Traditionally the term “first lady” refers to women married to heads of state, women who are known for their marriage and their silence. Empty eyes, fraudulent smiles, and blank stares.
Ironically, unlike their title would suggest, these women rarely come first. Willingly playing second fiddle, they stand in the shadows of their husbands, despite their stories of working hard to “shatter glass ceilings.”
The first ladies to whom we are accustomed stand by their man’s side through even the most embarrassing indiscretions, bright-eyed and smiling. Often they are nothing more than fixtures and pawns through which male politicos seek to gain female empathy and votes.
Despite some of our nation’s first ladies being as intelligent, educated, and successful as their other (not better) halves, they are often diminished to nothing more than fashion icons whose clothing choices become the only topic of focus and discussion, even amongst women.
Their status as first ladies often requires them to ignore their needs as women and to lose or forget the sense of independence and drive most seem to have displayed well before getting married or becoming first ladies in the antiquated sense. They become martyrs who sacrifice their careers and ambition to catapult those of their husbands.
The time has come that we redefine what it means to be a first lady and that our definition is one that allows women, especially those of marginalized communities, to (re)claim their position as number one in their own lives and to exert power and agency without having to sacrifice their personal sense of femininity.
Although I am not married, wealthy, or silent, I am a first lady.
The nature of my status as a first lady began at home. I was raised by a strong-willed Mexican woman, a Latina first lady in the unconventional sense. A witness to domestic abuse at the hands of her father, my mother knows first hand the damage and pain machismo and patriarchy inflict on Latino families and the Latina psyche. Learning from her negative childhood experiences and using such life lessons to inform her parenting, she taught me to believe in the equality of sexes and the power I hold as a woman—beliefs later reaffirmed by my hermanas, Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros, and Pat Mora.
Using what I know as a foundation, I propose a new definition of a first lady: an unapologetic woman who does not require a man to earn the title “first.” She is intelligent and wise beyond her years, fiercely independent and opinionated, and committed to living with intense passion and, as Gloria Anzaldúa would say, to overcoming the tradition of silence.
A Latina first lady can be further defined as someone who:
- is not impressed by men who claim to be “planning on going to law school”
- is not afraid of being single
- knows the difference between her wants and needs
- knows her worth
- knows that happiness is not attained through relationships, but rather, that it comes from within
- never settles
- never trusts a guy in a pooka shell necklace
- does not wait to be wined and dined, because she indulges herself
- can speak about politics, current events, and culture, just as much as she can speak about fashion, food, and men
- always comes first
This blog, informed by my experiences as a woman and as a Latina in a white, professional context, is a testament to my status as a true Latina first lady. It is a declaration of love and respect for myself, as well as a platform for me to spread the truths I hold to be self-evident.
Today and everyday forth I vow to live my life as a Latina first lady, never accepting second place. And if I should one day be lucky enough to meet a man worthy of my love, I will stand proudly at his side, shoulder to shoulder, the only place a first lady belongs.
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