Anne came to American on a boat in late 1931. A hazel eyed 16 year old Irish girl leaving a life and family behind to make a better place for herself in a new world she knew very little about. Her strong hands, worn and calloused through time and efforts in the fields of Roscommon, were held together, firm in prayer under her tattered coat as Ellis Island came into focus on the horizon. Guided by faith and resolution of character that told her she would find a life of opportunity and possibility beyond her isled homeland, my grandmother left all she knew far behind her because she believed she deserved more. She believed the world could do better….
In her first years in Philadelphia she found work, she found love and she found herself a widow with a young son at the young age of 19. The year was 1934 and there were no helping hands to pull her up and no support groups to gather around with whom she could share her burdens. Still, there was nothing on this earth that was going to stop my father’s mother from pursuing her dreams and believing that through hard work and determination she would indeed carve a successful life. An immigrant, a maid, a single mother in a strange new city – what kind of fortitude ran through those veins of hers that allowed her to believe she could have more? What permeated her very being that allowed her to rise above the obstacles and societal beliefs and simply make her life become all she believed it could become? Who told her she was able?
I happen to believe that my grandmother’s tenacity, clear vision, and ability to make her way through what was clearly a man’s world was fueled by someone in her childhood who convinced her that she was capable – that she was allowed to pursue her dreams without trepidation. Someone taught her that she was valuable and no less entitled or less deserving than her 9 brothers. There is something that feels so much more powerful than formal education and well conducted surveys and informational programming, advertising and the world wide web. It is quite simply the influence of positive language and mentorship. The belief that is instilled in us, through example, through daily living and words of intention, through action and expectation – that we are indeed worthy of every single thing we dream of. That we are no less than our neighbor or the person who lives in the picturesque house on the hill or the humble little apartment on the dodgy end of town. That we can have whatever we dare to dream and that our value is not measured by gender or economic status – but by our character and our will to live an integral life. That no matter what road blocks or bias, no matter what bullying, bigotry or abuse we may encounter along the way – we are not defined by our gender and we are certainly not limited by it.
I was blessed and lucky to spend summers with my grandmother, in the house she paid for with her earnings she saved while working as a maid for an affluent family outside of Philadelphia. The house she lived in was the very house she planned to buy the moment she laid eyes on it. She would tell me tales of her hard life in Ireland and engage me in debate and lilted conversation. One of her favorite things to do was stoke my little temper and grin at me through my inability to adequately converse with her on subjects and current events. Jesus – I was just a little girl after all. I would get fired up and so scared of feeling like an idiot that I would become tongue tied and emotional. My eyes would brim with frustrated tears – and just when I was about to blow – her strong hand would gently cradle mine – her voice would soften within her thick brogue and she would look through me as she reminded me, “Kathleen – you are beautiful, and ever more so when you care about all the things you want to say. You are smart and special and I am so proud of you. Never forget that you have a voice and your voice is just as important as any other voice. No one can ever take that from you – so don’t you ever lose it behind your fears.”
Her words, her example, her reminders all empowered me. I had no idea at the time. She was my mentor, my shaman, my guide – the one who challenged and encouraged me. I never thought just because I was a girl I could not play boys little league baseball in the early 70’s. The ridicule and verbal abuse I played through was not pretty and never easy – but I knew I was good enough – I believed in myself – and so I played. I never believed in or bought into the notion of borders created by gender – maybe I was naïve or just stubborn – or maybe it was because I was taught that this world belonged to me just as equally as it belonged to any other person – regardless of race, gender or economic status. I fought threw my life and became a leader in business and an example to my children. Fortitude engrained in my very being gave me the strength to leave a dysfunctional marriage and claim my queerness at a late stage in this game called life. I stand strong and able and knowing because I was told that I had that right – that I was important and was not to be the victim of beliefs I did not hold to be true. My grandmother taught me about fairness and equality, opportunity and integrity – and through her mentorship – I became the woman that I am today.
And so I imagine the power of a society where women encourage their daughters and the daughters of the world to believe in themselves – just as they are. Where we accompany our young women through their youth with examples of kindness and, when necessary, righteous indignation. A planet where every girl child knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she too is entitled to reach for her wildest dreams without gender infused blinders. I taught my daughter to believe in herself – to know that we have but one life and there are no limitations except for the ones we embrace for ourselves. (I sent my son the same message). And I do believe the world will be better when we raise a generation of open minded, accepting individuals. They are the future and they hold the tools of integrity that will dismantle archaic stereotypes and beliefs that no longer serve this world we share.
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About K. Guzman
Kathy grew up all over the US - lots of east coast time. She is a surfer girl with an unabridged curiosity. A woman whose mid life awakening continues to bring her to the place she was meant to be. Her degree in Journalism/Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida is being yanked from the archives and put to good use. Her two kids are grown and rock stars in this wild world – her Harley is ready for some serious summer miles – and her heart remains open to life, women and the possibilities each day brings.