Every year, March is designated Women’s History Month by presidential proclamation. We set aside this month to honor women’s contributions to American history.
Of course we’ll start by mentioning Latinas, some well-known, others less so, who have shaped our society in more ways than one. In arts, politics, science, pop culture and LGBTQ movements, they are the threads that reinforce the social fabric not only of Latinas but American society as a whole.
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
So how come women, especially Latina women, actually are the exception?
Maybe if we dig into our past, a past of colonized countries, we can begin to see a pattern…
So, we’d like to honor one of the first women condemned and negatively judged by the new
culture of the conquistadores in the 16th century just because she was a woman, a stigma that persists to date.
ARE YOU MALINCHISTA?
“La Malinche” or Malintzin is a woman that has come to symbolize the conflict of male narrative, and women’s subordination in a machista (male chauvinist dominated) society.
As a young enslaved woman, she was forced to travel and so learned two native languages,
Mayan and Nahuatl. Along with twenty others, Malintzin was given to the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, as a peace offering. Since she spoke two native languages, Mayan and Nahuatl, and later learned Spanish, Cort s used her as a translator in his dealings with the Aztecs and other native tribes.
Malintzin was also the mother of his child, Martín Cortés. As an enslaved woman, she did not have much choice regarding her actions.
However, for centuries, the myth of La Malinche (as she became known) has emphasized her “betrayal” of her culture. She is often considered a traitor, a cunning woman who contributed to the collapse of the Aztec civilization. This portrayal has had a clear impact on the treatment of women in Mexican society. And by extension, in much of the Hispanic world. The word Malinchista became an insult of sorts.
Today, most people hardly think—or know—about Malintzin, but the stigma of women being worth less than men lingers on.
Angela Ceseña, executive director of Latina SafeHouse, has seen a recrudescence of violence against women for example, and she wishes, as she said to the New York Times,“…to see more actionable items from community leaders, corporations and legislators that promote equity and equal rights.”
Latinas have the same problems any woman has, plus the struggle to forge their identity amid two often opposite cultures.
Patriarchy also lives in women’s minds. And as a society, that is one more battle we need to fight through education. Often, women’s careers are truncated or cannot even take off because of family issues related to gender roles.
MACHISMO IS ALIVE AND WELL
Today, one in five women in the US are Latinas. They are attending college at higher rates than ever before and contributing to a surge in Latino-owned businesses. Yet the statistics also tell another story. Latinas are over-represented in some of the lowest-paying jobs and under-represented in sectors of influence.
Thanks to persistent gender gaps, the Hispanic woman typically earns just 54 cents to every dollar earned by a \White man. This pay gap is even more than that experienced by a White woman, who receives 79 cents for every dollar her White male counterpart earns.
IT’S A BOY’S CLUB
With all of this potential, how do we ensure that, as Latinas, we have more equitable access to social and economic mobility? We’ve said it before. In order to get the support we need, if it doesn’t come to us spontaneously, we need to educate, educate, educate!
In March episodes of Latinxyz, we had vivid conversations with Latinas of influence.
We started with Susana Mendoza, comptroller of Illinois and highest ranking Latina in the state,, who candidly talked about balancing her job, her personal life and the struggles of motherhood.
In her experience, you need a partner that understands your situation and understands equality in partners. This understanding of equality goes both ways.
Life balance starts with a balance of powers, and that includes societal instances.
Susana Mendoza has this message to women: Step up and run for office, champion women’s rights because only women can understand some of the issues we face.
Because of women-led initiatives at the state level, in Illinois, now women (and men) with young children will be able to use their campaign funds for childcare expenses.
That’s just the beginning. Women across the country still need to create a support network. All women need childcare and access to funding and education to become free from male-dominant hierarchy systems.
She even suggested a good tip for women:
IF YOU WANT TO HAVE IT ALL – FREEZE YOUR EGGS EARLY ON.
Mendoza said to start planning, no matter the path they want to take. To enjoy a career and motherhood, women must often choose one or the other, and it shouldn’t have to be like this. These are the kind of issues we should talk about and work on as a society, but some topics are almost taboo, like suggesting opening a frozen eggs account, much the same way you open a 529 account for college. “Women, it’s time to plan our best path forward”!
During our podcasts in March, we also talked with council member Esmeralda Soria, member of the Fresno City Council in California, about the many Challenges of running for office. It is hard to build a bond with other members when you are the only woman.
It gets harder to get involved in certain activities because it is still a boy’s club. And there are issues that boys don’t “get” … although many initiatives are not only valuable for women, because change starts by respecting all genders.
In any case, among other things, Esmeralda Soria made sure baby changing facilities and nursing rooms are available for mothers -and visitors- that don’t have private offices. She also helped secure infrastructure investments for the community.
For her, it all starts with public service, and you don’t need to be an elected official to do something for your community. Just start by walking the neighborhoods and learn of their needs!
“20+ YEARS OF RESEARCH What Women Candidates Need to Know”
In her view, there are clear advantages of having women as elected officials, because generally, women take care of business, and their unique experience and perspective bring much value in problem solving.
Her message to all of us:
If women feel they have something to offer, then they should take their chance. It is time they understand how much power they have.
The take away of our discussions this month is so simple, yet so important:
EDUCATION AT ALL LEVELS IS WHAT WILL MOVE THINGS FORWARD.
Knowledge is power, and it’s time it belongs to everyone, especially 51% of the population.
So, what do you think? Are we, as women, really pushing hard enough? What should our focus be? We want to hear from you!
Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and our podcast at: email@example.com