Growing Up Latina: My Sheltered Brown Girl Experience
Throughout Latin American and Caribbean cultures, it is very common for the girls of a family to have been raised under vastly different rules than the boys of the same family. This double standard is a consequence of the rampant machismo that dictated the upbringing and adulthood of our fellow Latinxs. Being a sheltered Brown Girl is an experience unlike any other. While there are many similarities in the way each of us were raised, each experience is unique and provides a different perspective on what has added value and what has detracted from our personal and professional development.
Before I left Colombia, I was the only girl in a pack of six little boys who served as my mini bodyguards. I recall the many times that these boys were instructed by everyone in my family to always protect me. Additionally, my sister and I are thirteen years apart, and by the time I was around three or four, I basically felt as though I had five mothers because I lived in the same apartment with my mother, grandmother, two aunts and sister. Upon moving to the United States, I officially became the only baby of the house. After being so used to spending my time around my primo-hermano and the neighborhood boys, I remember my parents’ grip suddenly tightening as we migrated to a new, unfamiliar country.
Throughout this transition, I developed an unhealthy dependency on my parents. I recall at times receiving mixed signals and being taught conflicting ideas. On one hand, my parents wanted me to be independent and self-sufficient while on the other hand, wanted me to seek their approval on every move I made. Stuck in the middle of these two ideologies, I found myself extremely confused about which path to take in my life and often battled between the wants of my parents and my own dreams and needs. This dependency I had developed as a child bled into adulthood as I tried to embark on my own journey.
My first attempt to be independent predictably happened at the age of 18. Freshly graduated from high school, I had the choice to either stay in my hometown or to move away to another city and attend school. Against my parents’ pleas, I ultimately decided to attend college in Miami, a city only four hours away from my hometown. Despite the short distance from home, I felt overwhelmingly incomplete without my parents and seeing them every couple of weeks or once a month was not going well for me. Emotionally, I felt a void that only my parents’ presence could fill. This void, along with the encouragement of my parents to come home, fueled my decision to transfer to a school next to my parents’ home for my third semester of college. A decision that I came to regret after I had to repeat almost an entire year of classes as my credits were not accepted by the new institution. In this instance, this unhealthy dependence affected more than my emotional well-being and bled into my professional goals.
This storyline repeated itself in 2015 when, at age 23, I attempted yet another display of independence and moved to New York City on my own. While I made the move happen for myself through the fruits of my hard work, financial shortcomings and the emotional void I felt, yet again, began to overtake the excitement of living in the greatest city in the world. I eventually found myself back in my parents’ home surrounded by their eagerness to have me under their wings once more. Not surprisingly, I ended up unhappy with my decision and felt as though my personal development had taken another devastating blow.
This constant cycle can be incredibly disheartening for a young woman trying to make a place for herself in society. Don’t get me wrong, however. My parents’ sacrifices and efforts to always protect me have never gone unappreciated and are cherished and, no, I am not just saying this because I still fear the power of my mami’s chancleta. With all sincerity, the love I have received from my parents is one I would never replace. As the youngest girl of my family, I have and always will be bombarded by a multitude of people always giving advice and providing support. Of course, I have a deep-rooted gratitude for the amazing support system that is my family as I understand that some people may not have had the same experience. However, having too many eyes constantly on you at once can be overwhelming and in my personal opinion and experience, a family’s well-intentioned desire to protect the young girls in their family can quickly turn into an unhealthy relationship if not balanced.
After a lot of self-reflection, I decided that instead of feeling resentment towards my parents for my shortcomings, I needed to direct the energy towards bettering myself. I had to understand that my parents’ main goal in life is to protect their children and their intentions are always in the right place. After a few years of building confidence and strengthening my emotional foundation, I can honestly say I am in a place in my life in which I am comfortable making decisions for myself without desperately needing the approval of my parents. Of course, this also took long conversations with my parents about loosening their grips and providing more support for my personal and professional decisions. One may be surprised by how much things can change by having a respectful and productive heart to heart with those who love you the most.
Despite the disappointment of previous failed attempts at independence, I have emerged a brand-new woman with the confidence and self-support I need to achieve my dreams and I am ready to try it all again. If you find yourself in this situation, understand that your family members love you more than they could put into words and their intentions are to protect you from getting hurt. Instead of rebelling or shutting your family out of your life, open a dialogue with them despite how scary it may seem. You deserve to be heard, respected and to live your dreams while receiving abundant support and unconditional love from your family.
Were you raised in an overprotective Latino family? Did it help or hinder you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
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