Cristela Alonzo, as a girl, dreamed about meeting the Backstreet Boys. She dreamed that she would be the best maid ever. She would clean so good that the singers would notice her. It never occurred to Cristela that she would become the first ever Latina to create, produce, pitch, write and star on her own show. It never occur to that young girl that SHE would be the star of her own story.
Cristela’s story is fortunately not unique. Yesterday, approximately 100 Latinas from all over the country gathered at the “Fullfilling America’s Future, Latinas in the U.S. Summit” at the White House and shared their stories but most importantly, what they are doing to improve the education, economic development and social mobility of women from Latin-American descent.
In that room, all stories, our stories, were not unique and were amplified.
Cristela served as mistress of ceremonies; but that would be an understatement. Cristela keep us grounded. Firm in our convictions that YES we are at the White House talking about US. Cristela brought us home and hugged us tight. She made us cry and made us laugh. Cristela became a sister. Una hermana. The family that perha
ps we never knew we had.
“I am the 26th Latina to ever get a PhD in business in this country”. Stated Dr. Cinthia Satornino. We need more of you, she added; and then proceeded to make a business case to why it makes sense for Latinas to not only pursue higher degrees but also be school administrators. “It is an economic imperative”. She finished.
Diana Trujillo, a lead engineer at NASA in charge at Mars curiosity rover reminded us that even as we literally break the boundaries of what is possible in earth and space, we still sometimes worry about our accent and being understood. She also reminded us that when we are called “terca” (stubborn), it is because sometimes we are the only ones that know what we can and want to do.
“They thought I was the receptionist” shared Silvia Olivas, Co-producer and Head-writer
for Elena of Avalon, which is the first Latina-looking princess for Disney. The show is inspired in many Latino
cultures so that is representative of our diversity. When Silvia writes, she often thinks about how will all the unheard voices of other Hispanic writers would be portraying their experiences. Elena, is a pricess but also a she-ro on a journey to become a better ruler, negotiate treaties and be a good sister, granddaughter and friend. There is a leadership lesson in every episode.
“Becoming who we did not have growing up is healing” became a powerful statement that encompassed so much truth and love in the room that tears of emotion started flowing way before Denise Frohman recited her poem “ACCENTS”.
Rosi Ríos, 43rd U.S. Treasurer shared how she became a feminist “by accident” by reviewing thousands of renderings used to print currency, posters, the very history we touch every day with our fingers and noticing there was not a single real woman represented. Her quest for inclusivity and diversity is one that has only started but has already given us the first woman on the $20 bill.
John B. King, U.S. Secretary of Education emotionally stated that it was his mother, a brave and committed Puerto Rican woman that instilled in him his love for service and his community. Citing one of his greatest loses not being able to learn Spanish from his mother as she died when he was in fourth grade. He encouraged us to take responsibility for advocacy and activism in our communities. “The will to aspire” is what education is really about, citing Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Questions about stereotypes, about representation (hello Afro-Latinas! hello Queer-Latinas!) were discussed. The paradox of having families that risked everything to give us the best they could yet try to retain us to do the same simply because they love us too much and do not want to see us suffer was hanging in the air. Our families know the pain, the disapointment, the endless days of work…
“Celebrate our diversity, especially in our experiences, we all have stories, some are different stories and as long as they are true, they are powerful; and they need to be heard…. And ladies, we are still at the White House!” reminded us once again Cristela.
Cecilia Muñoz, highest ranking Latina in the White House, Assistant to Barack Obama and Director of Domestic Policy Council, Beatriz Acevedo, founder of MiTu, Vanessa Casillas, a bricklayer and journeyman, Tina Chen, Chief of Staff for Michelle Obama, Dr. Sobeyda Gomez-Chou that got a PhD in Cancer Biology but left to teach high school in Oakland, Dulce Ramirez, a White House intern that wrote a poignant letter to her young-self. So many wonderful Latinas brought together. The catalyzer of it all was Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellente for Hispanic and her team: The incredible Michelle Moreno, Jacqueline Cortez-Wang, Deputy Director for the initiative and Ginnette Magana, Hispanic Outreach Liaison and so many others invisible to my eyes.
“Pa’lante!” roared Carlos Gomez as he closed the summit with a poem about a young student dreaming with entering the White House as the first Latina President.
I am incredibly grateful for the experience, for the emotion, for the stories, for the motivation…. Dr. Alma Martinez from University of LaVerne told me before I left: “You need to find the right people, a good team to continue your work. Keep trying, just don’t give up” and that is exactly what I will do.
I grew up in a very traditional home in Peru. My mom was a home maker, my dad worked in the navy. My mom cooked every night, helped with homework, always looked beautiful (full make-up, heels, perfect hair). She always smiled in public and entertained flawlessly.
A few years into my childhood, things changed. My father found other people that were more interesting than my mother and left. Came back and left. Came back and left. 4 times.
My mother, that had been a valedictorian in school, an artist, a great cook, a teacher was faced with the realities of 2 small children, no money, no work and no husband.
What did she do? She raised us why she knitted, cooked, embroidered, made dolls, etc to support us. It was not easy, I vividly remember a week when I did no see her eat at all and we had to eat some type of cucumber that grew in our garden, with rice. For a week. Every day, every meal. I still gag at the thought of it.
Still, when my mother called a client of the phone or collected money for her sales, she always apologized for calling, for reaching out, for being in an uncomfortable position. She worked so hard she dislocated her arm twice. She, that was raising 2 kids without any support was asking for forgiveness… I don’t know why…
I never realized it, until I caught myself doing exactly the same, about 2 years ago.
I realized I said “I am sorry” more times that I said “This is why I disagree” or “No” or “My opinion is…” I always started with “I am sorry” or “excuse me”. It was ridiculous (and still is because I still catch myself doing it!).
Everyday, I have to remind myself to not apologize for having an opinion, for disagreeing, for being frustrated or upset and frankly for somethings feeling like I want to kill someone.
This is my personal journey, a journey of “Owning my Own Power”. I work at it and I think I am getting better and better but it is something that is shared by many of us, mostly women that juggle work, families, personal life, interests, volunteer work and yet we apologize profusely for who we are and for what we want.
I ran a search for “dejemos de pedir disculpas” (Spanish for “let’s stop saying I am sorry”) and I got over 300,000 hits on ways to say “I am sorry” or tips on saying “I am sorry”. I am of course, not discounting that asking for forgiveness is esential in life when making a mistake or hurting someone. My point is entirely related here to asking for forgiveness when someone has done nothing wrong.
This is a long post and very personal. If I made you unconfortable, deal with it. I am not saying I am sorry 😉
Last week it was my daugher’s last soccer game of the season. She is incredibly passionate, fun to be around and is committed to the game. She is 7 years old.
The “Cheetahs” did not win a single game. The first game ended 25-3 or something like that… we stopped counting. Even worse, my husband was their coach. Ugh.
Half-way througn the season, the people in charge of the league decided perhaps the way they had assigned players to teams was unfair and suggested to mix-up teams.
My husband swallowed his pride and asked the girls what they wanted to do. The answer was very simple: “NO. We are team and we want to play together”.
And that is exactly what they did. They played together and improved tremendously. At the end of the season, the games ended 3-1 or so.
All the girls yearned to win and they dedicated their weekends to it. They practiced, they encouraged each other, they supported each other.
They had fun and while they realized that they were not the best, they could improve their game. And so they did.
The “Cheetahs” did not win a single game, but they won something more imporant: The understanding and the knowledge that the most importang game was against themselves.
The fight was not agains the other team, it was to be be better as a team, to be stronger, together.
They are all 7-8 years old girls and I am proud of all of them. Yes, the coaches also did their best.
A few years ago, I read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. It was hard. It was uncomfortable.
I was one of those women constantly asking for permission to speak and saying “sorry” everytime I raised my hand to interrupt someone or when I happened to disagree with an opinion or statement.
The beauty of “Lean In” was that it was not a book about making you feel valuable and loved and gave you hugs and warm feelings about women and our potential. It was fierce, and raw and ugly and controversial. But it rang mostly true in so many ways.
I made some decisions about my life, I bought the book and gave it away to friends. I tried to be conscious about my words and my attitude towards work. I recognized the many opportunities I had left pass because I did not “Lean In”. It was a pivotal book in my life, yet…
There were 2 things I did not agree with:
- The fact that Sheryl Sandberg basically said that if you stay with your kids at home you are not only hurting yourself and your career, you are also hurting millions of women by not raising children that grow up to enjoy and appreciate working moms AND that your voice was not joining the millions of voices asking for equity in the workplace. You basically took the easy way.
- The idea that YES, YOU LEAN IN EVERY TIME – ALL THE TIME at work and then, at home, well, things will figure themselves out somehow… or… you could marry a partner underneath your potential so it was always clear who would pursue the fabulous career.
Sure, it was Sheryl’s book and her opinions, but as someone that tried (and still tries) to balance time and availablity with my daughters, my husband, and a career, it simply felt selfish and an opinion born in a silo of privilege up in a mountain.
2 days ago, Sheryl wrote extensively in her page “I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home” Sandberg, of course referred with the comment to her experience as a single mom.
Sandberg’s husband passed away one year ago. She had been able to develop her incredibly successful career, write a book, start a movement, all of it, because her husband’s schedule was more flexible and more importantly, because she had a supportive partner.
Now, Sheryl realizes how sheltered her existence was (and is!) as a single mother that does not have to suffer poverty and isolation like so many millions of mothers face every single day while trying to not loose themselves in the struggle of it all.
Sheryl writes: “Dave’s absense has re-defined what it is to be a mother… Some people felt that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they have an unsupportive partner or no partner at all. They were right”.
For single parents, there is no safety net, there is nothing for them to fall on if a child gets sick, if one gets sick, if your hours are cut, if the check does not arrive on time.
Thank you Sheryl Sandbert for writing about this, for recognizing an opportunity for improvement. For saying: “I did not get it”. I respect you so much for that. Because it is not easy to acknowledge mistakes, much less on a public site, even less with such a strong statement on Mother’s Day.
A New York Times essay titled “How Empowerment Became Something for Women to Buy” came out today and it pointed a finger to something I had been reflecting on for a while, now.
Empowerment is arguably the buzz word of the moment, we all work on “empowering” someone or some idea and frankly, many times the use of the word is nothing close to ridiculous. From workshops, to lingerie, to make-up and soaps; we all seem to forget that empowerment can only come from within.
NOTHING we buy or listen to will empower us. There can be opportunities that facilitate connections, learnings, realizations, yes; and that is exactly we we offer at YoSoyM; but claiming that we are the ones making it happen for people is not only dishonest, it is impossible.
It is individually us, who make decisions to be better, to try new things, to walk away from fear and start working on our great ideas. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, to create products or services that support those decisions or provide the resources so people can make those decisions, what I profoundly dislike is the concept that empowerment is for sale. That if you pay the price, your problems will be gone or you will magically get the tools to bypass all barriers to acquire your dreams, or lose weight, or have better self-steam, open a business, etc.
Sometime ago, I wrote a post about “Poverty Porn” and I feel that many times, empowerment is the new iteration of this idea that pity sells. An avalanche of stuff talking about what we lack… Like the essay article masterfully puts: “Empowerment” invokes power while signifying the lack of it”
Looking at synonims of the word, I found: legitimizing, allowing, permitting, licensing, etc” and those meanings are just NOT reflective of using your talents, power and skills to better yourself…. So, what to do about this? For one, I have decided I will start replacing the word “empowerment” with strenghtening and facitating which I believe much better reflect what we work on.