For most of my life, I’ve struggled with an exhausting dichotomy: being the independent “I do what I want!” person that I’m outwardly conceived to be and being the kid who ultimately is still entirely too concerned with making her parents proud. I know what you’re thinking: those qualities don’t need to be mutually exclusive. You’re technically right, pero…. when you were raised by conservative, Catholic, Mexican parents, that concept ain’t quite so simple.
I made all of the “right” choices growing up. I was a straight A student who took more than all my required classes, did volunteer work and held down a part-time job. I never did drugs and the most I ever had to drink was a few sips of Boones Farm or a bottle of Smirnoff Ice (we thought we were SO fucking cool). I got into every college I applied to except UCSB (what the fuck, Gauchos?) and was fortunate enough, with a combination of scholarships, loans and a very generous gift from a family member, to attend my dream school – the University of Southern California.
After four years as an undergrad at SC, I stayed in LA another four working post grad. Those eight years molded and shaped me in ways that forever altered the trajectory of my life. San Diego felt small as hell compared to LA, which brought me my first exposure to so many unfamiliar cultures (“Oh, you’re Latino and not Mexican?”) and ways of life. Every day confronted me with a new concept to weigh, a challenge to the conservative ideals with which I was raised. And so I changed. A lot. I like to think these qualities were always in me, but I learned to name them and claim them out loud: I am someone who is tolerant, who embraces difference and sees beauty in it, who demands the right to make decisions about her own body, who owns her sexuality, who wants to be seen as an equal.
Even with all this new knowledge and perspective, I was still too allegiant to my parents to really come into my own. Note: this is not an indictment of their parenting or their belief system so don’t come for me. My parents were loving and supportive in all the ways they knew how to be. They still are. I was just turning out to be a very different person than they were with every passing day and that dissonance proved too daunting to confront. I am liberal in almost all the ways in which they are conservative, a fact that has started more than a few arguments with my father. He thinks I’m crazy and I in turn think his beliefs are outdated. Those conversations have often brought me to crushed, disappointed, how-can-you-not-see-how-wrong-this-is tears. Those moments have been jarring.
It became easier just to stop trying to assert myself and instead fly under the radar. I kept my feminist ideology to myself because I was afraid my father would misinterpret it as a Slut Manifesto. I stayed in a career that I was totally unfulfilled by, quit it, and then spent another two years back in a similar position because that’s what was safe and reasonable and I knew that made my parents breathe easier. I’ve obsessed about my weight and other aspects of my appearance because my worth seemed so attached to these things. I’ve separated myself into two halves: the muted shade of myself that is palatable around family and the loud, colorful, opinionated version that I have slowly learned to unveil around everybody else.
Until now. I’ve made quite plain over the course of the last several months that I’ve reached a tipping point that has armed me with a newfound bravery. It is an imperfect courage and is not impenetrable, but it is formidable enough to push me to make waves. I left the career I didn’t love, I’ve planned a two month move to the UK, I’ve begun work as a bookseller and am trying to make the writer thing happen while I apply for grad school. And two weeks ago on a fateful Saturday evening, I informed my parents that I’d be home late one Saturday evening because I was getting a tattoo.
Bruuuuuuuh… their reaction. My dad looked at me in a way that had me questioning whether my ass had stepped into a time machine and altered history. Was I sixteen and had I just told him I was pregnant with a meth-head boyfriend’s baby? No? GEES. I knew all along that neither he nor my mom would be in love with the idea. Why do you think I waited until the very day of the tattoo appointment to tell them about it? I ain’t no fool. Still, I did not think he was going to go full heartbreak on me. My mom’s reaction wasn’t as dramatic but she did pull a face and tell me she didn’t like tattoos. I assured them I’d be the same person after someone drew something on my arm and walked away, but not before I could hear my dad say, “You will regret this decision for the rest of your life!!!” It’s a tat, Dad, not grand larceny or, I dunno, a vote to take healthcare away from millions of people.
Later that day, my dad sent me a text several swipes in length reiterating how much I’d regret the decision and piling on the guilt. I didn’t waiver. Like I told him in a reply that went unanswered, I’m 32 gosh damn years old. I never turned up pregnant, I never did drugs. I went to college and built a career, and even if I didn’t love it, I did well at it. Above and beyond all of that: I’m a good person with a good heart, things my father taught me to be. A tattoo wouldn’t change any of that.
Something most people don’t know? I’ve walked into a tattoo parlor on nine different occasions over the course of almost ten years, intent on getting inked. When I walked away from an abusive relationship, when I graduated from SC, when I survived an attack, when I left LA for San Diego, the day I’d gone one year without a hurtful eating habit…. in moments of bravery, of relief, of marked importance, I wanted so badly to do this thing for myself. I wanted a symbol of resilience, of strength, an indelible reminder that while I cannot control what happens to me, I can control how I react. On all nine occasions, even after having the art drawn out by the artist, I backed out. Why? You guessed it: I was terrified of parental backlash.
I’m not afraid anymore. It took a long time, but I finally decided that they’d just have to deal – with my risky career move and with the big, beautiful, expertly shaded piece of ink I now sport on my right forearm. I chose a quill, a design I settled on years ago. It’s a slice of beauty on the arm I write with so I see it every time I pick up a pen. It’s my writer badge, my firm statement to the world and to myself that there’s no turning back. I don’t care who loves it or hates it – I love it, relish it. So I’m good.
As for the parentals… they were in bed when I came home at 9:30 PM that Saturday night – I think they were in mourning. The next day, they went to church at 6AM, probs to pray for my soul, but I did run into them when they came back as I was leaving for work. I played it cool and like nothing was wrong, making chit chat with them and daring them to comment. They had no outwardly negative reaction but gave short answers to my attempts at conversation, acting like they were straight eeeeenthralled with this rerun-ass episode of SVU on the television. I laughed and thought, “Fine. Take a minute.” And they did. They haven’t exactly acknowledged that it’s there, but we’ve gone back to normal. I’m sure they hate it but they don’t hate me, and that’s all that really matters.
For now. Wait till they find out I’m dying my hair green.