—No vas a ir ningún lado. ¿Entiendes?
I sat at the edge of my grandmother’s bed, listening to her scold me about my decision to visit South East Asia and Africa for a few months.
—Tienes que encontrar un trabajo fijo —There was a brief silence, as she focused her attention to the mirror—Ya tienes que establecerte— she said as she finished curling her hair.
—Pero quiero pasear con los camellos abuela— I replied jokingly.
—Ay Karen—she shook her head and rolled her eyes at me —En ves de buscar novio, andas buscando camellos. Pareces niña chiquita.
The fact that I am 25 years of age, unmarried, and do not have children makes me a little girl in my grandmother’s eyes. Nevermind the fact that I hold a bachelor’s degree, that I am about to finish my master’s degree, that I have completed competitive internships in Washington DC, that I have chosen career fields in which women are underrepresented, and even studied in a foreign country on a scholarship. In my grandmother’s eyes, and in the eyes of the rest of my family, I have not truly “made it” until I have gotten married and birthed some children.
How can I explain to my grandmother—a woman who was raised in a small town, who comes from a generation where women were expected to get married and bear kids as soon as they were able to— that my goals and dreams have nothing to do with finding a husband.
I want to experience new cultures. I want to learn about poverty and what it means to be a woman in different parts of the world. I want to inspire young women and break the mold of what it means to be a Mexican-American woman.
Who says we can’t take off into the world alone? Who says we have to be married and have 2.5 kids by the age of 25? Who says we cannot have dreams of our own—dreams, which are not constructed by our families and Mexican culture? Who says…
-¿Y como que solo vas a llevar una mochilla? Haber ¿como vas a lavar tus calzones?
There are hardly any minority, solo-female backpackers, and this does not help my case. The whole backpacking scene is new territory for me, and sometimes I cannot answer my grandmother’s questions. I am not sure how I will live out of a backpack for a few months. Whether she knows it or not, my grandmother is a strong woman and she has taught me to persevere in the face of adversity. It will be difficult living out of a backpack for a few months, but I know I have the mental and emotional tools to do so.
-¿Y con quien vas a ir? No vas a ir sola, es muy peligroso.
This is what surprised me the most.
When my grandmother was 14 years old, she left her small town for the big city. At just 14 years old, my grandmother supported herself by cleaning houses for rich people in a foreign land. How can she say it is too dangerous for me to go on my trip?
Of course, I understand the safety aspect. Being a solo traveler can be dangerous if one does not take proper precautions. But if I were a man, no one would question me. If I were a man, my family would congratulate me and say how fun and adventurous I am. There would be no talk of a “ticking clock” or a “train leaving me,” as my aunt likes to put it.
I stayed quiet, with my head bowed low, and waited for mi regaño to be over. When she was done there was a long silence and a distant look in her eyes. It was the same look my mother had when I told her about my decision—the look of disappointment. What will I tell others? What will they think of me?
The last thing I want is for my grandmother and mother to feel judged by family members and society because I have chosen to go “off the beaten path”, so to speak. The last thing I want is for them to feel like they have failed because I have chosen to do something so unheard of in our community.
The only thing I kept thinking during mi regaño was that there must be at least another Mexican-American girl in a similar position—a girl who wants to explore the world on her own, but is faced with resistance. And what will she end up doing? Will she let someone talk her out of it? Will fear and societal pressures convince her not to do it?
If this girl had someone to look up to would she feel more courageous and more sure of her decision?
Tengo que ir.