Men feed off of believing they are better than women. I was taught this at a very young age, that I was not allowed to even speak up to men when they hurt me. Our whole lives as women we are forced to accept we can never reach the same power as men. The phrase, “You are not as strong as men,” can overpower us and those men love when women give up. As women, we are not allowed to love ourselves, to explore our minds, but doing so will give us the strength to make that inequality disappear. Mama taught me to never let a man put you down. She taught me independence. When life is throwing hardships at you, Mama taught me, through her example, to stand up tall and push through.
 
I first became aware of this border between men and women when I was seven years old. It was one crazy night. Mama had been working at Costa Del Sol from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m., and I was there sitting by the register area, waiting for her to tell me, “Amor, tu papa esta aqui.” The odor of pupusas and seafood floated toward hungry customers, filling the restaurant. My eyes felt like weights—I kept falling asleep every thirty seconds. I saw her twirl all around the restaurant, but she never twirled toward me. Finally, I got the courage to go ask her what time Papa was coming. She said, “No se, mija. Go tell your brother to call him.” Sitting next to me at the register, my brother called Papa, then looked at me with those big, light brown eyes and told me that Papa didn’t answer. I sat back down and took a nap with all the noise of the dishes banging everywhere, everyone talking to each other as if they were deaf, and all I could think of was why he hadn’t answered us.
 
I woke up from my mama shaking me, saying Papa was here. I was so excited yet so tired, so I grabbed my backpack and went outside the restaurant, into his car. I was too tired to even say hi to Papa. I saw the time was 2:00 a.m. I saw Mama coming toward us, swaggering with anger. I felt her energy, a woman who worked day and night and had had enough of a man who was drinking day and night. In a low voice, Mama asked him why he was late again, then, slowly getting louder, why he smelled like alcohol knowing he had to pick up his kids. Papa tried to tell her he had been working really late, that he lost track of time, but Mama could smell the lies coming out of him. They both have this fire inside of them. Papa was in a rage because Mama wasn’t falling for his lies. He was so adjusted to women falling for his web of lies, but she’s smarter than he is. That’s when Papa hurt Mama. I was so afraid, I couldn’t move. My brother ran inside the restaurant and waved his hands to get my family to help. I saw all the power Papa had with his hands as well as with his words. I didn’t want to view Papa as an angry, aggressive, and manipulative man, but he made that border.
 
Men are misusing their power. We’re taught that men are always right, always smart, always successful in life. My story shows you that not all men are that ideal stereotype. This is not a hate letter for men. This is just about awareness to treat each other as valuable human beings without a border between. My mom didn’t give up that night, she used all that pain to lift herself up. She ended up going to nursing school to support our family. My mom proved to me that although I am a woman and men will view us as weak and sensitive, she told me to always stand up for myself. Mama is a powerful woman who already crossed that border, and I am next in line.
 
This piece was originally published in We All Belong, available in our store.