“Look for the essence, not the appearance …
That all comes through the eyes, say the shallow ones,
but what’s inside is what counts ” (Andrea Echeverri- Aterciopelados. Bogota-Colombia).
I am not going to talk about the type of exuberant and extremely pretty paisa women that take the breath away from foreign visitors, the ones you can find at every inch of the Lleras Park. Those girls who seem picture perfect, that are like a dream come true for any man, and that have given so much fame to our city.
I want to talk about a different kind of women, less sophisticated or flashy (which does not mean they aren’t pretty too). Women that are closer to what Paisa really means. I can tell from a historical point of view, from my perspective and experience, since I grew up among them, and even from what I have learned daily surrounded by them.
I’ll start reminding you that Antioquian society is patriarchal. Women’s right to vote and be elected was not granted until 1954. Fortunately, the strong temperament of paisa woman has been valued and recognized in areas other than home. From the time of the colonialism, the temperance and leadership of Antioquian women has been seen in some leaders like Agrazaba chieftainess. Legend states that this brave aboriginal woman from the Catíos tribe, led a group of aborigines against the Spanish army, which had captured and tortured her tribe’s men, making them free and killing the invaders.
The traditional Antioquian woman has inherited the courage, intelligence and persistence of her predecessors. They face the daily struggle for survival, much of the Medellin’s workforce are women, mostly single mothers, who for one reason or another, have to start taking many responsibilities when they are teenagers. Many of these women have to take care of their home by themselves, playing the roles of father and mother at the same time, with complete devotion and determination in order to achieve their children’s welfare.
In a society where patriarchy still prevails, you can not expect 100% economic and emotional independence. We as women grew up thinking that the best way of life was getting married and having children, hence, labour and professional growth often is oriented to work for the family welfare rather than to accomplish personal goals.
That’s why we, Antioquian women have put a load on our own shoulders: we want to be recognized as clever and industrious. We want to be admired for our good looks, we want to be successful professionals while dedicated mothers, providing our children and families with all the love and values they need for their development. But I have to admit that all this female desire to have an equilibrium has led us to be closer to achieve balance between work and home.
We do not intend to compete with our men and we have no problem with recognizing them as the head of the household. We know that everyone has a different role in a family. We accept our role with affection and dedication. We do not feel like we are subjected to cater to our husbands, making clear that it is an act of love and not of submission. Don’t forget that we are very demanding in terms of respect and commitment. Feminism for us is about taking similar development opportunities, not about nullifying the role of men in our lives.
Women as the chieftainess can be found in a neighbourhood corner, not in the Zona Rosa in El Poblado, but in the walkway outside Medellin Botanical Garden, where homage is paid with sculptures representing some of the most illustrious 13 paisa Ladies. Maria Cano, the first revolutionary woman leader in Antioquia; Débora Arango, painter; Doña Luz Gutierrez Castro, philanthropist and politician; Javiera Londoño, rights and education defender; the lawyers Rosita Turizo and Bertha Zapata Casas, who fought for the women’s right to vote in Colombia; and Mother Laura Montoya, proudly first Colombian Saint of the Catholic Church.
Visiting the women’s corner is a great opportunity for locals and visitors to learn about the paisa female idiosyncrasies that helped shape the Antioquian culture, which we are so proud of. Obviously, we have to look at the actions of these valuable women in the context of their time, when it was almost impossible for women to excel beyond the doors of their home. They decided to change the women’s behaviour standards of that time, so that we can enjoy today of their legacy.