2 March 2021

"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 a written communiqué of the lself-awareness work that A., a 20-year-old native Peruvian immigrant girl in Italy, is doing on herself to process the fatigue and pain of growing up in the strongly patriarchal environment of her family of origin.

The intent of A. is getting rid of self-sexism, recognising in his mother a 'sister' victim of the same violence she suffered, forgiving her for her apparent 'complicity' and her silent acceptance of her husband's machismo. All the way to the compassion for their 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 writing about my fatherbut as I threw down something my mother's idea was getting stronger and stronger. So these lines became an intrinsic need to write about my mother, or better still, a trying to process the pain that was transmitted to me by her, analysing the cultural context.

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 realise how much it was easy to blame other women or blame myself.

I feel that I wrote to find a compromise, to find the serenity I was not given as a child, to claim the peace of mind and support that I kept futilely looking for in others. And for all that dragging of internalised misogyny that I would like to end with me as the last oppressed.

I wrote to understand the possible origin of my storywhich, like all other stories, starts even before we are born and before our parents are born. I think there is a lot of ignorance, a lot of misinformation and a lot of cultural mandates being passed on between generations, with a cloak of ignorance around it. The origin of the problem has to do with this surrounding.

El camino de el feminismo es llamar las cosas por su nombre

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

Luchar contra mi misoginia interna antes que todo

Most of the time I always ended up blaming myself or other women, taking all responsibility away from men that have run through my life. If I had never read anything about feminism today, I would not have realised that this sense of contempt and blame towards women is nothing but the fruit of my internalised misogyny.
My mother is partly just another victim, there are days when the more I repeat it, the more I deny it, others when sI feel the burning of his wounds hurting under my own skin.
Why can't I forgive his shortcomings towards me, even though I now have all the tools to do so? To think that she was unable to give what she was never given sometimes becomes an excuse, sometimes an incentive.
Who knows why he never told me about life and the world as seen through his eyes. Why did 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 did not respect her? Despite him beating me? Why did he never give me a talk about respect and self-respect?  He would have spared me so much pain, if only he had spoken to me. It is precisely when I look for the answers to these questions that the answers come up one after the other.

Love in the name of children

The example of women who suffer in silence I have had it several times in my life, mostly from women of my mother's age and beyond. During my childhood I listened to stories of self-pity told with a sense of pride, and often wondered if that was not the wildest distortion of love. The idea that one has to make sacrifices to pursue a romantic relationship; maybe leave their job, career or that 'stupid' dream in the drawer. All those women who in the name of a love they had to call their unhappiness resilience. All those who have had to make sacrifices by exchanging them for fake victories. Those whom 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 show that one loves insofar as one endures or tolerates.
For me in those stories there was no happiness at all. Yet as I grew up I ended up in a situation very similar to the ones I repudiated as a child, in a different context, but in the end it was the same. Fortunately I was able to let go before the passing years saw me resign myself to that situation. In my case, however, I did not love but despised, I saw in that person a refuge that I hated, for me he was just the worst evil that could happen to me.
But the stories of other women still lingered in my memory. The distorted view of love in the name of honour, in the name of non-liberty, of non-choice. Staying with someone to give children the wrong idea of family. In short, to be the second sex, the one that comes after and is of less importance.
It was always clear to me that that idea of romantic love was what I never wanted.

Love has been the opium of women,
like religion that of the masses.

While we loved,
men ruled.

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

Among free spirits it is another matter.

Kate Millet

The fake matriarchy of grandmothers and their misogyny fall on my present

My grandmother's handsAs a child, I held them tightly to mine, they were my shelter. Since my parents had left for Italy, entrusting my sister and I to my paternal grandparents, she had become my everything. Her small hands marked by old age were the same ones who used to give orders to my grandfather to hit me if I misbehaved. My grandmother only 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 her own. That is why my father often almost boasted 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 'women's organisation'. But one only has to analyse the economic and power issue to understand the deception of this farce which many proudly repeat. It must be remembered that properties were still registered in the man's name, as were important purchases and invoices.
Certainly, women had assumed an important role in family life, but one cannot call it matriarchy to decide what one eats for dinner, where one's dirty laundry goes and when to pay one's 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, in no way meant that it was free from patriarchy, since men still retained privileges that women did not have.
What was meant by matriarchy was a style of family life where instead of the patriarch, the woman was the leader, in charge of bringing up the children and cleaning the house. In a nutshell, to do what she had always been taught to do, while following the same androcentric rules. 
For this reason, although my paternal grandmother was the head of the family his internalised misogyny was perpetually present. The fact that he despised my mother was proof of this, it was never a secret how he belittled her every chance he got: 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. Despite the fact that my mother had me at the age of 26 (still a higher age than the continuous increase of teenage motherhood in Peru) her pregnancy became a tragedy anywayMy father had to give up university in order to work, becoming the only non-graduate son in the family.
My mother was forced to move to my father's parents' house and live out her worst years. Because it 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 story in principle. These are just some of the stories I heard my mother tell to some friends when we had been living in Milan for many years. When by then they were just bad memories for her that would sometimes angrily come out of her heart.
The point is that my mother has never been able to defend herself against my paternal grandmother's shenanigans. She put up with a lot, called resilience her unhappiness, and the worst thing was that it was another woman who made life difficult for her. 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 I moved to Italy, as those when I saw her getting angry with me and crying silently without ever telling me why.

It is said that a man's values in my grandparents' time were tied to the traditional idea of the Christian family. That is why my grandfather had never cheated on my grandmother. This is not to say that in my grandparents' years there was no cheating, cheating has existed as long as the concept of marriage has existed and everything was kept within the walls of the home, whether the wife knew or not. The concept of the Christian family was historically a farce that had to be kept up anyway. But in my father's generation the situation was reversed. Lmy father's shamelessness in being with several womenwhether my mother was present or not, was known and accepted by all. In her generation, in those years Latin America was growing up this new idea of the Latin Lover man, and for this reason I think 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 set limits on introducing me and my sister to his new girlfriends, one after the other, bragging about them.
We have also been indirect victims of the sexism exerted on them, I was a child and I realised that psychologically it destroyed them, it did what we know today as Gaslightinga true manipulator who could hurt with words.
He often told me that no matter how much he loved me, he would never love me more than he loved himself, because he was there before anyone else. He told me that I could never make fun of him because I was not smart enough, and that I was nobody compared to him. If you dared to answer or try to argue he would get up and leave, slamming the door. There was never any peace.
But the way he saw and used women, despite having two daughters, coupled with his narcissism prevented me from any kind of dialogue. I ended up distancing myself from him slowly over time.
I wanted to clarify the issue of matriarchy mainly to myself. To be able to subsequently understand how my father having grown up in a matriarchal family wanted us to experience his patriarchal power.

Las secuelas que dejan los vínculos violentos.

If in addition to having indigenous blood, you are a woman, you have to put up with men unloading their resentments on you, taking advantage of their condition and leaving most of the domestic tasks to you. This is how it goes in South America most of the time. Unlike the norm, my father's machismo had never prevented me from doing anything. He never demanded that my mother clean the house, first because he himself was obsessed with cleaning, and second because he never lived with us.
His machismo was transmitted in the way he treated his girlfriends and in the his aggression as a father, the same as he had suffered from his father. My mother told me that when my father was little, my grandfather used to tie him to a chair on certain occasions so that he wouldn't play ball outside. He did not have an easy childhood, as almost no one his age did in those years.
His generation had been raised by mothers and fathers who had themselves been raised by a generation that had totally internalised violence as a method of education. Not only slaps or spankings were synonymous with discipline, in many homes there were also the customary chastisements.
My father also projected his own frustrations and desires for personal success through me as the eldest child, said I should graduate and beat me up and mocked me with insults if I got bad marks in maths.
Unlike his brother who had become a doctor and who certainly never had the slightest intention of emigrating, my father had not managed to finish university and this was beginning to weigh heavily on him as the years went by.
But violence does not educate, violence breeds violence and damages self-esteem. And as much as he seemed to do certain things for my sake, his attitude only destroyed and frightened my growing self. As the years passed that fear stays with you, everything that happens in your life leaves a mark on you. I'm not traumatised, I'm over it, but what I experienced I experienced and I can't do anything about it.

En la calle son el Che en la casa Pinochet

The number of groups of men drinking beer in the streets and bars of South America is surprising. Where are the women of the working classes? To work, as always, under the double oppression of capitalism and patriarchy. This cultural basis was inherent in my father and resurfaced strongly in him many years later.
The South American male never admits he is 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 used to see him as my hero. Because he had all those characteristics that I considered beautiful, with my childlike eyes I saw in him that reference point that I did not 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 brought up in a world where the only way to assert yourself was to fight, while for my mother, silence was the only shelter.
He had never been asked to smile on bad days when you would tell everyone to go to hell, no one had touched him inappropriately making him hate the way he looked in the world. The patriarchy had offered him the chance to fight, while my mother had been offered the only salvation of being resilient.
That is why for years I only saw my mother's silence as a synonym for indifference. His non-participation, his lack of interest. Perhaps it is also a question of character, I told myself, I did not know that in all 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 primary school classmates were beaten or laughed at by their parents.
I was small and I knew well that I could not share my tragedies with anyone. When I saw how problems were solved in other homes, hearing the punishments of my classmates, I began to realise that I lived in a different reality.
Corporal punishment was normalised where my parents grew up, and had I not had classmates to deal with I too would probably have normalised violence. The way I see it now if a parent beats his child, when none of the other parents do it with their own, the child will see it as a sign of abuse. If a parent beats his child and in his whole life he only knows a family that does not practice corporal punishment, it will be rarer for the child to see himself as 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 the car. I stayed a few days with her, every night with my other aunt put ointment on my back, the belt my father had beaten me with had torn it. I begged to move in with them in Sesto and after three days of crying and consolation, When my father showed up at their house to take me back, my aunts forced me to apologise to him. Despite everything a scenario where it was my fault, but I knew it wasn't.

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 answer given to a child, I was not even that rebellious. I feel that my rebellion, if you can call it that, started in adolescence as a response to all this. I feel that it also became an incentive to leave home as soon as I came of age.
From my father's point of view beating me as a method of correction in pre-adolescence would perhaps have prevented me from becoming that uncontrollable teenage female he so feared.
For him, if I misbehaved, I challenged the authority of my parents, and patriarchal fathers defend their authority with the ferocity of a monarch. Every authoritarian father's nightmare is to become a soft, powerless parent in the face of his child's challenges.
Yet he always boasted that he integrated better than my mother as he still had Italian friends with whom he had dinners and had re-enrolled at Milan State University, despite his age. But inside the walls of his home he dragged that regime of physical and psychological ill-treatment of his childhood.

The other day I was reading the testimonies collected by Lydia Cacho focusing on the emotional scars that patriarchal upbringing has left on men. 
While reading I could not help but make a comparison with what my childhood was like.
The testimonies describe what the patriarchal system brings inside the walls of the home, where one sees a strong father at the centre of power. Many of the sons blame their mothers for not defending them. They tell them how submissive or in some cases complicit mothers, this is how this resentment and anger towards them arises, 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. A mother's life, even if she is a woman with two or three jobs, is one of motherhood and hard work, and children do not like that life. They think it is a form of slavery, they do not want to dedicate themselves to caring for others without free time; it is much better to be a man. But at the same time they feel that their mother has emotional and affective power and therefore should protect them in that universe, but they are unable to understand that there is no power against violence.
I know that qhen I experienced my father's anger, I expected my mother to rescue me and I did not understand that she was another victim.

What remains to be understood

The more time passes, the more I realise that all my insecurities stem from my father's verbal and physical abuse, while all my shortcomings from the non-support of my mother.
I was holding on to choices and worse things in life, but I started reading and I discovered radical feminism. If I think that I just wanted to name things 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 anaffective mother and a sometimes violent father.
I fight against my internalised misogyny that leads me to blame my mother for not being able to intervene and for allowing so many bad things to happen to me and my sister as well as herself. For not having been able to be that example of a leading woman and loving mother that I would have liked so much, and for all the other emotional shortcomings that seem to blame and justify her at the same time.
My mother who did not have a word, an initiative, a single. That he has suffered so much and often does the wrong things, because once again he relies on people he shouldn't rely on, because he doesn't seem to learn, because then I realise I do the same and it makes me angry.
Perhaps here it is a question of sentiment rather than resentment, I want to build on what was not between us despite the fact that time has passed and those wounds will remain scars forever.

Should I tell my father that I forgive him and pity his suffering as a child? How to forgive people without justifying them? How to justify culture and in the name of what? How not to make comparisons or make them constructively? Perhaps these are the hardest conundrums for me.
Feminism has helped me so much to find some answers, but above all to start asking the right questions, because I want to believe that we can go further.
I do not remember when I became a feminist, it is not obvious to say that I have always been in part a feminist, certain behaviours I have rejected 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 who, like me, had to bear the brunt of a macho culture, in my case, Peruvian culture made of contradictions starting from post-colonialism, made of a fake matriarchy and a fake idea of the left.
Very often we tend to forget what male chauvinism has created in us as women, we just seem to suffer it but often we do not realise how we unconsciously perpetuate the consequences of our childhood in the present. We women are capable of a discourse about ourselves. Men go through life without talking about themselves, immersed in patriarchy. What we learn in childhood is projected in the way we experience politics and citizenship. Stripping myself of these intrinsic things that I carry within me, such as bigoted religion, my father's insults and this anger I have towards women who suffer, is something that weighs heavily and tires me out.
But when the anger generated by awareness changes into compression, a liberating pain arrives.

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