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How Strong Women Have Made Me Who I Am

A Thank You Note to the Puerto Rican Women Who've Helped Me Become Who I Am Today

Born and raised in Puerto Rico from divorced parents, I spent most of my time with my mom and my Abuela Ia, my mom's mom. I had the advantage that both my abuelas were neighbors, so I could see my grandma on my dad's side just walking down the street from my Abuela Ia's house, since I spent most of my time with her. My mom's best friend also lived close to us, so she also became a huge influence in my life.

These four women have helped me become who I am. The real-world interactions I had with them growing up really helped define the woman I am becoming today. As a college student living away from them now, everything I do is for these women, and this month, I honor their lives and achievements a little harder.

The relationship I have with my mom feels like it's from a movie. We're almost the same, except for when we're not. Mostly, we go protest together as we both are activists, we share the same taste in movies and shows — although not in music — and we talk about everything. But, as normal relationships go, we bicker sometimes and butt heads.

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While she doesn't like New York City, though it's my favorite city in the world, and she doesn't eat beans while I would eat rice and beans every day of my life, she still inspires me every single second, even in those moments where we have our differences.

My mom got divorced early on in my life and had to figure out how to be a single mom with a daughter who had a million extracurriculars and went to a private school. If it weren't for her, I would not be living my best life in New York City. Mami is my number one fan and I love her for that. She always took me to museums and encouraged me to be involved in the arts, and now that I'm getting a liberal arts degree, it all adds up.

I would cry when she tried to explain my math homework and I would not understand her explanations, but I still managed to love those little moments with just the two of us. She fostered in me a respect and a value for education. I'm an only child and my mom does everything for me, in the same way I now do everything for her.

She inspires me to be strong while still embracing my emotions. We can talk about everything, and even my friends go to her for advice. She understands our love for Bad Bunny and our wanting to go out at irrational hours of the night — even though she'll protest at times. She always has genuine intentions for my well-being, and that is what makes her the best mom on the planet.

My mom's best friend, who also went through a divorce with a young son, is one of the strongest people I know. She and my mom have been best friends since high school, even though they have a lot of differences in opinions and preferences. She loves hearing about my sappy love stories — something my family members aren't too fond of, especially my mom — so we cry and talk about romance for hours.

We have a fiery passion for food, and we will eat until the end of the world. But, mostly, she inspires me because she cares for mental health and for her students, as she is a middle school teacher. I have never met such a passionate human, and I appreciate her dedication in everything she does. She teaches with her heart and she always supports me, whether it is academically or emotionally. I am grateful for having her like a second mom.

My grandma on my dad's side is a positive, empowered Daddy Yankee fan who carries music in her bones and has a dedication to caring for everyone around her. She lost her husband and one of her sons, yet she didn't let that get the best of her, and instead cared for my dad, and subsequently me, in a way no one could ever have imagined. She remained powerful and positive, and would encourage me to put up performances for the family. Growing up, I always said my mom would teach me English, Abuela Ia would teach me Spanish, and my grandma would teach me drama and acting.

But the person who has inspired me the most in my life is Abuela Ia. Every day I wish she could be with me forever. Everything I do in my life is for my mom and her. They are my best friends. The three of us are always together, whether it is going abroad or just attending local concerts and music festivals. Mami and Abuela have the best sense of style. Going through their pictures and seeing their outfits becomes great inspiration for how I dress now: a mixture of simple and professional, but a little flashy.

Abuela makes the best food on the whole planet — she inspires me to give the kitchen a chance, especially living alone now. I call her to ask about recipes, and she loves that because she's passing down one of her most dominant pieces of knowledge. Abuela is also my favorite person to cry with. She is a Virgo like me, and we are both rational but in touch with our emotions.

She always listens and gives great advice. Her life stories and adventures with her siblings and friends, coming from a small town, feel magical. Her storytelling goes so in-depth; I love listening to her attentively. She managed to raise her three kids almost alone, as her husband at the time (my grandfather) expected her to do everything he wouldn't do.

Abuela was subjected to the typical "machismo" that at the time made sense. I know that, looking back, both of my grandparents realize how unacceptable that is now, but I still see how it is ingrained in her and she can't escape it. It almost breaks my heart, but instead I try to look at it critically, to embrace how she was the reason the household functioned and stayed put together, beyond my grandfather's economic contribution.

Without Abuela, none of us would have a loving heart. Every day after school, regardless of my angsty teenager phase or my obsession with my phone, she would ask about my day and my meals, as any other Latina abuela would. She would always care for me, drive me around, cook for my friends. She helped me with anything school-related she could.

Even though she did not attend college, she is one of the smartest people I know. Her energy is the brightest, and I aspire to be like her when I'm in my 70s. To this day, thankfully, she still hosts parties for her friends, she goes to the gym, and she plays with her great-grandson and my baby cousin.

Every day, my Abuela Ia, my mom, my grandma, and my mom's best friend are all present in my heart, and they will continue to be for my entire life. I respect all of their journeys, their strength, and their endurance, without minimizing or sugarcoating the struggles that come with being a woman.

I feel inspired by their ability to surpass challenges during their times — especially my abuelas, since their upbringing was so different from my mom and her best friend's generation and even more so from mine. This is not a congratulations, but rather a thank you to them for putting themselves out there, so young women like me can see that we can achieve everything we aspire to.

Image Source: Pexels / Chelsi Peter
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