Conversations with a Mexican Peasant Woman
Thomas C. Tirado, Ph.D.
Millersville, PA 17551-0302
"I have experienced too much sadness in my life, a lot of death and many losses. It tears my heart out when I think about it and talk about it. Just look around at what you see. How many people do you know who are as poor as we, who live in a reed house with a dirt floor? In one sense, though, I am very fortunate; I have my family. And I am rich beyond compare; any person whose parents are alive is rich."
San Antonio, Tepoztlán
Perhaps there is some truth to the notion that the best things in life are unplanned. At least that's how I feel about my first trip to Tepoztlán, Morelos with Dr. Oscar Lewis. It was one of those rare events which we all experience at least once in our lifetime that not only alters our life style but so profoundly influences the rest of our life that we cannot possibly imagine ourselves as being anything other than what we are. I am what I am today largely because of what happened to me in the summer of 1961; Dr. Lewis invited me to join a group of graduate students headed for Mexico on an ethnographic research trip sponsored by the University of Illinois. I wish Dr. Lewis had lived to see the completion of this work, for it was he who introduced me to Celsa and to the village of San Antonio. I would, however, like to thank the University of Illinois for the grant which made my first summer in San Antonio possible.
More recently I would like to thank the Faculty Grants Committee, the Sabbatical Leave Committee, and the administration of Millersville University for assisting my research projects. Without their financial assistance my research activities over the past decade would have been measurably more difficult.
Among my colleagues at Millersville University to whom I owe an incalculable debt are Dr. Samuel Casselberry who, besides reading the manuscript for its anthropological content and accuracy, shared with me many similar experiences he has had in other remote Mexican peasant villages and Dr. Frank Bremer who, as the person most responsible for encouraging me to complete this work, gave his considerable expertise in the area of life history studies and historical editing. Also, I would like to thank Dr. Kathryn Gregoire who, as a social worker has worked with women in the United States whose situations are not greatly dissimilar from those of Celsa, offered invaluable insights into the workings of a woman's mind. And thanks to Joy Allen, Graduate Assistant of the History Department, who painstakingly read and corrected my writing style and mechanics of English.
Celsa: main character and chief informant
Macario: first (legal) husband
Enrique: first common-law spouse
Alvaro: second common-law spouse
Hilaria: adopted daughter, godchild of biographer
Don Miguel: stepfather
Don Salvador: natural father
Fortina: Mother of Celsa
Margarito (son of Enrique and Celsa)
Hector (son of Enrique and Celsa)
Eleesar (son of Alvaro and Celsa)
Oscar (son of Alvaro and Celsa)
Otilia: (daughter-in-law of Celsa, wife of Hector)
Yesenia (daughter of Hector and Otilia)
Damien (daughter of Hector and Otilia)
Victor(d) (brother of Celsa)
Fortino (brother of Celsa)
Alvaro (brother of Celsa)
Celsa's World is a compilation of oral remembrances of a 57-year old grandmother, matriarch of a large family, and a life-long resident of the central Mexican pueblo of San Antonio in the municipality of Tepoztlán. (1) That the main character of this narrative spent her entire life amidst rural poverty, faced unbelievable hardships and survived is, in itself, a remarkable story. Considering the nearly insurmountable obstacles confronting peasant womenfolk, Celsa's struggle for survival has been nothing less than heroic. Though abundantly rich in non-material benefits, which is universally recognized as a major advantage of belonging to a peasant kindred unit, Celsa and her family have recently attained a modicum of personal comfort and a degree of financial security largely as a result of the hard work and strong family leadership of Celsa, la jefa (head of the family).
Celsa's World is a personal narrative of an individual, a first-hand account of life in an Indian-peasant community of 2500 people. The reader will see Celsa's world through her eyes, observe cultural change as it relates to her, and come to understand what change has meant for herself, her family, and her community. Also, through her the reader will experience Celsa's personal communion with Nature's life forces--most of which have become anthropomorphized. It is, in fact, this last point which is so important for any person trying to understand rural Mexico. In one very important way, Celsa lives in a world very different from the industrial western and modern world. The major conditions which distinguishes her world from the modern one is the intimate and, at times, delicate relationship which exists between Man and Nature. Respect for Nature and Nature's laws is essential for survival, as it has always been; and it is a lesson the industrialized world is learning only now. Upon seeing a group of government specialist entering the village one day while I was interviewing her, Celsa turned to me and said, "They come here with their fancy titles and new ideas but Nature is the only economist who really counts." Almost nothing is wasted; nearly everything is either reused, recycled, or "passed down" to another family member.
Today San Antonio exists more as a peasant culture than an Indian one, though nearly all of the elders of the village still speak their native nahuatl language (2) fluently, most have observable Indian features, and nearly all are proud of their Indian heritage. In fact, they delight in telling stories about pre-conquest gods, goddesses, and local folk heroes. By far, their favorite "remembered" mytho-histories are those which center around the character of Tepozteco, a local folk hero from the nearby valley who was deified for such brave acts as saving the valley from man-eating dragons, founding cities, alleviating scourges, and, more or less, the ordinary things folk heroes do which bring them fame and immortality. Within sight of the village, high atop the tallest mountain in the valley, one can see the ancient ruins of a pyramid built in Tepozteco's honor long before the Spanish Conquest, and every September there is an impressive celebration that takes place at the base of the mountain on the outskirts of the nearby city of Tepoztlán.
Until recently San Antonio was an ideal site for gathering oral remembrances of the past; one of the last Indian traditions still practiced actively by the village elders is the retelling of oral history. It is doubtful, however, that this tradition will continue much longer; in 1979 the community was connected to a main highway by a gravel road; and during the next several years it was paved.
The impact of this change on the village was dramatic. Three immediate observations can be made: first, San Antonio is now easily accessible to all forms of road vehicles and is only two hours from downtown Mexico City. Second, all school children are bussed out of the village daily to municipal schools in Tepoztlán 10 kilometers away. And third, because of peer pressure at school, nearly all village children have abandoned their Indian language in favor of Spanish. As the language disappears so do many of the subtle traditions. Few children, for example, know the nahuatl names of their house sites. Though the villager elders no longer know the original reason for the name or even its ancient meaning, they continue to use the native terms and not the family names.
As in countless other Mexican communities, the modernizing process sweeping through the country with its irreversible and irrepressible changes is forcing the peasant culture and residual Indian traditions of San Antonio to merge with the much more potent culture of modern Mexico. The mid-1970's was a time of great expectation and the beginning of rapid change, and there was the promise of a bright future due to newly discovered petroleum reserves.
Celsa and other villagers with whom this author spoke believed that the lives of their children would be less burdened by the types of hardships they had known in theirs. But material wealth from the petroleum deposits proved illusive to Mexico. At first, world oil prices brought in great revenue which led to wild speculation and tremendous nation-wide investment in all sorts of social programs, e.g., rural electrification, schools, roads, health clinics, etc. It was as if there were no end to the money. Then, the collapse; the early 1980's brought despair. New and lower oil prices meant Mexico could barely pay its external debt, and the government had to force a cutback in services. This meant economic dislocation for most Mexicans and international credit problems for the country. All of this happened at a time when Mexico's population was growing at a rate in excess of its capacity to feed itself, a condition which has not been altered in the ensuing decade.
Change is not a social phenomenon reserved exclusively for Mexico. It is a world-wide phenomenon which has brought the world to where it is today. In the case of San Antonio, however, though time has reduced the Indian and peasant traditions to a mere reflection of what they had been 50 years ago, nearly all previous changes were either absorbed or adopted to some degree or integrated into the traditional life of the village; at the least, they had not destroy village life. For whatever reason--security, resignation or a lack of faith in the future--there was good reason for peasants to cling to the past. Old traditions, at least, guaranteed their survival. Even the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 had only limited success in modifying the rural life of a village which had been intimately touched by the peasant hero General Emiliano Zapata, a native of the state of Morelos. It is remembered that he and his men often rallied in the village and in the hills surrounding the valley. Many large caves in the area have been used by the local people for centuries.
Regrettably, the modernizing process has been a destructive force which threatened the very existence of the village. Though villagers had managed previously to resist those changes which would have altered drastically the peasant characteristics of life in the countryside, there is no guarantee now that this will be the case now that the community has been linked to modern Mexico by a paved road. What has happened is that the rate of change has accelerated dramatically, and it is irreversible. Though most people with whom I spoke did not want to go back to the past, they did reveal ambivalence in their responses. On the one hand, they recognize the value of the improvements which have been introduced into the village, e.g., potable water, paved road, latrines, electricity, etc, but on the other hand, the villagers lament the loss of traditional institutions, the security of their families, and such intangibles as tranquility of life, isolation, and, even, innocence they believe they had before all of the recent changes.
For ages the villagers were, in general, unreceptive to novelty and hesitant to accept change. For the most part, national governments paid little attention to peasant and/or Indian communities except when they were needed as a rallying point, and landed gentry classes exploited villages like San Antonio for decades. Peasants understood clearly that even the slightest alteration of time-proven ways or any deviation from past traditions would bring disastrous results or, at the least, lead to new and unforeseen hardships. It is for this very reason that social scientists call communities like San Antonio "traditional societies."
In the 1970's, however, a new spirit came to this rural community; it was a belief that the future would be brighter than the past. Material improvement in the decade of the 70's along with the television brought images of a "good life" into homes of the villagers. Such images were hard to suppress, and the demand for change increased. Furthermore, the national government encouraged these beliefs and initiated a wide range of social programs for the countryside. Unfortunately, once introduced, change could not be stopped. What was not generally understood at the time was that these changes created a totally "new" Mexico, one that was alien to the "old". It was no longer a "parallel society" as the pueblo had been for centuries. At least for San Antonio, "traditional Mexico" was becoming rapidly a thing of the past.
In hindsight it is clear that there was no precedent for the modernizing process; nor were there any assurances given at the time that once it had been allowed to enter the community the villagers would be able to control it. The demise of this Indian-peasant community, as it has existed for centuries, is almost certain. Yet concern that the "old" will give way to the "new" is simply not sufficient reason for denying San Antonio its fair share of the future wealth of Mexico. The dilemma facing the community is how to harmonize demands for an improvement in the quality of life and an increase in the standard of living on the one hand with the need to preserve the integrity of village life and the family unit on the other.
A deterioration of the family unit as well as kinship ties has begun to occur already. To the anthropologist familiar with rural Mexico, it is difficult to imagine San Antonio or other similar traditional societies without their ancestral kindreds. Celsa's family, for example, numbers fourteen; to some degree, all share the work, live on the same house site, eat together at least once a day, and recognize Celsa as the head of her extended family--and hers is by no means a totally unique family in the community. Within the culture of rural Morelos, of the several institutions which guarantee the survival of the individual and, therefore, of society, it is the institution of the extended family which is the most important and the most enduring. Since pre-conquest times it has been the most basic unit into which society could be divided and the most important unit in the social security system the villagers had ever known or needed. Yet, as many social scientists would agree, it is the family unit which is often the first victim of the pressures of modern industrialism. Once destroyed, it is the one institution most likely to cause a catastrophic alteration of society as a whole and a dehumanization of the individual.
The field method used in the compiling of data was extensive and intensive personal interviews. Although the objectives of both disciplines are necessarily different, historian and anthropologist alike can use successfully the same methodological approach when studying and recording oral remembrances and life histories. I was trained in San Antonio as a cultural anthropologist by Oscar Lewis, one of the best known American ethnographers who ever worked in Mexico, and I used the method of field research developed, elaborated, and verified repeatedly by him, for it was in this very municipality that Lewis did the research for his earlier works on Tepoztlán.
Like Lewis' works, Celsa's World is a narrative told by a person intimately involved in what she is describing. Rather than a study of institutions, social relations, and customs based on observation, this study is an autobiographical narrative relating episodes of an individual's life as well as giving vignettes of the unwritten history of her village.
Fundamental to our understanding of any culture, whether rural or urban, traditional or modern, is an appreciation of the individual's role in society. In the final analysis, a culture is the sum total of its parts, one of which is the people and their idiosyncratic understanding of the world in which they live. By its very nature the life history approach in cultural studies is a descriptive one and need not pretend to be anything but that. Biographical and autobiographical studies are not intended to be a substitute for traditional sociological, anthropological, or historical ones which are analytical and problem-solving. Rather, life histories as cultural documents should be considered as one of several equally valid ways of understanding a community. This type of cultural documentation, therefore, must be understood for what it is: one individual's description of life in the community. Great care has been taken in the compilation of data not only to minimize ethnocentric biases on the part of the biographer but to allow the personality of the main informant to be revealed in its fullest.
When Charles Mullett in his Biography as History stated the obvious: "Without people history is inconceivable," he was really asking the question, "What is history if it is not the sum of human experiences?" He added:
If we consider history the essence of innumerable biographies we must make sure that we include the hewers of wood and drawers of water as well as the captains and the kings. Good biography is most enjoyable and instructive, possessing the interest of fiction, accuracy of history, and insight of poetry. (3)
Individuals like Celsa are not accidents of their culture but the material from which a culture takes its corporate personality. As Langness has stated,
[Anthropologists] seldom mention individuals when analyzing and discussing culture and cultural change. . . . [They] continue to be interested in studies of cultural change, values, socialization,
personality, and so on--studies which could be measurably improved by the use of more intensive data on individual persons. (4)
In addition, Langness believed that life histories offer "the best if not the only method which will enable us to gather the kinds of data we will need" in order to understand the motivation, performance, and personalities of members of society. (5)
In light of the above, it should also be recognized that studies based on oral remembrances, oral traditions, and biographical narratives can provide an important insight into a world hitherto unreachable by the exclusive use of other methods of social inquiry. Conventional histories of such regions as the Municipality of Tepoztlán tend to concentrate on famous regional battles, glorify local politico-military heroes or social revolutionaries, or are important only as the area relates to a much larger national picture. Generally, such histories do not deal with social evolution, nor do they describe experiences in the everyday lives of the commonfolk. On the other hand, ethnographic research deals primarily with a relatively limited time span; this is a characteristic inherent in studies based on observations of social customs, e.g., a description of rural farming techniques. Only through the compilation of individual experiences over a long period of time can the social landscape become meaningful. It is this dimension, namely, a view of society through different time periods, that this story of Celsa offers.
Unbeknown to me, at the same time I was working in San Antonio, Judith Friedlander was doing a parallel investigation in a neighboring village. Though she finished her research years before I finished mine, our two studies are similar in a number of ways. The most important of these similarities is that Doña Zeferina, the main figure in Dr. Friedlander's published research on Hueyapan, (6) is remarkably similar to Celsa. They differ, however, on the choice of storyteller. Whereas in Friedlander's book it is the author herself who narrates the story in the third person with only a few quotes from her informant, in Celsa's World, except for this preface, it is Celsa who tells the story exclusively in the first person.
That Dr. Friedlander found a Mexican peasant woman not too dissimilar to my informant is actually reassuring. Celsa's story becomes even more credible when one learns that she has a counterpart in a neighboring village, that she is not an exception to her class, and that she is typical of other women observed and interviewed in their home environment by other investigators. (7) The acceptance of the idea of parallel experiences, however, is not shared by Dr. Friedlander who describes her subject like this:
I want you to get to know Doña Zeferina, not because I think of her as typical of most Hueyapan women I knew. On the contrary, I consider [her] quite exceptional.
Despite this initial statement, the rest of her description could easily apply to the majority of the women I interviewed in the barrio of San Antonio, Tepoztlán, Morelos. They are strong, hard-working, clever, and resourceful; and it is not uncommon for women to be the heads of the families. Many, including Celsa, had stories very similar to those of Doña Zeferina.
Dr. Friedlander writes,
For Doña Zeferina almost every action has been in reaction. Put another way, Doña Zeferina's story is a collection of incidents that illustrates how clever she has tried to be in manipulating a hostile social environment. In a world characterized by fear and poverty, Dona Zeferina takes pride in her generally acknowledged ability to outwit the aggressor who is usually, but not always, a representative of Mexico's non-Indian --Hispanic--elite. Her intelligence, which under other circumstances might have been used more productively, has been spent in cultivating defensive tactics that could save her life in the face of danger, allow her to "sneak" more food, protect her reputation as a moral woman and help her make a little extra money. As she herself summed up her philosophy of life, "A person must know how to defend herself."
Currently, Dr. Brad R. Huber is doing research in Hueyapan, and in a recent edition of Ethnology he described the result of his on-going research. Earlier research in Hueyapan including his doctoral dissertation, an article in 1987 in Ethnology, and a soon to be published work have established Dr. Huber as an accurate field researcher, and as a social scientist he has been very successful in introducing a new generation of readers to a rural community inaccessible to most. (8) As with Friedlander, many of Huber's descriptions bring to mind Celsa's village. Though the methodology and approach differed from that of mine-- Huber interviewed eight different informants rather than one--his technique did employ intensive interviews like mine. Huber's investigation resulted in the compilation of enough information on curers (curanderos) to fulfill his primary objective. As he stated,
Though curers are one of the most important types of medical specialist serving Nashua-speaking communities, no scholar has described their mode of recruitment, the various roles they play, or their relationship to other types of religious personnel in any detail.
Huber added that his research "resulted in the collection of a significant amount of new information that is of interest to ethnohistorians, linguists, and ethnographers working in Mesoamerica." Hopefully, Celsa's World will produce similar results since one of the valid ways of studying the past is to listen to what the actual participants have to say about it. If history is going to have any importance as a human lesson, only participants who experienced or observed an event or series of events can tell us their meaning in terms to which we can relate personally. For this reason I believe that the best way of knowing Celsa's world, which is alien to ours, is to let her tell the story.
Like the anthropologist Dr. Gregory G. Peck, who did his research about the same time I did mine and in a village about the same size as San Antonio--but in the state of Puebla--I interviewed my subject during a time when great changes were taking place in the nation and in the village. In the Shadow of Tlaloc: Life in a Mexican Village, the author wrote:
I was present during most of what is described in the chapters...,and what I did not directly experience was reported to me by the participants...I have removed myself from the story. This was not an easy decision, but in the end I felt that the material would have more impact and, in a sense, more truth, if it was presented in this way. By absenting myself from the story, I hope to bring to life for the reader a few individuals and their way of life--one that has existed for centuries, one that is fast disappearing.
He ended his story with this thought:
To deny a place for human passion in social science is to deny a part of our own, as well as all others', humanity. We are in pursuit of an elusive morning star--humankind--and to measure and chart its course without also attempting to document and understand the passion of its journey is hopeless. (9)
One of the most famous Mexican anthropologist, one whose work has taken on literary significance as well as academic, is Ricardo Pozas. For a social scientist in the early 1950's, his practice of letting the subject of the study tell the story in the first person was novel. As a result, Pozas was very successful in creating the impression that his main character, Juan, was actually telling the story. There is an important parallel, however, between his subject and mine. In his introduction to Juan the Chamula Pozas wrote:
[Juan's] life is not exceptional; on the contrary, it is perfectly normal of its kind, apart from the causes that sometimes induced him to leave his native village. Like all the men in his village, he lives under two economic systems, one of them Indian with traces of pre-Conquest organization, the other national and capitalistic.
The author added: "...the typical Chamula--such as the subject of this biography--has the following personal and physical characteristics..." and then lists a whole page of qualities which are shared by other Chamulan men in Juan's village. Like that of Juan, Celsa's story is typical of others in her class and is told in the first person. (10)
Following in the tradition of Ricardo Pozas and Oscar Lewis I have chosen to use the autobiographical approach in narrating the action of the story you are about to read. The practice of oral remembrances was very common in the villages of Morelos, and there were usually several people designated as "rememberers," people to whom stories were told in the first person. When asked to retell the stories weeks, months, or years later they did so in the same form they heard them, in the first person. Don Mario, the oldest of the rememberers of San Antonio, held the collected memories of generations of villagers. Everybody would go to him to settle disputes, from broken unwritten agreements to family histories. Though one did not "pay" for his service with money, it was expected that the listener would bring a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of rum or pulque as a gift. I was fortunate to observe this practice first hand when I was present during a conversation between Don Mario and two other men from the village. Without the aid of pencil or paper he listened to the stories of both men, almost like a judge. Occasionally, he stopped one or the other in order to have the facts restated and, at the end of the stories, retold each man's story in the first person to make sure the stories "had taken root" (his words). Though the very old stories he remembered were in the Nahuatl language, Mario and other rememberers, like Celsa, are capable of remembering in both languages. To speak either Nahuatl or Spanish is to speak a hybrid language, for both languages have borrowed words from the other.
Finally, though Pozas book is "an ethnological re-creation of the life of a Mexican Indian [male]" and Celsa's is "conversations with a Mexican Peasant Woman," there are a number of similarities and parallels in the telling of their respective stories. The most important is the episodic nature of their life histories, that is, rather than straight chronological accounts. In terms of their respective worlds, Celsa's World is the female analog to Juan the Chamula.
My introduction to the village of San Antonio came in 1961 when, as a member of a small anthropological field study group from the University of Illinois, I was led into the village by our professor, Dr. Oscar Lewis. In those days the community was accessible only by foot through a narrow mountain pass, along a path through cultivated fields, and over several small streams. Even though as graduate students we had studied "cultural shock" in the classroom, it remained only an academic topic until the day we arrived in the village. In no way was I prepared for the life I found in San Antonio. Its variance with the world I knew was nearly unbridgeable though the village was only 100 kilometers from downtown Mexico City. Without potable water, electricity, or road, the village seemed to belong to another time period in history. Nevertheless, one other student and I decided to live in the village for the summer; the others commuted from Tepoztlán several times a week. Needless to say, we were a novelty and were studied as much by the villagers as we studied the village. Living in the very heart of the community gave us a great view of everything but more importantly won the respect of the villagers who considered us a being "brave" for moving into a "poor" village.
Dr. Lewis helped me find a place to live; I rented a small, one-room adobe hut; it had a dirt floor, thatched roof, and no windows, just a door. It would have been a veritable paradise if I had been a student of entomology rather than anthropology.
One of the first villagers I met was Celsa. Though initially hired as a cook and laundress, Celsa soon proved to be much more valuable as an informant, and she became my primary source of information on village customs, the native language, local history, and folklore. Through my friendship with Celsa I established invaluable contacts with other villagers who, like Celsa, were active practitioners of oral tradition. Although it was not part of my original assignment--for Dr. Lewis had given me the job of compiling data on rural agrarian practices, which meant getting up before daybreak many mornings and spending the day learning to cultivate the fields--I spent much of my free time listening to oral remembrances of Celsa and her friends of whom many were elders and keepers of local history, in the nahuatl language, of course.
After a month in the village, Celsa asked me to be the padrino (godfather) of her adopted 6-month old daughter, Hilaria. (Hilaria's mother had died during childbirth during the night of the last day of l960. In a time when baby formulas were not in wide-spread use--especially in the countryside--Hilaria's father searched the village for a wet nurse. Finally, he was directed to Celsa. As she tells the story, "One day he arrived at the door and asked if he could rent my breasts." Since she had lost an infant of her own a few weeks earlier Celsa was still lactating. After consulting with her family Celsa agreed to assume the responsibility of raising a third child as her own; but she rejected the idea of "renting her breasts." Celsa's other children were boys and she had always wanted a girl.)
Though ignorant of my obligations at first, I soon learned that one of my duties as padrino was to ensure the well-being of my ahijada (goddaughter). Little did I know at the time that what seemed to me as a relatively simple act of carrying the infant child into church for baptism one morning during the summer of 1961 would profoundly alter my whole life.
I mention the story of my goddaughter and the institution of compadrazgo (11) for several reasons: it established an important and lasting non-cognate kinship relationship with my main informant; it had the effect of making me part of the community; and it increased my credibility as a recorder of life in the village. When I became Hilaria's baptismal godfather I also became a member of her family and, through her family, of the community. Acceptance of the institutional obligations of compadrazgo became a binding social contract by which I gained many friends, entered village life as an active participant, shared in its culture, and became a fictive kin. Furthermore, having lived in the community for three months at that time (1961) and having revisited it on six other occasions, most recently for four months, I can truly say that I feel very much "at home" with the people of San Antonio.
Acceptance into the village was manifest by the fact that not only have they shown interest in my investigation but the villagers also have responded favorably to my long-range plans of writing about their community. During visits to the village community people cooperated fully when asked to relate personal histories and anecdotes. Furthermore, they have demonstrated their confidence in me by taking me to secret places, such as several pre-conquest cave drawings, ancient and unrecorded ruins, and other sites not known outside of the village. The practice of oral tradition of which I spoke earlier is so strong among the adult residents that those who escorted me to the different sites would recite stories about each location as we passed it. Every cave, gully, field, and hill has its Nahuatl name and is known only by that name by the elders in the village and even some of the children. Each house site in the village and each person born into the community is also known by an Indian name. I even have a nahuatl name.
As an illustration of their acceptance, in July, 1979, I was invited to be a legal witness at a civil marriage ceremony conducted at the house of one of the families which I had interviewed on a number of occasions. Though my part of the ceremony consisted in doing nothing more than stating my name and saying that I knew the groom, when the municipal official asked for my home address, the groom's mother interceded and told him "San Antonio." Affixing my name to the official marriage document established a new type of kinship with the villagers.
Many such episodes as the one above should help to eliminate any doubts concerning my rapport with the villagers. Having established an effective working relationship with the people, based on mutual trust, friendship, confidence, goodwill, and compadrazgo ties, I feel that the stories told to me by the villagers are neither fabricated nor untrue but, to the best of their ability, as accurate as they can remember them. This fact becomes doubly important when using the life histories of single individuals as the principal cultural documents in the description of a particular community.
The reliability of Celsa's life history as an accurate description of the everyday life of a peasant woman was the primary objective of the greater part of my investigative research over the past 25 years. Having found a high degree of corroboration between Celsa's stories and those of other women in the village, I can safely say that Celsa's World is not only a representative life history of one individual but also an accurate and meaningful description of the social landscape of rural Mexico in the state of Morelos.
Finally, something must be said about the order and arrangement of stories you are about to read. I interviewed Celsa in Spanish with a tape recorder over a period of nearly twenty-five years, averaging about two and one-half years between each period of intensive interviews. Some of the visits to the village lasted days, others weeks, and still others, months. Initially, I tried a straight chronological approach; but I found that she was much more interested in giving me episodic accounts of her life. Besides, these were much more interesting. In any given interview of one or more hours, Celsa would switch from one story to another quite naturally and normally, as all of us do. Though I approached each session with a theme or a set of questions, rarely did I ever get to all the questions. Instead, each interview had a life of its own and went its own way despite attempts to control its direction. Often, Celsa would begin to talk about an unrelated topic and then much later come back to the original question. By any standard, Celsa is an excellent informant; not only does she have an incredible memory and serves as one of the village rememberers but when asked she speaks freely about feelings and values, and she is very articulate.
I have never stopped being amazed at how freely the villagers will talk when asked about their personal lives and village history. Celsa told me one day that it was because "no one else ever asks us those questions nor is anyone ever interested in listening to us."
Though most of the initial interviews were without a tape recorder, years later it became a standard piece of equipment. When I completed my conversations with Celsa (the occasion was the marriage of her daughter--my goddaughter) I translated and transcribed them from their original Spanish audio tapes onto computer text files in English. I developed an indexing system that allowed me to "flag" each topic with its own unique identifying mark as I typed the material into the computer. Once transcribed and on computer diskette, it was relatively easy to pull together all the "flags" of a particular topic into its own chapter, which was then edited. Although a few of the chapters, like "Storm in July," resulted from one complete session, most of the chapters represent a compilation of information gathered from several interviews often over several years.
On purpose, I have chosen not to give a brief introduction to each episode but rather to let the chapters form an uninterrupted story. I realize that by themselves "a storm" or "a scorpion sting" or "the movement of a cluster of stars" will have little meaning at first. What I hope to achieve by letting her story come through in this fashion is a feeling for Celsa's world as she experiences it and not the one which you or I might sense. It should become evident from the first chapter that Celsa's story needs no help from me other than a description of the methodology described above. Though I did organize her stories into episodes which represent the chapters and did arrange the chapters into a grouping, I am little more than a conduit for her story.
All names including that of the village have been changed in order to protect the identity of the principal characters.
Storm in July
It started just about nightfall. First the wind came; it was like a great ball rolling down the mountainside, but it didn't stop; it stayed for over an hour, blowing dust, dirt and leaves into great brown clouds that rolled through the narrow streets. It picked up everything in its path and at the same time covered everything with a new layer of dust. I called to the boys and got into the house to get away from the dust. But the wind gusted right through the house; it came with such force that I couldn't keep my pots and pans from flying all about like leaves nor my dishes from being tossed to the ground and broken.
My first reaction was to grab everything I could get and put it into a corner of the room to protect it. But the dust blew into the house with such force and clogged my eyes so much that I could not see anything. With my eyes closed but stinging, I managed to get a few things in a pile. But it was a futile effort, for when the storm was over the next day I could not find that pile of dishes anywhere. The wind and the water carried everything away. Look, even my house!
Then the rain began; what a relief! But if I had only known what kind of storm it was going to be, I wouldn't have stayed in the house. The first few drops of rain were innocent. They were large drops which immediately disappeared into the newly deposited layer of dust. At first I was glad that it was raining; at least, I thought, that would be the end of the dust storm. The smell of the rain was comforting; it was earthy. You know the smell you get when you sprinkle water on dry ground--musty, pungent odors which instantly bring back flashes of when you were a little girl and sat in dirt piles making little canals through the dirt and floating little twigs down the rivers into miniature lakes?
"Don't be such a pig," Mama would scold me over and over again. But one has to get dirty in order to create a world of great canals and lakes. Sometimes I forget that lesson and scold my own boys for getting dirty; I can only think of having to get their clothes clean. I forget what playing in dirt is all about.
I don't know if it is the same for you but for me certain smells and odors cause my stomach to knot up and instantly bring back episodes of my childhood. Ever since I can remember my mother has had a red satin cushion shaped like a heart with fringe on it and filled with sweet herbs. Anytime or any place I smell that same smell I get real nostalgic and instantly feel as though I am a little girl again. It doesn't last long. A few seconds, that's all. But sometimes I even feel light- headed. Do you think it is normal for people to recall things like that?
The first few large drops of rain which fell were a prologue of what was to come; all of a sudden the sky just opened up its doors and dumped buckets of water on us. Oh, there had been plenty of warning, but I had ignored the signs. The wind started to blow again, and hard. Sheets of rain came down. Not straight down but sideways, driven by the wind. There was no way of escaping the storm, not even in the house. I sat on my bed listening to the rain increase, wondering what to do next. I couldn't hear anything but the sound of rain on the rooftop. It was as if a regiment of soldiers was marching on the roof. With each minute that passed the number of soldiers increased until I thought for sure that the roof would hold no more. I shouted to my sons to come and help hold on to the walls of the house. The wind was beginning to blow the walls apart, reed by reed. We were getting wet but we didn't care; our first concern was to hold the house together. When whole sections of the wall blew away and when the roof fell into the middle of the room I knew that everything was lost. I was petrified; but it was only after the storm had passed that I fully realized how scared I actually was.
Anyway, when we lost our battle with the storm, the only thing we could do was to curl up in the corner of the house against the one stone wall built years earlier by our ancestors. You know, it was that wall to our backs which saved our lives? We huddled together the whole night and never slept one minute. The storm was so intense that it gave no one any choice but to stay awake and listen to this living nightmare.
Soon I realized we were sitting in a stream of water which ran right through the house. There was no longer any roof and most of the walls had blown away. We were protected from the falling trees and branches only by the one wall to our backs. There were times I thought that I would never see the blue sky again and that I was watching the end of the world. I thought to myself, "Will I remember this nightmare when I'm dead?" But the worst wasn't over yet. Almost as if I had not noticed earlier, now the lightning began. Great bolts of lightning smashed right into the ground. There were no trees left around the house to protect us from the lightning. Some how we were saved from being hit. But I can tell you this, with the lightning hitting all around us there was no delay between the flash of lightning and the sound of the thunder. In fact, most of the time you felt the earth shake but never even heard the thunder. By this time I must have been deaf; I could see and feel but not hear.
In a very black night the only light that entered the house was from an occasional streak of lightning. The brief flash of light would illuminate objects in a strange white/black fashion which left no room for colors, not even gray shadows. Just white/black.
And something else very strange was happening. Whenever there was a flash of light a new image of the room would be recorded in my head and would remain there for a few minutes even after I had closed my eyes. The only thing that would erase the image completely was another flash of lightning. Otherwise, the image would just fade away after a few minutes.
One time, while I had my head on my son's shoulder, there was a flash of lightning and at that very moment I saw something that I wanted floating away in the stream of water which ran through the house. But when I stood up the image of what I had just seen stayed exactly the way it had been recorded in my head, on its side. The whole room was standing on its side and I became totally disoriented and stumbled around until I fell down in the mud. In every direction I looked I saw the exact same picture of the room on its side. My boys grabbed me and we crawled back to the wall. Although I could touch the wall directly in front of me, I couldn't see it; instead, I saw the whole room right through the wall, still on its side. At least, in my head it seemed that way. After that episode I decided to keep my eyes closed. You can understand, can't you, why I was so terrified?
I remember that when we were growing up my mother, whose name is Juana, was very poor. She was a seamstress who made dresses and went from house to house for each fitting; some of the work she did at home since she had a foot-powered sewing machine. She still has it, in fact. My mother would leave us alone for the whole day but she always came back before nightfall. My father, however, left one day and never came back. Another woman took him away but I can't remember any of the story because I was only 15 months old when he disappeared. My mother has told me this story many times. She also told me that times were hard and she couldn't earn enough making dresses so she began selling cal (12) in the marketplace in Tepoztlán. Since we were still too young to grind corn and make tortillas, my sisters and I had to wait all day long for Mother to return home. Mother never took us along on her trips to the market because she had her hands full with the cal. One of my sisters, Anastasia, hated it so much at home that she ran away and got married; I think she was 12 or 13.
Don Miguel and my mother never got married. They moved in together when I was only 2 years old. He's not my natural father and he never adopted me. The man who is my real father is outside shelling corn right this minute, look! He's nearly blind and almost deaf but he has come back after all of these years.
For a long time I would not accept my stepfather. I was jealous and I used to hit him. Don Miguel is the fourth spouse my mother has had. During the Revolution when my mother was 13 or 14 she married for the first time. She had five children with her first husband but none of them survived. She has said that it was not a good time to raise children. In fact, it wasn't a good time for anyone. Her husband was killed in the fighting. After he died my mother remained alone for only a short while and then found another man. It was simply unsafe for a woman to be alone. There was no law to protect them and there were many abuses. Now, at least, a woman has a choice of getting married or living alone if she wants and no one bothers her. During the Revolution soldiers violated women who lived alone. For that reason the women had to find men who would respect them and protect them. Now there are laws which protect women from men who abuse them. Before she finally settled down with don Miguel and had a permanent place to live she lived with two other men. I have lived here, in San Antonio, my whole life. When I was in school I used to dance with a group from the village and sometimes we would go out of the village to nearby villages. But when I was growing up I never got to go any place except with my mother; and then I had to sit by her side and could never play with anyone. I said to myself, "When I grow up I'm going to marry a man from Santiago and move there." I laugh about it now because Santiago is only on the other side of that hill. It's the next village.
When we were little we spent much of the time alone. There was no one to take care of us. Mother would bring us tortillas from Cuernavaca. When she arrived we would eat. Sometimes we would go all day without food. After my one sister ran away the next oldest sister and I spent a lot of time together; we had one other sister who was still a baby. We used to go around from house to house asking for food when we were hungry. Sometimes it would be soup, other times, tortillas. It wasn't like begging. It is a custom here that when a family needs help there is always someone to help. When I was four I was real skinny and anemic. They say I was anemic but I was probably underfed. Just like kids today; do you ever hear of kids who eat well getting anemia? No, its always the skinny ones who have it. So I think that those who don't eat well are the ones who develop anemia and not the other way around.
Since my mother used to leave the house every day to do sewing at the neighbors, we were on our own all day long. Sometimes even my older brother would leave the house and the three of us were left by ourselves. I was about five, my older sister was seven and my younger sister was just two; one day when we had nothing to do we went to the river to wash our clothes. In those days the only clothes we had were the ones we had on. So when we went to the water we had to take off all our clothes except for our underwear. After our skirts dried then we would wash our underwear. But we never undressed completely like the men and boys do. I know that because we used to sneak over to the woods by the tank and watch them and we knew that the boys were always watching us when we bathed. So we didn't take off all our clothes because Mother told us not to; it wasn't decent. Later when my little sister and I returned home we decided to take a nap. I didn't fall asleep right away and so I started to play. I don't know what happened, either I was playing with something I shouldn't have or I left something burning, but our house caught fire and burned down to the ground. Everything was gone. Large bundles of dry zacate (13) were stored in our house; so everything burned. Also, my mother had stored in the house a lot of clothes she was mending for our neighbors. Everything went, even the things that didn't belong to us. Nothing remained. Absolutely nothing.
In those days there were always men on the second floor of the church. They used a vacant room to practice their instruments. My brother was teaching music to his friends when the fire broke out so there was no one at home to help us put out the fire. And what could I do by myself anyway? There were three rooms each made of zacate and reeds. When the fire started in the passageway all three rooms caught fire. Nothing was left. When the men saw the fire from the church window they began ringing the church bell and everybody in town came to help or watch. But my little sister, Ricarda, was still in her basket hanging from the rafters where my brother had placed her. She was hanging in a basket covered with a blanket but I was too short to reach her. My brother rushed in, grabbed the basket, got me and my sister out, and then went crazy. He started to throw all sorts of things into the fire and wanted the fire to carry everything away. "Let the fire burn it up," he kept yelling. What a fright it was when his pistol began firing. He had stored it in the rafters and it was loaded. "Poom, poom, poom," and everybody ran for cover. By this time other people had arrived and they were helping us carry out pots and pans and anything they could salvage. I wasn't very much help. All I could do was run around the yard screaming and screaming. Every time my brother yelled and threw something into the fire I screamed.
Everything burned, even the storage shed. Part of the contents belonged to us but the rest was our neighbor's and the corn inside was still unshelled. We also had hens with eggs. They caught fire and burned right on their nests. When we saw them the next day they were like roasted chickens, sitting with their feathers burned right to their skin. The chickens must have been too frightened to flee the house. Besides, the roof had fallen on them. To this day whenever I see the rotisseries in town with the roasted chickens I think of our hens roasted right on their nests.
When my mother saw the smoke she came running but it was too late for her to help put out the fire. All that she could do was to throw dirt on the fire, trying to save one corner of the house. When that failed all my mother could do was to hold us and cry. I remember that she held us so tight that I thought I was going to suffocate. And she cried and cried, day and night. She still does after all these years. That was her first house and she lost everything. She wouldn't let anyone scold us and kept thanking God over and over for having saved us from the fire. She said later, though, that I was probably playing with fire and that's how the fire started. To this day, though, I cannot remember even being close to the where we did our cooking, and there had been no fire all morning. Besides, my brother said that he had seen me playing in the yard the last time he had looked out the church window before the fire started. I think it must have been the wind which carried a live spark to the thatched roof from some other house. I don't think anyone was deliberately trying to burn our house down. We don't have that kind of people in San Antonio.
After the fire was out the people who helped us were invited to eat squash and other food which had been baked by the fire. Otherwise we would have had to throw away a lot of food or feed it to the animals. There was simply too much for us to eat. Some of the corn underneath the pile was not burned nor ruined by smoke and we managed to save enough to fill several large bags. But everything else was lost, even personal papers, clothes, pictures, religious things and bottles. I still have a piece of melted glass which came from the fire. It was a soda pop bottle which melted into a flat piece of glass. Here, look at it. I've saved it all of these years, not as a reminder of the fire but because it was the only thing I have left from that house besides those horrible memories.
You know, I don't really know if what I remember is what I remember or if it is something put into my head by other people who have told me the story over and over again. I was only five years old. How could I ever remember something from when I was five were it not for people putting those ideas into my head or reinforcing my horrible memories with their own remembrances. For example, I cannot remember running around screaming and screaming. It might have happened; in fact, it sounds like what I would have done. But I think that was an idea put in my head by someone else because, truly, I don't remember running around screaming but I keep telling the story because everyone else says that's what I did. So I believe it; I believe it because I've told the story so many times that in my own mind it has become real even if it had never happened.
Two years later my younger sister, Ricarda, died. They say that she died from "espanto." (14) It wasn't that the fire killed her but that the fire frightened her so much that she never recovered fully from the shock. She was screaming and screaming too and the fire was right above her basket. So she had to watch it come closer and closer. I got sick afterwards, too, but I recovered. I took different herbal medicines and had several cleansings which took away the evil spirit and left my body healthy. Some people never recover from espanto and carry it with them all of their lives. It's like a horrible memory which never leaves your mind in peace. They say that I had "susto" (15) and not espanto. There may be enough difference to survive one and not the other. My mother was also frightened by the fire but cried it all out of her. Crying is a good way to purge your soul of evil. It's just as good a medicine as the herbal teas. My mother suffers more from guilt. She always says that if she had been home to take care of us it wouldn't have happened. But who can say. Some things just happen and nothing can stop them. Everybody in the village helped us. No one let us starve. They gave us clothes and food. Of course, it was all used clothes but at least we had something to dress ourselves in. In fact, I had more clothes after the fire than before. Some of it lasted for years. One horse-hair blanket I still have. I cover my legs and feet in the evenings with it when it is cold. Until this moment I had completely forgotten where and when I had gotten it. Don Arnulfo gave it to me after the fire. He had lost all of his corn in our storage shed but was still kind enough to help us.
Now-a-days everybody can get cured by medicine. Even from espanto. Ricarda was never the same after the fire. She was always sick or troublesome. She never got over the espanto the rest of her short life. Espanto can kill just as if you were infected with a disease like small pox. Most people around here believe that something like espanto is natural and that the mind and the body are linked until death. The mind can make the body sick and the body can make the mind sick. Or the mind can make the body well or the body can make the mind well. The two are connected. You know as well as I that one can make himself ill physically by worry over something? Or a grave injury of the body can make a person mean and difficult to be around. Look how nasty people are who are crippled with incurable diseases or injuries. I sense a meanness in people who are crippled. Some people I have known have become very nasty over the years when their bodies have become rotten.
I don't know how to explain it but espanto interferes with life's normal forces. It gets in the way of healthy and normal growth. It saps a body of the strength it needs to develop normally. A mind in turmoil will not let the body rest even at night. One of these times I will tell you about my first child who died because of the suffering I experienced when my husband died and I was still nursing the baby. All of my sorrow went into my breast and passed into the child and he became ill and eventually died because of my suffering.
Now Mother cries a lot and that seems to help her get rid of the kinds of feelings which cause harm in other people. She's a completely different person after one of her cries. I wish sometimes I could handle my feelings that way. Usually I carry them with me for weeks or months or until they just disappear.
When we went back to the house the next day all that was left were a few smoking stumps and a few sticks. Everything else was lost. There are a lot of noble people here in San Antonio, for when we returned to our house people started giving us money, clothes and food to start over. But my mother started to cry all over again. She was crying, in part, I found out later, because she had to repay those people who had lost clothing in the fire. As it was, there usually wasn't enough to go around to the family. Now she had to repay all these other people. Many people simply canceled the debt with Mother but she insisted on paying everyone back. It was something she had to do but it nearly killed her. In addition to sewing and mending clothes my mother started selling more items in the marketplace. She'd buy here and sell there: limestone for the tortillas, vegetables, corn, anything that was available.
After the fire my older brothers and my sister married and left home. Don Miguel and my mother moved into another house and my sister and I went with them.
THE MEN IN MY LIFE
When I was thirteen the parents of several young men started asking my mother for my hand in marriage. I was supposed to marry Alfonso but that never worked out. He was a young man who came to live with his father in the village. I wasn't a woman yet but it was a custom for young girls to marry at a very young age, even before they had their first period. Most men were older when they married for the first time, but they expected their women to be younger and without any experiences. Men are strange that way. They want their wives to be pure, but then they do the same things to their young wives as they do to older women with whom they have had experiences. I really think the only reason a man wants his young wife to be a virgin, "pure," is so that he knows that the baby is his. There is never a question in a woman's mind; she knows that the baby is hers. But a man has no way of knowing for sure. If his wife is a virgin and gets pregnant the first time then there is no question about who the father is. Some men get impatient when it takes months and months for their wives to get pregnant. The longer it takes, some men think, the more chance there is that their women could have relations with other men. A Mexican man doesn't trust other men because he knows that they are all trying to seduce as many women as possible. And, each one of those women has to belong to someone.
When I was young, marriages were arranged by our parents. That was the custom. I didn't even know Alfonso well. He wasn't my boyfriend and I had only talked with him several times. His parents approached my mother because they knew she would be anxious to get me married off. It's not that my mother did not love me but she didn't need another woman in the house; that's a real problem in the countryside. Only so many women can do work around the house, and they are not much good in the field. Actually, the only thing girls are good for outside of the house is bringing food out to the men. And that's about it. But most of the time they cannot go to the field alone; they have to be accompanied by an adult or other girls. It is too dangerous for a girl to walk in the countryside by herself. She could be violated.
The most important thing for a young woman in the village is to be able to give her husband children and to be a good mother. Everything else is second place. When I got married, however, I didn't know anything about women´s things. My sisters had all moved away before they had a chance to tell me about menstruation and about being with a man. All of my sisters and I were married before our first periods and it wasn't until months later that we started getting them. I naturally thought it had something to do with being with a man and that this was what to expect from now on. Today girls know what having a period is even before they have their first one. It's not like it used to be when we lived in ignorance. People were afraid to talk about those things. But in reality, it is best to know about such things before they happen. There was no family planning either; for this reason each family in the village had five of more children. It was not uncommon for young women to marry at 12, 13, or 14 and have a baby every two years thereafter. When there are a lot of girls in a family it is very important for the father to marry off his daughters as soon as possible because there is only so much work that can be done in the house.
I wasn't prepared to be the wife of a man when I was 15 years old. I wasn't ready for marriage and didn't think about such things as responsibility, duty, or even spending the rest of my live with another person. We just married. We were in love and got married. That was the thing to do. I was a silly 15-year old girl whose mother should have said "No". It really hadn't been too long from the time I had given up my dolls that I had my first baby. On my wedding day I still I had not had my first period and did not understand anything about monthly cycles. I was so innocent that I hadn't even suspected that my husband had been with other women before me. In fact, he had been with many. You wouldn't believe the number of women who got mad at me and stopped talking to me when we were married. It turned out that Macario had been intimate with both young girls my age as well as older women. And some of them were neighbors! And married! It was only after his death that I found out about his other experiences. Something that a friend had said to me when I was first pregnant now made sense. She came up to me in the street one day and said, "I can see he's not shooting blanks any more." No matter how hard I tried I couldn't figure out what she was talking about. Although I got pregnant the third month we were married none of the other women with whom he had been intimate ever got pregnant. At least, not that I knew of. He was 22 and I was 15. We both married because we wanted to and we were in love. It was a shame we had less than two years together. He was a good man and respected me. He never mistreated me nor struck me. My husband was a hard worker and gave me most of his money, nearly all of which went for food. Since we lived with his parents we had to share the household costs. I've never known a better man than Macario and his loss was crushing. Although it has been thirty years since he was killed, I've never gotten over it. My husband went to work one day and never returned home. He was killed in a bus accident. The driver of the bus was drunk. Macario had just started a new job as cane cutter in Zacatepec when the accident happened. When I had to identify his body in the hospital morgue I became so weak I couldn't stand; nor could I pry my eyes open to look at his face. All I could do was reach out and touch him; but that made me feel worse because he was cold like a piece of meat. I wanted to die. In fact, I almost did die, from sadness.
We had a one-year old baby and he soon died, too. My baby was nursing at the time of his fathers death; they say that a baby can pick up sadness and other feelings of the mother in her milk. And since babies are not as strong as adults they can not fight those feelings. As soon as he became ill we took him to a doctor and tried to get him cured but nothing worked. He had not yet completed his first year when his father died on November 27. Valentín's birthday was December 16. My son died on the 5th of March in the following year. They say that once my sadness entered his body they couldn't get it out and we were unable to save his life. When I reflect back on my first child, I remember that when I was angry or upset and happened to be nursing at the time, the baby would cry and cry and becomes real agitated. It's like when you are sick and something aggravates you, you become sicker, right? Something happens to your body when you are upset and this can have a direct effect on your baby's mood. The doctor told me that if I ever had another baby I should never nurse him while angry or upset. Actually, the nurses contributed to his death. The doctor told them to give the baby only as much medicine as he could tolerate. But they injected the whole amount into him. He died a few days later; and I found myself all alone, with no trace of ever having been married or having been a mother.
So, all of a sudden I was widowed and childless. It was about this time that I went to Mexico City and worked as a maid for two years. I was 16 in 1951 and was leaving behind a lot of pain. I had to leave the village because San Antonio was keeping me sad. Many of the women I met in the city had not even been married yet. And there was I, already a widow and having lost a baby, besides. People couldn't believe it when I told them. I had known more suffering in a few months than most would know in a lifetime. To lose a husband and a child within a few months of one another is a cruel fate.
I was very fortunate, though, to have married Macario, even if it lasted less than two years. He was a very passionate and emotional man who touched me whenever I was within his reach. And when we made love the rest of the world ceased to exist. It was just the two of us. Can you imagine the shock when I found out he had slept with other women before me? I had thought that I was the only one in his life. How innocent I was. I was hurt; it was after his death that I found out that other women had shared the same thing. I don't know why people have to tell you those things. The loss of a loved one is bad enough; friends can often make the hurt greater by telling stories about the person after he's dead. It was from a person I thought was a friend that I learned about my husband's infidelity. I wish I had never learned. What purpose did it serve except to hurt me and to put distance between me and my friend? Maybe she was jealous. She had never been married and never had been with a man. The two of us were still young. I was 17 and my friend was 16; maybe she couldn't keep it a secret any longer. Such secrets are real burdens.
About the only thing I knew when I got married was how to take care of a house. I didn't know anything about taking care of a man. Those things I learned from my husband. He taught me everything I needed to know about making love. Now that I think about it, he must have had a good teacher himself. He would show me how to move my body and we would practice until I got it right. But when I had trouble with one of the things he was trying to teach me, I went to Mother and asked her about it. "Intimate things between husband and wife," she said, "are not supposed to be discussed with anyone but your husband." So, I had no one to help me with some questions. My sisters had already left home and I didn't want to talk to my mother-in-law. One time, when I started my periods, I thought I was injured inside. But I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about this part of my body. One morning I was horrified when I noticed that I had bled in bed. I removed all the bed clothes and washed everything. When I discovered that I could not get the stain out of the woven palm mat that covered the boards, I destroyed it. You know as well as I that you cannot destroy a large palm mat without someone noticing. So, I told everyone that it had caught on fire and that I had to throw it away. I really believed that no one suspected anything. But what a ridiculous story when you think about it. There wasn't even a place to build a fire in our room. Everyone must have know what had happened. If only I had had someone with whom I could talk about such things. But I learned not to talk about intimate things from my mother. Our parents belong to a generation which thinks that if you don't talk about something, it will go away. All I can say is that talking about something doesn't make it any worse and it can actually help. My daughter Hilaria, for example, knew about periods two years before she had her first one. She never had to experience the fear and the confusion or the terror that I felt over such a natural thing. About kitchen stuff Mother would talk all day. She'd explain, the subtle differences among beans; but she wouldn't tell me about husband and wife relations.
Macario and I lived with his parents; there were things around the house that I had to do as my share of the work. But I never had an opportunity in my marriage to manage the house by myself; I had to take orders from my mother-in-law. It was just like being a daughter all over again.
Not long after we got married his mother became ill and I had to take over the tortilla making job. I was so proud of my tortillas. They were perfect--at least for the first few days. When Doña María came back to her chores, she never resumed tortilla making. In the end, it was I who got stuck with one of the hardest jobs in a household. Tortillas are the first things that have to be made in the morning. In those days there was no local grinder so we had to grind the corn on the metate (16) by hand. I had to get up two hours before everyone else in order to get the tortillas made in time for breakfast. I suppose that is why I am still a morning person. The mornings are the best time of the day. It's the only time you can be alone in a house full of other people. The only other chore I had to learn was washing clothes. My mother had never taught us how to do the washing because we were too young. Back then mothers did the washing and the daughters stayed at home. Now it is just the opposite, daughters do the washing and mothers do other things. Today most households get water delivered, so there is no need for the girls to go to the stream to do the laundry. My sister, who married at 12, and I had to learn such things from our mothers-in-law because our mother did not have time to teach us. I hope that I am giving my children good advice about life. My two older boys have done very well despite the absence of a father in the house. The two younger boys had a father most of their lives but now look to me for advice. I told Eleesar just the other day not to think of marrying until he could maintain a house and support a wife. It's not enough just to want a woman. And the one daughter I have knows more about life than I did when I was her age.
In San Antonio a man and a woman go to live wherever there is room. Sometimes it's to the house of the husband's family, other times, the wife's family. It doesn't matter so long as there's room. My sons lived with me when they were first married but my brothers moved in with the families of their wives when they were first married. In my in-law's house we had our own little room, so we had privacy. No one could hear us because a stone wall separated us from the main room. Originally our room had been a storage shed so there were many rats and insects which still lived in the walls and in the roof, and it had a dirt floor but no fireplace. We slept on boards held up at both ends by boxes and we used a straw mat to cover the boards and one heavy blanket on top of that. We slept in our clothes to keep warm. I don't think I could live in such a place today. It gives me creeps just to think about it. At night you could hear the rats running along the ceiling beams making all sorts of squealing noises. We put special herbs on the floor to repel the rats; none came down to visit but a few did fall off the beams and hit the floor with a "thud". I'd hold on to my husband so tightly that the next day he would say, in jest, that I had tried to strangle him the night before. He was the only thing that made that room tolerable. After he died I slept with our infant son in the main room on the floor in front of the fire. My in-laws never said anything to me about sleeping in their room because they must have known that sooner or later I would be leaving, especially after our baby died. One day my mother came and said that it was about time that I moved back with her. "After all," she said, "you no longer have a husband and your child is gone, too. It's time to come home, we will take care of you." My mother was right and I moved that same day. But I was very sad and everybody around me was sad. The whole world seemed sad. Life was oppressive like the heat of Summer and it took me a long time to get over that feeling. It wasn't until I went to Mexico City that I finally got away from the pain. The best thing that can happen to a person is to live happily with a spouse and that had been taken away from me.
Macario wanted children right away so we made love at least once a day except when he was too tired from working in the field. But even then, sometimes he'd come home dragging himself and the first thing he'd want was to kiss my breasts and caress my behind. I knew that all I had to say was "stop that!" and he'd be ready. He even got excited when I touched him while he slept. If I woke him in the mornings getting out of bed he would want to make love right then. It made me feel good to be wanted by him all of the time. He'd say that I was like honey to him and he couldn't get enough.
Becoming a wife and a mother at such a young age is difficult to handle. I didn't start my periods, for example, until after I was married and had only two before I got pregnant. After two months I started getting sick in the mornings and couldn't eat right. I got lazy and restless and soon my mother-in-law said that I was going to have a baby. She had had children and understood all of the signs. My husband and I continued to have sexual relations until the sixth or seventh month. While the fetus was still small it didn't matter but later it became too uncomfortable for me. There was nothing else I could do to satisfy my husband. On some evenings he never came home from work. At the time I believed him when he said that he was out drinking with his friends. Now I know that he had visited "girlfriends". It is customary in the village that after a baby is born the couple waits six months to a year before having intimate relations. In our case we waited nine months. They say that a baby needs the full strength of the mother to grow. Back then all mothers breast-fed their infants. Now-a-days it looks like everyone in the village is "rich" because all of the babies nurse on bottles and have special baby formulas. Before, only the rich could afford not to give their babies their own breasts. Just when Macario and I started having sexual relations again, he was killed in the accident.
Our baby was born the 26th of December at five in the afternoon. My husband had gone out to the field in the morning knowing that by evening he'd be a father. I didn't want him around the house to watch. Besides, there was nothing for him to do but get in the way. The baby was going to come regardless of where the father was. We had a midwife who helped with the delivery. Although I was terrified, my delivery was uncomplicated and I experienced little pain. I knew in the morning that I was going to have a baby sometime during the day because I started getting cramps. I could feel the muscles pulling the baby downward. Later in the day I also started getting sharp pains in my legs and I started sweating. When the water sack broke Doña María knew it was time to get the midwife. Thirty years ago no one ever used a doctor for birthing. For sickness, yes, but not for having a baby. We didn't even need a doctor after the baby was born. We used lime juice and water to clean his eyes and wash his mouth. The infant was patted dry with a soft cloth by the midwife. She then wrapped him up and gave him to me to hold. But he was not washed until the next day. Babies are perfectly clean when they are born and have no smell other than fresh and clean. My first born was a boy and we called him Valentín.
During the night he cried once and wouldn't take milk so we gave him sips of warm cinnamon water. Macario stayed up the whole night and watched his baby sleep by candlelight. He didn't want to hold him; he just wanted to look at him. It took me a long time to get used to holding Valentín too. I was always afraid I would drop him. The three of us were together for eleven months and we were a family; mother, father and baby. There wasn't much more in life that I wanted. Macario and I never had time for another child but Valentín was only the first of nine times that I would be pregnant in my life. I lost four girls, two died after birth and two were aborted. They say that the last baby girl died because the moon had been eclipsed during her birth. When the moon fights with the earth pregnant women always have problems with delivery. I lost one son out of five. One gets used up fast that way. By the time I was 35 I felt old and thought that I wouldn't live to see any of my children grow up. Here I am a grandmother now. It wasn't that long ago that I held my own son the way I am holding my grandson. It's hard to believe that a whole lifetime has passed.
There have been two other men in my life. While I was away working in Mexico City I received letters from an old school mate, Enrique. Shortly after I moved back to the village he asked me to move in with him. We lived together for the next six years and had three children: Margarito and Hector, who are living, and one baby girl, who died as an infant. Enrique couldn't afford his own house so we lived with my mother. His family, too, was landless. While in Mexico City I was not that interested in him and hadn't answered one of his letters. Besides, I had never given any thought about living with another man. What happened was that I started dreaming of my late husband and went to talk to the local padre. He told me that it was normal for me to miss my husband, more so because I had no replacement. Then he said something very strange. "Before God you can have only one husband." It made me think that he was prohibiting re-marriage.
I don't know if it was good advice. Doesn't it seem less of a sin to marry a second time than to live with a man without marriage? When a spouse dies doesn't the survivor have the right to marry again? and in the Church? It seems strange that the padre would tell me that. I couldn't get any help from Mother when I told her about our conversation; she believes that the very ground priests walk on is sacred. When I tried to discuss it with her she said I should do as he said. And that was the end of the conversation.
In San Antonio there are a lot of men and women who live together without marriage. Probably as many live together as there are married couples. No one loses respect for cohabiting; one loses respect by flirting with someone while he belongs to another. It's the same with married people. Who can have respect for a husband or a wife when you know they are seeing other partners? If one doesn't show respect for his spouse people won't show respect for him. It's probably harder, though, keeping respect when you are a women. No one says much about a man going off on a trip without telling his wife; but no decent woman could ever do that and keep her respect in the village.
Enrique was the first man I was with after my husband died. From the time of Macario's death to when Enrique and I moved in together, there was no other man with whom I became intimate. I had some male friends but nothing ever happened between us. One male friend in Mexico City, who had respect for me because I was widowed, wanted to marry me but we never slept together.
I was 20 and Enrique 22 when we decided to cohabit. This was in late 1953. It wasn't very long before I was pregnant; Margarito was our first son and he was born about a year after we started living together.
Enrique and I were together six years. Everything was fine I thought, and then one day he left. Just like that, without any notice; not even an argument. He left without saying goodbye. I think he realized before he left that it was a dumb thing to do, and he was too embarrassed to say goodbye. Or maybe he thought he could get away with it. He had more to lose than I did. I don't know what got into him; we had a good life. Besides, the woman he went after wasn't even pretty or young. She was a tortilla vender from Ocotepec. They didn't stay together very long, about six months. Then he wanted to move back with me. When I told him that I did not want him back after what he had done to the kids and me he went straight to an intimate friend of mine in the village and moved in with her. He has children with her and still lives in her house after all of these years. I'm glad Enrique is out of my life, though. I could never trust him; he would lie and cheat. He even ruined the best friendship I had with another widowed friend and old classmate. But he is the one who has to live with his conscience not me; mine is clear. He was the jealous type. I think a jealous person--either man or woman--is that way because that person is the unfaithful one. An unfaithful person believes that his spouse is unfaithful too. The problem is not with their spouses; it's with themselves. Enrique didn't even want me to talk to my female friends. He resented the fact that I spent time with anyone else but him; he said that time given to others was time taken away from him. But he, on the other hand, thought nothing about going out and leaving me alone in the evenings. One time, before I knew that my husband was unfaithful, one of my friends told me that she had seen Enrique with a woman in Cuernavaca. I said that it couldn't have been him. I used to take good care of his clothes. I washed and ironed them with a lot of care. When she described the clothes he had on I told her she was mistaken because I had them folded up in the house where I kept all of his personal things. And when I went home to check on his shirt and pants they were gone. I don't know how he ever got his clothes out of the house without detection. He took everything that was washed and ironed.
Three weeks later he returned to the village and wanted to see me. He came with a sister and said he wanted to check on his boys. It happened to be carnival time and he wanted me to get dressed and go to the celebrations with him. "Why should I go with you?" I asked him. "Is it my turn tonight?" He tried to make me believe that it had been his sister who had been seen with him; but I wouldn't believe him. I kept thinking that if I went to the celebration with him his sister was going to rob me of my children. So I told him to leave. He left but returned drunk several hours later. He started molesting me and then started hurting the boys. I called the huachos (17) and had him arrested. He wanted to stay in my house but I wouldn't let him. Enrique was not a good man to have around. He was a bad influence on everyone. To have good children the father must be good; there is a saying, "A bad child, a bad father." Well, they locked him up in the village jail. The next day he went to Tepoztlán. I didn't ask anything from him only that he leave us alone. I didn't need his trouble.
When he failed to talk me into letting him come back he tried twice to take the boys away from me. He said he wanted to raise his children under his roof. I said fine but first I had to talk to the woman he was living with to make sure that she would take good care of them. So I went to the house of the tortilla vender for a visit. "Buenos dias. I've come to talk to you about my children. If you take them are you going to take care of them? And will you be willing to sign a statement in which you promise to give them a good home?" You know what she said? "No! I don't want to be in charge of another woman's children." I could hardly believe my ears. Enrique had lied to me when he told me that his new woman was willing to take care of the boys. Well, that settled that issue. I went straight to the authorities and told them everything that had happened. I didn't want to give my children to anyone who would not take good care of them.
Not long after that episode I got a summons to appear in court and give testimony to a judge concerning a negligence charge filed against me by Enrique. He had told the authorities that I was not taking good care of his natural children and that he wanted them taken away from me and put into a foster home. I had to go to court and testify that I was a good mother. The judge agreed with me and could see for himself that both boys were healthy. Hector, who was nursing at the time, was chubby with nice color in his cheeks. Enrique lost the case and the judge fined him 20 days labor on a road gang. He was supposed to give me monthly support but not one centavo has ever been paid.
And finally, the last man I've lived with is Alvaro. When he left I resolved never to get involved with another man. I'm getting too old to start all over with a new one. Alvaro is the father of my two youngest boys and the second man with whom I cohabited, but now he is gone too. Like Enrique, he will return some day but I may not want to take him back either. We'll be two different people; I don't see how we will ever be able to pick up where we left off. In the beginning the boys missed him a lot, but not any more; he's been gone too long now. Sure they'd like to see him but they don't tell me how much they miss him any more. At first they asked me all of the time. Now they never say anything.
We lived together for 15 years. He wasn't necessarily better than Enrique but at least he didn't desert his young boys. Alvaro is in the United States as a mojado (18). He went with Eliseo (Juana's husband) to the north and hasn't been back for three years. He used to remember his children and send me money. But lately I don't know what has happened to him. He never writes nor lets anyone know his whereabouts. I don't think he has remarried but he might have an American "novia." (19)
It's not really uncommon for an unwed man to abandon his common law wife, even his children. But so do married men. There really is no guarantee either way. For example, I know of men who are still married but have left their legal wives and legitimate children; I also know other men who are not married but continue to live with their common-law wives. Look at don Angel, he's been with Mother for 45 years and they have never married. They are happier than most who are married. What the laws say means very little. If a man loves a woman and she loves him he'll never leave her. I don't know what happened in my case but I think it might be that I wouldn't tolerate laziness and drinking. Some times Enrique would become very abusive. I'd have to take the kids and move to a friend's for the night. Alvaro, on the other hand, didn't have a drinking problem--though he'd drink now and then. His problem was that he never wanted to take any responsibility in raising the boys the way children were supposed to be raised. For example, Alvaro couldn't read or write and saw no reason for the boys to learn since they were going to remain campesinos their whole lifetime. To this day it is impossible to get the boys to read and both have done failing work in school. It should be the responsibility of the parents to educate their children as much as possible. When the boys had homework I was the one who had to help them with their studies. When I look back on the years I can honestly say that I learned nearly as much as the boys did. If their father had shown a little respect for schooling the boys might have been encouraged to do well. In turn, Alvaro would have learned from them while they were learning. I can see that the boys are not motivated toward achieving anything. They have little ambition in life and only do their chores when I force them. If only I had a chance to do things over... I don't think that I will ever live with another man. What for? Security? I have all the security I need. Appreciation? I haven't been appreciated by any man. Now I am going to start living for myself. Intimacy? Maybe. But I do not what any more children. Although I'm still capable of having them, at my age childbirth can kill you or the infant. Also, when children come from older people their will to survive is not as strong as when they come from younger parents. If I could find a husband like my step-father I'd be very happy. Maybe I will; in every other way my life has paralleled that of my mother's. Watching her is like seeing my future acted out in front of me.
When I Went to Mexico City to Work
It was when I was widowed and childless that I decided to go to Mexico City. A friend--not exactly a friend but someone I knew from Santiago--came to visit me. She was working in Mexico City as a domestic and her patroness asked her to find someone who wanted a job. I never did understand why of all the close friends she had, María asked me if I wanted the job. Anyway, I don't think I spent more than five minutes thinking about it. The patroness wanted another girl from the campo (20) not the city. They say that campesinas are easier to train than city people. It's probably more a question of not having a family nearby to run home to. I was in Mexico City twenty-two months and never once regretted going there. It was a good learning experience. My patroness took me all over the city with her when she went shopping. Of course I didn't get to do much more than watch her buy things but I did see more of the city than most people do who were born there. When I would get a day off I'd go back to one of the places I had seen and liked. I was treated very well and felt more like a daughter than a domestic maid. I usually had to carry the packages and food but there was always one of her sons with the car or a taxi waiting, so we didn't have far to walk. I earned 70 pesos a month. Can you imagine? That was more than I could earn in the village but not enough to live on, even back then. All of my living expenses were taken care of, however. But can you imagine today, 70 pesos? That's not even enough for a Coke. (21)
I was widowed at 16 in 1951 and in the following year went to Mexico City. I left behind a lot of pain. I had to leave the village because San Antonio was keeping me sad. Many of the women I met in the city had not even been married yet at my age, and here was I already a widow and having lost a baby besides. People couldn't believe it when I told them. I had known much more suffering in a few months than most would know in a lifetime. To lose a husband and a child within a few months of one another is a cruel fate. I would learn in my lifetime that it was the greatest pain I would ever have in my life.
The only thing that's really strange about my experience in Mexico City was that when I was there I didn't want to come home and when I was home I didn't want to return to the city. I don't really understand why I felt that way but I returned home four times; each time my patroness gave me the wages she owed me plus enough money for a round-trip bus ticket. It cost only 4 or 5 pesos. I had a good patroness, she was an "Arab". I worked for her the whole time I was in the city and never once looked for a different job. María and I would go dancing now and then but I was always uncomfortable because there were too many people and I didn't know anyone. I did get to know other domestics and we started going places together. After a year the family moved to another apartment building and I went with them, to San Juan de Letrán. At least twenty domestics worked in the new apartment building; so, I made a lot of new friends. My new job was like my old one but I had more responsibility. Each day there were six bedrooms, a dining room, two parlors, three baths and hallways to clean. Two of us took care of the rooms and did the laundry. Once in a while I would help in the kitchen, too. The older daughters of the patroness were supposed to help, but I never had the authority to make them do the work.
My new friends and I would travel all over the city on our days off; we'd go to Chapultepec Park or Xochimilco and sometimes we'd go to the Zocalo to hear Mariachi music. Often we would take our food and eat in the park. It was a good time for me. I especially liked the floating gardens of Xochimilco with the beautifully decorated boats with names like Teresita. I also went to visit my sister in Yautepec for a while. She wanted me to help her in the marketplace with her small produce stand. She sold vegetables, fruits, and some herbs. With two working, one of us could buy while the other sold. We were good company for each other for awhile, but then she became too bossy and tried to run my life as if I were her daughter and not a sister. She kept giving me advice I didn't ask for--and who was she to give advice? At least my husband died; hers upped and left her. I don't know where she lives in the city now; its been a while since I visited her. She comes to San Antonio now and then to visit the family and someday I will visit her in Yautepec. She still has a stand at market.
One of the maids I got to know invited me to her home. Irene was from Rio Bravo de Colorines near Toluca, beyond San Mateo Manalco de la Becera. "Let's go to my village," she said one day. And so we went. Can you imagine that, just like that? She had a "boyfriend" she wanted to see. After I met him I couldn't understand why she ever wanted to see him again; he was very mancuernero. (22) I didn't like him at all.
One of the reasons I went with Irene to her village was to get away from a young man I had met and had been seeing for over a year; Pedro wanted to get married and we were actually planning our wedding for May. Irene and I left Mexico City in February and I saw Pedro only once again in my life, to say goodbye. Before we left, though, our boss made us find replacements even though we told her that we would return after our trip. I think she knew that we were leaving for good. But I didn't know that at the time and left all of my belongings in her house.
My friend paid for both of us as far as Toluca and we each paid our own after that. It was so far away. I couldn't believe any place could be that far away from Mexico City and still be in Mexico. And when we got to the village of San Mateo Manalco de la Becera she told me that she didn't even live in the village but beyond it on the hillside, in the middle of the woods! There were all sorts of fruit on the trees but nothing was ripe yet. When she arrived many people recognized her and said "hello." But they spoke in a language that I had never heard before; they spoke Otomí not mejicano. (23) A few could speak Spanish but not very well. Otomí was their first language.
We were in her village about 2 weeks. I nearly died. It was so remote and uncivilized. They lived like savages. There were no streets, just paths through the woods. San Antonio is remote, too, but at least it is not as sad as her village. From what I saw the people were very timid and ignorant. And they showed no respect for you. If they got in your way you were the one who had to move, even the little ones wouldn't move and showed no respect. At least here and other places I've known when two people are on the same path each will step aside and try to accommodate the other.
Not only wasn't there much to eat in Irene's village, there was little to buy. The people were very poor and did not even have a marketplace. If you wanted something you had to go from house to house until you found it. Good thing Irene's mother worked in a restaurant. She brought us good meals.
I can't understand why everyone didn't leave the village and go elsewhere. It was boring. There was nothing to do except walk around. We went to the river to wash clothes twice and once we went to fish for something to eat. All there was to eat were some sick chickens. That's all.
Irene had deceived me; she had told me that it was her "boyfriend" she wanted to see. She said nothing about a husband. It was only after we got to the village that she confessed. She left Ignacio three years earlier and in her absence he took another woman. Returning from the river one day we ran into Ignacio while waiting to greet us. "He's spying on us, look," Irene said when we were about ready to meet him. But no, he just wanted to see his wife. I was uncomfortable because Irene didn't want me to leave her side; she held my hand. The two of them talked about things husbands and wives talk about in private. I pretended to look at the treetops and then little creatures on the ground; but how can you concentrate on something else and ignore the conversation of two people who are talking about intimate things right in front of you. Ignacio wanted his wife to return to him but he was not willing to give up his "girlfriends." That was the main reason she left him in the first place. Irene said he couldn't have more than her and that was final. "Adios," he said and turned and walked away.
The trip to Irene's village was not pleasant. Other places I have gone to I have liked. I've gone to both coasts; we have relatives in Vera Cruz and in Acapulco. My oldest brother's widow lives in Vera Cruz and my other brother's children all live in the state of Guerrero just outside of Acapulco. In Vera Cruz we had to travel by boat once we got there. There were no roads; people lived right alongside of the main river or on one of the canals. All along the banks of the river you could see water wells from which the people got their water for drinking and washing. The water was clear, not like the river water, and would always stay at the same level no matter how much you took out. We had to boil the water, though. And for that reason we didn't get sick like most people. When you boiled water it left a white deposit on the bottom of the pan and when used for washing clothes it left them hard. Some people would pour wood ashes into the water and allow them to settle to the bottom of the barrel before using the water to wash clothes. This way the clothes came out soft. Here in San Antonio the water is soft and clean. You don't have the feeling that your body is still dirty or has a film on it. Sweet water we call it. We dont like the water from Tepoztlán or Cuernavaca because it tastes like bleach. And nothing satisfies your thirst better than water. A soft drink doesn't really help; it just makes you more thirsty in the long run because of the sugar.
We finally left Irene's village and came here to San Antonio. We arrived at midnight. My mother didn't know we were coming, of course, but she did know that I had left Mexico City. When we arrived at her house she was up crying. Pedro had come to the village looking for me and he and my mother went into Mexico City to search for me. When they couldn't find me they thought I had disappeared. No one told them where we were because no one knew. "Don't go back to Mexico City," she pleaded. "Have your male friend come here to the village to live." He was a good man and he treated me well and with respect, but I didn't love him and I knew that he was not a campesino and wouldn't be able to adapt himself to village life. Pedro and I parted forever.
A Painful Life
I have known all of the suffering a person can experience and the most painful of all is the loss of a husband. It's as if you have lost a part of your body. No other experience is like it in life. It's not like someone abandoning you or walking out the door, never to return. Death is so much more final; it is so much harder to accept. You want to continue believing that the person is really out there somewhere but you know he isn't. In your heart you know that you will never see that person again. Nothing in life is as final as death and that is the reason we have such a hard time dealing with it. All those other people I have known who have gone out of my life never to have returned still exist. It's just that they are not in my immediate world.
Enrique, for example, left me and the kids for another woman. But it's not the same type of "leaving" as when Macario died. His absence is like a giant hole which has never been filled. I didn't love Macario more than Enrique it's just that the death of my husband came without any kind of announcement or indication that things were going to change so abruptly in my life. After his death I began to think that all sorts of catastrophes and disasters were waiting around each and every corner. I guess you are never prepared for death when it comes, and when it comes, the finality of it is so difficult to accept. When someone abandons you it's different. You know the person left on his own will; he was through with you. In fact, more often than not, both parties are responsible for the separation. It's a decision you make and you live with it the rest of your life. You have made the choice so it is easier to accept.
When one goes away there is always the hope that he will come back. Everything is not lost. There is even the possibility that the two people will be able to reconcile their differences. A lot of people do it and get back together. But when can you reconcile your differences with a dead person? It's death that hurts more because there is no possibility of the loved one coming back ever. And there are all those things that I wish I had had time to tell him. They say that "time heals all." That is not true in my case; I still hurt and no one has ever taken Macario's place.
In my case the death of my husband and of my son came within five months of each other. I was not through grieving over the loss of my husband when my son was taken away. Maybe I would have been able to accept Macario's death if his son had lived. It would have been like a little piece of the original man left behind. With both gone there was no living record of my husband ever having existed. I have lost other close relatives but nothing ever hurt as much as the deaths of my husband and my child. I had a sister who died before I was married, but I didn't grieve much because we never lived together for any length of time and we were never close. I was still little when she left the house to get married.
I am not the type of person who recuperates quickly from a loss of a loved one and I don't forget easily. There are some things I'll never forget in my whole life. Some things that took place when I was a little girl seem to have happened only yesterday; and some things which happened in the past are still in the present. That is, I have not put them behind me but still live with the memories. I have a lot of time to think and I have a good memory. I just don't forget things. For example, I still remember the day and the hour that you arrived in the village twenty-two years ago. Although many memories are fresh in my mind, in reality much time has passed since that event took place; sometimes years.
I have a few happy memories but most are sad or bitter since I have not had a happy life in general. I have a lot of regrets and I'm bitter about having lost my husband and the disruption that that caused in my life.
At times I just conform to the life which is given to me; other times I struggle to change things. I've had a lot of failures. My sister says that for all of the failures I have had I should be a wreck, that I should be a lost soul, a drunk, a vagabond. But no, I wouldn't give the people the satisfaction. If I wanted to take a drink it would be because I wanted to, not because I had to. A lot of women turn to the bottle in order to get away from their problems. I can't. Alcohol doesn't do anything for me except make me feel worse. My sister, for example, deceives herself by drinking. She says it makes her feel better. Perhaps I have the force to control my feelings. Maybe that's why I do the things I do. It is very important for a mother to set a good example. It's her duty to love her children and want to keep them from harm. How can you be responsible if you are always drunk or if you show your children that the bottle is one of the ways to solve your problems. You can excuse drinking in men but not in women. Children take a much closer look at their mothers than they do their fathers.
Mothers have to be there whenever their children need them but not all mothers are the same. My mother came and got me from the house of my first husband's parents after he and our baby died. I was ignorant and thought I belonged in their house but my mother knew to get me out of there because I no longer belonged there. The woman of the house wasn't even my mother-in-law but my late husband's step-mother who was living with his father. Macario's father was too timid to tell me to leave. The saying goes, "He who doesn't know is he who doesn't see." When my husband still lived it was the right place for us to be since we could not provide our own house. And even after Macario died it was his father's responsibility to provide for his son's widow and his grandson. But when the grandson died, what reason was there for them to continue to take care of me? My mother talked to them and said that it was best if she took me back so as not to be a burden on a family to which I did not belong. Macario's father was not good to me once his son died. I was a burden on him. I didn't know how to do anything else but make tortillas and cook beans. And since there was already one woman in the house, there was no need for a second. After my husband died and when the baby got sick, they didn't even give me medicine to have him cured, and when he died they didn't give me any money to bury him.
When I moved back home I was very sad and everybody around me was sad. The whole world seemed sad. Life was oppressive like the heat of summer and it took me a long time to get out of that feeling. It wasn't until I went to Mexico City to work that I finally got away from the pain. The best that can happen to a person is to live happily with a spouse and that had been taken away from me. I was happy again when I lived with Enrique, but when I found out he was keeping another woman my happiness ended immediately. I kept his children; they are not legitimate but hijos naturales (24). There was a time in Mexico when an illegitimate child could not enter public school. But that has changed. They say that there are more natural children than legitimate ones in Mexico. Now everyone has the protection of the laws and have the same rights. After all, it was nothing that the children had done, it was their parents. Why punish the children for the sins of their fathers and mothers? It's in the penal code that if a man and a women who live together without being married, like concubines, and that if this union results in children, the children shall have all of the rights of legitimate ones, like going to school and inheritance. The legitimate and natural ones have equal rights to the father's property. But I don't want anything from the boys' father. I'm happy without him and can provide for myself. Now for the boys, it is important that the law recognizes that they have certain rights and when the father dies that they get their share.
When he claimed that I wasn't taking care of them well and that he wanted to raise them, it was just vindictiveness. How was he to take care of them; the woman he was living with didn't even want them. He was castigated and had to work 20 days on the road gang. After he left me he had several women in the first year and was very unstable; the judge saw all of that and sympathized with me and awarded the boys to me permanently. Actually, he was supposed to pay 100 pesos a month. But I didn't want it and didn't take it because it would have meant that I would have to accept his orders and complaints in raising the boys. I didn't need that and didn't want him around.
We lived together for nearly seven years and for most of that time we loved one another. But it was an impossible life. We lived in his family's house and it was for his family that we lived, not for ourselves but for his sisters and brothers and parents. Thirteen people lived in the same household and with the hired hands the women had to prepare food for twenty people. I never stopped working from sun-up to sun-down.
Alvaro was the third and final man in my life, but I lived alone for most of the 15 years we were together. I don't know why the unions I have had have not lasted; I don't know if it's something with me or with the men I've known. But I know one thing; it doesn't pay to blame anyone but yourself for the situations you get yourself into. You have to recognize that no one does anything to you without you wanting it. Nobody forced me to do the things I have done in my life. I take full responsibility for my actions and hope that I can teach my sons to recognize that they have to live with the consequences of their actions.
My boys are going to be around for a while yet and I have the responsibility of raising them well. My mother is over 80 years old and I think that I am going to live as long as she. She has had a lot of unpleasant memories and has suffered a lot. Her parents died when she was very young; she lost her first husband and two men abandoned her. She suffered through the Revolution, lost an adult son she loved very deeply, and lost some babies too. Life has been extremely hard on her. It has been hard on me too. I see my life paralleling that of my mother's. Watching her is almost like seeing my future being acted out in front of me. For example, I know that I will inherit the leadership of the family when she is gone.
When I was little they said that I would never be able to have children because I was anemic and didn't develop fully. But it wasn't true. Maybe it's because I was cured of my anemia. The doctors prescribed an elixir that I had to take before each meal and it smelled absolutely terrible, like rotten fish. But I needed it because even my skin was sickly looking. My eyes were yellow too. The medicine didn't taste bad but the smell was horrible. I had to eat a lot of liver too and I hated it.
I have had some happy things that happened in my life but, generally, there has been more sadness than happiness. A lot of difficulties, struggles, hardships. It has been a difficult life with a lot of hardships; I simply don't have a lot of happy things to remember. Not even my childhood was happy. I can't ever remember being as happy as Yesenia, for example. My granddaughter is cheerful and pleasant all of the time. She receives a lot of attention. Do you remember me saying that my mother was not at home all day long and that we were by ourselves most of the days? I was deprived of the love of a mother when I was very little. After my mother had a man take her in she had more time to spend with us and began to give us the attention we needed or wanted. Yesenia has never been without a mother or a grandmother. What gives me the greatest satisfaction now is to see one of my boys do something in life after all the sacrifice we have had to make. I feel very happy that one of my boys is a school teacher and is working full-time and earning a good salary. He returns to the village to see us whenever he has a chance. One of the things about being a mother is that you preoccupy yourself with your children. I'm always thinking about them and about their well- being. Sometimes I wonder how we ever made it, and I'm glad we don't have to do it all over again. We didn't have a thing when I was trying to pay for Margarito's school. A little work here, a little there; selling produce in the marketplace, working in the field, help from Mother. Gradually we were able to put together enough money to pay for the first year of teachers' school. In the second year a teacher we knew helped us get a scholarship. The most expensive item was the bus fare back and forth to Cuernavaca. We got the tuition paid for but everything else we had to pay. And for a family in the campo that is a lot of money to pay because we don't have much money in our pockets. Besides, sending a boy to school means that he is not available to work. That's an extra hardship besides the actual cost of school. Later on the teacher made arrangements for Margarito to go to a different school in which the government paid for the tuition and board at the school. (25) I've told Margarito many times, "Your guardian angel keeps a close watch over you." Both he and Hilaria have been very fortunate in life. They have been rewarded early in life and realize it. You have never met two better people in your life. Each one is eager to help whenever they can. I think they recognize their good fortune and are returning it whenever they have an opportunity.
Hector is a different case. He has had a lot of bad luck. He's as smart as the rest but just made some unwise choices which have stayed with him. For example, when he got Otilia pregnant in the second year of his studies he had to leave school and go to work before the child was born. I supported them for as long as I could but there wasn't enough money to pay for everything. Hector wanted to go to college and become an engineer but he's now a field hand. Who knows what will come of his life. He has a loving wife and two beautiful children but does not have much self-respect. Like I said earlier, you have to live with the consequences of your actions. I don't know what will happen in the long run because he is not happy being a campesino. He wanted more out of life. When we saw how unhappy he was we helped him complete secondary school while he was living with me and while Otilia was pregnant. He is a hard worker and works as a hired hand in the field or cuts wood. But there isn't much work in the village for him. Hector went to Cuernavaca where he got a good job in a factory. But he lost his job when he got involved in union politics. For over a year he earned a lot of money and had security. He even regained his self-confidence and self-respect. But after he lost his job he came back to the village and drank a lot. There wasn't much for him to do. There still isn't.
More Ignorant but More Obedient
Before, years ago, there used to be plenty of water. Several of us would do the washing together and take a picnic lunch with us. It was a time for a lot of talking while we worked. And there was always enough time for a nap in the shade while the clothes dried on the bushes. People did not have to go all the way back to where the water springs from the ground in order to get water. Now there are more people than there is water to go around. When I was growing up there was never a shortage of water in the village. The old-timers built a small altar to the Virgin on the very spot where the water comes out of the ground. One of the legends dating back to a time before the Virgin Mary, says that the Indian god Tepozteco gave the spring to the people of San Antonio because this was where he was born and the people honored him with gifts. We don't know who built the aqueduct but the old-timers tell us that it was here before their fathers' fathers and that local tribes of Indians fought over the water at one time. The water has never stopped flowing in all the years I have lived here. But now there is less water that reaches the fountain where we do our wash. What has happened is that a lot of people carry water to their homes in milk canisters. Cattle grazing is important to many in this area, but there are no streams; so water carriers take water to their animals. Even those of Santa Catarina come here for water. The only water they have is underground in pipes. It comes from Cuernavaca but is not enough for all of their needs. They get a permit from the mayor who makes outsiders pay for each load but we never see any of the money. They have to pay for it but the mayor puts the money in his pocket. The money is supposed to be used to repair the aqueduct and the fountain and also to pay for the installation of sinks for washing clothes. You can see that he's done nothing with the money because there are never any improvements made. The only improvements you see are those made by the people who use the water. No one looks out for the village, not even the officials.
Most of the people I know vote in each election. Everybody does because if you ask for a favor you have to show the officials your voter's card with a validation stamp for the last election. If you don't have a valid card your kids can have trouble getting into school. Some times I vote for the PAN; most others in the village vote for the PRI. Everything is the PRI, it wins everything even though it is destroying us. The majority of the village and municipal officials are from the PRI but you never see them helping. No, politicians come first, then the people. I wouldn't want the job of mayor in San Antonio; you have to answer to too many people. What you say to one angers another and visa versa. And the other political jobs don't pay enough. You have to have a regular income in order to be a politician; the only thing about a political job is that once you are in office you can help all of your friends and even yourself. I can make more money in one day of honest work at market than the village officials do in a month. Who needs it unless you want to get somewhere or get help from higher up.
We have had both men and women officials in the village but the position of mayor always goes to a man. It's one of the traditions in San Antonio. I don't think men can do a better job than women but it would be difficult for a woman to represent the village since it is a farming village and the mayor has to spend a lot of time making agricultural decisions with state and federal officials. Some women have farming businesses and rent their land out to renters but if you don't have the actual experience of working in the field it's hard to know what they are talking about. It is quite common for women who are the heads of their families to oversee the whole year's agricultural activities. People have respect for you if you can manage a house or farm well, and control your children. If the head of a family cannot control the children that person loses respect. So, a man doesn't necessarily have more respect than a woman just by being a man. It is how the children behave that determines how much respect you get from your neighbors. A woman can do as good a job as a man if the children listen to her and do as she says. One would think that in those houses where there are both a mother and a father there should be more order. But that isn't always the case because there is no guarantee that one of the two gives good orders or is listened to. What is important is that someone is governing the house well. It is the same with the village government; no one knows how to govern well. The problem in San Antonio is that no one keeps his word. A lot of promises but few accomplishments. Our ancestors had just as much work in the fields but managed to do civic work too. Who do you think paved the streets with stones? They had the ronda and the guardia. Back then all that they used to speak was pure mejicano. The government would call for a "faena" and all of the men who weren't working would volunteer for a project. (26) Now when the authorities call no one goes. Everybody has become demoralized. And no one does any work any more. Or they have to be paid to work in their own pueblo. Everyone wants to get paid for his work. Yet there are a lot of men out of work who don't feel any responsibility for doing anything for the village. Nor do they obey the authorities. And what is worse is that they do not recognize any civic responsibility. Before we were more ignorant but we were more obedient. Even I can remember when I was growing up there were all sorts of projects men did together during the slow time in the fields. No one got paid for the work, the women would provide the meals, and even the kids would run errands. It was truly a community project when we did work on the walls around the church. I remember it well because the wall went up right on the other side of the street from our house, and I could watch the work from the very first day. At first I thought that I would never see that huge pile of the stones converted into a wall.
I can not remember anyone ever refusing to do work on the projects. At least I wasn't aware of anyone who refused to work. Mother told me that if a person did not work when he was supposed to he was fined more days of work and ended up working longer. So I imagine there was some pressure placed on the men.
Until a few years ago there was a ronda every night. Before there was electricity several men--usually two or three--would start the ronda at the low end of the village and work their way up. They went through all of the streets, one by one, calling out on each corner that everything was all right. I don't know what they were looking for but it was just another ancient custom that came from our ancestors a time long ago. I remember it as a child and can remember it as an adult because the ronda was still patrolling the streets two years ago. How it worked was that every 20 days or so a man's name would come up and he'd have to serve. Two or three friends would usually do it together because they had to spend the whole night awake. When I was a little girl I remember that at night it was so quiet that you could hear insects crawling on the rafters. The only sounds you heard at night were Nature's sounds. Occasionally, in the distance there would be human sounds like people talking or a baby crying. But generally people stopped making sounds long before Nature did. I also noticed that the sound would change during the evening. There were dusk sounds, sunset sounds, early night sounds and late night sounds. One world would go to sleep while another would awaken. My favorite sounds were those of sunset and sunrise. I'm an early riser and love to get up with the birds and watch the whole world wake up. The sun's rays are warm and soft and so welcomed when they first fall upon your face in the early morning. I live for the sunrise and the morning when I can be totally alone with my thoughts. It's the only time during the whole day that I feel at peace with myself and Nature. I know that when I die it will be by the light of the morning sun. Now-a-days early morning is the only time there is peace in the village. Everybody has a radio or a television going all hours of the night and day. Even the motor of the neighbor's refrigerator can be heard all night long. Nature's sounds are being replaced by machine sounds. I can't help but think that Nature is not getting its proper rest and peace. The night is for making peace with the day. Can you imagine what sort of world this would be if all that we had were days and no nights? Quiet nights are for Nature to recuperate. The only man-made sound that could be heard years ago was from the battery-powered record player. There would be birthdays or special occasions when groups of people would get together for an evening. But generally even that activity would stop when it was time for the village to go to sleep. Now there are a lot of noises. Electricity has changed everything. So has the road. In the middle of the night some one will come into the pueblo in a car or a truck and wake up everyone. Can you imagine how loud those sounds are? I think they should ban motor vehicles from the streets from sundown to sunup.
The first time I remember hearing a radio I wanted to know how all of those people fitted into the box. I didn't understand. And when I went to work in Mexico City, can you imagine what I thought when I saw television for the first time? The señora explained it to me. It's just a box from which images leave. We watched one of her sons on TV one night. Now, everything can be found in the village. Cars, television, radio, blenders, everything. The peace we once had is gone for ever. The new lights they installed make a humming sound all night long. It's not loud enough to wake you but if you are awake the sound will keep you awake. And the lights are so bright that its like day time all night long. I used to be able to see the stars from my house. Not any more. If you want to see the stars you have to leave the village. Those who can afford it have their own cars and get out of the village whenever they want. There are several taxi owners who live in the village and work in Tepoztlán during the day but return at night. It's good to have them because if you ever get stranded in Tepoztlán or Cuernavaca you can call on one of our drivers to take you to the village. If it's their home trip you just pay them whatever you want. Most other taxi drivers won't come into the village because generally there is no fare going out.
The family across the street is in the taxi business in Mexico City. They are rich and own several taxi cabs and some buildings and land. The father used to work on the railroad but now runs the taxi business with his sons. They don't drive the taxicabs themselves but just rent them out to drivers. Let's suppose they charge each driver 300 pesos. The driver has to put in gas and pay the 300 pesos out of what he collects. Anything over 300 pesos is his to keep. But you have to know the city well. Otherwise you would waste a lot of time looking for the addresses. You can't depend upon the riders to know how to get to where they are going. If I'm in Mexico City and need to take a taxi I couldn't possibly tell the driver how to get there. So, to be a good taxi driver you have to know the city well and pick up as many people as possible. The father and one or two boys were born in the village but now they hardly ever come back to visit us. I've talked to the wife several times since they have left the village and she is always complaining about how tough things are in the city and how she wants to return to San Antonio someday. But she has never moved back. I don't think her family wants to move with her. The boys are all city boys now and don't even have friends in the village.
Life is probably harder in the city than in the campo but at least you can be doing something interesting while you are suffering. In the countryside sometimes you get bored because there is nothing to do except watch television. I like television but there is too much advertising for me. Most of the things they advertise we can't even buy anyway.
All of our money goes to buying essentials. There is never anything left for frivolous buying. We do have more now than when I was a girl, and we have more now that I am free to go to market and sell produce. Things haven't gotten cheaper; we've had to work harder and longer. For example, when I go to the market in Tepoztlán I take produce from the village and sell it there. Things like corn, beans or anything that's cheap here and will sell well there. But sometimes I will be in market for twelve hours.
The Good and the Bad
"Larga vida, larga cuenta." "Corta vida, corta cuenta." That is, the longer you live the more you have to account for, and the more people you will have offended. If you have a short life the smaller the number of people you will have offended and the less you will have to answer for. But those people who live longer also accomplish more. Everything is considered in the end; that is, all of your good deeds are measured against your bad deeds for a balance. You are judged both here in this world and in the next: in this world by man and in the next by God. Only God knows what is behind the circumstances which led to your actions. Man sees only the consequences of your actions and not your reasons and he condemns more quickly than God. God is infinitely forgiving, man isn't. I don't mean that you can get away with the same sin over and over again. But if you really believe in your heart that you do not want to continue sinning, yet you repeat your sin unintentionally, you will be forgiven. Some people are extremely good in some areas but not so good in others. They may have a weakness for the flesh, for example, but are otherwise kind and generous and would not hurt anyone. The goodness of the person has to be weighed against the bad because there is no one who can be good in all areas of life.
God decides who shall live and who shall die. He decides how long we shall live, one by one. We have no control over that. When one is born he is given a candle which represents his life. It is either a long candle or a short one but is burning. If the candle is thick or long, one has a long life, if thin or small, a short life. My sister died young, right after she was married. She always used to say that hers was short and thin. God must have heard her. My mother, however, cries because hers is long and she believes that she will live to see all of her children buried. Already four of eight of us have died. She has also seen several grandchildren die. All of her friends are dead too. When you live to be over eighty there aren't too many people left from your childhood. I believe that my life will be of the same length as that of my mother. I am already 48 and feel that I am only half way through my life. It is so true what they say, that if your parents are still alive you are rich beyond compare. I've lost three children: one aborted, one at birth, and one at 15 months. Each one was a different kind of loss and I grieved differently for each. I also lost a husband and I grieved harder for him than my children. My children were replaceable but my husband was unique. The same is true with my mother, she is irreplaceable. When she goes I will feel orphaned and abandoned even though I am a grandmother myself and well over 40 years old. The support that Mother has given us is greater than that which I have given my children; she is stronger than anyone I know and when she goes there will be a void in our family which cannot be filled by any other person. It is Mother who has held the family together so well for all of these years. She has gone through some of the worst crises a person can experience and has survived. She is a rock. In recent years she has asked me to make more and more of the decision. For example, I am now handling her money as well as mine. I know that no one else will step in and take the leadership of the family if I don't do it. Trini, my older brother is a drunk. Alvaro has his own family and does not want to get involved with other peoples' problems. Another sister lives in Yautepec and has never had the respect of the family. So, it looks like I will be the natural choice to head the family when Mother leaves us. Someone has to look over the family or it will break up and everyone will go his own way. Being alone without a family is insupportable. Who else but your family can you really depend upon? Friends? How long does a friendship last if you place family burdens on someone who is not related. They may be interested at first and listen and give advice but sharing a problem with a friend is like driving in a wedge because it will eventually separate you from your friend.
Birds of fortune have confirmed a lot of what I have told you. I am not the superstitious kind but the way my life has unraveled has been very close to what fortune tellers have told me. Haven't you seen the trained doves in cages in the marketplace? The birds pick up little scraps of paper and drop them in a container. Each piece of paper has a fortune written on it. The first time I bought a fortune the paper said that I would have to repeat fourth grade, and sure enough, I did! Another time the fortune read that my wedding dress would be a mourning dress and that my marriage would be a short one. For years I dreamed of my husband dying at the marriage altar. But he didn't die at the altar but 21 months after we got married. Another fortune said that I should remember everything told in my fortune because everything would come true. It also said that after 35 or 36 years--if I had lived that long--my life would be renewed, I would be reborn. And I believe that that has happened. One time I decided to test the birds and asked them to draw the lottery number for the day. When the lottery number came up different than the one I got from the birds I told the owner that they were not accurate. He then asked me if I had played the lottery. When I told him "no" he said that the number would never be a winner if I didn't play it.
I do have my favorite numbers I play whenever I have a chance and I know that I have some lucky days. Fridays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally my best selling days even though they are not the busiest days at market. I believe in such things as luck but I wouldn't put my life in the hands of any one other than myself. I may be influenced now and then by another person but generally I forget the things I am supposed to remember about my fortune from one day to the next.
I am not superstitious but I do believe that not all things are as they appear. Some of the stories we are told as children stay with us our entire lives. These stories are not meant as absolute truths or to frighten us but explanations for things that cannot be understood any other way. When you do not have the answer to a question the best answer is the one that has worked for others. For example, they say that stopping in the middle of a ravine or a riverbed will bring bad luck. You know, whenever I pass through a ravine I rush through because I don't want to find out if there is any truth to the saying? They also say that you are supposed to smoke a cigarette when you pass through a ravine. If you don't, the malos aires (27) will get you. Who knows if the cigarette smoke keeps the bad airs from entering your lungs and body. Whenever I pass through a ravine and I am by myself without a cigarette, I rush through and try not to breathe until I reach high ground on the other side. Some diseases can enter your body through your lungs. If you come upon swamp gasses and happen to smell them, it is almost certain that you will get a fever in a day or two. Whenever we are in a group and we go through a ravine someone lights a cigarette to protect all of us. One cigarette will keep the bad airs from getting to any person within the reach of the smoke.
Remember one time we talked about the stars? Well, the moon is also very important to me. It has more sensitivity than the sun and its cycle is more closely connected to our daily lives. Each one of us passes through a cycle every month. I am not talking about a woman's menstrual cycle but cycle of ups and downs. Some days are better than others; some times things go well and other times they go poorly and there is very little you can do to change the direction. Have you ever tried to alter your mood? It's hopeless. Nor should we want to alter our moods. Without the downs we wouldn't know what highs are. The older generation says it has a lot do with a natural cycle of the production of a fluid called bile in your body. This fluid puts you in good humor or bad. You can notice that sometimes-- for no apparent reason--children are in good humor and other days they are in bad humor. And there is nothing you can do to bring them out of it. They say that children who get too much fat when they are young will grow up to be mean and lonely people; that is, no one wants to be around them because they are nasty.
I buy baby pigs whenever I can afford it. It's a good investment because I can buy a young one for 500 pesos and sell it for 3000 two years later. If you don't invest the money in something like an animal all you do is eat it in the form of food. Of course, you have to buy food for the animals too. But that's an investment just like the original purchase price of the animal. There is no guarantee that you will be able to sell the adult animal at a certain price but if you keep buying baby pigs sooner or later you will be able to sell them at a good price. The price of food is always going up. You can't go wrong with investing in little pigs or chickens.
Chickens are the easiest animals to raise of all. But, of course, you don't get as much when you sell them. Since almost anyone can raise a few chickens in their backyards, there are more chickens than any other animals at market. Haven't you noticed that even the vegetable and fruit vendors have their little cages of chickens? I've seen them sell all of their produce but pack up their chickens to take home. Turkeys are a good investment but they are harder to raise, cost two or three times more than baby chicks, and eat more than chickens. You can sell them for much more than a full grown chicken, though. Baby chicks are cheap and can be bought in town. But the ones from the rancho are healthier than those from the granjas. (28) Some that are running around here I bought at the granja at 36 pesos each and others were raised by one of my hens. I have raised many generations of the black and white chickens over the years. They are a healthy breed, resist diseases, and take the minimum amount of time and effort to raise. From each batch of young chickens I keep several of the best females and one good male in order to continue the line; the rest I get rid of. Either we eat them or I sell them here in the village or in the marketplace. Unless someone comes to the house to buy chickens I take them directly to Tepoztlán where I can get nearly twice as much. Some breeds of chickens are layers while others are for cooking. The black and white ones are both. If you want a cooking chicken you slaughter one while it is still young but if you let it live, by the end of its first year it will start laying regularly.
The money you have given me this year has been invested in chickens and for yours and Hilaria's birthdays we will have chicken mole. (29) I've managed to reinvest several times the amount you originally gave me. The chicken coop was built from money I got from market sales of chickens. I'll never get rich raising chickens but the money I make from chicken sales combined with what I get from selling produce at Tres Marías and Tepoztlán does cover all of our basic necessities. And if I work a little extra each week I can even buy a few luxuries. For the first time in my whole life I have some savings. I don't actually have the cash in my hand but I can get it when I need it. Like don Tomás I am lending money to friends and acquaintances and charging interest. For the smallest loans over the shortest period of time--which is a month--I charge 10 to 15 percent interest per month. For larger amounts over longer periods, like six months, I charge 5 to 10 percent. So far I have not had enough money to go beyond family needs. You know, however, that there are hundreds of people in the village who are related to us. I never have any problem with people not paying their debts. They are so happy to be able to borrow money from someone in the village who does not ask them to fill out long forms or insist that the transaction be notarized that they gladly repay their loans or renegotiate them. It happens many times that I will renegotiate a second loan for the full amount of the first one. Some will be able to pay the interest but other will have the interest included in the new loan. I didn't invent the rules; I learned them from others in the village who lend money regularly. I have had more dealings with don Tomás than I care to remember. He used to lend us money for Margarito's education. Don Tomás always made us pay the interest each month and if we were one or two days late we had to pay interest on the interest. He is a millionaire today and we helped him get there.
Did you notice anything different about the tortillas today? Last night the corn grinder in the village broke and I had to take the nixtamal (30) to Tepoztlán on the first bus to have it ground. They taste the same as always but their texture is different and they are sticking to the grill. Whenever our village corn grinding machine breaks down we usually buy tortillas in Tepoztlán instead of taking nixtamal there because they replace our good white corn with cheap yellow; the taste is nowhere equal. So, it's better just to buy tortillas. Enough of us went in this morning so we could watch the grinders to make sure they did not switch the corn. There was a time when all of the women of the village ground their own corn on their metates but now-a-days we use the metate only in the final preparation of the corn dough into tortillas. Also, all women used to make their tortillas by hand. Few can do that today. We use these tortilla presses that take only a few seconds. The taste is the same only the noise is different. I can remember when I was a little girl I would wake up every morning to the sound of women patting corn dough into tortillas. And when there were several women in the kitchen doing it together, it sounded like soft applause. Now-a-days all you hear coming from the houses is the morning television news and weather or the sound of blenders making juice. Nature's sounds are much softer than machine noises and are usually lost. Only when there is a real bad thunderstorm does Nature win over machines. And you can't turn Nature off like you can a machine.
We will be going to Chalmas again this year. Do you care to go with us? You'll have to stay over night in the village because the bus leaves here at 4:30 in the morning. We will be gone the whole day, arriving in the evening about 10:00. This will be my sixth trip and I usually have no trouble walking the distance. Tens of thousands of people will arrive during the week. We go to offer prayers; they say there is something special about the church. They call it "Church of Chalmas, the Miracle Worker". During holy week celebrations the church is always full of people who come looking for miracles and the grounds around the church and all along the roads leading to it are full of vendors. They sell everything: hats, curios, pulque. (31) Some people get there in such a state of drunkenness that they fall asleep at the beginning of the service and don't wake until it's over. I am usually so tired after I return from Chalmas that it takes me several days to recuperate.
Remember one day we talked about Rosa and her daughter? The ones who are always roaming the streets begging for money and food? Well, one day when we came back to San Antonio from one of our trips to Chalmas we found Rosa wandering about the streets dragging her little girl behind her. Something had happened to Rosa; she turned crazy overnight. We tried talking to her but she didn't understand us; we thought that sooner or later she would come out of her condition and return to normal. Her husband could not keep her at home because she would scream and fight and rave nonsense things. So, he let them roam. All we could do was to offer food and clothing when we saw they needed them. One day, after several years of silence, Rosa started saying "Un peso" with her hand stretched out. She'd ask everyone she saw for a peso. She has not added very much to her vocabulary since. I don't believe that I have heard her use more than ten different words. As the months passed Rosa and her daughter became a regular sight in the street. After several months we noticed that the daughter was pregnant. Everyone tried to help but in the end she had a miscarriage. We think that mother and daughter were raped by the same man or men and that it was done to one in the presence of the other. It must have been so horrible that it left both of them crazy and speechless. They are family to us. Hector's father is a brother to Rosa. In other words, she's the boys' aunt. They stop at the house at least once a day for a hand-out. Some people in the village want to get rid of them because they are embarrassing; they dirty themselves all of the time. But Rosa and her daughter have as much right as anyone to live the rest of their lives in this village. San Antonio is as much theirs as it is anyone's. It would be more cruel to lock them away in a sanitarium for the rest of their lives. Rosa must have a fortune in those big bags she drags along with her. She has about 10 bags and each one is full of clothing. But she must also have money since a lot of people have given her money over the years and she has not spent it on anything. We may never know what happened that made them this way, and I don't especially want to know. It might be so terrible that it would be best not to know.
My mother and father were never married. People never made anything out of it. Not even the teachers, they never asked if we were legitimate or not. There was never a Father's Day when I went to school so I didn't have to worry about that. Mother's Day, yes, and I had a mother so it was no problem. There were some classmates who didn't have mothers. We used to put on programs for our mothers, like dances and dialogues and plays. They were very serious occasions and we put on beautiful performances. We prepared all of the food ourselves and invited our mothers to come for lunch. My real father, don Salvador, didn't recognize us as his legitimate children; we were natural children. I don't know who left whom, either he left my mother or she left him. When my parents did separate my mother was three months pregnant with me. So I am not legitimate. My father used to beat my mother and that was the reason they separated. One time he cut her with a machete. She has a huge scar on her back. After that incident she moved away.
Mother is a great storyteller. She doesn't do it too often now-a-days because she falls a sleep early in the evening. If you get her in the right mood--like when she is cooking a meal in a large pot and has to attend to what she is doing--she will talk for hours and hours. When she tells a story she becomes a different person than the one I know. Although I know that she is telling us the truth when she reminisces, some of the stories are hard to believe. I don't know how she survived some of her experiences. I have heard Mother tell the story about the Revolution many times. She cries as though it had happened yesterday. She tells one story about being raped which is worse than you can imagine. Apparently, she was trapped in the village one day when the federales arrived looking for enemy troops. Four or five men grabbed Mother and tore her clothes off and began to rape her in the street. While several of the men held her down the others took turns on top of her. When they were through using her for their pleasure one of the soldiers took his rifle and shoved the barrel in her until the pain was so great that she passed out. When she regained consciousness the first thing she felt was the cold evening air; she crawled behind a stone fence and tried to cover herself with leaves and grass to stay warm. The pain of the injury and the cold of the night kept her awake most of the night and by morning she was delirious. She said that she wanted to die, that she actually tried to wish herself dead. She even dug herself a hole in the dirt and covered her bare body with dirt hoping she would just stop living. For three night she did not leave her hole. When she finally crawled out from behind the fence no one recognized her, they thought she was some kind of horrible creature from the dead. No one in the world missed her nor was anyone looking for her because her mother and father were already dead, she had no brothers or sisters, and the rest of the family was scattered all over the state. That happened 70 years ago during the Revolution. Mother was 12 years old. "The lucky people," she said, "were the ones who died right away and who did not have to carry that pain around their entire lives." There were a lot who died. When you go to the cemetery you notice that the years of the Revolution have the most markers.
We need a larger cemetery in San Antonio; only a few more will fit inside the fence. If everyone of us would put a tombstone on the grave of just one relatives, there won't be any place left for the rest of us. Everyone gets buried in San Antonio within 24 hours; no one is embalmed or cremated. In addition to the regular cemetery there is one spot where the bodies of 16 men are buried in a communal grave just outside of the village; Mother knows where the grave is. The men were killed during the Revolution.
They say everyone should return to the earth. There is a saying, "It is the earth that gives and takes away." The earth keeps us alive and we have to give it something to eat now and then. The soil can only support so many. When we are alive we want to eat. And the earth wants to eat too. We have to feed it. It gets hungry when no one dies. You can hear the earth cry when it gets hungry.
Some say there is no Heaven or Hell in the afterlife. The soul is like a bird and can fly from one world to the next. In a way I believe that heaven is for those who enjoy life and are happy and cause no one any pain; Hell is for those who suffer in this life. We will have lived in this life whatever we are going to live in the afterlife.
Mother tells other stories about the Revolution besides the one about being raped. She and father both lived through it and tell horrifying stories. San Antonio was especially hard-hit because this area was the center of the zapatistas. With the fighting going on no one could plant the fields because when there were people there were no oxen or when it was time to plant corn there were no people. Everything that could be eaten was taken. If the revolutionaries didn't take it the federales would. In the end there was nothing, just the skeletons of the houses remained and most of the fields were abandoned and over-grown with weeds. Here and there would be a chicken or turkey which had escaped but most living things had simply disappeared. (32)
There wasn't even a government. Tepoztlán would send soldiers into the village on occasion but it wasn't for the purpose of establishing a government. You hear the old-timers talk about the revolution all of the time and when they do, they speak of it as a time when Mexico ceased to exist as a land with law and order. For ten years there was total lawlessness. No one had any rights. It was the gun that ruled Mexico. The story that you hear the old people tell is quite a bit different from the one you hear the kids tell. The teachers and the school books create the impression that every soldier was a hero. Nobody pays any attention to the poor people who were the ones who suffered the most. Father still says that the motivation for the revolution was the vengeance of one man upon another. The whole country was set on fire and all sorts of criminals and bandits or anyone else with a gun joined the fighting and called himself a revolutionary. One by one they eliminated each other until exhaustion set in. There were no winners in the end. Mexico lost the Mexican Revolution.
San Antonio has achieved a lot since the Revolution but it was more a question of doing it ourselves or doing it in spite of the Revolution. Santa Catarina down the road has never recovered from the fighting and to this day the people are very strange and evil. They still shoot people they don't like and are very unfriendly to strangers. It's not that they would kill you if you walked down the street but they would ask you to identify yourself if they didn't know you. They don't like any outsiders in their village and they still speak mejicano, even the chamaquitos. (33) We don't have much to do with them although some of our villagers are related to them. Most of them aren't much better than animals. They are the ones who come here for water but when we go to their mountain to cut wood they charge us hundreds of pesos. That is why we don't like to give them water. They are bad people.
When the Revolution was over and people began returning to San Antonio, what they found was a dead village. The churches had been used as stables, the roofs were gone from the houses and the limestone ovens were in decay. My father had just turned twenty-one when he returned to San Antonio; he had served four years in the rebel forces and fought in the southern part of the state with troops loyal to Zapata. He told me that he didn't like the service and when he had a chance to run away, he did; he had had enough fighting. Back in the village he and his brother went into the field with just a hoe and planted a few rows of corn and some chiles and a few other things. That was a start. He said it saddened him to see the barren fields; everyone knew that this was one of the most fertile valleys in the state. My father often laments that he doesn't know why he was permitted to live when so many others died, but he says that God kept him alive for some reason. Maybe the others didn't pray as much as my father.
Although my mother's family had owned land prior to the Revolution, there was no way for her to claim the property rights afterwards. Several rich men from the city had bought all of the abandoned land and, when people began moving back into the village, began selling it back to individuals.
The very first piece of land that my mother owned is the one we are living on now. Eight years ago my brother Victor died and left a sizeable inheritance for his widow and his mother. Victor had been a school teacher in Vera Cruz and met his wife there. The wife and one child still live in the city of Vera Cruz. Mother has said many times that her house will never take Victor's place and that she would rather have her son alive in Vera Cruz than have the new house here. My other brothers are greedy and want a piece of the property when my mother dies, but they don't deserve it because they never helped their brother with the cost of school. There will be some legal complications when Mother dies because my brother bought the land with his wife. It is still registered to his heir, his wife and has not been transferred to Mother legally. Victor bought the land and we built a jacal (34) and started living here. It wasn't much more than a dump yard, everyone threw their garbage here.
Mother did have another piece of property once. When Victor was little one of his distant relatives died and left him a small plot of farm land. It wasn't large enough to support a family but was good land and could be worked along with other land. Mother rented the plot or farmed it herself until Victor was old enough to go to school. She sold the land to pay for his college education. Victor never forgot the sacrifice Mother made for him and promised some day to repay the debt. He also promised to buy her a brand new sewing machine, since Mother is a seamstress. At the end of his first year of work he came home with his proud gift for Mother. It was a brand new Singer sewing machine in a cabinet. We still have it, of course. It is worth a fortune now because it was one of the last foot-operated sewing machines sold in Mexico. The cabinet is all hand-carved and there are drawers on each side. Although she has used it for years it looks like it just came out of the box. She oils it herself and does minor repairs when it needs it. No one is permitted to use it except Hilaria who is being taught how to sew. Mother said that the family can sell it in order to pay for her funeral. I'll never want to sell it because the new ones are not as good as the old ones. Foot power is more dependable that electricity. Many men who return from the north bring electric sewing machines home to their wives but within a few months they break down and cost more to repair than what they cost new. Most people who have devices with electrical motors have trouble with the motors burning out. The flow of electricity is not steady and there are surges of power that cause the lights to get very bright and even burn out. Other times you can hardly get any light out of a bulb. If you happen to be running your sewing machine during one of these surges the motor will over heat if you don't turn it off right away. The few people who have refrigerators know that when they leave the house for any length of time they must either unplug them for the entire time they are gone or have someone watch the house.
My House and the Buses
I bought all of this building material to build a house. Part of the cost of the materials I pay and the government pays the rest. PROCLAMAR also pays for the labor of the chief tradesmen and I pay for the day laborers. The lodging of the brick layer and his men and also the food they eat while they are working on my house are my responsibility. But since I have two boys I don't have to pay for a laborer; my boys are the laborers. Those who don't have children have to pay for helpers in addition to the tradesmen.
PROCLAMAR is for those people who can't afford to pay for the construction of their own house. Or, for those who have part of their house completed and just need finishing, like my mother. They plan to build 120 houses in the village. Can you imagine. 60 new houses and 60 rebuilt and remodeled ones. All of this building is supposed to take two years; in the first year they will build the new houses and in the second year they plan on rebuilding the other houses. I'm glad that my house is being built first. Who knows what will happen in a year when they are supposed to come back.
The houses are very basic with nothing fancy. If we want extras we can hire the same craftsmen to do the special work on their own time if they are willing to work. I would like a bathroom but that is extra. We still use the corral for a bathroom; but if we want to use an indoor toilet we can go to don Magdaleno's to do number two. There is no running water, just a hole in the ground. An indoor room for a toilet and sink and shower with plumbing will cost 10,000 pesos; in addition there is the cost of the fixtures. It would be nice to have a place to bathe in private. A shower is not absolutely necessary but a room with a curtain is preferable to using the side of the house like we do. You have no privacy whatsoever. We are going to put in electricity too. As soon as we can afford it we will install lights indoors and out. It'll cost about 1000 pesos. But we will have two outlets indoors plus overhead light fixtures. Maybe we will have a TV one day. Everything takes time and sooner or later I get the things I know I can have. I never aspire to those things that are out of my reach. That only makes a person unhappy. My two older boys are a lot like me; they set a goal and work towards that end. Can you imagine that Margarito is now a school teacher? Who would have thought that ten years ago when he had to work in he fields just to buy his books for the next semester? There were others, of course, who helped him. My mother, other family members, and I all contributed to his education.
Anyway, it took me many years but I managed to save about 20,000 pesos and we used it all on the material you see there. I saved a little money each week from what I got at market selling produce or anything else that I could afford to buy here and sell there. With the money I saved I would buy little pigs or chicks and sell them half-grown or full-grown, depending on what the people want. And some times I will even buy a half-grown pig and raise it until it is of mating age or even wait until it has a litter. On some sales I can realize a profit of three or four times my original investment. It's the starting that's the difficult thing to do. Saving is not that hard once you make it a part of your life and set aside a certain amount each week. Before you know it you have a little treasury. Once I have the money I hate to spend it, though. And did you ever wonder why we have hundreds of soft drink bottles lined up along the fence? Each one is worth two or three or five times what it originally cost. If we wish we can buy the bottle when we buy a soft drink. If we have a bottle to return all we pay for is the drink, naturally. However, I make it a practice of buying the bottle each and every time I buy a soda. At the rate the children drink soft drinks, it's a good investment.
Most of my business sense is common sense but a lot of it I learned from watching Mama. She is very good at market and is respected by the people with whom she trades. She has sold everything imaginable, from cal to prunes. I travel to three different markets to sell. Each market day is a different day of the week and to each site I take different goods. The only trouble I have is transportation. When bus drivers see me coming with a big bundle of corn husks or several bags of corn they try to get away before I can board. They don't like to handle loads. Loads slow them down too much since they have to wait until you get your bundle off the roof or out of the rear of the bus. They say that passenger buses are for people and not freight. They fight with all of us over our loads. They don't realize that they'd have no business if it weren't for the campesinos who use the buses daily. We need something like a freight carrier service because so much depends on our getting the produce to market. The little person is the one who needs the bus service for his produce. The big farmers can afford to hire a truck when they have a huge load. But generally for us we travel with small loads whenever we can put together enough to make a trip to market worthwhile. Some of the drivers are nicer than others and will charge us only one extra fare for our bundle, plus they will let us put it on the roof. Others make us break our load down into smaller parcels and then store it. Sometimes they charge us 50 pesos for each load. I'll pay 20 and no more. They are always giving us trouble but that is only part of the story. Some day I will tell you how the authorities abuse us in the market places. You have to give them what they want or they will take it. If you put up resistance they arrest you.
Now-a-days education is everything. You need it to get out of the village; you need it to get a good job; you need it for everything. But it costs so much to go beyond high school that few from our position can ever make it. Our ancestors used to say that it wasn't with school that one takes care of himself but with life's experiences. Well, that philosophy is fine if you never want to leave the village. For many it is a punishment to have to live their entire lives here in San Antonio. Every person I know who has been really successful in life and has made a lot of money has gotten a good education and has left the village. Few of us would stay here if it weren't for the serenity and the security that San Antonio gives us. Life is hectic outside of the valley but that is the price you must be willing to pay if you want to get ahead.
I wanted to go to normal school in Morelia and become a teacher but my mother wouldn't let me even though my padrino was going to give me a scholarship. He had several daughters who were going and invited me to go along since we were all friends. But my mother said I couldn't go, and I didn't. One time when I was angry with her over something, I said to her, "I am nothing because you didn't let me go away to school." She said that it was the only decision she could make because she could not accept a gift from don Emilio nor did she have the money to pay it back. She also said that I would have become too selfish for the good of the family. My friends who went to the school are school teachers now; I could have been one too since I was at least as smart as they. I actually had two opportunities to go to school. After I was widowed I was offered help by my late husband's family but again my mother said no and gave me the same reasons. I cried; I was furious. When my mother gave me orders I wouldn't obey. I was 13. I'm still mad about it because I haven't amounted to anything. I wanted to amount to something in my life. I've done nothing except work hard in this village and have never gotten out. I'm still here after 40 years and will never amount to anything. I could have gone if I had abandoned my mother. But I didn't want to be on my own. When you disobey your parent it means you abandon them as well. It's so much easier for a man. Look at Victor. He had great opportunities, and he became what he wanted to. For me it was different; I had to take what was given to me by life. I didn't control my own destiny.
Mama has even interfered with the raising of Hilaria. What will happen when Hilaria wants to leave? Mother has told me that there is little money for educating girls. Since loans have to be repaid most parents are not willing to go into debt for their daughters because most young women leave their professions once they become pregnant. When they have no job they are unable to pay their debts. That means the parents or their new husbands have to continue paying them. But most husbands have debts of their own when they get married and are reluctant to take on those of their wives. When it comes to making money women are not as productive as men and have a harder time repaying their debts. How much money can a mother with three babies make? With men it's different. Regardless of how many children there are they can still leave the house and go to work.
Look at my son Margarito; everyone helped him, even Mother. She contributed nearly as much as I did to help pay for his schooling. Of course, he has had to pay it back. So it was like an investment. Maybe she is right in saying that investing in girls is "wasted money"; but we all have a right to make certain decisions about our future. Another time when I got mad at Mama I yelled, "Just because you don't know anything you want us to know nothing too." I know that I'm blind when it comes to a lot of things and part of the reason for that is that I never got more of an education than primaria. (35)
And Mother is responsible for that. I never had the opportunity to learn much but I do appreciate what learning is all about.
I am very proud of Margarito. All of my children want to make something out of life but only Margarito has been successful so far. And frankly I don't have much confidence in the rest. Margarito made a decision a long time ago and has stuck with it and worked hard to achieve what he has gotten. He has ambition and discipline and patience. With those qualities you can go far. Every time he comes back to the village for a visit he works hard on the house or in the fields to help repay what he owes us. He also sends us money regularly while still taking care of his wife and babies. Neither one of my sons drinks heavy. They have seen what drinking can do to a man. We have two alcoholics in the family: their father Enrique and their uncle, my brother, Trini. Their lives have been ruined by the bottle. Those who drink never make it in life. They lack ambition and look to the bottle instead of themselves for answers to their problems. I don't think that it's the amount of problems one has in this life that lead to drinking. Rather, one's problems are compounded or even start with drinking. If problems drove people to drink why am I not a drunkard? Do you know of anyone who has suffered as much as I have? Do you know what it is like to lose a husband and a son in one year?
Margarito is in Tabasco working as a teacher. He is close to the Guatemalan border and works with indígenas. (36)
They speak their own language and eat monkeys. I could never eat a monkey; they're too much like seres humanas. (37)
We speak Spanish and mejicano. We are not indígenas because we speak Spanish. The people he works with have a lot of strange customs which are difficult for us to understand. They think entirely different from us; they are very, very poor, sleep on boards, and eat monkeys; and they are unfriendly to outsiders. Margarito says that he has never been invited into one of their houses. They hide from him when they see him coming. All of the school teachers come from the outside. Although hard on the young teachers, spending a year there is good training. When they get back to civilization they appreciate their permanent assignments.
Most of the teachers in San Antonio come from this municipality or state, not from other parts of the country. We have had more of our own who have gone to other parts of the country to teach than we have had outsiders here. It's best if a person from the village goes to another village to work because people are always envious of others' success. Remember Donato? He created a lot of enemies because he was from the village and taught here. He wanted to amount to something in his life and worked hard to advance. Some people called him ambitious. He finally left the village and is now a superintendent of a school in Cuernavaca.
I've told you about my brother Victor? Well, he was a school teacher who taught primaria but only had secundaria schooling himself. There was a time when rural teachers needed only secundaria and a government course before they could teach in the pueblo. And the government paid for everything. It was one way we had to get ahead, to get out of the campo. Now life is so much more complicated with all of the paper work that goes on. Despite that, San Antonio has produced many more teachers than other pueblos. Even the governor has pointed that out when he has spoken here. Now-a-days you have to have more than secundaria to teach. You need a university degree. That has made it very difficult for the campesinos to get ahead. We will always be campesinos or day laborers unless we get help in reaching the university. Here in the village we have never had anything more than a primaria. Since I can remember, and long before that, if you wanted to go to secundaria you had to travel to Tepoztlán. The majority of the children go to Tepoztlán daily. It is much easier now since we have a road and the bus picks them up right here in the center of the village. Before we had to walk to el "15" (38) in order to catch a bus.
I have always hoped for the best for Hilaria. I thought she would grow up and be whatever she wanted to be. But things haven't always gone well for her. She lacked the grades she needed to get into the university free. After we found an opening in a private school we lost the tuition when the teachers went on strike. The school never reopened. All of the money you sent her for her education went that first year. I blame most of her problems on the system. There is no protection for the little people in Mexico. The system is rotten. The rich always end up with the money in the end. Where did all of the money go we paid to the school? Hilaria was just one of several thousand students sent home when the doors closed. Tuition is only a part of the total expense. School requires a lot of extras, like for the celebrations. "Chingaderas" (39) my son calls them. And they are. The biggest expenses are not books and supplies, like paper, but those things related to activities outside the classroom. For example, I had to buy a uniform and other things for just one occasion; it was a parade. They say Mexico is rich but the people aren't. That's especially true in the villages where everyone works with the land. And we can lose everything if there is no rain or if the crops are destroyed by hail or insects. Yet we have to pay back with interest every peso we borrow. So again, the rich get it in the end. And the government doesn't help us very much either. It should--we help it get into power every election. Have you ever known of a poor person in the government? No, the people who run the government don't care about us. Now they say we can export oil and get food cheaper from foreign countries. What's going to happen to all of this land in the countryside? Already there is a lot of it that is not farmed. Mexico needs its campesinos. Hilaria wants to study nursing but there is no money. I have never had enough for all of my children and have had to make some difficult decisions. I can get Hilaria started but someone has to keep her in school. We can't let her fall in the middle of her career; that would be worse than not letting her get started in the first place. She is looking for work now. I don't know what she will do but perhaps she will earn enough to pay for part of her education. I still think that school is the best guide for a person in this life. They say, "He who doesn't learn doesn't see and he who doesn't see doesn't know." I'd like to add one more line to that saying: "He who doesn't know doesn't get ahead."
On the second day of the new year, l96l, Hilaria's mother died. I received her on the fourth of the month; just nine days after my baby girl had died.
Don Mario, Hilaria's father, and I were old family friends but we had never been close. My mother and he were much closer in age and were old friends. When Hilaria's mother, doña Adolfa, died they took the infant to an aunt who was nursing one of her own babies and talked her into nursing Hilaria as well. But there wasn't enough milk for both babies. Her baby was two months old and was consuming a lot of milk; so the aunt decided to stop feeding Hilaria. It was about this time that don Mario went to my mother and asked her if I would take Hilaria and nurse her until someone could be found who would raise the baby. Actually, don Mario wanted to pay somebody to nurse his daughter. My mother came to me and told me about the predicament and asked me to consider taking the baby. My mom said, "Let's take the child." I said, "What for?" And my brothers Trini and Fortino agreed that I should take her. "If he pays you or not, take her and raise her." I was frightened, though, because I had heard that before anyone had known that doña Adolfa had died, Hilaria had continued to suckle her mother the whole night. In those days baby formulas were unheard of. The only way we understood nursing an infant was with our breasts. Now-a-days it is almost all baby formulas and few nurse. Women are too busy to take the time to feed their babies. Or, it is a combination of both breast and bottle. My immediate reaction was to say "no." The idea did not appeal to me at first. But I did agree to go take a look at the infant. Hilaria's mother died when she was two days old, the aunt had to stop feeding her the day after she had gotten her. When I saw Hilaria the first time she was five days old and had not eaten for one full night and the whole next day. She was crying her head off because she was starving. Naturally, I couldn't just walk away and let the infant die just like that and agreed to give her my breast to quiet her. But I had very little milk! In the week since my baby died my breasts had begun to dry up and there was only a trace of milk that came out. Together the father, aunt, my mother and brother and I agreed that the aunt would nurse her one more day until I could see a doctor who would give me medication to increase my milk flow. That very day we went to Cuernavaca and got the medicine, came home, and by that evening I was beginning to give more milk to Hilaria. We also gave teaspoons of warn cinnamon water to her to keep her throat moist and to temper her stomach. My milk was not agreeing with her right away. In a few days things had become quite normal, she was nursing three to four times a day and at least once at night. Don Mario stopped by now and then and talked a lot about "renting" my breasts. I was embarrassed because I didn't like to think that they could be "rented" like things. After a few weeks, however, he stopped mentioning paying me money and pretty soon he stopped visiting. Months would go by without ever seeing him. He took up with another woman and didn't have time for his baby girl nor me. As the weeks passed I thought of Hilaria more as my baby than his. She was like a replacement for the one which had died. "God takes away with one hand and gives with the other."
After about a month don Mario came to ask me to baptize her. I said that he should and we had this discussion. Finally my mother said that we would go ahead and baptize Hilaria, buy her clothes and register her. So we did and after a while no one ever stopped to ask me how don Mario's baby was but rather how my baby was. Since I was not nursing any other babies at the time Hilaria got plenty to eat. After about nine months, don Mario came and gave me 700 pesos of the old kind--not those of today. That was a lot of money for that time but that's all that he has ever given me. And after he married the woman he was living with, the one he has now, he never came to the house. Only the grandfather would remember his son's daughter. But now he is dead. He used to come to visit us and bring us small things, maybe a few pesos, some soap, a few clothes, mostly to keep the child clean and well-dressed.
We never changed Hilaria's last name to ours. We never adopted her because I wasn't married at the time I got her. It was all very complicated so we just left it the way she was born. Her father recognizes her as his child but he had a lot of trouble with the law and went into hiding. He killed a man. Every one knows it. It was in self-defense but he ran away and was gone for years. When Hilaria found out, years later, she wanted to change her name to ours. But the law did not work for us. She was too old by that time. It has to be done earlier. We even went to a lawyer in Cuernavaca who told us that it was too late to change her name. "Besides," he said, "a name doesn't mean anything. It is the person who counts."
After she found out who her father was, Hilaria would go to don Mario's house to play with her brothers and sisters; but she stopped going when she learned he was a fugitive. She has been with us ever since. My two sons love Hilaria as a sister. That's what she has always been to them. They never hurt her; they protect her all of the time and feel as close to her as they do to one another. The wife of my older son, Margarito, is don Mario's daughter by his second wife. Hilaria and Matilde are half sisters.
When Hilaria was two years old, her grandfather (father of don Mario) came to the house and asked for Hilaria. "But you can't have her," I said. He wanted to give me money for her but I wouldn't take it. How could I sell Hilaria? Having her was all that I wanted. We had not made a contract of any kind. Besides, I didn't want Hilaria raised like the other children of don Mario. It is a custom in the village to have a child every two years. The older brother of Hilaria was not well taken care of. He was dirty all of the time, he dirtied himself and no one changed him. He played in the streets all of the time. I did not want to see Hilaria grow up like her older brother.
I told him, "When Hilaria is seven come back and see if she wants to return with you." "If so, take her away." I wanted her to decide for herself. First I wanted to teach her the things she had to know about cooking and house chores. Who would look over Hilaria and teach her? The other woman of don Mario? Stepmothers look after their own children first, then her stepchildren. Someone has to teach a girl the things a girl has to know. I wanted to be that someone. Besides, the sight of her brother, all dirty and sleeping in the street, was so disagreeable that I could not bring myself to allow Hilaria to end up the same way.
And, so, years passed and Hilaria grew up and went to school and had playmates and lived a normal childhood. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. Nothing special. Even I forgot that she wasn't mine. Once in a while I would be reminded about it whenever I would see her father or one of her family but after a few years I lost my fears over having to give her up. The longer she was with me the harder it would be to have someone take her away. She was mine, really. I nursed her, I raised her, I fed and clothed her and educated and trained her. Everyone who knew me never thought of us as anything other than mother and daughter. I taught Hilaria letters before she went to first grade. She was very bright and learned how to write two years before her classmates; she learned how to count too. In that time there was no kindergarten. Now the kids learn that stuff in kindergarten.
One day she came home from school and said to me, "They say at school that you are not my mother." I had told her but she never really understood until that day. There was no question about it; she did understand now. Finding out that way, however, was painful; but until then she was incapable of understanding what it meant. So, we talked and I told her again that her mother had died right after she was born and that I had taken her in because I still had pecho (40) to give her. "I am not your real mother but I raised you as if you were mine." "I never had a girl that lived and you were the answer to my prayers." And she said, "Well, if my mother died when she gave birth to me I must have killed her." "No you didn't," I said. "Well, who killed her, then?" I told her that no one had killed her. She died from natural causes; she died from cancer. Then she asked me if her father had killed her mother. She had heard that her father had killed a man and thought that her father was a killer. "Your mother died of natural causes," I told her again. But she didn't seem to understand. For a long time Hilaria felt guilty for having caused her mother's death. She would cry, "Yo la maté," (41) and then have nothing to do with me for days. One day she stopped crying, hugged me and said, "I am very lucky you took me in, Mother."
There was more to the story that she learned years later. On the night of the day that Hilaria was born, December 31, l960, the daughter of a compadre of don Mario died. And he went to the home of his compadre and got drunk. When he returned home he crawled into bed with his wife and new-born child. That is not done in this village. A man leaves his wife alone for months after she has given birth. For some reason--and we will never know--maybe because of some infection or because of the mal humor (42) that don Mario was in, his wife became ill and died two days later. The doctor said she died from cancer. But who knows.
Hilaria was doña Adolfa's ninth child. Eight are still living. Hilaria's real name is Hilaria Silvestra. That is what the birth certificate says. But on her church papers it says Silvestra Hilaria, because her father wanted the name Hilaria as her nickname. She was born in the evening of the last day of l960 but we celebrate her birthday January 1.
In the Summer of 1961 when you carried her to church and baptized her you not only became Hilaria's godfather but also the compadre of both don Mario and me. Her father has never acknowledged you as a compadre. He is too embarrassed to meet you since you are educated and he isn't; he says that he wouldn't have anything to say to you and wonders what the two of us talk about for hours and hours. The family has money now and Hilaria's brothers would pay for her trip to the U.S. if you would take her back with you. If she ever wants to go to the U.S. to study they would also pay. Hilaria has always been lucky; I guess so, the first time I looked at her I took her in. And she has always been one of the family just like everyone else. We never thought of her as any one other than my daughter. For me she was the replacement for the one that died. She is beautiful and good and always in high spirits.
Every once in a while she talks about getting married but she doesn't even have a boy friend yet. She fell in love with a traveling veterinary doctor by the name of Pablo who used to come to the village to treat the animals. He wanted to marry her but he wasn't right for Hilaria. He traveled around the country alot and had many women. Besides, he was 33, Hilaria was only 18. I advised her not to entertain any ideas about marrying him. One time he said, "Doña Celsa, may I have permission to take Hilaria to Cuernavaca?" I told him "No!" Perhaps in the city young people can be seen together without chaperones but in the campo it is a different thing. We belong to another society. What would people say about her if they saw her go off with him by herself and come back the next day? It would have been bad for her reputation. I told him that if he wanted to take her and her grandmother or brother, that was fine. But he wouldn't agree to that condition. In the campo when two young people are seen together it means more than it does in the city. I finally told him that if his parents did not come with him to ask for her hand in marriage that he had seen enough of her. I couldn't give them permission of go off together because I would be responsible for whatever happened to Hilaria. I told Hilaria, though, that if she really loved him and wanted to go off with him she should not ask me for permission. Just go.
If she ever went to the United States--with you, for example--I would transfer to you the responsibility of supervising her. I think it would be good for her to go, if for no other reason than to known some place other than San Antonio. She could always be a domestic. Look at how she works around my mother's house. She even works at both houses some days.
Everybody gives Hilaria gifts. She has gotten more than most people do in a lifetime. And she has a lot of jewelry stashed away. She's like a gypsy. She has a large chestof-drawers in which she keeps all of her things. Some day she is going to get land too because her family has land and when her father dies she will get some. Just recently don Mario loaned her 21,000 pesos for her education. We returned it, though, because she couldn't get accepted. Too many people applied for the few openings that existed in the public colleges and too many people have better grades than she. We'd like her to go to any school but her grades are not good enough to qualify for a scholarship. There are private schools that will take her but they cost much more than we could ever afford. Now she is thinking about going to work in a factory in Cuernavaca. But who knows. Factory work is hard work and she would have to live in Cuernavaca, not in San Antonio. It's too long a day to travel from here to a factory, work all day, and return home. Hector does it but it is difficult on him. How could Hilaria leave at five in the morning and return at five in the evening? Besides, often one misses the bus and has to walk into the village. For a man it is acceptable to walk the road at night but for a woman it is too dangerous. In fact, it is even dangerous for men too. They say there are banditos in the hills around here and they wait until dark in order to rob people. I don't know if that is true or not but now-a-days few people ever walk into the village at night. We know a family in Cuernavaca who would give her a room for awhile. Some day Hilaria is going to leave the village. I'm sure of that. I can't see her spending her entire life here the way I have.
The future has to be better than that.
Life in the Campo
The government says that Mexico is experiencing economic difficulties and that it will be the campesino who gets the country out of its troubles and whose work will save the nation. The campo has done it before and it will do it again. We are always the ones who are called upon to make sacrifices or to do the hard work when the politicians get us into trouble. There is a lot of potential because there are a lot of fields which are not being worked. You can see it. A lot of owners leave the pueblo for the cities and leave their fields abandoned. They don't plant because there is no money in it and they don't rent because few people can afford to pay the rental. When campesinos go to the city you know that they are not getting any product from their fields. In the last few months the jitomate (43) has been real scarce and people are willing to pay almost anything for it because they need it. It was selling for 120 pesos per kilo. Everybody is going to grow jitomates this year. In fact, some already have small plants in their homes but can't take them out to the fields because it hasn't rained. If the jitomate is expensive the land will be. The cost of land follows the price of jitomate. One year they plant corn, the next jitomate.
Now-a-days the big crop is soybeans. There are some who are going to plant it this season. It gives a high yield for the investment made. One bean seed can produce a whole kilo of beans. As an experiment, some people grow plants in their patios; one soybean plant keeps blossoming and producing beans year after year like a house plant. There is not enough produce from one plant, however, to make it worthwhile as a cash crop; it's just for the experience of getting to know the plant. Eventually the farmer will take it into the field once he understands the crop. In the past you heard a lot of talk about the farmer but rarely anything about the farmer's wife. When there was work to be done in the campo, however, women were always there giving their husbands the support they need to get it done. Now government agencies are actually aiming programs at the womenfolk. They want us to learn some new techniques designed to improve the quality and nutrition of the food we eat. The two projects of soybean sprouts and pedigree sows have been designed as work for the women.
Both sexes have always worked in the campo and it's not fair to overlook women. Men do not work harder than women; it's just different kind of work. The man goes out to the field and works under the hot sun. He handles the oxen and the plow, and he works the soil. Everyone recognizes that his work is very hard. But in the house the work is also hard because we get up before the men do in order to fix their breakfasts. We prepare their meals for the campo and we work all day around the house, sweeping and cleaning, washing, and especially grinding corn. There is always some grinding that has to be done. And then about 12:30 we have to go out into the field with the food for the men if they are close enough to walk to. When we return there are more chores: getting dinner ready, getting a change of clothes ready for him, and many other things. It's all work, both field and house. Yet there is more work in the house than in the field. At least one can rest out there but here if you rest you don't get your chores done by the time the men come home. You don't want to be in the middle of washing or something like that when they get in from the field. The work in the field is like that of the oxen; it is only for brief periods of time and after that the men can go back to resting. When they do work it's intense, from sun-up to sun-down. For example, the soil has to be plowed while it is still moist, and that may last for only a few weeks. That means that the soil is plowed for the final time and the crops are planted all within one month. During the planting season if you never went out into the fields you would never see any men in the village; they leave before dawn and return home after nightfall. Corn doesn't take as much time as jitomate. With jitomates there is something that has to be done to the plants, like tying them up against the poles or giving them water when they are thirsty. The yield is much greater from jitomates than corn so it is worth the extra work.
Whereas a man's work is limited to three or four periods a year, a women's work is never done. We get to rest only when there is no meal to fix. And when is that? We get no vacations from work, no long breaks like the men, yet the government never mentioned us when it talked about the campo. Take Mother for example. Although she doesn't do too much any more because she is too old, in her lifetime she has never rested more than a few days when she went to visit her son Victor in Vera Cruz or when she gave birth. It would be difficult to find another person in all of Mexico who has worked as hard as my mother. Her spouse, don Miguel, is also a hard worker. There are few men in the village who can work as hard as he. I have already seen the two of them fall asleep while sitting at the dinner table. Both are asleep before the sun has finished setting and are up before the sun is. Mother gets dizzy spells often now and falls over. She fell down the steps the other day and cracked open her head. We wanted to take her to the doctor but she said "no."
My life has been difficult too but not like that of my mother's. I thought once that I would leave the campo and take a job in a profession. I had a chance to go to normal school to become a teacher; I had been offered a scholarship because my grades were among the highest in school. But Mother wouldn't let me go for some reason. The two classmates who had also received scholarships, Celia and Amelia, went away to school and are now rural teachers. I haven't seen them in years; they hardly ever come back to the village. Most of my friends and schoolmates have gone to other places. I am one of the few in my class who actually stayed in the village. I stayed here because I didn't have the education to do anything other than what I am doing. There are about a dozen childhood friends who still live in the village and I see them almost everyday. We never reminisce because our conversations usually end up being about the "what-could-have-beens, if. . ."
I enjoyed school immensely. We studied a lot of things that never helped me in life but they were good learning experiences because they made us use our heads. I don't recognize half of the things the kids bring home today. The materials are entirely different. No one teaches basics; Oscar, for example, has to learn something called "algebra" but cannot do simple multiplication. I don't understand the algebra lines but I know that they call for a knowledge of basic mathematics which he has not been taught in school. And the writing I see my boys do, both in letter and in content, is absolutely terrible. They are in such a hurry that they write sloppy. You can read my writing better than Oscar's. He doesn't seem to have an awareness of what he is writing and he expects it to have meaning when it is finished. That's nonsense. If there is no meaning going in there will be no meaning at the end. Also, there are no breaks in his writing. He uses no commas or periods, just non-stop lines. When he runs out of space he stops writing. When we went to school we worked around the house all of the time. I could make tortillas at 10 years of age. Most of the time we had to grind the corn on the metate and make the tortillas by hand. That was the only way. Now only a few of us can make them by hand. Everyone uses the tortilla press.
Anyway, I was saying that I was the only woman in the house. My mother worked; Alvaro and Victor didn't do women's work, and my sisters had all moved away. Only when I finished my house work could I begin my school work. We had no electricity in those days and candles were too expensive so I had to study by the fire. There were times I had to crawl so close to the fire for light that my hair caught on fire.
I have always realized the value of education and have tried to give the best to my four boys and to Hilaria. Parents today do not have the same respect for learning. I get mad at Hector and Otilia because they don't help their daughter with her homework. Yesenia usually goes to Hilaria or comes to me for help. They tell me that she never asks for help. Well, of course not. Most kids want to play after school and not sit at a table learning multiplication tables. But I say that they have to insist that she do the work in front of them. Those parents who don't have anything to do with their kids' schooling will not learn anything from their children. I believe that education goes both ways: from parents to children and from children to parents. Children make you take a look at their world, a world you left behind many years ago. And watching a child discover something new is an experience that can be truly rewarding because you discover it all over again yourself. I remember that I learned a lot from helping Oscar and Eleesar with their homework. I didn't always know what the material was beforehand but I studied with them and learned a lot of new things. It's one of the ways that generations stay in touch. Since there is only one table in the house for eating and for ironing and for studying and everything else, the boys would work at one end and I at the other listening to them. We were always very close. Parents should always encourage their children to do their work in front of them. Parents shouldn't actually do the work but they should help by explaining instructions. I remember that I didn't always understand the subject but I could understand the instructions and help the boys that way. When my children went to school for the first time all of them knew their basics, the alphabet and numbers. Damien, Yesenia's brother, will not know anything when he goes to first grade. His parents haven't taught him even the numbers. Just how to play ball, which is nothing. If the parents don't teach their kids these elementary things, where are they going to learn them? The teacher has other things to teach. Counting and the alphabet are absolute minimum requirements for going to school and it's the parents' responsibility to teach them. No one taught me when I was little and it was very difficult learning on my own. But because I wanted to go to school I learned. My mother and stepfather never learned how to read or write so Victor, my older brother, would help me with the letters and numbers when I asked.
I make Oscar do homework every night even though he says he doesn't have any. He has to do well in school because he is too lazy for the campo. Hector has not done well in school and realizes that it is going to be difficult to get the things he wants out of life. Education is one of the best roads to success.
Are you going to stay and listen to the governor today? He's coming to talk to the pueblo about new programs to improve the quality of life, as they call it. I have some problems with the governor's ideas because it seems to me that the burden of the programs fall on the shoulders of the women exclusively, like the soybean project. And the sows are being given to the women to raise. That means more burdens in our already over-burdened life. It is the womenfolk who will have to take care of the bean sprout pans and feed the sows and raise their litters. Each household will receive a sow fertilized with special semen and guaranteed to produce babies of high quality. But the sows eat only packaged food which contains special ingredients and is very expensive. Our common pigs eat anything. These new ones are a special breed that is supposed to be resistant to infections and weigh more at slaughter time.
It is the same with the soybean. The women and children are supposed to take care of the bean sprout pans; the men have not been given any part of the work. Oh, I have to tell you that the other day for the first time I harvested some beautiful beans sprouts with long white roots. We made omelets out of them and they were very delicious. The consultants and engineers say that we should eat as many soybean sprouts as we can because they are very nutritious. But you need something else to go with them, like eggs or meat. You can't just eat plain bean sprouts. They taste good but you get tired of a steady diet of them.
All of these things they are trying to do are designed to improve the quality of life in the village. But the government has never asked us what we think would improve the quality of life. If there was only one thing I could ask for it would be a fair price for our produce, especially corn. Inflation causes the price of everything else to go up but not the produce from the countryside. Hence, we have to sell more and more just to stay even with where we were before. Even with the new road and electricity which we now have, life has not improved that much. Life is still a struggle and it is more complex than before. In fact, there is a saying that goes, "Life doesn't get better, it gets more complex." Change does not necessarily mean improvement.
And there is a whole army of aliens who come here with titles after their names. Some are economists, others are social workers and nutritionists. All they do is talk, talk and talk and make us believe that they are needed to make the system in which we live function. Of course they are needed to explain the system. They are the ones responsible for all of the changes. Can you guess how many times I've heard the word "modernize" in the last year? The system that they are trying to impose on us is alien so naturally they are needed to explain it. They have contempt for us, however, and call us ignorant when we don't understand something right away. But we see that they are ignorant of many things in Nature. In the campo Nature is the only economist who counts.
If a person works he will eat. At one time if you were willing to make sacrifices and go to school and get an education you could be something in life. Years ago it was easier getting an education than it is now. Education is so expensive today. Everybody was poor but there were opportunities. Today everything is money, money, and more money. And once you have finished school, it costs money to get a job, can you imagine? You have to buy your first job? Yes! When you enter a new profession you have to pay the authorities of the union or the factory an amount that's equal to at least one month's pay. Someone is always charging you for something or other. If it isn't your first position you buy, it's your promotion. At one time going to school was enough to get ahead in life. Now it's not enough; the costs continue even after you leave school. And government officials not only tolerate this kind of corruption, they perpetuate it. In fact, their participation in the system of corruption makes it seem legal because a lot of the money changes hands in the offices of government workers.
And who has to pay for all of this corruption? We do because we have no way of protecting ourselves from those who exploit us. Our own government and our own kind exploit us. There is one large peasant confederation which is supposed to intervene in politics and government on behalf of the peasants. But that organization doesn't represent me or my family. You see in the newspapers union officials dressed in suits having lunch with government officials. Or you hear about a union official stealing funds from the treasury and leaving the country. Money corrupts. The refrain goes, "He who has more wants more." I don't struggle just to have more. I want just enough to be happy and to be able to live comfortably and if God wants me to have more he will give it to me.
Scorpions and Star Time
This morning I killed a female scorpion with babies. Whenever I kill one I have to look all over the house for its mate. If I don't find it right away I worry for days. Scorpions live in pairs and when one is missing its mate goes looking for it. So, it is best to look for the mate right away and kill it. The one I killed this morning was blond color and covered with babies. I just assumed that it was the female but maybe the male takes them for rides too. Scorpions are so ugly that only scorpions can find each other attractive. They must be good parents, though, since you see them traveling with their babies clinging to their body. If you look closely, you may see several babies in a row, each one holding on to the one in front of him, all of them being dragged along like a chain. When the babies are too big to be carried they follow the mother just like baby chicks or other animals follow their mothers. I've never been able to figure out what purpose scorpions serve in God's plan. They have no natural predators that I know of and nothing can eat them, not even chickens. The tail can sting inside the mouth or stomach and it's worse than being stung on the outside of the body. Nor do you ever see them attack other insects. I don't even know what they eat but you can always find them under rocks or flat objects. There isn't one person I know who has not been stung by a scorpion. Only a very few people ever die, just those who are allergic to the poison. You know that some people don't react to a bee sting but others do. Most people just get very sick the first time and after that each new sting is not any more serious than a bee sting. But there is one kind of scorpion that is more poisonous than the rest and that is the kind I killed this morning--the blond ones. The biggest danger with scorpions is that they can fall into the crib of an infant or into the bed of a young child and sting them while they are sleeping. Small children can not resist as well as an adult and several have died in San Antonio. Rarely, though, do you ever hear of a school-age youth or an adult dying from a scorpion sting. More and more families now have anti-scorpion medicines and injections in their houses. Especially if you have little ones, you buy this kit and have it handy just in case.
The first time I got stung I thought I was going to die. I kept screaming, "I'm dying, I'm dying," but no one seemed overly concerned. It happened one day when I was taking food to the men in the campo. We pulled several large rocks together to sit on and a red scorpion jumped on to my toe and stung me before I had a chance to knock it off. I recall vividly that the pain was like being burned by something red-hot but in this case I couldn't pull away from it. I could feel the pain work its way up my leg to my knee; and all I could do was yell and cry and think that I was dying. Of all of the physical pain I've known the first scorpion sting was the worst. It doesn't paralyze you like everybody says. What happens is that you discover that whenever you move--even the slightest bit--the pain begins all over again. So, what you try to do is not move at all. You remain as calm as possible. I remember that I nearly passed out from the pain and that I became dizzy from breathing fast. I also got sick to my stomach and vomited and had chills and shakes and hysteria, all within the first few minutes after being stung. My stepfather knew exactly what to do. With his knife he made a small cut on top of the sting mark and sucked on my toe. Next he had one of the workers gather a handful of fresh ox dung. Then he packed the dung around my toe and foot. There were many times I had stepped in dung accidently and couldn't wait until I had a chance to wash it from my feet. Now I had to sit there with my foot in a pile of ox dung until it dried. Being only eleven, I didn't understand all that was happening. Now that I am older and wiser I know that the dung was used to draw the poison from the wound.
I can remember that before I left the field I also experienced a strange sensation in my throat and mouth. My tongue felt like it had swelled to the point of filling my whole mouth, and my throat simply stopped working; I couldn't feel myself swallow. And then I began to taste something I had never tasted before or since. It's difficult to describe the taste because it was unlike any food taste I've ever experienced. The only thing close to it would be, perhaps, bitter garlic juice. But that's not exactly the same; it's close but not identical. Some people to whom I've told this story think that I was actually tasting the poison of the scorpion. Could that be true?
After a few hours I was able to walk back to the village with the help don Miguel. Whenever my leg began to hurt, my stepfather or his workers would carry me piggy-back style. That same evening I went to our village curandero (44) for my first treatment and cleansing. The treatment consisted mainly in drinking special teas and the cleansing included a sweat bath in a temascal. (45) The chamber floor was covered with eucalyptus leaves and other strong smelling herbs. The idea behind the steam bath was to sweat the poison out of my body. I was given a cup and a small bucket of water to use to cool my head and shoulders. Since the heat was unbearable close to the ceiling of the chamber and along the walls, I could not stand up or get close to the wall. If I wanted to move around I had to crawl on my hands and knees. The only light that entered the room was from a crack around the wooden door. Other than that it was completely dark, totally quiet, and very hot inside the sweat chamber.
After an hour or so I was led out of the temascal and wrapped in a wool blanket until my temperature returned to normal. Although it was summer the air was cold on my face and in my lungs. The air outside of the temascal was so light that at first I didn't think I was getting enough air in my lungs and I started to panic. I also became hysterical again and had to be calmed down. When I look back now on that episode I can understand what was happening but at the time I was just a frightened eleven year old girl who was trying to get over a scorpion sting.
There are some people who believe that you have to break off the stinger and eat the scorpion immediately after it stings you. They say that the poison enters your stomach and is converted into an anti-scorpion medicine by your own body and you don't even need the injection. But who wants to eat a scorpion. Even if someone said to me, "Here, eat it; it will save your life!" I don't know if I could bring myself to chewing up a scorpion with its ugly head and all those legs dangling from its body. They also say that if you are bitten by a snake you are supposed to eat the rattles. I've been told that there is a better chance that the snake would die from the poisons in a human's mouth than a person would be from a snakebite.
I killed the scorpion in the house this morning before the first light. Now that Eleesar is working, I get up at 5:00 a.m. or so. But that's not early. When Hector was working and going to school I would get up at four in order to grind corn for his tortillas. There are many stars that announce the time. All I have to do is look for special stars or patterns of stars and I can tell what time it is. The individual stars and the patterns constantly change during the year, so you have to know what one you are looking for. There is no one star that announces the time all year long. During this season of the year there is a cluster of three stars that come up over the hilltop one after another. If I see no stars or just one, I know it's still early and I have a few more minutes to sleep; if I see all three, it's late. Other times during the year I look for other stars which announce the time.
One special cluster of stars--which everyone in the village knows about--is very helpful to the campesinos; it is called the plow and moves across the sky during the rainy season. Next to it is a five-cornered star which predicts the weather. If there is a hazy ring around the star-cluster there will be rain the next day and if it is clear, no rain. It's usually very dependable. I don't know what happens to those stars after harvest time because no one pays any attention to them after the crops are in. We get to know some stars better than others because there are only certain times during the year when there is early work to be done in the fields. But I do have my favorite ones. From my bed I can see several bright stars that twinkle the whole night long and produce a change of colors from red to yellow to white. Whenever I am looking at the stars I wonder how many other people in the world are looking at the same ones. I've grown so accustomed to seeing those special stars that when I lie down I have to see them before I can fall asleep. And if I wake in the night I can not fall back to sleep until I see them. I think of them as my guardians. I've wished a lot of things from those stars and they have been good to me.
Actually, the stars do not tell me what time it is, they merely confirm it. When I know that my boys have to get up for work the next morning I set my own internal clock. We do have an electric radio alarm clock in the house now but having your own internal clock is more dependable, for there are interruptions in the electricity which affect the numbers of the clock. Even if the electricity is gone for only a few seconds the old time is erased and a new set of numbers shows, a blinking "12:00." I've set and re-set the clock so many times that finally I said, "What's the use. We have no appointments in San Antonio." The only thing the clock is good for, really, is to tell us that the electricity has failed sometime during the night or day. It is sad to think that some people never learn to tell time by their own internal clock or by looking at the stars. Those people are at the mercy of alarm clocks and wristwatches. You cannot set your watch by events that take place in the village, like in the big cities; nor does anyone need the exact hour and minutes in San Antonio. People say such things as "late in the morning," or "early afternoon," or "this evening," instead of "9:30" or "11:15" or "7:00."
Did you know you brought the rain in March with you? Today is the third of January, right? Well, if it rains on January 3 it will rain in March. The first twelve days of the new year correspond to the twelve months of the year. We watch the weather very closely during this time in order to predict what the weather conditions are going to be like during rest of the year so we know when to plant. We can usually depend on it.
My Boys and Tres Marías
Now there are only three of us who sleep in this house; before there were more. Hector, his wife Otilia and their two children and Margarito used to live here. Hector and Otilia now have their own house and Margarito, of course, is in Chiapas teaching school. Oscar, the youngest, Eleesar and myself are the only ones left. The rest of the family live in the next two houses. We generally eat together at least once a day but we sleep under different roofs. Hilaria is with her grandmother because she is needed there. My mother is too old to do most of the house work now and needs help.
Since there are only three we try to get along as best we can, each person knows what has to be done, and all of us contribute what we can. Oscar is still in school so we do not expect too much from him right now but during the summer months he will work in the field I have rented. Eleesar left school a year early and is working as a gardener in Ocotepec. It's not a good job but it keeps him busy until he can find a better one. He is the major money earner now. However, if I wanted to go to market to sell produce, I could earn at least as much in three days as he earns in a week. But I am getting tired of working; it's time for the boys to do some of it. Besides, it was his idea to leave school. He knew that he'd have to go to work right away. Eleesar never did well in school and thinks that he will be able to make a living by working as a day laborer. You know what kind of future there is for laborers in Mexico? At least campesinos have their dignity; laborers are exploited and have no one to protect them except their unions. But before you can belong to a union you have to have a decent job in a factory or have a construction worker's permit. It takes years to get into a factory or get your permit and it costs a lot of money to join a union and you have to know someone besides.
Eleesar gives a lot of orders now that he is the oldest man in the house. It is usually the father who gives the orders; but, if there is no father in the house, the mother takes over as the head of the household. In the case of Eleesar, I let him give some of the orders because he has to learn. It's good practice and as long as he does not misuse his authority I will continue to allow him to exercise that right. We usually talk about what has to be done beforehand and are in agreement when it is time to take action. Since he is still a legal minor, though, I am the only one in the immediate family who can sign papers for crop loans and leases, etc. It wouldn't really be right for me not to let him make some of the decisions since he gives me nearly his entire wages for the week. Eleesar often talks about the future and about our security, he contributes to the cost of food for all three of us, and he wants to build an extra room onto the house. This is his house too and he knows that he can live here even after he gets married. He also knows that if he helps me with my house I will help him with his when he moves into his own in the future. Since he is only seventeen he has a lot of time to think about things. Eleesar is a very responsible person for his age but I don't want to rush him. By the time I was seventeen I had already lost a husband and a baby. There is a lot of living to be done and I hope his life is happier than mine. He hopes to get a factory job and work his way up in the company. Where Hector, his half-brother, went wrong is that he got involved in politics and was fired. There is only so much agitation that the management will tolerate before they fire you. Hector didn't know when to stop. He was a good worker and had a good record but did everyone else's talking. In the end it was he who got into trouble and got fired. He'll never be able to get back into the same factory because he has a black mark on him. In fact, it may be difficult to get another job in Cuernavaca since he got involved in politics. The factory owners are all friends and have their own unions and stick together. Despite the existence of unions, workers have few guarantees in their jobs--only what their bosses give them. Where was the union when Hector needed it? Eleesar wants to work in a factory like Hector but has yet to complete his military service. All young men must serve one year before they can apply for a work permit.
When he gets married I'll not receive any money from him unless he owes me some or the two of them live with me. There are those wives who want to live with their mothers-in-law. Others prefer to live with their husbands in their own houses if they can afford it and still others continue living with their own mothers and bring their husbands into their houses. When Hector and Otilia lived here I took care of them for over a year while he went to school. I paid his school expenses and also fed them even after they had their first baby. I had to provide everything from clothes to food since Hector was not making any money while he was attending school. Later he started earning wages and gave some to me and the rest to his wife. Eleesar, on the other hand, gives me 2000 pesos a week; he earns 2400. It sounds like a lot but it's nothing with today's prices; I can easily spend 5000 pesos in one afternoon in the marketplace and still carry home all of the purchases myself.
Eleesar's wages do not cover our total expenses so I still continue selling in the marketplace a few days a week. It's a good business; I do quite well. My best sales are of manojos (46); sometimes I sell all at once and at other times I separate the large bundle into smaller packs and sell them individually. From San Antonio I take the local bus to Buena Vista; from Buena Vista I take the big bus to Tres Marías. I like going on the bus that takes the federal highway because it drops me off closer to the market. That way I don't have to pay someone to carry my load to the stand. It costs me a total of 100 pesos for my passage and for the cost of my load. Coming back I only have to pay the passage since I don't buy anything in Tres Marías; it is a tourist center for people who are on their way into or out of Mexico City. I hardly spend any money there and I don't eat in the market if I can help it. I like to know what I am getting to eat. Like you, I prefer to eat in the village because the food is much cleaner and fresher here than in the marketplace. One day I bought some chicken tacos that didn't even taste like chicken. I couldn't eat them and I didn't want to find out what they were made of for fear of getting sick. I couldn't even swallow them. And people buy from street vendors all of the time. A lot of people must not care what kind of food goes into their stomachs. But I do. My stomach knows when it gets food it doesn't recognize. It rebels. Not only does the food taste bad it is also very expensive. I can buy a whole kilo of chicken for what they charge for one chicken taco. When I do eat in Tres Marías I go to the home of a friend of mine who gives me a little coffee and prepares several tacos; that's all I need.
People like me go to Tres Marías to sell produce from the countryside. It's not like our farmer's market in Cuernavaca or in Tepoztlán where people buy food from farmers to take to their homes. Rather, the produce is used right at Tres Marías in the preparation of meals to be sold to tourists passing through. Sometimes I go to market with my produce and one or two containers of prepared food to sell to travelers. No one ever goes home with food left over. Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays are the best days at market but you have to pay for a space. Now that I know my way around and have my regular customers who buy all of my load at once, I generally do not have to pay market rent, unless I get caught. I go directly to my regulars and hope to avoid the rent collectors. I don't think that it is right that I should have to pay rental fees if I don't use a space. The authorities, on the other hand, claim that for the privilege of using the marketplace I have to pay rent even if I do not physically occupy a space. I can understand the rental fee if I sat in one spot all day long, but I don't. More often than not I am at market for less than an hour.
Getting back to what we were talking about, we don't have many expenses in this house but the ones we have consume all of our income. Food is our biggest expense, it costs more than any other item, and you never get through buying food. Nor can you postpone buying food for very long. Except for a few monthly debts, our next most costly item of purchase is clothing. We don't have a lot of clothes, mainly work clothes and at least one good dress or suit for weddings and funerals and special occasions. Of the clothing items shoes cost us the most; we have to buy two pairs of shoes a year. Now that I go to Tres Marías regularly, I have to have extra heavy clothing. The marketplace is located in a cold mountain pass at the highest point of the highway leading into Mexico City, and when the wind blows it gets very cold. Hail and ice fall from the sky. The first time I experienced snow landing on my arms it felt like it was burning. No one could believe that I did not own a jacket. But two hours earlier when I left San Antonio and climbed up the hill to the bus stop I was sweating from the load I was carrying and from the heat of the morning sun. And when I returned to the village that afternoon it was still very warm. No one could believe the story I told about the snow on my arms. We have had hail here several times that I can remember but we have never had snow.
Can you imagine, one of my friends in Tres Marías sells swimsuits, shorts, beach balls and other things for the shore? Like I said earlier, it is a tourist place and a lot of people pass through on their way to Acapulco or other points south.
I make much more money in one a trip to Tres Marías than I do in two to Tepoztlán or to Cuernavaca. Prices are much higher and tourists have a lot of money to spend. The people to whom I sell give me a good price for my produce because they can charge their customers almost anything they want and get away with it. Generally I do not sell directly to the tourist unless I have some prepared food. In Tepoztlán or Cuernavaca, on the other hand, I sell to people like myself week after week. Many of the people I know by name. They are not tourists and do not come to the market with a pocket full of money but are housewives or maids making weekly purchases for the family. They look around until they find the best prices or the best deals. Although I spend the whole day selling, I do not make as much as I do in one hour at Tres Marías. In the farmer's market I feel very much at home and can make enough money to survive. At Tres Marías I always feel like an alien even though I have some friends there. But I earn enough money to allow me to make special purchases without feeling guilty. My boys do not know it but I am saving money for a television. I know that I should be spending it on my teeth. Look, I'll soon be like a baby and have only gums.
Will I see you tomorrow?
Aronson, S.H. "Obstacles to a Rapproachement between History and Sociology: A Sociologist's View," in Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences, M. Sherif and C.W. Sherif (eds). London: Aldine, 1969. pp 292-304.
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Chiñas, Beverley. The Isthmus Zapotecs: Women's Roles in Cultural Context. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1973.
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1. Tepoztlán was made famous in the academic world of anthropology by Robert Redfield and Oscar Lewis.
2. Mejicano is what the villagers call the language; but it is the ancient Indian language of Nahuatl which is still spoken throughout the state of Morelos.
3. Biography as History: Men and movements in Europe since 1500, Macmillan Company, a publication of the American Historical Association's Service Center for Teachers of History, 1963, pp. 1-5.
4. Langness. The Life History in Anthropological Science. pp. 28-30.
5. Ibid., p. 31.
6. Being Indian in Hueyapan: A Study of Forced Identity in Contemporary Mexico, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1975, p. xvii.
7. Of the many studies of Mexican women which would confirm the accuracy of my statement that Celsa is more typical than exceptional to her class, see Mary Lindsay Elmendorf's Nine Mayan Women: A Village Faces Change and Beverly L. Chiñas's The Isthmus Zapotecs: Women's Roles in Cultural Context.
8. 8 Ethnology, Vol XXIX, Number 2, April 1990, entitled, "The Recruitment of Nashua Curers: Role Conflict and Gender;" the University of Pittsburgh, in 1985, entitled "Category Prototypes and the Reinterpretation of Household Fiestas in a Nahuatl- Speaking Community of Mexico"; "Reinterpretation and Elaboration of Fiestas in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, Mexico" in Ethnology, 1987; and "Curers, Illness, and Healing in San Andrés Hueyapan, a Nahuatl-Speaking Community of the Sierra Norte de Puebla, Mexico" to be published.
9. Penguin, New York, 1978, pp. 14 & 224.
10. 1962, University of California Press translated by Lysander Kemp (originally published in Spanish in 1952 as Juan Pérez Jolote: Biografía de un Tzotzil, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City).
11. The institution of compadrazgo (co-parenthood) is a very strong, fictive kinship relationship throughout both rural and urban Mexico and is responsible for important and lasting interclass and inter-cultural relationships.
12. Cal=limestone, either in powder or chunk form which is used in the preparation of tortillas (in the "nixtamal" or dough.
13. Zacate=corn stalks and leaves used for animal feed.
16. Metate=stone bench on which corn is ground.
17. Huachos=vigilantes, temporary keepers of the peace when there is a parade or celebration.
18. Mojado="wetback." The Mexicans use this term freely for those who go to the United States without papers.
19. Novia is more than "girlfriend" but less than "lover."
20. Campo is similar to the English word "countryside" but it is more a cultural term than a geographical one. The word campesino(a)is used frequently in this book without translation and means a person from the campo or a peasant-farmer.
21. About 5 of 10 U.S. Dollars.
23. Mejicano (Nahuatl) is the term the Mexicans use for the language spoken by the descendants of the Aztecs.
24. Hijos naturales=natural children.
25. State University of Morelos
26. Ronda is night patrol and guardia is armed patrol. Both were volunteer projects but have been replaced by regular and routine patrols from Tepoztlán. Faena is any voluntary work project.
27. Malos aires=bad air.
28. Rancho=farm, e.g., baby chicks raised by a mother hen. Whereas granja means incubator, such as chicks are sold by veterinaries and government agencies.
29. Mole is a red sauce made with tomato, chili, peanut, chocolate and other spices. It is usually very hot!
30. Nixtamal is a Nahuatl word and refers to the corn which is soaked in water and limestone prior to grinding.
31. Pulque is the fermented juice of the maguey plant and has been made in Mexico for centuries.
32. Zapatistas were one of the many factions of revolutionaries which fought the central government. Those in power in Mexico City were usually called federales, federalist troops.
33. Chamaquito is a diminutive of chamaco in the Nahuatl language.
34. Jacal=a one-room rural house made or reeds or sticks with a thatched or tile roof. Cooking and sleeping are done in the same quarters.
35. Primaria=elementary school, the first six grades; secundaria is grades seven through twelve.
36. Indígenas=Indian, one who speaks an Indian dialect.
37. Seres humanas=human beings.
38. El "15" stands for the road marker for kilometer 15 and is a bus stop on the main Cuernavaca-Tepoztlán highway. It is about 4 kilometers from the center of San Antonio and the road leading to and from el 15 passes through the foot hills of the central Mexican mountains.
39. Slang meaning "to get screwed."
40. Pecho=breast. In this case it would mean something like, "I still had milk in my breasts."
41. "I killed her."
42. Mal humor=bad mood, meaning anything from anger to depression. When one's spirits are down.
43. Jitomate is a pear-shaped, juicy cooking tomato which is an important cash crop in Mexico.
44. Curandero=local herb doctor.
45. Temascal is an Indian steam chamber made of stone and mortar but no longer in general use.
46. Manojos=bundles of corn husks which are used to wrap tamales and other foods before they are cooked.