Letter to my Daughter, who is not a “distraction”

June 17, 2015

Dear Amelia, 

It broke my heart last week when we were talking as I drove you to school. You saw the poster for the Avengers movie and asked who “the girl” was. When I explained she is Black Widow, and that she is an Avenger, you laughed and said “how can she be an Avenger? Avengers are superheroes, and she’s a girl.” It horrifies me to know that already, there are forces at work on you that convince you that somehow, girls and women cannot be anything you want. And I meant it when I told you that yes, women can be superheroes. You can be.

The world is full of people who will try to tell you that you can’t be or do something, sometimes due to you background, sometimes due to other things that don’t matter. Many members of your father’s family, my grandparents and their relatives, were despised, imprisoned, tortured, and killed because of our ethnicity, because we are descended from Jews. Millions of people were judged as unworthy, unclean, unfit. While the nations that tried to wipe us out lost in a world war, the battles over prejudice continue. Captain America cannot save us from the ongoing harm that those who judge others due to ethnicity, religion, skin color, and gender pose to every child who wants to be exactly what she wants to be. Your great grandparents survived, and we must still fight those who think that due to our heritage, we are not as good as others. We are not better or worse, we are human, and we all deserve to pursue our dreams and be whomever we wish to be.

Your great-grandmother was a superhero, who knocked out her own teeth, pretended to be a crazy old woman, escaped the Budapest ghetto with her infant daughter (your Nana) and fled, found a Wallenberg orphanage to hide Nana in, and ensure that you and I are here today. Your Nana is a superhero, who rose out of poverty and welfare here in the US, worked her way through college, got a Masters and helped your Grandpa raise me, even when she was very ill. Your mother is a superhero, who also went through great adversity, still fights stereotypes about both being a woman and being Mexican, earned fellowships and scholarships, and a PhD, the first in her family. She is a scientist now, fighting daily against those who think women cannot be exactly what they want to be, painting them as “distractions” in their labs, or worse. She is also the superhero who is helping to raise you and your new brother Alex, even while producing new and valuable scientific discoveries and contributing to the growth of human knowledge and well-being. 

In truth, there are no superheroes, not like in the movies and comics. The villains we face aren’t as visible, either, though villainy exists, as does heroism. We are, all of us, humans and that is beautiful enough if we remember that, treat each other with the full respect and dignity we deserve as members of the only species we know of to leave our planet, set foot on the moon, dare to dream of colonizing space. You once told me you want to be an astronaut, and my heart soared. People once thought women shouldn’t be astronauts, just as someone somehow made you think women cannot be superheroes, but everyday women astronauts, women scientists, and women pursuing whatever dreams of accomplishment they have prove those people wrong, heroically. Whatever you choose to do and be, you will be my superhero, because your heart is good, your dreams and potential unlimited, and I believe in you more than any god or superhero. You are the future, and that future should be kept wide open for you, and not closed off by childish prejudice. I’ll do what I can to remind you of that, and when in doubt, remember the superheroes in your family, the women who made you and Alex possible.