A Mexican mother’s greatest dream is to see her children clean the entire house by themselves precisely as she wishes it to be cleaned. To sit down and have a cup of champurrado while her daughters make dinner by themselves. To take a look and see from afar that they are independent and she doesn’t have to lift a damn finger. To know that they can make tortillas from scratch and wipe their nalgas perfectly clean. She has expertly groomed her daughters for adulthood, and she is proud.
My mother saw this come to fruition and now she is happy. Her duties as a responsible mother with chancla and cinturon upbringing have been completed. Unfortunately, it cost me a lot. In her view, my job was to find a good man with which I would show off my excellent cleaning abilities. Dutifully, she inspected the sink each time I did the dishes. With a careful eye, she checked every corner of the kitchen to make sure I scooped up every speck of dirt on the floor. When I cleaned the bathroom, the fixtures should have shined liked diamonds. Every single day, from the day I was young enough to hold a broom, she was there to critically review my work – using tones of exasperation when something wasn’t quite clean and proudly displaying her extremely non-poker-like facial expressions. Yes, she masterfully completed her life’s mission, but it didn’t bring about the result she expected.
I was sixteen when I left my parent’s house to live with my boyfriend. You don’t have to tell me how fucked up that was. I thought, “hey, I know how to clean and cook! I (think) I’m in love with this guy (read asshole and just as naive) and I’m old enough to be on my own anyway!” What should have been typical teen behavior, via telling my parents I hated them and acting out without meaning it, instead quickly escalated into a teen life crisis except I didn’t know it yet. My attempts to be independent outside of our home would come back to slap me in the face as a “tu no sabes nada.” I thought that because I knew how to be a housemaid I could do what I wanted. The ability to maintain a home doesn’t equip you with personal responsibility or actual life experience, however. After years of failing on my own and trying to hold on to a young, cheating, drug-addicted machista, I became pregnant. ( I was scared to death of becoming pregnant! The last thing I wanted was to become another percent on a teen pregnancy statistics report! I was on birth control for all those years, but it failed me.) What I wanted was to prove that I was a grown-up. I wanted a fantastic job, my apartment, and a sense of accomplishment to show my parents that I could be independent outside of their house without a “man.” The guy I had at the time was just a desperate, sad, ugly attempt at getting out of the house.
See me here now, many years later, with my children and my amazing husband, and I continue to struggle. This time, not with knowing what responsibility and independence are, but with knowing how to raise my children with the same fervor as my mother and with a more expansive view of her teachings.
Now, it is my greatest dream as a Mexican mother is to see my girl and my boys clean the entire house precisely as I wish to be done. I want to sit down with my champurrado and admire my son at the stove when he’s making food for the family. To lift every damn finger in my house and wipe the floors along with them. I want them all to make tortillas from scratch and also know how to wipe their nalgas.
The difference is that now I know. Yes, you can cook a delicious meal, but can you also follow instructions at school? Yes, you can clean this house and leave it spotless but do you do your homework with the same attention to detail and follow-through. Obviously, you can make tortillas from scratch but can you just as easily complete other things? Also, do they take the same attention and apply that to other personal relationships – do they care for others as they care each other?
What do you, my child, need from me to be successful outside of the home? How do I help you to become a healthy, independent person? The gist of my revolt was based on that one word “independence.” It’s a swanky word now for parenting books who want to teach you how to manage a difficult child – if only my parents had those same tools when raising me.
Now, don’t mistake my story for hating on my mother. I still rely on her for so much advice and guidance. My goal is not to undo what she did. I don’t want to erase her. What happened to me is part of my story. Instead, it’s vital to me that I find ways to continue Hispanic traditions that maybe we don’t consider to be traditional at all. To have children clean the house from top to bottom on a Sat morning is customary for many Hispanic families. What I don’t want is for those traditions to continue in the name of promoting misogyny and sustaining gender roles. In my new view, who TF cares who/what/where/when/if you marry. Let me maintain my cultural traditions and marry them with new values. Our customs are what make us great people after all. Who am I to end them?
Let us reap the benefits of having our children in mixed cultures. One where we have the resources online or within our American schools to better our parenting and where we seek out the guidance of the tough love from our Mexican mothers to better our souls.
Let me know what you think?