SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2005        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Sarah Avina

Through a Looking Glass: True Life

It all began ten years ago when my parents were arrested and sent to prison. The cops gave me a choice of either going to a foster home or going to my Nana’s house, so of course I chose to live with my abuelos, the only close relatives I knew. During this emotional time of a lost son, my abuelos at the ripe young age of 63 inherited a child. I arrived and immediately felt out of place. They always shunned and looked at me as though they did not want me or if I had leprosy; as if I were abandoned on their door step and they took me in out of pity.  Oh wait! That’s exactly how it was. After boarding in my abuelos’ home, there were many things that visually and audibly played back in my mind like a tape in a VCR.  These distinct characteristics that affected me immensely during this time influenced the way that things had occurred. For example, the house was like a dark damp cave that I was entrapped in and I can still hear my nana’s bellows echoing in my ears. The agony of reality defeats life and realizing the misinterpretation, and the truth, is why I still think about it.    

When I would enter this vast dark and damp cave, I could sense a tension too strong to cut with a knife.  I could feel chills running down my spine, because I knew that it would soon begin. As I would start to tip toe to my room (a place of serenity and escape) I would have to dodge an enormous amount of furniture and junk (a sense of entrapment) that I could barely move around without bumping into it. One little peep and my nana’s radar ears would perk up (like a Doberman Pincher’s would when an intruder would enter the house) and she would start to bellow off chores and a list of what needed to be completed before my tata got home. This is how I felt on a day-to-day basis. The constant ringing of my nana’s command would continue even after my chores were done. 

My Nana hated me because I was a girl and she felt that the only place for a girl was in the home doing work and slaving for men without talking. It meant that whoever came into the house for a visit, would see nothing but a prim and proper, respectful granddaughter taking care of her grandparents. They were led by a sight of deception to believe that I was loved, cherished, and I voluntarily maintained the upkeep of this great dungeon.  I would have to vacuum, clean the dishes, clean both of the bathrooms, do laundry, cook and on top of that I would go to school. I can remember this one time very vividly when she insinuated that I was only there to be the maid. My cousin Josh, who is the favorite, would dirty dishes after I got done washing them and my Nana said leave them there for Sarah, she will clean them. I had a look of astonishment upon my face when I heard that, so I spoke out of turn with anger and frustration, “Josh is 15 years old and has two arms, he can clean his own dishes.” She turned around so fast and replied with disgust in her voice that he didn’t have to because he had lived there longer and that it was my job to maintain the house.  I was not able to leave; I was chained down by the master who controlled every little move I made.    

“How come Josh, can’t clean up his own mess, I have homework to focus on.” I would hear this all the time from Sarah and I would reply “Josh doesn’t have to do anything because he is a man and women’s jobs are to take care of men.”  Sarah is so ungrateful, I open up my home to her and all she does is disrespect me. I put a roof over her head, food on the table and clothes on her back. The least she could do is clean the house. All I hear out of her mouth is “I have to do my homework.” I’ve told her time and time again that women don’t have to go to school, because their place is in the home, no man wants an intelligent woman; All “he” wants to come home to is a clean house with food ready on the table, kids taken care of and out of the way. Girls are stupid for thinking they need to pursue an education.

 When I was younger I worked in the field with my family because we didn’t have a dad. Around 16, I got married to father, Maria and then we had you and your brothers (one being her father). I never worked a day after that. I stayed home all day cleaning, cooking and tending to your guy’s needs (because that is the only thing women are good at.) My role was to keep “HIM” happy. He would tell me to have food on the table when he walked through that door. He would leave immediately after dinner to drink and party with his friends at their house; and I was not to question him (or I would pay the consequence). I was to have all six of my children bathed, fed and in bed before his return.

Sarah never understood that she was put on this earth to take care of the men.  They bring home the money and your job is to take care of the home and kids. She needs to understand her role and keep her mouth shut and make “him” happy.

The fear of going home to my nana’s constant ridicule and badgering unpleasantness that I supposedly “inflicted” upon her, the upset of not pleasing her filled my mind; but as I sit here, I know she did it all for my own good; to not be brought up to attachment and then let down. I know gender played a big role in the turmoil that was placed “like a 1,000 lb. weight” on my chest.  It affected me in many ways; I had become a “tom boy” who associated and communicated with a lot of people of the opposite sex, because I felt as though I could only go to school and be accepted by others if I acted like someone who I was not. If I could tell dirty jokes, cuss like a sailor or play sports, I might be accepted. The image that I had become was Josh in a girl’s body, who wore basketball shorts, baggy shirts and high-top shoes, hair in a pony-tail pulled tight and no make-up. Josh would stay home and flunk a class, and I would have perfect attendance with Gold Honor Roll (straight A’s, I was told I was a silly girl to achieve something that I would never use.) I thought my Nana would like me and accept me if I were to imitate her favorite grandson, Josh and still clean house. She would say that I was not good enough, that I would not amount up to Josh. She did favor my cousin Josh, but she also had raised him from the age of two. She knew that her morals and beliefs were forever embedded in him; whereas in me, she inherited a smart ass, know it all, spoiled little brat who listened to no one but her daddy.  It would take more than just love break down that 10 ft thick concrete wall. She had to bulldoze it with “fear, anger and discomfort” to turn it back into cement, so that she could rebuild a better person.

What I know now compared to then, is that she did love me. She didn’t want me to know it because then I would have never listened to her and her teachings would derail. She would remind me that my parents were not there for me and that in many ways I was a mistake, which meant no one should be punished with the burden of taking care of me. She didn’t want me to be like my mom, who abandoned me and who was a "nothing"; she was only concerned and cared about herself, not her family.  My mom had left everyone, including her husband, who she was supposed to live for till “death do you part.” My nana told me she was a selfish piece of “white trash,” and that I would end up like her one day. I know now I won’t, because my nana was extremely intelligent, she used reverse psychology on me, telling me I couldn’t be anything more than my mom, when in all actuality, she was telling me not be like her and to walk a different paved road. Now I am slowly drying into a new and improved wall.

The dungeon has now been a site of demolition and rebuilt into a family home with many generations of life and happiness. This event was a clay blob in the artist’s hands and it has been molded into an award-winning masterpiece. I still think about this incident because I really never said “thank you” to my abuela for changing me when she had the chance. In honor of her I’m going all the way. I’m walking the road she told me to. I will always remember what she did for me. It was the greatest lesson of my life. My nana maybe gone, but she will always be in my heart. She chose the road for me and I will diligently walk it, with my head held high.

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