Disclaimer: This post contains information that may offend readers. Views expressed herein are mine and mine alone.
Growing up, my family was poor. I never internalized that fact until I was preparing to go to High School. It was a momentous event. I was flying the coup, the Bronx, to go to another borough, and attend a specialized school, Brooklyn Tech. My mother could not have been prouder.
Knowing that my single mother did not have the funds to purchase my school clothes, I decided to do something drastic. I lied about my age to obtain a factory job. I was 13, pretending to be 16. They never asked for papers.
That job opened my eyes to more than just the working world.
I was sexually harassed every day on the job by men that could have been my older brother, father, uncle or even grandfather. Everyday I was met with catcalls. All kinds. They talked about my rump, grabbed my body in various areas and sometimes … even showed me photos of men and women in different stages of undress.
It didn’t matter that I looked like a child. It didn’t matter that I was not provocatively dressed. It did not matter if I stayed quiet, screamed at them to leave me alone, or sought help from my jefe/boss. It didn’t stop. In fact, speaking to my jefe just made it worse. They were angry now. They would not be ruled by a girl/woman.
You may be wondering why I stayed. It’s simple. I witnessed this in varying forms while living in Puerto Rico and in New York. It was part of my community, my cultura, full of machismo. It was “normal” to see women emotionally and/or physically abused around me.
Police refused to become involved. Many times they would tell the man to walk it off and leave the scene without arresting the perpetrator, that is until someone was drastically hurt or killed.
Or, like happened in my own family, till she lashed out and stabbed the man who abused her since she was 13. The man who swore to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, as long as they both shall live. This same man, who was approximately 30 years her senior, did none of that. His love was twisted, his thought of comfort only for himself and his many, many mistresses. She, on the other hand, at age 21, had 5 children, including the twins she had bore that past week.
Photo Source: David Castillo Dominici
As women, we have come so far and yet not far enough. We purport to want so much more for ourselves but place our daughters in the very same situations we sought to outrun. We continue the cycle. Marrying men who represent this cultura, raising boys that believe the “men will be boys” mentality, behaving as if our bodies are more important than our brains, all while allowing society to determine who our daughters are to become. I witness it day in and day out.
Our daughters need us to step up. They need mothers to speak up and out, for themselves and their children. They need parents, not friends.
We are our daughters’ first defense. Let them be angry. Let them sulk, whine and throw tantrums because you will not allow them to wear the latest fashion trends, tell them they can no longer associate with certain “friends”, and reinforce abstinence is best, while also teaching them about safe sex practices. Let them call you old fashioned, as long as they get to become old themselves.
Yes, it is a sad state when our daughters can not run as freely as our sons. However, I would much rather see them alive and unscathed, than buried, in a coffin or living a nightmare that has no end, because denial is running rampant.
I witnessed a lot that summer. It changed my life. Don’t let denial change hers.
Hold her hand now so that she can soar later.