Anamaria Perales-Lang, A Drive to Empower Women
One of the most impactful moments of Anamaria Perales-Lang’s life ever experienced took place at a gas station in the middle of west Columbus. When she stepped out of her car, her power suit glinting in the sunlight, a wave of panic overwhelmed her. She had never had to do this before; someone had always done it for her. She didn’t know how to open the fuel cap, let alone what buttons to press on the gas pump. The panic must have been evident on her face, because a kind police officer quickly came over to show her how to do it. But as he was talking to her, she couldn’t shake the feeling that settled in her gut.
“I felt defeated…I went inside and I remember thinking, how can I be a mother and everything and be so stupid that I can’t put gas in the car? How can I take care of my daughter, and myself, if I can’t even do something as simple as this?” She related to me says through tears, her voice becoming strained as her eyes filled with tears.
This moment step was the first step of many that she needed to take to start her life over after leaving her controlling husband. That experience of defeat and helplessness is what motivates her to help all people, but especially women, who have to start over.
Anamaria’s story begins in El Paso Texas. She comes from a long line of Texans and was the only daughter of her parents’ nine children. She describes her childhood as sheltered, but understands now why she was raised the way she was.
Her mother was a strong person of faith that who did a lot of good for their community, but they had a very complex relationship. For a long time, Anamaria saw her as the villain in her story, but she now understands how much her mother did for her. She was trying to push her to be the best person she could be. Her father was a mechanic, but he was so much more to Anamaria, to her he was her a hero. He faced a lot of adversity in his life due to prejudices against his skin color, and for that reason, he emphasized the importance of education.
She recalls him telling her, “You always have to know what is going on in the world, and the reason we push you so much toward education is because people can’t take your education from you…it is the great equalizer.”
She took this message to heart and completed her degree in political science at a nearby university, and always stayed up to date about what was going on in the world. But her parents’ aspirations for her were cut short when she met her future husband. He was eight years younger, an uneducated army man, and she fell head over heels for him. He had been all around the world and the allure of that adventure drew her to him. Her parents weren’t happy about it; they even boycotted their wedding, but later welcomed him because he was family now.
They moved across the country to Charlotte, N.C., away from all of her family and friends, and this is where Anamaria had her only daughter, Kelli. He didn’t want her to work, so she didn’t, at least until she was offered a job in her apartment complex as a leasing manager. She grew to love her work, especially because it opened her eyes to the real world. Most of her residents were people of color who were not treated well and needed their voices to be heard, so she became that voice. She did her job well and tried to help them by bringing in new organizations and funding amenities. This was the beginning of what would become her lifelong career and where she learned that, as long as she made the owner money, she could do whatever she wanted to help the residents.
After a while, her husband decided that she wasn’t being a good wife and moved them to Ohio. She had to start over again, and this time, he wouldn’t let her work at all. He told her that she had to pick her job or her family, so she picked her family and focused all of her energy on volunteer work instead.
“When you’re in it, you don’t really realize it,” Anamaria says. “You think, ‘okay, you’re right, I don’t want to be a bad mother; being a mother is the only thing I have.” She told me.
Everything changed when she found out her husband was having an affair and she asked him to leave. She was already distraught; they had been were married for eighteen 18 years and she couldn’t imagine starting over. But he didn’t take it well for him, and it was almost like a switch had been flipped. He was someone she didn’t recognize, his eyes turned red and, suddenly, he was violent. He turned off the utilities, over drafted their bank accounts, and destroyed things. He told her that if she goes through with this, she would have nothing, since everything is was in his name. He had control of family, friends, and everything in her life.
She didn’t know what to do, one minute she had a family, and now she had nothing. She called her mother, looking for sympathy, but got only got a wake-up call.
She said to her mother when she asked, “Why are you crying? You are an educated woman, you are a smart woman, and you have a daughter to raise. Is this what you are showing her? That falling apart is the way women handle things? She is watching you. Whatever you do is going to impact her for the rest of her life. Are you going to be a woman and suck it up and do what you need to do, or are you going to fall apart?”
And so, Anamaria took a deep breath and started taking action. She decided not to move back home with her mother and stayed in Ohio to give Kelli some stability, especially because she was very close to her dad and his family. She learned how to put gas in her car, opened her own bank account, and received such a great deal of encouragement and support from those in her town of her neighbors in Marengo. During these experiences, those helping her met her with kindness, and she soon got a job in property management. She was stronger now and was putting her and her daughter’s lives back together.
This was a really hard time for them. Anamaria was still struggling to comprehend how her life could be turned upside down in a moment, when she thought she was doing everything right as a wife and mother. She was also dealing with it on her own, she was ashamed and terrified, and didn’t want to tell anyone what was happening to her. This exact feeling is what motivates her to share her story now; she says she doesn’t want anyone to have to feel that way ever again.
Reflecting on these experiences now, she now believes that it was actually a blessing that she went through those things.
“What happened to me wasn’t a bad thing,” she says. “… it was preparing me for my mission, because had I not gone through this…I would have never realized that in this job, I can do some good.”
She recognizes that some people have had it a lot worse than her, and cites her strong faith and education, both things that of which were nurtured by her parents, as the main reasons she was able to survive it. She knows that many people don’t have either of those things and is driven to help them.
Her mission is to help survivors of domestic abuse, a passion that really started after working in the west side of Columbus. She saw how many immigrant women suffer from domestic violence because, if they disappeared, no one would know. After talking to these women, and hearing about their experiences she became more determined than ever to empower all people, but especially women. She wanted them to know that somebody would notice if they were gone.
“I realized that society has taken us (women) and put us into little boxes, to forget what happened to us and to not talk about it or help other women.” she says. She said and followed it up by saying that she wants to change this phenomenon. She wants people to talk about it.
The way she is enacting change is through her work. She has a reputation in the city for being a radical or zealot, and she earned that title because she did her job so well that she can now be herself and empower those in her community. That is her philosophy for change, to work hard and do so well at your job, that you can then change lives with the respect you have earned.
In her job as director of Belle Harbour Management of Ohio, she puts this her philosophy into practice. She manages in a compassionate way and stands up for her residents and employees, whether that means making sure the police take her people’s concerns seriously or giving someone a break on their rent when they’re in need. She rewrites policy in their favor and recently made sure the language used in it was gender neutral to include queer relationships. When it comes to her employees, she treats them her employees like family, makes sure they have PTO, and even lets them bring their kids into work.
Along with her job and her community partners she also makes blessing bags. She gives them to different for organizations that empower women and people who struggle with opioid abuse. She also makes sure to give them to people who come into her office to pay rent, especially men, because it really brightens their day. She is proud that her views are constantly evolving and believes in the power of paying it forward and giving back.
Her life is very good now, with beautiful grandchildren, a job she loves, a community that she believes in and works for, a husband who supports her and lets her be herself, a daughter who is her pride and joy, and her close-knit group of Latina friends that who keep her sane. She keeps God in her life, and knows that it’s her strong faith, that which she got from her mother and she now passes down to her daughter and grandchildren, that has guided her to acting on her mission every day. She is proud that her views are constantly evolving and believes in the power of paying it forward and giving back.
“(People) already have what it takes, they just need a little bit of help,” she says “… and if we’re successful, then we have an opportunity (to do that).” She said passionately.
Whether it’s through making a donation, volunteering, or sharing a story about what you have survived, she preaches doing. Do something about it. Make a change. And she hopes that after reading this you will feel inspired to do something as well.