By Xicana Ph.D.
Irene M. Sanchez
We are not settling anymore. Not for crumbs. Not for exposure. Not for the possibility of a future opportunity. Not for your comfort. Not in exchange for our silence. No more.
We are not settling. We are getting what we are fairly owed. Compensation for our time and labor is always necessary because you can’t pay the bills or leave a toxic situation if you don’t have what you’re owed. All of it.
We are not putting up with toxicity or abusiveness anywhere around us.
Over the past few years, especially during the pandemic, moments were amplified, and reflections made visions clear as spotlights shined down on distant dreams. What did you see during some of the darkest times?
I know for me I saw a way out of the cycle of shrinking myself for the comfort of certain types of men and their egos. As someone who was always involved and always wanted to give back (which usually meant giving my time freely) I knew during the pandemic that something had to end to find what I always wanted. Done were the days where I would exchange my life for the cause or movement because that usually meant upholding the patriarchy and misogyny engrained in some of these spaces.
I have learned real community that stands for the values in which it claims, like social justice, wouldn’t ask a woman (or her child) to be in spaces or places or surrounded by people who have caused real harm, real wounds, real scars. Real community holds people accountable, and doesn’t make a million excuses about why their public values don’t hold up in personal spaces. I get people have flaws, people have trauma, but that doesn’t exempt them from accountability for their behavior and actions.
So I left it all. Whatever activism I thought I did. Whatever groups I thought I was aligned with. I thought it would be hard to leave so much I knew. But I discovered my values are still right here with me just as they always were and I can still live up to them, in fact leaving these spaces meant I could even more so than I ever did before.
I thought it would be hard, but the pandemic made it easy to do so and in that sense I came home to myself to find what was really meant for me and my son. I headed east of east LA and found myself back where I was raised after my own family moved from East LA to the IE in the late 80s.
There in the dry desert I found comfort in the sun and solace in the sound of the Santa Ana winds. I also found myself again as I hiked mountains and found new paths through canyons covered in wildflowers. I even made my younger self’s dream come true of one day living/renting a small back house in the Woods streets of Riverside, CA and driving the car of my dreams, aka my Honda Civic.
Now that those dreams came true and I was home complete with Ph.D. I earned as a single mom at age 32, I had let years pass and was then 38, I drove by all the places that inspired me to strive for more like attending Riverside community college which is right next to the Woods Streets and I thought to myself, I did it, I got the degrees, I got the car, I broke these cycles, so now what?
Now that I have learned what I don’t want in my life and reached some goals, what do I want now for myself and my son? I knew I didn’t want to struggle like I once did. Being in movement and activist spaces will confuse you into thinking at times struggle is a badge of honor and you must collect as many as you can, but I didn’t want that anymore. I wanted ease, joy, and rest. I wanted good food and long walks. I wanted happiness and laughter. I wanted my time to do all that and write. Write what I wanted to write. Write the book proposal an agent asked me for in 2020 the month before a horrific violent incident prevented me from responding. I wanted to write without someone close to me attempting to tear me down and call me names. Write without men belittling me in private while praising me in public. I just wanted to write, live, and be free with my son. I wanted our happiness.
I wanted to have the time to write and think, think and write. I wanted to not have to hide it from partners who didn’t support me, or who controlled my time to the point where the only time I had to write was at night on my phone, next to my sleeping baby. Although one night writing about being a Ph.D. on welfare, I accidentally went viral that way. And as I briefly wondered how to get to that place I longed for, I realized it had always been within reach.
Sometimes we have to do things as women we aren’t usually taught how to do, and if we are, we aren’t taught how to protect it, how to use it on ourselves without someone calling us selfish, someone else demanding it, or forcing us to use it in service of their life and goals, as if they have more of a right to it than we do.
Our TIME is precious. Both how we use it and who we chose to spend it with is how we value and honor ourselves.
Years ago, my dear prima Monica, a wonderful beautiful soul was struggling with breast cancer for over a decade. While I was on the verge of a divorce from my first husband who I married at age 18 and was leaving at age 24 to go to grad school I ended up meeting up with my prima (whose name I carry in my middle name) and my older sister who was nearby for a teacher conference. I was driving from Santa Cruz and my sister was in San Jose so my prima drove down from where she was near Sacramento. When I got to the area where we would meet she asked me to meet her at a local store and when I saw her she said she was cold and wanted to find a new beanie for her head, now growing back fuzzy hair after a round of chemotherapy.
Our prima chose where to eat. It was a steakhouse. A nice restaurant. I don’t recall eating steak. But we ate, talked, and laughed and at one point Monica said to us, the most important decisions you’ll make in your life are in regards to time, how you spend your time and who you spend your time with.
I last saw my prima towards the end of graduate school. She drove up to Seattle. We ate vegetarian food at my favorite cafe and I helped her load some things she drove there to pick up. That was the last time I saw her.
What I didn’t realize until years later is that time and how we spend it tells us a lot about how we value ourselves. What cups are we pouring our life into? I know for many years I poured my life into people and causes that didn’t care if they left me depleted and lifeless. I believe that stress of those years led to my now chronic illness and I know it led to my PTSD I was diagnosed with almost 3 years ago.
So in this new phase of life. I know I don’t want to keep pouring my life into things that don’t add to my life. I also won’t pour into things that don’t compensate me either, as in the past years with writing, I would find emails, offering me exposure in exchange to use my words usually from men. No. I would say. I still say no.
And I have more now than I could’ve imagined possible. A partner/my husband, who aligns with my values although he has never spent a day in the “movement”. My husband who takes our baby and older son for even a hour so I can write because he knows it’s important to me although both of us have time constraints due to our careers as educators. A husband who walks with me, who dances with me, who laughs with me, and understands my illness means I must pace myself, even when I feel ok.
Our time is valuable. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise or try to convince you to do things that don’t serve your greater purpose in life or that goes against your values. Yes, your happiness is important and valuable. Your safety and well being are too.
Every single moment counts.
You deserve all those sweet beautiful seconds and the freedom to choose how to spend them. You deserve all the flowers, all the honey, all the laughter and joy. You deserve to be honored and celebrated. Start today with yourself.
Don’t settle for anything less.
Happy International Women’s Day.
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