The title of the book This Bridge Called My Back, an anthology
edited by Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga, has always resonated with me. Many
WOC, specifically Latinas, are expected to carry entire nations on our backs.
Toward salvation, liberation, and education — we are the ones responsible for
keeping our families together, setting an example for our children, and
providing emotional support for everyone. We will literally break our backs to help
other people get to where they need to be, especially our loved ones and our
families. Writing this down I realize that some of my readers will not see this
But it is. Imagine being told your entire life that this is what “good” women do, that your purpose in life is to help other people get to their goals and aspirations, and to help other people realize their purpose. THIS is what we are often told indirectly by our mothers, fathers, grandfathers, abuelas, tías, tíos, and eventually, our novios.
Women are disproportionately expected to be selfless and giving. Through this virtue we are given value. Men are given a different kind of burden; an expectation of selflessness is not one of them. For women, this selflessness means giving so much of ourselves to everyone else that we are left with very little, if anything, for ourselves.
If ever my obituary reads “She was selfless,” I'll know that I am dead because of that very reason. I have a tattoo on my shoulder in honor of my abuelita Rosa as a reminder that women who give themselves so completely to others end up leaving their loved ones prematurely.
I worry about this inheritance. I worry that I will become that person because I automatically want to give myself to my partners. Then I look at my tattoo and I remember that mi abuelita didn’t even bother getting the medical care she needed because she was working all the time and worried about her neighbors and her grandkids, that she did not make the time to go to a doctor who could have helped her. We needed her. I needed her to be alive longer. God did not take her away. Her socially imposed duty to be a selfless Mami did that to her.
I worry that the same could happen to me if we keep valuing women by how
much of themselves they give to others and to their partners. I need us to raise
girls who believe that working toward THEIR goals is important for everyone. I
need us to raise girls who believe that taking care of THEIR needs is important
for all of us. I need us to raise girls who believe that putting themselves
first is beneficial for all of humanity.
Brown girls need to remember that while an entire Raza may depend on our wokeness and our resilience, if we do not take care of ourselves there won’t be anyone to save. We need to remember to sleep right, take long baths, have sex (if that is what we want), go on date nights, go dancing, and laugh often. The struggle is a lifelong one, and if we are in it for the long haul we are going to need our strength. But we are also going to need you to stop valuing selflessness as a means of defining what a “good” woman is.
I want my tombstone to say: "She took care of herself and everyone benefited."