I’m an African-American woman from Chicago’s Southside. I am the only biological child of four siblings, and I am also the youngest girl. My father has children from a prior relationship. My mother, who was not married when she had me, had a youngster before meeting my dad. Although I felt unique knowing this information because I had this strong connection with both my parents, it was actually quite the opposite.
I constantly felt like I had to prove my worth to both my parents. My mom always put her kids from her previous marriage first and it would take a lot for me to get any type of attention from her. It was the same with my dad, but he was also very strict and didn’t show much emotion. So, even though I always felt like I had to prove my worth, I still strived to do well in school and be involved in extracurricular activities.
Family was always a big part of my life growing up. My mom would have us over her house every Sunday for dinner. Even though we were not the closest siblings, we always looked out for each other and had each other’s backs. One of the things that I remember most about growing up is how hard my mom worked.
She was a nurse and she worked long hours, sometimes overnight shifts. She was never home and when she was, she was either sleeping or getting ready for her next shift. I remember feeling really angry at her for not being around, but now I understand how hard she was working to provide for us.
Even though my mom was never around, she was still a big part of my life. She instilled a lot of her values in me and she was always pushing me to be better. She would always tell me that I had to work twice as hard because I was a black woman and that is something that has stuck with me my whole life. I am so grateful for the sacrifices she made for me and my siblings and I know that she did it out of love.
I hope by reading this cultural autobiography, you have gained a better understanding of who I am and where I come from. Family is extremely important to me and has shaped the person I am today. My mom is my biggest role model and I aspire to be like her one day. She is a strong, independent woman who has overcome a lot in her life. I am so proud to be her daughter and I know that she is proud of me too.
The secrecy in my family was a valuable defensive tool, and I’d want to add that it’s also harmful. I was kept away from the truth that my older sister who lived with me wasn’t my father’s kid. In my late teens, I discovered that I was the cause of my father leaving his wife: a new baby from an affair was not part of the wedding vows. There is a proverb among black people: “What occurs in this house stays in this house.”
And that is how my family functioned for a long time. The elders would make the decisions and the rest of us were to carry them out without question. This way of living lead to a lot of pain and resentment, which I will get into later.
I am the firstborn child of three girls. My mom was sixteen when she had me and seventeen when she had my sister. My dad was eighteen when he had me and nineteen when he had my sister. They were young and in love but also immature. I do not think they were ready for the responsibility of children. They both dropped out of high school and got jobs at fast-food restaurants. A few years after having my second sister, they divorced.
From what I can remember, they fought a lot. I guess that is why my mom would take us and stay with her mom for long periods of time. We would come back and things would be good for a while, but then they would start fighting again. This went on until they finally got divorced.
After the divorce, we continued to live with my mom. She had to get two jobs to support us. She was never home, so we were always with our grandparents. They raised us more than she did. I do not have many memories of her from when I was younger because she was never around. The few memories I do have are of her being angry and yelling at us.
My dad was not in our lives much either. He would come around every now and then, but he was never really present. I do not think he knew how to be a father. He would take us out to eat or to the movies, but that was about it. We never really had a relationship with him. It was like he was just doing his duty as a father without actually being involved.
This lack of involvement from both parents contributed to the dysfunction in my family. My mom’s sister and her husband stepped in to help raise us since our own parents were not doing a good job. They provided stability and love when our parents could not. They are the ones who taught us right from wrong and instilled values in us. We are very close to them and they are like our parents.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family has had a profound effect on me. I have trouble trusting people and I am always afraid that they will abandon me. I have also found it difficult to be open and honest with people. Secrets were such a big part of my childhood that it is hard for me to let go of that habit. I am also guarded with my emotions because I do not want to get hurt. I have learned from my family’s example that it is better to keep things to yourself than to risk being rejected or hurt.