could never go by ourselves; we had to go with someone older, like our aunt or our mom. In some respects, I can appreciate the common sense in this. It is safer to go with someone else when you’re going out, but it was a bit annoying to know that we had to be accompanied by our siblings, and not our friends from school, with whom we actually had fun.
In a small village like mine, it was hard to stand up for yourself as a girl. People are more conservative in their ideals, and everyone is expected to be “normal.” If someone does anything different, it’s usually seen as bad and “abnormal.” Little by little though, my small village is changing its perspectives towards women. Some of the reasons are, I believe, because more people are immigrating to the United States, and getting a broader education. Girls are getting the chance to be more independent. By this, I mean that it is becoming more acceptable for them to be seen with a guy who is not their brother or cousin. It’s hard to accept new ideas when people are close-minded, and all they have known to be true in this world are their own beliefs, traditions, and culture, and nothing else. The people in my village didn’t know that women should have the same rights as men, and that they are capable of achieving as much, and more.
One of my favorite women role models of all time, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, an indigenous Guatemalan leader, has shown not only her own people but the entire world that the advancement of human rights is not a matter of waiting for acceptance from others, it is a matter of fighting for what is right and just. Menchú has experienced a harsh path through life. Her entire family was killed. Her brother was arrested and tortured, her father killed, and her mother arrested, tortured, and raped. She has been an advocate for women’s rights since her teens, and is now an activist not only for women, but also for indigenous rights. In 1979, Rigoberta joined the CUC (Committee of the Peasant Union) and became increasingly involved in activism. She learned how to speak Spanish and some Mayan languages, in addition to her native K’iche’. In 1981, Menchú campaigned to organize better conditions for farm workers on the Pacific Coast, and she also joined the radical 31st of January Popular Front. With this organization, she contributed to educating the Indian peasant population in resistance to massive military oppression. Menchú has received numerous awards, one of which includes the Nobel Peace Prize, and the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 1990. Menchú is a shining example of commitment and perseverance, of showing the world that basic human rights must be afforded everyone, and that women and indigenous people are no different than anyone else in this regard.
Dolores Huerta, another great Latina feminist and social activist, has my admiration, and is a motivation not only to me but to the entire Hispanic community as well. She fought for farm worker rights along with César Chávez, another inspiring leader. Dolores Huerta co-founded what would become the United Farm Workers. She stepped down from her position at the UFW (United Farm Workers) in 1999, but she continues to work tirelessly to improve the lives of farm workers, immigrants, and women.
Menchú and Huerta, two amazing Latina women, have contributed greatly to improving the lives of others, and this gives me hope that feminism is indeed taking root and will continue to grow in the cultures of Central and South America.