I’m here today because of the light and love of all the amazing women of color in my life. My mother, aunts, cousins, and friends who all played an outsize role in shaping the person I am today; a person that’s much more secure in who he is. Growing up in my beloved hood, the South Bronx, was about as easy as you would imagine. I was socially awkward and insecure about who I was. I was too smart for the cool kids but not smart enough for the smart kids. I was funny looking and skinny with thick glasses and braces. I was the ideal target for assholes whose security came from a sense of superiority. But there was one group that I could always count on to make me feel better about who I was, women of color.

Family were the first ones to hold me down. At the helm was my mother, a woman who was committed to her family but especially to her baby boy. I’m a momma’s boy, proudly so, because of everything she did for me. Unconditional love and support for all the wild shit I wanted to do like blue hair and tongue rings... thankfully I never followed through on those. But she never flinched at my dreams and the things I would tell her about myself. Aunts were all second moms, pouring of themselves into me to make sure I never felt like I wasn’t loved. There’s not a milestone in my life where they weren’t a part of it in some way. They say your cousins are your first friends and in a family where women outnumber the men 2 to 1, I had plenty to go around. They loved me, they kicked my ass, and they played with and disciplined me. I’m forever grateful for the foundation of women in my life who continue to hold me up.

In middle school Crystal and Tamika kept me afloat. They were this mix of cool and smart, something I wished I could be. Whenever other people would make attempts to put me down, they’d be the first ones there to either kick me in the ass to speak up or shut it down themselves. They were the ones I would have conversations with about feeling like less of a man because I wasn’t looking to smash every woman I walked by, something that I think back on and realize is wild for middle school kids to think about. They assured me that no one was idolizing the dudes who talked or thought like that, they surely weren’t the dudes they were interested in dating. I respected them and they respected me, affirming that being a man was about being exactly who I was meant to be. I took their advice with me to high school and figured the formula from middle school could work.

The women for me in high school were Gabby, Odalissa and Patricia. I was just as awkward as I was in middle school but they loved me nonetheless. We grew up together and they helped to shape parts of how I saw myself. I don’t know if I ever let them know just how much they meant to me during that time but they provided for me a sense of belonging. Like sisters, they weren’t afraid to show me love but also call me on my bullshit. They read through any act I put on and always encouraged me to just be myself. It helped that they were some of the smartest and most ambitious women I knew. I’m convinced that keeping their company cemented my commitment to being and doing better. I sure as hell wouldn’t have survived high school without them there to keep me focused.

I make it to college and the relationships with women of color continued to be powerful. My best friend/sister Anne introduced me to a world that unlocked a ton of potential, fraternity and sorority life. She was super hyped about Greek Life and it kind of stuck to me, permanently (seriously, it’s what I do 9 to 5). But, that relationship was one that really helped me navigate all parts of me. As a man, I never had healthy relationships with other men and my fraternity became that training ground for me. As a Latino, having Anne’s proudly Dominican self around me enhanced my pride in being Puerto Rican as well as my interest in the history of where I came from. Lastly, as a gay man, she was there to tell me that everything was going to be alright with me being exactly who I was meant to be. Then you add Rudsena to the mix and I have someone to bond over most everything with. We’re stubborn, ambitious, and a little mouthy! but it works. When shit gets rough, she’s always there. Countless other women come into my life because of Greek life, including Yari who asked me to write this piece.

At the end of the day I’m not secure in my identity as a man, a Latino and gay without all of you. There are countless women I could name and this would go on forever if I did but to all of the women I mentioned and those I didn’t, this is my love letter to y’all. For keeping me alive, always giving more of yourself to me than you needed to and continuing to be a force within my life and the lives of everyone around you, THANK YOU.

keith d. garcia

assistant director of fraternity + sorority life at university of minnesota find him @kgarcia_sa