Bettina Flores was conditioned early on to believe that poverty was a virtue, that education was unimportant, that a man would provide for her.
But from a very early age, she knew that she wanted out of her widowed mother's cocoon, an existence defined by poverty, a large family, the tenets of Catholicism and long dusty days of grape-picking in the Fresno area.
Flores knew that one day her life would include an air-conditioned "castle," a husband with a briefcase, college-educated children and, most important, a book about her struggle to break away from the confines of her traditional Mexican upbringing.
At 12, she left her mother and 12 siblings to become a mother's helper and worked for a number of well-to-do families during her teen-age years. She eventually attended Fresno City College and Fresno State University.
Now at 48, Flores has achieved her goals: a five-bedroom house, a 24-year marriage to an attorney, four children ranging in age from 18 to 30--two of whom are in college--and a book that is raising Latina consciousness across the country.
The self-published author of "Chiquita's Cocoon," Flores writes about how she, as a chiquita or young woman, flew away from the "cocoon" that imprisoned her mother and other Latinas for generations. The book also includes vignettes from 200 Latinas between the ages of 14 and 70.
It has many messages: Latinas must reclaim their self-esteem, delay marriage for an education and a career, practice birth control and stop serving others first, especially macho men. The book includes a "Know Thyself" questionnaire, a work sheet on career planning and 10 pages on career opportunities and salary scales.
The work has found admirers throughout the state. Julie Chavez-Bayles, a teacher at Montebello High School, said it "made me open my eyes because those cultural obstacles on a personal and professional level still come back to haunt me. As a Latina, you have to really reclaim yourself over and over again."
Flores acknowledges that "Chiquita's Cocoon" may not be for every woman and that she probably has detractors. A few of her relatives, including a sister, disagree with her messages.
She doesn't advocate giving up all traditions. Instead, Flores suggests abandoning what she believes are the negative aspects of her culture and accenting the positive. And she doesn't want Latinas to lose their sense of self.
"It's sad to me because most women feel they don't have any other options. And I worry about the talented Latinas out there. . . . They feel they can't do anything with their talent because first of all they don't know how and, secondly, they are too afraid to tell a husband or parent that they would like to go and try something different.
"You have to have the desire to change. You need to declare, 'This is what I want' and throw away the si Dios quiere ('If God wills it') attitude that holds us back." And she says the time to make that change is now, "not manana. "
"Chiquita's Cocoon" is available at some local bookstores. It can also be ordered by mail for $13.50 from: Pepper Vine Press, PO Box 2037, Granite Bay, CA 95746-3037, or by calling (916) 791-2237.