Valeria Velazquez // Columnist
Twenty-four hours have passed since I got home. Twenty-four hours of being back in the place my heart was longing for so long. Saying goodbye to my friends back in Vancouver was bittersweet; they have become my new home, but I knew I needed to revisit my old one.
In my last few hours in Vancouver, I began questioning if maybe I should just come for two months instead of four, if staying at my parents’ house was a good idea and if returning was something I actually wanted. I was unsure, but I still took the plane to Mexico anyway. I mean, I’m already here, aren’t I?
Following your heart’s desires can be scary. Not because you don’t want them, but because of the uncertainty surrounding them. In my case, the uncertainty doesn’t come from the place I’m at or the people I’m here to see. I already know them; my city, my family, my friends. The insecurity I’m feeling comes from the new dynamic that will take place between us. I believe I’ve grown and changed as a person. Therefore, I don’t know how things are going to unfold, and that scares me.
When I was in Vancouver I felt ready. I’d been taking the past few months to get centered and grounded. I was preparing myself mentally and emotionally to come back to Mexico and deal with situations of injustice in a more mature way, in a way where I’d be understood. I thought I’d be able to talk about feminism, homophobia, racism and social inequity among other prevalent issues in my society, and that I’d be heard. Shortly after I arrived, I realized that we can prepare ourselves all we want, but we never know what an experience is going to be like until we live it.
These past 24 hours have been a rollercoaster of emotions. From the moment I arrived at the airport, I could tell being here was going to be more complicated than I thought. Not even five minutes had passed when I noticed the beastly looks several men were shamelessly giving two women walking by. The young women were just wearing shorts, yet the men were looking at them like hungry lions staring at a piece of meat. I felt disgusted.
I couldn’t help but think of the many times this has happened to me. Not only walking on the streets, but also at restaurants, bars, malls, parks—even in my own home, when strange men are there. These looks make me feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and in the past, they made me feel guilty.
I felt guilty because I thought that I was provoking them because of the way I was dressed. I thought maybe if I didn’t wear shorts or skirts or show cleavage, they wouldn’t look at me anymore. I thought, that way, I’d stop feeling threatened. The thing is, no matter what you wear or where you are in Mexico, you’re not safe as a woman.
According to the National System of Public Safety of Mexico, from January to July of 2019, there were 2,171 femicides. This year, even with the confinement measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the murders increased. Within the same timeframe of January to July, the number of women killed increased to 2,240.
I think that the reason why the situation in Mexico is like this is because of the deeply-rooted patriarchy in the culture. The phrases I used to hear growing up come to mind. “You have to cook for us because you are the woman.” “You can’t do this because I’m your father, the head of this house, and I say so.” “ You’ll never find a boyfriend with that attitude and those looks.”
It seemed like as a woman, no matter what I did, my only purpose was to please and serve men. My dad, as much as I love him, is the main person that made me feel this way. Nevertheless, my mom and the rest of the people in my family also contributed to the perpetuation of these patterns, attitudes, and ways of thinking.
The moment I saw those men looking at the women in the airport, I remembered the reason why I went to Canada in the first place. I was tired of not being understood, seen or valued as a human being. I was tired of feeling diminished, controlled and abused. I was angry and exhausted, and I didn’t want to be anymore.
Living in Vancouver I learned a lot. I realized that I wasn’t crazy and that there were actual reasons that made me feel this way. But I’ve been proved (as I do time and time again when I come home) that the feeling of being centered, grounded and happy within myself can be taken away from me in the snap of a finger. Not because I don’t want to be, but because my circumstances and my environment don’t allow me to be.After the initial moment of happiness from seeing my family again for the first time in over a year, it struck me again. The first comment I heard coming out of my grandma’s mouth was, “You should put on a bra, I cannot believe you traveled like that.” It was 27 degrees and I was wearing a white crop top and jeans. All I could think was, damn, here we go again.