Belén Bale celebrates lessons learned from her mother.
Photo from Belen Bale
There are many things in life that I count myself lucky for having: democracy, free speech, and an overdraft all rate extremely highly on the list. But above all, I would say that I’m truly blessed to have a Spanish mother. From the minute I was born, and probably even in utero, I knew exactly where I stood, how hard she’d worked to get me there, and how hard I was going to have to work to repay her for all the tough love, brutal honesty, and food that she’s been able to provide for me.
My mum was raised in the Canary Islands in the 70’s in a large, loving, but extremely poor family. When I was little, my favourite thing in the world was watching her cook. I’d sit up on the kitchen counter, listening to her flamenco tapes as she chopped up her garlic and told me stories. About playing on the banana plant with her cousins, being cheeky to her grandmother, how black the sand was on the volcanic beaches, and how blue and how warm the sea always was, even in winter. My mother was and always will be a story-teller, but whenever I told her how beautiful it all sounded, she would tell me to stop - and remind me again how poor she was. Remind me how most of my aunties couldn’t read, how hard it had been to come here knowing nothing, how little people had cared about her education, and how much harder it had been as a woman.
Even then, she’d planned out my life for me in the typical, slightly overbearing, Spanish mother fashion; not going to University was never seen as an option. Though I don’t feel like I was pressured above the norm, I was very aware of the expectation that I would be successful, almost that I had to be because of my gender. As a teenager I found this really restrictive. At 16 I didn’t really have any idea of what I want to do other than maybe get a little bit pissed to Taylor Swift, eat Pringles, and kiss some girls. But trying to convince two teacher parents that there were other options besides doing a BA in History somewhere wasn’t an easy pursuit.
However, when I got my GCSE results something clicked. I remember walking towards my house, a bit shaken from finally passing Maths (and also from being hungover for the first time after more than the usual amount of alcopops…), and kind of just wanting to lie down. But then I saw my mum running towards me, yelling Spanish expletives before wrapping me up in a bone crushing hug. I burst into tears, and after I’d sobbed out all the joy and relief onto her cardigan, she held my face in her hands and told me at least a 100 times how proud she was of me.
photo by Phoebe Flatau
We are so lucky to be in the position that we are now at Cambridge, especially as women. The amount of time it has taken to get here since the university was founded is unbelievable - and there is still more that can be done in order for us all to feel like we deserve our places. But I think the most important thing is to use the fact that being here is a privilege, and like any privilege there are responsibilities. We are responsible for telling our daughters that however much they should enjoy being young, their education is vital for finally being seen as equal to their brothers.•
Belén Bale is a first year HSPS student and is on the Pembroke Street editorial team. She is the JPC Women’s Welfare officer.