Below is College Scholarship Essay by Emma Saldivar
Every year, my family has a tamale-making day a week or so before Christmas. Everyone from my mother’s side of the family gathers in my Aunt Julie’s house and we spend the evening in tamale frenzy. Now the women in my family have an organized system for how these tamales get made. One person washing the cornhusks, two people spreading the masa, two people filling them with the different meat, and a person folding them and putting them in the pot. At the head of it all is my five foot zero aunt, standing on a stool, spreading masa and giving orders like there is no tomorrow.
In my family you get thrust into this controlled chaos of women fairly young. These tamale sessions are only one example of how the women of my family control things. I am the second youngest woman in my family, with the next oldest being four years older than me. I was separated enough to just observe everything the rest of these women said or did. I make a fool of myself for the enjoyment of others because that’s what my Aunt Maggie would do. I am very competitive because my Aunt Julie and Aunt Bibi would find a way to turn anything into a competition. I try to find the middle ground in arguments because my mother was often a mediator for family disputes.
The ratio of women to men is two to one. The women are in charge of this family and all the men know it too. They know that once our minds are made up there was no possible way to change it. My feisty aunt has more power than her husband who is more than a foot taller than her.
Everyone is also very loud, as any Hispanic household should be. Every time we are gathered together, many conversations are held at once, all at the same volume. I learned quickly that I had to speak up or else the person I was trying to talk to would never hear me.
One common thing I noticed about these women was how strong they were. Part of that was because they always supported each other through the hard times, but most of the time they stayed strong because that what needed to be done. The Castillo women are mothers or are at least a parental figure to someone else, and they are strong because they have other people counting on them.
I think that is what I took away from them most of all. Sometimes life is tough, but your family is looking to you for strength, so suck it up and be the shoulders that support the people you love and all of their burdens. My aunts, cousins, and mother all had their fair share of struggle and heartache, but from what I have seen, that has never stopped them from being the powerful and nurturing women that they are.
That is what I strive to be. I want to be as selfless as they are. I try to find that perfect balance of confidence and humility that all of the women in my family have. Especially now as I grow into my own person and become more independent, I try to provide for those who need my guidance. It actually brings me joy when I am able to help or teach someone and I have come to realize that it takes my mind off of whatever bad things might be going on in my personal life at the time.
I also learned to not let anyone, especially a man, undermine me when it comes to something I am passionate about. Countless times I have seen my uncles and father be put in their place if they step on the female’s toes. I learned how to fight back and make my opinions known.
I may have been labeled crazy or too stubborn by some of my male peers, but I would much rather be called that than be considered weak minded or subdued. Those are two characteristics that are foreign to the Castillo women. And they will stay that way as far as any of us are concerned.
No one can change who we are. We stand strong and provide for those who need us, whether that is a comforting hug or a slap on the back of the head and a “get your life back on track” talk. We will always be the constants in our family’s lives.