Maria Velázquez is bursting with life, so much so that her friend, Gabby Villalba, refers to her as “el oso,” or “the little bear.” When asked why, Gabby explains, “You just want to hug her like a little teddy bear.” Despite Maria’s huggable sweetness, life hasn’t always been sweet in return.
Maria admits that, growing up, she experienced verbal abuse from her father. “He said very painful words.” Her voice wavered as she continued, “Sometimes it’s so hard to try to do your best, but you can’t really receive the [acceptance] of your father, or your grandpa.” She continues to explain that being female is difficult in her family, both because she knows her father wanted a son and didn’t get one, and also because her male cousins are favored and receive praise from her family that she does not receive.
“Even though you work, even though you have good grades or participate in many stuff, you can’t really achieve [what your male cousins can].” She felt that no matter what she did, she could never earn her father’s approval. “I want him to see that woman can do the same as male. […] I was tired of trying to fight against that.” The hopelessness of her struggle against sexism and rejection brought Maria to attempt suicide at the age of 15.
In spite of her emotional battles, Maria earned the respect of her father. At the age of 17 she became one of six Mexican students to receive a full ride to an American university through the Walton International Scholarship Program. Maria was selected to attend JBU. She says that her father is now more open-minded about her abilities as a woman.
Despite the positive changes that have occurred because of her scholarship, Maria carried a lot of emotional baggage from her past to her new life at JBU. At home, Maria’s parents and grandparents exerted a lot of control in her life. She explains that after years of having an overly-controlling family, she found it difficult to give God control in her life when she was finally free from familial authority. She concludes, “The first year was awful for me. I really had struggles with God. […] I didn’t want someone to control me, because of my parents. What I wanted was freedom.”
Pulling out from under her parents’ authority didn’t have the effect Maria had hoped for. Her grades dropped, she felt empty inside and her conscience told her that she was in the wrong.
This May term, after a long night of deep discussion with her close friend Naomy Olla, Maria gave up her fight with God. She sought counsel with a local priest and says she has felt much better since. Naomy noticed that since summer vacation, Maria is more open and gentle and is improving family relationships. Naomy concludes, “She is really getting more mature.”
Since submitting her life to God, Maria has noticed a difference in herself as well. “I feel happier,” she admitted. “I don’t feel worried about my family [and] the problems in my house, because I know that God will do something with that. I told God that I want him to follow his plan, and I just ask him for strength, patience to overcome those difficulties that will come in my life. I’ve been asking him to teach me how to be like him, how to forgive people, how to love people and love your enemies.”
God has given Maria new strength.
“I think that I can do everything,” she said.
Despite the brokenness in her own past, Maria wants to bring healing and restoration to others. After completing her education, she aspires to return to Mexico and teach the young women of her country about their intrinsic value and beauty.