I never knew there was an entire month dedicated to Domestic Violence Awareness. What started as a “Day of Unity” in 1981 quickly evolved into an entire week of events, to what we now know as Domestic Violence Awareness month. I find it rather ironic that in school we all learn about the celebrations that education outlets think we must learn and celebrate. At 15, I became a victim of domestic violence, and at just a few months old, my own daughter was witnessing it firsthand. No one talked about domestic violence, and therefore I hid my embarrassment hindering me from the possibility of escaping the situation I had found myself in.
Today, I consider myself an advocate for women who have experienced domestic violence. I am also the parent of a child who witnessed it, and I have to admit it is not as easy to talk to my daughter about my own experiences with domestic violence. I often struggle with sounding like a helpless victim, as she has always seen me as a strong, determined, fight-for-what-I-want person. This year, she’s a freshman and I realized that life will certainly start to change a lot quicker and that I had to buckle down and get over my fears of what it means to be honest.
Culturally, there’s the notion that being Latina means you’re “feisty” – except for when you have a partner. To this day, my mother believes I should have a hot meal for my husband waiting for him after work. In my house, the stereotypical gender roles don’t exist, and what makes me the most proud is knowing both my children are witnessing the respect and love I share with my husband. But what would have happened if I had stayed with my abuser? I would’ve never had the courage to tell my daughter the stories of the survivors I get to meet, or teach her that she no one can make her feel less than; I would’ve never been able to talk to her about demanding respects because I wouldn’t have known what that felt like. Maybe if I had known what domestic violence was when I was 15, I would’ve never allowed for it to happen to me. Maybe if I had known that abuse is not just bruises on your body, but emotional, financial, and verbal control I would’ve been able to speak to someone about what was happening to me – but no one talked to me about that. I know the importance of not only talking about my experience but elevating the voices of those who have become survivors and shared their stories as well.
As I continue my journey of raising my daughter (and son), I focus about the things I didn’t have so that I make sure that she does: confidence, patient adults, and full disclosure about healthy relationships. Is it easy to talk to her about the 15-year old me? Not by any means. Will I continue to push myself? Absolutely. I have learned to find strength and healing in acknowledging my past, learning to accept it wasn’t my fault, and educating her on what it means to stand up for what you believe in while also being empathetic and open minded. My hope for the future is that people stop stigmatizing women of color for domestic violence and continue to empower those who found the support and courage to move on. It’s not always easy to just walk away and leave, and the one thing we can all do is wait until the person is ready to take the next step and support them with the least bit of judgement just like my support network did for me.