I don’t know how to talk to my parents these days. Mami didn’t vote for Trump, but when I told her my outrage the day after the election, she said, “The man hasn’t even taken office yet. Let him take office.” I initially took her defense to mean that like my father, she had voted for Cheetoh, since she usually follows Papi’s lead.
The most recent phone conversation with my father went like this:
Papi: How are you?
Me: I’m in the struggle against the racist you elected for president.
Papi [now screaming]: Don’t get involved in that.
Me: I’m completely involved.
Papi [still screaming]: Don’t get involved in that.
Me: I’m completely involved.
And so it went until he huffed and handed the phone to my mother.
Like many people in the United States, I accepted long ago that my parents and I would vote differently in every presidential election. I thought of it as a sad situation, but not a devastating one. After all, my side had won the moral argument. The country had agreed, even if only in polite words, that racism was a sin and sexism evil. We had that much. That much turned out to be a lie.
Many Latinx families have a younger generation that is progressive and a generation of viejos that leans conservative. I have theories about that, but in the face of our country having elected a president who plans to deport three million immigrants and who brags about sexually assaulting women, all theories today are bullshit. Mine included.
Instead, I turn to memory.
I am remembering that once upon a time my mother spent mornings in Jersey pushing fabric under the rapid-fire needle of a sewing machine all the while in fear that la migra would show up at her factory. I am remembering that my father lost his job when NAFTA took the factories out of the country. I am remembering that it took me years to piece together their stories, our stories, because my parents both tend toward silence, toward playing it safe, toward staying afloat at any cost.
I am remembering that I am not my parents. And neither are you.
Last week, dozens, maybe already a hundred faculty and students signed a petition calling for administrators to make the college where I teach a sanctuary school for undocumented and DACA students and their families.
Last week, my colleagues and I also screened on our campus the documentary No Más Bebes, introducing more than fifty students to the story of a group of immigrant moms, along with a Chicana lawyer and a whistle blower doctor, who used the court system to sue the Los Angeles county doctors that sterilized them in the 1960s and 70s.
Last week, another thousand people and I will show up in my new home city of Cincinnati for a second weekend in a row of protesting a president-elect who advocates white supremacy.
I don’t write any of this with a sense of hope. Esperanza is irrelevant now. These are the facts: Millions of us are standing up for what is morally right—for the most vulnerable among us and for each other.
That does not include my mother or my father. It does, however, include my sister and my sweetheart and dozens upon dozens of friends and new friends, all of which reminds me of why I wrote my memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed, in the first place: because stories don’t always turn out the way we want but new ones are always waiting to be written.
On that note, below is a short excerpt about my mother and me from my memoir.
In her queen-size bed, I am lying on one side of her and my younger sister on the other. I am about six at the time. It’s evening. My father is at the factory and the bedroom is silent. The windows are shut, the curtains drawn, and the edge of the tall dresser has vanished in the dark. I feel the weight of my mother’s body next to mine. She’s a muñeca de trapo, my mother, a large rag doll, a careful gathering of cotton fabric and thread and something unnamed but substantial. She sighs now in bed and begins telling the story she told the night before.
In her stories, my mother is the heroine, the inocente who scares easily and whom everyone knows to be gentle and kind. She is not ambitious. In fact, she wants nothing more than to grow up and marry a good man with blond hair and blue eyes and have children who look like him. This is what she tells my sister and me when the lights are turned off. She rubs our backs and whispers stories into our dark hair.
Always, she begins the stories at the beginning, which is to say the first time she left her mother.
It is the sixties; the violence is in the jungles of Colombia and Mami is in the capital. She is sixteen. She has left school. She wears clean, sturdy shoes and a knee-length skirt. Her black hair is curled, her face plump. She has never been beyond the border of school or home, but now here she is. In a fábrica. She spends days marking the fronts of men’s blazers with tiza, so the women on the sewing machines will know exactly where to stitch the pockets.
The only women she has known are like her mother, women who don’t wear lipstick, who marry young, who birth a dozen children, and bow their heads at church on weekday mornings. But this factory in Bogotá teems with a different sort of woman, the kind who sneers about men, brags about her nights, flaunts her intimacies. Their voices puncture the air like threaded needles. The women even curse.
“I’d never heard anything like it before,” my mother whispers to us in the dark.
The bedroom around us tilts, becomes an unlit stage. At the age of six, I stare at this stage and try to imagine a woman who knows bad words in Spanish.
About the Author
Daisy Hernández is the author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir and coeditor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. She teaches creative writing at Miami University in Ohio, and you can read more about her work at www.daisyhernandez.com. Follow her on Twitter at @.