What I Learned From My Guatemalan Grandmother

By
Share

"Mamatita," my irreplaceable Guatemalan grandmother, didn't let circumstances, cultural stereotypes, history or other people's opinions stop her from becoming a successful woman in many aspects of her life.

I didn't realize how many obstacles she overcame on a daily basis until she was no longer alive, and I was forced to live life without her infinite wisdom and unconditional love. She was born and raised in Guatemala, a country that doesn't exactly scream, "Hi ladies, please show us what you've got!"

Adrian Cotiga

Actually, the Guatemalan culture is quite the opposite of that. Yet, she led large groups of men, ran a household with six kids, managed multiple businesses and balanced a healthy and loving 45-year-long marriage with my grandfather.

And although her life wasn't always filled with laughter and pleasantries, she somehow always made everything look effortless. It wasn't until I turned 30 that I stopped to reflect on the impact she had on my life, and how her example subconsciously motivated me to want to become my own superhero.

Mamatita was a force to be reckoned with. She made the women surrounding her – including myself – believe they were unstoppable... just like her.

From managing her employees to becoming my personal therapist, I was fortunate I had a grandmother whose actions and legacy planted the desire within me to want to change the world, by inspiring other women to do the same.

The lessons she left behind are enough to pass onto multiple generations. However, these are three things Mamatita reinforced that contributed to my tenacity, ambition and perseverance.

1. Own your voice, no matter what.

It is not uncommon in the Latin culture to avoid certain conversations out of the fear of what others may think. In fact, in Guatemala, that's the norm.

So, it came as no surprise to my grandmother that she was known for her consistent honesty – regardless of the topic – because honesty was a rare commodity. Mamatita always stood firmly behind whatever it was she believed in.

Her priority was doing what was right, not what was popular. I remember standing in her office when I was 5 years old and watching her have one-on-one conversations with her male employees.

She would travel a great distance to personally compensate them and address matters that were previously brought to her attention by the people in charge of overseeing her businesses.

At times, this meant she would have to ask why they had missed multiple days of work due to substance abuse, or what made them think it was OK to disrespect other women on her property. This imparted in me the message that tough conversations are inevitable, but how we show up in these circumstances is completely up to us.

Mamatita embraced these opportunities so she could provide wisdom and resources that would serve as solutions for some of the issues at hand. She was never afraid to tell someone he or she needed an intervention.

However, her honesty and constructive criticism always came accompanied with grace and unconditional support.

2. Women can have it all.

I was unaware women COULDN'T have it all because the only thing I was exposed to was my grandmother's infinite balance with life.

Mamatita equally embraced her strengths and weaknesses, and it allowed her to focus more on things she could control, as opposed to wasting energy.

She was a confident woman, and was not afraid to ask for help when she needed it. My grandmother never worked for someone else, and she devoted her whole life to her family and businesses.

For as long as I can remember, she would tell jokes about the kitchen not being her BFF. She would outsource anything culinary-related with great pride.

Mamatita was proof women could have it all.

3. Love yourself unconditionally.

These days, it seems messages about "self-love" are trending on every social media channel. However, the importance of loving yourself regardless of the circumstances was something my grandmother instilled in me at a young age.

I always loved and respected my grandparents, but this didn't mean I was exempt from tantrums that would result in disciplinary action.

Like other kids, I did things I shouldn't have, and I tried diligently to get my way at times. Although I'm grateful my grandmother put boundaries in place and didn't allow me to turn into a spoiled brat, I'm more grateful she repeatedly showed me I was not defined by my past or mistakes.

Carolyn Lagattuta

She gave me permission to embrace all aspects of myself by leaving judgment at the door. Crying by her side was my safe haven, and it allowed me to feel emotions as they came. This resulted in me having an increased sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance; two tools I use today that are necessary for emotional survival and perseverance.

Thanks to my dear Mamatita, I now know being a woman is one of my greatest blessings and assets. The more I get to know myself, the more unstoppable I will become.