The woman in the photo is my paternal grandmother, Teresa, the first feminist in my life. She was beautiful and glorious. From her eyebrows to her plump lips, I love to think I look just like her.
I didn’t grow up too attached to her, though. Her and my mom were never close. Also, she lived in Mexico. I could not have visited every weekend even if I wanted to.
I saw her during summer and winter vacations and she always greeted me with a big kiss. I distinctly remember she was loud and her laugh was an outburst of cackling that was contagious.
Unlike many of our abuelas, Mama Teresa was NOT conservative and far from “proper.” She cursed and smoked and was divorced.
I n o u r c u l t u r e y o u d o n o t d i v o r c e.
She could have been a saint but, because she was a divorcee, they would have judged her anyway.
And maybe she knew this, maybe she said, “to hell with it” and lived as she pleased knowing she would be criticized anyway.
Mama Teresa talked a lot of shit.
Mama Teresa bar hopped.
Mama Teresa stayed out late.
Mama Teresa came home drunk with her panties in hand.
And she wasn’t afraid to walk up and down her street calling out women who judged and gossiped about her.
I kid you not, my Mama Teresa wore leather mini skirts and pumps with bright lipstick until the day she died.
Teresa in the dictionary? Fearless. Unconventional. Unapologetic.
Her entire adult life she was shamed by the community and [ignorantly and illogically] called a puta.
But my grandmother was no prostitute.
She was confident and completely in control of her femininity and sexuality. She didn’t dress to impress absolutely anybody, she dressed because it made her feel good. She loved herself and her body and she wasn’t ashamed of it.
Mama Teresa didn’t carry the burden of others shame of her.
When I was a young girl, I didn’t understand my grandmother’s confidence and “different” personality, but I don’t remember it ever making me feel uncomfortable. She made me giggle. I loved her lipstick. I loved her bulky tawdry jewelry. And love for papaya (every time I’d visit her she was eating papaya or drinking a papaya smoothie. The smell of papaya ’til this day gets me all nostalgic).
To look back at all of this now and realize my abuela was the first feminist in my life is empowering as fuck.
My Mama Teresa wasn’t down with the slut-shaming. She was pro-choice. She did not stand for domestic violence. She believed in her right to be respected (re: divorce). She didn’t adhere to gender roles and norms. She feared no man and saw herself as an equal.
As I begin to come to terms with womanhood and feminism I find myself channeling Mama Teresa often.
Mama Teresa’s feminism lives inside of me.
“Ni putas, ni santas…solo mujeres.”