“It feels weird not having a ring on my finger,” I’ve thought to myself numerous times since going through the painful aftermath of having ended my engagement. Though I wore the engagement ring for only six months, it took my finger a while to get accustomed to the missing gold band.
At 22, I ended what would’ve been the biggest accomplishment under my family’s eyes — or, at least I thought it would be an accomplishment. Coming from a Mexican family and a proud Mexican-American (or Chicano) neighborhood can do that to you. You are brought up in a cultural atmosphere that believes the greatest accomplishment as a Mexican-American woman is to find yourself a man.
I’ve always been the black sheep in my family, and felt even more of an outsider both in middle school and high school. Almost all of the students I attended school with — and anyone that lived within a 20-mile radius from me — are Mexican-American. Proud of their heritage and brought up bi-lingual, you can imagine the social pressure I carried as a Mexican-American girl who spoke imperfect Spanish and was born with skin fairer than her classmates. “White washed” was definitely a title associated with me, and I’m actually pretty sure some of my former classmates would be surprised to know I’m Mexican at all.
Being a woman added more to this pressure. The idea of being a glowing confident Latina woman, similar to Mexican soap operas (or telenovelas), was an image I was expected to chase and eventually follow. My mother and many other Mexican American women were definitely always aiming to reach this goal, from diets to cremas, any woman you met in my neighborhood had a solution for your imperfection, and they were not shy to share. Being stopped randomly at the local supermarket by a middle-aged woman who can “fix that,” pointing at my acne, was a norm for me. I knew that many of the women in my neighborhood believed that if I listened to their recommendations I too could find a hard-working husband and have children in my 20’s.
I grew up believing this for years until I found feminism in the hardest and most surprising way: living with my then fiancé. Though many Mexican-American teens and young adults consider themselves feminists, I really had no idea what the word actually meant until I found out on my own — having to gather the self-respect to leave a man I loved, and an image I wanted to uphold.
It was a surprise to many when I began dating a Mexican-American man, who was not only a hard worker and a smooth talker. He too came from a traditional family who lived a few blocks away, and to say I was swept off my feet would be an understatement. He, however, carried his family’s views and values that are similar to Mexican norms for women, which include the domestic and patriarchal norms for women: staying at home and tending to her family. Her only role should be a giver, and that is all.
I was a journalism student at that time, and had made a respectable amount of friends and internships, but that was no real accomplishment to his family. To please both him and his family, I tried to balance being an editor at my school newspaper with being a housewife who should close any ties outside of her partner, including her friends and family.
Of course, there were other issues that my fiancé and I had, but looking back, any issue we had was rooted back to his belief that feminism – meaning, my rights and my agency — was a joke. He did not believe women and men should have equal rights, and I was blinded by what I thought as “chivalry” to notice.
Feminism wasn’t a common topic to discuss in the culture I was brought up with. Though the women in my family were strong and respectable role models, they do hold the notion that they are a woman, and as a woman they must sacrifice their lives for their men and family. So, was it so selfish that I didn’t want to sacrifice my goals and friendships to please a man who strongly believed I was not equal to him? Was it so selfish to want to be with someone who deserves my love?
Being the only child-less single woman in my family can be hard at times, especially when the family gatherings come around. Though I now attend many birthdays, baptisms and communions on my own, I’d rather be sitting in the singles table than be in the company of someone who I’m not respected by.
At first I thought that ending my engagement would be an embarrassment for my family, but I later learned that what they really wanted was my happiness. Yes, there are times when I can tell that my father would prefer me being taken care of, and I can also tell he and my mother worry I will never give them grandchildren, but I think they’ve come to understand that I respect myself too much too let something like “not bringing a handsome Mexican male home,” hurt me.
And so I continue living my life and not worrying too much about being the perfect housewife I once pretended to be. I feel like an outsider sometimes for not having the same goals as the women around me, but I can’t help it.
I respect myself too much to want to settle just for the sake of pleasing someone else. And so whenever my friends and I feel crushed because yet another guy turned out to be a disappointment, or when we feel alone on Valentine’s Day, we try to tell ourselves the honest truth and that is, that we chose this. We chose to be independent and find love at our own terms, and yes that may come with disappointments and expectations falling short, but we chose this cause we love ourselves. And that is the best relationship you can have.