My 9-year-old daughter and I are very close, and she wants to do everything I do. I used to be a private contractor, and my daughter loves the idea of building things. Because of this, she wants to be, in her words, “a construction worker like dad.” I love this. I’ve always been proud that I’m able to fix things myself around the home, and it makes me feel good that one of my kids is interested in the same thing. So whenever I’m teaching her something new, I always tell her “Remember, mija, you don’t need no man to take care of you. You can do this stuff yourself.” She always just laughs and gives me a hug, but I want her to always remember she is strong and she can take care of herself.
But not too long ago, my daughter came home and told me kids made fun of her for wanting to be a construction worker. I told her to ignore them. Women can do anything a man can do – and they always do it better. I know that her dad accepting her for who she is and what she wants to be might not make her feel better in those tough moments, but I hope that because of what I tell her and reinforce at home, she will fight harder for what she wants, regardless of ridiculous gender norms.
It has taken me some time to recognize the negative effects of conforming to gender norms. It can be hard to change your way of thinking and behaving, but it’s important and it’s always worth it.
That’s why the gender-neutral term Latinx is so awesome. Spanish is masculine and feminine, so using Latinx gets away from that and it gives an identity to those who don’t feel like Latino or Latina fit them. It also means getting away from using language that was set up to make women and girls feel excluded or inferior to men. Latinx also helps break down the gender binary. Most of us growing up were constantly told by media and society that there are two genders, but we know that’s not true. For those individuals who don’t fit into those two genders and instead identify as Latinx, it’s important for them to feel accepted and acknowledged, which should go without saying.
I get incredibly frustrated when our own people are against using the term Latinx. I’ve even heard some say Latinx is ruining the Spanish language, but in my eyes defending a language that was forced upon us by colonizers is just ridiculous. I think what some who might be against using Latinx might forget is that being cool with some of our gente identifying as Latinx does not mean you have to identify as that. We all have our own identities we want respected.
Here in the states, some of us call ourselves Hispanic while some say Latina and Latinos. Personally, I identify as Chicano (which kind of means Mexican American and is more of an old-school term). For me, Chicano meant I was not Mexican enough for the Mexicans and I was not American enough for the Americans – a weird sort of limbo where I felt part of both while at the same time not being part of either, while at the same time feeling like something else. It gave me an identity when I felt like I had none. It made it OK for me not to speak Spanish, or maybe 95 percent English with 5 percent Spanish mixed in for flavor. It made it OK to listen to Vicente Fernandez and then switch to ICE Cube (the old Ice Cube). It gave me the freedom to take the parts of both worlds I was connected to and put it into this mixed-up mess that is me.
My personal journey has given me a new respect for others. After all, we all want the same thing: the freedom to be who we want to be. I have grown and learned a lot, and I’m not ashamed to say I have a lot more learning to do. But one thing I know for sure is this cycle of ridiculous misogynistic gender norms needs to stop. Hating our own people for wanting to be themselves or how they identify themselves needs to stop. Because one thing I know for sure is that this is not just about my daughter. I have to teach my sons not fall into the cycle, too. I have to keep teaching them to be themselves, to do what makes them happy in life, and to always respect others who are doing the same.