There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish- Michelle Obama
Dear Rosa Elena,
Here I am on International Women's Day watching you play with your Barbie dolls. At five- years- old, Mami and Papi have you in a protective bubble, and you see the world as a place full of positive possibilities. I see all the pink colored items on our side of the bedroom. You currently have no idea the struggle you will go through just for being a woman. I'm here not to traumatize you, but to give you a heads up on how life is going to go. Mami can prepare you for certain experiences, but the rest is up to you little chica, so listen up.
When you turn eleven- years -old, your little sister comes into this world. You do your best to be a good role model for her, introducing her to the world of reading and imaginative games. It is also at this age that you begin to hear the men in your life talk about women differently. Vulgar comments about the female body, how a woman belongs in the kitchen, and high praises for super models with the shapes of goddesses. Cat calls are yelled through the car window while running errands with dad.
"Mami, why do Papi and Tio talk to girls that way?" you ask.
"That's just how men are." Mami replies. You notice the question makes her uncomfortable, so you never ask again.
At thirteen, Mami takes you shopping for your first bra. To her, it's a happy moment, but you mostly feel embarrassed. The straps get more uncomfortable as it gets adjusted. What is the point of this contraption? A few months later, your first period arrives, and the bras are the least of your worries. The cramps leave you paralyzed with pain, and blood destroyed good pairs of pants and underwear.
"It will get better," Mami says.
Sadly, it does not. The cramps get worse with each passing month, and you have had to leave school several times because the blood was too much. Midol and Advil are constantly swallowed in vain. By fourteen, you have done enough research on your own to consider birth control to relieve some of the pain, but when you ask the women in your family about it, they shake their heads in horror.
"You'll be seen as a puta. Don't shame the family."
So, you learn to carry this burden, even if means carrying an extra set of clothes to school and crying yourself to sleep.
You experience your first music concert at fifteen. The DJ made such an impression that you know right away what career you want to follow.
"I want to be a music DJ." you tell our parents.
"That is not a stable carer for a woman." Mami says.
Papi laughs. "Good luck with that dream."
This gives you motivation to prove them wrong. You save up your allowance money and get yourself a small digital mixer. A free after school program opens up for girls to learn DJing and music production, and you immediately sign up. Once a week, the craft begins to shape you. Our parents see you are taking this seriously, and although they still have their doubts, you receive a music production software with a microphone and DJ headphones for your sixteenth birthday.
Graduation comes at eighteen and while you smile for the camera, your heart is closed off. In the last two years you had fallen in love, broken up with a great guy over family drama, and heard so much "locker room talk" about your developing body that you take up kickboxing. Your best friend stands beside you. You take her hand and squeeze it in solidarity. She has experienced her own form of sexual harassment. She becomes your sister for life.
A few months later, community college begins. No matter what you wear, you suffer through street harassment. Several times a week, some pig believes you owe him a smile. When you retaliate, you are no longer beautiful to him. You are now a cunt or a bitch. Add this with the fact that you are studying in a male dominated field (sound engineering), and patience becomes your biggest virtue. Still, you persist, hold your head up high and focus on your projects, because you have a lot to prove to yourself and the world.
By twenty, you get more opportunities to perfect your craft with your DJ partner. You no longer roll your eyes at the usual comment from event hosts; "oh, you're the DJ? Cool. Girl power." Most people on campus know who you are, and eventually you try to open your heart to a new relationship. Things take a horrendous turn when you are sexually assaulted by your boyfriend, a man you trusted. Even after you leave the bastard, he continued to see you as property. When the guy finally exits your life, the nightmares begin. You carry this secret for years.
By twenty two, you been on birth control for two years, the cramps a distant memory. A great man who respects you and does not see you as a trophy comes into you life. Now there is a new nightmare. Mami has breast cancer. Another demon for women besides hearts disease. Abuelo had passed away that same year, and you currently deal with both moderate depression and anxiety. You find the strength to deal with all these problems somehow, even on your last semester before earning your bachelor's. Strength becomes another strong virtue.
Now, at twenty six, I can tell you that things did get better. I don't allow my trauma or mental illness to no longer define me. Mami is cancer free and learning to live a healthier lifestyle. I have learned to love myself and find my voice. Does mom still pull your curls because they never tame themselves? I enjoy my curls now. I may not be where I want to in terms of DJing, but rebuilding is going great, and music is still a big part of my life.
I guess what I want to tell you little one is that we go through a lot of shit on this journey called life. Whenever you feel defeated, know that you have the strength inside you to fight back. Speak up even when others try to silence you. You will grow into a confident, strong, and beautiful woman someday. Go make us proud.
Your future self.
Drawing and banner photo: Rosa Elena Burgos.
Last Updated: July 27, 2019