Small Revolutions on Learning to Love Myself

Woman jeans and sneaker shoes
Woman jeans and sneaker shoes

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PICTURE INSPIRED BY MAYA ANGELOU'S POEM "STILL I RISE"

I am not an easy womxn to love.

That doesn't mean I was born to drag myself across broken glass, clench my tongue between my teeth, and choke on my words. I don't beg for love. I have never claimed to be simple. I'm both fragile and vicious. Volatile. Sensitive. My brother says that I was a guerrera, wild and uncontrollable -- a tempest. My mother swears that I was the sweetest child and that laughter came to me like second nature. I'm loud, passionate and vulgar. I yell when I'm supposed to whisper, and call myself a "puta" with pride. I wear lipstick that my uncle insists is too red. I remember too much, try to find some semblance of home and belonging in the stories of Nicaragua that my family tells over the dinner table. As a child of the diaspora, I am constantly straddling two worlds, trying to belong to two homes that don't recognize me, two homes that don't want me. I'm too Americanized for one, too foreign for the other. Stuck in the in-between. (Where is home again? To which country do my traumas belong? Neither here, nor there.)

I am not an easy womxn to love, and let me make this clear: I do not need anyone else's love to fix me or make me whole. People don't get trophies and other accolades for deciding to love a complicated womxn. I am not a flag for someone to wave as a sign of benevolence and good will. I won't make myself small, two-dimensional, and easy to swallow just for the sake of having someone feel comfortable with their decision to love me. I am not an apology. The only love that will make me whole is my own.

Self-love is the most important revolution. For me, it began with a simple revelation that I let resonate in my head for months: I am worthy, I am beautiful and I will rise. I shouldn't have to shove tragedy and grief down my throat in order to be accepted. It isn't an easy journey.

My mind and body are still a battleground. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some days, it takes all of my courage and strength to love myself. The enemy always changes. Some days it's the boy down the street telling me that I looked better with my hair straightened, a family member poking my thighs or a woman asking me to repeat myself under the pretense of not understanding what I was saying, but actually enjoying hearing me stumble over the word "three." Often, my biggest enemy is myself. Blame the traumas. Hands crawling up, thumbs around my throat, breath caught in my lungs and I can't say what I need to say -- stop. Triggered. (I hope my mother doesn't read this.) I can't wash the past off my skin, believe me -- I've scrubbed so hard that broken skin gives way to blood.

Loving myself means being deliberate with my actions and time, determining what I need and when. I'll watch the dawn. Read anything I can get my hands on. Let my bed soak my tears. Laugh when English words get caught in the back of my throat, apparently not even four years in a predominantly white institution can drown the Spanish that lingers in my mouth. Forgive myself for the past, the immaturity and moments I'd rather pretend never existed. My definition of success doesn't involve money because money alone can't make me proud of my reflection. I don't want to rely on the validation of institutions that ripped me apart and tried to drown out my voice, told me that my authentic self wasn't respectable enough. I want to be at peace with who I was and am. Finally, after years of giving people so many parts of myself (take my money, take my laughter, take my happiness. Give you second chances you didn't ask for, much less deserved), I'll come home to myself.

However, that takes time, forgiveness, and will power. It isn't a magical transformation that happens overnight and it pays no attention to how many self-love posts I reblog on Tumblr. I've had to forgive myself for my mistakes (I still am) and stop myself from thinking about the past at four in the morning. The most powerful reminder is that I am under no obligation to be the same person I was five months ago. I am worthy and capable of growth.

It is necessary to my survival as a womxn of color to be compassionate with myself. The world already shoves lies down my throat, erases my history, and tries to rip away me and my family's humanity. It whispers wetback, illiterate, rapists, poor, illegal, no-good, third world and third rate, tries to make shame pool in the pits of my belly. I refuse to taste bitterness and pity.

The world no longer frightens me.

They'll call me narcissistic, a womxn of color daring to love herself unapologetically? Burn me at the stake, cut off my feet, rip off my fingers, carve out my tongue, dig out my eyes; punishments of the past come to the future in different ways. But my ancestors have the secret to survival; I'm still here, aren't I? I have no choice but to get up, and try again. The only thing I can do is own it, the pain, the triumphs -- this is all me. I've learned there is no escaping from myself; there is no hiding from me.

I am a daughter of a revolution. Resilience and defiance run in my veins. La lucha does not recognize borders, does not recognize time. La llevas en la sangre. It latches on, never completely leaving but rather it ebbs and flows, waiting for the right moment to make its presence known. I am the granddaughter of womxn who fought bravely for survival, grasped onto opportunity, and defied expectations. They learned how to fly, make magic from thin air, and capture happiness. I will too.