Growing up, my mother was forthright about society’s expectations of me: I’m going to wind up pregnant before the age of 18. I won’t get a college degree. I’ll get hooked on drugs, rely on welfare benefits, and I won’t see the world or have any aspirations for myself.
Many people expect me to fail, she said.
They believe I’m going to be another Latina added to a set of sad statistics, conceived from 20-year-old parents that had a tumultuous marriage– who were both raised by parents that immigrated from Mexico and settled in Shelltown, an urban neighborhood in southeast San Diego that’s plagued with crime.
I oftentimes wondered why she inundated me with these comments throughout my life.
Now I understand why.
* * *
In the '70s, my mother had a teacher named Mrs. Thompson in the sixth grade at Balboa Elementary School.
Mrs. Thompson, my mother described, was a short, chubby white woman in her 60s with a no-nonsense attitude, who styled her silver hair into a beehive, wore color-coordinated outfits, and topped it off with a matching vest that covered her large breasts.
Days before her class field trip to the San Diego Zoo, my mom remembered when Mrs. Thompson told the class:
“When we go to the zoo, other schools will expect you to behave badly because you come from southeast San Diego. They think you’re bad kids: so show them that they’re wrong.”
* * *
That comment astonished my mother.
Many people, she learned that day, are going to have preconceived notions of her moral character because of where she comes from. Yes, her former teacher was a hard-ass, but she taught her an important lesson which she eventually passed down to me.
“Mija, there are people who expect you to fall into these stereotypes. They expect you to misbehave and fail because of who you are and where you come from. Prove them wrong,” my mother said, her voice assuaged.
Then she added, “Always support other Latinas. We must be there for each other.”
Actress Salma Hayek, the Huffington Post reported, was an honoree at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala in Washington D.C. and spoke out about stereotyping during her acceptance speech earlier this month.
“If I could change something about our society, it would be the way some people still perceive Hispanics,” she said. “I don’t want them to see us as people who have come to this country just to receive because the truth is that Latinos have contributed to building the United States as well as the cultural and ethnic richness that characterizes it.”
As Latinas, we’re a sisterhood: Let’s mentor and empower one another. Take advantage of leadership roles. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and express your opinions in a constructive way. Branch out and propel yourself to greatness, wherever that may be for you.
You are destined for great things. You are a Latina Queen.
Prove them wrong.