Back in the day I would see young Latinas getting pregnant in their teens, way before getting married, or forced to marry because of a baby. I left a lasting impression on me and I remember thinking, " I do not want to be part of that statistic." In my neighborhood I saw it more than I wanted, and I felt bad that these young women had such a struggle ahead of them. I'd see single moms who looked so tired and old when they were barely twenty. I couldn't imagine the stress and pressure they lived under to provide for themselves and another person when they were still at an age to be cared for. There was one girl in particular who was super bright and energetic. She was older than me and looked like she had her life planned out and ready to be taken on. Then she fell in the trap. Her spirit wasn't the same. I hear parenthood is one of the best things that ever happens to people, and kids are great and all that jazz, but I didn't see that in these young girls.
When I left Chicago I didn't see much of that same statistic happening in college, but we weren't exempt either. On top of the pressure to perform academically and keep a scholarship, some girls did face pregnancies while getting their degrees. The cases I knew personally handled it very differently. One went home and it took her more than ten years to finish her degree. The other stayed on campus and on-track for her four-year degree.
As a Latina, I am highly aware of the stereotype that surrounds us of being young, unwed mothers. When Warren died, I joined those ranks. I wasn't as young as most, but the statistic is unchanged. When I register my child for school and only list one parent I get the looks. When I attend single mom events other mothers see me and assume I had a child by a man who left me to do this on my own. Technically that is sort of my story. When it comes up that I am a widow, I see looks of surprise, even from other Latinas, like they expected my story to include a deadbeat dad or a fling that ended in a child. It makes me uncomfortable and angry when I am confronted with strangers who only see a brown mom and her brown child at an event where others have a male counterpart. I wish I could wear a sign that says WIDOW to try to avoid the judgments and assumptions.
I know that at the end of the day, how we get to where we are is nobody's business, but that doesn't make me immune to feeling like I owe an explanation about my situation. As incidents of bigotry and intolerance against "others" are on the rise, I feel like single motherhood is another target. It is personal, like I am regarded as a burden to society; surely I must be mooching off some system to sustain myself and my child. As per the rude comments made by an impatient, racist shopper against some Latinas that happened a few weeks ago, the hateful rant included implications that the Latinas must have a bunch of kids that tax-payer dollars were caring for. The racist called them "nobodies" and not a single person in that long line of shoppers, nor the cashier said a word. While I have never had that level of ignorance thrown at me, the times I have felt like I need to defend my single parenthood has been in situations where that inference has gone unsaid. While no words are spoken, it has been expressed in looks, facial expressions and body language. My daughter has felt it, too. She has had to explain to other kids that her dad did not leave her, nor is he in prison. The first time it happened she didn't understand the correlation between her being Latina and the question. When it came up again she got it, and it angered her.
This blend of being a statistic that fits within a stereotype is a twisted reality that I didn't envision when I thought I was defying odds and making alternate life choices. But in the end, they caught up and when put in black and white, statistics look the same, no matter the route in getting there.