It was May of 2020, 10 years after I received my B.A. in Chicano/Latino Studies from Cal State Long Beach. I was pacing the halls of my house after reading a passage about "epigenetics" in the book "It Didn't Start with You" by Mark Wolynn. I couldn't stop thinking beyond it.
In the book Mark Wolynn gives many helpful and impactful examples of epigenetics and how it plays out in our family relationships in real time. Epigenetics is an evolutionary protective gene that switches on or off depending on the use and need. This can come up as a sub-concious action, a frozen in the body silent paralysis or in our real reactive timeline or like a seeing red" out of body experience.
He writes, “Until we uncover the actual triggering event in our family history, we can relive fears and feelings that don’t belong to us —unconscious fragments of a trauma—and we will think they’re ours.”-Mark Wolynn, It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
Since reading that in 2020 and stuck at home with my own triggers and sacred rage I started looking inward for answers. I got curious about the impacts of Epigenetics, an evolutionary gene that is strengthened the more it is used and that is activated by my cellular knowing and need to protect. My photographic memory in Chicano Studies came back to me in flashing lights "Marianismo!!! The value of being able to shape shift to serve everyone and make them comfortable despite the wear and tear on our own spirit. "
I started to see MARIANISMO, the value of being humble, being quiet, almost like our invisibility cloak to remind us and men than we can disappear at any time just say the word. And it is as if that cellular remembering of seeking safety has stayed with us and we call it "Latina moms".
It got me to thinking of who my mom, and my mom's mom could have been IN SAFETY.
Like who could my Abuela Elide really have been if she could raise her 7 children in the same country as her every year instead of having to decide:
1. be a single mother to 5 children in Mexico while her husband worked in the field of Oxnard, CA ?
2. leave your children with your mom and tia as you join your husband to pick fruit and save money?
My grandmother did both and she carried a lot of the collateral emotional damage of the family in her body, on a cellular level.
When I think about the word Marianismo I think about my abuela Elide and how she shrank and was always always restless. I realize now she was always nervous about resting like it was going to somehow make her self combust if she sat down and just rested, even enjoyed her conversation while the coffee was still hot. It has been a wild 5 years as I unravel this only 7 years a biological mother and only 2 years out of my deep post partum fog.
It has been only recently since my mom is now in her 70's that I realize the women in my family not only carry Marianismo, the ability to work really hard at the drop of a sentence and also feel never enough or deeply unseen, in their genes, they also pushed onto eachother as a protector, support, apoyo, animo. That left me jaw agape and mind blown. How far does this grief go?
I think about Natalie Gutierrez's book The Pain we Carry and I think about what #legacyburdens and #legacyresources am I carrying unconsciously and how does that look in MY generation and environment?
So stay with me as I unravel this ball of yarn.....
If I am the first generation of my family born and raised in CA (though my abuelos worked on the land in CA for years, Yucatan is home), I may have some epigenetic switches that unconsciously come up to protect me from danger or help me to produce more as a family resource. But right now, in this epocha de me vida (era of my life) I don't have the same dangers that my grandparents faced in 1900's Mexico (famine, lack of schooling, lack of stable income, unsupportive partner, etc).
What if my epigenetics start to protect me en su manera (their way) that helped them but that do not serve me now?
My Mom's Marianismo feels like it takes up all the space in the room and the spotlight moves with her dramatics. Her classic Marianismo may sound like just a fluke but it feels like the day of my wedding when she came to my hotel room to do her makeup with my makeup artist and hadn't eaten so her blood sugar was in the 50's and she was not just hangry but sweating and causing a huge commotion that my glamour shot moments were ruined with the photographer finding her some food so that I wouldn't burst out into tears at how tornado Aurora came in and swept my moment up, again though I rarely even have them. Long story shot my mom was fine and my mood was shifted like the earth slipping off it's axis and to pose for in front of a cake shortly after.
My mom's Marianismo is also sneaky and isolating like this month when she tried to sell my wedding dress from above said wedding just for the cash ( or maybe it's because this is the 1 year anniversary of her separating from my father, her own cycle broken after 45 years of marriage). It's like a detail she forgot to mention, selling my dress for money for online scammers and staying silent when I found out like oops, "oh well, I am still your mother so I am protected from any blame (A Marianismo scapegoat excuse). "
My Mom's Marianismo is what gifts me the 3rd tier gift while she galavants around the house in the coat I asked for and the makeup my sister put on her list while she makes us watch her unwrap said gifts like she didn't just wrap them. Weird behavior but it was in these times my mother's inner child was rewarding her for a year of bending, twisting, disappearing. At least in her eyes she felt she was constantly doing that. In my eyes she takes all the air out of every room she walks into. She ruined most meals with her judgement or her cries. And when she did compliment you it was only in proximity to her own feelings about whatever thing you were happy about.
My Mom's Marianismo makes me feel like "things" are more important than people. My Mom's Marianismo is a restlessness of wanting "more" but confusing the need of connection with the feeling of abundance so she buys and buys to fill a void. Her home is like a commercial for TJMaxx and Hoarders Home Makeover Edition and yet she still seeks comfort with online scams for fake love and promised spoils.
So what felt like looking for a dragon to tame in discovering more of my own root Marianismo, I actually did my own cycle breaking by finding self-compassion and love for myself.
What if My Marianismo is flaring up to help me work harder and be more humble?
Maybe that's why I felt so guilty saying NO I wouldn't help my mom reschedule the same appt for the 5th time.
What if My Marianismo is intergenerational guilt passed down by the women in my family as a virtue to motivate me to just do the thing, just perform, just do it for everyone else?
It started with a soft question....
What if I mindfully thank that gene that is trying to give me some great ancestral info, a moment to get to it's root cause/fear/need and I thank it, "thank you abuela/tia/cuerpo for protecting me but I am fine right now. I know you had it hard and you want to help. Tell me how I can celebrate you?" and then I listen? I started doing that when it came up every time, instead of turning the feeling away.
I notice that My Marianismo is also restlessness that is really annoying but once I started leading with curiosity I noticed Marianismo is an inner protector, a resilient gene that tries to protect me with colonial tips and assimilation life hacks to get by success and unscatched by American Dream standards.
My Marianismo is a legacy resource trying to push me forward and keep me successful. What if I tell My Marianismo that it is brilliant as is and doesn't have to over produce or be everything to be worthy. What if My Marianismo got to rest or, gasp, dream up a life of consistent rest and creativity?
So that is what I have been allowing to unravel in me. In my meditations I see how proud my ancestors are and how while I thought I wasn't deserving enough of their support, they see me as the the living ancestor they have been dreaming of. I can do that. I can be myself more and free the parts of them that feel burdensome and heavy.
If you are interested in more Marianismo Talks I recommend joining my email list for future Marianismo talks like the one taking place in May 2024 .
Here is a podcast episode of me talking about My Marianismo after having children: https://www.rootedinreflection.org/podcast/episode/79cb7900/s02-ep02-a-post-partum-susto-and-my-marianismo
The First Gen Psychologist episode https://www.youtube.com/live/0lQOIysoVsQ?si=emJ8Sds0l-8tcn3f
I will also be speaking on this theory at CSULA in February 2024 and UCI in March 2024.
I invite you to lean into the legacy resources of the women in your lineage and expand on them. If there was something they were exceptional at, can you do more of that and with self compassion?
If they never had time to be creative or independent, can you lean into that? We have a chance to highlight the legacy resources in our Marianismo Epigenetics.
From Humble to Honest
I have a little viejita who inhabits space in my spirit
maybe it’s a dwelling in my heart
I started calling her “Candita”
She sits in a small corner of my knowing, in the shadows of scarcity with a small light on at her sewing table
Her coffee has gone cold and her eyes squinty from focusing on the thread
Tongue out and foot on the peddle she cracks her knuckles and repositions to produce
Colorful huipiles with birds and flowers created by dawn
Creativity held captive
I see her more clearly now, working for me, for us
Night after night weaving hamacas and marketing them en mis shis grief go?ueños
Never resting herself
It’s time to tell Candita to turn the lamp off and head to her own hamaca
And I close my laptop and my eyes and join her
Written By Cynthia Alonzo Perez