Imagine: It’s a warm spring day after school. You get home, clean your house, make dinner for your 3 siblings, and do other responsibilities. Your senior year of high school is coming to an end and the time to start thinking about what to do next has quickly arrived. So, you tell your mom, “I want to go to college!” And she says, “No. You have to stay at home, do your house chores as a woman, and take care of your siblings.” What? It sounds crazy to hear this in 2021, but it was not uncommon in the 1950s when my grandma, Thelma del Castillo, was deciding what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Back in the days where opportunities for women were fewer than today, the answer she gave her mom was, “I’ll do both. I’ll take care of the house and my siblings, study, and work so you don’t have to pay for my college.” As she was truly ahead of her time and an empowered woman, she did as she said — and was the first woman in her family to graduate college. She earned a technical degree in medicine, which was a rare field to see women in — and even opened her own laboratory! Her story is such an inspiration to me. Reflecting on just being just a few months away from starting my senior year of college, I want to honor her by sharing her story.
My grandma is not just an empowered woman herself but has also dedicated her life to empowering other women around her. She encouraged her two younger sisters to pursue a career and paid for their education. She had four daughters and all of them have professional degrees. To me, she has been amazing and one of the greatest contributors to my self-esteem. My grandma always told me that I was smart, capable of doing anything, and never let me give up. I remember when I was a kid, I came back home tired after school and didn’t want to do my homework. She would sit with me and tell me, “I bet you can do this,” and after I was done, she always said, “I told you you could.”
My grandma Thelma got sick with a terrible virus in 2012 that almost cost her her life. But, after recovering, she keeps proving how amazing of a woman she is. She even became certified in Theology at 80 years old, and still remains to be a role model and light to everyone that knows her.
The last thing my grandmother taught and keeps teaching me is to do everything with love and kindness. Believing in my capacity, empowering others, and being kind are three of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from her and I look forward to enacting these values throughout my life.