The Existential Feminist // Sandra Cortez
The Existential Feminist
How do we find meaning in life? How do we get to a place where we embrace life, where we embrace our femininity? How do we contemplate and embrace our existence? I was born a Mexican-American girl into a family I had no say in belonging to. Both of my parents were born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when they were about 11 years old. Their parents brought them here for a better life. I was born into this family as the youngest of four siblings; two sisters and one brother. I was born into a culture that valued family and believed in hard work. Higher education was not a topic of conversation in my home. Our culture believed in growing up, attending the necessary 12 years of schooling, getting married, and having children. That was the sole nature of our existence and purpose in life. I had no say in those beliefs, or in the customs that I was born into. I’m positive that I was just expected to follow suit.
I lived my life- as I liked to say ‘backwards’ and a little out of order. I became a teen mother at 17 years old and graduated high school. By the time I was 19, I had two sons and was unmarried. I had a volatile relationship with the father of my kids who was in and out of our lives and chose not to support us. I raised my kids the first couple of years on welfare and was able to be at home with them. I loved being a mother, although parenting was a tough job to do on my own. I felt alone and afraid that I would fail. My life quickly became stressful, overwhelming, and unhappy. I knew that I would not be on welfare for long because I wanted more in my life, especially for my kids. This thinking was different than my culture because it was not uncommon to raise children at the expense of the government, but that was not the type of life I wanted. The volatile relationship with their father made me angry and resentful. The dysfunctional relationship ignited an ambition and drive in me for change. I was forced to question my existence- without knowing that’s what I was doing. I was in an emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically abusive relationship and that did not sit well with me. I felt that it defied the very essence of my being- my existence- my true self. I knew I deserved better and so did my children. I didn’t know what that entailed, I just knew that I believed deep down there was something more out there.
I remember after I left their father, I began dating and I remember how disheartening it was for people to ask me, “So what do you like to do?” Such an easy question would make me cringe because I didn’t know what I liked to do, I didn’t know who I was. I lost my identity- or maybe I never had one- and I was forced to look at myself and ask myself “what DO I like? What are my interests? Who am I?” I was forced to go against my culture and question every aspect of my being and establish MY identity and figure out who I was. In my culture, you become a mother and a wife. You don’t have an identity outside of what you do for others. You become at the mercy of those people in your life that you are responsible for and to; your husband, your kids, and still your parents, despite having your own family. Your parents still tell you what to do and expect you to listen to them. My culture does not know what the meaning of boundaries are and my mother was no different. Although she was a kind-hearted woman, she was controlling, something I didn’t realize until a few years ago. She expected me to do what she said. I think she did this- I think- because I was a single parent and didn’t have a husband, so she felt like she could try to run my life. Her approach also did not sit well with me and analyzing my existence as a daughter was another area I had to evaluate and dissect. One of the most difficult thing I had to do in my life was get to know myself, it was a painful process because we are not taught to do this. I began to question who I was and what I enjoyed doing. I entered a journey of self-discovery as a young mother. I was 22 years old.
I began the journey by identifying the characteristic I possessed that I liked about myself. When I thought about these attributes, I remember thinking ‘I am loving, I have a good heart, and I am caring’ and I like these, these are good. I also remember acknowledging the fact that no matter how much someone would hurt me, I didn’t ‘have to’ change these things and no one could take these good qualities away from me. I also questioned myself ‘if I was on my dying bed, how would I want to be remembered as a daughter, a mother, a sister, etc.’ I had to evaluate what I possessed and if I was ‘okay’ with this- with who I was. I gave myself permission to ‘be’. I realized that I had the power within me to be who I was deep down inside and I also realized I didn’t have to be what I wasn’t. I didn’t have to follow suit. I didn’t have to be what other people thought I should be and I didn’t have to take on the beliefs of others. We choose whether we say yes, or if we choose not to, it’s still a choice. It is difficult to go against the grain; to embrace who you are and be okay with this person, even when others don’t agree or understand, especially when it’s your own parent.
I remember setting boundaries with my mother and voicing the things that didn’t resonate with me about her expectations of me and she didn’t like it. I realized a long time ago that the only life I have is this one and I need to be okay with me. I believe I became empowered to embrace my existence and truly create the life I wanted. I’ve accomplished so much through this process of self-discovery. I have been able to raise my children, put myself through school and work at good jobs that have allowed me to provide for my family. I will be a Doctor in Clinical Psychology this year- a great accomplishment- and I don’t think any of this could’ve been possible without the struggles I’ve endured that forced me to question my existence and the meaning of my life. I am a woman; a mother, an inquisitive being who seeks to discover, achieve, and conquer. Who are you?