Women who gave us wings

Happy International Women’s Day! Today, I am reflecting on the women in my life who have paved the way so that I reach my potential, live out my dreams and conquer spaces unknown to them.

Mama Rosa, my grandmother, grew up serving in the rich houses of her town in El Salvador. She became an orphan at age six. In order to have shelter and food, she had to work caring for other children, cleaning and cooking.  She remembered being so little that her employers would put out a couple of bricks for her to reach the sink to wash their dishes and clothes.

When I was growing up, Mama Rosa lived with us and took care of my brother and I.  My mother was a single parent working endless hours as a nurse to support us.  Mama Rosa continued with us what she had done all her life, caring for others.  She never went to school, and aside from preparing our meals, bathing us and watching over us, she didn’t know much about parenting.  She loves us very much, but she herself was a very afraid child. The world was very scary to her.

This is probably why Mama Rosa refused to let my aunt Maria go away from home to become a teacher.  My aunt Maria was smart, and had won a scholarship to a school for teachers away from her remote rural town. Mama Rosa told Auntie Maria that she couldn’t go because rather than coming back with a degree, she was going to get pregnant.

Years later, in 1975, my aunt was the first in the family to cross the US border.  She has cleaned houses in Long Island, New York for over 35 years.  She is now in her 70s and continues to work hard. Aunt Maria was our bridge to come to the United States during the 80s.

When my mom’s turn came to further her studies, she asked no one’s permission and took off to the big city to attend nursing school.  She tells me about not having enough money to buy herself a pair shoes, and having to stick newspaper in the bottom of her run down shoes to make them last.

During her nursing career, my mother was often recognized for her incredible dedication.  She even had the chance to administer a small hospital at one point before we moved to the United States. For me, she was the strongest woman in the world.  My mother made everything look possible.

Like my grandmother, my aunt and my mother, women around the globe struggle every day to gain full ownership of their bodies and dreams.  In 2012, women continue to face great barriers to their economic independence: high rates of illiteracy, gender discrimination at work and restrains over their reproductive rights.  Women in rural cites face these obstacles at a greater scale.  The United Nations has recognized the importance of tapping resources to help these women.  The 56th Commission on the Status of Women takes on the challenge of empowering rural women and acknowledging their crucial role in the eradication of hunger and poverty. Learn more.

It is not mystery that helping women overcome obstacles to access opportunities can heal and transform entire communities. Gender oppression has socialized women to be caretakers, and so they would care with all their might and with all they have. Give women resources, education, and a chance to make a living, and it is very likely to see a community grow.

When Mama Rosa survived her parentless childhood, my aunt left for the US and my mother achieved her dream of becoming a nurse, they were writing the themes of my own story. I am forever indebted to their courage.  Let’s honor those women in our lives today in celebration of el Dia Internacional de la Mujer.