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my pace
Office of Multicultural Affairs—NYC

I am Here Despite…

In 2002 I graduated in the top five percent of my class, was accepted into several colleges and I was on my way to be the first person in my family to graduate from college. Everyone knew that I was smart, affable and well liked by my peers. No one knew that I was a rape survivor, victim of domestic violence and insecure young woman who did well in school in order to escape her family. Like many Latinos, I was taught that whatever happens in my family stays within my family. This fundamental rule was engraved into my subconscious and no matter how bad things got, I never sought outside help.

When my father sexually abused my mother while my sisters were on the floor sleeping, we never dared to open our eyes or even talk about what happened afterwards. Whatever transpired in my parents’ bed was between my mother and father and that was that. The most confusing aspect of my father’s abuse was my mother’s acceptance. After protests and a brief struggle she would simple give in with silent tears. She would spend the rest of the day slaving over my father just as my sisters and I were expected to slave over our younger brother. This aspect of the Latino culture always bothered me. I did not feel inferior to my spoiled brother but was brought up to believe that I was. He was the one who was going to get a good job and financially support the whole family when he was older. Therefore, it was our responsibility to take care of him.

What I remember most from my slave days is that my brother was never wrong. I specifically remember an incident where my brother wanted to play cops and robbers. My oldest sister was in charge of him and ended up being tied to a chair and having to go to the hospital for a dislocated shoulder. My sisters and I were certain that my brother was finally going to get in trouble but we were wrong. My sister was the one who was held responsible and punished for having to go to the hospital. There were no repercussions for my brother. There were never any repercussions for the males in my family and this knowledge of male infallibility is what forced to me to not tell anyone when my uncle sexually abused me.

Abuse wasn’t a new experience for me. I grew up in an environment that accepted male abuse and had seen my mother be abused numerous times. I assumed that it was normal although it felt terribly wrong. At first I wanted to run to my mother and tell her what happened but for some reason I didn’t. My life experiences up to that point had taught me three things: (1) Whatever happened in that bedroom stayed in that bedroom; (2) Although I hated my uncle I had to show him respect; and (3) If I told anyone the truth, I would be the one blamed and punished for what happened. My uncle was raised in the same family and his ‘machismo’ attitude had always been encouraged. I am confident that he felt superior to me and that it was my job to serve his needs. As a girl, I was weaker and more vulnerable so he took advantage. Afterwards, he did not fear that I would go to the police and knew that if I ever said anything, no one would choose to believe me. I was too young to understand most complicated things about life but I was certain about this as well so I kept his transgression a secret.

I would have taken my secret to the grave if I had not feared history repeating itself. I was in my second semester at Pace and it was my youngest cousin’s birthday. It was a typical Latino celebration with pernil, arroz con gandules and a piñata. No one else would have been able to notice it. There was a hand placement just below where it could be deemed appropriate and a look that I had seen before. I can’t explain it, but I just knew. I also knew that I could not allow my uncle to go after my cousin although I did not know how to stop him. I had to tell someone so that they could protect my cousin. The only person I could think of was my mother, the woman who was supposed to have unconditional love for me. I was 18 years old and no longer a little girl so I thought there was more credibility to my accusations. I also felt that my mother would be able to sympathize with me since I knew she had also endured sexual abuse.

Telling my mother was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. I knew that I was breaking the rules and was scarred to death. I had never allowed myself to think about my abuse and had locked away every aspect of that traumatizing event. I don’t even remember how I told my mother what her brother had done to me. All I remember is her reaction: She calmly told me that I misinterpreted the events of the past and that my childhood imagination made me invent lies. No words could describe how horrible I felt. My own mother accused me of lying about being rapped and then walked away.

The next day I found my bed and clothes outside of our apartment. I knocked on the door and my mother wouldn’t even open. She simply told me that I did not live there anymore through the closed door. I knew there would be repercussions but I never imagined that I would be thrown out of my home. I was a commuter student in college and had nowhere else to go. Common sense would have told me to go and plea to my father or ask someone in the family for help, but my pride got in the way. I walked away from that door with no plans but with absolute certainty that I would not ask anyone for help.

Nine years have passed since my mother threw me out of her house for telling the truth. I know for a fact that I would have been the first person in my family to graduate from college in 2006 if I would have turned a blind eye and kept my secret to myself. Because I told the truth, I have endured hunger, homelessness, despair and loneliness. However, telling the truth saved my cousin from suffering and pain. My mother still makes sure that no young child is ever left alone with my uncle and I am still the black sheep of my family. Saving my cousin from suffering my same fate cost me my biological family. I am never invited to family birthdays and have only once been invited to spend Christmas at my parent’s home. I am no longer the young girl who was too afraid to tell anyone the truth for fear of not being believed.

My evolution from a timid girl to a strong and independent woman has evolved in three phases. The first was experiencing the abuse of my mother. This experience served as the model to how I initially dealt with my sexual abuse. Like my mother, I internalized my feelings, accepted my circumstances and never talked about my experiences. Since then, I have learned to think for myself and have been able to give advice to women who have also been abused. I am a stronger person because I no longer internalize my feelings and allow my voice to be heard. In my personal relationships, I allow my loved ones to know when they hurt my feelings and never keep secrets. I have an open and honest relationship with those I hold dear and I am very blessed.

The second phase of my evolution was learning how to think for myself and to survive on my own. When my mother threw me out I had to mature at an early age and learn how to be independent. While I was worried about how to pay my rent, my friends were planning their Spring break. It didn’t take long for all my superficial friends to stop calling. The two friendships that survived are still strong today. I grateful to have two people I can blindly trust. These friendships have helped me surpass many obstacles and have encouraged me to be a better person. I no longer model anyone’s behavior and am not afraid to speak out against injustice. I am not dependent on anyone to provide for my needs and this will not change when I marry. I will not confirm to traditional gender roles and will teach my children how to be independent as well.

The third phase was the hardest and took the longest because I had to accept what happened to me and let go of my anger. It took years to no longer see myself as a victim. There were times that I truly believed I was to blame for what happened to me. There was even a time when I tried to commit suicide. I had to reach rock bottom in order to pick myself up. After waking up in the bathtub after taking several sleeping pills I realized that I could never again give up. I made the decision to forgive my mother and uncle so that I can move forward. After making that decision, my life started to get better. I met a wonderful man who helped me through depression and brought me to Christ. This same man is now my future husband and has helped me to come to terms with an autoimmune disorder that has almost taken my life two times in the last two years. I now see myself as a survivor and hold my head up high because I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of.

This is a story of victory. I choose to write about my experiences because they have matured me into a beautifully unique woman who has a lot to offer this world. I have learned more about who I am as an individual, how to deal with people on a personal level, and have become a competent and compassionate individual. My most profound lesson has been learning how to overcome obstacles and remain persistent on achieving my goals. Almost a decade after having to abruptly stop my college education, I am back at Pace University. I will now become the first woman in my family to get a college degree since my brother graduates this year. Finishing my education has been my personal goal for the last decade. Through perseverance, hard work and determination, I am finally in a position to realize my dream.

C. P.
Fall 2011