The Stories You Never Hear

By Nirvana Guzman

For a long time, I felt as though someone had robbed me of the knowledge of who I was. As an American born Latina, I have felt the weight of carrying two histories. Being raised in America, I was taught American history and ways of life. However, at home my family only spoke Spanish and ate different food from what was considered American. Growing up, I felt like I was fed a one sided story – the American story. The Latino part of who I am was a secret to me. How did my family get to America?  Who are we? Who am I ? Obvious identity crisis.

IMG_0686In the process of learning more about my Latino heritage, I found it was easier to get facts about documented history than about my own family’s history. When I was a little girl, I asked my grandmother “Mami, can you tell me the story of your life?”. She replied “Why do you wanna know? I was a sinvergüenza (shameless girl). There is nothing else to say.” At the time, I didn’t understand why there was so much secrecy.  There were stories that I know now that to her were shameful. There are stories of divorce, adultery, and abuse that she wanted to keep secret in order to continue to be a good role model in my life.

I spoke to a few other Latina classmates. We laughed over similarities of how our mothers and grandmothers always omitted parts of their lives to keep us from the truth. The truth was Latina women were silenced. I never heard a story of my grandmother’s life, because it was deemed not as important as my grandfather’s life. Although my grandfather has had a beautiful and interesting life, he also perpetuated the idea that my grandmother had nothing worth telling. The women in my family wanted to protect us from stories that would change the way people looked at them. Originally, my grandmother did not want to get married or have children. She came to this country looking for better education and work. Unfortunately, she never had the opportunity to continue her education after high school. When she finally did open up to me about her life, it broke my heart to hear her say “I wanted to be someone.”

Nirvana blog picI never understood why their experiences had to be kept secret. I hungered for stories about Latina women. Naturally I looked for stories about Latinas in the media or literature. It is extremely rare to find a story told by Latina women, but I tried. There was Frida Kahlo, who had a voice and story. I learned about Sor Juana, Julia De Burgos, Sandra Cisneros, Rosie Perez and Betita Martinez, who are all amazing influential activists and artists that illuminated issues within Latino households, institutions and communities. As I read the stories of Latina women, I was determined that there would be no more secrets, no more passive behavior, no more stories just about men.

It is difficult to break the cycle of silence of women within my family. I recognized that there is fear in going against what others perceive or want to believe to be true. A great deal of the confusion I felt when learning about my Latino identity paralleled the lack of understanding about my family’s history. Until recently, I was told to keep quiet about about my own negative life experiences by family members.  We simply didn’t  talk about the bad things. I was done accepting that was my only option. I want to be able to tell my full story. I figured there are other women going through the same things, and I want them to share their stories. What if Latina women had a platform in which they could be open about their narratives in a way that was empowering?

Because of my background in media studies, I decided to combine my love for creating media content with the desire to build a safe space for woman to tell their stories. I created My Sister’s Story on Instagram. This project gives a safe space for woman of color to talk about their experiences without shame. It gives them a voice even if they’ve never had a voice anywhere else. The story they want to share can be anything they feel other people need to hear. Many times these women are sharing their stories for the first time and feel a weight lifted off of  them. This project includes a short silent video clip and the story of the woman under as the caption. The story can be anonymous, but the impact of sharing relatable stories is real.

I wanted to share stories about resilience and resistance. Seeing Latinas talk about their mental health, sexualtiy, racism, family relationships etc. made me feel like I was not alone. This project gives a realistic look into all the “taboo” areas that are not really talked about in the Latino community. Creating and carrying out My Sister’s Story is a chance to build a support system for other women and to give voice to the often voiceless.

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