For years, Maribelle Vasquez strived to live up to her parents’ expectations to be a good daughter, wife and mother.
“My mother wanted me to be like her, so I tried to be straight, but I never met a man who interested me. When I was 35, I heard that people were calling me jamona, which means old maid, behind my back. Well, I decided that I would rather be called a lesbian than an old maid!”
Today, Maribelle is 54 and happily married to her partner of 10 years, Sophia. Maribelle is also one of the original members of Charla!, a bilingual support group for Latina lesbians over 40 that meets at SAGE Harlem.
Maribelle first heard about SAGE over a decade ago, but was not sure if the organization would be welcoming to a woman of Puerto Rican descent born and raised in the Bronx. When she found out that SAGE was opening an office in Harlem, she decided to take another look. “Having a location in Harlem shows that SAGE is thinking about the wider LGBT community, and issues of diversity. Harlem is very accessible to upper Manhattan and the Bronx, where many people of color live.”
Since attending the first meeting of Charla!, Maribelle has been an outspoken advocate of the group. To her, it is a much needed space where members can talk freely about their shared experiences as women, Latinas and lesbians. “Many of the women who come here feel lonely outside the group because they have demanding jobs, family commitments or don’t know where else to go to meet other women because they're not into the club scene. Here we can talk about anything, and release our frustrations. We get positive feedback form each other and different perspectives on the problems in our lives."
Maribelle also enjoys the friendly and diverse community of the Harlem Center. She and another Charla! member regularly attend a weekly group for African American women, who welcome all women regardless of race or ethnicity. And she finds joy in listening to the stories of the African American men who attend the Harlem Center’s programs, who always tell her what Harlem was like in their day.
Overall, Maribelle is excited about SAGE’s future and potential to change the aging outlook for LGBT people. “At SAGE’s conference in November, I attended a discussion group for people of color. One woman spoke about how isolated she used to feel as a woman of color and a lesbian, but because of SAGE, she had a place to connect to people her age and from her culture. Maybe because of SAGE, the next generation won’t have to suffer like we did.”
Maribelle Vazquez is currently embarking on a career change and studying to be a paralegal. This article also appears in Generación L (generacionl.presspublisher.us/), the online magazine of Las Buenas Amigas.