The Maria Paradox
by Rosa Maria Gil, D.S.W., and Carmen Inoa Vazquez, Ph.D.
As Latinas, many of us have felt the tug-of-war between nuestra cultura and American culture. At times, we feel the need to be more assertive, more independent, but we may not want to completely discard the Latino traditions we’ve grown up with. Unfortunately, the effects of marianismo 0n our lives run deep.
The Maria Paradox, a book by Rosa Maria Gil, D.S.W., and Carmen Inoa Vazquez, Ph.D., seeks to help Latinas who are struggling to integrate the two cultures. Marianismo, described in the book as being “about sacred duty, self-sacrifice, and chastity” makes it difficult to function in American culture because it’s inflexible and mandates what women should and should not be doing. However, according to the authors of the book, marianismo is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding why we are having issues in the first place.
The desire to acculturate is the second piece of the puzzle. The process of acculturation makes a person feel unsure of who they are and what they’re doing. This can be very stressful and confusing. Still, it’s important to realize that acculturation and assimilation are two different things. “The definition of acculturation includes an adaptation to another culture, another way of thinking or functioning that is different from what we have been familiar with,” says Dr. Vazquez. “However, acculturation is quite different from assimilation. Assimilation assumes that one’s culture is pushed out of the picture and one adopts a new culture, while acculturation allows for functioning in the two cultures, something we know can be done and recommend.”
In order to acculturate and move beyond our learned marianismo, we need self-esteem, which is the third piece of the puzzle. According to Dr. Vazquez, self-esteem is important to acculturation because “it guides the woman to take care of herself. If you look at the concept, you can see that a sense of high self-esteem means: self-respect, self-worth, which by definition is going to make you more adept at making the appropriate decisions in your life. For example, you will not tolerate abuses from others, you will be more assertive and able to make choices that can help you have a happier life or at least a life where the decisions are made to the best of your capacity, but not based on beliefs that could be misinformed or not geared to serve you and live your live to the fullest.”
The Maria Paradox is filled with real-life stories of women dealing with the issues that are bound to stem from marianismo/machismo, such as perceptions of sexuality, verbal and physical abuse, trying to be a superwoman, etc. It contains simple exercises and quizzes you can take to discover how marianismo has affected your life. It also advises how to find a psychotherapist that’s right for you, should you need it, as well as describing the advantages of joining a tertulia, a group of women facing similar issues who get together for fun and support.
This book will help you move forward in your life as a nueva marianista. It’s about resolving the differences in our cultures in a non-threatening way. But, most of all, it’s about living a guilt-free life as an independent-minded Latina.