How To Claim Your Female Independence In A Traditional Household

by Alexandria Bordas

I was raised in a household where women were told "maybe not" to their dreams.

I had to fight, and still do, every day to voice my opinions.

I live in a family where misogynistic comments are the norm and traditional female roles that existed in the 1920s still thrive vibrantly.

I live in a family where I carry the weight of responsibility to steamroll old ideologies of what a woman can do with her life. I am the black sheep in my family amongst females who all share similar stories that are different from the one I hope to live.

Their stories are of taking care of their men, day after day, and they couldn’t exactly remember when they said goodbye to their dreams. These are stories of lost identities. Now, I am vehemently fighting the female stigma in my family, and I do it alone.

I am the first person on my mother’s side to graduate from college. I am also the first woman on my father’s side to graduate.

As a first-generation Cuban-American woman, I was raised in a male-dominated Latino environment.

My mother, being the incredibly strong woman she is, anchored our family by “Amerincanizing” us to balance out the machismo vibe that surrounds many Latino households. But I was always fighting the age-old ideas of what women in a Latino family were ultimately capable of doing.

It was not easy. Growing up, my younger brother had opportunities and support in areas of his life that were not always an option for me, because I am a woman. My brother has never worked a day in his life and has college paid for in full.

My father never missed one of his track meets in high school. He was pushed beyond his limits in academia. Never once did he have his dreams or opinions been silenced or questioned.

Although we were raised in the same household, our upbringings couldn’t be more different. Going away to college was never discussed for me, so I commuted for four years in southern California.

At 18 years old, I watched as my good friends from high school had going away parties and loaded up their cars with mementos from home, while I was still required to be prompt at the dinner table every evening and was only allowed to socialize one night each weekend.

My entire life, I watched with slight fear and steadfast resolution as my mother took up the typical role of a Latina wife, putting her own needs and wants on the backburner to take care of her three children: me, my brother and my father, being the third.

Never did I hear her express her desires or her passions, so I grew up, determined to create a different life for myself — one that did not include taking care of a man or being dependent on one. I wanted a career, to see the world and have no strings attached as I pursued it all.

I grew resentful of my father, who, at times, limited my ability to pursue my dreams. I wanted to study abroad one semester in college and was absolutely told not.

Instead, I had to settle on a three-week program he chose for me as a summer session.

I had no say in where I went or what the program entailed.

As I grew up and started discovering the woman I wanted to become, there was a period when I stopped speaking to my father.

The only interactions we ever had were either arguments or surfing silently next to each other, almost as if we both knew the ocean was the one place our issues ceased to exist, like a safe haven.

At 22 years old, I watched as my brother loaded up his belongings into the back of a U-Haul as he prepared to go away for college.

There were no questions asked; he applied and had the opportunity to attend the college of his choosing with full funding from my father, whereas I worked full-time to put myself through school.

It took me three years to come to terms with the fact that for the rest of my life, I will have to battle the ideology of womanhood in my family.

Without any doubt, I know my family loves me and they have definitely put up with some of my more insane antics throughout the years, but I still fight daily to be my own woman.

The past three years of my life — coupled with a classic quarter-life crisis — have slowly shown me that living life vicariously through yourself is the only way to do it.

Hope and vulnerability aren’t weaknesses, and the ability to love is the best tool to have.

Now, at 25 years old, I have my own apartment and I am starting to live my life exactly how dreamed, but didn’t think was possible.

After years of horrible Craigslist jobs, unpaid internships and those throwaway times I will simply call my “party years,” I am working in a position that makes me excited each morning as I prepare to go to work and leaves me satisfied each night as I drive home.

Even better, my social life and personal lives are just that: personal. I have figured out how to balance my needs and the expectations of my family.

For years, I battled living at home and having my life monitored by my overbearing father, but through that experience, I learned patience and self-love.

Constantly dealing with my family in these ways is exhausting, but hating them is so much more draining than loving. Do I wish I were raised in a more liberal household? Perhaps, but then I wouldn’t be as tough or as understanding of cultural differences.

After years of broken conversation with my father, we were able to forge a new bridge. It has its limits, which occasionally get breached, but it is a work in progress. I do not blame my father for raising me how he did because he was raised, enriched with very outdated values.

His mother took care of all the boys in the family selflessly, so how was he to know any other way?

I forgave him and that’s what healed us.