Living Authentically
My Take

Living Authentically

Margarita Chiquiza, Contributor

In celebration of National Coming Out Day, Margarita Chiquiza (MBA ’22) shares her story.

[This is a transcript of the My Take given by Margarita Chiquiza (MBA ’22) in Klarman on October 12, 2021]

Thank you all for taking the time to hear my story. It is just one of many millions, and it’s not representative of the entire pride community. Everyone’s story is unique—this just happens to be mine. I hope that in sharing it with you, you will be inspired to be more empathetic, and to live more courageously. It has taken me many years to embrace who I am. I have learned how to cultivate compassion and stand in my own power, but this path hasn’t been straightforward. But to tell you my story, I have to start with my mother’s.

It’s the year 1970 in Chinavita, a small town in the countryside of Colombia. In a farm in the outskirts of the village, seven children are feeding the cattle in the blazing sun. Their father watches them from the shade of a tree. He doesn’t take care of them or give them any money—and the only food he offers are the scraps from his meals. The oldest, a girl, pockets her food and shares it with her siblings in the dark before bed.

See, when my mother was seventeen, her mother died in a car accident. She was left to raise her six younger siblings and protect them from my abusive grandfather who forced them to work on his farm. Eventually, my mother was able to escape the peasant life and protect her siblings—they moved to Bogota, the capital, where she worked in a cafeteria during the day and studied at night. And she never forgot what her mother taught her: that education was the key to a better life. She worked hard and became an attorney, eventually earning enough to put all of her siblings through college. They were the first generation in my family to earn college degrees.  

When my brother and I were born, my mom was determined to provide us with every opportunity to help us succeed. She dedicated herself to us completely, and she invested every penny into our education. She taught us the importance of resilience and hard work, and always challenged us to dream big. I was raised by an extraordinary woman—I know for sure I would not be here with you today if it wasn’t for all the sacrifices she made. And so, growing up, I wanted to live a life my mother could be proud of. I wanted to live up to the opportunities she gave me—by being my best academically, and professionally. At school, I excelled inside and outside the classroom. My mother enrolled my brother and me in every extracurricular activity you could think of. I took swimming, horse-riding, karate, skating, math, English and French lessons. You name it, I did it. When I got into the best university in Colombia, my mom encouraged me to go, and never for a second let me worry about whether we could afford it. She made sure I was able to get the best education in the country, because in her mind, again, that was the only way to move forward.

You might be wondering where my dad fits into this picture. Well, he doesn’t. My parents divorced when I was four. My mom had to fight in court for our alimony and, because my father had great lawyers, he got away with having to contribute very little to support us—despite him being a very successful businessman. While I was in college, my mom struggled to pay for my education, sometimes borrowing from my uncle to get through the year. When my brother finished his undergrad, he also started helping out financially.

After I graduated, I received a full-time offer to work at a regional brokerage firm. At the time, I thought it was a good opportunity. But my mom challenged me to dream bigger. She said that I shouldn’t settle for a regional company, that I deserved better, that I needed to fight for the things I wanted. Because she believed in me, I decided to apply to the most competitive jobs in finance—without any finance background. I ended up landing a job at Advent, where I was fortunate to work alongside some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Without a doubt, that job set my career, and my life, on a completely different trajectory—and I have my mother to thank for that. My mom has always been my biggest cheerleader when it comes to what I can accomplish. And she still is. She gives me confidence when I have doubts, and she’s never stopped challenging me to dream bigger.

But at home, for my brother and me, the rules were strict, and our options were limited. My mom raised us with the same narrow-minded view of the world she absorbed from her conservative Catholic upbringing in rural Colombia. Fulfilling her vision of success also meant hiding who I was. And in doing that, I learned to hide from myself, too. For the first twenty years of my life, I felt like a stranger to myself. I didn’t know who I was, and I lived in constant fear of people discovering that I was gay. This was compounded by the fact that my parents’ divorce, and my dad’s rejection, made me a very shy, introverted kid growing up. I was afraid of being rejected again. I never talked to friends about my dad or how hard it was to feel abandoned by him. I protected myself by keeping people at a distance—by keeping so many parts of me hidden from sight.

When I was young, I never imagined that I might be gay—I didn’t even have the vocabulary or education to describe how I felt. But thinking back now, I can see that some of the friendships I had were more platonic than others. Growing up, I only dated guys. Those were the rules, and my mind couldn’t even begin to imagine that things could be any different. My life was colorless and dull. Then, when I was 17, I met a girl in French class who I couldn’t stay away from. I felt so drawn to her. We’d spend hours talking non-stop, and one night we got drunk, and we kissed. For me, it felt like an earthquake. Everything made sense. I wanted to be with her, to capture this new feeling, to keep it safe and close and never let it go. 

But for her I was just a distraction. Someone to help her forget her ex. She never let me in. She was the first person I said “I love you” to, and the first person to say she didn’t love me back. She said we didn’t have a chance in life as lesbians, so there was no point in trying. I was completely broken; I couldn’t wrap my mind around losing something that, for the first time, felt so good, so real. Getting over her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. You see, I didn’t have a support system, I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened, what I was going through. Deep down, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what had happened was wrong and a sin, and that no one could ever know. I shoved it deep down inside myself and decided never to think about it again. But after breaking up with my first, and last, serious boyfriend at 22, I was determined to finally, properly, date a woman.

Honestly, I just thought it was something that I needed to get out of my system so that I could move on with living the life that I’d worked so hard to build. The life my mother had worked so hard to make possible for me. Soon enough, I realized this wasn’t something temporary. The more I dated women, the more I found my true self, the more I reconnected with the little girl I once was, who felt free and safe in her own skin. It felt liberating, authentic and at the same time very, very scary.  

For a while, I didn’t tell anyone. I told friends that my work was keeping me too busy to date. At the office I was constantly on edge, asking myself in every situation “What would a straight woman say?” I wouldn’t ask people about their lives out of fear that they might ask about mine. I was terrified that if people ever found out they would think less of me or treat me differently. After all, if my mother—the woman who raised me and opened every door for me, believed it was a sin, that it was evil, how could I not assume that everyone else would, too?

And deep down, I still thought that there was something wrong with me, too. I felt ashamed.

You see, my entire life, I was taught that there were consequences to breaking the rules we’d all been taught. At school, kids used to bully the butch girl who hung out with the boys and played soccer and bully the boys who didn’t act tough enough. In undergrad, I didn’t know a single gay person. At work, I was surrounded by very straight, mostly conservative men. One of my managers was constantly telling homophobic jokes and everyone else just laughed along. It didn’t seem like a place that would welcome me if they knew who I really was. I felt like I was in a cage.

I couldn’t stop worrying that someone would find out, that my lies wouldn’t add up and that if they realized I was gay, that I would never be promoted or, worse, that I’d be fired. So, I worked as hard as I possibly could to keep my secret safe from them. At home, being gay was a sin, the work of the devil. Being gay would shatter the strong and successful family image my mom worked so hard to project to the rest of the world. At dinner, with my uncles, conversations would sometimes turn to how unnatural it was for same same-sex couples to marry. And how ridiculous it was that gay couples were allowed to adopt kids. In their mind, kids would be better off in the streets—anywhere but with a gay couple. All this to say that having a gay child was probably my mom’s worst nightmare.

After a year or so of dating women, I finally built up the courage to come out to my closest friends. Really, I figured out that if I drank enough liquid courage, and cried until my eyes were swollen shut, I could eventually manage to choke out the words “I think that I am gay.” To my surprise, everyone I told was incredibly accepting—they were my friends and they wanted me to be happy. For so many years I felt alone. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt like the only way for me to exist was to be invisible, unseen, unheard, unknown. That was how I could fit in, be accepted. Be successful. But in coming out to my friends, I discovered that, while there is some safety in invisibility, there is freedom and power in being seen. There is power and joy, in being vulnerable and showing my whole self to people. I was finally able to say how I felt, to make real connections, true friendships.

Now, coming out to my family was a different story. I didn’t exactly come out to my mom. She found out, one night, when I brought my girlfriend at the time to my apartment without realizing that my mom was there. When she opened the door and saw us kissing, I could feel the whole world shaking underneath me. She immediately started screaming at us about hell, the devil, and prostitution. She even threatened to call the police. That night, I confronted my mom. I told her not to yell at us, and I even built up the courage to tell her that gay people could also be successful, that I would better off because of it, not worse. Soon after, however, I broke up with my girlfriend and my mom and I never talked about that night ever again. For a while, things seemed like they’d gone back to normal—or at least to the way that they had been before. On the inside, I continued to struggle with my sexuality and how to live up to my mom’s definition of success. A part of me still secretly believed that one day I’d be able to settle down with a husband and have a nice, straight family.

However, in January of 2018, I met Diana, my partner, the light of my eyes. We met on Tinder, and I didn’t have high expectations—I thought I wouldn’t have much in common with an artist. I couldn’t have been more wrong. On our first date we went to a bar in downtown Bogota, and we had an insane chemistry. We didn’t take our eyes off each other for the entire night. I can still see her smile from that night—it made me want to laugh, to kiss her and to share my life with her. It was the first time that I didn’t care if anyone was watching me, if anyone saw me, or knew my secrets, because the woman across the table, she knew me. And that mattered more than anything else.

She was funny, pretty, and driven, a self-made entrepreneur and, most importantly, a free soul, undeniably authentic to herself. I fell for her right on the spot. I started spending all my time with her. I had never been as happy or as free in my whole life. With her, all my fears—the feelings of loneliness, and anxiety about being outed, all of it felt like feelings that belonged to someone else; a different person and a different life. I was free in a way that I had never been before. I began to see life through Diana’s eyes: For her, being gay wasn’t something to hide, it was who she was. It was a part of her, and like every other part of her, it was authentic and powerful.

At the time, I was still living with my mom. And our apartment window overlooked the street. So my mom started to recognize Diana’s car, and she could see that it was a woman driving. Soon, she realized I was seeing another woman, and she began to cycle between denial and anger. One day, she would pretend everything was okay, and the next she would storm out of the room mid-conversation, calling Diana the devil, and blaming her for taking her daughter down to the sinful path. This went on for a while, until one day on a bright afternoon in July, we went out for lunch and out of nowhere, she broke down crying and she told me she couldn’t keep living with me. She said she’d been suffering from anxiety and having trouble sleeping knowing that I was out with Diana doing God-knows-what. I was devastated, but not entirely surprised. I told her that I loved her, and that if moving out would make her feel more comfortable, I would. My mother had sacrificed everything, her whole life, for her family, especially for my brother and me and I would have given anything to make her happy. But I could not give up Diana. Not her. She was the love of my life.

When my mom told my brother she wanted to live alone, he couldn’t understand what could have gone so wrong that my mom would rather live alone. So, he took a flight to Colombia from the US, where he was working at the time, and confronted me. Besides my mom, my brother was the other person I was most afraid to come out to. He was my idol. And, growing up, we were always competing to be the best—in school, at sports, and once we’d graduated, in our careers as well. A part of me was afraid that telling him I was gay would mean losing the race we’d been in since childhood or, worse, that he’d no longer see me as his equal, that I’d lose his respect forever. After the longest 2 hours of my life and a very persuasive interrogation, I finally came out to my brother in a sea of tears. And, to my surprise, he hugged me tight and told me that he could not possibly love me more. He said that yes, he was Catholic and yes, he was conservative, but most importantly, he was my brother and that he would always have my back. We were a team, he said. And that was it. From that moment on, my brother has been my advocate. He’s been the one who’s had the difficult conversations that I never could. He’ll pick up the phone and say, Mamá, you don’t know what it would mean to Margarita if you would accept that she is gay. I love him so much for that.

My mom’s journey with my sexuality has been a bumpy one and it’s a journey she’s still on. She loves me and my brother more than anything in the world. And she wants so badly for us to be happy. But it has been very, very hard for her to reconcile the way she was raised, and her beliefs, with who I am. At first, she tried her best to pretend I wasn’t gay. She still loved me, still supported me, but it was easier to do those things if she didn’t feel like she was betraying her own values. However, it got harder to pretend once I started dating Diana. I was out all the time, and from our apartment window, she saw the same blue car pick me up night after night. It became impossible to ignore. And so, she moved out—out of sight, out of mind. Still, ever since that night when she walked in on me kissing a woman, we’d never talked about me being gay.  

As I applied to business school, I realized how important it was to start this new chapter of my life honestly, and without fear. This was a time for visibility and power, not invisibility and safety. I asked my mom if I could read her one of my essays. She said yes. She sat quietly, not saying a word, as I read to her. I kept my eyes on the page as I explained how hard it had been for me to live up to my mom’s sacrifices while at the same time embracing my sexuality. By the time I finished, we were both sobbing. For a while we just hugged each other and cried. We still didn’t talk about me being gay, but she did say “Margarita, I love you. And I always will.”

Since I’ve been at HBS, my mom has had time to reflect on how she wants our relationship to be—she has realized that if she keeps trying to ignore this part of me, she’ll never really know me. Not fully, not truly. Neither of us wanted that, but there was no way to avoid it. Diana and the Pride community here have become core parts of my life. They make me happy, they make me feel free, they’ve helped me to discover the parts of myself I love most. I am myself because of them.  

About a month ago, my mother called me out of nowhere. I almost dropped my phone when I picked up and she said “Margarita, I accept you.” I had waited my whole life for her to say these words, I almost couldn’t believe she was actually saying them. She still didn’t say the word “gay,” but she said she knew I’ve had a tough life, and that for the years she has left, she wanted to be there for me. She just wants me to be happy, to be part of my life. She loves me, and even though she’s not 100% there yet, she wants to accept that part of me. A few weeks ago, my mother came to visit me here at HBS. It was nerve-wracking, for both of us. I’ve been re-learning how to share my life with her.

The morning before she arrived, I went to open up the fridge to make breakfast, and right in front of me was a picture of me and Diana at the Gatsby party. We hadn’t dressed up like that in years—COVID times—so we were very excited, and we made sure to get pictures to have memories of the night. We’re being goofy in one of them, we’re smiling so big in another—Diana’s smile is the same as the night we met at that bar in Bogota, the night I fell in love with her. And in the last photo we’re kissing. For a moment, that morning, I wondered if I should hide the photo before my mom arrived. If I should cover it with a magnet, or take it down altogether and hide it in some drawer. But I kept the photo up. I had felt what it was like to be known, and to be seen, and to be loved for who I was, by my friends, by my brother, by Diana, and I couldn’t go back. I wanted to feel that way with my mother. When she got to my apartment, I watched her eyes go to the fridge and find that photograph. My heart was racing. She looked at me and said, “Wow, your fridge is so big!” Baby steps.

Later, she asked me about my friends here and I told her about the Pride community at HBS, and I even talked to her a bit about Diana, though we didn’t use the word “partner.” Still, it’s the first time I’ve ever said her name to my mom. We went for a walk around Boston Common and there was a Pride fair going on. My mother said she wanted to check it out and I thought she must not have known what it was. But when I told her that it was a Pride event, she just nodded and said, “it’s okay.”

A year ago, I couldn’t have ever imagined that I’d be telling my mom that my friends at business school were the gay community, that I’d be telling her about Diana, that after moving out of our apartment because it was too hard for her to see Diana pick me up, she’d come visit me here and stay in an apartment with pictures of me kissing the woman who was behind the wheel of that little blue car. I could have never imagined that I’d be telling this story, my story, here, in front of all you, and that my mom and brother would be sitting in the audience, listening. But they are. I know it hasn’t been easy, but I am so, so proud of her. And I hope that someday she also gets to be proud of this part of my life, that she gets to admire that I chose courage instead of safety, that I chose happiness instead of fear.

Some day. One day. Te amo, Mamá. 

 


Margarita Chiquiza (MBA ’22) was born and raised in Colombia. She worked in Private Equity for 5 years and will join Google after school. She is passionate about running, meditation, reggaeton, and all things PRIDE!

November 22, 2021
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