I’ve always talked a lot – still do. My mom says I talked before I even learned to walk. She claims that before I hit two years old, I was already speaking in complete sentences and talking her and my dad’s ears off. I believe it. Fortunately for me, my parents encouraged my chatterbox ways. But a little girl with a lot to say and hell of a lot of opinions, didn’t always go well with the rest of my Latino family – especially the male figures.
With the exception of my dad, my little brother, and my wonderful Tío Miguel who passed away a couple of years ago, I’ve never gotten close to any of the males in my family. It wasn’t because I didn’t or don’t love them. It’s because I never felt like I could speak my mind around them – but it took me years to understand this.
I was probably in the first or second grade when my mom decided to purchase me my own children’s encyclopedia. It was actually a massive series broken into different books with various volumes, each dedicated to a different subject. I had questions. I had opinions. And my mom didn’t always have immediate answers, so she put me to read.
But there was one question that I could never find an answer for: Why did the male figures in my family – with the exception of my kind, gentle, and non-machista dad – get away with so much shit? They could drink even if things got inappropriate. They could swear like sailors and they could tell their wives to shut it when they didn’t want to hear what they had to say.
“Little girls shouldn’t talk so much,” I remember practically every single male family member telling me. “This one talks way too much. You better stay on top of that,” they’d advise my parents. I even remember one uncle alluding once to me having the potential of becoming “easy” or eventually whoring around because of my oversized hoop earrings, my crop tops, and my big, “doesn’t take shit” mouth. Not that it should matter, but I was 17 and still a virgin when he implied this by the way.
A much older male cousin I haven’t seen in ages, once told me that famous and dreaded saying: “Calladita te ves mas bonita.” I’ll never forget that day actually. It was my senior year of high school and I was looking for a part-time retail job. My cousin had encouraged me to walk into a couple of shops in Corona, Queens, asking if they were hiring cashiers or sales associates. They were looking for people at a local GNC shop and I filled out an application right on the spot. I remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable when my cousin kept trying to speak for me while I quickly interviewed with the store manager and I made it a point to confront him about it afterwards. He didn’t like the confrontation and next thing you knew we were arguing.
“No one wants to hear what a 17-year-old girl has to say about this that and the other,” I remember him telling me. “Use your looks, wear those tight jeans you have that don’t have the back pockets and you’ll find a retail job in seconds.” In other words, use my looks and my ass to get a job. I never forgot that day. I still think about it when subjects like this come up and I promised myself after that day that despite how unsure I was at the time about my future, I was going to read like crazy, go to college, and use my words to get somewhere in life and guess what primo?! – I did!
“Do you normally talk this much about politics and social issues when you go on dates?” my mom recently asked half-jokingly after an in-depth political discussion. “It just naturally finds its way into conversation. It’s important to me to date someone who’s politics and values align with mine,” I told her. Her response was disheartening: “You’re gorgeous, you’re smart and you’ve dated a lot. Maybe you scare them away with all your opinions, strong views, and values.”
Even my own mom who from day one supported me having a voice was afraid of how my voice was making men feel. She was concerned it was intimidating them, overwhelming them, and straight up turning them off. This didn’t surprise me though, because we live in a world that has tried to silence women for decades. This is especially the case in Latino culture where machismo dominates heavily.
The #metoo movement has not only shed light on the sexual abuse and harassment women have had to endure for years, but it’s helping put an end to women’s silence. It’s given women the power and the agency to break their silence, to speak out against their abusers, and to confidently tell their stories. It turned victims into survivors. Just think about all the women who might have been able to avoid abuse had they not been raised in a society that silenced them and didn’t allow them to stand up for themselves.
Being silent is being powerless. Having a voice and the right to speak is power. Michelle Obama said it best. “If we don’t ask them to speak up at an early age, that doesn’t happen… It takes practice to have a voice … to say ‘No, don’t touch me.”
If it wasn’t for our voices, women wouldn’t have been able to make the strides that we’ve made. We wouldn’t have access to birth control, we wouldn’t have any control over our bodies, we wouldn’t have jobs – and we sure as hell wouldn’t be able to vote. Sexual harassment and physical abuse would be legal along with spousal rape. Our silence would ultimately be our death.
I’m proud of myself for never taking that bogus “Calladita te ves mas bonita” bullshit advice from anyone. I’m glad I never stopped speaking and I’m thankful for that strong voice inside me that from a very young age, told me to make sure I was being heard no matter what.
As humans, our voices are an essential part of our identity – of who we are. As women, our voices are our most powerful tool, as they help to redefine the values and the systems set in society. So you better believe I’ll be holding on to mine for dear life and I highly encourage every woman to do the same with theirs.