EL PASO – Ambar Calvillo told her mother over dinner she was madly in love with another woman.
Although Irma Calvillo was shocked, she accepted her daughter to the fullest and then had to suffer through strong criticism from her family for that acceptance. “Nobody is going to tell me how to raise them,” she said.
Irma, 46, majoring in human resources and Ambar, 22, majoring in public relations will graduate together with BA degrees in May from the University of Texas at El Paso. “College has given me that confidence I never had, and I think I have become more humble and open to this generation now than before” said Irma.
Irma was raised in El Paso, in a traditional conservative Catholic Mexican family. Even if her mother always encouraged Irma and her two sisters to pursue a higher education, as women of Mexican descent, their freedom was limited. Irma was raised very traditionally and was expected to marry before leaving the house. She married after graduating from high school.
“You had to be a señorita till you got married,” said Irma. “The freedom and acceptance to travel with your boyfriend today wasn’t an option when I was growing up.”
After getting married her dreams of going to college came to a stop for 25 years. Instead, she assumed the role of a mother and raised three girls. “Even though I disagreed with my mom, I found myself raising my daughters the same way.”
Irma carried a lot of cultural baggage and as a Mexicana, her choices were limited to raising a family and serving a man. She was obligated to stay at home and raise the children while her husband went off to work. That tradition also forced many Mexicanas to stay with their man regardless of how he treated them. There was no other choice if they wanted to feed their children.
But the Mexican American culture along the border changed as the two traditions merged. Mexican-American women now have more choice and a woman can still be a woman and yet have the authority of a man. “I am living the moment today. It is all coming to me as I am thinking about it,” said Irma.
Ambar’s father was quite surprised when she declared her sexuality, but the love and unity of the Calvillo family didn’t break up. Ambar was raised very traditionally in El Paso, but even though her parents where protective of her, education was always implied. “My parents were the first feminist I have ever met,” said Calvillo.
“I never knew what being gay was. I just knew that it was something bad,” she said She dated boys growing up but never realized that she was attracted to woman until she met Cristina. “I wasn’t concerned about her being a woman it was more of do I want to be in serious relationship.”
Ambar and Cristina are engaged and will celebrate a commitment ceremony after graduation. Her life has changed dramatically since she declared her sexuality, she said. “It’s been a whirlwind of good things after that happened.”