I was four years old when I saw a penis for the first time. I was in Michoacán, Mexico visiting my step grandfather’s mother at her ranch. I was wearing a yellow dress with white embroidered ruffles. I loved the way the ruffles floated when I twirled in that dress, making me feel like a daisy whirling in the wind. I remember being in the barn. There were rusted metal parts scattered in every direction; maybe pieces of old cars. Lots of tools like a digging peak, shovels, and hoes. There was a long wooden countertop on which a young man I had never seen before sat. In my memory of him, he must have been between 16 with dirty blond hair and translucent honey eyes accented by the sun rays that filtered through the window. He stood up from the counter top, and I faced him as he pulled out his penis through his zipper. He asked me if I wanted to touch it. I didn’t know what it was, but it seemed odd and unnatural. It was as unfamiliar as a slug and evoked in me an objectionable reaction, which lead me to run out as fast as I could. I ran out of the barn and out of that memory.
I was around six years old the first and last time I was molested. I was at my uncle’s house sleeping in my cousin’s room who was also around my age. There were two twin beds; she slept on one, and I slept on the other. The night had already settled in, but I woke up as if I had been prodded abruptly. The street lamp’s fluorescent light seeped through the curtains; distant dog barks and howls warned of intruders and predators; the stillness was like a gag that silenced me. The door quietly squeaked open, and I could hear the air move. Someone was coming in, but I didn’t know who it was. This person sat at the edge of the bed by my feet. I laid there, immobile, sensing the misdeeds of humanity. He moved under the sheets with me. I pretended to be asleep as he slid his hand up my thigh, feeling my vulva over my underwear. I wanted him to stops, so I pretended to groan in my sleep and shifted my body sideways. He stopped. Climbed out of my bed and walked to my cousin’s bed. I saw his shadow lurking over her, and then I saw him climb into her bed. I didn’t want to move again, afraid I might call his attention back to me. So in my head, I just kept repeating, “Déjala y vete. Déjala y vete. Déjala y vete.” Leave her alone and go away. He laid with her longer. She never moved or said anything. After a while, he left, and we laid there in the dark not knowing if the other was awake, hoping the silence would keep our secret.
But, the secret was not kept for long. I’m not sure how long after the incident it was, but I told my mother what happened. I remember her screaming at my uncle, my grandmother and my aunt. Not hysterically. But with a resolved anger that made me feel protected and vindicated.
The man who molested me was my aunt’s brother, and I never saw him again. The story goes, my mother hired a few men to teach him a lesson and scare him into never coming around me. My mother taught me to never stay silent. Silence produces a drowning shame that victimizes us over and over. She also taught me the importance of standing up for each other.
I was in 8th grade, roughly 14 years old. I lived in San Ysidro, a border town on the U.S./Mexican border. We moved a lot, but the one thing that had stayed constant in my life was the school I attended. So when my grandmother, Tita Carmen, finally received approval for low-income housing, we found ourselves in a little apartment in San Ysidro, about 13 miles away, and an hour-and-a-half on public transportation from my school. Every morning, I woke up before the morning star cast its arms across the sky and boarded the trolley no later than 4:45 in order to arrive to school before the bell rang at 7:30.
There were many men that rode the trolley during that time, mostly construction workers and day laborers or men who worked at the naval shipyard. There were also students who woke up earlier than me, who came from Tijuana and went to school on this side of the border, chasing the American dream. Most morning, my Tita walked me to the trolley station, but some morning, the cold made her bones swell up. I got lots of stares, a few cat calls and whistles here and there, but most of the time, I didn’t pay attention and focused on finishing my school work. Until one day, an older man, whom I perceived to be around fifty or sixty years old, started to harass me. He wouldn’t take his eyes off me. I was like a birthday gift that he couldn’t wait to unwrap. His eyes glazed over with lustful craving, he’d lurk around the trolley station making sure he was always a few feet away from me. He’d make noises like psst, psst to catch my attention, and when he’d catch my eye, he’d lick his lips or make some kind of nod with his head.
He started to creep me out enough that I told my Tita about him. So the very next day, my grandmother accompanied me, but told me to stay a few feet in front of her and to pretend that we weren’t together. As we anticipated, the old man was waiting for me and began his perverse behavior toward me. When the trolley arrived, I got on as I always did, but I wasn’t sure where my Tita had gone. I sat down and as soon as the doors closed, I heard a loud commotion a few seats behind me. That’s when I saw my grandmother with her cane whacking the shit out of the old man! People all around watched as if frozen onto their seats. At first I turned back around and pretended not to know what was happening. I could hear my Tita screaming profanities in spanish. “Pinche viejo cara de Hacha! Porque no se mete con viejas come yo? O que, estoy muy vieja, por eso le gustan las muchachitas! Pinche limon chupado! I was scared for my Tita, but more scared for the man. He had his hands up in the air, trying to block every blow, screaming, “Ya, senora! No mas!”
A passenger stood up and tried to stop my grandmother, telling her to calm down because she could hyperventilate. But he was no match for her fierce anger and strength. So a couple more passengers pulled her off from the old man, and with commanding, sweet language helped her to have a seat, as she loudly justified why the old man deserved to get the shit beat out of him.
He got off at the next stop. So did my Tita. I don’t know what else happened, and she never talked about it, except to ask me once in a while if I had seen him again. But I never saw that man, and no one at that station or on the trolley, not so much as looked at me. That day, my Tita taught me that all women have a roaring tiger inside. And that it was okay to let her out.