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My father was a campesino. He didn't have any land of his own, so he worked for the big landowners as a day worker. My mother raised chickens and pigs, and baked bread to sell at the market. They had seven childrenfive girls and two boys.
By the time I was six years old, I knew that my parents didn't get along. One of the problems was that there wasn't much work for my father. He'd go looking for work every day, but most of the time he didn't find anything. So he'd go out and get drunk instead. Then he'd come home and pick fights with my mother and hit her with his machete.
My mother would keep quiet when my father hit her. She knew that if she opened her mouth, if she dared to argue with him, he'd hit her more. But we kids would cry and scream and beg him to stop.
My mother finally decided that she couldn't take such abuse any longer, and she left him when I was seven.
After we left, my father moved to the coast. We never saw him again. Years later, after I had my first child, we got a telegram saying he had died. He was buried out there on the coast.
My mother worked like a mule to take care of us, and we all helped out. We'd get up at three in the morning, in the dark, to help bake bread, make tortillas, feed the pigs, and clean the house. All my brothers and sisters worked hardthe boys in the fields of the big landowners, the girls in our house. At the age of seven, we were all working.
My father never let my older sisters go to school. He couldn't see why girls needed an education, since they'd only go live with a man and have babies. But my mother wanted us tolearn, and since I was still young enough she decided to send me to school.
I was in school from the time I was seven until I was 12, but I only finished second grade. That's because the school in the town where I grew up only went to second grade. But I really wanted to learn, so I kept repeating second grade over and over again-five times-since there was nowhere else for me to go.
I can't say I had a happy childhood. We didn't have any toys; we didn't have time for games. We were too busy for that, since we were always working.
The only happy moments I recall were the dances on Saturdays, when my mother let me go dancing with my girlfriends. There'd be guitar players in the village square, and on special occasions they'd bring in a marimba band.
The other thing I liked was going to church. On Sundays we'd go to catechism class; we'd sing religious songs and learn the prayers. Sometimes the priest would make pinatas for us in the square. All the kids in the catechism class would get candy, bananas, and sodas. That was a big treat for us.
I never really had much of a childhood at all. By the time I was 13, I was already on my own. My mother went to live with a man in town. He' didn't want to take care of her children, so she left us behind in the village. I wouldn't say she abandoned us; it's just one of those things that happens in life. She kept coming around to see how we were. To this day my mother always comes by my house to see how we're doing.
But it was hard when she first left us. I went to live with my older brother, who was married and had his own family.
My brother no longer talks to me because of the work I do. He works for one of the big landowners, and he calls me a communist because I try to organize the campesinos that don't have any land. But when I first went to live with his family, he treated me well.
After I'd been living with my brother for about two years, I started going out with a boy named Samuel. We were both 15 years old and didn't know what we were doing. When we fooled around, I had no idea I'd get pregnantbut I did. In those days, no one ever taught us the facts of life. The adults said that children weren't supposed to learn about such things. So we were left to figure it out on our own.
I remember that the first time I got my period I was terrified. I saw that my vagina was bleeding from the inside. I ran into the woods to take off my panties and look at the blood. I went back home, got a pail from the kitchen, and went to bathe myself. I thought that maybe taking a bath would stop the bleeding. But I just kept bleeding and bleeding.
I was so scared that I stuck some rags in my panties and laid down in the bed. I wrapped the blanket around me, covering myself from head to foot.
My mother came in and asked what was wrong, but I was too ashamed to tell her. I said I had a headache, but she knew I was lying. After I'd been in. bed for a few hours, she finally said, "OK. You better tell me what's wrong, or else get out of bed and get back to work."
So I told her I was bleeding between my legs. "Don't be scared," she said. "All women get the same thing. It'll last about three days and then go away." When I got the same thing the next month, I wasn't so scared because at least I knew what it was.