International Women’s Day is upon us once again, and I can’t help but feel disappointed for the umpteenth time in more than 20 years. March 8 comes and goes every year without any sort of acknowledgement, without a friend giving me – or any of my friends for that matter – a flower or even a simple “Happy Women’s Day, Tati,” and that’s lame. Let me explain why.
I’m not originally from the Great Lakes State where conversations about snow and the weather seemingly takes up half of my daily dialogue, and where I have a built in map on my left hand (which I’m not complaining about because it’s definitely come in handy more than once in my 24 years in Michigan).
I’m originally from the Pearl of the Antilles, the sunniest place in the Caribbean, Hemingway’s favorite hangout and the birthplace of mojitos. A place more commonly known as the island of Cuba, where International Women’s Day is a day of celebration.
Imagine, an entire day devoted to celebrating the women in your life for simply being women. It’s not exclusive like Mother’s Day where only if you’ve birthed a child is your womanhood celebrated – which for those who’ve lost their mothers or struggled to become one, it isn’t such a happy day – and it’s not as personal as your birthday. International Women’s Day is simply a day to celebrate and recognize the wonderful women in your life who make it great like your mom, your sister, your prima (girl cousin) who’s only nine, or even the bank teller who is always nice to you and doesn’t judge that you only have $.53 in your checking account.
Full disclosure here, I only lived in Cuba for seven years, so my memories are sometimes fuzzy and are seen through the innocent eyes of a child. Most of my life has been spent in the Kentwood/Wyoming area, so I’ve lived in this freezer a lot longer than I ever did in my home country. I still feel I have a pretty good handle though on the differences, and there are a lot, between the two countries. But I remember International Women’s Day, or El Dia Internacional de la Mujer as it’s known on the island and any other Spanish-speaking country across the globe, as a day where my grandma, my mom, my aunts and neighbors would get a flower from someone they knew. A day where the women in my life said to each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek (as is customary in Cuba), “Happy Women’s Day!”
Even my uncles, the most typical machista Cuban men, would celebrate the day in their own way and always remembered to wish all of the women in my family a happy day every March 8. Even after moving to the United States in 1995 and being reunited with my uncles after they immigrated the year before, I can’t remember a year where they’ve forgotten to say to any of us in the family “Happy Women’s Day.” And this was before Facebook and Instagram started reminding us of the major holidays or special days around the world and before smartphone calendars could notify us every year to do something. They actually remembered on their own because it truly was a special day.
In Italy, International Women’s Day is celebrated in a similar way with women receiving a yellow Mimosa blossom flower from loved ones. In China, some companies offer women a half day off of work. In the United States, March is officially Women’s History Month, but did you know that? I can’t say that I honestly knew all of that until this morning when I started writing. I don’t know if I’ve just been living under a rock or there really isn’t much information or advocacy out there for an entire month dedicated to women, and that’s kind of sad.
Now, I get it, I have no place in glorifying anything my home country celebrates given the political climate there and its crazy communist policies. But politics aside, International Women’s Day is not a political holiday. At least, it shouldn’t be. Although it does seem that way lately, in the last 10 years or so, the meaning of the holiday has turned more political than celebratory with women’s marches and protests in countries like Spain demanding equal pay for equal work and protesting sexual discrimination in the workplace, I don’t think that’s what the holiday is all about. Further, I don’t think that should be the focus of the day.
Let’s focus on celebrating our strengths, our achievements, our advancements. Sure, there is a ways to go with getting the same pay as our male coworkers and yes, sexual harassment in the workplace (or any place) is a monumental problem that needs to be fixed, but there are 364 other days in the year where we can fight those causes and shed some light on those injustices.
So, on this International Women’s Day, I challenge you be nice to the women in your life and acknowledge them. Acknowledge the greatness they bring to your life, however minimal that may be – I mean, the bank teller is great and you really only see her when you need money but she’s still a part of your life. I even challenge you to go out and get an entire bouquet of flowers and give a flower to women out there who you encounter on the daily. They may not know why they’re getting a flower, but I guarantee it will put a smile on their faces.