The feminism I was always a part of

I never needed academics to tell me something was wrong when those in my neighborhood disappeared due to police violence, army recruiters, or deportation.

We knew about gender roles way before it formulated as a word in our vocabulary. We knew because our fathers and brothers behaved and were treated differently than moms and sisters.

We knew our brother would stay out later. Play with different toys. Sit and watch TV when we cooked.

We also knew of men who left school to help provide. About the neighbors we grew up with and learned to love who were later considered gang members. We knew them by name.

I never needed academics to tell me women are powerful.

I saw it when all the women in my community came together during natural disasters, holidays, birthdays, domestic violence incidents, arrests, deaths, and more.

I saw them come together and gossip about how dangerous men could be while cooking sancochos and moro con guandules together. I saw them house a friend who ran away from an abusive partner. I saw them care for kids as if they were their own because we all knew paying for daycare was a luxury.

I never needed academics to tell me about culture or that something was wrong when we were made fun of for speaking another language when I endured the stares and the bullying when english wasn’t allowed to be spoken at home porque no debes olvidar de donde vienes.

When dancing was part of your cultural upbringing and almost an expectation, not something you were shamed for.

I never needed academics to tell me women are powerful.

I saw them fight for each other whether at religious institutions or outside of them. They created magic from the little to nothing they had. I saw single mothers triumph.

We all knew we all needed to succeed as a unit, as a family and as a community. Not just the women not just the girls. We wanted our brothers and cousins and fathers to be safe. To be home. To thrive. We didn’t need academics to tell us patriarchy ruins their lives too. We saw it first hand as the test objects of that power and witnesses to its powerlessness.

When boys were yelled at and slapped for crying. When boys weren’t allowed to play with our dolls. We didn’t need academics to tell us about gendered expectations.

I didn’t need academics to tell me something was wrong when attending college was a luxury almost none of us could afford. When we all knew our school was the “bad school” with no resources and too many kids for one guidance counselor. We all knew we weren’t college material but the “better school” miles away was on that track. We all knew different skin color meant different treatment.

Because our novelas were never included in academia. It never included our friends and cousins who became pregnant and we all still loved them. It never included the abuelitas who raised entire villages and sold arepas y tamales to hold entire houses together. It never included those of us who want love and one day say “I do”.

I never needed academics to tell me what feminism was about as I was already a part of it passed down from generations.