This drawing is one of seven that the series of prints called "The Use of memory" was based on. The image is drawn from a photograph, particially visible, by Flor Garduño/Este dibujo es uno de siete en los cuales se basó la serie de grabados "El uso de la memoria". Se tomó de una fotografía de Flor Garduño, parcialmente visible aquí. 1993
My oldest son has also gone through the experience of being a foreigner, but in his own country. In 1980 my condition of extreme poverty (well, extreme poverty for somebody from the middle class, a condition provoked by my unfortunate lack of staying power, at least in the context of matrimony) was relieved by an invitation to organize a printmaking department in the University of Veracruz. And so I was able to enter real life as a wage-earner with a modest income.
The school year started two weeks after I made the decision to move to Jalapa, and I had to find a grade school for my son. The only school in Jalapa willing to accept him on such an short-term basis was the Díaz Mirón.
Here I must make a parenthesis to say that Díaz Mirón was a famous poet from the state of Veracruz, and a wall at the entry of the school was adorned with a passage from one of his best-known poems. According to my friend Guillermo Rousset, Mexican poet, revolutionary and translator, Díaz Mirón wrote with a perfect dominion of meter, but this didn’t impress me as much as the fact that the fellow was a murderer (but then so was Rousset and in both their cases, for skirmishes with other men, involving women and politics).
The Warrior/El guerrero, 1993
The poem in question, however, I found most irritating, as it was based on what I considered an imperfect metaphor involving the poet characterized as a brave roving lion and the lady to whom he addressed the poem as a shy dove in her nest. As if there were no lionesses and male doves in the world…anyway, at the time I considered myself much more of a lioness than a dove stowed away in a nest, so the daily walk by the poetic mural was a source of annoyance.
The Dïaz Mirón had only one blond child in its rosters: Luciano, my son. To begin with he was the “gringo” and from then on, the object of fierce discrimination. In addition I had foolishly placed him in second grade, though for his age he should have been in first, “because he already knew how to read”. Hounded and younger than his classmates, Luciano’s instinct for survival kicked in and he teamed up with an eleven-year-old, who was also (and once again) in second grade, and who doubled as best friend and body guard.
This friend’s passage for our house was notable for the sudden disappearance of my scissors and an infestation of lice affecting all the members of our family (and revealed to us by an embarrassed barber, who thus ended our previous state of innocence regarding the possible reasons for an itchy scalp).
As a probable consequence of the Díaz Mirón experience, the youngster (who nowadays is a young man with a family of his own) developed and still conserves the habit of conversing with anyone who comes within range (the cigarette vendor, for example) with an automatic and precise replica of their particular accent (an accent usually determined by social class). My other son, who always speaks with the exact same "Mexican Virgo accent", no matter whom he happens to be speaking to, has no patience with this trait and considers his brother to be “savagely chameleonic”, but then, while Luciano was suffering through the Díaz Mirón, Andrés was enjoying a short reign as the teachers’ pet in his nursery school.
An Inventory/Inventario, 1993
There was a time in which I was seriously considering changing my nationality. I finally desisted, because I couldn’t get used to the idea of not being from where I was born. (Back then being a dual national wasn’t an option). And besides, I found out that in the University of Veracruz, where I worked, that to be in the Academic Council, one had to be “Mexican by birth”.
This confirmed my suspicions: Mexicans are born, not made. So much for that.
But when I was still debating a change in nationality, I mentioned the fact to my father over the telephone, and he was scandalized. “What’s the matter with you?” I asked, “We’re a family of immigrants; we have a tradition of centuries of changing countries, from France to Scotland, from Scotland to Canada, from Canada to America, etc...” “But always before” he answered, “we changed for something better...”
Sometimes it appalls me to be from the States. Thinking about my father’s reaction, for instance, or the treatment that “my” embassy gives to the unfortunate visa “supplicants”. Or about Iraq. Or Bush, “oh-my-god”.
I just had the pleasure of being the surprise gift at my mother’s 75th birthday party. My dear mother-- little did I know when I left at eighteen that I would never again live close to her. (But then again at eighteen I knew so little about everything.)
I think of you, therefore you exist.../Te pienso, luego existes...,1993
Right now the big news is that one of my nieces is getting married-- and that her fiancé is going to Iraq for a year. Of course, the poor thing had joined the Army Reserves years ago, probably thinking more of getting an education and helping the victims of natural disasters than of the latent military-action aspect.
Nobody in the family talks much about the year in Iraq. Actually, the emphasis of the line of planning followed by my niece is basically on who the maids of honor are going to be and how to arrange everything so as to all go to the same hairdresser’s before the ceremony (apparently this is an important part of the ritual) when half of them are white and the other half, black, and the hairdressers who know how to fix “white hair” can’t cope with “black hair” and vice versa. Historically I have avoided these dilemmas, being as part of my typical outsider stance I never go to the hairdresser’s, and only after much resistance, of a not very decorous and absolutely unappreciated sort, do I attend weddings.
The labyrinth/El laberinto, 1993
Anyway, there are several things that attract my attention in this situation. One, the father of the young lady (my brother-in-law) is an anti-war and anti-government activist, plus he and my sister are massage therapists and vegetarians. So my niece grew up in a very “alternative” home. But she doesn’t act like somebody who’s not mainstream. She behaves like a happy, very well-socialized young American. So maybe the trick is having roots. If you have always lived in the same place, like her, you become part of it, in spite of your “alternative” parents.
Me, the daughter, me, the mother, me, the grandmother, me, the sister, me, nothing else, just me, all by myself... /Yo, hija, yo, madre, yo, abuela, yo, hermana, yo, nada más yo sola...,1993
There you have it. Maybe it’s really so, this business of putting down roots. I’ve lived for thirty years now in the same place, Mexico. (“Half of your life!” exclaimed a taxi driver, after dragging this fact out of me. “I’m not sixty!” I replied, indignant.)
Anyway, for more than half my life. And here I am writing this for a book of experiences of “Mexican women”. What’s more, a few years ago I represented Mexico (along with that other Mexican artist of dubious origin, Remedios Varo) in an exhibit in the National Museum of Women in Washington, DC. And not long ago I participated in a gathering of Mexican and “Chicana” women artists, as a Mexican, of course. As a matter of fact, I’ve been a “Mexican artist” for thirty years now. And...I’m even a member of an academic council here, in spite of my birthplace.
It all comes down to this: after all my protests and contradictions, I’ve ended up also being from here, from Mexico. So I’m Mexican, too, and proud of it.
Convention of Mexican and Chicana artists in Oaxaca, 2001/Convención de artistas mexicanas y chicanas en Oaxaca, 2001
Well, that sounds like a good ending for a text, but I have something else I want to talk about… (To be continued).
Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe/Juan Diego y la Virgen, 1994