When you hear the words “Puerto Rico,” a few things might pop into your mind right now, a looming financial crisis, unpayable debt, a fleeing population, and now, a Category 5 hurricane named María & Irma that has destroyed much of this beloved island. The island is still working to recover from the devastation of the hurricanes as many still lack power and water, so when a few say, “Puerto Ricans want everything to be done for them” – we can only prove this to be false. With that said, we’ve rounded up a few Puerto Ricans who have (and continue) to overcome huge obstacles to achieve success, proving that “Puerto Ricans” surely know how to turn lemons into lemonades….
When San Juan native Matilsha Marxuach launched Concalma, a designer line of tote bags 11 years ago, she turned to a local collective of seamstresses in the mountain town of Utuado to manufacture her fashion-forward handbags. The small business owner and artist said her company’s mission is interwoven in the product: to raise awareness of fair trade, to promote local manufacturing and sustainability.
“In 2006 I was concerned with the resources and the production processes in the design industry in Puerto Rico, as a designer, I was looking to raise awareness of fair trade, local design, local production in a place where mass consumption of the fast fashion products is the standard. I was interested in thinking ways that the local/design production could assure cultural diversity and promote the local economy through conscious products and at the same time think about a base for domestic workers to build an economy and have access to jobs,” -Matilsha Marxuach
Matilsha Marxuach. Photo Courtesy of Merodea
The own woman factory in Utuado, Puerto Rico was then the start of what is now an eleven-year non-stop working relation. It was a round-up idea that matches all the essential aspects Matilsha was interested in: opening space for the job, creating a local production that responds to fair trade guidelines, and my desire to design an ethical product.
If you are looking to gain some recognition, then take some advice from someone who makes her living getting brands noticed. Puerto Rican and Bronx native, Madeline Familia, is the CEO and Founder of New York City-based public relations firm, Creative Voices PR. Before launching her business earlier this year, Madeline has worked with L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble brands, in addition to holding positions at a few leading New York City public relations agencies. As an industry expert, Madeline has provided insights on how brands can target millennials. She is one to keep an eye out for as her business focuses on promoting minority and women-owned businesses and start-ups.
“I decided to start creative Voices PR, as a result of my own struggles fitting into “Corporate America.” I noticed that a lot of companies were passing up on real talent, merely because they are not open to diversity and when I say diversity, I don’t mean just race, I mean all walks of life. I was born and raised in an impoverished neighborhood in the Bronx by a Puerto Rican mother who did not speak a lick of English," says Familia. "Working in corporate America after college was honestly a huge culture shock, I felt like everything I was doing was wrong. I noticed I was getting critiqued for how I spoke, dressed and behaved. I was being judged for traits that I've developed because of my background and upbringings, but where not traits that affected my true talents - my ability to creativity spin a story, find unique story angles and fight for the brands I believed in. I was being forced to assimilate, in order to be accepted and succeed within these organizations. Therefore, ultimately, the reason I started my own business is for the reason that, culturally, I felt as if I didn’t fit in anywhere else. Despite my talents, I saw entrepreneurship was my only viable path to prosperity." States the founder of Creative Voices PR.
Flora Montes. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times
Thanks to Flora Montes, The Bronx has its own biannual Fashion Week, which corresponds with New York Fashion Week. Flora Montes, started Bronx Fashion Week three years ago with her last $200 unemployment check and gumption to spare. “I have to believe that somewhere along the line I was meant to be the vessel that brought it to life,” she said. Fashion enthralled this Bronx-born single mother of two from the time she saw her first runway show in Manhattan, in 2014. “That was a Saturday,” she recalled, “and on Sunday I started to get the legal paperwork together and reach out to my small network of supporters. I thought, ‘The other boroughs have their fashion week, and now it’s time for the Bronx to step up.’”
Her first event, overextended three nights in September of that year, and drew close to 1,000 visitors who watched models of diverse backgrounds, races, ages and body types model the work of local designers. Some designers were even unable to pay to debut their collections. “But I don’t turn my back on anyone,” Ms. Montes said. “I don’t have the heart to say, ‘No, you can’t show because you can’t pay a fee.’’ For Ms. Montes, the show’s success seemed surreal. “I had no connection to the industry,” she said. “I’m no fashionista. My daughter used to tease me: ‘Mom, you used to walk around the house in sweats and a ponytail. When did you get into fashion?”’ She said to The New York Times.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."