“I just wanted to give a name to things”: the self-awareness of an immigrant girl in search of her freedom

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A very intense text. It is the sharing in writing of the lawwork of self-awareness that A., a twenty-year-old native Peruvian girl who immigrated to Italy, is doing on herself to process the struggle and pain of growing up in the highly patriarchal context of her family of origin.

A.'s intent is get rid of self-sexism, recognizing in the mother a "sister" victim of the same violence that she suffered, forgiving her for her apparent “complicity” and for her silent acceptance of her husband's machismo. To get up to the compassion towards the father, necessary step for the definitive healing of one's wounds.

Feminism, she says, is what is helping her on this path.


The initial project was to write about my father, but as I jotted something down my mother's idea became stronger and stronger. So these lines became an intrinsic need to write about my mother, or better yet, a try to process the pain that was transmitted to me by her, analyzing the cultural context.

Let me start by saying that it is difficult for me to admit that there have been times when I really hated my mother, and when I didn't hate her I hated me. After many books read on the feminism everything makes more sense now, and after understanding the system around me I understand how much it was easy to blame other women or blame myself.

I feel like I wrote to find a compromise, to find the serenity that wasn't given to me as a child, to claim the tranquility and support that I continued to look for in vain in others. And for all that dragging on internalized misogyny that I would like to end with me as the last oppressed.

I wrote to understand the possible origin of my story, which like all other stories starts even before our birth and that of our parents. I think there's a lot of ignorance, a lot of misinformation, and a lot of cultural mandates that are passed down between generations, with a cloak of ignorance around them. The source of the problem has to do with this surrounding.

The path of feminism is calling things by your name

When I think about my mother sometimes I do it with bitterness. I know that in me there is still a thread of resentment towards him, something that I have not yet fully digested and I don't know how long it will last.  
Time has taught me to understand that pain that binds us as mother and daughter it is wider, sharper, deeper.
It's a pain passed down through generations and generations, as if it were part of the blood that flows through our veins. The same pain he brought my grandmother in his bones and soul, the same way he carried it my great-grandmother and so on.
We passed the burden of subordination to a culture onto each other. I call it pain, I identify it as an innate cross in the conscience and in the flesh for being born female.
These last 3 years have been a feat for me, understanding that everything was like a chain of linked situations was the fixed point from which we could begin to do introspection, both to be able to forgive my mother, both to be able to understand my story and that of other women.
I realized that everything has a deeper connotation than I ever imagined. And it has been like this for women throughout the centuries of history. I understand that this pain has a name and that is part of a system called patriarchal system.

Fight against my internal misogyny before everything

Most of the time I always ended up blaming myself or other women, taking all responsibility away from men that have walked through my life. If I had never read anything about feminism today I would not have understood that this sense of contempt and guilt towards women is nothing more than the fruit of my internalized misogynism.
My mother is partly just another victim, there are days in which the more I repeat it the more I deny it, others in which yesI feel the burning of his wounds that ache under my own skin.
Why can't I forgive his shortcomings towards me, even though I now have all the tools to do so? Think that she was unable to give what was never given to her sometimes it becomes an excuse, other times an incentive.
Who knows why he never talked to me about life and the world seen through his eyes. Because he let me fall into the clutches of the wrong men, into horrible situations. Why did she force me to talk to my father even though he didn't respect her? Even though he beat me? Why has he never given me a speech about respect and self-love?  He would have saved me so much pain if he had just talked to me. It's just when I look for the answers to these questions, the answers pop out one after the other.

Love in the name of children

The example of women who suffer in silence I've had it several times in my life, mostly from women my mother's age and older. Throughout my childhood I heard stories of self-pity told with a sense of pride, and I often wondered if that wasn't the wildest distortion of love. The idea that sacrifices must be made to pursue a romantic relationship; maybe leave your job, career or that "stupid" dream in the drawer. All those women who in the name of love they had to call their unhappiness resilience. All those who had to give up, mistaking them for fake victories. Those that silence and fatigue have completely alienated.
The stories I heard as a child from my grandmother or my mother's friends produced in me a strong sense of rejection and rebellion about marriage and relationships. I believe that Hispanic women have a very powerful tendency to associate love with suffering to demonstrate that one loves to the extent that one endures or tolerates oneself.
For me there was no happiness in those stories at all. Yet as I grew up I found myself in a situation very similar to the ones I repudiated as a child, in a different context, but in the end the matter was the same. Fortunately, I managed to let go before the passing of the years saw me resign myself to that situation. In my case, however, I didn't love but despised, I saw in that person a refuge that I hated, for me it was just the worst evil that could happen to me.
But other women's stories still remained intact in my memory. The distorted vision of love in the name of honor, in the name of non-freedom, of non-choosing. Staying with someone to give your children the wrong idea of family. In short, being the second sex, the one that comes later and has less importance.
I've always been clear that that idea of romantic love was what I never wanted.

Love was the opium of women,
like religion that of the masses.

While we loved,
men ruled.

It's not that love itself is harmful,
it is the use that has been made of it
to deceive women and make them dependent,
in all senses.

Among free spirits it's another thing.

Kate Millet

The fake matriarchy of grandmothers and their misogyny impact my present

My grandmother's hands, as a child I held them tightly to mine, they were my shelter. Ever since my parents left for Italy, entrusting my sister and me to my paternal grandparents, she had become my everything. His small hands were marked by old age the same ones who gave orders to my grandfather to hit me if I misbehaved. My grandmother just had to nod and my grandfather obeyed her orders.
I remember her as the head of the family, she decided what was done during the day and managed my grandfather's pension and hers. For this reason, my father often said, almost boasting, that he grew up in a matriarchal family.
It seems that my grandparents' generation in Latin America, in that Andean and Amazonian Peru, had experienced this wave of "female organization". But just analyze the economic and power issue to understand the deception of this farce which many are repeating with pride. It must be remembered that the properties were still registered in the man's name, as were important purchases and invoices.
Women had certainly taken on an important role in family life, but you can't call it matriarchy deciding what you eat for dinner, where your dirty laundry goes and when you pay your bills. Just as it cannot be denied that there was a silent patriarchal government that fell vertically on society as a whole.
The fact that a family is headed by a woman, as in the case of my paternal grandmother, did not mean at all that it was free from patriarchy, since men still retained privileges that women did not have.
What was meant by matriarchy was a family lifestyle where, instead of the patriarch, the woman was the leader, responsible for the education of the children and the cleaning of the house.. In short, to do what she had always been taught, while carrying on the same androcentric rules. 
For this reason, even though my paternal grandmother was the head of the family his internalized misogyny was perpetually present. The fact that he despised my mother was proof of this, it had never been a secret that he belittled her every time he had the chance: he humiliated her and made a spectacle of her ignorance.
My mother had never been accepted by my father's family, and when she became pregnant with me things got worse. Even though my mother had me at 26 (still an older age compared to the continuous increase in teenage motherhood in Peru) her pregnancy however became a tragedy: my father had to give up university in order to work, becoming the only non-graduate child in the family.
My mother was forced to move to my father's parents' house and experience her worst years. Because it's This is how things worked and still work in Latin American culture: we all live together, grandparents and grandchildren, for both economic and cultural reasons. This is the broad story. These are just some of the stories that I heard my mother tell to some friends when we had been living in Milan for many years. When they were now just bad memories for her that occasionally came out of her heart with anger.
The point is that my mother never knew how to defend herself from the teasing of my paternal grandmother. He endured so much, she called her unhappiness resilience, and the worst thing was that it was another woman who was making her life difficult. I know my father defended her, even before he became the man who hurt her the most. I remember my mother in those years of my childhood, before moving to Italy, like those in which I saw her get angry with me and cry in silence without ever telling me why.

It is said that the values of a man in my grandparents' time were linked to the traditional idea of the Christian family. For this reason my grandfather had never betrayed my grandmother. This does not mean that in my grandparents' years there were no deceptions, betrayal has existed since the concept of marriage existed and everything was kept within the walls of the house, whether the wife knew or not. The concept of the Christian family has historically been a farce that still needed to be kept up. But in my father's generation the situation was reversed. Lto my father's brazenness in being with different women, whether my mother was present or not, was known and accepted by everyone. In his generation, in those years Latin America was growing up this new idea of the Latin Lover man, and for this reason I believe that it was easy for my father to detach himself from the moral role that had fallen to my grandfather during his engagement.
My father never limited himself in introducing me and my sister to his new girlfriends, one after the other, boasting about it.
We also stayed indirect victims of the sexism he exerted on them, I was little and I realized that psychologically it destroyed them, it did what we know today as Gaslighting, a true manipulator who could hurt with words.
He often told me that as much as he loved me, he would never love me more than he loved himself, because he was there before anyone else. He told me I could never make fun of him because I wasn't smart enough, and that I was nothing compared to him. If you dared to answer or try to argue he would get up and leave slamming the door. There was never peace.
But the way he saw and used women, despite having two daughters, together with his narcissism prevented me from any type of dialogue. I ended up drifting away from him little by little over time.
I wanted to clarify the issue of matriarchy especially to myself. In order to subsequently understand how my father, having grown up in a matriarchal family, wanted us to experience his patriarchal power.

Las followers who dejan the violent bonds.

If, in addition to having indigenous blood, you are a woman, you have to put up with men taking out their resentments on you, taking advantage of their condition and leaving most of the household tasks to you. In South America it goes like this most of the time. Unlike the norm, my father's chauvinism had never stopped me from doing anything. He never expected my mother to clean the house, firstly because he himself was obsessed with cleanliness, secondly because he never lived with us.
His machismo was conveyed in the way he treated his girlfriends and in his aggression as a father, the same one he had suffered from his father. My mother told me that when my father was little my grandfather sometimes tied him to the chair so he wouldn't play football outside. He didn't have an easy childhood like almost anyone else his age in those years.
His generation had been raised by mothers and fathers raised in turn by a generation that had totally internalized violence as a method of education. Not only were slaps or spanking synonymous with discipline, in many homes there were also habitual punishments.
My father also projected his own frustrations and desires for personal success onto me as the eldest, saying I should graduate from college, and hitting me and calling me names if I got bad grades in math.
Unlike his brother who had become a doctor and who certainly would never have had the slightest intention of emigrating, my father had not managed to finish university and as the years passed this thing began to weigh heavily on him.
But violence does not educate, violence generates violence and damages self-esteem. And although he seemed to do certain things for my own good, his attitude did nothing but destroy and frighten my growing self. With the passing years that fear stays with you, everything that happens in your life leaves a mark on you. I'm not traumatised, I've overcome it, but I've experienced what I've experienced and there's nothing I can do about it.

In the street I am Che in the Pinochet house

The number of groups of men drinking beer on the streets and bars of South America is astonishing. Where are the women of the working classes? Working, as always, under the double oppression of capitalism and patriarchy. This cultural basis was intrinsic to my father and resurfaced strongly in him many years later.
The South American male never admits he was wrong. Not only is he right, but he believes he has the right to be right.
My father became more and more sexist, yet I once saw him as my hero. Because he had all those characteristics that I considered beautiful, with my eyes as a child I saw in him that point of reference that I didn't see in my mother. With him I could talk about history, music and books, have long conversations about life between father and daughter. I saw him as a leader and appreciated his curiosity in always wanting to learn. He was the one who made the decisions, my mother never did.
He had been raised in a world where the only way to assert yourself was to fight, while for my mother silence was the only refuge.
He had never been asked to smile on the bad days when you would tell everyone to go to hell, no one had touched him inappropriately making him hate the way he appeared in the world. The patriarchy had offered him the chance to fight, while my mother had been offered the only salvation to be resilient.
For this reason for years I only saw my mother's silence as a synonym of indifference. His non-participation, his lack of interest. Maybe it's also a question of character, I told myself, I didn't know that in all of this there were the subtle, almost invisible threads that guide the hierarchies of the social system.

I started my pre-adolescence in a multicultural Milan where none of my elementary school classmates were hit or laughed at by their parents.
I was little and I knew well that I couldn't share my tragedies with anyone. When I saw how problems were solved in other houses, hearing the punishments of my classmates, I began to understand that I lived in a different reality.
Corporal punishment was normalized where my parents grew up, and if I didn't have classmates to deal with I too would probably have normalized violence. The way I see it now is if a parent hits their child, when none of the other parents do it to their own, the child will see it as a sign of abuse. If a parent beats his child and in his entire life knows only one family that does not practice corporal punishment, it will be rarer for the child to consider himself abused.
There were only four times when my father definitely lost control, for lack of a better term. One of those four times as soon as he left home I called my aunt in desperate need of help, and she picked me up in her car. I stayed with her for a few days, every evening together with my other aunt they put ointment on my back, the belt with which my father had beaten me had torn it. I begged to move to them in Sesto and after three days of tears and consolations, when my father showed up at their house to take me back, my aunts forced me to apologize to him. Despite everything he had created himself a scenario where I was to blame, but I knew it wasn't at all.

The problem with being beaten was that the fear was worse than the blows themselves.
It seems absurd and excessive that the whip was the response given to a little girl, I wasn't even that rebellious. I feel like my rebellion, if you can call it that, was born in adolescence as a response to all of this. I feel like it's also become an incentive to leave home as soon as I'm an adult.
From my father's point of view, beating me as a method of correction in pre-adolescence perhaps it would have prevented me from becoming that uncontrollable female teenager that he feared so much.
For him if I behaved badly I challenged my parents' authority, and patriarchal fathers defend their authority with the ferocity of a monarch. Every authoritarian father's nightmare is to become a soft and helpless parent in the face of his child's challenges.
Yet he always boasted of having integrated better than my mother since he still had Italian friends with whom he had dinners and had re-enrolled at the University of Milan, despite his age. But within the walls of his home he dragged on that regime of physical and psychological mistreatment from his childhood.

The other day I read the testimonies collected by Lydia Cacho focused on the emotional scars that patriarchal education has left on men. 
While reading I couldn't help but make a comparison with what my childhood was like.
The testimonies describe what the patriarchal system brings within the walls of the home, where a strong father is seen at the center of power. Many of the children blame their mothers for not defending them. They tell her how submissive mothers or in some cases accomplices, this is how this resentment and anger towards them is born, it is the technique of sexist violence. The man is the one who has money, can have fun, enjoy freedom outside the home and the son wants to be like him. The life of the mother, even if she is a woman who has two or three jobs, is one of motherhood and hard work and the children don't like that life. They think it is a form of slavery, they don't want to dedicate themselves to caring for others without free time; it's much better to be a man. But at the same time they feel that the mother has the affective and emotional power and therefore that she should protect them in that universe, but they are not able to understand that there is no power against violence.
I know that qWhen I experienced my father's anger I expected my mother to help me and I didn't understand that she was another victim.

What remains to be understood

The more time passes, the more I realize that all my insecurities arise from my father's verbal and physical abuse, while all my shortcomings from my mother's non-support.
I was holding on to worse choices and things in life, but I started reading and I discovered radical feminism. If I think that I just wanted to give things a name and instead I ended up questioning everything again.
Although my lack of courage prevented me from understanding, leading me to give up and not seek change, I still faced the consequences of growing up with an affectionate mother and an at times violent father.
I fight against my internalized misogyny that leads me to blame my mother for not being able to intervene and allowing so many bad things to happen to me, to me and to my sister as well as to herself. For the fact that she was not capable of being that example of a woman leader and affectionate mother that I would have wanted so much, and for all the other emotional deficiencies that seem to blame and justify her at the same time.
My mother who didn't have a word, an initiative, a single one. Who has suffered a lot and often does wrong things, because once again he relies on people he shouldn't rely on, because he doesn't seem to learn, because then I realize I'm doing the same and it makes me angry.
Perhaps here it is a question of feeling rather than resentment, I want to build what wasn't there between us even though time has passed and the scars of those wounds will remain forever.

Should I tell my father that I forgive him and sympathize with his suffering as a child? How to forgive people without justifying them? How to justify culture and in the name of what? How can we not make comparisons or do them in a constructive way? Maybe these are the hardest puzzles for me.
Feminism helped me a lot to find some answers, but above all to start asking myself the right questions, because I want to believe that we can go further.
I don't remember when I became a feminist, it's not obvious to say that I have always been partly so, I have rejected certain behaviors for as long as I can remember. This has been my struggle to name things, life through feminism, feminism in general.
I should have written about my father, avenging those like me who had to suffer the weight of a chauvinist culture, in my case the Peruvian culture made up of contradictions starting from post-colonialism, made up of a fake matriarchy and a fake left-wing idea.
Very often we tend to forget what machismo has created in us as women, it just seems that we suffer it but we often don't realize how we unconsciously perpetuate the consequences of our childhood in the present. We women are capable of a discussion about ourselves. Men go through life without talking about themselves, immersed in patriarchy. What we learn in childhood is projected into our way of experiencing politics and citizenship. Stripping myself of these intrinsic things that I carry inside me, such as bigoted religion, my father's insults and my anger towards women who suffer, is something that weighs heavily and tires me.
But when the anger generated by awareness turns into compression, a liberating pain arrives.

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