My personal life has disrupted with my blog writing lately—with the death of a friend, a move across country, and a mountain of new tasks and changes, I feel absorbed in my life. I tend to see the richness of my personal life as the perfect source for writing inspiration, however, the last few months, I have felt unmotivated to write up the interviews of others, growing more and more inclined to share my inner world. I felt unable to intertwine my personal reflections with the independent life of the interviewee. As 2021 drags on and my life becomes more self-absorbed, I ask myself: how can I honestly report on the words of another?
Separate + Together
That’s when I realized—my experience and the stories of others are not unattached, but constantly colliding. While we are not the same, not to be mistaken for someone else, we are interconnected, and this is not something I should hide from, but embrace. With this, I’d like to introduce Miriam Aguilera, a Mexican-American woman, mother, and entrepreneur who runs a shop of handmade goods that supports female survivors of domestic violence.
I was first attracted to Miriam’s energy, she has a vibrancy about her. She was tending to her pop-up shop, Fasinarte, at Mercado del Pueblo in Humbolt Park in Chicago. As I made my way through the market, I found myself slowly drifting towards her tienda of hand painted Mexican ceramics and colorful dresses. Miriam’s shop embodied the vivaciousness of Mexico—with bright colors, intricate designs, and calm chaos. All of Mexican seemed contained within the shop and, like being inside of a candy shop, I wanted it all.
Miriam, I would find out, was cut from this same cloth. She was everything, everywhere, always. We first spoke at her shop, then exchanged contact information as I planned for our interview. Scheduling the interview look months—Miriam was a single mother, small business owner, volunteer at a local woman’s shelter, and university student, taking computer science classes at the local community college.
Like the many colors that make up Mexican art, Miriam was the rainbow. Yet when we did finally meet for an interview, back at her tienda in Mercado del Pueblo, she was calm, somehow able to contain her immense life into the containers of her body and words. She began to tell me her story, how she immigrated into the United States as a married woman and struggled to find self-worth in her emotionally abusive marriage. The process of leaving was coupled with learning that she was worthy of good treatment, a belief she was not raised to believe.
These beliefs of unworthiness and lack of empowerment were not simply the opinions of her manipulative husband, but ingrained perspectives about women that Miriam says is ingrained within the Mexican machismo culture. Women, she explained, were taught to be the servers of men, not people in and of themselves. The role of a wife, therefore, was to support the spouse, not support one’s self. The toxicity of this ingrained perspective lures women into the trappings of an abusive relationship, and likewise made Miriam the perfect target. Whilst combating these negative beliefs within herself, she made the decision the leave her husband and strike out on her own as a single mother.
Depression followed Miriam in the wake of this decision, she was lost, sick, and alone—with a young son who needed her attention at a time when she was least able to give it. It was her son, however, that inspired her to keep the courage to push onward and believe in her abilities. He was diagnosed with severe autism soon after she left her husband; he needed a great deal more support than Miriam knew how to give, and mostly, he needed to believe he was worthy. It was through teaching her son that he was capable no matter what, beautiful no matter, and valuable to the world that Miriam began to internalize these affirmations for herself. Life became less difficult. The depression transformed into motivation—Miriam was inspired to help others through this process of helping herself. She started to volunteer. She started to reconnect with women in Mexico.
And she started Fasinarte —a small business that sells goods that are hand made by Mexican women, supporting these women with a job that is independent from their spouses and villages. This work gives them freedom, it gives them empowerment, it gives them options. It gives them what Miriam did not have, and what she created for herself.