The other morning while scrubbing the stains off our carpet I reflected on the accomplishments of a woman who didn’t get past elementary school. She never got her driver’s license.
She has been mostly a humble housewife for the better part of her life.
When she has worked outside her home it has been in housekeeping.
She understands basic English. But she excels at everything she puts time and effort into, including cooking, counseling, painting, knitting, babysitting, and reasoning with my father.
The woman I am referring to is my mother.
My mom was the 6th of 11 children growing up in an abusive home.
Her father, a miner and a fieldworker whose parents died in a fire at the age of five, would call his “angels” over to him upon entering the house only to start hitting them.
Her mother was forced to marry her father at the age of 14. It was customary in that rural silver town in Zacatecas. The other option was to remain single and eventually be kidnapped and raped by a rancher.
It was customary for a man to hit his wife for no reason, to practice witchcraft against her, to gamble all their belongings if he felt the whim to, to disappear into the hills for days, to come back demanding everything be in order and a plate of hot food be served on the table.
My mom would often forgo eating her share.
At the age of 9, she tasted tragedy when her younger brother complained of a strange stomach ache. He was dead by the end of the day.
Whether or not it was Scarlet Fever is uncertain, but it proceeded to claim her little sister’s life the following evening. My mother was spared.
Eight years later, she went to church on a Sunday, as was her custom, with her mother and whatever siblings were still living at home.
Her father had been very ill for the last few months, particularly the previous week.
She felt as if he was trying to ask her for something, but he could not speak. When they arrived home after church, her father had already passed away.
By then she had started dating her childhood sweetheart, who would eventually become my father.
He was an American-born Mexican-raised miner/fieldworker migrating back and forth between the two countries since he was 14.
They were in their early 20s when they got married, and remain so til this day.
I have been reflecting on what a vital and extraordinary link my mother is between myself and dozens and dozens of generations of domestic violence.
Before she got married, her own mother would advise her: “Don’t marry one of the ranchers, because he will hit you.”
She never expected to be disrespected or mistreated in her marital relationship despite everything she witnessed as a child.
My father is on the liberal end of Mexicans in his generation.
He still expects her to serve him hot food and keep the house in order. He supports her and expects her to find life-satisfaction in supporting him back.
My own husband, who is Mexican, shares a similar attitude.
I have evasively back-lashed against his expectations by hating myself for not fulfilling them. I understand now that I am at a point in time in which I can either validate the respect and dignity my mother has stood for, or I can just as easily let myself fall back into a culture of ‘a woman is to blame.’
I will not allow for my mother’s efforts to die out in me.
It must have taken hundreds or thousands of years for a woman in my family to be treated with respect, and I will not break this new chain she has started.
I will not break.