from Latina: Women's Voices From the Borderlands. Edited by Lillian Castillo-Speed. New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Once, several years ago, when I was
just starting out my writing career, I was
asked to write my own contributor’s note for
an anthology1 I was part of. I wrote: “I am the
only daughter in a family of six sons. That
Well, I’ve thought about that ever
since, and yes, it explains a lot to me, but for
the reader’s sake I should have written: “I am
the only daughter in a Mexican family of six
sons.” Or even: “I am the only daughter of a
Mexican father and a Mexican-American
mother.” Or: “I am the only daughter of a
working-class family of nine.” All of these
had everything to do with who I am today.
I was/am the only daughter and only a
daughter. Being an only daughter in a family
of six sons forced me by circumstance to
spend a lot of time by myself because my
brothers felt it beneath them to play with a
girl in public. But that aloneness, that
loneliness, was good for a would-be writer—
it allowed me time to think and think, to
imagine, to read and prepare myself.
Being only a daughter for my father
meant my destiny would lead me to become
someone’s wife. That’s what he believed. But
when I was in the fifth grade and shared my
plans for college with him, I was sure he
understood. I remember my father saying,
“Que bueno, mi’ha, that’s good.” That meant a
lot to me, especially since my brothers
thought the idea hilarious. What I didn’t
realize was that my father thought college
was good for girls—good for finding a
husband. After four years in college and two
more in graduate school, and still no
husband, my father shakes his head even
now and says I wasted all that education.
In retrospect2, I’m lucky my father
believed daughters were meant for husbands.
anthology: collection of stories and other literature in a
retrospect: thinking about things in the past
It meant it didn’t matter if I majored in
something silly like English. After all, I’d find a
nice professional eventually, right? This allowed
me the liberty to putter about embroidering3 my
little poems and stories without my father
interrupting with so much as a “What’s that
But the truth is, I wanted him to
interrupt. I wanted my father to understand
what it was I was scribbling, to introduce me as
“My only daughter, the writer.” Not as “This is
only my daughter. She teaches.” Es maestra—
teacher. Not even profesora.
In a sense, everything I have ever written
has been for him, to win his approval even
though I know my father can’t read English
words, even though my father’s only reading
includes the brown-ink Esto sports magazines
from Mexico City and the bloody ¡Alarma!
magazines that feature yet another sighting of La
Virgen de Guadalupe on a tortilla or a wife’s
revenge on her philandering husband by
bashing his skull in with a molcajete (a kitchen
mortar4 made of volcanic rock). Or the
fotonovelas, the little picture paperbacks with
tragedy and trauma erupting from the
characters’ mouths in bubbles.
My father represents, then, the public
majority. A public who is disinterested in
reading, and yet one whom I am writing about
and for, and privately trying to woo5.
When we were growing up in Chicago,
we moved a lot because of my father. He
suffered bouts of nostalgia6. Then we’d have to
let go of our flat7, store the furniture with
mother’s relatives, load the station wagon with
baggage and bologna sandwiches and head
south. To Mexico City.
embroidering: adding details to
mortar: a very hard bowl in which things are ground into a
woo: attract, interest
bouts of nostalgia: short periods of time with homesickness
We came back, of course. To yet
another Chicago flat, another Chicago
neighborhood, another Catholic school....