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Opinion: We’re wives, moms and daughters – but we have to think of ourselves, too

When I was in college, almost ten years ago, I wrote a paper about growing up as Hispanic American girl, dealing with two sets of rules or expectations, one at home and one in society. I researched and discovered something called “marianismo.” It stems from the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is a very important figure to Catholics. It attributes qualities of purity, docility, kindness and selflessness to women.  Culturally, we grow up taught to be that way: docile, pure, selfless, spiritual, pious.

Growing up Hispanic in an American society meant there was a constant struggle to fit into both worlds. As young Hispanic girls we were expected to act a certain way, and couldn’t do certain things that might be considered “normal” for our American counterparts.  For example, I wasn’t allowed to go to sleepovers and my parents didn’t understand what “dating” was.

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Today, while I no longer have that element of teenage angst, I still deal with this duality (albeit to a lesser degree.)  Except nowadays it isn’t about sleepovers or dating, but about how I’m raising my son, taking care of my house and what kind of a wife I am.

I recently read an article about “post-pregnancy” in a Hispanic publication.  It said something that made me cringe – it was about getting out of yoga pants and making an effort to look good for your spouse. I would have loved if it had been spun another way:  ‘Get out of your yoga pants and put some makeup on because you will feel better about yourself – not because you should look nice for your husband.’

I wonder if a magazine for an American audience would have said, “Get out of the yoga pants to look good for your spouse.”

You’d think that after giving birth, we could get a break from having to look good all the time and being focused on pleasing one’s spouse.  After I gave birth I was tired, I walked around like a breastfeeding zombie, and I had a belly. There were days that I put makeup on and looked great, but I did so for me (and for posterity, because I wasn’t going to let anyone take pictures of me looking like a hot mess).

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That’s what we should be encouraging women to do, to do something for ourselves.  It is ok to think about ourselves, not to do it for one’s significant other, but because it makes US feel good.

As Latina women, we are expected to put others’ needs (children, significant others, family) before our own. Latina women are expected to be selfless and be happy about that.  I find this a bit contradictory to the American ‘ideals’ of individualism and self-reliance. We Latinas struggle with that dichotomy often. We often neglect ourselves and take on too many things because we can’t (or we think we shouldn’t) say no.

Sometimes, we don’t even think that saying no to Abuela, Tía or Mami is an option.

The good news is that there are many happy Latinas living this duality successfully. We want to go the extra mile for our loved ones, and that is OK. Of course, our sense of community and family are part of what make us Latinas. It’s part of who we are and we should never let that go.

The key, though, is to love and cherish familía without forgetting to love and cherish ourselves.

NBC Latino contributor Diana LimongiDiana Limongi-Gabriele works hard juggling a full-time job, motherhood, family, grad school and her blog, LadydeeLG, where she writes about issues she is passionate about including teaching her son Spanish, motherhood, parenting, Latino issues, good quality food and women’s issues. Diana is a regular contributor for Mamiverse. She has a MA in Migration Studies, and is pursuing an MPA in Nonprofit Management. Her most important job however, is being mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/American (one day trilingual) 2-year-old boy. You can connect with her via Twitter, @dianalimongi or on Facebook.

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