Women speak universal language of support
Editor’s note: In 1977, the United Nations named March 8 International Women’s Day in an effort to recognize women’s contributions, and to examine issues of inequality that keep women from reaching their full potential.
At the fragile age of 16, she married a man she didn’t love.
He was a smooth talker who convinced her to ignore the fact that she didn’t love him, and dream instead of a life filled with sweet visions of happiness.
But after nine years of physical and emotional beatings and empty promises, Alicia, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, reached her limit. It was a long process that led up to the moment when she finally felt she had nothing to lose by leaving him.
“I would leave for six months, or a week, or a few days, and then come back – mainly because of my children,” she said in her soft voice. “He’d promise that he’d change, talk me into having another child so that I’d be more attached and controlled by him.”
The petite 28-year-old had three children by him, the first at age 17.
“After I married him it was very hard because my family was not welcome in our home, but his was,” Alicia said. “I was not allowed to communicate with anyone. He made me feel like I owed him everything.”
Desperate and lonely, the young woman pleaded to visit her family in Mexico. Her husband agreed, on the condition that she get pregnant before leaving the United States, where they had moved shortly after their marriage.
“When I got home, I told my family about our marriage but they would not let me leave him,” Alicia said. “They said it wasn’t right for me to be pregnant without a man by my side.”
Now Alicia knows she was far from alone in that trap of tradition, family and culture. Domestic abuse counselors say beliefs such as these are deeply ingrained in the Latino culture and result in thousands of women remaining in abusive relationships. But, despite definite cultural attitudes, abuse cycles in relationships are universal and remain utterly blind to race, creed or religion.
“Domestic violence doesn’t differ between cultures. The cycle is the same in all of them,” said Lorena Gonzalez, head crisis counselor at the Women’s Center. “When women of different cultures get together, they realize that.”
To illustrate this, once a month the Women’s Center domestic violence support group becomes a multi-cultural, multi-lingual melting pot in which women are able to uncover cultural misconceptions about abuse. It is here that they understand the great impact domestic violence has on women of every culture, while allowing their children to learn at an early age that violence and abuse are crimes.
“These women come from all over the world,” said Lois Denowitz, shelter director. “And when they come together they can share their struggles, obstacles and backgrounds and find the common goals they share.”
For many women, the monthly meetings are eye-openers.
“I come from a small town that was not culturally diverse. It was whites, and more whites,” said Lisa, 24, also a member of the domestic violence support group. “The first time I did the once-a-month group meeting I was very impressed with these women’s strength. I realized that these Latino women, even though they’d run into the same problems I did, had a certain tenacity that I’d never seen before.”
The group includes women from all over the world, as well as a four-generation family of women, each dealing, or having dealt with domestic abuse. The revelations and understanding that come from this sort of diversity are numerous, group members say.
“I was blind, I thought this only happened to Latino women,” Alicia said. “American women always looked so free and educated. It didn’t seem possible that they would let themselves be abused. Now I see it’s not only Latino women, it’s every woman and it’s the same process.”
The South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center Domestic Violence Support Group is for women who have experienced, or are experiencing, violence in their lives – whether physical, emotional or sexual.
What: Domestic Violence Support Group
When: Mondays, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: 1950 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
Phone: (530) 544-2118
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