Friday, April 23, 2010

Catalina Duarte

She was so beautiful she could make a man fall in love, lose his mind and break his heart in a matter of minutes. Her body was CLASSIC MEXICAN BARBIE perfect. If she were a street sign she would have read: “Caution: Curves Ahead”. She was the Mexican woman in all the songs written by love struck cowboys.

She calls me Paloma. Dove. I call her Abuelita. Grandmother.

She makes me smile when she tells me how beautiful her legs were because her thighs were THICK. Her beauty is the stuff of legend. MANY people have approached me to tell me tale of her beauty.

She was not JUST beautiful.

She was different.

I’m not like the rest of you, she thought as she swept the dirt floor of her adobe home. I want more.

My Abuelito used to complain that the meager money he gave her for food was often used to buy furniture polish and delicate china.

Other women mocked her and mocked her children for their differences. And I’m sure it hurt but it didn’t change who she was or what she wanted.

And I imagine they said, How DARE you come here with your BOOBS  and your Thighs and your IDEAS. We do NOT agree.

The local children ran about with lice in their hair and mud between their toes. My Abuelita groomed her little ones and slathered home-made lotion on their tiny hands and faces. Unheard of behavior.

The lice-infested children of Turicachi taunted my mother, “You are so poor you don’t even have flies in your house!”

Flies= Food. No food. No flies. Poverty.

Yet her furniture was polished and her children wore SOCKS and were lice free.

“You are not like them! You are better!” she said to her offspring.

And no one told her she was better. But she knew it. She KNEW she deserved more. And no one built her up. But the angels spoke to her and she listened.

I will not live in Turicachi forever. I will not be poor forever. I will leave this place if it kills me.

So she clawed her way out. She kicked and cried and screamed and prayed. And she was not like the others. She could not get right-side-up for them. Her mind was strong and open. She preferred who SHE was to who THEY were.

Even my Abuelito did not understand her. They were separated for 7 years. She left Turicachi alone. She took her children to the smelly border town of Agua Prieta. More education. More flies. More hope.

Her sister died. She took her sister’s 5 five children as well.

And she worked. She lived for those children. She walked daily across The Border to iron the clothes of white women and brown women who thought they were better than my beautiful grandmother. They did not see HER.  They saw a faceless woman who sometimes accepted their old clothes as payment.

 And she thought, I am not one of you. I want more. I AM more.

And there were times when the money she earned was simply not enough and my mother and her siblings starved. And they froze. And they fought. And they cried.

And she wasn’t perfect. But she tried. She never stopped trying.

I cannot imagine how many tears she cried alone when she could not feed her children and her sister’s children who had no mother.

I cannot imagine how many tears she cried because she was alone for 7 years. And who knows how these things happen? My Abuelito was a good man. She was a good woman.

But recently I lay on the bed with my Aunt Leticia who has lost a child. And she said, “A separation from the father of your children is like a death.” And because she knows both death and separation, her words ring true. And it doesn’t matter who is at fault. The pain is the same.

My Abuelita was a fighter. She fought for what she knew she deserved. She was FIRE. And she had no problem burning what stood in her way.

Now I see my mother who lives in a mansion on a hill. And I see my aunts and uncles. Three uncles. Four aunts. I feel the generosity of their spirits.  I see the intelligence in their eyes. I hear the dignity in their words. I see how they work hard and LOVE HARDER. They are all FIRE.  They will never understand how I admire them.

My Abuelita taught her children to hold to God and each other tight. Never let go. She taught them to fight for what they want with unparalleled PASSION.

When I look in the mirror I see her. I see FIRE and PASSION. I see strength. I see God and Love. And I think to myself, “If I am ANYTHING like Catalina Duarte I am truly great indeed.”