My maternal grandmother was very cruel to me when I was growing up. To this day, I’m not sure why, but I can only speculate that most of it was due to deep-seated misogyny. She didn’t mistreat any male grandchildren that I know of. In fact, she very obviously favored them. (Thanks, machismo.) There was something about me, however, that she really hated.
When I was eight, to my chagrin, my family moved into my grandparents’ basement for a year to save some money for a house. During that year, my grandmother made fun of my weight, called me marimacha (the feminine version of macho), slammed a door in my face, and was generally rude and cold towards me. One instance that stands out was when I really, really wanted to get a sub sandwich, like the fat girl that I was, and she ridiculed me for it. And though I was indeed too chubby and loved food to perhaps an unhealthy degree, what kind of grandma says that? Grandmas are supposed to give you candy and ugly scarves, right?
Then when I was 13, I stayed in my grandparents’ home in Mexico for three weeks during which she told me I was stupid, and that I would never amount to anything. (Ironically, I’m the only granddaughter with a graduate or college degree.) When I cried out of anger and frustration, she laughed at me. And even though they were not at all poor at the time, my grandmother gave me cactus for every single meal. At the end of my stay, the sight of the slimy cactus made me want to barf and my resentment of my grandmother had really deepened.
Over the years, I’ve tried to forgive her for my own well-being. Though I don’t love her and know I never will, I’ve tried to understand why she was so bitter and why she took it out on me.
My grandmother grew up in the middle-of-nowhere Mexico, a place that still offers almost no opportunities of any kind, particularly for women. If you were a woman, you went to school for a few years if you were lucky, got married very young, and then had many children. The labor involved in running a household was backbreaking and I imagine the bleakness of the Sierra Madre landscape could fill one with complete despair. I also know that my grandfather cheated on my grandmother multiple times, and that when she told her father about it, he essentially told her that it was something she simply had to endure as a woman. In addition, my grandfather spent a lot of time the United States as a bracero migrant worker, leaving my grandmother to raise all their children on her own.
Though I can understand how her bitterness was cultivated after so many years of misery, I can’t fully understand why I was the target of her ire. It was as if there was something in me that she wanted to break. I know that I was often a very difficult child, but I can’t help but think that regardless, grandmothers shouldn’t be evil jerks.
Sometimes I’m tempted to ask her why. Other times I just want to tell her that I haven’t forgotten how hateful she was no matter how kind she tries to appear now. I can rationalize and intellectualize the situation all I want— look at it through a socioeconomic lens, see in a feminist context — but it still bothers me more than I’d like to admit. Unfortunately, not all abuelitas are kind and soft old ladies who make hot chocolate. But at least now I can stand up for myself and eat all the sandwiches I damn please.
Oh Hells Nah is a small and sassy Mexican woman exploring the relationships between poetry, politics, and food. She lives in Chicago, you can check out her blog — like hot dogs for your brain — or follow her on Facebook or Twitter @OhHellsNah.[Photo By mrspyy]