She was fabulous and unavailable. Worked full time, attended night school, went dancing, devoured books. Early evening jogs around the park, with a lot of thinking about the future and how to make that future better. When Sheila E sang “the girl’s got a lot on her mind,” she must’ve been singing about my mother.
She was beautiful and ugly. So fiercely beautiful when she would get into shouting matches with my step-father after he would come home with the stank of another woman’s perfume or when he wouldn’t come home at all. She was standing up for herself, for us, for them. That was my cue to be helpful. I would take my little brother and sister to the bed, change their diapers, dress them up, play with them – until her thunder and rain had cleansed what had been wronged.
She was the ugliest when she would cave in and believe she wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t often, but when the autoimmune attacks on her self-esteem took place, they ran deep and crooked.
She was smartly attractive, throwing her head back as she laughed and letting the brightness of her generous smile fill the room. She asked great questions and shaped me to think in new ways. I loved her. I still do. I longed to be the center of her attention. But she was a woman of the world, a leader, brave and full. Through sheer will power and independence, she would make her own way with babies in tow all the way from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Litchfield, Minnesota.
As in many of our families, Grandma helped to raise me and taught me about the rituals of womanhood, how to deploy the power of lipstick, and about the proper rules of house visits over café con leche with las comadres.
One day Grandma gave me a present. I grew whiney when I saw it was a remote-control car. “But these are for boys!” I pouted. “Nonsense,” she said. As Grandma played with the remote, she talked to me about being able to do anything. About not being afraid to do things others weren’t doing. About being a do-it-yourself and sometimes not-do-it-yourself lady in a man’s world. About standing up for myself. About false expectations based on gender. “Gracias abuelita,” I said. I took the remote, learning from the woman who had birthed my mother and eight other children. I was elated. I was six.
As a womyn who was born into the struggle, I always strive for freedom – whether it is through my policy-making efforts for and with our communities, in relationships, or while raising three young boys. Often I am called to watch them sleep. Under the thickness of the moon I am in awe of their huge smallness and I am complete knowing their bloodline, like mine, carries a strong commitment to justice. The roundness of their soft slumber fills the square room. But when I think I’m ready to walk away, my feet take a stand. And my motherlines speak, saying – “I hope every mother has the chance to do this. Our mothers didn’t get a chance to do this, between this job and that one, between this bill and the other one.”
I am reminded once again how important it is – for all the mothers, daughters, aunties and cousins – to build a powerful voice that lets the roundness keep filling all the square rooms.
Alondra Cano immigrated to this country at the age of 10. She is the first Latina to serve on the Minneapolis City Council as the Ninth Ward representative.