In her, I saw the liberation we had all been waiting for

DSC_4517Two months she spent with her jaw wired shut.  Not only had my grandfather imprisoned my grandmother physically, he took her voice away.  He shut her up so that he could no longer be intimidated by her spirit. The police said there was nothing they could do. He was too powerful, too feared.  She pleaded for him to stop, but he unleashed all his pain and his insecurities onto her the way the ocean shatters the delicate shells on its shore.  “What did she do to make him so angry,” they asked.

Her friend, La Forty-Nine, threatened to go kill “the bastard.”  She had a colt-49 she sometimes strapped to the waistband of her skirts or dresses.  But my grandmother, too afraid of stirring the monster her husband carried within, instead drank those drinks that agitate the inside of you converting the fear into a self-destructive courage.  Only then could she meet her enemy eye-to-eye.

“He was a good man, a good father when he didn’t drink.” she told me.   But when he drank she saw the green in his eyes;  A madman devoured by hallucinations and the most depraved yearnings.  One night she drank herself to a stupor with La Forty-Nine in a neighborhood cantina.  He was like a raging wolf prowling the night for her scent.  He wouldn’t dare confront my grandmother with La Forty-Nine by her side, so in the morning he sent  Tio Ernesto to get her to come home.  Walking by the cantina, Tio Ernesto heard my grandmother’s voice, as she screamed, “Quitate Cabron!”, to some military drunkard that was trying to push himself on her.  Tio Ernesto entered abruptly and shoved the intruder off my grandmother.  A brawl ensued, the soldier pulled out a pocket knife, and stabbed my uncle through the left pocket of his white guayabera.  The red stained his shirt as the shame stained my grandmother’s existence.

In his pocket, my uncle carried a small laminated prayer card with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe.  As my grandmother leaned next to my uncle and discovered that his blood came from a small slit in his chest, she felt the card and pulled it out.  That day, the image of the bloodied Virgen de Guadalupe became a seed for the courage she would need to escape.


Last year, I was honored to see The Vagina Monologues at American University, co-directed by my daughter, Carmen Elida Mason.  She said she was doing it for all the women who had made a significant impact in her life and for all the women she would never meet; for the women who might be considered strangers, but were connected to her in a way the world still couldn’t understand; for the 1 in 3 women who would be assaulted, raped, or abused in their lifetime; for the women who stand in the shadows, whose stories will never be told or heard.  I was in awe of this young woman standing in front of me speaking with so much passion and conviction.  She has surpassed any expectation I ever had of the kind of daughter I wanted to raise.  As I watched her speak and stand in her truth, I was overwhelmed.  She was everything, everything, my Tita Angelita, my  Tita Chocolate, my Tita Carmen, my mom and I would have ever dreamed to be.  She was all we had never dared to become, all we had never dared to do.  In her, I saw the liberation we had all been waiting for.  I knew my Titas were there; I saw their spirit in her.

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One by one these amazing women in the cast spoke the collective truth of all the women that have come before them and all those who will continue to lead.  In their beautiful spirits, I felt the strength of my grandmother when she decided to escape the brutal abuse of her first and second husband; my great-grandmother as she rode the train with her two small children in her lap after finding out the love of her life was marrying another woman; my aunt who dedicated 35 years of her life loving a married man; and my aunt who spent her whole life tiptoeing around her husband’s raging outbursts.  These amazing young women inspired me to write this vignette for my grandmother, so someone will finally tell her story, and someone will finally hear it.

Carmen's hand holding one of the Gardenia flowers that were surrendered to the ocean along with my Tita Carmen's ashes.
Carmen’s hand holding one of the Gardenia flowers that were surrendered to the ocean along with my Tita Carmen’s ashes.
Carmen and her dad, who is not afraid of strong women.

REMEMBERING ON V-Day. I know deep down in that place where my feminine intuition is rooted, the liberation of all beings depends greatly on the liberation of women. Today and everyday I fight for my spiritual, emotional, and psychological liberation in the name of my daughter, my grandmother, my mother, and all the women, those I know and those I’ll never know, who sacrificed so that I could be here. And for the beautiful women yet to come!



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