(i keep rewriting this in hopes it will one day capture what I mean, until then I keep reworking it. Here’s the newest version)
tw: abuse and disownment, reference to addiction
I met my abuelita for the first time at my mother’s summer wedding. I was so ready to hate her—ready to hate her for rejecting and disowning my mother out of fear of la jota mala. I was ready to disbelieve everything she said to me and I worked hard to resists her stories and comments. I steeled myself against her truths so they would pass me by unlike the years that passed me by without a single call, letter, or attempts at acknowledgement of my existence.
What I met instead was a woman curled into herself, a bosom heavy and low not so unlike my own, and face that was stern but innocent. I had imagined that after all these years she would be larger, a true monstrous size to match her monstrous legacy. No, she barely broke five feet and the bird small hands and feet only gave her a more childlike presence that rattled me as the staggering amount of anger seemed malicious to project on such a frail and dependant creature. I realized too that it is hard to hate someone who shares the face of a beloved, a face that mirrored that of my mother’s.
Sunday morning after the wedding, with sunrise cresting, she sat me down over a warm and weak milky cafecito and started to pour forth story after story about being a single mom and making ends meet, about the fighting and abuse between my grandfather and her, about the way she rejected the normal mujeres role to live on her own terms, about the way she fought back the pressure to accept the abuse and the lies. It was hard to hear her pain, hard to hear the history that made her arrive at a place where her bitterness and trauma would make her capable of pushing my mom away. I didn’t hate her.
How could I hate a woman that pregnant with my mother left my grandfather for the first time and hitchhiked from San Jose to Los Angeles, bravely facing a future that had no clarity. The same who woman found out her husband was selling drugs again and hit him over the head with a frying pan after he struck her in defiance of her anger. Cast iron swung in the dead of night before running from the 2nd story apartment into the street, neighbors peering as her naked body cowered in the bushes, hiding from her husband. Lady Godiva Garcia, the moniker she carried till she moved away. And how could I hate the woman that took in her grandchildren when my uncle disappeared and lived drugged out on the streets until he returned ready to father.
She would surely reject this interpretation of her life yet I found myself immersed in her queer history of redefining her body, of negotiating her femininity, of claiming with both fists the role of madre y padre, in rejecting her abuse and bashing back literally, and her queering of Mexicana identity within the confines of both what she was taught and what she had to learn. She may not have ever loved another woman but she never loved another man either.
After talking with my grandmother I stumbled outside to the porch. I couldn’t help but think about my mom and her own relationship with her body, her womanhood, her masculinity, her queerness. How she parented us to believe in fluidity of body, sexuality, health, gender. That she gave up/lost her family in too many ways to live as the queer and gender-nonconforming person she was born. The way she smiles through crying eyes when she recounts the first time she was told to put a shirt on after years of running topless with the neighborhood boys and the time she brought her partner home to closed doors many years later. Memories of my mother picking up the phone and putting it back down, silence on the other end, memories of my tired mother as she figured out how to parent without her mother for guidance. I was heavy with the pain on either ends of the broken hearts of these queered and queer women in my family.
Sun shifting overhead, my grandmother still inside, I reflected back over my own understanding of my mom while growing up and how this was through filtered terms both fixed by society and through my own burgeoning queer sexuality. I went back to the time I asked my mom why she didn’t wear dresses like the other moms and the times I would ask her why I had two moms and no dad. I wondered what she thought when she caught me kissing the little girl from school. I wondered if I hurt her, and I wondered if I gave her the opportunity to love the queer me the way she would have liked to have been loved.
I was forced then with the sun in my eyes to confront my own womanhood as a queer fat femme xicana. I saw the truth of my own watered down understanding of my culture because I was shuttle away from the center of my family’s roots to be safe in my queer mother’s arms. I had to acknowledge the way in which I think of my life as watered down and weakened because I learned more about my culture from a textbook than my family. How I have yet to arrive at a place where I don’t see my neplantla history as anything but pressed and reduced like a silky sliver of a flower that once bloomed. And even more at the core, I felt clarity about the way my xicana roots feel unwatered yet my queer identity feels like natural skin that has been fostered in my mother’s strength.
A year later and I am still looking into the sun and blinded, not lost to the metaphor of what it means to stare into something that can only make things less clear the longer I look, while seeking clarity and understanding. I’m left thinking about what it means that my grandmother never ever dated a man again—about what it means that my mother would be my father if given the right opportunity —that my own legacy of relationships has raised me up queer as hell and chingona to my bones.
And I’m starting to feel that where I feel disconnect to my culture that my queerness in the context of my family may in fact be my culture, legacy, mi historia, mi presente, mi pasado, my futuro.
I am left with the unanswered paradox of if that losing my mother’s tongue, my culture, really has meant gaining my mother’s jota lengua.