When I was choosing university, my father told me: “Go ahead, Fatima. You don’t worry about anything, that’s what I work for; to pay for your school.” Later, when I was in college, I didn’t get the scholarships and financial aid I applied for and my parents, especially my father, discouraged me from working while I was studying.
My father, who had come to the United States from the state of Michoacán in Mexico in the 1980s and worked since then in construction, I wanted her to be an outstanding university student. She was worried that working would be a distraction to get it done.
American public and scholarly discourses portray Mexican men as authoritarian, controlling males who rigidly follow patriarchal norms and attitudes, who value work more than education and discourage their daughters from pursuing their academic and career goals.
This one-dimensional, racist and sexist representation of Mexican parents, however, does not fit mine. Instead, he helped raise four successful Chicana feminists, encouraging them to become aware of what they could do and pursue higher education.
Many academics find inspiration in personal places, and what led me to start my research and make certain professional decisions is no different. Right now I am a sociologist and researcher at Stanford University (California, USA), and my investigations deal with the intimate lives of men, particularly how social inequality frames their intimacy and their experiences.
“Why was my father a different man with his daughters than he was with his wife?”
I think that paternity is the entry point to study those intimate lives of men. And how my father practices it has been fundamental in my decision to start an academic portfolio that studies Latino parents.
Although my father encouraged his daughters to be independent and bright, his relationship with my mother was very traditional. She was financially and emotionally dependent on my father. Why was my father a different man with his daughters than with his wife? This contradiction resonated with every successful Latina I interviewed for my master’s thesis about their relationships with their own parents.
For that project, I focused on how Chicano and Latino parents help their daughters develop a feminist consciousness. The Latinas I interviewed shared with me several stories about how their parents played an active role in this through their attitudes toward financial autonomy, domestic abuse, and higher education.
Their parents supported their professional and academic aspirations so that they would be self-sufficient and not depend on any man for financial security. These women, however, admitted that they wished they had been able to change the way their fathers behaved towards their mothers. There was, therefore, the same paradox that I saw in my own family.
So I embarked on a doctorate to try to take my study one step further and include Latino parents as part of the project. I spent the first 5 years of graduate school preparing for this research, reading and publishing in the areas of social movements, fatherhood, and Latino sociology.
“Fatherhood can be a transformative experience for men, their masculinities and their attitudes towards gender”
I was overwhelmed by the multitude of ways in which I could approach my research and felt that I was not finding the right direction. Feeling lost when designing a research protocol, this project was more of a burden than anything else.
Ironically, my project on paternity in Chicano feminisms it became oppressive, and made me question whether I would be able to turn it into a Ph.D. line of research.
Five months before I had to defend my thesis, I had a conversation with my mentor, who asked me what made me passionate about this project. I thought about it for a second and blurted out, “Latino parents.”
One may think that these two lines are very different, but I realized that, to understand how Latino fathers – and men in general – raise feminist daughters, it is necessary to first examine what fatherhood means in the lives of Latinos. Only then will we discover under what conditions parenthood can be a transformative experience for men, their masculinities and their attitudes towards gender.
My sisters and I have been very important sources of change in our father. And he has helped shape our perceptions and expectations of men. And this leads us to ask: What is the role of women –as companions and daughters– in these transformations?
In a sense, my father has shaped my academic and professional path. For a long time, I was upset with my father for the way he treated my mother. He had a lot of power in our family, since he was the only financial supporter, which excused him from doing much of the housework and care.
“He raised me to be a feminist and therefore I use feminism to support Latino men”
After speaking with other Latino parents, I now have a myriad of nuances that help me understand my own father. I don’t justify many of the things my father has done and said in the past, but I do I understand that he himself carried a backpack of pain Of your past.
A key element of Chicano feminist thought is the ability to tolerate contradictions and ambiguities, understanding different perspectives. This faculty is what Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa called “the mestizo conscience”.
Due to his experiences as a Mexican working-class immigrant in the United States, my father taught me and my sisters how to survive and thrive in a society that denigrates Latinas because of their race and gender.
In return, I used the tools I developed from my academic training to understand him and other Mexican and Latino parents. He raised me to be a feminist and therefore I use feminism to support Latino men.